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The TNA has to tread with caution; so should the government

| by R. M. B. Senanayake

( October 9, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The government must recognise that the 13th Amendment has come to say. It must realize that there are States where devolution of power has not led to secession but instead provided a modus vivendi for a minority to live in peace with a majority, giving up the claim to be a separate state.

The people at large do not understand what is involved in the nature of the State and have not learnt political science. The problems of majority-minority are projected to the people by the politicians and the political leadership. The political leadership wants to exercise a monopoly of political power for themselves and this they do by ensuring that all elected representatives belong to the ruling political party. So in the past the ruling political parties sought to govern the Tamils through co-opting Tamils who were willing to join them for perks like ministerial posts. But, the recent Provincial Council election has shown that era is over as at least as far as the North is concerned. So the government must change its mindset and realise that the way to win the hearts and minds of the people of the North is to resolve their problems particularly the problems of the IDPs which they are legally obliged to do under International Law. Freedom is what all people desire and it would seem that the civilian population resents the presence of the army. Surely, the Army could like any secret service monitor the behaviour of suspect individuals unobtrusively.

The ruling party politicians are averse to devolution because it dilutes their power. They oppose devolution of power to the people. The most they are willing to concede devolution of power is to the MPs in the electorates who have been exercising power without responsibility and that, too, only for members of their own party.

In the 1970s the Leftists who were part of the United Front Coalition set up Janatha Committees often headed by militant trade unionists who were opposed to the bureaucracy. They thought their role was to spy on the officials. The bureaucrats found them difficult to control and in the State Corporations and the districts they created administrative chaos. To counter these so-called people’s representatives Sirimavo appointed District Political Authorities. But there were several electorates and thus several MPs in the district. Soon there were conflicts between those MPs belonging to the same ruling political party in the District. The obvious answer was to appoint an MP to be in charge of each electorate. But this would mean a large number of Ministers and the government of Sirimavo was too conscious of its public duty to engage in such an irresponsible exercise. These District Political Authorities also clashed with the Government Agents and District level local Heads of Department. There are retired Government Agents who will testify to the conflict. Anyway, these District Political Authorities died a natural death.

Role of an elected Member

The role of an elected Member of Parliament is in Parliament. He is a legislator, not a Member of the Executive branch of the government. Should they be members of the Executive branch? They were not elected to do so. Their interference in the functioning of the bureaucracy was bad enough for it led to complete politicisation of the administration at the local level in the same way as the ministers in Colombo who decide everything today despite their lack of knowledge, experience and expertise. Since the bureaucrats have been reduced to obedient servants they have taken a backseat in the administration. The result is the administrative muddling through we see today. Sirimavo was once toying with the idea of making the District Political Authority a District Minister.

This idea of appointing District Ministers seems to be in the air once again. But, it will lead to conflicts between District Ministers and the Chief Ministers of the Provincial Councils. Power should be devolved to the people and hence to their representatives elected specifically for the purpose. Giving power to a District Minister will undermine the functioning of the Provincial Councils. Power should be devolved from the government to the Provincial Councils. The ruling party would, no doubt, like to win the support of the Tamil people, but it cannot be done by putting forward a person who is not acceptable to the people. Any ruling political party including the TNA will become unpopular at least with a section of the voters with the lapse of time and it is these aggrieved voters that the governing party should woo over time.

It is correct that the centralised services provided by departments of the government may have too much control. But, that is why such services should as far as possible be brought under the Provincial Council. One of our historical errors is to assume that government at the grassroots level can be made responsive to the will of people by appointing elected MPs to the local executive. But, they do not guarantee that the process of government from the centre will be either sensitive to the people or efficient.

Integrating field services of government

There is also a case for integrating the field services of the government departments in the district or provincial level. Since the Kachcheri is the outfit of the government this can be achieved only by constant contact and co-operation between the Head of the government’s district administration - the Government Agent and the Provincial Council. This is a lesson that the Northern Provincial Council will have to follow and this task will become harder with a political Head of the Kachcheri.

What is required is to build close co-operation between the central Government and the Provincial Council. If a Provincial Council messes up the people will hold them responsible for their ills and not the Government where it is easy to ascribe motives on ethnic grounds.

The government should establish the Land Commission and entrust the land settlement problems to it. It must also activate the Finance Commission so that all funds at least to the Northern Province is channelled through the Northern Provincial Council in respect of the functions devolved to it.
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