Transparency

Democracy & Development in the Provincial Council (Part 2)

Sampath Deshapriya

In Sri Lanka, Provincial Councils have the power to make statutes on their subjects, but this has barely been implemented. Even the Northern Provincial Council, which came into power after the end of the war, has almost no charter of its own. All that was done was a passing of resolutions from time to time. For example, when the Southern Provincial Councils passed resolutions related to the war victory, the Northern Provincial Council passed a resolution calling for an inquiry by the Geneva Human Rights Commission into allegations of human rights abuses during the final stages of the war.

With this in mind, let’s also note that this does not imply that a provincial council does not have the right to pass resolutions. If a Provincial Council had sought to formulate and implement statutes to address the real problems of the people of the Northern Province, it would have played a positive role in line with the purpose of establishing the Provincial Councils in the first place. The attitude of the people in the South can be defined as one, not two. The main reasons for this can be summarized as the people of the North and the South being dissatisfied with the services rendered by the Provincial Councils. This happens due to the perception that Provincial Councils are only a bridge for politicians to go to Parliament and that the statutes are not framed in such a way as to actually meet the needs of the people. 

If a public servant working in Jaffna could be transferred to Trincomalee without coming to Colombo, how effective would it be for a Provincial Council to actually find solutions to a number of administrative problems in a number of areas? The provincial councils will inevitably need the support of the central government for this purpose. Similarly, the reluctance of the central government to relinquish power has laid the groundwork for the accusation that the provincial councils are white elephants.

It is no secret that the concept of a separate state was established in the North until the Provincial Council system was established. Does it mean bowing to the opinions that come from some Southern politicians leaning towards the idea that the provincial council system should be abolished and replaced by a strengthening of democratic forces in the North?

There are those in Southern mainstream politics who see democracy as an obstacle when it comes to building a developing country. They believe that devolution is a cause of weakening the state. I think this should end with an example from neighboring India as an answer. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian independence movement, and Dr. Ambedkar, the writer of India’s Constitution, had different views on the country’s development strategy. Ambedkar believed that modernization and industrialization were essential to achieve equality. On the other hand, power to the village was Gandhi’s concept and Ambedkar pointed out that his thoughts were needed to create equality and in turn exploding the oppressive authority in the village. But the India they saw at the time no longer exists today. Instead, India has an inextricable link between economic development and democracy.

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

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