What ails Local Government

The Gansabhawa system or the conduct of Village affairs by the elders of the village existed in Sri Lanka from time immemorial. This system of village administration by elders known in modern times known as ‘City Fathers’ was accepted by all as beneficial to the people. The primary functions were the pursuit of agriculture, irrigation requirements and the maintenance of peace and in this respect the wishes and advice of the elders were followed.

When the British took over the administration of the entire Island after 1815, the towns were administered by British Officials and in view of the disputes and disagreements between the people and the officials led to revolts. In the period between 1818 — 1848, there were eleven insurrections culminating in the famous insurrection of 1848.

The 1865 is significant for Sri Lanka and India in the creation of Municipalities. In India, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras got Municipal status. In Ceylon, the agitation by Local leaders, foremost among them was Richard Morgan, Lawyer, Jurist, Statesman and Legislator, who shaped the destiny of the British Colony, Ceylon for two decades. He persuaded Sir Herculous Robinson, Governor of Ceylon, to introduce Municipal Councils’ Ordinance No. 17 of 1865, created Municipalities, Colombo, Kandy and Galle. In the Legislative Council his memorable speech was as follows:—

"it is a source of peculiar satisfaction to witness the interest the public are beginning to evince in the Ordinance to establish Municipal Councils and which premises well for the success of the expe

riments we are about to try. I trust this interest will not flag and that the care and discrimination with which they select the Councillors to represent them, and the moderation, facilities and impartiality with which they will discharge their trust will show that the inhabitants of Colombo and Kandy appreciate the privileges conferred upon them and will operate as an inducement to the inhabitants of other towns to follow the good example set before them."

Election of Councillors by the inhabitants qualified sit as Councillors were males over 25 years of age, owner of landed property within the Municipality acquainted with the English language, residents within the Municipality. These qualifications enabled the inhabitants to select on a Ward of District System, which system existed in Sri Lanka for nearly 125 years.

The conduct of Municipal affairs were of a triarchy where power distributed among three main authorities the Council, Standing Committees and the Commissioner, or Chairman who was the Government Agent. In these lay the broad democratic governance with efficiency in the administration.

The members elected on this principle voiced the sentiments of the public of the area they represent, the immediate functions being the traditional quartette, public health, public instruction, public safety and public convenience. Unlike in contemporary society, the members were not paid any allowance, it was voluntary and public service. Each member representing a Ward was scheduled to with a task and was directly responsible to the voters of the area in particular and generally as a whole for the entire Municipality.

The late Premier S. W. R. . Bandaranaike, as Minister of Local Government from mid Donoughmore Era Twentyfive Years elevated Local Government by several changes. In order to democratise the election of members of local authorities and usher the local bodies with more power introduced several measures, by creating local government regions, appointed Assistant Commissioners of Local Government to Nine Regions. With democratic principles at the base he brought legislation to create the Local Government Service Commission in 1945 by creating a separate service for achieving efficiency in local authorities. It was the first experiment in respect of Local Government in the British Commonwealth. This system enabled reach a clerk in a V.C. to get promoted as a Municipal Commissioner, an overseer to rise up an Engineer. This system enabled and encouraged employees of local bodies to work efficiently with devotion in order to reach higher posts.

It is to the detriment of all bodies and the service that this system was scrapped in 1993. Government Officers without any knowledge of local government and training have been posted as Municipal Commissioners, Secretaries and Clerks. Most of these persons lack the expert spirit de corps of local needs and often act with biases and prejudices and indifferent to local needs. Most of these who are posted to local bodies are misfits in Local Government Work.

With the introduction of the Proportional system of elections of members to Local Bodies on political party basis, the quality, competency and the interest in a particular ward or areas was lost or minimised. The discontinuance of by-elections after a member ceased to function is another draw back in getting the correct type of member. It is relevant to remember the speech of Sir Herculous Robinson, Governor of Ceylon when he introduced the Municipal Councils Ordinance No. 17 of 1865, when he said "Care and discrimination with which they select councillors". This expectation has no effect after the introduction of the P.R. System. The Local Government Service Commission set up in 1945 to select Local Government Service administrative and subordinate officers by holding competitive examinations to suit the posts and designations had a great impact on the administrative service. After its abolition, experience reveals that most of the officers transferred from the Government service from various Departments to Local Authorities are not suitable for posts in the Local Government Bodies. Whilst government service officers are credited with expert knowledge in the F.R. and A.R. and the Establishment Code, local government officers have to be thoroughly conservant with nearly 30 — 40 Ordinances and the By laws of Local Authorities in addition to the F.R., A.R. and the Establishment Code, as they have to apply the provisions of the laws in rate payers’ needs.

For Local Government Service to be effective, it is imperative that ward-wise election system, the formation of the Local Government Service Commission with modifications to suit the present day requirements should be introduced. An important requirement is to have Advisory Boards or persons who are experienced in Local Government Work, surveyors, architects, lawyers, administrators and members of the medical profession to advise the Municipalities, Urban Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. After independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has produced eminent persons in various professions who are now serving in countries abroad after retirement as advisors. These should be made available to Sri Lanka. What is now known as "Think Tanks" are needed for Local Government Authorities for better administration.

Cecil Jayasinghe.


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