Provincial CouncilsFebruary 9, 2016, 6:06 pm
By KAMALIKA PIERIS
The Provincial Councils were set up in February 1988, under the Provincial Councils Act no 42 of 1987, as a requirement of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Each province had a Governor, Chief Minister and Councilors. The Governor, appointed by the President, ranked above the Chief Minister. Governor could take decisions without consulting the Chief Minister or the Provincial Council. His decision was final and could not be questioned in court. He could summon the Provincial Council and the Provincial Council had to obey. The Council could not discuss his actions, or introduce any draft statutes relating to finance, or make a request from central government for money, without the recommendation of the Governor.
The administration of the island was now divided into three segments, Provincial Councils List, reserved list and concurrent list. The reserved list, with subjects like defense and foreign policy was for the central government. Subjects in the concurrent list were shared by central government and Provincial Councils.
The Provincial Councils list contained subjects which should have stayed under government control. They are land, police, public order, and local government. Other subjects including health, education, agriculture, irrigation, rural development, roads, electricity (apart from the national grid), ancient and historical monuments and records other than those declared to be of national importance, were also given to the Provincial Councils. Provincial Councils controlled banks, corporations, insurance and financial bodies relating to their subjects. A separate provincial administration was created, with a Provincial public services Commission for each province. A good part of the administration of the island was now with the Provincial Councils and not the central government. Since Provincial Councils could enact statutes for their subjects, they had partial sovereignty.
The Provincial Councils have been charged with poor management and lack of foresight regarding their subjects. . They made a mess of health and education. They have failed in transport, agriculture and cooperatives, too. Western Province Transport authority, for instance, had not implemented the Supreme Court order to introduce time tables for bus operators. Private bus owners want the 13th Amendment repealed, saying it had created a chaotic situation in the entire transport sector and caused serious problems. However, Provincial Councils have no intention of giving in. They objected to the National Transport commission issuing permit for inter provincial bus routes, without getting the consent of the relevant Provincial authorities.
Wayamba Cooperative rural Bank which was once profit making was now in debt. Elections to cooperatives were regularly postponed. Large reservoirs, over 25 acres come under the central government but small ones are under the Provincial Councils. Most reservoirs therefore come under the Provincial Councils. About 10,000 or so of them are neglected, say farmers. Provincial Councils say they do not have adequate funds and therefore work on the smaller tanks get delayed. Wayamba Provincial Council had started to renovate 90 ‘lakes’ in 2004, but they started at the wrong time, in rainy season and used up all the money. Farmers were stranded.
Before the 13th Amendment, agricultural extension work was carried out by the Department of Agriculture at Gannoruwa. They had been doing it for years and had the necessary expertise, facilities, service input, planting materials and research capability. But extension work is now a ‘devolved’ subject under the Provincial Councils and the central department does not want to ‘touch it’ . Since the Provincial Councils have no idea how extension work should be planned and implemented either, the farmer is deprived of the extension service he used to get. Agricultural extension work is now a mess, with the Provincial Councils in charge, said Ranjit Mulleriyawa
The Provincial Councils have under them 330 local government institutions, including 18 municipal councils, 42 urban councils, and 270 pradeshiya sabhas. Finance Commission reported that in 2007 the Provincial Councils had not given funds to the local government organizations under them. In 2009 Finance Commission said Provincial Councils had sought billions of rupees to pay the salaries of the local government staff.
Provincial Councils have ‘created confusion’ in the local government administration and local administration is ‘in shambles in most parts of the country,’ say observers. Provincial Councils have introduced complicated procedures for them. In the case of stamp duties, fines and court fees, local government has to submit a claim by Municipal Commissioner, or Secretary, Urban Council. Claim had to be forwarded within a set period, accompanied by a certificate from the Registrar General, giving date of each payment levied and date of its remittance to the Provincial Council. For court fines and penalties, claim had to state the Ordinance and Act under which such fines and penalties had been imposed. ‘This seems a planned maneuver, to hijack the monies due to the local governments,’ said one observer.
The Provincial Councils depend heavily on the grant given by central government. Very little revenue is raised directly by them. That revenue comes from local taxes such as turnover tax, vehicle registration, land transfers, including stamp fees, traffic offenses fines, court fees and arrack license. The money given by central government was usually inadequate, sometimes also not fully used, but it was huge. The Provincial Councils had collectively requested over Rs 116 billion for recurrent expenditure alone for 2009.
Most of the money went on the Provincial Council itself. Staggering sums were spent on the buildings which housed the Provincial Councilc. Ministers and councilors demanded staff, mobile phones, fuel allowances and pensions. Cars, official residences and other symbols of prestige got priority. In 2012, each minister got a monthly salary of 63,000, monthly fuel allowance of 800 liters of petrol, personal staff of 10, peons, drivers, clerks. Two fixed line telephones, with user limit of Rs. 10,000 a mobile with monthly limit of Rs 5000 and a Rs 1000 month entertainment allowance. Councilors got salary of Rs 30,000 250 liters or more petrol, entertain allowance of 500/- and Rs 5000 transport allowance.
Each Provincial Council had over 100 staff grade officers and over 500 clerical and technical staff. In 2009, Western Provincial Council had 52,068 employees and Central Provincial Council had 41,525 employees. Finance Commission said over 75% of the money allocated to Provincial Councils went on salaries, wages, over time, holiday payments and other allowances. This, it was pointed out, had been done earlier, for school teachers for instance, by one department in Colombo.
We should find out the amount of public funds spend on Provincial Council for elections, salaries, monies spend on the councilors , payments to personal staff, putting up the Provincial Council buildings, and how much has been spend on the welfare of the public. A study will show that most of the money went on the Provincial Council expenses, not for the people, said S.L. Gunasekera.
Provincial Councils have added another set of politicians, to the ones we already have, say the public. It has given a new set of opportunities to politicians and political parties. "Only the politicians and their kith and kin and hangers on have benefited." They have engaged in high corruption and feathered their own nests. They have exploited and destroyed the economy and the environment. They have been guilty of acts of violence. A councilor had hit a man with the butt of a gun for asking directions to a funeral. At the Western Provincial Council meeting, December 2012, there was a brawl and some members had their noses and ears bitten.
Provincial Councils were declared to be a ‘colossal waste of funds’ involving expenditure which could be put to better use. They have added to the number of persons in the public sector and created another, huge bureaucratic layer to the one we already have. There are allegations of Irregularities, fraud, misappropriation of funds. ‘It has become essential to bribe the Provincial Councils to get anything done.’ Provincial Councils have provided no service to the people and have not benefited the public. Can anybody show that they are better off with the Provincial Council system than they were before? Most of the Provincial Councils are not effective. ‘Those working in them are fed up’. They have now managed to earn the contempt of everybody and deserve to be abolished. That will result in a massive saving.
The Provincial Council system has been roundly condemned as a costly, useless white elephant. A ‘white elephant’ is something which costs a lot, is of no use, but cannot be got rid of. The Provincial Councils are not innocent ‘white elephants’. They are dangerous. They were custom designed to break up the country in a manner which would prevent it from ever re-uniting again. Depicted as an egg, in a cartoon, Sri Lanka was told, "I am going to make an omlette out of you." "Can I become an egg again?" asked Sri Lanka. Answer, no. This was during the ‘union of regions’ phase. One critic said "the PC system has done much more damage to this country than the executive presidency. We can easily do without Provincial Councils. . Why doesn’t anybody challenge the Provincial Councils system in courts? "
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Last Updated May 30 2016 | 10:07 pm