Provincial Councils scoring 0 for regional development

By Lynn Ockersz

Twenty two years on, most Provincial Councils are yet to pass statutes on subjects that touch on regional and community development, an evaluation study on the working of the Councils reveals. Some of these areas on which ‘not a single statute has been made’ to date are: construction activity, rehabilitation, animal husbandry, mines and mineral development, food supply and distribution, market fairs, betting and gambling, possession, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors and the regulation of societies. A publication of the Institute for Constitutional Studies, Rajagiriya, the study titled, ‘Twenty Two Years of Devolution – An Evaluation of the Working of Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka’, was launched at the auditorium of the Post-graduate Institute of Management, Colombo 8, on Tuesday. Presentations on the content of the study were made by the senior researchers of the project, Prof. Ranjith Amarasinghe, Asoka Gunawardena, Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne P.C. and Prof. Navaratne Bandara.

Describing the statute-making record of the PCs as ‘very poor’, Prof. Amarasinghe pointed out that the bulk of the statutes passed thus far by the PCs related mainly to measures that would aid in the self-empowerment of the Councils and had very little to do with the development of the relevant provinces. That is, these statutes concerned themselves primarily with the establishment of ‘the basic structure’ of the PCs. Although the first five to six years after the establishment of the PCs were characterized by a high productivity in statute-making, there is a drastic ‘dwindling of statistics’ after 1996. Prof. Amarasinghe traced this decline to mounting political pressure on the PCs from the central government. The circumstance of the same political party controlling the centre and the provinces, facilitated this process of trammeling the statute-making capacity of the PCs.

Currently, a further hurdle to the autonomy of the PCs has emerged in the form of a circular from the centre to the provinces to the effect that the PCs obtain the approval of the relevant line ministries before the Councils adopt statutes on subjects that are handled by these ministries, Amarasinghe said.

‘In the Eastern Province, statutes have been delayed by the Governor’, Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne pointed out. In most provinces, it was a case of the ‘centre making inroads into the executive power of the PCs.’ Instances are many of the Governor taking over appointments in the provincial public service. This points to the need for a Provincial Public Service Commission. It was also pointed out that the ‘national policy provision’ or the stipulation that all legislation should conform to national policy, was being abused by the centre, resulting in an incapacitation of the PCs. Consequently, today, many PCs do not pass statutes on health and other subjects of immense relevance to the public. Some provincial hospitals have been brought under the purview of the centre.

‘Recentralization is the hallmark of the system’, Prof. Navaratne Bandara pointed out. Today, PCs have become a means by which the centre controls regional resources. They have also become the avenues through which the centre consolidates its political power. The SLFP did not support the establishment of PCs. Therefore, today, the PCs are in the unenviable position of not dealing with a PC-friendly government.

Today, the provinces are allocated less then 10 percent of the development budget, while fiscal management is remaining with the centre, former Finance Commission of Sri Lanka chairman and governance specialist Asoka S. Gunawardena said, among other things. In a situation where PCs and local bodies are facing increasing marginalization, there is a ‘need to go from the ethnic conflict to human development.’ The PCs have thus far been viewed as instrumental containing the ethnic conflict. We need to go beyond this perspective and view PCs as instruments of development. Accordingly, two ‘reform imperatives’ need to be addressed: the first is to consolidate democratic governance and the second, to deepen the accountability of PCs as providers of services.

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