S L Gunasekara
Sri Lanka has been plagued by Provincial Councils (PCs) for the past 24 years. The debate about whether the 13th Amendment which gave birth to these Provincial Councils should remain or not continues and has now gained some momentum with proposals being made by persons who are supposedly influential that it should be repealed. What is interesting to note in the ongoing debate is that hardly anything that is said on either side has changed in any significant manner despite the bitter experience we have had with these `White Elephants’.
The proponents of PCs continue to say with a smug purported righteousness that the PSC provide for the devolution of power to the people; that scrapping them would be a retrograde step which would deprive the minorities of any `say’ in governance; that India is watching closely and is very anxious that the PCs should remain; and that those who propose the abolition of PCs are Sinhala supremacists or chauvinists who seek to deny the minorities their rights
On the other hand some opponents of the 13th Amendment continue to say that continued existence of PCs would pave the way for a the creation of separate state in that they establish the infrastructure therefor and accuse those who support the PC system of being unpatriotic and of being supporters of the LTTE and separation.
The tragedy that is evident in this debate is that neither party which has issued statements appears to have drawn on our experiences of PCs and founded any argument thereon.
One significant fact that appears to have eluded both parties in this debate is that far from ensuring or securing the devolution of power to the people, the 13th Amendment and the PCs have only resulted in conferring benefits on political parties, their leaders, supporters and their kith and kin and that the people at large or of any particular segment thereof are as bereft of power in the management of their affairs as they were before, whatever their respective race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation may be
An examination of our experiences of PCs will show that the people of any province are not given the opportunity of even nominating those whom they want to see guiding their destinies in respect of the devolved subjects for election, but that the only right they are given is to select the party they support, and to mark their preferences for persons named in the list of persons whom that party has purported to believe to be the most suitable persons to be PC members. The voter must therefore cast a preference vote either for the candidate whom he considers to be the `best’ or `least bad’ of those selected by the party of his choice or for none. In short his views do not matter, and he is compelled to subordinate his views for those of the party.
Even a candidate has no right to even hand in his own nomination paper to the Returning Officer. That right is preserved by law for a partyofficial who may or may not choose to `tippex’ the name of such candidate from the list and replace it with another prior to handing it over to the Returning Officer!
The fact that nomination boards of various parties are often comprised senior officials of such parties and do not even comprise persons from the branches of such parties in the relevant provinces, and that those who purport to be the leaders of the several political parties often enter into ‘horse deals’ pertaining to alliances of convenience with other parties without any kind of reference to the people of the area and/or getting their consent makes manifest the fact that no devolution of power of whatever nature to the people has been achieved by this obnoxious PC system.
All that the PC system has achieved is to further politicise our society and give to political parties and their ‘leaders’ more opportunities of advancing the fortunes of their otherwise unemployable kith and kin, supporters, hangers on, sycophants at the expense of the long suffering public.
As regards India’s interest in the maintenance of the PCs, a fact that is invariably ignored by those who speak incessantly of India’s stake in the matter is that India has no stake in the matter. The question of whether we retain PCs or not is a matter that effects the internal governance of this country and the people and is hence entirely a matter for us.
It is true that the birth of the PCs was a result of the Indo-Lanka Accord which was forced upon our people by India together with the then UNP government. Though India has acted and continues to act as the ‘Regional Thug’, the Indo-Lanka Accord is a dead letter and no longer of any force or avail if ever it was. One of the primary obligations of India according to that Accord was to ensure that all terrorist groups were disarmed within 120 hours of the signing thereof.
Accordingly, the LTTE ought to have been disarmed by August 3, 1987. However, they were completely disarmed by our Armed Forces and not by India only by about May 18/19, 2009. Thus, India which trained and armed the terrorists; India which foisted on Sri Lanka the PC system with its attendant unbearable waste of public funds; India which prevented Sri Lanka from destroying the Tigers and thereby paved the way for the deaths and mutilations of tens of thousands of our citizens, has reneged on its most fundamental obligation under the Accord and hence repudiated it over 25 years ago.
Our 24 years experience of PCs has shown that they only benefited the politicians, their kith and kin, their supporters and consequently the various political parties of our land at colossal expense to the long suffering people. The mad scramble for seats in PCs, the colossal amounts of money spent by candidates to win elections, the number of senior politicians’ kith and kin striving for office and the fact that they even resort to violence to win provide manifest proof of who and who alone are benefited from this system.
It would indeed be worth a study to ascertain facts such as:
a) the quantum of public funds spent on Provincial Councils for the past 24 years including the sums spent on elections;
b) the quantum of public funds spent on providing salaries and perquisites of office to Provincial Councillors;
c) the quantum of public funds spent on putting up buildings for PCs;
d) the quantum of public funds spent on the personal staff of Provincial Councillors and the number of members of the staff of Provincial Councillors who are kith and kin of the Provincial Councillors themselves;
e) the quantum of public funds spent on trips abroad for Provincial Councillors and
f) the quantum of public funds actually spent on the welfare of the public.
A proper study would show that most of the money that could have been spent on the welfare of the people has been expended on rubbish such as extravagant lifestyles for Provincial Councillors, their kith and kin etc.
It may well be argued that such statistics that are available relate to provinces with Sinhala majorities and not to provinces with Tamil and/or Muslim majorities. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that the Tamil or Muslim politicians would be more responsible and more concerned about the people than the Sinhalese politicians. They are, to my mind, all alike.
Starting with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which is evidently the most popular party among the Tamils, it is self evident that its members have not cared one whit for the welfare of the Tamil people. It was they who recognised the LTTE as being the “Sole Representatives of the Tamil People” and stood idly by, raising not a whimper of protest when the Tigers kidnapped Tamil children, murdered abducted and imprisoned Tamil adults and extorted their hard and money from them.
They have even been so base as to remain totally silent about the outrageous thefts of the means of livelihood of Tamil fishermen by the fishermen of Tamil Nadu invading the rich fishing grounds off the Northern and Eastern coasts our land and stealing the fish that would otherwise have formed the `catch’ and hence the livelihood of so many of our Tamil fishermen.
On the other hand TNA members have done well for themselves from the suffering of the Tamil people. It would be remembered that the TNA delayed to nominate a person to the Parliamentary Select Committee which is probing the charges against the Chief on the ground that most of its MPs were abroad. How were the TNA MPs able to be abroad? Did they go with their own funds or were they sponsored, and if so by whom?
Clearly they would not have been able to visit foreign countries as often as they do but for the fact that they are MPst of that party and purported to represent the Tamil people. This perhaps provides one reason why the TNA has refrained from making any comments or observations on behalf of the Tamil people with regard to the inhuman crimes committed by the LTTE or the Indian fishermen.
It is also significant to observe that like the disgusting Sinhalese politicians, the loyalty of the members of Tamil political parties has been to themselves and to no other. Thus, when veteran Tamil politician V. Anandasangaree who had turned against the LTTE was prevented from campaigning or even casting his vote at the elections of 2000 the TNA remained mum; similarly when TNA members were assaulted by the EPDP and other political parties which were finally opposed to the LTTE, the leadership of those parties remained mum; and by the same token when members of the EPDP and other parties such as EPRLF which were against the LTTE were murdered by the LTTE the TNA remained mum.
They who spout so much about democracy and the rule of law have, in the ultimate analysis, acted on the basis that the suppression on the democratic rights of their opponents is good and proper and that all that is wrong is any kind of limitation being placed on their supposed rights and liberties.
The Muslim politicians have been no better. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress which first supported Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then President Premadasa, then Chandrika Kumaratunga, then Ranil Wickremesinghe and has now come back to Mahinda Rajapaksa with attendant benefits to themselves has proved itself in no uncertain terms to be nothing short of a political prostitute. Many SLMC MPs have deserted their party and been bought over by the Government with portfolios.
Thus, all these parties like the parties with Sinhalese majorities are engaged in politics only for their own benefit and the PCs provide the opportunity to enrich themselves at the cost and expense of the public and to enhance their powers. That is all that these PCs have achieved.
Thus, even assuming without conceding that Provincial Councils will not pave the way for separation, our experience with these white elephants for 24 years clearly proves that they, together with the 13th Amendment must go.