Dissolved but relevant

Wednesday, 9 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

With the Uva Provincial Council’s term coming to an end on Tuesday, Sri Lanka is facing a rather unprecedented situation where all the provincial councils now stand dissolved. But it underscores the importance of the provincial councils working to be an entity that genuinely provides important services to the people and contributes to the country’s economy.  

Uva Province Governor Maithri Gunaratne announced by way of a gazette notification that the Uva Province Provincial Council, which had completed its five-year term, stood dissolved from midnight of 8 October. The terms of all nine PCs have lapsed now and their powers are vested with the governors of the respective councils.

The staging of elections to the Provincial Councils has been delayed due to the enactment of the new Provincial Council Act under which a new electoral system was introduced. The new law requires that new wards be demarcated by the Delimitation Commission before elections are held. It is likely that the issues around the delimination report will only be ironed out once a new government or at least a new president is elected and provincial council polls will be held in 2020. 

The lapse of all provincial councils presents the opportunity for all of them to be brought back to one election calendar, which was disrupted after the previous administration chose to conduct them piecemeal. This arguably presents an opportunity to re-examine the functions and responsibilities of the provincial councils and ensure that they serve the public in their development requirements.  

Provincial councils have long been viewed by the public as white elephants that gulp down resources and provide little in return, a sentiment which has been underscored by corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement for decades. No matter the colour of the Government in power, bribes are in play at these offices and the situation has become calcified to the extent that instead of attracting their own investment and becoming competitive stakeholders of the economy, the provinces have essentially become fiefdoms of corrupt public officials and elected politicians.

The 13th Amendment lists 37 items as subjects devolved to the provinces in what is named the Provincial Councils List. Seen as foremost among these are police and public order, education and educational services and land, because each of these subjects is further described in an appendix devoted to each. 

Agriculture and agrarian services, health, irrigation and social services and rehabilitation are the other significant subjects delegated to the provinces. It is therefore clear that the provincial councils have a great deal of responsibility in providing essential services to the public. 

In an ideal world, an ordinary citizen should be able to resolve most issues through his or her local council and should have no need to contact the relevant Member of Parliament unless a relative is stranded in a foreign country or confronted with any other international or inter-provincial issue. 

Yet the deeply flawed system of provincial councils continues to be a burden, as to date the central government has had to either maintain or expand its bureaucratic arm in regard to the devolved subjects, with education and transport being prime examples. 

Provincial councils will become active again in time but when that time comes they have to be held accountable along the same lines as the central government. Much attention is dedicated to the President and Parliament, in that same way citizens must start demanding better governance from their provincial councils.