Business before politics

Friday, 25 March 2011 00:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI LANKA is facing a challenge in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and general development to the country. The Government is dealing with this by increasing the ease of doing business and finding new ways to cut though the red tape engulfing most new ventures.  

Cabinet on Wednesday decided to establish an organisation named Colombo Metropolitan City Corporation with a view to assist the five local bodies in the city region. This will include Colombo Municipal Council, Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Council, Sri Jayewardenepura-Kotte Municipal Council, Kolonnawa Urban Council and Kotikawatta-Mulleriyawa Pradeshiya Sabha.

In spite of the fact that the new corporation is to be established to streamline the local administration and build their capacity and capabilities with required powers, the existing five local bodies will continue to function, the Cabinet paper noted.

The City Corporation will be headed by a City Governor appointed by the President and all heads and the deputy heads of the said five local bodies and a nominated member from the opposition of each local authority will constitute the composition of this corporation.

Twelve advisory committees comprising of elected members of local bodies will also be set up to advise the corporation. This will enable the ruling and the opposition members as well to play a participatory role in exercising the powers of the new Corporation in a more democratic manner, the Minister said.

The Cabinet paper was proposed by Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils A.L.M. Athaullah and Cabinet decided to instruct the Legal Draftsman to prepare legislation for presentation in Parliament.

This all sounds positive until one remembers the incidents that led to the local government elections that saw the death of at least two people. Add to that the death of two people; one hand grenade explosion that wounded a policeman and over 100 complaints of election violations on Election Day, which puts the credibility of most of those elected into local governments into question.

What we are pointing out is that politicians aren’t usually trusted in Sri Lanka – to put the matter mildly. The chance that they will behave in a transparent and accountable manner while putting the best interests of good governance in the forefront is highly unlikely. Therefore, if the private sector is to gain benefit from these or other institutions, then the Government has to establish a mechanism that functions without personal contacts, bribes and other forms of chicanery.

This is easier said than done. For a group that is long used to getting ‘favours’ from people for simply performing their duty, the idea that local governments will facilitate entrepreneurship takes a certain leap of faith to believe. True, the Western Province is more economically productive than its counterparts, but this is more to do with businesses braving out the system rather than being helped by it.

If the city corporation is to live up to its name, then it must put aside any political connections, agendas and programmes and focus entirely on the benefit of the development put in its charge. This responsibility is not only towards businessmen but also to safeguard all stakeholders such as residents, the poor and the environment, which fall under their authority. Let the corporation have a transparent function and set an example for other institutions – both private and public – to follow.