ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06

Devolution was always in practice through the ages

To whom it may concern!

A fact that the people do not appreciate is that there had been devolution of power in Sri Lanka from colonial times. The problem with us is that the present generation in the media whether printed or electronic do not know the history and culture or even the political and social aspects of the country - simply because they have not been educated in history at school since the 1970s. For instance, a person born in 1970 is 37 years old today – and is almost entering middle age, but being brought up specially under the open economy, he hardly understands the life and times of Lankans prior to 1977. It was truly quite a different world to that of today.

Can he or she believe that in 1970 a gallon of petrol (4 ½ litres) was only Rs. 4 and the return air ticket to London was only Rs. 4000 with all the comforts including hotel accommodation in transit. An ordinary village family could manage a week with about Rs. 25 because of the rice ration book with coupons – where the essential commodities – rice, sugar, dhal, Maldive fish etc. – all could be obtained from the co – operative subsidized at a minimal price.

Every citizen irrespective of age enjoyed the benefit of the rice ration book which was also the Identity Card of the country. It had to be handed over to the Food Controller before a person went abroad for long durations exceeding one year.

Officers to local government institutions were elected by the popular vote of the people at three year intervals and were governed by various political parties representing the prominent ethnic group of the locality or area.

For instance, the Jaffna Municipal Council was not run by the Sinhalese of the South but by the Tamils of the North with Alfred Duraiappah as the Mayor (SLFP) until he was gunned down by Prabhakaran in 1975. Today, the North-East local government institutions are not functioning due to the problem of terrorism.

The Colombo Municipal Council today is in the hands of the minorities. Colombo is not only the capital of Sri Lanka, but also the heart of all Sri Lankans. We have had different Mayors for the Colombo Municipal Council from different ethnic groups and political parties – Rudra Rajasingham in the early ’50s, Dr. N.M. Perera (LSSP) in 1955 and several Muslim Mayors (UNP) too. Similarly, the other local government bodies spread all over the country were governed by the prominent ethnic groups of the area. So it is worth mentioning here that the British who carved out the nine Provinces of Sri Lanka in about 1887 had not devolved power to the provinces but only to the local government bodies so that they may not interfere and will not hinder the civil administration of the country. For the smooth functioning of the local bodies they were tactful and intelligent enough to decide on the devolution unit.

But the Devolution of Power for the Provinces has become the topic of the day – which could have been implemented by the British in 1887 itself if they thought and felt that it was reasonable and suitable for a country like Sri Lanka.

We have been watching what is happening in Parliament and how the minority MPs are behaving even without the proposed devolution of power. We can imagine or assume future trends and possibilities as well as the consequences once the so-called Devolution of Power in this country comes into play resulting in the curtailing of the powers of the President, the present Legislature and the judiciary.

By S.A.P. Subasinghe, Alawwa.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.