The Sunday Times Editorial

26th January 1997

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Greasy poll

Nominations for local government elections are to be received from February 5 to 12, although there are still widespread doubts and reservations as to whether these polls should or would be held.

Even if the election is eventually held it will be largely a mid-term test of strength for the ruling People's Alliance and the opposition parties. We need to come to terms with realities. The election will be nothing less and nothing more than a test of public opinion on the political parties. It would mean very little in terms of service to the people. Often the right man or woman councilor would come from the wrong party or the other way around. So much for the sovereignty of the people. In terms of today's dilution and denigration of democratic values, the people are sovereign only on election day or more so just for the few moments they are in a polling booth. After elections the people are forgotten. It is the same old dirty story of humbug and hypocrisy.

Just look at the local councils. Most of them are a sham and a shame Ñ dens of corruption and incompetence. Their high rates inversely proportionate to the low services. If the Colombo Municipal Council is supposed to be the premier local body in the country, then its performance hardly lends itself to emulation by smaller bodies. The Town Hall is a disgrace. For a buck, any Municipal by-law could be broken. The city and its environs are infested with mosquitoes, garbage, dengue and an assortment of other forms of pollution. So it is throughout the country. Other councils are no different. Recently 'The Sunday Times' reported how influential people including politicians to whom state land had been leased out were in default to the more than Rs. 350 million but little was being done about it. Prosecutions are few and far between and the few that end up in courts are only against those people who have not been willing or able to oil somebody's dirty palm.

The PR system in local government has resulted in a situation where the people don't know who their ward member is. In earlier years, we knew our councillors Ñ we knew where they resided in the locality and could go to them with our problems. Today the councillor is virtually a non-entity for the voter and there is no contact whatsoever. In addition the multiplicity of bodies and the overlapping of their functions have created a situation where people are driven from pillar to post seeking a job of work to be done. If a road needs repairs, the Urban Council tells us to go to the Provincial Council; that council tells us to go to the Highways Ministry or the Road Development Authority, till finally the people decide to tell the whole lot of them to go to hell.

It is not enjoyable to be so cynical and sarcastic about so sacred an event as a democratic election. But that is what most people think of most party politicians today at local and national level. What a pity we don't have more people like Pieter Keuneman who in his long march of 50 years threw all his time and personal wealth into the service of the people. We need today in politics men and women who will ask not what they can get from the country but what they could give to the country and the people.

Not enough

The state media especially have hailed the visit and talks held here by Indian Foreign Minister Inder Kumar Gujral as heralding a new chapter in Indo-Lanka relations. Well and good. We are happy India has promised assistance for rehabilitation and pledged non-interference in internal affairs. But that pledge is only a conformity to a basic principle in bilateral relations between any two countries.

As we said last week India is to a degree responsible for the LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka. We need give no details again, because the training and financial backing given to the LTTE by India in the past are public knowledge. So we believe India needs to take practical steps to undo the damage. Without making vague statements, India needs to come out strongly and openly against LTTE terrorism and co-operate effectively with Sri Lanka in dealing with that problem.

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