The result from the Uva Provincial Council election last weekend was the buzz in the country over the past few days, and will continue to be so for some time. The ruling UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) was expected to lose some votes from the emphatic 2009 victory achieved in the backdrop of the defeat [...]


UPFA’s Waterloo in Uva and the unseen danger


The result from the Uva Provincial Council election last weekend was the buzz in the country over the past few days, and will continue to be so for some time. The ruling UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) was expected to lose some votes from the emphatic 2009 victory achieved in the backdrop of the defeat of the LTTE. It won 72 per cent of the vote back then, but the extent to which it lost those votes — down to 51 per cent in 2014 – mostly to the main Opposition UNP (United National Party), a party in total disarray, is what must concern the Government most.

Our News Desk toured the Uva Province this week to conduct a post-mortem survey on why the people of Uva, especially in the Badulla District, voted the way they did (seen in our story on Page 10). The result has given a shot-in-the-arm to the hitherto moribund UNP. Instantaneously, the party has forged unity, or done so at least on the face of it. There is a spring in the UNP’s step and, at long last, it has a sniff of a victory at the Presidential election widely anticipated in a few months’ time.

The party faithful are flocking back to the fold; critics of the Government see some salvation – some light at the end of a long and dark tunnel; Corporate businessmen and village mudalalis will, no doubt, look to put their hands in their pockets to finance a party that not long ago found it difficult to pay its phone bills; and many who shunned the party believing it to be not just a lame duck, but a dead duck, might rethink allegiances.

While all this debate takes place, one fundamental aspect that has eluded discussion is the worth of the Provincial Council system itself. Provincial Councils have long been considered a ‘white elephant’ of no use to man or beast in the ‘South’. They were mere elected bodies that allowed wanna-be legislators to have a good time at the expense of the people’s purse while providing little or nothing tangible in services to the people in return. Government leaders, who opposed these councils when in Opposition used these elections to boast that at least the people of the ‘South’ were with them come what may, until they seem to have met their Waterloo in Uva.

The ‘North’, whose politicians wanted an element of autonomy from Colombo, finally got their Council thanks to acknowledged Indian pressure, but are now being starved of some of the powers the Council has been vested, by law. Provincial Councils have replaced the local government municipalities, urban councils and the pradeshiya sabhas as the barometer of a Government’s popularity; the litmus test of public opinion mid-way through its term of office. In the case of Uva, being the last provincial poll before a Presidential election, it acquires even greater significance in that sense, but makes no sense in the on-going debate about the usefulness, or uselessness of Provincial Councils as a unit of devolution.

The inherent danger of the Provincial Council in the North and the argument that has been brought forth ever since the system was introduced in 1987 remain real even today. Is it a move towards federalism, a stepping stone for a separate state?

The TNA (Tamil National Alliance) has reiterated its call for a “federal structure within a united Sri Lanka”. In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court this week, the president of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi, the lead party of the TNA, harks back to the election statement made by it prior to the Northern PC election referring to “the Collective Rights that accrue to us as a Nation” and to “a merged Northern and Eastern Province based on a Federal structure”.
So whatever bearing the Uva election may have on the electoral politics of Sri Lanka, the root problem of devolution and the fears of federalism and secession will continue to linger as a thorn in the flesh of the Central Government.

Equal access to all
Come October 1st each year, and we see a lot of hype about children and elders as the world marks Children’s Day and International Day for Older Persons. Often overlooked though, is the silent daily battle they both fight when disability, illness, accidents and wear and tear of the body limit their ability and mobility to varying degrees.

While issues concerning children are more than that, for the rapidly ageing population of Sri Lanka – estimated at nearly 3 million over 65 years, the ‘Restriction on Ability’ they face is a growing concern. When one adds those with temporarily physical disability due to accidents, pregnancy, to those convalescing after surgeries and illnesses – and the otherwise able-bodied young war victims – the number is one in five in Sri Lanka.

In 1996, Parliament passed the Rights to Persons with Disabilities Act and in October 2006, legislation – Standards for Accountability of Public Buildings – State and Private Sector was passed. Then, on June 17, 2013, the Supreme Court asked the Attorney General to devise a mechanism to ensure that the private sector joined in this task. But little or nothing has happened .

New and renovated key buildings continue to marginalise millions of Sri Lankans posing safety hazards even after 18 years. Design Standards for Accessibility have not become a meaningful reality in Sri Lanka; something that is now a basic facility in the modern world.

Schools and universities continue to ignore these requirements depriving children of equal opportunity. The mushrooming private higher education institutions are no exception despite being affiliated to foreign universities. More than classroom deficiencies, it is the inaccessible, often slippery toilets that marginalise these children and youth.

Increasing numbers of people with arthritis, vertigo, neuropathy etc., suffer reduced ability. Yet, even state and private hospitals, orthopaedic wards included –some aiming for international awards and recognition — seem unconcerned while victims accept it as part of their karma to suffer such indignities.
The degree of an individual’s mobility should never be a disadvantage for a citizen today. That is the difference between a ‘developed nation’ and any other. Hotels that are being built to cater to foreign tourists are lagging well behind in access for the disabled, but they are awarded star status nevertheless.

Politicians busy electioneering, architects, contractors, businessmen – and the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA) and the Chambers of Commerce must pay greater attention to this aspect of making children and elders inclusive participants in today’s day and age. They must not be confined to their homes, fearful to venture out to enjoy life or to do the chores that are part of daily living.

It is imperative that people with impaired mobility are given access. Anything else would not just be patently unfair, but a costly blunder.

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