While a new Constitution is on the drawing boards, a 20th Amendment to the existing (1978) Basic Law is creeping up for passage in the interim. The 20th Amendment was meant to be on Electoral reforms, but this appears to be a hurried move to offset the need to hold Provincial Council elections that are [...]


Why this controversy over elections to PCs


While a new Constitution is on the drawing boards, a 20th Amendment to the existing (1978) Basic Law is creeping up for passage in the interim. The 20th Amendment was meant to be on Electoral reforms, but this appears to be a hurried move to offset the need to hold Provincial Council elections that are looming in at least three areas, viz., East, North Central and Sabaragamuwa – something sections of the National Unity Government are averse to holding, given its current standing with the electorate.

According to prevailing laws, PCs must be dissolved on time. The Government has found every excuse under the sun to put off local government elections, the hapless minister asking for long dates like a President’s Counsel with a bad brief. So, the 20th Amendment seeks to vest in Parliament all powers of the PCs when they are dissolved, and to hold all PC elections in the nine provinces on the same date. On count one, it might seem that the Government envisages a long dissolution of the councils; certainly the three up for grabs at the end of this year. On count two, the Government has a valid argument given the dissipation of time, energy and financial resources in conducting elections on different dates.

The Prime Minister’s proposal to the Cabinet for rescheduling PC elections as reported by our Political Editor last week is based entirely on the holding of elections. One of the arguments of the PM was that such staggered elections were a distortion of the ‘public perception’ regarding the popularity or otherwise of a political party and that being a decisive factor at future elections. SLFP Ministers, however, now say they want elections irrespective of what the Cabinet decided.

That is precisely the point. Everything seems to revolve around elections to these PCs; nothing about their effectiveness in serving the people. These elections are primarily the flexing of the muscles of political parties. Money bags are thrown open once again. They are aimed at gaining political control and have nothing much to do with devolution of political power from Colombo to the provinces.

Now, 30 years after they were controversially introduced to the country, even the Northern PC for which it was originally mooted has done next to nothing for the people it represents. The council itself is in the throes of intra-fighting among members of the same party, the TNA that dominates it. It’s all politics and power-hungry politicians, not people. Elsewhere in the country, they are miniature copy-cat parliaments, with elected councillors hurling verbal abuse at each other, running away with the mace, talking shop and only showing any unity when it comes to duty-free car permits and study tours abroad.

Civil society groups are criticising what they see as an insidious attempt to postpone PC elections through the 20A; former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who in 1987 got on the streets to oppose the setting up of PCs sniffing electoral success wants to defeat 20A; and women’s activists have petitioned the Supreme Court asking for a 30 percent quota for themselves. To hell with whether these white elephant PCs do any service to man or beast – other than the political parties.

Financial criminals must pay back with interest

The entire week went by with the guessing game of whether Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake would throw in the towel or face the ignominy of being removed from office in the fallout from his alleged complicity with those in the epicentre of the storm that kicked up so much dust from the massive Central Bank bond scams of 2015 and 2016.

Ultimately, Mr. Karunanayake took the correct decision to step down from his post after some deliberation, and some coaxing. By the end of last week, it appeared that he had to be dragged out of his ministry kicking and screaming, to be drawn and quartered and thrown to ravenous wolves. He argued, and somewhat justifiably why he had to be the fall guy – the sacrificial lamb for doing his duty by the party. If Ministers must step down until corruption charges against them are cleared then more than half the Cabinet must do so right away. The biggest irony is that those in the Opposition calling for Mr. Karunanayake’s blood have had their own pockets lined with filthy lucre while they were in office. Today, the reputation of Ministers — recent, past and present — is mud.

The silver lining in this saga of corruption in high-level Government, especially with the Central Bank bond scam as the focus, is that there were upright officials of the Central Bank who reacted against a brazen act – not once, but twice, of diddling the public purse by the senior-most persona in the bank and his immediate family. Whistleblowers within the Bank gave the stories to the media while the then Governor tried desperately to stop the leaks by checking on mobile phone calls and then effecting mass transfers of staff. There is no doubt that this Government deserves credit for further pressing on with the investigation into what was initially a botched attempt at covering up a great bank robbery. Whether that credit must go for altruistic reasons or partisan political expediency is immaterial because public wrath against both parties in the coalition Government had already reached boiling point and spilling over.

Yes, such an investigation under the previous Government would be unthinkable. The only somewhat recent case of a Minister being asked to step down on allegations of corruption was almost 35 years ago when then Agriculture Minister E.L. Senanayake was removed together with Ministry Secretary Ranjan Wijeratne by President J.R. Jayewardene over a fertilizer tender. Both Mr. Senanayake and Mr. Wijeratne held high office thereafter, though. A young MP for Hewaheta, Anura Daniel was also asked to step down over his connections with a smuggler. Since then only Tilak Marapana has stepped down voluntarily when his name was dragged into a controversy where he was the lawyer to a client who was being investigated by his ministry.

One of the key factors in the ability of the Central Bank officials to react to what was happening inside their establishment was the independence they enjoy as public officials. This is what is needed in the entire public service that has been totally politicised over the years. The fact that they are public servants and not government servants should be the applicable nomenclature to denote the difference.

Today, the RTI (Right to Information) Law is in force again thanks to this Government. There is a positive side to the continuing investigation on the bond scams and that is that there was also a public outcry which a section of the Government tried to muffle. The investigations will necessarily have to go beyond the Bond Commission, to a logical conclusion until Yahapalanaya can claim total victory so that perpetrators of financial crimes against the people are not allowed to take the people for suckers. They must face the consequences of their actions and pay back their ill-gotten gains, with interest.

Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.