There is a pithy local saying ‘nangi pennala akka dunna’ (showed the younger sister and palmed off the elder one) to describe what happened before an arranged marriage where the marriage broker or the prospective groom was conned and taken for a ride. Whether this is indicative of what the Government did last week in [...]


Instead of jiggery-pokery, fix the PC system


There is a pithy local saying ‘nangi pennala akka dunna’ (showed the younger sister and palmed off the elder one) to describe what happened before an arranged marriage where the marriage broker or the prospective groom was conned and taken for a ride.
Whether this is indicative of what the Government did last week in passing the amendments to the Provincial Councils Bill is being hotly debated. Adamant as it was to put off scheduled Provincial Council elections due by the end of this year in three provinces, the Government was not going to take a Supreme Court determination ordering a referendum, if it wanted to do just that through a 20th Amendment, lying down.

The Government dusted a partly drafted Bill to provide women a quota at future elections, and through a bypass route introduced amendments to the amendment and bought time to delay holding elections. The hapless Attorney General is being blamed for giving his imprimatur to the Constitutional validity of all of these amendments. Critics say this is circumventing the Supreme Court that sits as the country’s Constitutional Court.

The Government says it is difficult to turn the omelette it has cooked back into an egg. A section of the Opposition is howling ‘blue murder’, while another section is being accused of passively concurring with the Government. ‘Fiat justitia ruat caelum’ – let justice be done even if the heavens may fall, is an old Latin phrase used as a legal term in English Law that means whatever the consequences, justice must be done.
The Government will not say there has been an error of Parliament, and the consequences of a defeat at the polls will be a fate worse than an accusation that it made a mockery of the legislative process. Many Governments do what they think are smart manoeuvres such as this, only to pay for them in the long run. As the country celebrates 70 years of parliamentary democracy here’s another clever piece of legislative jiggery-pokery to add to its historical records.

As we said last week, the entire Provincial Council debate revolves round elections to it – and has become a game of power-politics. This Government has even had to put its good governance theme on hold to postpone elections, and get over what may have been an embarrassing hurdle. Instead, the Government should see how to fix the Provincial Council system which serves neither man nor beast.

Highways – build in a hurry and repent at leisure

The Government’s ambitious road-building projects are under fire and for good reason. Not only are they spurred on by an unhealthy desire to compete with the previous administration, they blatantly disregard, even violate, due procedures and legal safeguards put in place to protect the environment and people.

The projects which run into billions of rupees will massively inflate national debt. Rather than seek funds from donors like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Asian Development Bank, the Government is borrowing commercial funds at steeper rates because it is faster and entails fewer conditions. Unlike JICA or ADB, export-import banks are less likely to insist on the long-term interest of the country.

The tenders are not open to all, contrary to what was promised when the Government took over. There is only limited international competitive bidding. In some cases, contractors are even pre-selected in a process that seems open to interference by interested parties.
The Government could go for supplier’s credit where they open up a project – complete with pre-feasibility, preliminary design and road trace to international bidders and invite them to come with credit. This ensures wider competition on a global scale. But this is not being considered.

Instead, agreements are made with various Governments to build roads here on condition that bids are limited to companies in those particular countries.

There is an absurd hurry to build expressways, however important some of them may be, short-circuiting due procedure. Contracts are being rushed into headlong. Families are issued notices under a section of the Land Acquisition Act which will see their properties grabbed overnight without them knowing when (if ever) compensation will be granted and how much.

The Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is pressured into approving half-baked environmental impact assessments (EIA). They know full well their conditions cannot be enforced once the project is underway.

The Road Development Authority (RDA) has a planning division and an environmental and social division which should be initiating projects to improve the road network based on future demand forecasts and availability of land and terrain for construction. However, most expressway programmes are driven top-down, as political decisions.

Feasibility studies have to be examined and accepted by the respective division in the RDA. It is well known that the RDA top management comprises some engineers heading projects and they will operate outside set procedure. This is now widely observed.

China-funded projects have not required rigorous feasibility studies. Many expressways and other road projects have been implemented without due return on investment. There are serious issues with how feasibility studies are also handed out. They are increasingly not advertised to major consulting companies and are handed over, instead, to favoured companies.

It has been proven that, in most cases, the cost estimated in these studies is surpassed during construction. The traffic levels and benefits are not achieved. In this scenario, most recent highway projects built at astronomical costs are unlikely to produce a net benefit to the economy.
These projects are meant to increase the wealth of a country. However, the fact that the Government draws a loan far greater than its actual value is a major problem. The reality that they will probably not produce the benefits required to pay back these loans is another.

Parliament and the Committee on Public Enterprise should initiate a special commission to inquire into all road projects since 2010– as this Government, had indeed pledged to do. This commission should start with the most recent initiatives and divulge to the public who is behind the current fiasco. Action must be taken before it is too late. These roads are leading to nowhere and nobody can say that the experts didn’t warn them of that.

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