ouglas Devananda, the leader of the Eelam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) told Parliament on Thursday during the budget debate that the Northern Provincial Council run by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has not spent a cent that had been allocated to the Council by the government this year. Mr. Devananda who is an MP representing the Jaffna District said the funds allocated to the Provincial Council even in 2013 and 2014 had not been utilized.
Interestingly, TNA leaders have neither contested the claim nor given reasons for the underutilization of funds by the council so far.
On Friday, many members of the Western Provincial Council pointed out a similar situation in the fiscal administration of their Council as well, during the budget debate of the council. According to the revelations by the members, including those from the ruling UPFA, the total utilization of funds allocated by the Central Government to the Western Provincial Council had been less than forty percent up to October 15, and there was no time or any possibility of utilization of the balance funds within the remaining 45 days in the year. They also cited that this situation was common in the local government bodies in the province and many other Provincial Councils as well.
No sane person would argue that funds are underutilized because problems faced by the people of these provinces or the local government areas have been solved. There are schools that are facing the threat of closure due to lack of facilities. Many schools do not have water and electricity and there are hundreds of vacancies remain to be filled in almost all ministries, it was told during the same debate at the Council. Rural roads are impassable during the rainy season. At the same time the funds are idling while the relevant politicians and officials are lavishly paid by the public coffers.
Members of the Western Provincial Council had attributed this situation to lack of proper planning by the administrations of relevant Provincial Councils as well as the local government bodies and to the bureaucratic red tapes.
Ironically, it was against this backdrop, that the Chief Ministers of all nine Provincial Councils had protested against a budget proposal put forward by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to allocate funds to the Provincial Councils through the Local Government and Provincial Council Ministry, instead of decade-old direct funding system. Their contention was that funding to the Provincial Councils might be hampered when they are allocated through a ministry. But the reality was that they had not utilized the funds they had already been provided with. However, President Maithripala Sirisena had accepted their position and promised to rectify the issue.
Under utilization of funds at the regional as well as national levels is not new to Sri Lanka as this phenomenon has been discussed time and again for decades. The best case in point was the under utilization of pledges by international donors for the rehabilitation of the coastal areas around the country following the 2004 killer tsunami that claimed more than 40,000 lives. According to a report submitted by the then Auditor General, S.C. Mayadunne of the US$ 1,168.80 million worth of foreign aid for the tsunami victims only US$ 158.34 million – a mere 13.5% had been disbursed. Sri Lanka could have built a range of modern cities and townships along the coastal line using the funds pledged by the international community that had been moved by the devastation caused to the human lives and properties by the deadly waves.
The authorities missed the opportunity owing to the absence of specific rehabilitation projects and due to wrangling among the authorities and various other groups over a 300- metre limit from the sea for the rebuilding of houses that lasted until the world sympathy was diverted towards a similar tragedy; a deadly earthquake in Pakistan. Finally, the government removed the 300-metre limit but by that time the horse had bolted.
As pointed out, above the reasons for the under utilization of funds are lack of planning and bureaucratic red tapes. This is an important issue to be addressed forthwith by the political leaderships at the national as well as regional levels.
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