The process of demarcating the boundaries of wards of Local Government bodies has turned out to be a ridiculous exercise with the subject minister and the delimitation committee chairman giving various dates for the allotted task to be completed.
The Delimitation Committee Chairman Asoka Peiris has been giving various dates for handing over of the committee report to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha while the Minister has been giving various time frames for holding LG elections. While Mr. Peiris has accused the minister and the two main political parties of delaying the process, the minister in turn has thrown back this allegation at Mr. Peiris.
The Daily Mirror in a news item said yesterday that gazetting of the delimitation report would be further delayed because of several mistakes and blunders it contained. Whatever the reasons are and whoever is responsible for the delay, the ultimate outcome is that the people have been deprived of their right to choose their representatives within a stipulated time frame. It must be recalled that the current process for electoral reforms began in 2003 when the then government took steps to appoint a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) which was headed by then minister and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardena. It recommended a mix of first-past-the-post (FPP) and proportional representation (PS) systems and accordingly the Local Government Elections Act was amended in 2012 providing for the election of 70 per cent of the members under the FPP and 30 per cent under PR.
With the reintroduction of the FPP system it became necessary to demarcate the wards in areas coming withing the LG bodies and in 2013 the then Rajapaksa government appointed a four-member National Delimitation Committee headed by Jayalath Ravi Dissanayake, a SLAS officer. With inputs from those who made representations to the committee, it in its report recommended, among others, the increase of the number of members to be elected to the 336 LG bodies from 4486 to 5096 from the demarcated wards.
Later a Cabinet sub-committee was appointed to look into the discrepancies in the demarcation of wards as recommended by the Jayalath Dissanayake Committee. The Asoka Peiris Committee was appointed in October 2015 to correct the mistakes in the previous committee report and submit a report acceptable to all stakeholders. The Asoka Peiris committee had to complete its task within three months with Mr. Peiris being quoted in the Sunday Times on January 3, 2016 as saying he was confident of handing over the final report by the January 31 deadline. However, it was postponed with the Government Information Department saying on June 22, 2016 that the Report was expected to be handed over on August 31.
Again on December 26 Mr. Peiris told the media that his report would be handed over to the Minister on the next day but again the Ministry said the release of the report had been delayed over some administrative matters. In an interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa of January 1, 2017 Mr. Peiris dropped a bombshell when he said it was the Minister who had asked him to delay the report and that both the main political parties were also of that mindset. He also blamed the ministry for not providing him with adequate translators.
The minister denied these allegations in an interview with the same paper in its next issue. The minister had also retaliated by refusing to accept the report when it was handed over by Mr. Peiris at a media conference on January 2, on the basis that that all five committee members had not signed it. Interestingly, the report had not been signed by the representatives of the two main parties -- the UNP and the UPFA which Mr. Peiris accused of being keen to delay the process. Finally the report was handed over to the Minister on January 17, thirteen years after the process started. Is it lethargy, incompetence, or dishonesty? Whatever it is the ultimate moral responsibility lies with the minister in charge.
So be it.