All hurdles on the road to the local government elections have been removed finally with an amendment to the Local Authorities Elections Act this week to revoke the nominations tendered for the Maritimepattu and Puthukudiyiruppu Pradeshiya Sabha elections in 2013, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha had told Parliament on Tuesday.
The allegation against the government for the delay in holding local government election was not a hundred percent reasonable. There were many time-consuming technical issues to be sorted out after the introduction of the mixed electoral system for local government elections in 2012. However, government also seems to have attempted to drag on with those technical issues, prolonging the delay in holding elections.
There were clear indications that the government attempted to delay the elections for the three provincial councils, the term of which elapsed in September and October this year. Therefore it is obvious that one would conclude that the government was hell bent to put off the local government elections as well.
First, the government brought in the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill in September with a provision to hold elections for all nine provincial councils on the same day. But when the Supreme Court ruled that the Amendment was unconstitutional, as it necessitates the postponement of elections for some provincial council, among other reasons, government totally abandoned it.
As the government dropped the Bill in toto, without presenting it again removing or altering the unconstitutional Articles in the Bill, including the provisions for the postponement of PC elections, it is reasonable for one to infer that it was brought in purely with the intention to postpone the PC elections.
Close on the heels of the Supreme Court ruling on the 20th Amendment, the government sneaked in an amendment to the Provincial Councils Elections (Amendment) Bill which was originally meant for the provision for the inclusion of 30 percent female candidates in nomination papers submitted by political parties and independent groups. Far lengthier than the original Bill it was, the amendment provided for the introduction of a mixed electoral system for provincial council elections which necessitated the postponement of PC elections, for want of carving out wards.
"Garbage disposal, street lighting and levying assessment taxes and taxes on transfer of title deeds are the major duties entrusted to them. However, the tsunami disaster in 2004, the recent flood and landslide disasters and the garbage crisis pointed how handicapped and powerless the local government bodies were "
Since the government did not bring in the mixed electoral system for provincial councils through a separate Bill which too should have gone through the Supreme Court, it is reasonable for one to suspect the government’s motive.
However, the case with regard to the local government elections was different, in spite of the Opposition having made a hue and cry over their delay. The main reason for the delay in holding LG elections was the introduction of the mixed electoral system in 2012 during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime- as delimitation of wards in areas that come under all 335 LG bodies had to be carried out under the new system. The delimitation process had taken four years and one month and the report was handed over to Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha on January 17, this year. Whether the government wanted to delay the LG polls or not, the process necessitated the delay in holding elections that were scheduled to be held in 2015 and 2016.
Both the former government and the present government could have held the LG elections under the previous Proportional Representation (PR) system, until the delimitation process was completed. But it was prevented as the former Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister A.L.M. Athaullah had published a Gazette Notification on January 1, 2013, announcing that the new electoral system had come into operation fully and the previous electoral system has become defunct.
After the delimitation process was completed the Local Authorities Election Act had to be amended explaining the new electoral process. It was done in September. This necessitated amending three more Acts – the Municipal Councils Election Act, Urban Councils Elections Act and the Pradeshiya Sabha Elections Act. In the meantime, the leaders of the plantation community had pressed the government to divide the Nuwara Eliya and Ambagamuwa Pradeshiya Sabhas in the Nuwara Eliya District into three each.
"The main reason for the delay in holding LG elections was the introduction of mixed electoral system in 2012 during the MR regime- as delimitation of wards in areas that come under all 335 LG bodies had to be carried out under the new system"
They argued that the population in these two Pradeshiya Sabhas was more than 200,000 while some other local government areas in the district had only a population of about 10,000. Both the government and the Opposition accepted the demand and four new PSs – two each in the previous two pradeshiya sabha areas- were created in a hurry, a few days ago. However, this delayed the issuance of the gazette notification containing the number of councillors in each local government body.
The printing of gazette notification is still in progress, as it is said that it runs into hundreds of pages which are to be translated into English and Tamil languages. And it would have been further delayed had the government accepted the demand by the people in Sainthamaruthu in Ampara District as well, to create a new PS for their locality which is currently under the purview of the Kalmunai Municipal Council. Creation of a new PS for Sainthamaruthu which is situated adjacent to Kalmuani on the Ampara-Kalmunai main road was a promise by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. But it was deterred from being fulfilled along with the creation of new Pradeshiya Sabhas in the Nuwara Eliya District as the people in Kalmunai protested against it.
Kalmunai civil organizations argue against any division of Kalmunai Municipality while contending that if Sainthamaruthu area were to be detached from Kalmunai, all four local bodies that were amalgamated into Kalmunai Pradeshiya Sabha in 1987 should be reinstituted. They do not seem to be bothered by the risk of losing the Municipal Council status for their area.
The question remains however, as to why the politicians place so much emphasis on the local government elections, considering the scanty service that the LG bodies provide for the people. Now that most of the problems faced by the people at the local level have been entrusted to the provincial councils and the Divisional Secretaries to be resolved, their significance is minimal. Garbage disposal, street lighting and levying assessment taxes and taxes on transfer of title deeds are the major duties entrusted to them. However, the tsunami disaster in 2004, the recent flood and landslide disasters and the garbage crisis pointed out how handicapped and powerless the local government bodies were.
They took months to clear the garbage piled up on roads after the floods in the lower Kelani Valley areas last year. Only the prime municipal councils such as those in Colombo and Kandy have the capacity to handle somewhat major projects in any field. In short, we do not see any influence that LG bodies have on the lives of the people.
However, the local bodies have become the training centres for the sons and daughters of politicians who aspire to climb on the ladder of political power. Their next target is the provincial council which is the stepping stone for them to be elevated as Parliament members, and then to be deputy ministers and ministers. They are in fact, not concerned about thousands of roads that come under the purview of the local government bodies going under water on rainy days or the potholes on rural roads or rundown bridges and culverts that have to be repaired by the LG bodies.
"The leaders of the plantation community had pressed the government to divide the N’Eliya and Ambagamuwa PSs in the N’Eliya District into three each. They argued that the population in these two PSs was more than 200,000 while some other LG areas had only a population of about 10,000"