A unique hub of governance

17 April 2014 04:56 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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It is strange that many countries do not appear to emulate the example of Sri Lanka in its policies of governance. After all we have so many systems of governance from the single unit of authority at the apex, to a parliament, provincial councils, district administration, divisional administration, city, urban and village administrations that start from grassroots levels. You can name any unit of governance and Sri Lanka is bound to have it. In fact all these forms of political and bureaucratic administration are said to be for the sole benefit of the citizens, the people whose votes are wooed with manifestos of the Mahinda Chintana and the other manifestos of other political parties that join the fray to grab the glorious task of serving the people.

Often media foolishly perhaps, tries to explain the problems faced by the jumbo cabinet we have. After all one cannot really blame the President for offering various portfolios to those from other political parties, who have won on the loyalties of the people for that party, but then when elected think why not join the government, after all they can always trot out the excuse that the Opposition is a non-starter. They proclaim that they can provide a service to the people by joining hands with a vibrant government which also gives them kudos of various other perks including that of a post as a Minister, deputy minister or whatever.

The President carried out a cabinet re-shuffle on January 2 last year appointing some new ministers and deputy ministers. The cabinet has now almost 67 ministers, there are about 30 deputies and another two project ministers. This number may change to greater numbers in the future or they may lessen since the Cabinet has in it a large number of coalition members. However all these government parliamentarians appear to take their duties for implementing the Chintana policies rather lightly, many of them don’t bother to attend Parliament or answer the questions posed by the Opposition in a relevant manner. In fact parliamentarians often appear unaware of the existing realities that the people face. The increased prices of essential commodities and the hardship the ordinary citizen faces is of very little consequence, but to placate their conscience they are apt at drawing red herrings to distract the people. They often have some cultural show or exhibition to take hordes of folk from rural areas to visit the these or view the new harbour or some such thing, but they are loath to visit their own constituencies and see the realities that exist, the lack of primary schools, the dearth of medicines at base hospitals and the distance people walk to reach some government institution since they lack the money to pay transport fares.
The very few who can enjoy the night races and visit five-star hotels find refuge in the Central Bank report that the country’s per capita income was US$3,280 in 2013, and forget that the Official Poverty line (Dept. of Census) at national level for March 2014 is Rs.3811which cannot buy any essentials to feed a family of four.

Provincial Councils are the next level of governance and in the recently-held provincial elections in the Western and Southern Provinces the councillors are said to have lofty ideals of providing sustainable development to the marginalized people according to the Sunday Times and to travel on many of the pot-holed roads that mark most marginalized areas each newly-elected member to both Councils will receive vehicle permits to the value of US$50,000.

Accordingly, 44 newly-elected provincial councillors in the Western Province and 21 members in the Southern Province will receive the permits. What they do with the permits is another matter but most ministers in the provincial councils tend to pass the buck to the Central Government when they are unable to develop an area represented by the District Secretariat which is another of the coterie of administrative units. It has in it bureaucrats representing almost all ministries in the Central Government. They are often very apt at passing the buck to the Centre or to the Provincial Council when any complaint is made regarding public amenities or essential health and educational needs.

The Divisional Secretariat is an appendage of sorts to the District Secretariat with government bureaucracy wielding their powers but their purview is limited to a smaller area. And now the Economic Project Officers have come to join them. One also must remember the smaller coteries of local government in municipal, urban and rural units. From parliamentarians to bureaucrats coming down to the Grama Seveka Niladaris all are supposed to have just one sole desire and combined role across the spectrum of the citizens to provide them with sustainable development and a quality life.

But what essentially happens is that instead of working towards one common objective they all appear to be attempting to achieve their personal agendas at the expense of the people they serve.

Having been a bureaucrat many, many years ago when the system of a political authority was first established, I yet believe that if the bureaucrats centralize their coordination with the work of the other sectors as they should and are trained to then the apparatus of governance which Aristole visualized in his concept of democracy with its transparency, accountability and responsibility will give a better quality of life to the people especially the marginalized.

This reminds me of an instance when it was announced by a provincial councillor that cinnamon plants would be distributed to the farmers, they trouped to that office and were told rather rudely that there were no cinnamon plants for distribution, then some of them went to the District Secretariat. To my mind the official being a government servant could have sorted their trouble with just a mere telephone call instead of which he brusquely dismissed them and so sans the cinnamon plants the farmers went home. So much for the formats of governance.

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