President Maitripala Sirisena had made a special point at last Saturday’s All Party Conference. “Although woman candidates were fielded in the past, even woman voters were not keen to elect them”, the president had remarked causing peals of laughter in the audience that included Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The event was held to discuss the delimitation of electoral wards in view of the next local authorities’ election.
President Sirisena went on to say that female representation at local-govt level decision making should be ensured through some form of legal means.
In addition to the desirability of women in local governance, a myriad of other matters related to local elections were discussed and analysed at the occasion.
A five-member committee headed by senior official Asoka Peiris has been appointed to look into shortcomings in the creation of wards during the former rule. All identified discrepancies were to be ironed out in accordance with recommendations made by the the Peiris Committee.
The election would be conducted under a mix of the Proportional Representation System and the First Past the Post System, as provided for in the laws introduced by the former government. After a delay, plans are now in place for the declaration of the election date during the first quarter of next year.
Both President Sirisena and the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe expressed their willingness to have the election prior to April 10, 2016. Nonetheless, a great deal of work has to be completed before that, and as such a pall of doubt hovers over the time preferred by both leaders.
President Sirisena also had reservations with regard to the timing of the local elections although he was willing hold them . He noted that the report of the delimitation committee had to be reviewed, and the present Local Authority Election Law amended to address the concerns of all parties.
Local Government and Provincial Councils Minister Faizer Mustapha said he was committed to address all issues for the declaration of election dates as early as possible. Peiris, who chairs the committee working on the subject, sought time till January 31, next year to submit the committee report.
As for woman representation, the president and the prime minister, as the leaders of the two main parties-United National Parties (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) - were in agreement to allocate 25 per cent of slots in the nomination lists for female candidates.
At the occasion, Peiris analysed complaints received by his committee and pointed out the anomalies in the creation of electoral wards during the previous rule. He observed that the National Delimitation Commission, at that time, had not taken into account recommendations made by the district level committees in the demarcation of ward boundaries. It has eventually resulted in many differences in the recommendations by the two committees.
Now, the Pieris Committee has been given the task of comparing and contrasting these reports to rectify errors in area identification. The committee had received as many as 1800 complaints initially; 500 other complaints had been received later.
These complaints were related to the renaming of some electoral wards, creating fresh ones, and altering the criteria for demarcating ward boundaries and so on. The committee had also received some complaints that the creation of some multi-member wards cannot be rationalised.
The disregard to minority concerns was yet another subject in some complaints received.
Irrational ward allocation
Formerly, the Delimitation Committee had created 4,584 single member wards, 441 two- member wards and nine multi-member wards. However, the irrationality arose in the allocation of wards under each local authority, be it a pradeshiya sabha, urban council or municipal council. In one instance in the Samanthurai Pradeshiya Sabha, in the Digamadulla electoral district, a voter population of 60,000, had been divided into ten electoral wards for the local body election. However, Dehiattakandiya PS of the same district with a similar voter population had been allocated 21 wards.
In a separate case, Kuchchaveli Pradeshiya Sabha of the Trincomalee District, with 33,000 voters, had been allocated 10 wards while a similar number of wards has been allocated to Padaviya Pradeshiya Sabha with only 12,000 voters.
People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL), the local election monitoring watch, has decided to step up action ahead of the local authorities’ election. Its Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi said the delimitation work would be followed up and the key issues related to each local authority identified. PAFFREL has also arranged voter education programmes. “The political parties and independent groups will be prevailed upon to field clean candidates in conformity with the March 12 Declaration,” he said.
Range Bandara alerted on opposition move to disturb PM
Trade unions, covering the entire spectrum of public service, planned a general strike on December 15. However, some trade unions shelved their decision after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made a statement to the House, promising to accommodate some of their demands- the addition of the present Rs.10, 000 allowances to the basic salary in stages, lowering vehicle emission test fee, etc.
Ahead of his speech, government legislators sensed that some plans had been hatched by the Joint Opposition to disturb the PM during his speech. First, Deputy Speaker Tilanga Sumathipala alerted State Minister of Vocational Training and Skills Development Minister Palita Range Bandara about it. Minister Bandara relayed the message to his colleagues, and strengthened the presence of ruling side members in the House.
Budget a hodgepodge –Joint Opposition
However, the Joint Opposition, acting under the obvious leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, called this budget ‘a hodgepodge’. MP Bandula Gunawardane said the Budget, since its Second Reading, had been tinkered with too much, even negating original revenue proposals.
“In the original set of proposals, Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake proposed to raise Rs. 18 billion as revenue by increasing the vehicle emission test fee to Rs.5000. But, it was later reduced to Rs.1500 as announced in the prime minister’s statement. Then, the government cannot reach the expected revenue target. The Budget has been thrown out of gear in this manner,” he said.
Recently, Bandula Gunawardane, together with former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and MP Gamini Lokuge, addressed a seminar on the Budget in Homagama, Colombo. He spoke about the way the government had bloated the allocation for education by taking into account the capital value of land and buildings of schools. There was laughter when he said Prof. Peiris’ grandmother’s grandmother had donated land to Vishaka Vidyalaya, in Colombo and that its value had been added as recurrent expenditure of the education sector in the Budget.
The Joint Opposition has handed over a no-confidence motion against Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake for this erroneous calculation, but former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had not placed his signature to it. Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella mocked the Joint Opposition effort in Parliament.
“You have failed to get the signature of even the former president,” he said.
CBK’s office proposed Peace Education as new school subject
Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga seems to be active behind the scenes in reconciliation among different ethnic and religious groups. She played a pivotal role at the last presidential election. Now, she heads the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) under the Presidential Secretariat.
To foster reconciliation, her office has proposed to introduce a new subject; ‘Peace Education’ to school curricula.
She had yet another meeting with the representatives of political parties including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to discuss various aspects of reconciliation and power devolution.
The government has also hastened action in this regard. It will move a resolution in January to initiate work on the evolution of a new constitution. Ruling Party MP Jayampathi Wickramaratne who heads the committee functioning under the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed this. Already, the All Party Conference (APC) has met twice to discuss the proposals of political parties. Also, it has sent a dossier of the APC work to the respective parties. However, the two main parties-UNP and SLFP- are yet to submit their proposals making small parties wonder how they can proceed in the absence of proposals from the two main parties.
DEW calls for unity among Left parties
The 90th anniversary of India’s communist movement was held in New Delhi recently. Former Minister D.E.W. Gunasekara of the Communist Party attended the function to mark the anniversary, representing Sri Lanka’s Left movement. It was a confab of the leftist parties from Asia. In Asia, the communist parties are calling the shots in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Nepal. The two-day workshop discussed how neo-liberalism and religious fundamentalism, among others, had hit Asian nations. In fact, it has been leftist ideological conclusion that religious fundamentalism is a response to neo-liberalism.
Against this backdrop, Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the pioneering left movement of Sri Lanka, is to celebrate its 80th anniversary on December 19. Fresh after his interactions with Asian left leaders, Gunasekara, in his congratulatory message to the LSSP, called for unity among Left parties in in Sri Lanka because ‘the country warrants it’.
Dunesh into gem trading with Swiss watch manufactures
Disaster Management Deputy Minister Dunesh Gankanda recently attended an international conference on natural disasters in Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland is famous for manufacturing the world’s finest and the most expensive wrist watches. A branded wrist watch is sometimes priced as high as Rs.30 million. This cost is mainly due to the embedding of cut gems for a quality finish.
During the tour, Gankanda who is from Ratnapura, the city of gems, is reported to have held talks with leading watch manufacturers to look into the possibility of entering into gem-trading agreements with them. Currently, Sri Lankan gems are supplied to Swiss watch manufacturers through middlemen in Bangkok that eats into the profit margin of Sri Lankans. Gankankanda therefore sought the possibility of direct trading with Swiss manufacturers. Also, he met an investor ready to enter the business of cutting of gems bound for Swiss markets, using high-tech equipment.
PM hails Dunesh initiative
In the parliamentary complex, Gankanda communicated his idea to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Later it is reported they met in his office and discussed the subject
The PM, who sounded happy about the deputy minister’s initiative, had said, “Ok, you seem to have done your homework well. Give me a paper on this, I will speak to Malik and you can go ahead.”
PC Shivajilingam alone again
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member of the Northern Provincial Council M.K. Shivajilingam is notorious for making inflammatory remarks and provocative acts regarding the political question of the North and the East. The TNA leadership often disassociates itself with the activities of Shivajilingam and it looks as if he is left to himself. However, he managed to get his resolution adopted by the provincial council. Recently, he moved a resolution calling for UN mediation to bring about a solution to issues concerning the Tamils.