The Deputy Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Karunarathna Paranawithana in an interview with the said that the Ministry was keen on introducing a community governance system where community actively participated and said the Provincial Council system had to be upgraded in order to maximise its efficiency. He added the next Provincial Council elections would be held under the mixed system.
The Deputy Minister said he was opposed in bringing the death sentence as our judicial system was not sound enough and there were many innocent people who were punished for crimes they had not committed. He also expressed his concern on the lack of women’s quota with regard to female representatives.
He had the following to share with the Dailymirror:-
As the Deputy Minister of Provincial Councils (PC) and Local Government, do you think we still need Provincial Councils as there are many criticisms alleging that PCs are white elephants?
My humble opinion is that it is part of the law, part of the Constitution and part of the administrative system in Sri Lanka. Even though it was introduced as a solution for the ethnic question in this country now it has been properly established. Yes, there are questions against the PC system. However as a country we are not in a position to abolish. It will create many problems. To a certain extent now the PCs are handling a significant workload. The country is getting used to devolution and a friendly governance system. In that case we have to think positively about the PC system and upgrade it and get the maximum service out of that by maximizing the efficiency and fighting corruption, waste and bad political culture.
As you see, what are the areas that need improvisation in the PC system under this Ministry?
This ministry is not only about PCs we have another arm called Local Government bodies. We are handling both. Before the former was introduced in 1987, the Local Government system was established during the colonial period with the introduction of the Donoughmore Constitution. It was widely recognized and accepted that this country needed a wider spread Local Government system, and we have experienced several models in this country. The country has become a laboratory for Local Government. We have tested several models. Under the present system we have three local bodies. Which are Municipal Councils, Town Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. The part which is the absence of a proper system is there is no proper structure for the community to involve itself directly in the Local Government. Of course in Parliament, people cannot directly get involved. That is why you need a representative. But when it comes to the grassroots level there is no reason to avoid direct participation of the public.
In most of the developed and developing countries they have introduced direct democratic measures at least in local governance. That is where community participating in budgeting, planning, implementation and sharing the ownership are taking place. At all these levels the community and people directly participate. We do not have a proper mechanism for that. We only elect members for local councils, town councils or Pradeshiya Sabha and that particular member decides everything.
This Ministry is keen to introduce a community governance system. Actually this has been tested several times. During former Premier SWRD Bandaranaike’s period, it was successfully introduced but later on it disappeared. Even President Premadasa tried to introduce it. Presently the North-Western Province to a certain extent maintains a Community Government system. This Ministry in weeks to come would introduce that structure.
The other area is capacity-building for representatives and bureaucrats. In terms of good governance accountability, efficiency adaptation of new technologies we have to provide good training and we can modernize these aspects.
"My humble opinion is that it is part of the law, part of the Constitution and part of the administrative system in Sri Lanka. Even though it was introduced as a solution for the ethnic question in this country now it has been properly established"
Most of the PCs are to be dissolved and elections to be held early next year. Are the elections going to be held under a new system?
According to the law, now the system is a collaborative system proposed under the Local Authorities Election (Amendment) Act No. 22 of 2012 .Under this Act, we have to conduct elections. Basic features of this are introduction of the ward system, that is single member constituency system. It has been there earlier but later on we converted to the proportional representative system. Now with the enactment of this law it is suggested to create wards for each and every local body. We are about to create more than 5000 wards. Seventy percent of the representatives will come from wards. We would be maintaining the present PR system for thirty percent.
The other feature in the new system is the introduction of multi-member constituencies. It is totally a new feature. If we are going to have an election theoretically, we have to do so under this law. However, most of the political parties are not happy with this law. There are three criticisms levelled against the 2012 Act. First, is that some believe the Delimitation or the Demarcation Commission through the boundaries that create the wards the process was not transparent and not inclusive. They claim that many suggestions were badly ignored and neglected. Secondly, they say that the creation of multi-member constituency is not fully in accordance with the very principle of single-member constituencies. But here, even though, you call it a single-member constituency, but it is not. It has violated the principle. The third, and vital allegation is that in this region we all agreed to in principle that there should be a women’s quota as an affirmative action. It was widely accepted everywhere in the world. The accepted ratio is a 30% quota for women. But this has been dangerously neglected under the new law. There is no women’s quota and no affirmative action. The rationality behind introduction behind women’s quota is for local bodies is that thereby we create grassroots-level women leaders so that they would ascend in the political ladder. But as long as you close that gate, there is no proper avenue for the women in this country to get involved in representative politics. I personally believe this is a serious negligence in our law.
The question is how to reconcile. One is the Local Government Minister has the power to resolve certain issues. This Act provides him the power to appoint another Committee to look after grievances and suggest some Amendments. The Ministry is going to do that. And the Government has appointed a ministerial subcommittee chaired by Minister Kabir Hashim to address grievances, allegations and political interests to recommend the Cabinet to do the needful. However, women-quota issue would not be resolved by these two Committees. If we are going to do that, we have to bring another Amendment to the 2012 Act and get it passed by the Parliament with a simple majority. Now the Prime Minister and the President are about to discuss the matter and would give us necessary instructions on how to address the issue and conduct the polls.
"We are going to introduce Independent Commissions. The political culture is different. People who robbed this country are being questioned"
You are someone who vehemently opposed about bringing the death sentence. But considering the recent incidents, do you still believe we shouldn’t bring it?
I strongly believe that we should not bring it. If you look at the principle of punishment, there are four aspects. One is prevention of crime. Second is to isolate the offender from society. The third principle is that the rehabilitation of the offender, and the fourth is revenge. The civilized world does not believe in the fourth principle. My humble opinion is life imprisonment is the best punishment. Thereby we isolate the offender from society and we still keep him behind the gate and rehabilitate, and it could be a measure to prevent crime.
Our judicial administration system is not strong enough. Sometimes innocent people are getting caught and hanged. History has proven that many innocent people have been punished. As I said, the civilized world does not agree with revenging, but I am for the other three principles of punishing offenders. We have committed to International conventions, United Nations system, in our Geneva process that we are not for the implementation of capital punishment. We cannot go back. We can understand the popular outcry in the street that whenever a grave crime occurs everybody vents fury, dissatisfaction, sorrow by organizing rallies, picketing etc. But the policy makers should not mechanically fall prey to that kind of popular demands. The civilization is not a single man’s creation. Society as a whole should bear the responsibility. We have to do something about it. Yes, the ordinary people cannot play the role of the police or the judicial system. We have to understand the reason behind these crimes. There are organized crimes and I am not talking about those. If you look at the recent rape, violence against women and children and majority of them are not organized crimes. Those are actions of fanatics. If you look at the root causes of those cases, there is poverty, lack of education, cultural backwardness and sexual depression are the reasons. We need social-related solutions for these.
The outcry for the capital punishment undermines the need to find a cure for these root causes. This is why I am vehemently not in favour re-introducing the capital punishment.
What is your opinion about the prison system of the country?
Very pathetic. That is why we have a Ministry for reforms. The Government has paid attention to upgrade the prison system but still we need fresh knowledge, new attitudes and many other things.
"Our judicial administration system is not strong enough. Sometimes innocent people are getting caught and hanged. History has proven that many innocent people have been punished."
You were one of those who actively participated in bringing this Government in to power. At the beginning, it vouched for a new system. But it too has a large number of Ministers. What are your views on this?
It depends on the mandate given at the last elections. At the beginning both the President and the Prime Minister had proclaimed before the public that there would be a National Government, the current one. Then Constitution enabled that kind of National Government to have a jumbo Cabinet. However, there is a difference compared to the MR regime. We are going to introduce Independent Commissions. The political culture is different. People who robbed this country are being questioned. President and the PM are watchful about how the Government runs. Even though we have a jumbo Cabinet,the modus operandi is totally different when compared to the previous Government.
The former regime was blamed for their lavish expenses. But now there is a criticism on the amount spent on renovating the Presidents’ house. What is your opinion?
The President needs a proper place to live in. If you go to Pageant road, it is a simple house. If you look at former President Rajapaksa, he had a big mansion in Jaffna as well. He was occupying two mansions. They spent 160 million rupees to build their parents’ statues, but President Sirisena is not doing that. He just occupies a simple residence. He is using that for official functions, and has said after his retirement he will not stay and go back to Polonnaruwa. He has a very simple house. I am truly confident that President Sirisena is not robbing this country and will never do so.