It was ridiculous on the part of the government to have a minister and an official arguing in front of the media over a matter that had to be sorted out between them. The argument broke out at the media conference on Monday for the handing over of the Commission report to Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha by Delimitation Commission Chairman Asoka Peiris.
When Mr. Peiris was about to hand over the long-awaited report, the minister apparently knowing that the process was not complete asked the Chairman how many members of the five-member Commission had signed the document. He refused to accept the report when the Chairman said only three members had signed it. The minister said the document was not legal with the signatures of all five members of the Commission and at that point a journalist asked why this matter could not be sorted out before the public show.
It is necessary to view this comedy against the background of what had happened so far if we are to look for an answer to the question asked by the journalist. For the past few months the Opposition parties, especially the so-called joint opposition (JO) were demanding that the Local Government elections be held forthwith and pointed out that the government was delaying the matter because it feared defeat at the elections. The government’s repeated response was that the government could not hold the elections until the new wards were demarcated as outlined by the Delimitation Commission.
While Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya was stressing that the LG elections would be held soon after the delimitation process was completed, various government leaders including the subject Minister announced they would not be held before April. This provided the ammunition for the JO to accuse the government of dragging its feet fearing defeat in the wake of being defeated at most of the elections to Co-operative Societies.
Vindicating the JO’s argument, it was reported in the media that the Delimitation Commission had completed the report but the minister was playing a dodging game by going on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. Further embarrassing the minister the Delimitation Commission Chairman had told the Sunday Lankadeepa last week that both the main parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) wanted to delay the report. Surprisingly the leaders of the two main parties did not contest the Chairman’s allegations. It seems that the minister had wanted to clear his name while exposing the Chairman who had bluntly pointed the finger at him for the delay in submitting the report, a prerequisite for the elections. Apparently knowing beforehand that all five members of the Commission had not signed the report, the minister, for reasons best known to himself, had arranged the media conference and taken the opportunity to question the Chairman in the presence of journalists.
Meanwhile, a strange situation has arisen in the country where officials challenge the people’s representatives. Recently Media and Parliamentary Affairs Ministry Secretary Nimal Bopage had said he would not sign the documents to provide vehicles for 58 parliamentarians and here the Delimitation Commission Chairman goes public accusing a minister. Despite the fact that Bopage’s decision might go well with the people, one might argue that this is a sign of freedom and democracy enjoyed by public officials under ‘Yahapalanaya’, while another might describe it as decadence of discipline at the highest level in the public sector. A third might attribute this situation to the alleged infighting between the two main parties in the government.
Whatever the reason might be clashes among the officials and the people’s representatives would not do any good to the country. Although forthrightness, which was not the case in the above two instances, it would have been best for both parties to have sorted out their differences amicably. As far as the LG elections are concerned, they must be held soon without passing the buck.