Eastern Province Governor Rohitha Bogollagama, in an interview with the Dailymirror , speaks about his post under the current circumstances.The Provincial Council will come fully under his control from today onwards in terms of the new Act for an interim period. Excerpts:
It happened in the Northeast Province after Chief Minister Varatharajah Permumal was removed from office
Governor’s power is adequate to administer the Provincial Council for an interim period
Empowerment of people is a national need
Reconciliation process is well underway in East under the guidance of former President CBK
Ethnic identity is sharply visible in East
There are areas with a concentration of people belonging to one community
Then, domination of one community over the other comes about
We have to address the people’s needs to minimise such selfish approaches
But, there is claim that there is a greater flow of resources to some communities
There is no sign of radicalization of one community
QThe new Act, introduced by the Government, will provide for keeping provincial councils under the purview of Governors. How do you look at it in terms of the concept of power devolution?
It is a Constitutional process. The Constitution of Sri Lanka provides for the 13th Amendment where devolution of power was introduced for the first time. Along with that amendment, there was the Provincial Council Act and also the Provincial Councils Elections Act. There is nothing new here in terms of the Eastern Province being administered under a Governor’s interim rule.
It had been done till 2008. Initially it was done during the time when Vartharajah Perumal was the Chief Minister. Once he was removed from office, it came under the Governor’s rule. It is an interim constitutional proviso for the administration of an area that is otherwise vested with an elected council. It is a council of ministers. It is a process that has been tested well in the past. We will continue to apply it for in future as well in interim situations. The gap is now the expiration date of the council which is set in terms of the Constitution and also the governing laws. It will expire on September 29. Then, the Governor will be conferred with the authority.
QThe East is an area where the demand for power devolution is heard louder. Now, the power of the council is going to be vested with you as the Governor. It means direct administration by the Central Government. How do you see it in terms of the concept of power devolution?
The Governor is the representative of the President in terms of his appointment. What you are administering is what is being devolved to the people through the Constitution- the 13th Amendment and other provincial council laws. There is no reversing of the powers of the Provincial Council. It is another stage through which the pro
vincial council system is being administered. This is an interim proviso. There is no reversal to the central Government of powers already devolved. Once it is done, devolution cannot be reversed. The Governor’s administration does not mean reversal of power.
In the absence of an election to a council, there cannot be a council of ministers being selected. Some authority has to administer the council during that period.
That is only the devolved powers. There is no reversal of them. There is no threat to the system
QHowever, there is a demand by the minority parties for the reduction of power vested with the Governor. They say the Governor should be appointed in consultation with the Chief Minister. What is your position?
Where is that proposal? I have not seen that proposal
The Northern Province Chief Minister advocated that position
We do not want to go for hypothetical situations. Right now, there is an interim administration provided for in the Constitution and the laws of the country. In the absence of an election to a council, there cannot be a council of ministers being selected. Some authority has to administer the council during that period. That is only the devolved powers. There is no reversal of them. There is no threat being made to the provincial council system. It is part and parcel of the system. It is seen in a lot of other situations including in India. These are interim provisions for the purpose of continuing administration. There is no breakdown in the administrative process.
QHow do you view the Governor’s post in provincial administration under normal circumstances?
The best example is my being the Governor. I have been in the Central Government, the Cabinet, and Parliament. Throughout my political career, I have been confined to the Central Government and the Cabinet of Ministers. I have been Cabinet Minister over five times. When I look at the provincial administration, it is a vital element in terms of Sri Lanka’s national needs. The national need is empowerment of people. Who are these people?
QAre you referring to economic empowerment or political empowerment?
Empowerment means empowerment. It has many facets. That can be the political empowerment, economic empowerment, social empowerment and their cultural recognition. Above all, there needs to be security and protection. They are being empowered in every aspect. When you are appointed as the Governor, you have 40,000 public servants to manage. That is to provide for people. We have a population of 1.65 million. We have got 40,000 Public Servants in the provincial public service. That is to serve people in the periphery. We have got Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese people living there in reconciliation with one another. It is an important factor. You are addressing their needs with a civil service.
QSome people argue that the provincial councils are a white elephant. If it can be administered by Governor in this manner, won’t it give credence to such arguments?
The Governor is meant for an interim role here. He is not an elected member of people. We have to empower the people through democratic traditions at the periphery. Then only, people’s representatives will become answerable for the needs. Then, there is a very strong, democratic, political process to be enhanced. People will own their administrations then. That is the nexus we have to build. It has taken 30 years for the provincial council system. The regions have got enhance their capacity to address their needs. In certain parts of the south, there is a duplication of Provincial and Central Government authorities.
Throughout my political career ...I have been Cabinet Minister over five times. When I look at the provincial administration, it is a vital element in terms of Sri Lanka’s national needs. The national need is empowerment of people. Who are these people?
That is because of the presence of Central Government representatives being heavy. The influence of central Government ministers is visible. In the East, you do not have elected Cabinet Ministers. You only have a few deputy ministers there covering the entire province. You can imagine the power of five Provincial Ministers including the Chief Minister in that Province. Their role is more visible than that of the Cabinet Ministers.
QWhat do you think of the amount of power devolved to the Provincial Councils at the time?
My role is to administer what is there. I am not there to comment on the political cry there. I see development in terms of major areas. There are three lists of powers in terms of devolution. One is the reserved list. That is entirely with the Centre. Then, you have the Concurrent List. There, subjects are shared between the Centre and the Provincial Councils. Then, you have the Provincial List outlying powers only within the Provincial Councils. There are arguments on powers being devolved. I think that the time will be the best test in this process.
QHow do you find your relations with the Chief Minister?
It is very cordial. I am very fortunate that there is a very educated Chief Minister. He is an engineer. He has brought professional input in terms of his conduct. I have a seasoned educationist as the education minister coming from the Tamil community. We have a seasoned politician as the Agriculture Minister. We have got a Health Minister. All are seasoned politicians.
QDoes it mean the Eastern Provincial Council is a success story in terms of deliverance?
It has been successful. You must understand that we have weathered a conflict of war. If you remember the names like Vakarai, Pulmoddai and Mavil Aru, all are located in the Eastern Province. It was a hotspot of terrorist activities. It has got registered as normal today. Reconciliation process is currently forging ahead. With that, the Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, we have a major concentration on the reconciliation effort under the guidance of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
QThere is an allegation that racial discrimination is there with one minority community overlooking the other minority community. What is your view?
Ethnic identity is so sharply visible there. You have all the three communities living in the province. When you have concentrations of communities in different localities of the province, each pocket gets the supremacy factor. When a community becomes the majority in a given pocket, domination can take place in this manner. They are curable factors, though with time and managerial efforts.
People want security for themselves. They want equal opportunities. They want to achieve these through education. They need good healthcare. They need food or agriculture for that matter. If these are addressed, selfish approaches will minimize. That is what is considered as a broader semblance. If everyone shares a big pie, it will be alright. If the pie becomes smaller, there is less to eat. Then, the grab is more. The role of people like us is to make the pie bigger for the people to have a better share.
QDo you see any sign of radicalization of one community as feared by some?
I do not see any radicalisation of ideologies. But, there is a claim or blame that there is a greater flow of resources to some communities more than to the other communities. These are resource-centric issues.
QWhat do you think of powers vested with the Governor post?
I think it is adequate to cater to the interim administration.