Nominations for Local Government (LG) elections have been set for Monday, December 18 to Thursday, December 21. Before delimitations and carving out of new Wards and LG bodies, 335 LG bodies had 4,116 Councillors elected.
All LG bodies were reduced to local political power bases, taking over petty political work of the party bosses.
The Yahapalanaya Government extended the term of 234 LG bodies till May 2015 and then allowed them to stand dissolved all through two years and seven months, while the rest totalling 101 that were to have their terms end between July and October had their terms extended until end December 2015 and stood dissolved till now for two years.
Elections will now be held to elect 8,365 Councillors for 341 LG bodies in early February 2018 after over a two-year lapse.
During the year 2015 December LG bodies were allocated Rs.7, 744.2 million (7.7 bn) according to information in the “Performance Report 2015” of the Ministry of PC and LG.
This is without accounting for the cost of salaries, fuel, and telephone charges etc., the Mayors, Deputy Mayors, Chairmen and Councillors of LG bodies.
That cost was calculated to be around Rs.02 billion. With more than double the number of Councillors and an increase of LG bodies, it would easily mean, the Taxpayers from 2018 will have to spend at least double that amount to have elected LG bodies from 2018 onwards.
Sadly, there were no public agitations anywhere in this country demanding immediate elections for LG bodies during the past two years. The reason was, people never felt, nor experienced they were without their elected LG bodies, all through these years.
In modern democracies, Municipalities even take responsibility for administration of primary and secondary schools within the national education system.
All LG functions and services that were there continued without any disruption, though without elected Councillors. LG body offices with their staff went about routine work as efficiently or inefficiently as they always did. In plain language, LG body offices functioned as usual.
This begs the question, “Why then deploy 300,000 public officials spending over Rs.04 billion rupees as detailed by the Chairman of the EC at a media briefing, to have LG bodies elected?”
The answer that I subscribe to as well would be, it is a democratic right to have elected LG bodies, the third tier in our governance structure, the people should not be denied of.
These funded projects don’t want to understand that people have no choice in electing “clean” candidates from dirty nominations
Yet it does not answer the major question, “for what purpose, at what public cost?”
There certainly is a “purpose” to have elected representatives in governance structures from parliament through PCs to LG bodies that are constitutionally established with mandates and powers clearly defined. That is to plan, design and implement socio-economic and cultural development programmes to benefit the individual, community and social life, at all three levels
of governance. The Pradeshiya Sabha Act No.15 of 1987 defines the Powers of a PS as”…charged with the regulation, control and administration of all matters relating to public health, public utility services and public thoroughfares and generally with the protection and promotion of the comfort, convenience and welfare of the people and all amenities within such area” and that includes “public spaces” as well.
Today, even the educated urbanites keep electing Councillors who are mainly errand boys of parliamentarians of the area. During Rajapaksa’s time, he turned them into a network of everything unwanted and evil
The Act also says, PSs have established “…with a view to providing greater opportunities for the people to participate effectively in the decision-making process relating to administrative and development activities at a local level.” An opportunity that was never allowed to the ratepayer.
Urban Councils differ only in that they are for “every urban area declared to be a town by Order under Section 2” of the Urban Councils Ordinance No.61 of 1939 as amended by Urban Councils (Amendment) Act. No 21 of 2017.
So are Municipalities constituted under the Municipal Councils Ordinance No.29 of 1947 as lastly amended by Act No.57 of 1979.
Most, unfortunately, elections don’t provide such opportunity to elect a Council that is capable of “protection and promotion of the comfort, convenience and welfare of the people and all amenities” and people don’t demand such development programmes at elections. Not even at parliamentary elections, for that matter.
The perception in society including that of the educated urban middle class does not include LG bodies as elected governing bodies that should deliver at the local level for the welfare of its people.
LG bodies are not called for to plan local area development to meet their mandate. People are never allowed to “participate effectively in the decision-making process relating to administrative and development activities at a local level” though the Act says they should.
In modern democracies, Municipalities even take responsibility for administration of primary and secondary schools within the national education system. They also provide efficient and quality subsidised out-patient health services.
In the past after the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) took over Tramcars from its private operator the Boustead Ltd. in 1944 and then replaced Tramcars with an expanded Trolley bus service in the early 50s, the CMC provided a reasonably priced, quick commuting service that was popular within its city boundaries. Even after 1958 January when the Bandaranaike Government took over all private bus operations under the State-owned CTB, the Colombo municipality operated trolley buses as the popular mode of commuting within the city, until M.H. Mohamed as then Mayor, scrapped the service in 1964 instead of solving issues that led to a strike.
Over the decades, all LG bodies were reduced to local political power bases, taking over petty political work of the party bosses.
LG bodies were thus reduced to bear basic responsibilities of providing approval for building constructions, allotting shopping space in markets and levying ground fees from traders at weekly market fairs like the “Sunday fair”, collecting domestic and other solid waste and dumping them somewhere and owning cemeteries. Therefore, even without an elected Council, the Secretary or the Commissioner was able to and can continue to attend to those basic services with his or her staff.
The need to have LG bodies elected to plan and design local development with efficient services is no more seen as necessary by the people.
Today, even the educated urbanites keep electing Councillors who are mainly errand boys of parliamentarians of the area. During Rajapaksa’s time, he turned them into a network of everything unwanted and evil. The most suited qualification for nominations to an LG body, especially for the Chairmanship or Mayoralty, became the ability to play the role of a “thug” throwing about political power. Such was promoted as local power nodes with backups from numerous projects like “Maga-neguma, Gama-neguma,” etc.
They were also delegated powers to represent political power at the Centre in interfering with the police, hospital services, divisional secretariat work etc. Bottom line was that the ordinary innocent voter was made dependable on these political rags.
It was such unbridled local power that saw Tangalle PS Chairman involved in a rape and murder case. The Akuressa PS chairman accused of a long list of juvenile rape. The Deraniyagala PC Chairman and his goons found guilty in the gruesome murder of Noori Estate Superintendent.
In 2014 March, Chairman of the Wilgamuwa PS and his predecessor was arrested while transporting marijuana in the official vehicle.
The Kahawatte PS Chairman is one of the accused in a shooting incident during the 2015 January presidential elections along with Deputy Minister Jayasekera and a PC member. And this list is too long to be included in a half page article.
These are the types, both mainstream political parties nominate for LG elections. There are no preliminaries conducted to choose the right nomination list that could effectively and efficiently run an LG administration.
Political leaders are least worried about whom they nominate, as long as they could muster adequate votes. That often comes with caste considerations too, the political leaders are never shy about accepting. The only outcome these political leaders are after, is a show of political strength. They thus have turned LG elections into a national level power struggle, the worst that could happen for LG elections.
Today what we hear about all nominations that are ready and the wait for auspicious times, are all lists that can cater to the power struggle between the UNP and its partner faction of the SLFP with President Sirisena and the Rajapaksa factor. They would blast each other on election platforms on issues totally irrelevant to LG planning
and development. They would end up with accusations and allegations on previous and present corruptions, the Sinhala Buddhist supremacy, betraying of “war heroes” and compromising on power-sharing leading to “separatism”, none that relates to what LG bodies should attend to once elected. Yet issues they believe could give them votes to control more LG bodies than the others.
The media and those Yahapalana apologists too are counting numbers in this equation, wholly ignorant as to why this country would spend 04 billion rupees for LG elections. It is this insanity that should be challenged in social discourse. This, for now, is no priority with foreign-funded NGO leaders who tinker with what corrupt political leadership offer. With the media, they create a social opinion that can never demand “good candidates” from wholly corrupt political party leaders who nominate their
These funded projects don’t want to understand that people have no choice in electing “clean” candidates from dirty nominations.
“Clean candidate” in this horrible setup is only a misleading slogan. It is thus time the people leave them aside and demand political parties run primaries in selecting candidates for LG elections. Obviously, this is not possible at this time for this LG election. But, if this is not sounded out loud, we can certainly go about as we are, without these most unwanted groups collected by political party leaders taking control of local governance at a heavy cost to the people.