Media, politicians & misinformation
Posted on October 22nd, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Monday 23rd October, 2017

Yahapalana leaders are allergic to criticism. They seem to think independent journalists are a nuisance. The kept press tells them what they love to hear. They can depend on the government-appointed Opposition to leap to their defence whenever they get into trouble. The Joint Opposition (JO) flogs issues selectively and cautiously without provoking the government too much lest its leaders and their family members should be arrested. Most civil society organisations are offering their services as cheerleaders to the yahapalana worthies, defending as they do the indefensible. So, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government must be wondering why only a section of the media should be allowed to stand up to it.

President Maithripala Sirisena tore into the media once again during a visit to the North over the weekend. He said he had read Sunday Sinhala papers on the way and they were full of misinformation about the constitution-making process. He urged the opponents of devolution to visit the northern parts and the country and see for themselves the living conditions of the people there. Devolution was for the people and not politicians, he declared.

But, in reality, only politicians have benefited from devolution and people’s lot remains as bad as it was before the 13th Amendment was shoved down their throats in 1987. Time was when it was argued that the provincial council (PC) system would help solve the ethnic problem and redress the grievances of people in rural areas. But, nothing of the sort has happened though three decades have elapsed since the establishment of the PCs.

The Northern PC only passes resolutions against governments while demanding more by way of devolution without properly using the powers it already has to serve the public. The less said about the other PCs the better. Some of them have ceased to function after the expiry of their terms as the government is scared of holding fresh elections thereto, but people haven’t been affected at all. Else, they would have taken to the streets calling for PC polls. So much for the government’s claim that devolution is beneficial to the public! The yahapalana leaders, through the postponement of the PC polls, have proved, albeit unwittingly, that the country can do without devolution.

What has really caused the PC system to fail is a chronic shortage of funds. PCs cannot generate enough revenue due to wide spread poverty in semi-urban and rural areas and are, therefore, dependent on government funding. Whatever they get annually is sufficient only for recurrent expenditure. Even if they are vested with more powers they will still be useless without funds.

Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe insist that there isn’t even a draft Constitution though its critics are up in arms against federalism. But, UPFA MP Keheliya Rambukwella has stated that a delegation of Sri Lankan MPs consisting him and his UNP counterparts was told by a Congressman in Washington some moons ago that the US government had prepared a Constitution for this country. The government has not disputed his statement which has given the lie to its claim that the proposed constitution will be autochthonous. One of the main reasons for so much of opposition to the constitution-making process is the widely held belief that some foreign powers and pro-LTTE groups active overseas are behind the campaign for a new Constitution.

The government, before striving to grant more powers to the provinces, ought to ensure that the chief ministers learn to want what they have instead of trying to have what they want. The government should cut down on its wasteful expenditure, allocate more funds to the PCs and try to make those institutions work.

Meanwhile, having failed to make good on their election pledges and unable to face the electorate, the yahapalana leaders are frustrated beyond measure. They may take it out on journalists who criticism them, but media bashing won’t help them distract public attention from their failure.

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