YAHAPALANA AS A PUPPET REGIME Part 10 (SECTION 1)
Posted on August 30th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

This essay presents some administrative decisions taken by Yahapalana   government.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Yahapalana government made sweeping changes to local government elections in October 2017.  A whole new system of elections was introduced as committee stage amendments to a Bill that had been gazetted to correct some technical defects in the local government elections law.  A whole new system of elections was introduced as committee stage amendments to a Bill that had been gazetted to correct some technical defects in the Local Government Elections law .It was rammed through Parliament by the government in the face of stiff opposition.

Under the new system introduced by Yahapalana the number of councilors and representatives in local government has increased. The number of representatives has doubled and since they all have to be paid, the cost too has doubled. Colombo Municipal Council increased from 55 to 110, Homagama Pradeshiya Sabha from 25 to 46 Attanagalla from 23 to 50, Badulla from 9 to 16. This increase of Council members from about 4,000 to 8000 will lead to more corruption, critics said.

 This new mixed electoral system is very wrong. A person who gets 150 votes can get elected to the Council whilst someone who gets 1,500 votes can be left out”, said one MP. A political party with just three members elected was able to gain power in one Council.

The new law led to the creation of multi-member wards for local bodies. This is something very new.It was not a part of the Local Government system of the past. There are multi-member constituencies in parliamentary elections. They were designed to facilitate representation of large concentrations of minority electorates such as Colombo Central, Colombo South, Beruwela, and Harispattuwa. The new local government elections law had created multi-member constituencies in Local government .This will introduce ethnic and religious factors into lclcal government. That will affect the functions that local bodies are required to perform.

The Councils that are formed now are weak ones, said critics. Yahapalana government eliminated the 5% cut off point as well as the bonus seats that were given to strengthen the winning party under the old proportional representation system.  When we designed the original 2012 system of elections, analysts said, we made it a point to look at the 1977 election result where the TULF got a small percentage of the vote and became the main party in the opposition, with its leader holding the office of Opposition leader, while the SLFP which got a much larger proportion of votes at that election obtained only eight seats. We made sure that such a thing would not take place under   the system that we proposed in 2012.

Under the old first-past-the-post system, the votes of the loser were not given any value. When the 2012 local government elections system was put in place, we worked on the assumption that with 70% of the representatives being elected from wards on the first past the post basis, stable administrations would come about automatically. Therefore, the number of representatives each party is entitled to on the proportional representation quota was to be decided only after the votes of all those who had either got less than 5% of the vote and or had won in the wards on a first past the post basis were eliminated from the race.

Under the present has given us very unstable local authorities. Under the present law, once a Chairman is elected, stability can be guaranteed only in the first two years. If infighting breaks out after that, local government will come under the Special Commissioners. We may therefore, end up seeing about two thirds of the local government institutions coming under the control of the Commissioner in a couple of years’ time. We will have to restore the 2012 system if the local government institutions are to be made to work.

Nearly two months after the local council polls, confusion reigns over the formation of councils with less than half of 340 being constituted, reported the media in 2018. Contrary to democratic principles, losers have also found seats in Councils amidst allegations of bribery, corruption, intimidation and violence. In several of the Councils including the Kandy Municipal Council members who were defeated at the elections have been named through the list.

Councils have encountered difficulty in forming the Council and electing the Mayor or its Chairman. At least one complaint has been lodged with the Bribery Commission, with more than 20 other complaints of cases of intimidation, violence and cases of damage over incidents following disputes over the formation of the councils and election of Mayors or Chairman. In at least 10 Councils the party which secured the highest number of seats has failed to form the Council and instead the main opposition party has formed the Council with the support of a few members of the party that gained the highest number of seats or another party in the Council.

Some of these Councils were won by the UNP while some others by Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna. The Negombo MC, Galle MC, Dehiwala – Mount Lavinia MC, Tangalle UC, Balangoda UC, Seeduwa UC, Hatton – Dickoya UC, Aranayaka PS, Pottuvil PS, Maskeliya PS are among the councils where the ruling party that gained the highest number of seats failed to form the council. Both UNP and UPFA members have violated party instructions and voted in favor of opposition candidates for the Mayoral or Chairman positions.”

At the Maskeliya Pradeshiya Sabha a heated argument broke out when selecting the Chairman of the Council where the CWC and the UNP had returned seven members each. One member got herself admitted at the Nawalapitiya hospital to avoid taking part in the elections. As a result only six UNP members were present at the voting enabling seven CWC members with the support of one SLPP member to form the council.
Violence broke out during the voting, inside and outside the Council, leading to clashes between the two groups. Two vehicles were damaged as the violence continued with fighting spreading to the Norwood area.

At the Hatton Dickoya Urban council too a heated exchange of words took place when electing the Chairman. The UNP had won the Council with seven members while the CWC had six members followed by two SLPP members and one Communist party member. However, at the voting the UNP and the CWC received eight members each after one SLPP member voted with the UNP forcing to draw lots to elect the Chairman. Again violence broke out after the CWC member was elected by drawing lots. We will need to introduce laws to prevent persons obtaining votes from one party and supporting another, said critics.  

There are 180 councils yet to be formed and the election of Mayors and Chairman to be decided. We may witness more ugly scenes including cases of money being exchanged for votes, said critics in April 2018. We are likely to experience similar problems in the Councils when it gets on with its day-to day functions as well. The new Local Government electoral system is a failure. It must be changed, said critics.

URBAN COUNCILS

All Ceylon Urban Council Chairmen’s National Platform meeting at Haputale, in March 2019. Chairmen of Urban Councils complained   that their powers are being gradually eroded.”We find that the powers we enjoyed earlier have now been restricted”, they said. With our wings clipped, we are unable to serve the people. The Organization planned to discuss the matter with Minister for Local Government.

PUBLIC SERVANTS

  • Central Provincial Council Member M. Uvais reported to Parliament In December 2017 that   public servants in high positions hesitated to take decisions for fear of being summoned before the FCID (Financial Crime Investigations Division).
  • In September 2019 it was observed that the number of instances where District Secretaries and Divisional secretaries were summoned to Colombo for various events, meetings and presentations has been on the rise. Apart from meetings summoned by the President and the Prime Minister, ministries also summon them for various events, Secretaries complained.  The Finance Ministry has been on the top of the list. Due to this, District Secretaries and Divisional Secretaries are obliged to keep away from their respective offices for several days. Those stationed in the far away districts are the worst affected. In addition to the impact on their duties, there is also the cost of travel down to Colombo. There is no fuel allowance for the additional trips they do.  Secretaries have complained to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

PUBLIC SERVICE

  • Premier Wickremesinghe had In May 2018 sent a directive to every Minister giving the names of MPs who have been assigned to coordinate development projects and programmes in their ministries. The directive said that the ministers must assign duties to these MPs, provide them with the required staff and arrange transport facilities. Some Secretaries are challenging the legal validity of a Minister assigning functions, others are questioning about how they could authorize transport, office facilities and staff which involve expenditure. One secretary said I don’t want to end up in the FCID for abusing state funds.” Even if they have very little to do, these MPs would be happy to get more perks, said critics.
  • There are over 7500 personnel employed in government institutions above the Cadre positions approved by the Treasury said Yahapalana. In July 2018 Yahapalana issued a circular that prohibited public and semi-government institutions from recruiting cadres and making payments to them without the prior permission of the Treasury.  The Secretary to the line Ministry, Chief Secretary to the Provincial Council, Head of the Department and the Head of the Finance Unit of the relevant institution    would be held responsible for any employee recruited   without permission.

Further, all ministries and public institutions, including institutions under the Provincial Councils, were to inform the Treasury about employees recruited outside the approved cadres. Also the increased salaries and allowances paid without obtaining recommendations from the National Salaries and Cadre Commission and prior Treasury approval. Secretaries to Ministries, Heads of Departments, Chairpersons, Executive Officers and Accountants of Government Institutions should hereafter take the responsibility of paying salaries to the  redundant workers they have employed.  They must also make the EPF and ETF payments for such employees.

APPOINTMENTS (1)

  • It was pointed out In October 2018, that there have been three Chief Justices in 45 months since President Sirisena assumed office. He appointed Justice Sripavan on January 30, 2015, followed by Justice Dep on March 02, 2017.  And then Justice Nalin Perera who retired in the early part of 2019. He is the third CJ to be appointed within 45 months.  Jayantha Jayasuriya was appointed chief justice in April 2019.
  • The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) wrote to Constitutional Council In August 2019, saying that the existing vacancy in the Court of Appeal has not been filled for the last two and half months. BASL said the recommendations made by Chief Justice and the Attorney General, should be considered in making such appointments. BASL objected to the Council bypassing the nomination of the Chief Justice and not considering the career judges for the existing vacancy in the Court of Appeal. One nominee for the vacant post court of Appeal, BASL said, is a person who has been attached to the Presidential Secretariat over a period of time. He has no judicial experience to be appointed as a Judge of the Court of Appeal.
  • Lanka Sathosa’s fifth successive chairman within a space of 34 months stepped down In December 2017, amidst speculation that he buckled under intense pressure exerted by politically powerful forces that hold sway there. Lanka Sathosa runs the biggest consumer retail chain in the country.
  • Officers of the Customs Department, except those at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake went on strike In January 2019, against the appointment of a retired Navy Officer as the new Customs Director General. The Customs Trade Union Alliance (CTUA) refused to work under the new DG. According to the CTUA, five appointments were made to the post of Customs DG from 2015 and all of them were politically driven decisions. Director General, Customs is a position that should be held by either an officer attached to Sri Lanka Administrative Service or a special grade officer of the Sri Lanka Customs service.  Any other appointment is a breach of existing law.
  • Ministry of Public Administration released a gazette notification in 2017 where, the post of Librarian” was classed as a clerical post. Librarians wanted this gazette cancelled.

APPOINTMENTS (2)

The Presidential Commission investigating Frauds under the Current Administration   was told, In June 2019, that former Minister of Highways, Lakshman Kiriella had recruited 45 UNP members to the Road Development Authority (RDA) in October 2015 as public liaison officers.   The appointees were UNP members from Kiriella’s electorate and UNP local government councilors from Kandy. A large number of consultants too were recruited at the same time. The position of public liaison officer” did not exist in the approved cadre of the RDA. However, the title in Sinhala is ‘mahajana sambandatha niladari,’ which makes people believe that these positions are for public relations officials, which is a listed position.

The appointments were made without holding interviews, checking qualifications and without assigning any duties. The appointment letters, which are usually posted by the RDA, were done by the Ministry. These 45 public liaison officers were paid approximately Rs. 1.1 million per month.  They were not assigned to duty stations. They were not asked to present a work plan. After a while they were asked to create their own attendance sheets to show that they were doing something, reported the RDA.

The Minister couldn’t make these appointments without approval from the Board of Directors. Therefore when the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) started looking into the matter, in May 2016, the Ministry obtained covering approval from the Board;   nine months after the appointments were made. The letter sent to the Board said that the Cabinet hadn’t given approval for these appointments. The Presidential Committee was also told that appointing a large number of such persons was customary at the RDA since 2006.Over a 100 of them left after the government changed in 2015. (Island 13.6.19 p 3) 

APPOINTMENTS (3)

In April 2919 it was reported that  the   Secretary General, National Economic Council (NEC), the apex body responsible for economic development, will receive a monthly salary and allowance of half a million rupees In addition he will be provided with an official vehicle, a driver, and a monthly fuel quota of 200 litres.

COLOMBO MUNICIPAL COUNCIL

Colombo Municipal Council has signed in August 2019 a 20-year agreement with a private company for a smart LED lamp post project. The smart lampposts will be equipped with CCTV cameras and charging ports for electric vehicles, along with Wi-Fi and Blue-tooth facilities. This would cause potential losses amounting to Rs 3.7 billion to the municipality. CMC had authorized the private company to sell data collected via some 200 CCTV cameras installed on those lampposts. Though tender notices for the project stated that the CMC would not have to bear any cost for the project CMC will have to incur expenses during the first three years of the project. The agreement allows the private company to utilize other assets of the CMC including its buildings, reported the media.

TRANSPORT

Finance Ministry, allowed the private sector to import luxury buses whilst making every effort to undermine the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB)’s moves to add 2,000 luxury buses, to its fleet.

FILM DISTRIBUTION

In June 2018 National Film Corporation said that the distribution of films, which was handled by four private companies, would come under the purview of the National Film Corporation. This applied to both local and foreign films. “This will result in the death knell in the Sinhala cinema industry,” critics said.  The private circuits have been contributing immensely to enhance the local film scene. They had funded films, built cinemas and renovated film halls. They have also managed to bring globally acclaimed films from Hollywood, Bollywood and Tollywood to local cinemas.

LAND ACQUISITION

The Ministry of Lands now widely invokes a proviso under Section 38(a) of the Land Acquisition Act, which allows for immediate possession of land on grounds of any urgency” without consultation with affected people.  Thousands of people are helpless in the face of Section 38(a) notices. Specialists have slammed the Government’s new policy for resettling those displaced by development projects. Resettlement Policy Framework of 2018 makes the Valuation Department the final arbiter for deciding compensation payments.

WILPATTU ‘PROTECTED AREA’

In August 2019, Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga has sought Cabinet approval to remove from ‘Protected Area’ status, several acres of the protected Wilpattu National Park where a church is located. The request states, The approval of the Cabinet of Ministers is sought to issue a Gazette Notification to exclude the area of land in extent of 6 acres and 3 roods where the St. Anthony’s Church is situated from the Wilpattu National Park by amending the Gazette Notification No. 89 dated 07/12/1973, together with the access road to the church approximately 1 km in distance from the turn off at the Suruwama junction on the old Puttalam Road.

This has shocked conservationists.  They point out that according to Section 2, Sub-sections 4 and 5 of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO) no part of a Protected Area can be de-gazetted without an environmental assessment. Such de-gazetting would set a ‘bad’ precedent, encouraging the removal of ‘protected’ status from other areas as well where religious sites are within National Parks (NPs),” said conservationists. De-gazetting a section of a National Park for any purpose is completely unacceptable and sets an extremely bad precedent for the future. It will pave the way for large acreages within all the NPs to be de-gazetted on the whims of politicians and religious institutions. It will destroy the integrity of a contiguous wilderness area and set a very bad precedent, said critics.

Wilpattu was declared a National Park after acquiring all the land and the Roman Catholic Church was allowed to have its feast under ‘traditional activity’ under Section 3, Sub-section 3 of the FFPO. This in no way gives the church the right to own or acquire the land within a Protected Area, said critics. The small Pallekandal church which had been used by seasonal fishermen in the distant past is in the Pomparippu area. When the NP was declared, the ‘traditional right of worship’ was granted but subject to the FFPO and under the strict supervision of the DWC.

Since the end of the war the church has expanded rapidly, with larger numbers attending the annual feast. Monthly masses too have begun now. NP regulations are violated, such as clearing bush in vast swathes, the lighting of fires, the selling of meat and car parks being created out of grasslands that are the prime feeding areas for herds of elephants concentrated only in the Pomparippu area. The DWC’s attempts to make the church conform to the regulations have been met with threats and political pressure.

Critics also questioned how Minister Amaratunga could submit such a Cabinet paper when there are legal battles being fought in the two Superior Courts. One is in the Supreme Court challenging the construction of a road through the Wilpattu NP and the other in the Court of Appeal over the unlawful and unregulated religious festivities taking place at the Pallekandal Church within the NP. The cases have been filed by the Environmental Foundation (Guarantee) and the Wildlife & Nature Protection Society. The Minister is a respondent in both cases.

Critics also point out that it is inadvisable to have ministries with conflicting mandates. John Amaratunga is the Minister for both Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs. He is Christian.  There is a major conflict of interest in this matter, one and the same person is handling ‘wildlife’ and ‘Christian religious affairs’.  I have always advocated against the establishment of ministries with conflicting mandates. This situation is a case in point, why ministries with conflicting mandates should not be combined said a critic.

ELEPHANT HOLDING  GROUND

The Department of Wildlife Conservation   plans to establish a new elephant holding ground inside the Lunugamwehera National Park. Stiff opposition from elephant experts and environmental organisations as the curtailment of habitat will adversely affect the lives of pachyderms therein and outside. The World Bank which has been asked for a loan of Rs. 2000 million, has withdrawn from backing the project in view of the opposition. However, plans are underway to spend more than Rs. 2,000 million for the highly questionable project.  The money required for the project will be taken from the Wildlife Fund of the DWC, which was created by the field DWC officers.  The project was very harmful to the resident elephant population of the National Park. Chairman, Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka, saidthat the department’s plan would take up 3,500 hectares of traditional home ranges used by the resident elephant population in the National Park.  “This move will hamper the natural breeding process and affect the resident elephant population in Lunugamwehera National Park culminating in starvation and death of these giant majestic creatures”. Such elephant holding grounds would not help contain the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, the best evidence was the Horowpatana elephant holding ground, critics said.” It would lead to an increase in the human-elephant conflict around the park, as well. ” (CONTINUED)

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