Abolishing Provincial Councils
Posted on June 26th, 2020

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Former Cabinet Minister Milinda Moragoda has urged political parties to seriously consider the abolition of the monster Provincial Council system which has cost this country a great deal more than a pretty penny. Six of the existing nine PCs ended their terms in 2018 while the other three went out of office last year and Governors are ruling all provinces. The whole country has been privy to the public slanging match between the previous yahapalana administration and its successor on the non-holding of the PC elections on the due dates and the endless postponing of their polling dates. Nobody has missed the PCs; and their factual non-existence has meant nothing to anybody except those elected to them who enjoyed lavish pay and perks courtesy of the taxpayer.

According to Moragoda who has served in government from both sides of the political divide – the UNP and the SLFP – and narrowly lost the Colombo Mayoralty when he ran against Mr. AJM Muzzamil of the green party fairly recently, the Provincial Council system costs this country over 250 billion rupees annually. He has said in a statement which we run today that “there is little doubt that significant savings and improved efficiency can be achieved through the abolition of this dysfunctional mechanism.” Few will have anything contrary to say about this proposition. It is accepted fact that the majority of our people prefer to deal with the Central Government rather than the Provincial Councils and there is no good reason why we should continue with these elected bodies whose main purpose appears to only serve as stepping stones to Parliament for the political class. First local bodies, then Provincial Councils and finally Parliament appears to be upward route for many of our politicians.

The PCs were set up, or more accurately forced down our throat, by India as a means of solving the ethnic crisis that has for too long bedeviled this nation. There was never any demand for this unit of devolution from anywhere except the north, and to a lesser extent the east, which has long sought a degree of autonomy. But, to borrow the phrase of the late Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, a star or even superstar of our contemporary political history, “you can’t give to Jaffna what you won’t give to Hambantota.” So the 13th Amendment to our Constitution which, underwritten by India, sought to end the civil war that dragged on for nearly 30 years by the device of what has proved to be a massive white elephant.

Who among us can forget the intrusion into our airspace by Mirage fighter jets of the Indian Air Force, escorting Hercules transport aircraft, for that infamous parippu drop in the north of our country? That was when our troops were on the verge of defeating the terrorist LTTE through Operation Vadmarachchi in May-June 1987. The signal from India was unmistakable. Either Sri Lanka abandons the military campaign to stamp out the Prabhakaran brand of terrorism or India would intervene militarily. President J.R. Jayewardene was forced to eat humble pie and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, who flew here for the purpose, and he signed the infamous Indo-Lanka Agreement. This brought the so-called Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) here to keep the LTTE in line. This they failed dismally to do and India lost 1,200 troops and spent several billions fighting what the foreign press often labeled as the “Tamil rebels”.

And so the Provincial Councils, targeting regional autonomy, came into being. Moragoda has said in his statement that while the intention was to create more provincial autonomy, the structure that was created “has proved to be superfluous, expensive, divisive and fraught with inefficiency.” He has argued that “given the increasing ethnic, religious and regional polarization in our society,” we desperately need a viable democratic framework to address these issues. The truth of what he has said was clearly proved at the last presidential election when the winner polled the majority of the Sinhala (Buddhist) majority while the loser polled the majority of the minorities. Moragoda has expressed his belief that the more effective way of achieving this intent would be the creation of an empowered Senate/Upper House that could address critical issues concerning religious, ethnic and regional diversities. This, of course, requires national debate and discussion but for the time being, a clear commitment by the contenders for the National Parliament that they favour the abolition of the PCs will be most valuable.

Although Moragoda is not a runner at the forthcoming parliamentary election, he is clearly influential in our body politic and is known to have assisted the Gotabaya Rajapaksa victory last November. He is also the founder of the Pathfinder Foundation, undoubtedly among the more efficient of our Think Tanks. If his statement running into just one page of concise and tightly-written argument, is adopted by our Political Establishment a most useful objective will be achieved. As an analyst said in a hoary vernacular idiom, setting up the PCs was like “giving ladders to jumping monkeys.” Whatever their stripe, the vast majority of our politicians are widely regarded as monkeys by many of our people.

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