Connect with us

Features

Province-based Devolution in Sri Lanka: a Critique

Published

on

by G H Peiris

Continued from Wednesday 16

Those provincial boundaries have remained almost unchanged during the

past 131 years, in disregard of ecological, demographic, economic and political transformations. What prevails now is an archaic and outmoded design that catered to different needs and bureaucratic circumstances.

The provincial administrative system had

only nominal contact and control over many functions of government. Those that were under the direct control of the government such as administration of justice, security, health services, road construction, land development, major hydraulic systems, postal and telecommunication services, railways, etc., were centrally controlled and invariably had sub-national spatial networks of their own.

In addition, and more significantly than all else, throughout British rule there was no irredentist threat from the Indian Sub-Continent which was largely under British rule. Nor did ‘Ceylon’ face serious external threats of destabilisation or conquest except, briefly (in 1942), during the Second World War.

Accordingly, an attempt to conduct Provincial Council elections without changing the existing configuration of provinces is tantamount to disregarding the fact that the continued existence of the present network of provinces, while not achieving effective empowerment of the under-represented and impoverished segments of our population, perpetuates the irredentist threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It also ignores the ‘never again’ mandate offered by the people to the present government at the Parliamentary elections conducted last August for a major constitutional overhaul involving, inter alia, province-based devolution.

When the Dutch possessions in Sri Lanka, transferred to the British in 1796, were granted the status of a Crown Colony in 1801, the existing system of regional administration that had consisted of three ‘Collectorates’ was replaced with a network of thirteen ‘Provinces’, each centred on the coastal town after which it was named.

That arrangement, along with a separate administration over the ‘Kandyan Provinces’ annexed by the British in 1815, lasted with some modification until the Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms of 1833 when a unified system of administration embracing the entire country was established. These reforms entailed, inter alia, the setting up of a hierarchically arranged system of regional administration in which five ‘Provinces’, each under the authority of a Government Agent, constituted the basic spatial frame. The Provinces were subdivided into Districts, each comprising several Headman’s Divisions. In many instances, the Headman’s Divisions had some correspondence to the pre-British administrative units of the Portuguese and the Dutch in the lowlands and of the Kandyan kingdom in the highlands.

Yet, in demarcating the Provinces and the Districts, hardly any attempt was made either to draw from history or to accommodate the geographical realities pertaining to criteria such as access to physical resources, resource management, composition of the population, and the interdependence of the different parts of the country from the viewpoint of their development prospects. In practical terms, the main rationalisation of the provincial demarcation appears to have been that of using the best fortified coastal urban centres left behind by the Dutch (Colombo, Galle, Jaffna and Batticaloa), and the capital of the former Kandyan kingdom as bases for developing a system of control over territory, most of which was yet to be explored.

Indeed, it almost seems as if, in establishing a uniform administrative system over the entire country, and in dividing the country into Provinces and Districts, the British made a conscious attempt to move away from tradition as a means of consolidating their hold over the country.

The most pronounced feature of the provincial framework instituted through the reforms of 1833 was the annexation of the outlying territories of the former Kandyan kingdom to the coastal provinces. For instance, while Nuwarakalāviya was included in the Northern Province, Tamankaduwa and a large portion of Uva were placed within the Eastern Province. Likewise, while the Western Province was made to extend well into the Kandyan territories of the western flanks of the Central Highlands, parts of Sabaragamuwa and Uva were incorporated into the Southern Province. It has been asserted (Mills, 1964:68; de Silva, 1981:261-2; Kodikara, 1991:4-5) that the new arrangement amounted to a dismemberment of the former Kandyan kingdom, and was intended, in the words of Mills, “… to weaken the national feelings of the Kandyans”.

 

British administrative Demarcations of 1833

Superimposed on John Davy’s 1821 demarcation of the Kandyan Kingdom

 

NOTE: This illustration confirms the submissions by Mr. Samanthe Ratwatte at the SEC meeting on 3 December 2020 on the dismembering of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British in 1833.

 

Over the next few decades, as population and economic activities expanded, new provinces were carved out of existing ones, bringing their total number to 9 by 1889.

The provincial administration, as indicated by the content of their ‘Annual Reports’, though nominally entrusted with a wide range of functions, was largely concerned during these times with the tasks of revenue collection, infrastructure development in the form of minor construction works, and the monitoring of living conditions among the people. The government activities directly relating to the emerging modern sector of the economy, the administration of justice, and the maintenance of law and order were, for the most part, orchestrated from Colombo. Thus, the creation of new provinces – North-Western Province in 1845, North-Central Province in 1873, Uva Province in 1886, and Sabaragamuwa Province in 1889 – was, in effect, not much more than a process of increasing the number of urban centres used as the principal bases of regional administration. The provinces were not intended to serve as spatial units for the devolution of government authority except in matters of routine administration; nor were they expected to acquire an ‘identity’ in a political sense. In fact, as Governor Ridgeway observed (Administration of Ceylon, 1897:52-53) almost at the end of the 19th century:

“The existing map of the island, compiled chiefly from General Fraser’s map made early in the century, contains errors so numerous and so gross as to make it useless for administrative purposes. For example, 400 miles of provincial boundaries are still un-surveyed. Only three of the larger rivers have been completely surveyed, while in the case of the largest in the island, the Mahaveli Ganga, there is a gap of over 20 miles.”

The provincial demarcation as it stood in 1889 has remained unchanged for well over 130 years. Intra-provincial administrative adjustments were made at various times bringing the total number of Districts in the country from nineteen in 1889 to twenty-five at present. Government Agents of the provinces, holding executive power over their areas of authority, coordinated a range of government activities in their respective provinces. It is important to note, however, that in certain components of governance, while the related regional demarcations did not always coincide with provincial and district boundaries, the Government Agent had either only marginal involvement or no authority at all. This was particularly evident in fields such as the administration of justice, maintenance of law and order, and the provision of services in education and health care, in which there is large-scale daily interaction between the government and the people.

 

Post-Colonial Territorial Divisions

In the early years of independence, with the passing of the Administrative Districts Act No. 22 of 1955, the province lost whatever importance it had up to that time as a unit of regional administration. Since then, until 1987, the district served as the main unit of regional administration, acquiring, with the increasing politicisation of bureaucratic activities in the country, some recognition as a spatial entity to which the powers and functions of the central government could be decentralised (de Silva, 1993:109-116). A series of reforms implemented since 1973 –the setting up of District Political Authorities, post of District Ministers, District Development Councils, and District Planning Units– not only had the effect of institutionalising the process of increasing political control over the administrative machinery, but also enlarged the range of decision-making functions performed at the level of the district.

From perspective of the SEC, changes that were introduced under the so-called ‘Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution’ and the Provincial Councils Act of 1987 could be seen, not merely as a revitalisation of the concept of the province as a unit of administration to which certain routine functions of the central government are decentralised, but as an attempt to grant political recognition and distinctiveness to the province as a unit of territorial control, and thus make the spatial framework of provinces the unit of devolution of government power from the Centre to the Regions. This latter, as the observations made above indicate, is a feature which the provincial network left behind by the British never possessed and was, in fact, never intended to possess.

 

The legislation to establish a system of Provincial Councils, drafted in the course of negotiations that led to the ‘Indo-Lanka Accord’ (a.k.a. Rajiv-JR Pact’) of 1987, was passed by parliament in November that year amidst fierce opposition from both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main party in the parliamentary opposition, as well as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP/People’s Liberation Front) which was engaged in an anti-government insurrection at that time. It provided for the transfer (subject to overall control of the central government) of a fairly wide range of powers and functions to councils elected at the level of the provinces. The powers vested by the Act on the president of the country vis-à-vis the Provincial Councils included that of appointing the ‘Provincial Governors’ and, more importantly from the viewpoint of the present discussion, the discretion of permitting the merger of provinces on a permanent or temporary basis to constitute an area of authority of a single council. The power to dissolve a provincial council was also vested in the president.

The clauses of the Provincial Councils Act pertaining to the merger of provinces were exercised by the president in September 1988 to bring about a merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces. This was a response to what had become an unequivocal demand of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The merger decision was intended to be temporary, pending the verdict of the inhabitants of the areas concerned at a referendum on whether it should be made permanent. Though the ‘North-East Provincial Council’, elected to office two months later, survived only until the final stages of withdrawal of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force from Sri Lanka. On the basis of a Supreme Court decision in 2006 which held that the temporary merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces was no longer valid in law, the two provinces were demerged for the continuing operation of the Provincial Councils Act of 1987.

 

* * *

The antecedents of the PC system sketched above constitute only two sets of reasons that justify the appeal for its abolition. There are others, the most important among which are the blatant malpractice, extravagance and waste which it has involved all along. As one of our most venerated monks (a staunch source of support and constructive criticism of the ‘regime’) asked last night (13 December) in the course of his comments on the contemplated staging of PC elections, why is it, with all the power you already have, necessary to create more positions of privilege to your henchmen? As reported by the ex-Commissioner of Elections, the last parliamentary elections cost the government a staggering 15 billion rupees.

 

Burdened, as we are, with the necessity for pandemic precautions, island-wide PC elections will probably cost even more. With that level of expenditure, surely we can achieve a great deal of empowerment of those in dire poverty.

 



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Foreign policy dilemmas increase for the big and small

Published

on

‘No responsible American President can remain silent when basic human rights are violated.’ This pronouncement by US President Joe Biden should be interpreted as meaning that the supporting of human rights everywhere will be a fundamental focus of US foreign policy. Accordingly, not only the cause of the Armenians of old but the situation of the Muslim Uyghurs of China will be principal concerns for the Biden administration.

However, the challenge before the US would be take this policy stance to its logical conclusion. For example, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was one of the most heinous crimes to be committed by a state in recent times but what does the Biden administration intend to do by way of ensuring that the criminals and collaborators of the crime are brought to justice? In other words, how tough will the US get with the Saudi rulers?

Likewise, what course of action would the US take to alleviate the alleged repression being meted out to the Uyghurs of China? How does it intend to take the Chinese state to task? Equally importantly, what will the US do to make light the lot of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? These are among the most urgent posers facing the US in the global human rights context.

Worse dilemmas await the US in Africa. Reports indicate that that the IS and the Taliban have begun to infiltrate West Africa in a major way, since they have been compelled to vacate the Middle East, specially Syria and Iraq. West African countries, such as, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Mauritania are already facing the IS/Taliban blight. The latter or their proxies are in the process heaping horrendous suffering on the civilian populations concerned. How is the US intending to alleviate the cruelties being visited on these population groups. Their rights are of the first importance. If the US intends to project itself as a defender of rights everywhere, what policy program does it have in store for Africa in this connection?

It does not follow from the foregoing that issues of a kindred kind would not be confronting the US in other continents. For example, not all is well in Asia in the rights context. With the possible exception of India, very serious problems relating to democratic development bedevil most Asian states, including, of course, Sri Lanka. The task before any country laying claims to democratic credentials is to further the rights of its citizens while ensuring that they are recipients of equitable growth. As a foremost champion of fundamental rights globally, it would be up to the US to help foster democratic development in the countries concerned. And it would need to do so with an even hand. It cannot be selective in this undertaking of the first importance.

The US would also from now on need to think long and deep before involving itself militarily in a conflict-ridden Southern country. Right now it is up against a policy dilemma in Afghanistan. It is in the process of pulling out of the country after 20 years but it is leaving behind a country with veritably no future. It is leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban once again and the commentator is right in saying that the US did not achieve much by way of bringing relief to the Afghan people.

However, the Biden administration has done somewhat well in other areas of state concern by launching a $1.9 trillion national economic and social resuscitation program, which, if effectively implemented could help the US people in a major way. The administration is also living up to the people’s hopes by getting under way an anti-Covid-19 vaccination program for senior US citizens. These ventures smack of social democracy to a degree.

The smaller countries of South Asia in particular ought to be facing their fair share of foreign policy quandaries in the wake of some of these developments. India, the number one power of the region, is in the throes of a major health crisis deriving from the pandemic but it is expected to rebound economically in an exceptional way and dominate the regional economic landscape sooner rather than later.

For example, the ADB predicts India will recover from an 8% contraction in fiscal 2020 and grow by 11% and 7% this year and next year. South Asia is expected to experience a 9.5% overall economic expansion this year but it is India that will be the chief contributor to this growth. A major factor in India’s economic fortunes will be the US’ stimulus package that will make available to India a major export market.

For the smaller states of South Asia, such as Sri Lanka, the above situation poses major foreign policy implications. While conducting cordial and fruitful relations with China is of major importance for them, they would need to ensure that their relations with India remain unruffled. This is on account of their dependence on India in a number of areas of national importance. Since India is the predominant economic power in the region, these smaller states would do well to ensure that their economic links with India continue without interruption. In fact, they may need to upgrade their economic ties with India, considering the huge economic presence of the latter. A pragmatic foreign policy is called for since our biggest neighbour’s presence just cannot be ignored.

The Sri Lankan state has reiterated its commitment to an ‘independent foreign policy’ and this is the way to go but Sri Lanka would be committing a major policy mistake by tying itself to China too closely in the military field. This would send ‘the wrong signal’ to India which is likely to be highly sensitive to the goings-on in its neighbourhood which, for it, have major security implications. A pragmatic course is best.

In terms of pragmatism, the Maldives are forging ahead, may be, in a more exceptional manner than her neighbours. Recently, she forged closer security cooperation with the US and for the Maldives this was the right way to go because the move served her national interest. And for any state, the national interest ought to be of supreme importance.

Continue Reading

Features

A Sri Lankan centre for infective disease control and prevention

Published

on

The need of the hour:

BY Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

On 01st July 1946, the Communicable Disease Center (CDC) of the United States of America opened its doors and occupied one floor of a small building in Atlanta, Georgia. Its primary mission was simple, yet highly challenging. It was to prevent malaria from spreading across the nation. Armed with a budget of only 10 million US dollars, and fewer than 400 employees, the agency’s early tasks included obtaining enough trucks, sprayers, and shovels necessary to wage war on mosquitoes.

It later advanced, slightly changed its name, and transformed itself into the much-acclaimed and reputed Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It became a unique agency with an exceptional mission. They work 24/7 to protect the safety, health and security of America from threats there and around the world. Highest standards of science are maintained in this institution. CDC is the nation’s leading science-based, data-driven, service organization that protects the public’s health. For more than 70 years, they have put science into action to help children stay healthy so they can grow and learn, to help families, businesses, and communities fight disease and stay strong and to protect the health of the general public. Their are a bold promise to the nation, and even the world. With this strategic framework, CDC commits to save American lives by securing global health and America’s preparedness, eliminating disease, and ending epidemics. In a landmark move, the CDC even established a Central Asia regional office at the U.S. Consulate in Kazakhstan in 1995 and have been involved in public health initiatives in that region.

More recently, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), was established. It is an agency of the European Union, aimed at strengthening Europe’s defences against infectious diseases. The core functions cover a wide spectrum of activities such as surveillance, epidemic intelligence, response, scientific advice, microbiology, preparedness, public health training, international relations, health communication, and the scientific journal Eurosurveillance.

Still later on, the African CDC (ACDC) was born. It strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions, as well as partnerships, to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

All these organisations are autonomous, independent, and are confidently dedicated to hold science to be sacred. They play a major role in advocacy and work in a committed advisory capacity. With the cataclysmic effects of the current coronavirus pandemic COVID-19, the contributions made by these institutions are priceless. What is quite important is that they are able to provide specific recommendations based on the latest scientific information available for countries and nations in their regions, even taking into account the many considerations that are explicit and even unique to their regions. All these organisations have been provided with optimal facilities and human resources. The real value of their contribution is related to just one phenomenon: AUTONOMY.

Well…, isn’t it the time for us to start a Sri Lankan Centre for Infective Disease Control and Prevention (SLCIDC)? It should be formulated as an agency constantly striving, day in and day out, to safeguard the health of the public. Science and unbending commitment to evaluation of research on a given topic should be their operating mantra. It would work as a completely apolitical organisation and what we can recommend is that it would be directly under the President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, unswervingly reporting to and accountable to the President. It would consist of medical doctors, scientists and researchers but no politicians of any sort, no non-medical or non-scientist persons, no hangers on and no business persons. All appointments to the SLCIDC will be made by the President of the country, perhaps in consultation with medical professional organisations.

The prime duty of the SLCIDC would be to assess the on-going situation of any infective issue that has any effect on the health of the public. The organisation will undertake in-depth examination and assessment of a given situation caused by an infective organism. They need to have all relevant data from within the country as well as from outside the country. There will not be any vacillation of the opinions expressed by them and their considered views should not be coloured by any consideration apart from science and research done locally and worldwide. Their considered opinion would be conveyed directly to the President of the country. They are free to issue statements to keep the public informed about the results of their deliberations.

We believe that it would be a step in the right direction; perhaps even a giant step for our nation, not only during the current coronavirus pandemic but also on any major problems of an infective nature that might occur in the future.

 

This writer wishes to acknowledge a colleague, a Consultant Physician, who first mooted this idea during a friendly conversation.

Continue Reading

Features

Kudurai Madiri Pona

Published

on

The big jumbo has come from the French land and as the French themselves say it is ‘annus mirabillis’ the miracle year, finally, and finally the wait is over. The world will now see the Big- Bus that we all waited for so long to see. As the years roll by, none would talk of delays regarding the delays on delivery dates and how late the bird flew in. These would be like words written on a blackboard, erased forever. But the aeroplane will grace the sky and, perhaps rewrite all the records of commercial aviation when the mega-miracle A380 dominates the international air-routes.

Singapore Airlines went into the record books as the launch customer. Some of my old friends from SIA would fly the A380. Perhaps, Luke would, too, and this story is about him. Luke of yesteryear and how he first flew as a cadet and how young Luke and I went romping the skies in our own special way, writing a few new lines in the flight training manual.

Luke was from Johor Baru, in Malaysia. His roots were in South India where years ago his grandfather had done a Robinson Crusoe and ended up in the Malayan Peninsula. Luke was named after one of the four Gospel scribes. Luke really isn’t his name. It is a pseudonym, I use just to give him some anonymity. Not much protection, but one is to three are playable odds. Like in Rumple stiltskin the manikin, you are welcome to guess the name.

We first flew to Seoul. He, straight out of flying College, and yours truly, as old as the hills, driving the ‘Jumbo’ classic, the lovable 747. The first thing I noticed about him was his socks, black and white diamond shapes, a mini version of the flags they swing at Grand Prix finals – if Luke swung his feet, a Ferrari would pass underneath. That we sorted out the first day itself. In Seoul,he went shopping and the next day he was Zorro, waist to toe, black as a crow.

His flying credentials were all there, somewhat mixed up between what they teach in modern flying schools and how to apply the ‘ivory tower’ jargon to cope with the big 747. As for raw handling of the aeroplane, all his skills were intact, only they were in bits and pieces and spread in places like an Irida Pola (Sunday Fair). They had to be streamlined, the wet market needed to be modified to a ‘Seven-Eleven’ – that was my job.

The next round we went flying to Europe, his first run to the unknown, like Gagarin in his Sputnik, young Luke flew to Rome. The flying was same as before, a bit mixed up amidst the hundreds of aero dynamical paraphernalia that spelled out from the encyclopaedic collection of books that he had to study.

That’s when I decided to change the tide.

‘Luke my friend,” I said to him in a fatherly fashion.

‘You and I are from similar fields, you from Kerala and me from Sri Lanka. These Min Drag Curves and VFEs and WAT limits and VLEs are too much for us. Just remember when you pull the stick back, the houses will become smaller and when you push the stick down, the houses will become bigger, that’s climbing and descending this monster,” I explained the simple theory of flight.

“As for landing my friend, Kudurai Madiri Pona, just ride it like a horse.”

That was it. We flew, over Europe and he flew like a Trojan, bravely battling the weather and the overcrowded skies. Every time he came in to land it was pure and simple Kudurai Madiri Pona and the big jumbo responded and touched down on the concrete as smooth as a honeymoon lover.

On the way back, we flew via Colombo, that’s my home ground. I requested the radar controller to give Luke a very short ‘four-mile’ final. They know me well here and the controller said “No problem, Captain.”

I was depicting what we did in the Old Hong Kong Airport or what we do in the Canarsi Approach in New York; both, most demanding. A ‘four-mile’ final is a challenge for anyone. I was throwing him in at the deep end and I had no doubt Luke could manage. He came in tight and right, like Hopalong Cassidy and rode the horse straight and beautiful to do a perfect landing. Gone was the Kampong kid and his ‘Irida Pola’ flying, this was Takashimaya and Robinsons rolled into one, everything was in place, nice and shining and professional to the tee.

That was our little story, Luke the ‘jockey’ and me. Sometimes in the field of training, the script needs a little changing. New acts to be introduced to suit the stage. That is the essence of teaching, different hurdles for different horses. It wasn’t for Luke to learn what I knew, more so, it was for me to know who he was and what he could cope with. That part was difficult to find in the flying training manual, and so was Kudurai Madiri Pona.

The world has gotten older and young Luke now wears four stripes and flies in command of Boeing Triple Sevens, fly-by-wire and multiple computers. I met him a few times, flew as his passenger, too, with great pride. “Captain Luke is in command,” the stewardess announced, and silently and gratefully I said, ‘Amen’.

I saw him walking down the aisle, looking for me. Same old Luke in his flat and uncombed Julius Ceaser hairstyle. He came to my seat and grinned and shook my hand and lightly lifted his trouser leg and said,

“Captain, the socks are black and it is still Kudurai Madiri Pona.

I am sure Luke will fly in command of the gigantic A380 one day. That’s a certainty. It would be the zenith for any pilot. Luke is ready, that I know. He is competent, polished and professional and will wear socks as black as midnight. It’s nice that he remembers his beginnings. That’s what flying is all about, that’s what life is all about.

Kudurai Madiri Pona

– ride it like a horse. Some flying lesson.

Continue Reading

Trending