Brain-dead PCs on life support

(Courtesy of The Island)

The Constitutional Council (CC) has reportedly apprised the Finance Ministry of the dire financial straits the Provincial Councils (PCs) are in, we reported the other day. All the PCs are now defunct as there have been no elections thereto, but their recurrent expenditure continues to cost Citizen Perera an arm and a leg. Going by the last budget of the Western PC, recurrent expenditure amounted to over 80% of the council’s total spending. The situation cannot be much different in other councils. The PCs spend most of their funds on salaries, purchase of goods, services, etc., and the public gets hardly anything in return for the money.

The JRJ government established the PC system, at the behest of India, in the late 1980s, as a solution to the armed conflict, in the North and the East, but the LTTE rejected it lock, stock, and barrel, and continued its terror campaign until its defeat on the military front, in 2009.

The PC system was also expected to solve the problems of the people in the North and the East, but it is doubtful whether the Northern PC was of any use to the public; it only passed resolutions against governments. It has been defunct for nearly two years, but none of the advocates of devolution has called for elections thereto. In fact, the TNA, which demands more devolution, joined forces with the UNP and the JVP to postpone the PC polls by introducing the Provincial Council Elections (Amendment) Act in 2017. The Bill was surreptitiously changed at the committee stage with several sections incorporated thereinto sans judicial sanction.

Ironically, the UNP, which forcibly established the PC system, the TNA, which is advocating devolution and the JVP, which plunged the country into a bloodbath in an abortive bid to torpedo the 13th Amendment, which paved the way for the province-based devolution, got together to stymie the PCs!

While the JVP was unleashing barbaric violence as part of its anti-PC campaign, the JRJ government claimed that devolution would help attack people’s problems at the grassroots, in all parts of the country. But nothing of the sort has happened and the PC system has become a fund-guzzling, underperforming politico-administrative entity. It only serves as a training ground for politicians and their progeny. We are burdened with more than 400 provincial councillors, and 45 of them are ministers. (There are 628 hospitals with 83,275 beds, according to the Annual Health Bulletin. We have 10 health ministers including nine in the provinces!) Devolution has rendered the health administration messier and led to cost increases. The same goes for other sectors.

The PC system has manifestly failed and the country has been doing without it for all practical purposes. The JVP has stopped protesting against the PCs. When it unveiled its 20th Amendment proposal, seeking the abolition of the executive presidency, during the yahapalana government, it did not call for the scrapping of the PC system. One of the main arguments against the 20-A was that it was the executive presidency which countervailed secessionist forces in some PCs and if it was done away with, things would fall apart. The JVP could have easily countered this argument put forth by the critics of the 20-A if it had cared to advocate the abolition of the PCs as well, but, curiously, it chose to remain silent thereon. Has its association with the UNP and the TNA had a mellowing effect on its anti-devolution policy?

A pressure group has emerged with the objective of having the dissolved Parliament reconvened, but nobody seems to care two hoots about the paralyzed PCs, draining the state coffers. It is time the country decided what to do with the PC system, which is like a brain-dead patient on life support. This is something the next Parliament should take up, as a matter of priority.


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