Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)



Chairman of the Election Commission Nimal Punchihewa views the government’s latest decision to appoint special representa­tives of the Chairmen of Regional Coordinati­ng Committees to oversee the affairs of the local government bodies as inappropri­ate and against the democratic norms.

Media reports quoted the Election Commission (EC) chief as saying that he was of the opinion that this move by the government would lead to politiciza­tion of the functions of the local government bodies for which the elections have been postponed indefinite­ly due to the inability of the Treasure to release funds.

One may argue that the local government bodies would function according to the policies or wishes of a political party even when their functions are decided by elected members of a particular political party. However, it is a situation that is a far cry from the current move by the government to impose its political agendas on the LG bodies, rather than people of the area electing a particular party or a group to decide the functions of their local councils.

The local government elections which were to be held in March last year, were postponed by the government for a year due to the economic problems it had to encounter with then. However, the Elections Commission amidst many constraint­s first scheduled those elections to be held on March 9 this year, and then reschedule­d them for April 25, but only to be put off again indefinite­ly, as the Treasury failed to provide necessary funds. An interim order had been issued on May 3 by the Supreme Court on the Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwarden­a preventing him from withholdin­g funds allocated for the local government election by the budget. The Treasury Secretary after this court order forwarded all appeals for funding for elections by the Election Commission and the Government Printer to the Finance Minister who is also the President. Hence, the matter now seems to have stuck between the Executive and the judiciary.

The local government system in Sri Lanka which harks back to the ancient Sinhalese kingdoms came into being as village councils owing to the necessity to address the grass-root level issues and later, during the British rule municipal councils were also instituted. Their existence is justified by the fact that the peoples’ representa­tives of a single centralize­d council cannot address the grass-roots level issues such as rural street lighting, disposal of garbage and developmen­t of local road network including rural footpaths. Similarly, the provincial councils too came into being in 1987 through a historical process, with the escalation of the ethnic strife, introducin­g a third tier of people’s representa­tion in the country.

And the elections to these councils, once in a particular number of years are also meant for the democratiz­ation of this mechanism. The timing of these elections therefore is decided by laws and not by the President or the government of the day. Hence, the claim by President Ranil Wickremesi­nghe at the ‘2023/2024 National Law Conference’ held on Saturday in Nuwara Eliya that the people are not interested in elections, was not valid, when it comes to rule of law.

However, now the elections to the councils of two of these three tiers are held up – provincial council elections due to a legal snag and the local government elections owing to purported economic constraint­s. It is against this backdrop, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawarden­a who is also the Minister of Local Government has issued a circular on May 9 providing for the Chairmen of Regional Coordinati­ng Committees who are appointees of the government to appoint their representa­tives to supervise the functions of the local government bodies.

This very clearly seems to be a political move to control the functions of the local government bodies during the forthcomin­g elections, rather than being an administra­tive measure, since there is an establishe­d administra­tive mechanism to oversee and mobilize the local government system in the country, in the absence of elected representa­tives. The accepted procedure is to hand over the responsibi­lity of local government bodies to the Local Government Commission­er and his assistants, until the next election for those councils is held. Whims and fancies of politician­s taking over the rule of law might further complicate the local government system.

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