The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
I wrote a couple of weeks back about the Participatory Budgeting initiative that is currently being conducted in selected local government bodies, after hearing about it at the South Asia Economic Summit in Islamabad. It seemed most timely, because sadly we have no formal system of training those elected to local government bodies so that they can plan for their areas and implement projects effectively. As a result, one of the most important Rights for countries such as ours, the Right to Development, will be ignored, for that requires active participation by citizens in decision making as well as transparency and accountability.
Some of those elected to office do of course manage to serve their people well, but given the electoral system we have had for decades now, and the very different skills required to succeed through this, we must recognize that capacity has to be built up. Having spent much time recently in Divisional Secretariats, and seen how distant people feel from planning and administration, I was delighted that an initiative to promote participation, and consultation and accountability, had been undertaken, and with what seems to have been remarkable success in many areas in which it had been piloted.
Following on that, I was surprised and pleased to find yet another initiative in this regard, namely a project conducted by the Marga Institute entitled “Building Media and Civil Society Capacities for Budget Transparency.” It has been conducted in Batticaloa, with the full cooperation of the Mayoress and the Municipal Council. Though it was understandable that media and civil society representatives felt that there was inadequate consultation and transparency, a highlight of the initial survey was the view of senior officials, 92% of whom ‘agreed that participation of the citizens in the preparation of the MC budget would enable them to take care of their needs more effectively. The reasons given were:
As the revenue comes from the citizens their participation is necessary.
If the expenditure is decided in consultation with the citizens they will pay their taxes regularly.
Certain projects can be implemented without expenditure through the participation of the people with free labour.’
The project has led already to the Inauguration of the Tax Payers’ Association in June. This has agreed to facilitate the publication of a News Bulletin, the inaugural issue of which appeared in July. It turned out also that an interactive session was held for Council members with members of the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council, since consultative practices were in operation there, which was heartening – and perhaps arose from the other project I had learnt of.
Meanwhile I had been drawing up suggestions for ways in which local government might be reformed, since I had realized, during my short lived membership of the team appointed to negotiate with the Tamil National Alliance, that we should move swiftly in areas in which agreement was easy to reach. Strengthening local government was one obvious way of empowering people who now felt neglected by the decision making processes of government, and this was of course dear to my heart because of the commitment of the Liberal Party to the principle of subsidiarity, namely that decisions should be made by the smallest possible unit affected by those decisions. The only constraint on this is with regard to decisions that might adversely affect others.
Having obtained assistance from the experts at Marga who have led the Capacity Building project, and learnt the areas entrusted currently to Local Government, I added on areas in which clearly current government practices lead to neglect. I am in particular concerned about education, and continue bewildered by the failure of those in authority to implement the President’s very practical suggestion of school based teacher recruitment. I therefore prepared the following draft, for consideration whenever serious discussions begin –
Local Government Councils
All Divisions shall have a Divisional Council, save for those areas which have a Municipal or Urban Council. All such Councils shall be elected on the same mixed system as is used for Parliament. Councillors elected on the party list shall be required to have prescribed educational or professional qualifications. The Councilors shall elect from amongt their members elected on the Ward List a Chairman or a Mayor who shall be the Executive Head of the area covered by the Council.
The Council shall be responsible for planning and policy implementation in the following areas (the areas asterisked are already within their purview, though I have expanded slightly for coherence):
- Primary Health Care, Maternity Services and Sanitation*
- Market Fairs*
- Cultural and Sports Activities, including Museums, Libraries and Cultural Centres*
- Waste Management*
- Burials and burial grounds, cremations and cremation grounds*
- Transport Services
and for the approval and monitoring of funds deployed in the Council Area, and for regulations to raise funds as laid out in the Constitution. Statutory provision should be made for consultation with community groups in the preparation of the budget, and for accountability mechanisms to ensure transparency.
The Chairman may be assisted by Coordinating Officers appointed by him, subject to approval by the Council, for the following areas
- Health and Education
- Utilities and Public Works
who will liaise with public officials and ensure fulfillment of the policies and plans approved by the Council. Grama Niladharis shall be responsible for convening regular consultative meetings with community groups in areas specified by the Council, and shall report on issues raised.
All elected members of the Council representing wards shall be allocated a Development Budget which may be used for local development projects. The accounts of such projects must be submitted to the Council, along with progress reports each quarter.