As I shall be away for a few weeks, I thought it best to bring this series to a close. I have tried here to discuss the need
a. for Parliament to be strengthened, through better use of Committees so that its legislative and oversight functions are treated seriously
b. of streamlining the Executive and making it more effective
c . to strengthen local administration
d. for much greater coordination between government bodies and also elected and unelected officials
e. to provide clear job descriptions and institute and enforce reporting mechanisms
f. of much better training programmes with assessments that privilege efficiency, effectiveness and initiative
I have noted some areas in which best practice is available, as with the Community Policing programmes in the East, or the regular discussions between Divisional Secretaries and Pradeshiya Sabha leaders in some areas in the North, or even the recording in Batticaloa of unused government buildings, in a context in which the thrust is to use more and more cement as yet another intelligent and able Government Agent put it.
I have also noted some areas in which reform is long overdue. A common theme of my suggestions is streamlining and targeting, as with the proposals for electoral reform that restore the link (and hence responsibility for and accountability to) between elected representative and the people; or the recommendation that the Cabinet be reduced in number with Ministers chosen for administrative capacity and planning skills rather than electoral success.
In the last couple of weeks I have been discussing the suggestions put forward to the Parliamentary Select Committee by Vasantha Senanayake and a group of young professionals, and today I will look at perhaps the most revolutionary of the suggestions made therein, which encompasses and takes further many of the suggestions and principles I have tried to enunciate.
The Senanayake proposals would have Provincial Councils consist of the Chief Minister and one member elected by every Local Government institution within the Province to the Council. It is noted that this does not require a constitutional change but can be done through amending the Provincial Councils act.
This will serve to reduce both the number of elections that now cost the country so much – in blood and sweat and toil and tears as well as financially – and the number of politicians who have no proper responsibilities. It will enhance the link between the Provincial Council which should be responsible for developmental activity plus basic services, but needs to deliver them at local levels.
The system proposed could lead to a Council consisting almost entirely of just the one party, the TNA in the North and the UPFA everywhere else except the East, going on current form, and this is not desirable. But all that is needed to ensure greater representation is to allocate a few other seats based on proportionality to those parties that win a particular percentage of votes in the Province as a whole, but do not gain control of any local authority.
Of course a Chief Minister elected by the members of a Provincial Council thus constituted would have little authority, but the Senanayake proposals sensibly also add that the Chief Minister shall be elected directly by the people. It then allows him to appoint 5 other Ministers with the approval of the Provincial Council, on the lines of what has also been proposed for the central government, and which is the only logical way to ensure that a directly elected Executive leader can be efficient. For this purpose it is provided that Ministers shall not be Members of any other legislative elected body, and shall not undertake any other employment. Any Member of such an elected body who assumes duty as a member of the Board of Ministers shall cease to be a member of such body.
The proposals also further develop coordination at Divisional level through Coordinating Committees that are to be established for every administrative division as coordination mechanisms between the Centre, Provinces and Local Government and the administration in general. They should consist of Members of the House of Representatives representing the Division, Member of the Provincial Council who represents the respective Division, the Chairman of the Local Government authority and the Leader of Opposition of that authority and the Divisional Secretary and the District Secretary
Sensibly enough, the proposals also do away with the concurrent list of the present constitution as far as possible, with the powers distributed between the Province, the Centre and Local Government I would hope though that the majority of powers, to do with services to the people, are handed over in fact to Local Government, though they will need to be exercised in accordance with National Policy and the development plans of the Province.
But there too the Senanayake proposals entrench consultation mechanisms. They note that local authorities should be recognised by the constitution as a tier of government given areas of responsibility as specified and entrenched in the constitution. But, in exercising these, they will need in every Grama Niladhari Division to set up Grama Sabhas as consultative mechanisms with regard to issues such as development and social services. The deliberations of such sabhas must go in writing to the Local Government officials and the Divisional Secretariat, and these reports will be submitted to Administrative Coordinating Committees and the Divisional Coordinating Committees, with a requirement to report back to Grama Sabhas in writing.
Though obviously the ideas will need to be fleshed out, the manner in which Vasantha Senanayake and his team presented the proposals to the Marga Institute consultation was heartening. I was glad then that it was decided to work on the basis of these to produce some comprehensive proposals to government. The working committees that were set up include a group of youth representatives, and Marga has already asked for responses, so I hope things will proceed swiftly while I am away.