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Political Principles - majoritanismFinally, in this Chapter on Democracy and Representation, I look at how countries can avoid the impression that their governments look after only particular sections of society. Making it clear that government is inclusive, and bears equal responsibility for all groups in a country is an important part of ensuring the unity and thus the sovereignty of any country.

 

Avoiding Majoritarianism

The idea that the winner takes all after an election has caused serious problems in many democracies. It reduces the need for constant consultation that will contribute to continuity of policy. In pluralistic societies, in particular, it leads to neglect of the needs and aspirations of minorities. Minorities need not just be racial and religious minorities. Particular regions and social groups, even though they are a part of the racial or religious majority in a country, can be neglected by a government based on a parliamentary majority that springs from a limited proportion of the vote.

Constitutional safeguards, in the form of entrenched provisions, can ensure to a certain extent that discrimination is limited. However, in order to satisfy the needs of all these groups, constitutional safeguards alone will not suffice. Increasingly therefore, states have begun to realise that regional structures of governance are necessary, if the needs of particular segments of society are to be addressed. A central government cannot be expected to appreciate and respond actively to the special needs of smaller units with the same devotion that a government concentrating on that unit alone can supply.

The argument that devolving power to smaller units will cause problems cannot be sustained if the process of devolution is systematic and coherent. Certainly, there are issues that are best handled centrally, and will have to remain the prerogative of the central government. But assuming that all issues are best handled centrally is a fallacy. Also, the argument that devolution of power can lead to separation is no more valid than the argument that failure to devolve also leads to separation. Historically, the latter has caused separatist movements more often than the former.

The argument that devolution suits only large countries is also incorrect, since rational devolution supposes that authority is devolved in accordance with convenience rather than abstract principles. Larger units may require more powers, but smaller units can also exercise some powers in a manner that will benefit their people. One of the most successful examples of a country that has remained unified despite marked differences among its people is Switzerland. It is a relatively small country which allocates considerable power to the several cantons that constitute it. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.’

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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