Party politics, inefficiencies hobble Northern Council
By Sandaran Rubatheesan
With only three months left before the Northern Provincial Council term expires, the council which took office in 2013 with much expectations and hopes, has achieved only little in developing the former war-torn region with the limited powers it is vested with.
Recently, there were many allegations from cabinet ministers and politicians claiming that allocated funds have been returned to the Treasury due to the inefficiency of the council administration and a lack of interest in development work, except for being at loggerheads with the Central government.
Rejecting such allegations as politically motivated, the provincial chief secretary, A Pathinathan told the Sunday Times that 98% of funds — which is nearly one third of requested funds from the provincial budget since 2013 — have been used effectively and apparently there has been a shortage of funds for capital works as money is being released in phases by the Treasury.
“The annual PC budget is passed every year seeking an allocation of nearly Rs 10,000 million for total development-related work, while the Treasury only allocates Rs 2800 to Rs 3200. We use the allocated funds for PC projects,” Mr Pathinathan said while noting that provincial finance department officials have received 15 awards of high performance in finance management following an audit by the Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance.
Apart from that, according to some senior officials at the Northern Provincial Secretariat, some of the ongoing development projects had to be put on hold briefly because the Treasury delayed the funds.
Rejecting recent allegations of mismanagement of funds, Mr Pathinathan said that such instances can arise as a result of funds from line ministries through District Secretariats and other departments bypassing the NPC.
“We cannot be faulted for the return of those funds since it wasn’t allocated through us but those implementing agencies come under the NPC purview. Why can’t the government coordinate and channel all allocations through the province?” Mr Pathinathan asked while indicating a recommendation by the finance commission to the President ahead of the annual budget.
The finance commission recommended to the President last August that to achieve balanced regional development, making funds available to provinces based on a rational method will not be effective if a meagre proportion of the national budget is spent through provincial councils. “Therefore, it is recommended that the national ministries should consider the proportions recommended by the finance commission in distributing their allocations among the provinces,” he said.
From the Treasury’s annual allocation for Provincial Councils, the Ministry of Women Affairs in Northern Provincial Council was given Rs 83 million for rehabilitation, social services and cooperatives. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Resettlement, Rehabilitation, and Northern Development is allocated Rs 2,500 million in the national budget.
“Sixty per cent of funds allocated has already been used for various livelihood and infrastructure projects. We are in dire need of more funds. We have requested additional funds from relevant ministries but no action has been taken,” Ms Ananthy Sasitharan, the provincial minister of women’s affairs said.
Ms Sasistharan is also responsible for the rehabilitation, social services, cooperatives, food supply and distribution, industries and enterprise promotion, and trade and commerce.
The ministry grants livelihood assistance for the disabled, war-affected people in remote villages and self-employment for those below the poverty line.
“In the North, 12,700 people are registered with us as persons with disabilities, among them, only 3,000 get monthly relief of Rs 3,000. We need to include others, but we lack funds,” Ms Sasitharan said.
However, the council chairman C. V. K. Sivagnanam believes that people’s expectations should be fulfilled despite the financial and other constraints.
“We should have done more for the war-affected people. But we failed due to many reasons such as lack of proper planning based on a needs-based assessment of the region, intra-party conflicts and ineffective administration skills, ” Mr Sivagnanam said.
Opposition leader S Thavarasa who challenged the chief minister to an open debate last week noted that the council failed to resolve urgent needs. “The council could have performed better had the executive functions taken the lead with effective policy-making decisions,” he said.
The council has wasted time debating irrelevant subjects rather than people’s issues, he said.
So far, the council has passed 415 resolutions which lack any legal validity and only 18 statutes have been formulated for local governance.
“Under the 13th Amendment, there are 35 subjects such as cooperative societies, education (other than 11 national schools), health (except Jaffna Teaching Hospital) allocated to PCs under concurrent list where PCs can exercise those powers after formulating necessary statutes in keeping with the Constitution.
Adequate efforts were not taken by the council leadership to formulate relevant statutes to exercise those powers,” Mr Thavarasa said.
At a discussion on Thursday at Jaffna District Secretariat, Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran reiterated his call that the Central government should consider the PCs as equal partners rather than taking decisions in Colombo and using councils as implementing agencies.
The event was organised by Office for National Unity and Reconciliation on the “Enterprise Sri Lanka’’ loan scheme. The former president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga presided.
“Instead of adopting a top to the bottom approach we are glad your excellency has thought it fit to encourage our local enterprises and economic pursuits staying on the side like a mother watching her children grow and develop. If an enterprise is the development of businesses by the people of a country rather than by the government unilaterally, we ask the same principle to be adopted in politics, too. Please do not try to control us from the centre. Allow us to work and improve ourselves,” Mr Wigneswaran said while emphasising that this principle could apply to Tamil peoples’ demand for self-rule under a federal structure.
The NPC is also facing a legal dispute between Mr Wigneswaran and one-time minister B Deniswaran who was removed by the chief minister.
Mr Deniswaran secured an interim order from the Court of Appeal against his arbitrary removal and the court ruled that he be reinstated. The Chief Minister appealed to the Supreme Court and the case has been postponed to September 5.
The last time ministers of the NPC met was on June 5.