Local bodies still grapple with issues | Sunday Observer

Local bodies still grapple with issues

With the approaching of the final day to establish local government councils, the ‘oversized’ local bodies are still struggling to revert to the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government, the issues that have cropped up, the reason probably being that they are still grappling to identify the issues, let alone start counting them.

Almost all Urban Councils and Municipal Councils have doubled the number of members elected under the new electoral system and most are expected to have their inaugural session in a rented hall to overcome space constraints.The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is tipped to have its first session and perhaps, the next few also at the BMICH.

Provincial Councils and Local Government Ministry Legal Officer Gayani Prematilleke said, they have informed the Councils to submit in writing the logistical and other issues they need to settle before the Councils can be Gazetted and established on March 6 as scheduled. But the responses are still being received.

In this backdrop, the Election Commission has requested the Provincial Council and Local Government Ministry to postpone the day of announcement of establishing the Councils to March 20.

“We will issue this notice of postponement on March 6,” the Legal Officer said.

While there was still a tug of war between various stakeholders over the 25% women quota in LG bodies by last week, with the women’s rights groups insisting on fulfilling the criteria come hell or high water, Election observers pointed out, the lessons learnt from this election should be given strict consideration when the Provincial Councils and General Election laws are fine tuned.

According to a research done by the Polls Observer PAFFREL the following have been revealed and it said the legislators should heed them to prevent a further chaos at the Provincial Election that is round the corner,

= A single party has secured more than half of the seats in only 138 LG bodies (40%) out of the total 430. Hence, only 40% of the LG bodies will be stable Councils.

= In 34 Councils, a single party has gained more than 50% of the seats but still they cannot form administration without the help of another party or group.

= 50% of the Councils will need to form coalitions with different partners to run the Council, hence they will be unstable.

= Vavuniya, Mannar, Mullaitivu and Polonnaruwa districts - not a single party has secured majority power in at least one Council in these four districts.

PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi pointed out that even though it was a plus point for democracy to have coalition regimes at Councils, the prevailing political instability at national level could adversely affect the Councils, its administration and eventually, the public. “This will be a negative factor when it comes to finding urgent solutions for people’s issues,” he said.

As a long term solution for this issue, it has been proposed that the bonus seats and cutout points should be introduced or a similar option that everyone can agree.

In addition, Hettiarachchi said, the recent election had resulted in over 360 overhang seats. It has increased the total number of councilors by 4%. A 57% of the LG bodies – 12 MCs, 20 UCs and 164 PSs- have these overhang seats. It has been revealed that nearly 60% of the Pradeshiya Sabha’s have overhang seats.

He said, this was another flaw of the new electoral system which needs attention. One remedy for this, as proposed by PAFFREL, is to divide the PR proportion of seats. The members for 60% of wards can be chosen separately and distribute the balance 40% of seats considering the votes obtained by each party or group.

Comparatively, this election has been observed as one of the most peaceful in Sri Lanka’s polls calendar, nevertheless, the polls watchdogs said, they observed a high rate of physical and psychological bribe-giving in the run up to the February 10 election.

However, the observers said the use of state resources remained at a very low level at this election, which was a positive sign.

It has also been a worrying factor that the parties have not yet devised a proper procedure to appoint Chairmen, Vice Chairmen, Governors and Deputy Governors to ensure that right persons are appointed to these important positions. Without giving consideration to seniority, knowledge, aptitude, and creativity the party organizers are appointing the crooked and the corrupt to fill senior positions, it is reported.

PAFFREL says the deception of voters by parties, groups and candidates; election of anti-social elements over reputed seasoned politicians were a common feature at this election that should be necessarily eliminated in any future election.