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Cabinet memorandum is setback for devolution

Nov 6, 2010 6:39:29 PM- transcurrents.com

Provincial Councils to get approval from Central Ministries to issue circulars

By Gagani Weerakoon

Legal experts and political groups have raised concerns about a cabinet memorandum approved recently that says that Provincial Councils should consult and take prior approval from the relevant line ministry whenever they issue a circular or a statute.

The decision with regard to the cabinet paper numbered 10/2222/412/004, presented by State Management and Reforms Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, states that obtaining the sanction of the line ministry concerned when adopting statutes and issuing circular instructions relating to the subject of PCs in terms of the 13th amendment to the Constitution.

The Minister is also the chairman of cabinet sub-committee appointed to look into the ways and means of developing relations between the central government and provincial councils

When asked about the decision Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said the chief ministers had no qualms on this issue as they viewed it as a simple measure taken to avoid duplications and complications.

“We still have the power to take decisions and we only have to inform the line ministry about our activities. We have to come to a consensus only when parallel projects are being conducted,” he said.

Constitutional expert Jayampathi Wikramaratne, meanwhile, described the move as ‘completely unconstitutional’.

He said: “Even if you leave aside the legal aspect of it, the decision still sends a bad message to the society. Everywhere it is discussed about devolving power and even the APRC report recommends this. Also there is a strong dialogue to implement the 13th amendment fully, at least as a political solution if the government is unable to give more powers to PCs. But this comes amidst all these dialogues and this clearly takes away whatever powers vested with the provincial councils earlier.”

He said he was surprised as to how this memorandum was approved by the cabinet as there are ministers who openly support the 13th amendment and power devolution.

“All the eight PCs are being controlled by the government allies and no wonder all the chief ministers are put in an awkward position with this situation as they really cannot or are not in a position to speak against it,” he added.

He also said that this cannot and should not be done in the present context.

However, Dr Jayatissa de Costa, who is also a constitutional expert as well as the chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, believes that this decision will not have a bigger impact in reality although there are pros and cons to it.

“Now we have achieved political stability and we also should concentrate more on economic prosperity. We should be modest and think about the ways to attract more investors. None of the investors will like to risk their wealth in a country where there are political complications. Under this decision, both the central government and the PCs can work together and avoid complexities,” said Dr Costa.

It will not be difficult to put this into practice as all the PCs are also affiliated to the ruling party, he pointed out.

“A difficulty or complex situation will only arise in future if the powers of one or two provincial councils go to the opposition parties,” he asserted.

The UNP provincial councilors, meanwhile, demanded that the government should reconsider this decision and withdraw the order as it went against the 13th amendment.

“If the government did not withdraw it, we are calling a meeting of all the PC members to decide on future legal actions. Also, when I contacted the ministry concerned they said they are still unaware about such a Cabinet decision. There had been no dialogue at all. Also this decision was directly sent to the provincial council secretaries by the Cabinet Secretary S Abeysinghe.

That is completely against the accepted norms,” said Central Province UNP Councillor Sanjeewa Kaviratne while noting that first the decision should have been sent to the Governor of each province according to the norms.

He said that they would raise the issue as the adjournment motion on Tuesday (9) when the provincial council sessions begin for the month.