President Ranil Wickremesinghe is trying to give portfolios of sorts to all MPs who support him in Parliament by establishing a committee to advice the Governors on administering the Provincial Councils, says dissident SLPP MP Prof. Charitha Herath.
Prof. Herath, who is a member of the Freedom People’s Congress (FPC), said the President had in his address to Parliament on Wednesday (09) that he intended to appoint the Chairman or Chief of the Provincial Supervisory Committee, the District Development Committee Chairman, and Members of Parliament representing political parties in the province.
The proposed Advisory Council was to be co-chaired by the Governor and a nominated Member of Parliament from the respective province, the President said. The Governor would oversee executive matters while the MP would take care of the legislative affairs, he added.
“Currently, there are 45 functioning Provincial Council Ministries. Oversight committees can be established for these ministries, with parliamentarians who have no other responsibilities being appointed as their heads,” the President mentioned.
Prof. Herath said that the MP who co-chaired the Advisory Council is like a chief minister.
“The Provincial Councils can have four ministers. The President wants to appoint 36 MPs to hold these portfolios. There are close to 70 ministers and state ministers already. He can appoint another 45 MPs as provincial chief ministers and ministers. This way, all MPs who support him in Parliament get perks and privileges,” he said.
Prof. Herath added that it was obvious that the President had no interest in reconciliation. “He is creating a network of patronage that would help him in the coming presidential election.
“This is an idea that the President presented during the All-Party Conference (APC) as well. He wants to establish district development councils, which allows him to appoint more of his supporters.”
Prof. Herath said the President’s proposals on devolution had many contradictions. “This can be explained by the fact that opportunitism and creating patronage networks are the building blocks of Wickremesinghe’s thinking.
“People ahould listen carefully to Wickremesinghe’s speech in Parliament on Wednesday. In the first half, he talks about implementing the 13A. In the second half, he proposes certain things that would weaken Provincial Councils. His plan is to say certain things that could attract Tamil votes while providing job opportunities to Southern politician who had a hold on the Sinhala voters. His plan is to confuse and confound everyone. This is how he has always operated,” he said.
Wickremesinghe also told Parliament that the government allocates 550 billion rupees a year on Provincial Councils and that the councils do not use the money optimally. Then he proposes to cut 50 billion from the budget for the councils, Herath said.
“The President is implying that although they have held no elections and don’t want to, the councils spend money nonetheless. He suggests that the best way to spend the 550 billion is to appoint MPs to each district and spend the money through them. The is pork barrel politics at its best,” he said.
Another one of Wickremesinghe’s proposal is to allow MPs to contest Provincial Councils, Prof. Herath said.
“It is obvious to everyone that the President is acting in bad faith. I don’t think anyone came to the APC with great expectations and the President seems to now understand that most political parties are suspicious of his intentions. He has also asked us to send proposals on strengthening the 13A. However, most political parties clearly told the President that they would react when he presents them with the government’s proposals. What’s the point in us making suggestions when we don’t know what the SLPP thinks?” he asked.
The FPC MP said the 13A is a proposed solution to an important question. Sri Lanka, since independence, has not been able to figure out what kind of a country it wants to be, he said. There is no consensus between Sinhalese and Tamils about what the state should look like, he added.
“We are a small country. If 13A is an actual solution, we can explore it. But, everyone is using 13A to their own advantage, especially the President,” he said.