Greenhorn councillors in Northern Province are fishing in muddy waters

400_F_45626025_9EZnJUJC7lVOBVgOgZB61iBSwsxEgFwgGreenhorn, origin is with reference to a young animal with immature horns; in the context of NPC, the newly arrived councillors are considered as the greenhorns with their inexperience in politics are novice and are easily deceived or duped by the TNA veterans into submitting no-confidence motion against CM shortly after he had requested the two of his ministers, subjected to investigations to resign voluntarily and the other two under investigation to go on compulsory leave as he was answerable to the people who voted for CM, who belongs to the politicians of yesteryear  a rare occurrence these days in the country where the elected representative do not respect the people who elect them. The act by the councillors is out of place and is like fishing in muddy waters; could have given proper attention, if it had come any other time than at present.

The long-awaited Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election in the region devastated by the two and half decades of bloody civil war that ended in 2009 took place in September 2013. The TNA who campaigned for more political autonomy for the north selected former High Court Judge to be its chief ministerial candidate. The party with the largest representation of the Tamil ethnic minority in parliament the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) had a resounding victory, where 67 percent of 719,000 eligible voters in the north had cast their votes, won 30 out of the 38 seats in NPC; while the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) appealed to voters with its massive development campaign for the province secured seven and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat.

In accordance with the constitution, NPC has legislative power over a variety of matters including agriculture, education, health, housing, local government, planning, road transport and social services. The constitution also gives it powers over police and land, but successive central governments have refused to devolve these powers to the provinces. Though it appears that the TNA-led provincial administration has a substantive devolution of power; the largely top-down process of managing the province continue from the center and that meant issues are not addressed quickly, with information filtering through several layers of bureaucracy in multiple departments. This was felt more so in this province than others for the TNA legislators were not in the government. For according to the 13th amendment to the constitution that established the provincial councils in 1987, the governor, who is appointed by the president is the only official with executive powers, including control of provincial spending. Thus despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA was largely impotent under the control of the provincial governor.

True any path to power needs its starting point and this first election was a means to work towards meaningful power devolution and many thought that despite the constitutional imbroglio, the newly elected council may play a decisive role in northern politics and development. Earlier in July 2009, the government appointed as the governor, the Chief Commanding Officer, who had served in Jaffna from 2006 until the end of the war.  Therefore a key and integral element of the TNA agenda from the outset was for the replacement of the Governor with a civilian official. However, notwithstanding the TNA’s landslide victory at the elections, and despite assurances from the centre, the governor continued his incumbency until government was voted out in January 2015 and as expected provincial affairs were decided on without consulting the elected representatives. This hostile campaign against the governor, contributed to the inimical relations between the Centre and the Province and had its part to play in the cool relations that prevailed for two years, evolved between the Governor and Chief Secretary on the one side, and the Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers on the other. After the change of government in 2015, TNA took a moderate and accommodative line on the Tamil question; radical CM, who was a new comer to politics, lashed out at the concentration of power within the TNA and in the run up to the August 2015 parliamentary elections appealed to the Tamils to vote for genuine Tamil nationalists, that was seen as an endorsement of the radical Tamil National Peoples’ Front (TNPF). This was not well received by TNA old-timers in the legislature nor in the TNA greenhorns in NPC.

In the past four years, CM has used his position to address the problems of the people directly impacted by the war and not being mindful of employment, housing, education and availability of safe water and sanitation of all people in the province; in doing so the NPC failed to strike a delicate balance allowing the demands of the people directly affected by the war to overshadow the basic needs of the total population in the province. At the same time, the council opposition leader did on many occasions have been complaining about the administrative incompetence of CM, while TNA leaders never failed to complain of his failure to interact with Ministers, Departmental Secretaries and the Prime Minister.

Thus NPC the young people-based initiative and the only TNA-led council in the country after four years into its implementation has had its benefits and challenges to TNA. With the novice councillors not performing well and now with some of them being accused of misusing their powers and involved in corrupt activities, CM was forced to conduct an inquiry that was long overdue and the action has disturbed the hornet nest that presents an opportunity to make an assessment of the performance of the NPC. Not to be outdone the ‘greenhorn’ councillors of the Northern Province are fishing in muddy waters and have submitted a no confidence motion against the CM to the Governor, all in bad taste.