SJB demands LG polls instead of conference on ‘local governance’

‘Such events irrelevant as a jittery govt. continues to avoid electorate’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kirirella, MP, has said the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksha government should hold Local Government (LG) polls without further delay.The Samagi Jana Balavegala (SJB) heavyweight questioned the rationale behind spending public funds on a three-day international conference on local governance in Colombo this week at a time the Opposition was demanding the government to conduct the much delayed local government polls.

The three-day conference, organised by Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance (SLILG), will be held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) commencing 05 Oct. President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena are scheduled to attend the inauguration.Kiriella warned the government that it couldn’t hoodwink the public by conducting conferences on local government instead of local government polls. The former UNP minister acknowledged that their Yahapalana government, too, had put off local government polls. But, ultimately, paid a very heavy price for what he called a strategic blunder.

MP Kiriella asserted that both President Wickremesinghe, with just one UNP seat in Parliament, and absolutely no local government bodies under its control, and the trouble-ridden SLPP feared to face the electorate.The terms of the LG bodies were to expire in March this year but they were extended by a Gazette notification till 19 March 2023.

Former Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Roshan Ranasinghe issued the relevant Gazette notification pertaining to 24 Municipal Councils, 41 Urban Councils, and 275 Pradeshiya Sabhas.Kiriella said the Covid-19 pandemic had been cited as an excuse for postponing the LG polls.Commenting on the inauguration of the National Council, on 29 Sept., Kiriella, who attended it, told The Island the government was not genuine in its efforts to overcome the crisis.

MP Kiriella said that he had reminded Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena how the latter had gone back on a promise to allow the Opposition to head the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) and the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA). The Speaker had given that pledge at a meeting of the Parliamentary Business Committee on June 07, and reiterated it on 12 August, in Parliament, Kiriella said.

Contrary to the Standing Orders, the SLPP retained the leadership of the COPE, the COPA, as well as the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) following the last parliamentary elections.  Commending the leadership given by Prof. Charitha Herath (COPE), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (COPA) and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa (COPF) during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure as the President, MP Kiriella emphasised that the Opposition could have played a much better role if the three watchdog committees were under the leadership of Opposition members.

The circumstances leading to the country declaring bankruptcy, in May this year, should be examined against the backdrop of the government retaining control of three watchdog committees, the Chief Opposition Whip said. In the wake of the economic turmoil, the government gave control of the COPF to the Opposition (Dr. Harsha de Silva) though a decision was yet to be made on the COPE and the COPA.

MP Kiriella said the SJB didn’t want to reject the National Council outright without giving it an opportunity. But their cooperation would depend on the government’s readiness to address the concerns of the Opposition, MP Kiriella said, adding that the SJB was yet to name its representatives to the National Council. In addition to two ex-officio positions (Opposition Leader and Chief Opposition Whip), the SJB can name three MPs to the council.

MP Kiriella said that the government should realise that the National Council couldn’t, under any circumstances, achieve what was expected of an all-party- government. He warned that the SJB wouldn’t dance to the SLPP’s tune. The inordinate delay in LG polls, the appointment of 38 State Ministers and the moves to increase the number of Cabinet ministers by 10 more wouldn’t help achieve consensus, the MP said, demanding that the government made a clear statement on how it intended to address the economic woes.

MP Kiriella said that the TNA, the JVP and SLPP rebels had rejected the National Council. The government should address the concerns of the Opposition immediately as, contrary to their expectations, the situation was deteriorating. “I Hope the President and the SLPP realize the agreement with the IMF for USD 2.9 bn is not the panacea for all our ills.”

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