28th March 1999
Three in one big mess
By Chamintha Thilakarathna, Wathsala Mendis and Udena R. Attygalle
Provincial Councils: are they working? If others have 2 heads, Western province has 3 and is top heavy
If the Wayamba province and the Central province which we covered last week are suffering from a duplication of bureaucratic procedures, then the Western province has to carry not two but three institutions.
Each area has a local council and a provincial council while the Colombo district- heartland of the Western province- also carries a multitude of departments and institutions that represent the central Govt.
Besides this three headed monster, the sky scrapers and the ever increasing traffic congestion, the Western Province like other provinces has little to show by way of devolution of power and development in the suburban and rural areas of the province.
The Colombo city and its immediate suburbs may outwardly at least appear to be prosperous and bustling with development. But in other areas the people get only the crumbs and life is as tough as in a remote village of some other province.
Since the introduction of the provincial council system in 1987, it has been a battle between institutions and officials, with the people being caught in the cross fire.
As part of our investigation beyond the hustle and bustle of Colombo we visited the Horana Base hospital.
As usual it was under equipped and over loaded but even to this second rate or could we say third rate hospital some patients had come from more than 30 miles away.We spoke to a patient A. A. David from Milla who said that scores of people had to sleep on the hospital floor though this was supposed to be one of the main hospitals in the Kalutara district.
It is well known that most hospitals in the Colombo and Gampaha districts of the Western province are not better off than this Horana hospital.
The list of shortcomings at Horana is wide and long-no Phisiotherapy dept.an ECG machine lies idle for five days a week as the technician works only for two days, lack of staff, equipment, drugs and so on plus the usual red tape and political interference.
This is the sad plight of a hospital which is expected to serve some 20,000 people.
One area where they could boast of being a little better than the others is on the main roads. But good roads do not always mean a better transport service. The province may have more buses but the population is also relatively large so for most people it is often a case of over crowded buses and infrequent or irregular services.
If private bus services in the cities are loaded with problems then the situation in distant areas is much worse.
Agriculture is another field that has come to cross roads or dead ends largely due to duplication or triplication of procedures. Under the previous system of central government, farmers had easy access to simple items such as seed paddy, tools, and fertilizers. But now the administration procedures have left most farmers with no option but to purchase them at a higher cost from distributors.
"We don't get seeds. The procedure is too time-consuming and there are no guarantees on getting the seeds on time either," said forty-six-year-old Somasiri Samaratunga who has been farming all his life in the Minerigama area.
The situation is similar when it comes to receiving assistance to obtain tools and fertilizer. The only thing they seem to get easily is advice on how to get about their inherited profession, which they have been employed in since childhood.
"We miss the former system of farm head ('govi muladeniya'). Now we are led from one institution to another, and we receive hardly any assistance from the PC," said the secretary of the Jayabima Farmers' Association, W.M.Jinadasa.
Farmers say they are sent from Samurdhi offices, to agrarian services departments to, divisional secretariats to, PC agriculture ministries and every other institution they could name of when requesting for assistance.
They say most PC bureaucrats know little and care less about Agriculture.
According to farmers in the Western province, the lack of a responsible authority has left them handicapped when dealing with administrative matters.
In the Mirigama electorate we met hundreds of farmer families whose paddy fields have been badly hit by extensive damage to the bund.
"For four years now we have been dependent on rain water for cultivation and officials have simply turned a blind eye to our problem," one farmer said.
They claim that crops have gone down by 50% since this problem. And the high-pressure water from the broken bund has taken a detour through the paddy fields creating a sort of deep lake.
The situation has been worsened by a 'sapaththu palama' which floods often restricting 5,000 voters from getting about their daily activities of schooling, work and others. The only option being to walk 5 kilometres instead of the 2minute cross over from the bridge.
For the 4.9 million (26.8% of the total population) people in the Western Province there has been little comfort provided by the Provincial Council system. While, many schools based in the cities are administered by the central government, the majority of schools fall under the Provincial Council. Those schools which often go unnoticed have to struggle for survival.We visited the Handapangoda Junior School which looked rickety and neglected, as hundreds of other schools are.
The science laboratory was somewhat of a joke with the equipment old or out of order and even that had been acquired not through provincial council funds, but by the voluntary efforts of the teaching staff.
Sports and music are known to be vital extra curricular areas but the instruments in this school were out of tune while to buy even a volleyball the school staff had to conduct a trade fair. Funds go from the central Government to the Provincial Councils but most of it appears to be going down some drain or someone's pocket.
The discrimination between national schools run by the central government and other schools run by the Provincial Council is obvious as in the case of the Hapangoda school.
A senior official of the Western provincial council said such an education system would fall apart soon unless immediate changes were made.
He pointed out the PC system was meant mainly for the Northeast but now it was defunct there and was a huge burden to the other provinces.
He said it was not the system itself that was at fault but the bureaucrats and politicians in the central government. "They want all the powers to themselves- they devolve power with one hand and take away with the other," he said.
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