Tuesday, November 27, 2012

An ideal devolved state

By Janaka Wansapura


The 13th amendment must be repealed because it was a solution to a non existing problem and was legitimatized against the will of the people. It threatens the unitary state and beckons separatism. Today, the provincial structure of government that it help put in place has become a tremendous burden on the people it supposed to serve. In its quarter century long existence, provincial governments have added multiple layers of politicians, bureaucrats, henchmen, crooks, etc. to the society whose livelihood the tax payer must support. In turn these men and their bureaucracy have politicized every aspect of ordinary people’s lives promoting wide spread corruption, and dysfunction. Contrary to its goals, the party politics at the center flows through the bureaucracy directly to these provincial institutions. Thus periphery has no escape from the politics at the center. This is the opposite of what decentralization supposed to achieve. On the other hand one shouldn’t be surprised at this outcome precisely because the intention was not to come up with a system that served the public but to pacify the separatist Lobby. The 13th amendment did that and still does only that.

No one disagree that devolution of power is a good thing. But what is an ideal decentralized state?
Regardless of how one defines decentralization there are only two approaches to the problem. One way is to achieve a compromise between the two extremes: One extreme being the highly decentralized system where all the power is at the periphery and the other extreme being the highly centralized system where all the power is at the center. Once defined what these extremes are, rules can be made to arrive at a system at the halfway mark between the two poles. In principle this could work but it is a compromise and not a perfect state. The rules can guarantee that there is power balance between the center and the peripheral units and that state as a whole remain in tact. Because the system is at a mid point in terms of power, there is no clear hierarchical difference between the center and periphery and worst the party politics that affect the center affect the periphery in the same manner. Therefore this type of devolution is only good for managerial convenience, an acceptable way to let delegate administration. It does not grant independence to the periphery nor does it give authority to the center. It only produces managers and not leaders, local or national. This system is good when things are going great but in crisis it fails to give leadership and resolve problems. This is why people tend to go outside the system to get things done as we have seen so often in our country. Unfortunately this is what we can hope to achieve legislatively, that is through rules, under the present parliamentary system.

There is a better approach than this. That is to have a system that is centralized and decentralized at the same time. i.e. a system that gives full independence to the periphery while at the same time maintaining authority over periphery at the center. It is not the mid point between so called poles but both poles at the same time. One could argue that this is illogical. True, if you are an Aristotelian; but for the Sri Lankans, especially for the Sinhala Buddhists who deals in four fold logic this should make sense. (In four fold logic a proposition and its opposite can both be true at the same time). However such a system cannot be achieved through legislation alone because rules by default are two fold and two fold rules cannot be used to describe a four fold world.  But sophisticated humans can understand and work in a system that both centralized and decentralized even though it cannot be defined by rules. So what make such a system of governance possible are the relationships between people and not necessarily the legislation. 

An ideal system of governance that is both centralized and decentralized can only be achieved through relationships that spawn trust and respect among citizenry and their leaders (not managers). For this to happen, a nation must be fully integrated. Today Thamil and Muslim leaders work against integration with the backing from India and the west. This is what stands in the way of achieving an ideal devolution.  Any attempt to devolve power without first integrating the nation will only result in a dysfunctional system that cannot govern.

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