President Maithripala Sirisena last week issued a directive stating that an approval from the Treasury was mandatory for Provincial Council members to travel abroad for workshops. Nation obtained the views of several stakeholders with regard to the State directive.
Following are excerpts of the views expressed:
The Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government explained that the presidential directive on Provincial Councils to refrain from utilizing State funds for overseas travel should be adhered to.
Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, President’s Counsel Faiszer Musthapha said that the matter came under the purview of the relevant Governor of the Province, who is the representative of the President in the jurisdiction.
When queried whether such a directive infringed upon the constitutional autonomy afforded to Provincial Councils, while acknowledging that the Provincial Councils did lawfully possess such autonomy in terms of taking decisions regarding certain matters, he added that since the said directive highlighting the State policy was for the betterment of the Government and the country, one should not get bogged down in the finer points or nitty-gritty of questions pertaining to the powers devolved.
“This is a government directive. Overseas tours of Provincial Councilors do not directly come under the ambit of the Ministry. We interlink between the Provincial Councils and the Central Government. There is an obligation on the part of the Provincial Councils as this concerns public funds. The public perception is the same as is the case of the directive and policy in this regard,” he noted.
Chief Minister of the Western Province, Isura Devapriya criticized the Governor of the Central Province, Niluka Ekanayake and the media’s reporting of the issue pertaining to overseas travel of Provincial Councilors, for the unnecessary and erroneous involvement of President Maithripala Sirisena and the government in the matter.
He added that Provincial development could not be done by staying solely within the country itself and having a frog in the well mentality, adding that therefore Provincial officials and people’s representatives should be allowed opportunities to go on overseas study or educational tours to gain new and useful experiences.
The involvement of the government and President Sirisena constitutes an issue of conflict with the incumbent Government’s State policy, Devapriya observed.
The media gave an incorrect analysis of the matter which also contributed to the situation, he explained.
“Overseas travel of Provincial Chief Ministers and Provincial Chief Secretaries must be approved by the President. The overseas travel of Provincial Councilors and Provincial Ministers is approved by the Governor of the Province. The Western Provincial Council went to Russia. There was no issue. Annually Provincial Ministries are allocated funds for such tours. We cannot deny the benefits afforded to Provincial Councilors and Provincial officers. In the past, there was waste and corruption in this regard, yet the current good governance government has taken positive decisions with regard to safeguarding State funds,” he noted.
Chairman, Northern Provincial Council, CVK Sivagnanam speaking on the issue said there was nothing wrong in the directive by the President, since it did not prevent anyone from taking part in foreign workshops.
“The Treasury will either approve the request or reject it. The directive does not mean that the government is stopping everyone from attending these foreign workshops,” he said.
He said such a measure was welcome as it would ensure that the procedure adopted to grant approval for such trips would be made more transparent.
Governor of the Western Province, KC Logeswaran explained that the relevant parties concerned have been informed of the dilemmas faced by Governors island-wide following a presidential directive issued concerning the halting of the use of State funds for overseas travel of Provincial Councilors.
He said that towards the end of every year, Provincial Councils meet with the Finance Commission to discuss what the Provincial Councils propose to do for the following year. “This is because while part of the funding for a Provincial Council comes from the relevant Provincial Government, the funds mainly come from the Central Government,” he said.
The Board of Ministers of the Provincial Council look through it and the matter is then put to the Governor who prepares a financial statement, which in turn is placed before the membership of the Provincial Council and a debate, in the same manner as Parliamentary procedure, ensues for several days where each and every item including salaries, construction and the rest are voted on and passed.
This is then sent to the Governor for assent, and if assent is granted it becomes a financial statute, as powerful as any other law of the land, Logeswaran pointed out.
The financial statute is then sent to the Provincial Chief Minister who issues a warrant which then allows for Provincial Departments to pull out the monies and spend.
Foreign travel involving members of the Provincial Council, Provincial Councilors, Provincial Ministers and Provincial Secretaries, Provincial officers or officials and the Governor is an item which is passed by the Provincial Council.
One of the predicaments faced by Governors now is how does one rescind provisions of the legal statutes of the Provinces, when there is a national policy directive taken by the Cabinet of Ministers, Logeswaran remarked, adding that the other predicament was how the Governor, who is in charge of granting permission to Provincial Council members, Provincial Councilors and Provincial officers or officials for overseas travel, could deny the right of movement without violating the fundamental rights of the relevant parties and those involved.
Logeswaran observed that the matter had been informed verbally to the President and the Cabinet Secretary while adding that the Attorney General and legal experts would be the best persons for them along with the Prime Minister to consult and seek advice from with regard to resolving this matter definitively.
“This is a dangerous question. This is a Cabinet decision conveyed by the President, which thus becomes the national policy. We have to follow it. This is the position in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Some say that these are jaunts while Provincial Councils argue that these are conducted tours. The Prime Minister must approve the overseas travel of public officials. Members may send legitimate applications to go abroad and would in such cases possess a valid passport. The Governor can refrain from allowing such, yet he or she must have a valid reason to do so,” he said.
“This situation leaves a bad taste as it comes at a time when there is talk of devolving more powers to Provincial Councils. This must be solidified as the situation is vague and hazy at best. Legislators are expected to go abroad. Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, President’s Counsel Faiszer Musthapha is right to defend the position of the Central Government. It is morally right to stop those going on jaunts. Yet, legally, there is a predicament,” Logeswaran noted.