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Muthuhettigama-style interference is repugnant


By Milinda Rajasekera
The series of dramatic episodes enacted recently by maverick Galle District MP Nishantha Muthuhettigama has, among other things, drawn public attention to an important aspect of the country’s administration, namely the line to be drawn between the functions performed by politicians and administrative officers.

MP Muthuhettigama in his recent forays into areas of development activity, visited the Karapitiya Hospital where he gave instructions to all and sundry to keep the hospital premises spick and span. Next, having found that trishaws parked opposite the hospital premises were obstructing development work in the area, he ordered trishaw drivers to quit the place. Resistance offered by trishaw drivers to this order created a tensed situation in which a clash had occurred between the MP and trishaw drivers. The tension was so intense that the MP had to seek additional security cover for him. This obstreperous MP’s last dramatic episode was the removal of an iron railing at the Galle Bus Stand to the accompaniment of cheers from a section of the crowd that gathered there. This is reminiscent of a similar act by another politician of the same like at Kelaniya.

Although this type of bizarre act gets wide media attention, numerous other incidents where politicians increasingly interfere with administrative duties go unnoticed and uncommented. The issue of politician involvement in administrative duties, therefore, requires serious consideration of those concerned with the promotion of the concept of good governance. Where does the role of the politician ends – if at all it ends – and the role of the administrative officer begins, is the question.

In the past too, politicians severely criticised administrative officers. They condemned what they called bureaucratic lethargy and ‘red-tapism’ which obstructed the speedy implementation of their projects and programmes. They complained about the non-cooperation of state officers to their political leaders. But they stopped short of getting closely involved in administrative duties.
The prevailing perception at that time was that the duty of parliamentarian was to enact legislation and allocate funds for various state projects and programmes, leaving the implementation of government plans and policies to state officials. It was against this backdrop that politicians, in recent times, have tended get more involved in administrative functions thus paving the way for the process of intense politicisation of all segments of the country’s administration. This tendency has now emerged as a grave threat to the promotion of good governance.

Whatever the attitudes, policies and practices followed in the past, it is obvious that with the expansion of state activities a need has arisen for politicians to be more active in their participation in the country’s development activities. What causes concern, however, is that this involvement seems to exceed acceptable levels with the ruling party politicians attempting to gain advantage by manipulating state events and functions. They are further spurred on by their perception that officers with opposition party affiliations obstruct development activities.
It was to overcome these problems and to ensure effective and efficient implementation of state projects and programmes that the system of District Coordinating Committees was established. At the meetings of these committees, political authorities and administrative officers in a particular area discuss programmes and allocate funds for implementing them. This indeed is the proper forum for concerned politicians to have a closer observation of the progress in the development and other programmes conducted in their areas.

This does not mean that politicians should completely dissociate themselves from administrative activities. They, in fact, have a duty to perform certain supervisory functions in their areas. They are duty-bound to ensure that administrative work is carried out as planned; efficiently, expeditiously and devoid of corruption.
If they find any weaknesses in these respects they have to take appropriate action in accordance with accepted rules and regulations without acting like bulls in china shops. This supervision has become all the more necessary in view of the deteriorating standards that prevail in most areas of the country’s administration. What has to be avoided is Muthuhettigama-style interference in official functions.

If the involvement of political authorities in administrative activities is to be constructive and effective, the politicians should be leaders who are genuinely concerned about the country’s well-being and people’s welfare rather than in their own selfish and partisan interests. Unless their hands are clean their attempts at eliminating corruption would not be fruitful. Unfortunately, most politicians today do not measure up to the required standards of conduct.

Although Muthuhettigama-type interference is rare, instances of political meddling with administrative activities are not scarce. Occasions when politicians dictate terms to officials are frequently reported in the media. Most contemptible among these acts is their interference in the duties of the police and other law enforcing authorities. Instances where politicians storm police stations to get their supporters involved in illegal matters released are numerous.

The continuance of this practice is evident from complaints made during last week’s election. Ironically, some of these complaints have come from ruling party politicians. Kaduwela UPFA Group Leader G. H. Buddhadasa, for instance, has accused Minister Wimal Weerawansa, of violating election laws and misusing state vehicles and other resources to defeat him. He has also stated that Minister Weerawansa had forced some police stations in the Kaduwela area to follow his orders.

It is distressing to observe that there are some people who support these acts of lawlessness committed by unscrupulous politicians whereas the duty of law abiding citizens is to show their contempt and thwart such moves in whatever ways possible. It is also a moot point whether the media should portray these incidents where egocentric politicians get wide publicity.