In April 2013 Home for Human Rights (HHR) undertook a survey in the Northern Province.
HHR hoped to accurately capture the opinions that the people have about the performance of their local government bodies and locally elected officials. The survey looked at a range of topics including public services, projects, development and public participation. Sixteen local government bodies were randomly selected to participate in this survey.
In addition, the survey has been used to inform the public of their rights, responsibilities and to inform people about the role and function of their local government bodies. Importantly, the survey was designed to encourage public participation in local government processes. The questions focused on how well local government services reached the people and how diligent and competent the elected officials were in carrying out their duties.
The questionnaire was prepared specifically for each type of local government body, based on the powers and responsibilities prescribed in Sri Lanka’s constitution and the relevant acts, such as:
- Municipal Council Ordinance No.29 of 1947
- Urban Council Ordinance No. 61 of 1939
- Pradeshiya Sabha Act No. 15 of 1987
A total of 2,051 households from 48 Grama Sevaka (GS) divisions in the Northern Province were selected to participate in this survey. Additionally, 59 data collectors were selected to conduct the survey based on their relevant educational qualifications and field experience.
The data collected from the survey was then entered into a database. The data was categorized and analyzed; this report has been written to show the results. Care was taken to collect and analyze the information in an impartial fashion, and to represent the opinions of the people without favoring a particular political party.
HHR’s governance report is divided into several parts but focuses on local government bodies as a whole.
Background Discussions, Survey Approval and Consultation
On March 21, 2013 HHR staff met with the Governor of the Northern Province at his office in Jaffna; this was a follow-up to two previous meetings with the Governor held with the senior management of the organization earlier that month. During the March 21 meeting, HHR representatives delivered a PowerPoint presentation and explained the proposed activity on governance and citizenship in detail – especially the survey which the organization hoped to implement throughout the Northern Province.
In late June, HHR invited several dozen local elected officials from all sixteen out of thirty three randomly selected local bodies in the Northern Province to participate in a governance consultation in Colombo. Members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) were both asked to participate. This two-day consultation was held in Colombo; a diverse range of governance issues and trends were discussed during that time.
The Selection of Local Government Bodies in the Northern Province
On March 21,, 2013, in the presence of the Governor, the Chief Secretary of the Northern Provincial Council, Department Representatives and the HHR team, out of thirty-six local government bodies, the Governor randomly selected eighteen to participate in the survey. (These bodies are responsible for governance and/or public sector service delivery in 58 villages throughout the Northern Province).
While there are a few bright spots, HHR’s survey results have proven that local governance problems in the Northern Province run deep and wide; it appears that most local government bodies are failing to perform their duties.
Amidst scores of charts, graphs and numbers, what comes out most clearly from this survey is the profound lack of public participation.
This is an issued that must be looked at carefully.
Public participation is a sine qua non of effective governance (at any level), but public participation at the local level is especially important to ensure proper, appropriate service delivery. Unfortunately, the survey results indicate locally elected officials in the Northern Province are falling well short.
Even though survey results are unsatisfactory across the board, it may be helpful for both state and non-state actors to focus on public participation in the near-term. When it comes to the performance of local elected officials, it would appear that the (very high) number of “don’t know” responses is directly related to many other negative local governance trends.
Community members residing in the Northern Province simply lack information about their local elected officials. Community members are not sure what their local elected officials are up to or what their respective strengths and weaknesses actually are. It does not appear that local elected officials spend all that much time in their communities or engaging with their constituents.
While the situation in the Northern Province may appear dire to some, there is reason for optimism. Through this perceptions survey, HHR and community members have identified key areas for proposed reform. These are issues that political parties should not ignore. While some of this underwhelming governance may be blamed on increased centralization or the inability of the ruling local authority to negotiate with the Centre, it is imperative that local elected officials take it upon themselves to ameliorate the situation.
HHR’s survey has allowed the organization to produce both qualitative and quantitative analysis.
More than four years after the conclusion of war, the stark reality is that local governance in the Northern Province leaves much to be desired. That being said, there is plenty of room for optimism. HHR will continue to engage with all stakeholders – especially local elected officials and community members – to share experiences, encourage thoughtful debate and learn from past experiences. From Beijing to Delhi to Colombo and beyond, “all politics is local.” The data behind this report proves that is indeed the case.
Drastic changes will not occur quickly, but reforms and improvements should begin now. Local elected officials owe it to their constituents to rise to this challenge. Relatedly, community members must not forget that democratic processes cannot function well without an informed, engaged and enthusiastic citizenry.
Read the full report here.
During those previous meetings, the Governor had requested that HHR give a presentation to his team about the proposed survey.
For additional information on the villages selected, please refer to Annex I of the report.
 HHR intends to conduct a similar governance survey in the Eastern Province.