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Over the last few years I have been astonished at the manner in which very clear instructions from the President are simply ignored. For instance, there are two extremely visionary recommendations in last year’s budget, but it seems no one has done anything about them. One is the suggestion, which indeed harks back to his 2005 manifesto, that we move to a school based system of teacher recruitment. Another, vital in the context of our efforts to implement the National Human Rights Action Plan, is the suggestion that we move towards greater use of non-custodial sentencing, and indeed reduce the number of persons held in remand.

In trying to understand what has gone wrong, I realize that there is no mechanism for follow up in this country. Given the proliferation of Ministries, no one is quite sure who should initiate action, and very often excellent ideas fall to the ground because of a failure to allocate responsibility and ensure monitoring. Sadly, this failure to take policy and policy implementation seriously was underlined by the abolishment of the Ministry of Planning and Policy Implementation, which was just getting other Ministries used to regular reporting of achievements and keeping close track of financial accountability.

This seemed so silly a step, that I wonder whether we have not now reached a stage where a few bureaucrats, who would like to have charge of more than they can handle without clear responsibilities, advised against continuing with institutional responsibility for urgent matters, and promoted the getting rid of that Ministry and the Ministry of Human Rights. Sadly, they have failed completely to deliver swiftly the results that the President may have anticipated in allowing such confusion.

Unfortunately, this contributes to the impression that the President does not want action on such matters. I believe such a view is nonsense, and I know of several instances in which the President had allocated responsibilities, had believed that work was being done, and had been grossly misled. The latest is the preparation of a Road Map for implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had indeed suggested this be taken to Geneva, but was then told it should not be publicized. When I asked for a copy, having seen what a positive impact my own draft Reconciliation Policy document had had – which goes beyond the LLRC and presents a national perspective on reconciliation that avoids the undue emphasis the more politically motivated place on particular aspects of reconciliation – I was told by one of those entrusted with preparing the Road Map that I should check with the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister, bless his honest soul, made it clear the document was very far from being ready.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2012
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