Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

In the first section of this talk I spoke about the confusion in Sri Lanka between the Executive and the Legislature. Flowing from a system in which expansion of the Executive is seen as the easiest way of ensuring a Parliamentary majority, we have overlapping Ministries. We have however failed to institutionalize systems of coordination, both within the executive branch and also within Parliament which is supposed to exercise oversight and contribute to policy formulation.

We have also failed to promote coordination of activities between the different levels of government, or between different branches at the same level. As it is, we have a very confusing Constitution that entrusts several responsibilities to Provincial administrations but then gives authority also to the Central government. This is because we have what is termed a Concurrent List, which is nothing but concurrent because in the event of disagreement the will of the Central government prevails; and dual responsibilities at provincial and local level. It is also because the Centre is given responsibility for National Policy on all subjects, but we have failed to conceptualize this clearly and to spell it out in legislation.

I have become more acutely aware of the problem in my role as Convenor of the Task Force meant to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan. It is important to make policy changes in accordance with the plan, but ensuring acceptance of these and relevant action at all levels will not be easy. In particular, while we should not duplicate action, and should leave this to local agencies which are best equipped to cover all geographical areas, we must ensure monitoring, and that is best done through a Central agency to ensure uniformity. However our legal officials have still not entrenched a system of legislation that makes clear the primacy of National Policy and the obligation of the Central government to ensure its implementation, while leaving implementation to other levels of government. I should add that they have also completely failed to ensure conformity with the 13th amendment in much legislation that has entered the statute books in the last two decades, while this has also been ignored in various administrative decisions taken by Central government.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the Province, while it should remain the unit that exercises responsibility for both regulations with regard to devolved subjects and for executive action in those areas, is too large for the consultation and accountability that make devolution meaningful. We should therefore be building up local government institutions, but at present these are not given sufficient authority, while they suffer staff shortages that prevent effective action in many vital areas.

To illustrate the confusion we suffer from, let me consider the care of children, which I have been much concerned with recently. Fortunately we now have a Secretary at the Ministry who can conceptualize coherently, and who understands the problems and is also capable of developing systems of coordination which will enhance the services on offer. But whether he can cut through the accumulation of entities in the field is a question.
Very simply, Sri Lanka had a Probation Department which was based on what might be described as a Poor Law concept, ie children who needed care were treated as responsible to some extent for the problem, and needing to be dealt with on a legal basis. In 1987 Probation and Child Care Services became a devolved subject, and so we have Provincial Probation Departments. However in the 90s the Ministry responsible for Child Care strengthened the Central Probation Department, and also appointed what are known as Child Rights Protection Officers to several Districts and Divisions.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka had become a signatory to the Child Rights Convention, and established a National Child Protection Authority, which also functions in the Provinces. Government has not however made it clear how the Protection of Children goes beyond Probation and Child Care Services, and how the NCPA should develop and enforce Policy, while implementation is done through the Provincial Probation Departments. In the process it would also make sense to amalgamate the two Central agencies, so that that Probation Department becomes part of the NCPA.

Matters are complicated further by the Children’s Secretariat of the Central government which has appointed Early Child Development Officers to several Districts and Divisions. While their responsibilities are different from those of the other agencies mentioned, obviously there should be coordination, but mechanisms for this do not exist. Nor are there mechanisms for them to coordinate with Health and Education Departments, even though amongst their responsibilities is ensuring provision of services in these two areas to all children.

In the midst of all this confusion, the good thing is that the Secretary, soon after he took office, suggested to the Department of Public Administration that they set up a Women and Children’s Unit in each Divisional Secretariat. This was agreed, and with luck we will soon have better coordination, with regular meetings of all the officials mentioned above, as well as officials of the Women and Children’s Desks of Police stations. The MoH and the local Director of Education should also be invited to these meetings, while status reports should be obtained from each Grama Niladhari Division about problems and action being taken, both to ensure effective services and to resolve problems.

This will not be easy. For a long time there was no consistency about appointments, and there were no cadre positions in several Divisional Secretariats. This seems to have been resolved, but whether appointments will be made to all areas, and whether productive job descriptions will be developed, along with the provision of satisfactory training to fulfil them remains to be seen.

In addition, there needs to be greater coherence about geographical units. Though many government services are provided through the Divisional Secretariat, the Education and Health Ministries work through different units, as do the Police. We should therefore move towards making these units the same, which will facilitate the establishment of a coherent group of local authorities, who can work together on matters of common interest.

In short, those responsible to the public should be able to work together on the basis of common interests and familiarity. One success story in recent years has been the development of Community policing systems, with one or more officers being allocated to each Grama Niladhari Division. I have found at the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I have attended in the North and East that the Grama Niladharis know ‘their’ policemen by name, and clearly there is greater mutual confidence now than was seen a couple of years ago.

Similarly, the public in any geographical area should know who is responsible for the services available to them, and should also be able to discuss matters with relevant officials and suggest solutions. While decisions are the prerogative of government, consultation should be maximized, and it will be found that the more interaction there is, the easier it is to solve problems.

These systems should of course include also the elected representatives of the people. At present elected local authorites are responsible I believe for 7 areas, viz

  1. Administration and Finance;
  2. Health and Sanitation (includes solid waste management);
  3. Physical Planning, Thoroughfares and Buildings;
  4. Public Utilities (markets, cemeteries) ;
  5. Civic Amenities/Welfare Services (includes libraries and pre-schools).
  6. Water
  7. Electricity

In most of these fields however there is obvious need of coordination with Central government agencies, and in some areas such as Electricity and Water, the actual service provider will generally be from outside. What would make sense therefore is to divide up responsibilities into those that simply involve monitoring to make sure the service is available, and those in which active participation is required, including policy decisions and implementation.

Public Utilities and Civic Amenities would seem to fit into this category, but I would suggest that these could be expanded to include also Schools and Transport Services, Primary Health Care, Maternity Services and Sanitation, Cooperatives and Cultural and Sports Activities, including Cultural Centres as well as Museums and Libraries.

Now that we have gone back, at least in part, to a Ward system of electing local representatives, they can go back to the traditional role of monitoring the services available to their constituents. Given the immediate relevance of the subject areas already identified, and those I have suggested, there is need of regular consultation as to effectiveness of services, whilst obviously there must be coordination with other government agencies which are responsible for supply. What is vital though is that the ultimate beneficiaries are consulted in the planning process, and their requirements satisfied or else explanations provided as to reasons for delay or inaction.

Let me conclude this section by giving you another exercise, in which I put forward suggestions for promoting coordination between the various levels of government. At present there is much discussion about the relationship between the Centre and Provincial governments, and I hope I have given you at least some ideas of how that relationship can be productive, to allow maximum local initiatives but within a framework laid down by the Centre, to ensure that services throughout the country are based on clear and coherent principles.

It is equally important however to ensure a creative relationship between local government bodies and Provinces, since it is the former that is the first and most important interface between government and people. I would therefore welcome your comments on whether the suggestions here make sense, and would also welcome other suggestions as to how to improve coordination whilst also making government more accountable.

Suggestions for Provincial Legislature and Executive

Every Province shall have a Provincial Assembly which shall be empowered to pass regulations and laws as delegated by Parliament. The Provincial Assembly shall con sist of one representative of each Local Government body within the Province, elected by that body on the Alternative Vote system. The Chairman or Mayor of such bodies shall not be eligible to serve in the Provincial Assembly, though they shall be ex officio members of the Finance Committee of the Provincial Assembly and may be invited to meetings of other Committees of the Assembly.

The Assembly shall meet twice a month for sessions of at least two days, and shall also formulate a Development Policy for the Province, in addition to being responsible for legislation as prescribed, and for the approval and monitoring of funds deployed in the Province, and for regulations to raise funds as laid out in the Constitution.

The Executive Head of the Province shall be a Governor elected direct by the people on the Alternative Vote system. The Governor shall head the Finance and Law Departments of the Province and shall appoint Secretaries, subject to approval from the Provincial Council, to head the following Departments –

  • Infrastructure Development
  • Public Services (including Transport, Health and Education)
  • Productivity and Trade
  • Skills Development



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  2. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 2
  3. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 3
  4. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 4
  5. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 5
  6. The Structure of Government, Cooperation of Government Machinery and the Role of NGOs – 6