The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Because of both the National Human Rights Action Plan, and Reconciliation work that involves meetings at distant Divisional Secretariats, over 50 in the last year, I have become deeply conscious of the gaps in our systems with regard to protection for Women and Children. Most obviously there is a woeful lack of coordination of the various agencies and personnel supposed to work in this area.

But equally worrying is the absence of such personnel in most places. This has been brought home to me more forcefully, following the suggestion of the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affaris to set up Women and Children’s Units in each Division. I now check on what human resources each Division have, and I find none that have officials in every area.

This is true of many fields. After the very productive discussion between the Secretary of the Children’s Ministry and the Secretary to the Ministry of Social Services – whom I had known in another incarnation as the courageous and efficient Government Agent in Mullaitivu and then Jaffna – I looked also for Social Services and Counselling and Welfare Officers, in addition to Women’s Development and Probation and Child Rights Protection and Early Childhood Development Officers. But more often than not these too are lacking – and the same goes for Sports Officers and Cultural Officers too.

In some places there had been Officers on probation, but they had left to take up places in the latest Graduate Recruitment Scheme government has begun. That absurdity made me realize how bizarre this scheme was, though I had already had inklings of the confusion caused in many officers by hundreds of these new recruits, for whom jobs had to be found.

I am at a loss to understand why government did not actually formulate a coherent human resources policy before it launched its latest graduate scheme. Given the urgent needs of the vulnerable in our society, it would have made sense to establish cadre positions in each Division for the various Departments that look after the vulnerable. Then, after developing job descriptions and prerequisites, they could have advertised for suitable people. If there were insufficient suitable people, they could have offered training courses, perhaps on the basis of loans that would be repayable when employment was obtained. This would have involved an initial outlay, but it must be obvious to anyone who thinks that such a scheme is more economical in the long run than giving salaries to vast numbers of youngsters who do not have specific qualifications, and therefore cannot be allocated specific responsibilities. And any proper assessment of the scheme would also take into account the cost of the time, of hard pressed Divisional Secretaries and similar officials, that is consumed in allocating duties, and supervising the recruits and ensuring at least some contribution (assuming that is thought essential, which I sometimes doubt).

It would seem then that a great chance has been lost, to strengthen protection systems by developing a group of trained officials to formulate social care policies for each division, and work together to implement these. Of course one can hope that the Divisional Secretaries will allocate efficiently and get some good results. But since the youngsters who have come in see themselves as simply getting a job, not settling into a role with specific responsibilities, I suspect changing their mindsets will be difficult.

There is however a silver lining in the cloud that seems to have enveloped us, so perhaps one should not despair totally. I refer here to the transformation that has taken place in the way in which the police relate to the public, at least in the North and East. In the six Reconcilitation meetings I attended last week, with just one exception, enthusiastic appreciation was expressed for the work of the police.

I believe much of this has to do with the very clear instructions issued by the Inspector General about relations with the public. One or more police officers are now allocated to every Grama Niladhari Division, and they meet regularly to discuss local issues. I have suggested that this should be supplemented by a system of accountability, so that the public are kept informed of all action taken by the police. This seems necessary, since when there were claims that complaints had been neglected, the police were able to show that arrests had been made and cases brought before the courts.

An extension of this initiative should be regular meetings between the Officer in Charge of the local station or post and the Divisional Secretary. This does not always happen, but it should become a matter of course, and be minuted with provision for follow up as required.

This would be easier if government reorganized areas of responsibility to make them consistent. I find now that some Divisions have to deal with police from different stations, while some stations spread over more than one Division. It would make more sense for the Division, the main interface between the people and government, had a single police unit with which to work.

The same should go for matters such as Education and Health. For a reason that cannot now be fathomed, the Ministry of Education has units that have little relation to other areas of government responsibility, and this is complicated further in some areas, especially the East, by divisions on the basis of language (which is a problem that extends also to Divisional Secretariats in a couple of instances).

Instead of allowing such divisive structures to continue, government should empower Educational Divisions that are commensurate with the Divisional Secretariat, so that there could be coherent monitoring of educational facilities. Since coordination with other agencies, such as Health and Probation, is required, consistency of areawise responsibilities would clearly make sense.

Daily News 26 Oct 2012