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

In the second section of this talk I spoke about the different layers of government, and the lack of clear responsibilities for each of them, along with mechanisms to ensure coordination and avoid overlap. I advocated strengthening the relationship between the different layers and also laying down guidelines for regular consultation. This will also require very clear job descriptions, including for Grama Niladharis, who currently have a range of responsibilities with neither the training nor the resources to enable them to satisfy these.

Until very recently the only official document Grama Niladharis received was a diary that included a list of responsibilities which seemed to date back to colonial times. These were –

  • Initial responses to illegal activities
  • Assistance in emergencies
  • Land formalities
  • Excise duties
  • Valuations of less than Rs 5,000
  • Timber concerns
  • Provision of IDs*
  • Census duties*
  • Provision of Certificates*
  • Pension responsibilities*
  • Registering of persons*
  • Election responsibilities*

As can be seen, these can be divided into formal duties (the last 6, marked with a single asterisk), and those requiring discretion. With regard to the latter, there are generally other government departments which formulate regulations to guide action. Given then that the GN role is largely advisory in these areas, it is unfortunate that procedures for consultation and for consistent responses have not been laid down clearly.

Recently the United Nations Development Programme issued a Handbook which gives further advice on how functions should be fulfilled. This was as part of its assistance to promote good governance , and the book has indeed been very helpful, but some officials at the Ministry of Public Administration were not aware of this, and initially at any rate distribution of the book was chaotic.

Useful though the exercise was, more would have been achieved had it been more coherently planned, with the opportunity taken to revise completely the job description of Grama Niladharis, whilst setting down the skills and training that are required to do the job well. It would also have been helpful to lay down guidelines about office and personnel requirements, and this might have helped to ensure a more sensible way of providing jobs for unemployed graduates than what has now happened, which is to send them to Divisional Secretariats and expect the poor Secretaries to find work for them. But as yet we have not developed in our public servants, or rather restored to them, a concept of a mutually supportive hierarchy, with individuals fulfilling responsibilities in accordance with structures that demand consultation and monitoring. This of course is what the army is good at, which is why I am delighted that the Officer Career Development Centre will extend its services to other public servants too.

What we need at all levels of government is the capacity and the willingness to build up teams that will complement each other in setting and achieving goals. At the Grama Niladhari level, these will be consultative rather than decision making mechanisms, and will therefore work with Civil Society. However relevant officials should also participate, through what I term horizontal as well as vertical involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajiva Wijesinha

March 2013
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