Remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
At the introduction of the Child Centred Budget Analysis
Presented by the Child Rights Advocacy Network
together with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs and the Office of the Advisor on Reconciliation to HE the President
As the Moderator Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne said, this is largely about the views of those present, so I will be brief. This Analysis dwells on four areas, with regard to three of which, Child Development, Child Protection and Health, we can I think be relatively satisfied.
Though more remains to be done, we have certainly improved our record in all these areas, and I should note the excellent work being done now by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, through its imaginative and caring Secretary, and the support he receives from the National Child Protection Authority and the Probation Department. In fact I have just come from a ceremony arranged by the NCPA to appoint representatives to every Divisional Secretariat, and I can only commend the commitment of the NCPA Chairperson, who is determined to establish consistent standards islandwide. I am sure the Ministry will issue guidelines to entrench the coordination this Analysis suggests must be improved, while also ensuring that remedial measures are taken where there are shortfalls.
With regard to Health, I think the contrast the Hon Sarath Amunugama drew with Education, is something we need to think of seriously. Clearly he believes, as I do, that we can be relatively proud of our record in Health, where it seems that year by year things are improving. Sadly, with Education the opposite holds true.
The Minister began by pointing out the manner in which, in the thirties, when we first began to govern ourselves in some areas, the Ministry of Health was committed to improving facilities in the rural sector. That was also what C W W Kannangara did in Education, which is why in the thirties we began to develop what was then the best education system in Asia. But while with regard to Health that concentration on making things better for people who were most deprived has continued, in Education the state system has in fact neglected rural areas and instead ploughs most resources into the privileged urban areas.
In this context I must note that the Analysis seems to me flawed in highlighting the fact that the Uva Province spends most on education of the Provinces. This is true, but this happens in a context in which Provincial spending on education is in hundreds of millions whereas Central Government Spending is over 70 billion. The same is true of Education, where Provincial spending is negligible, even though Education is supposed to be a devolved subject.
While this is worrying with regard to both subjects, it is understandable that there is greater control at the Centre with regard to Health, where deployment of resources requires greater discrimination – and I should note that the steady improvement of facilities, in the North for instance where I have been monitoring such factors through Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees, suggests that the old vision of social equity continues. But with regard to Education such continuing control is unacceptable, as indeed the deprivation with regard to teachers in the North has made crystal clear, a situation that I know is repeated elsewhere. The existing system means for instance that teacher salaries, which constitute the bulk of educational expenditure, are controlled by the Centre, which means teacher deployment is controlled there, which results in there being complete neglect of rural areas. The result, as we know well, is that developed urban areas, which have far too many teachers, are parasitic on the system, and the poorer areas suffer.
This is in spite of the policy statement of the President that we should have school based teacher appointments. But the Education Ministry ignores his ideas, as it ignores his commitment in the last budget to hand over transport for schools to local administration, and the result is that state resources benefit the more privileged.
We need radical change, but this is not likely to happen. I am immensely sad now that, in 2010, when it seems I was being considered for the Ministry of Education, it was claimed that I was too unpopular. This may well be true, if popularity amongst politicians is the criteria, and I am not ashamed of that. Now that I have ruled myself out of consideration for any Ministerial portfolio, I can say this openly, but I should also hope that perhaps people who are also efficient, such as Dr Ranjith Bandara, might be used for educational development, since I believe their ideas are as productive as mine, while they may implement them in a popular way.
The fact that we need change is obvious from another point the Analysis reveals, which is the much higher proportion of total expenditure on health that is the share of the private sector. This is expended in urban areas by those with resources, which means that a greater proportion of state expenditure goes to those who need it. But with regard to Education, the proportion of private sector input is less, and as we all know, this is expended in urban areas because of the tuition culture. Thus, what the private sector spends on health can be measured, in terms of individual results, but because of the disgusting state of the education sector, money is poured out on tuition, the results of which cannot be measured. Meanwhile, because resources are duplicated, with urban teachers who also provide tuition getting salaries for doing little in school, the rural sector is more and more deprived.
All this means that we cannot innovate, as the shoddy state of pre-school activities indicates, with no clear responsibilities and no clear mechanisms for funding. This is something that will I hope be remedied quickly. But in general I think we need careful consideration of what this Analysis has laid out, and I hope very much that it will prompt the considered planning, with provision for radical change, that this country needs. And I can only hope that change will go back to the roots the Hon Minister discussed, and benefit those who need state support most, the rural sectors as well as the neglected schools in the urban sector which the privileged know not nor care about.