On August 24th the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs held a consultation on children’s issues which brought together the various agencies working on the subject in his Ministry, together with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General’s Department and the police, as well as some Non-Governmental Organizations that have contributed significantly to the promotion of the Rights and the Welfare of Children.

The purpose was better coordination, and the meeting followed on a request the Secretary had sent to his counterpart in Public Administration, requesting that he ask Divisional Secretaries to set up a Unit in each Division for Women’s and Children’s Affairs to ensure more coherent action. He noted there the various officials dedicated to this purpose, which include Women Development Officers, Child Rights Protection Officers, and Early Childhood Development Officers responsible to his Ministry. Others concerned with the issue include officials of the National Child Protection Authority, also under his Ministry, and Probation Officers who function under Provincial Ministries. The Unit would also need the close cooperation of officers from the Women and Children’s Desks that the Police have now established nationwide, effectively as far as the North is concerned, though I cannot speak for other areas.

One of the decisions made at the Consultation was that clear job descriptions should be drawn up for all these officials, to ensure comprehensive coverage of all areas whilst avoiding overlaps. At the same time it was noted that ensuring comprehensive coverage at all levels would require a division of responsibilities on a geographical basis, with one officer monitoring activities in a particular area and reporting on these to colleagues.

Given that a Divisional Secretariat looks after several Grama Niladhari Divisions, which cannot all be visited regularly by all officers, it was decided that it would be best if each officer also liaised closely with a prescribed number of such GN Divisions, and monitored areas that did not come within his particular brief. However, if all officers met together for coordination purposes, issues could be raised and problems addressed through professional attention to concerns raised in any geographical area. Thus if there are problems with a Children’s Home in any area, the officer looking after that area would report the matter to the Probation Officer, while if there was neglect of pre-Schools, the matter would be brought to the attention of the Early Childhood Development Officer.

For such a system to be effective, it would be necessary to ensure that all positions are filled in all Divisional Secretariats. This is not the case at present, and indeed even more vacancies than before have been created by the government’s Graduate Employment Scheme, which seems to serve no purpose except that of providing jobs. This seems to be yet another example of the failure to coordinate that creates such problems, with what seems short term gain leading to long term confusion. In several areas now Divisional Secretaries have told me that the officers they had previously had, working on probation or on a temporary basis, had left to enter the Graduate Scheme.

The main concern of the Graduates under this scheme, as far as I can see from the questions raised at meetings which are supposed to discuss the problems of local communities, is whether they will be made permanent. My answer is that I am the wrong person to ask, since if I had anything to do with the matter – which I don’t, since to be concerned with efficiency is obviously not a qualification for executive authority – they would not have been recruited. My point was not that government should not employ any of them, but rather that we should not create jobs for the sake of creating jobs. We should rather have checked on where personnel were required to fulfil a public purpose and only made appointments accordingly.

Given the excessive number of vacancies we see with regard to providing support for women and children (and also other vulnerable persons such as the elderly and the disabled), I should have thought the sensible thing to do was to advertise positions in each Division and fill these on the basis of aptitude tests and interviews. I would like to think there is a good reason for this not having been done, but I doubt it. It might be argued that there are no cadre positions, but then such cadre positions could have been created, on the basis of ensuring effective implementation in each area of what each of these officers is meant to do. The main reason for not increasing cadres is financial, but since the Graduate Employment Scheme costs a massive amount, some of that at least could have been used to fill up gaps in essential services, instead of as now sending hundreds of graduates to Divisions and Districts and expecting the Secretaries to find work for them.

In fact many Secretaries are using these graduates to act in the various positions mentioned above, but this is not systematic, and will not allow for the training programmes that are necessary for effectiveness. Professional ownership as it were of such personnel should belong to the Ministry dedicated to their purpose, while Administrative ownership should belong to the Administrator of the area in which they work. The suggestions the Secretary to the Women and Children’s Ministry has made to his counterpart in Public Administration would satisfy both requirements, and I hope therefore that Public Administration responds promptly and positively, and takes forward this admirable initiative of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs.

The Island 3 September 2012 – http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=60631