CaptureThe National Human Resources Development Council endorsed in its entirely at its last meeting the report of the Committee it set up to explore new ways of working in the Public Sector. I was pleased that its more distinguished members congratulated me personally on the report, but I had to respond that I had had excellent support from the Committee the NHRDC had appointed. We were also given valuable advice from distinguished public servants of past eras, including Dharmasiri Pieris and Mr Palihakkara.

The generally able chair of the Council, Dinesh Weerakkody, suggested that we should now engage in wider consultation, of both Civil Society and the business community. This seemed a good idea, but the Council also thought we needed to move quickly. So it was decided to pass on the document straight away, as well as to the President and the Prime Minister, to the leaders of other parties in Parliament including the Joint Opposition, to the Chairs of COPE and the Committee on Public Accounts, to the Speaker and the Minister of Public Administration. This is Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who is relatively a man of intelligence and capacity though unfortunately he has not been given a wide enough brief to make a difference – and so, if indeed he has any ideas, he does not enunciate or act on them.

It has, I should note, struck me that few people in authority seem to have many ideas, fewer are capable of enunciating those they do have, and even fewer are able to implement their good ideas. I was again touched when one member of the Council noted that certain initiatives I suggested were good but needed me to push them through. Sadly I suspect this is true, but I had to confess that I felt that now even I would not be able to do much. Apart from being old now, and not having half the energy I had even five years ago, the constraints on action have multiplied.

But that is why I cherish those who at least enunciate their ideas. Recently I was delighted when Karu Paranavitana, who is Deputy Minister of Skills Development and Vocational Training, a great improvement on the destructive Ranga Bandara, declared that there were five animals that were increasingly menacing and they needed to be dealt with. The solution he suggested with regard to elephants has raised hackles, but at least he is thinking about this which few in authority seem to be doing.

I was the more appreciative of this because, in the advice I gave Mahinda Rajapaksa on Reconciliation, I had noted that the biggest problems raised by villagers in the East were with regard to water and elephants. There was always too much water or too little, but sadly government was not doing enough to deal with local problems in this regard, by encouraging local conservation initiatives. Concentrating instead on grand – and expensive – projects such as Uma Oya, with inadequate consultation of the affected populations, they have precipitated greater disasters.

With regard to elephants, much as we all love them, we must recognize that they need to be dealt with when they threaten lives and livelihoods. Electric fences that are twinned with deep ditches would be a start, but that needs adequate funding as well as coherent programmes.

Vasantha Senanayake, another of those who thinks, and backs up his suggestions with detailed statistics, noted that the problem has been exacerbated by the intrusion of cattle into the traditional grazing grounds of elephants. This too had come up in several of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings I conducted, and I tried to draw the attention of the relevant authorities to both the problem and the easy solutions that were available. At COPE we questioned MILCO on what it was doing, and suggested that a comprehensive policy with regard to milk collection and production be developed and implemented, on the lines of what India had done so effectively from independence onward.

But that area had been handed over to Mr Thondaman, who evinced no interest whatsoever in anything, being happy to spend his time, I noted when I first came across him, in watching action videos. So stray cattle continue to drive elephants towards human habitation, which leads to much suffering for all. But if sensible arrangements were made about cattle, they could be a source of income for many villagers and of protein for our increasingly malnourished children.

Amongst the more important and innovative suggestions we made was the creation of a Ministry of Plan Implementation and Coordination, the idea coming originally I think from the representative from the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration. This, we have proposed, should be entrusted, along with Justice and Procurement, to a Minister without electoral interests or obligations. This is on the lines of what we had in the Soulbury Constitution, through the Senate, and of what was intended through the National List – though that, as I noted, has now been perverted so as to provide positions to those entrusted with seeking funds for elections.

Though currently we have a Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs, it was agreed that there needs to be a Ministry to monitor its work too, given its political thrust. And the way that Ministry has been set up now, so that it interferes with some of the primary functions of the Ministry of Finance, as well as those of Skills Development, suggests the need to have instead a more objective perspective.

I went away a week after our meeting, and hope that things would have moved by the time I return. I should note though that I am not optimistic, given that there seems to be no sense of urgency amongst decision makers about the reforms this country so urgently needs.

Ceylon Today 3 Oct 2017