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qrcode.26476412I was delighted to find that the small group with which I am working are not the only people putting forward suggestions for reform. Recently I was sent a document prepared by the Pathfinder Foundation which puts forward a policy agenda for political parties. The Pathfinder Foundation is I think run by Milinda Moragoda, who is also an adviser to the President, so it looks like his advice too is not taken seriously.

 I think the ideas they have put forward are most interesting, and potentially productive, and I have urged that they too issue short, compact recommendations for different subjects, since that will make their ideas more accessible to all. With due attribution I might make use of some more of their proposals, but here I will look at what they have written with regard to ‘Education, training and skills development’. I find myself in agreement with almost everything they say, and I think it worth reproducing that section in full here –

Sri Lanka can no longer depend on a growth strategy which leverages low wages. The next phase of development will have to be driven by more skilled labour and technological upgrading. The lack of human resources could well become the binding constraint which restrains the country’s development prospects.
The current education system has been successful in terms of attaining very high participation rates, including for girls. However, learning outcomes have not been aligned with the needs of a rapidly modernising economy. Education, training and skills development should be better aligned with the country’s development strategy i.e. the needs of those sectors which drive the growth model.
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  1. Shifting the focus of the entire education system from exam-based learning by rote to one where there is emphasis on fostering creativity, creative thinking and innovation.
  2. Strengthening Maths, Science and English education.
  3. Aligning training and skills development to the priority sectors of the country’s development strategy.
  4. Increasing investment in tertiary education on the basis of a pragmatic and non-ideological approach to public, private and mixed provision.
  5. Restructuring and upgrading the multitude of learning and skills development institutions and schemes (lessons can be learnt from East Asia and Germany).
  6. Reforming the state-owned Universities in order to make them internationally competitive.’

 

This however is a brief synopsis of what needs to be done, so I thought I should divide it up into two or three areas, and expand on the suggestions. I will begin with the content of education at schools, and then look at what are termed school services. Then I will look at higher education and also vocational training.

Colombo Post 7 December 2014 – http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/302-a-reform-agenda-school-education

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qrcode.26476270During my visits in the last couple of years to all the Divisional Secretariats in the North and East, I realized that little had been done to implement the proposal in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s manifestos regarding more consultation of the people. Regular meetings did not take part at village level, and the supposed Divisional Development Committees met sporadically. Their conclusions were not recorded systematically, and there was no provision for follow up. Indeed in one area it was reported that the Member of Parliament, who chaired the meetings, ignored decisions and did what he wanted, and this was confirmed by the Government Agent. Elsewhere the Committees had not met for months.

I wrote to some of my colleagues and suggested they should take their responsibilities more seriously. I also suggested to the President, in my end of year report as Adviser on Reconciliation, how systems could be developed. But there was no response, except once when he told me, when I spoke to him about the need for better consultation, to talk to Basil. I told him I could not, since Basil never listened, as I had learnt from previous experience, so the President told me to write to Lalith, which I did, for the umpteenth time. Nothing happened, and instead I discovered this year that the chairmanship of the DDCs was being used to give MPs massive sums of money, over Rs 600 million in some cases, to spend on what they saw as development.

I brought the matter up at the Consultative Committee on Public Administration Reforms, and got details of the wheezes Basil had dreamt up to give funds to members involved in elections. It transpired that no one had known about this officially before I asked, and the opposition as well as more responsible members of government welcomed the relative clarity we established, but it was pretty clear the whole process was absurd.

Not least to prevent such abuse, we must set in place mechanisms to ensure that the voice of the people is heard before money is spent on their behalf. Fortunately there did exist a consultative mechanism in the form of the Civil Defence Committees, which I found well organized in the East. Unfortunately these had no official status, but we were able, after discussion with the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, to improve the structures, primarily by his asking the Grama Niladharis to chair the meetings. This established a link with the formal administrative process, and in some places where there were able officials – such as the Nittambuwa OIC, who explained how he had taken things forward when spent some time in his office – files were systematically maintained. Still, the process requires fine tuning, and in particular provision for follow up, so the following administrative reforms are suggested –

  1. Consultation mechanisms should formally be set up at Grama Niladhari level, in line with the current Civil Defence Committees which are now chaired by the Grama Niladhari. There should be two committees, one for Development, which should discuss projects and allocations, and the other for Social Action and Service Delivery.
  1. The minutes of these meetings, with decisions / action points noted, should be shared with the next level up of government. Responses must be conveyed to participants at GN level, along with the minutes, at the subsequent meeting
  1. At Divisional Secretariat level, on the pattern of the Women and Children’s Units that have been set up, there should be coordination mechanisms for groups of subjects (ie Education and Training, Agriculture and Irrigation and Forests and Wild Life, Health and Social Services). Officials should work as a team, and ensure attention to all GN Divisions. For this purpose individuals can be given responsibility for particular GN Divisions, with the coordinating committee at DS level looking into all issues and providing feedback.
  1. There should be regular consultative meetings of department heads at Divisional level, chaired by the Divisional Secretary. To facilitate this, all government departments should treat the Division as the basic unit of administration. This will require restructuring of a few Departments, ie Education and the Police.
  1. Regular discussions between the Divisional Secretary and the elected head of the Local Government Unit are necessary. Ideally the proposed Local Government Act will lay down specific responsibilities so overlap of responsibilities will be minimal, but coordination and agreement on priorities is essential. Making the Divisional Secretariat and the Local Government Unit (or Units) coterminous will facilitate coordination.

Colombo Post 4 December 2014 –  http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/285-a-reform-agenda-administrative-reform

qrcode.26351281President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself is of the view that our Ministry of External Affairs is a mess. His offer to Mangala Samaraweera to make him Foreign Minister indicates his realization that his greatest blunder is the hash the troika that runs the Ministry has made of our international relations. And he confirmed this to Vasantha Senanayake, when Basil accused him of criticizing the Foreign Minister openly.

He had assured Mangala that he would not inflict Sajin Vas Gunawardena on him as a Monitor, which suggests he realizes what a disaster that particular appointment has been. When it was made, he claimed that at least now letters were being answered. That was a necessity, but the power Sajin exercised led to the Minister then abdicating all authority and handing over decision making to his Monitor.

Despite that the crucial letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister before the vote in Geneva in 2012 lay unanswered. In fairness though, that factor is true of our administration in general, and the requirement that letters be answered in three days has been interpreted to mean that at least three days must lapse before a reply is even thought of. One reason I had high regard for Maithripala Sirisena previously, and said so often in my discussions of my work in the North and East as Advisor on Reconciliation, is that his Ministry usually responded to my transmission of complaints from the public. But most Ministries kept silent, though occasionally there were flurries of activity after I had brought the matter up in COPE.

The prevailing lethargy is bad enough, but with regard to foreign relations it is worse, given that we need to engage actively with all stakeholders, and in particular those who have the capacity to do us harm. In order to do this, however, we need to have clear guidelines available to all government officials as well as our Missions with regard to foreign policy priorities. Officials could then take their own decisions as to how to react to correspondence, instead of waiting for instructions on all issues. Certainly, when there was a Ministry of Human Rights, we dealt promptly with any queries from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and this led to commendation of Sri Lanka’s engagement with that Office, in the reports for instance of the Working Committee on Disappearances. But after the Ministry was abolished, there were no responses as all for several years, and it is only in the last year, following the harsh criticism in resolutions, that we began to engage.

  1. Amongst the principles we should adopt then is ensuring regular engagement with all countries and in particular with the United Nations. Whilst safeguarding our sovereignty, we should respond to concerns with understanding of the issues involved, and should fulfil any commitments we enter into. If this is impossible, we should explain constraints and ensure that our actions and attitudes are understood.
  1. But responses must be based on clear policy guidelines, and these should be laid out. The most important of the guidelines we should follow, given geo-political realities, is ensuring good relations with India. This cannot govern domestic policies, but there should be good and reliable communication with India as regards such policies, with the understanding that any commitments cannot be violated.
  2. Within this framework, or rather a broader framework that also lays down the need for promoting multilateralism, there should be flexibility. Thus we should have regular consultative meetings of senior level Foreign Ministry officials. If these happen each week, there should also be provision, perhaps on a monthly basis, for consultation of officials of relevant Ministries such as Finance and Defence and Trade. Such meetings should be minuted, and decisions / action points notified to relevant officials with provision for feedback.
  1. We also need to build up collegiality within the Ministry. Whilst there are good reasons sometimes for appointment of non-career individuals to Head of Mission posts, all other posts should be reserved for members of the Diplomatic Service. These officials should be required to submit brief regular reports on their activities, which should be based on targets identified by the Ministry, with consultation of the Head of Mission.
  2. But there is also need of a wider professionalism. For this purpose Government should establish at least two high level think tanks. The existing government managed institutions could be upgraded, but they should function independently and have research staff who could produce position papers and suggest responses to international developments. In addition, these think tanks should have a training wing, which develops communication skills in addition to the capacity to analyse. They should also publish journals to which diplomats are expected to contribute.

 

Colombo Post 30 Nov 2014 –  – http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/269-a-reform-agenda-tightening-up-foreign-policy-and-foreign-relations

Colombo Telegraph 1 Dec 2014 – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-reform-agenda-tightening-up-foreign-policy-and-foreign-relations/

qrcode.26350621 (1)විධායක ජනාධිපති සතු බලය අසීමාන්තික බව බොහොසෙයින්ම පිළිගත් කරුණක්. එහෙයින් පොදු අපේක්ෂකයා සඳහා වර්තමානයේ සහයෝගය දෙන්නන් ප්‍රතිඥා දෙනවා මෙම බලය ඌනනය කිරීමට. කෙසේනමුත් මෙම බලය ඌනනය කිරීමේ ක්‍රියාවලියේදී, ඔවුන් මූලික දේශපාලන ප්‍රතිපත්ති පිලිබඳ අවධානය යොමුකළ යුතුයි, එනම් විශේෂයෙන්ම බල වියෝජනය නම් භාෂිතය කෙරෙහි.

මෙය සම්බන්ධ වෙනවා රජයේ අනෙකුත් ආයතනවල බලයන් ගොඩනැගීම පිළිබඳව. එතුලින් විධායකය පාලනයකට යටත්කළ හැකියි. එවැනි ආයතන නම්, රජයේ ව්‍යවස්ථාදායක බලය නියෝජනය කරන පාර්ලිමේන්තුව හා අධිකරණ බලය ක්‍රියාවට නංවන අධිකරණයි. මීට අමතරව අපට අවශ්‍ය වනවා ජනමාධ්‍ය වගේම ජනතා සේවය ශක්තිමත් කිරීමට. මෙය විධායකයේ කාර්යභාරය සඳහා ක්‍රියා කරනවා නමුත්  එය ක්‍රියාකළ යුත්තේ ප්‍රතිපත්තිය මතයි එනම්  උත්තරීතර  ව්‍යවස්ථාවලිය සහ නිතිය අනුව  මිස එක් කාලසිමවකදී බලය ක්‍රියාවට නංවන තනි පුද්ගලයන්ගේ උපදෙස් අනුව නොවෙයි.

ඉතා හොදින් තෙරුම්ගතයුතු කරුණක් නම්, පොදු අපේක්ෂකයා සඳහා කරන මෙම සියලු කටයුතු නැවත වෙස්මිනිස්ට්ටර් ක්‍රමය සඳහා අනුගත වීමට ප්‍රමාණවත් නොවන බවයි. මේ සියල්ලට පසු අපි දන්නවා 1970 සහ 1977 බලයට පත්වූ රජයන් දෙකම වෙස්මිනිස්ට්ටර් ක්‍රමය යටතේ සිමා ඉක්මවීම් සඳහා යොමුවු බව. එකල තිබු ප්‍රශ්නය නම්, පාර්ලිමේන්තුව උත්තරීතරය යන මතයයි. එමෙන්ම විධායකය විසින් පාර්ලිමේන්තුව පාලනයට නතු කර තිබීමයි.

විධායකය ව්‍යවස්ථාදායකයේ පාලනයට නතුබව සුරක්ෂිතකිරීම සඳහා කඩිනමින් වැඩපිළිවෙල 5ක් ක්‍රියාත්මක කලයුතුයි.

  1. පැහැදිලිව තේරුම්ගත හැකි පළමුවැන්න නම්, තනතුරුවලට පත්කිරීම් සිදුකිරීම සඳහා ජනපතිවරයා සතු අත්තනෝමතික බලය සිමා කිරීමයි. මේ පිලිබඳ උපදෙස් දීම සඳහා මණ්ඩලයක් තිබිය යුතුයි. තවද, මෑත කාලින අත්දැකිම් පෙන්වා දි තිබෙනවා මහජනයාට ද  එම කමිටුවේ තීරණ පිලිබඳ පැහැදිළි හේතුසාධක  ඉදිරිපත් කිරීමට අවස්ථාව සැලසෙන පරිදි එහි විධිවිධාන සකස් විය යුතු බව. එය තෝරාගත් සාමාජිකයින්ගෙන් එනම්, විධායකයට අයත් නොවන පාර්ශවයන්ගෙන් සමන්විත නම්, එයට නිශේධ බලයද තිබිය යුතුයි.
  1. කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලයේ ප්‍රමාණයන් සඳහාද සීමාවන් තිබිය යුතුයි. (මම යෝජනා කරනවා උපරිමය 25ක් වියයුතු බවට එනමුත් ඊලග මැතිවරණය තෙක් මෙම ප්‍රමාණය තවත් 10ක් දක්වා ඉහල නැංවූවද ගැටලුවක් නැත). මෙය අතවශ්‍යයි මන්ද එය පුර්වලක්ෂණය කරාවී සරල උපක්‍රමයක් වන, වඩ වඩා පිරිස් විධායක අංශයට එකතුකරගනිමින් විධායකයේ ප්‍රධානියා ව්‍යවස්ථාදායකය පාලනය කිරිම.
  1. නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ නීති කෙටුම්පත් දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යාංශය යටතේ ක්‍රියාත්මක විය යුතු අතර අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යවරයා ඡන්ද පිලිබඳ වූ දේශපාලනයට මැදිහත් නොවිය යුතුයි යන විශේෂ නියමය සහිතවද විය යුතුයි. අතීතයේදී ඔහු පත් වූයේ උත්තරීතර මන්ත්‍රණ සභාව තුලින් වුවද වර්තමානයේදී ජාතික ලැයිස්තුවෙන් එන සාමාජිකයකු වීම ද යෝග්‍යයි. කෙසේනමුත්, ශ්‍රේෂ්ථාධිකරණය අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යංශය යටතේ නොතිබිය යුතුයි.
  1. අමාත්‍යාංශ ලේකම්වරුන් පත්කළ යුත්තේ කැබිනට් මණ්ඩලය විසින් හෝ ජනාධිපතිවරයා විසින් හෝ නොව රාජ්‍ය සේවා කොමිසම විසිනි.
  1. පාර්ලිමේන්තු පළාත් සභා සහ පළාත් පාලන මැතිවරණයන් විධායකයේ අභිමතයට අනුකුලව නොව  නිශ්චිත කාල වකවානු තුල පැවැත්විය යුතුය.

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 qrcode.26591067It is widely agreed that the Executive Presidency has too much power, and those now supporting the common candidate are pledged to reduce this. However , in doing so, they should work on basic political principles, and particularly the doctrine known as the Separation of Powers.

This involves building up the powers of other institutions of State, so that the Executive can be held in check. Such institutions include Parliament as representing the legislative power of the State, and the Judiciary which exercises judicial power. In addition, we need to strengthen the media, and also the public service. This last works for the executive, but it must work on the principle that it is the Constitution and Laws that are supreme, not the instructions of individuals exercising power at any particular period.

All those working for the common candidate must then realize that it will not be enough to go back to the Westminster system. After all we know that the government elected in 1970 and in 1977 both engaged in excesses under the Westminster system. The problem then was the idea that Parliament was supreme, and the fact that Parliament was controlled by the Executive power.

Five measures should then be implemented immediately to ensure that the Executive is subject to constitutional controls.

  1. The first, which is clearly understood, is restriction of the arbitrary power of the President to make appointments. There should be a body to advise on these, and recent experience has shown that it should have provision for representations by the public, and should make clear the rationale for its decisions. If it is made up of elected members, who are not themselves part of the Executive, it should also have veto powers.
  2. There should be limits on the size of the Cabinet (I would suggest 25 at most, though the number could be up to 10 more until the next election). This is essential since it will preclude the Head of the Executive controlling the Legislature by the simple mechanism of adding more and more people to the Executive branch.
  3. The Attorney General’s Department and the Legal Draughtsman’s Department should be brought under the Ministry of Justice, with a proviso that the Minister of Justice should not be involved in electoral politics. In the old days he came from the Senate, but for the present a National List member would be appropriate. The Supreme Court however should not be under the Ministry of Justice, but should be administered by an independent body, with salaries and pensions and privileges not subject to the Executive.
  4. It must be specified that Secretaries to Ministries should be appointed by the Public Service Commission, not by the Cabinet or the President.
  5. Elections, including for Parliament and Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies, should be held at fixed intervals, not at the convenience of the Executive.

 

I would also suggest five measures to ensure that Parliament is strengthened. This means strengthening the powers and prerogatives of Members who are not part of the Executive.

  1. First, the Chairs of the Finance Oversight Committees (the Public Accounts Committee and the Committee on Public Enterprises) should be Opposition members. The Executive will be required to respond in writing to the reports of these Committees, and give reasons if their recommendations are not obeyed.
  2. There should be no more than 25 Consultative Committees. This should be in line with the number of Ministries, but if there are more during the interim period, business should be combined (ie all education matters together, or lands and agriculture and irrigation etc). There should be a limited number of members in each committee, say about 10, and no Member should belong to more than two committees. The proceedings of these committees should be minuted, and the minutes made publicly available. Ministers should not chair the Committee but should attend meetings to discuss policy and procedures. Only senior officials concerned with policy should attend these meetings.

Such Consultative Committees should deal with general policy matters and finance       and legislation, as laid down in the Standing Orders. There should be opportunities for Members to meet officials in the Ministry to deal with matters of individual concern.

  1. The Petitions and High Post and Standing Order Committees should be chaired by Opposition members and their proceedings should be made publicly available.
  2. All questions must be answered within a month, and Ministers not available to answer questions should explain the reasons for this in writing to the President.
  3. The Standing Orders should promote Bills by Private Members, and there should be a Business Committee of Parliament without involvement of the Executive to schedule such initiatives as well as Adjournment Motions.

Colombo Post 27 Nov 2014 – http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/256-a-reform-agenda-1-reducing-the-power-of-the-executive

Rajiva Wijesinha

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