You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Asoka Gunawardena’ tag.

qrcode.30693280An ambassador who seems to understand this country well said recently that he thought the greatest mistake this government had made was to let me go. I have to admit though that that was probably more flattering than accurate.  One can see rather that the greatest mistake was to ignore completely the manifesto on which the President had won the election, and instead assume it was about two things and two things alone – the abolition of the Executive Presidency and having an election after 100 days.

Unfortunately now the government will be remembered for just two things, one the laudable reduction in the authoritarian powers of the Presidency, the second the Central Bank Bond Scam. But there was much else in the manifesto that could easily have been implemented in the almost six months which the government had before Parliament was dissolve.

I have already looked at the seven broken promises with regard to reform that were mentioned in the 100 day programme, viz

1)      Electoral Reform

2)      Amendment of Standing Orders

3)      The Right to Information Act

4)      The new Audit Act

5)      A Code of Conduct

6)      A Cabinet of not more than 25 members representing all political parties in Parliament

7)      A National Advisory Council including all political parties in Parliament

The last three of these did not require a Parliamentary majority, and three of the others could have been passed with a simple majority. But the failure to develop consensus on issues of common national interest, and instead concentrate on Ministries for one party, and the perks that went with these, led to disaster.

Those blunders are obvious. For the next couple of weeks I shall look at some of the excellent ideas in the manifesto that were completely ignored. The total failure of this government to entrench better systems of government, based on ideas that had been canvassed for a long time but which had not been taken forward, must be registered, and I hope the government elected in August will move swiftly on such matters.

One of the most innovative ideas in the manifesto occurred in the section entitled ‘An advanced and responsible public sector’.  The second bullet point there read, ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area. It will coordinate all activities such as skills development and supply of resources pertaining to the development of the economic, social, industrial and cultural sectors of the area.’

Though I used the word innovative, in fact this represents a recognition of reality. A hundred years ago, when the British began to think of appointing Sri Lankan Government Agents, the Province was obviously the practical unit of administration. But as populations grew and the business of government expanded, the District became more important and accordingly Government Agents were appointed to Districts too. Now however, with so much more to do and for so many more people, it is the Divisional Secretariat that has to initiate and oversee action in most particulars. Unfortunately we are still stuck in hidebound systems, and Divisional Secretaries do not have the decision making powers they need. In addition, many government departments are not well represented in the Division, which leads to long delays with regard to action, let alone decisions.

After the problems I had noted in the North and East, I discussed the matter with those with experience in the field including the immensely knowledgeable Asoka Gunawardena and the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Mr Abeykoon, who is now the Secretary to the President. We then approached the UN, which set up a consultancy, and last year we got a comprehensive report from Asoka on ‘Improving Service Delivery in the Divisions’. Unfortunately, when the election season set in, the Secretary put the matter on hold. Though Karu Jayasuriya was initially keen to take things forward, it turned out that he was not the responsible Minister, given the manner in which Public Administration had been carved up. I did mention the matter to the Minister responsible, but such reforms are not really his concern, and in the mad rush for elections the matter had been forgotten.

After the election I hope a concerted effort will be made to move forward in this area. It is important to make sure however that this is done with provision to consult the people, something the last President pledged which was not done. Mr Abeykoon had set the process in motion, through a circular that instructed Grama Niladharis to chair the Civil Defence Committee meetings in their GN Divisions, but this has not really taken off. Clear instructions are needed as to how the ideas brought up at consultative meetings should be taken forward (something that can be improved in Parliament too, where minutes are not promptly circulated and action points rarely recorded). This was planned, but elections intervened.

At the last meeting of the Home Affairs Consultative Committee in Parliament, this being the Ministry entrusted with District and Divisional Administration, I brought the matter up, only to find that the Minister and the new Secretary knew nothing about this. They had not been briefed, but the Minister promised to look into the matter, and I hope that he will find some time during electioneering to at least ensure that a position paper is prepared for him, or for his successor.

Meanwhile, nothing has been done in the last couple of years with regard to the other area of governance that is closest to the people. I refer to the work of elected officials, namely the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha and his team. At present their functions are confused, because there have been significant changes in the manner in which these are organized – utilities for instance are supposed to be their responsibility, but both water and electricity require much central government involvement.

Because of all this a new Local Government Act was being prepared, and with the blessings of the Minister, the Secretary gave me a copy of the draft for comment. I found it a great improvement on what we have now, but thought there should be entrenchment of consultation procedures, with the advisory committees to local bodies being composed of representatives of community organizations, not appointees of those in political authority.

The Secretary, one of the brightest of our Civil Servants, Mr Ranawaka, took the ideas on board, but he was then entrusted with other responsibilities and the Act seemed to have been forgotten. But if good governance is to become a reality, the next government should study the current situation, with the help of Asoka Goonewardene’s comprehensive report, and set in place systems to ensure that people have ready access to the services government should provide at local level.

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… and coordinate responsibilities to cover all areas, in terms of subjects and locations

Dear Mr Jayasuriya

Further to my last letter regarding guidelines you should consider laying down to promote Good Governance, I would like to suggest some practical measures to improve service to the people. As you took office I wrote to you about the work we had been doing to improve service delivery to the regions, and hoped you could have a roundtable on the excellent report prepared by Mr Asoka Gunawardena following an initiative of the Ministry of Public Administration with the support of UNDP.

I was disappointed to hear from you that you had discovered that District and Divisional Secretariats had been combined with the Ministry of Fisheries, but I believe you can still lay down guidelines for Good Governance, to be followed by public administrators working for that Ministry, in addition to others. In the long term, you must work towards greater coherence in the allocation of departments to Ministries, which was a pledge in the Presidential manifesto.

In fact I was told that Mr Shiral Lakthilaka, Coordinating Secretary to the President, had replied when questioned about this at a recent seminar, that they had initially had a more sensible arrangement, but this had been changed. You should find out who did this and why, since such interference with a pledge of His Excellency is a sad reflection on the coalition that worked so hard to promote Good Governance.

Meanwhile I hope you can work on sending the suggestions in the attached schedule in the form of a circular to public officials who need to respond to the needs of people. With regard to grass roots consultation the recording officer could perhaps be the Samurdhi officer allocated to every GN Division, so I will copy this letter to the Hon Sajith Premadasa, who I know is also very concerned about an efficient and effective public service.

I should note that the 3rd suggestion took off from the Women and Children’s Units set up under the last government. Since the functions have been divided up, I have no idea whether those units are functioning. There should be no problem because they were coordinating mechanism, but given the difficulties of adapting when responsibilities are not clear, perhaps you will need to look into the situation and ensure that work continues. In the long term, again you need more scientific distribution of departments. I would suggest going back to one Ministry of Social Services, with departments for Women, Children, etc. There could be Deputy Ministers for these subjects, with specific responsibilities, though these should not be under the Prime Minister.

I can if you wish send you the text of the formal acknowledgments I have prepared for anyone who writes to a Ministry, together with the text of the letter I use to forward any query to the relevant official. I mention there that I expect the response to be sent in a week, and I tell the original correspondent to contact me if they have not got a reply within two weeks.

The point is that public servants must serve the people. This does not mean acceding to all requests, since decisions must be made in terms of the regulations as they exist (though interpreted with sympathy). But government cannot keep people waiting in suspense and anguish, and must ensure that responses are swift and clear and reasons for the decision are given.

 

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha

CC. Hon Sajith Premadasa

Schedule

  1. Consultation mechanisms should formally be set up at Grama Niladhari level, chaired by the GN but with clear responsibility for another official to maintain records and minutes and ensure follow up.
  2. The minutes of Grama Niladhari Level 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
  3. At Divisional Secretariat level, there should be coordination mechanisms for groups of subjects, such as Social Services and Women and Children, Education and Training, Agriculture and Irrigation, Forests and Wild Life, Health and Nutrition. Officials should work as a team, and ensure attention to all GN Divisions. Individuals can be given responsibility for particular GN Divisions, with the coordinating committee at DS level looking into all issues and providing feedback.
  4. 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. This has been pledged in the manifesto of the President, and making the necessary structural changes will be simple, and can be swift if there is sufficient will.
  5. 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.
  6. All government officials must understand the need to respond promptly to requests from the people. They must also ensure that records are kept. Telephone commitments should be kept to a minimum, since these can be forgotten. Officers who delegate tasks must ensure that these are performed promptly.

Island 27 Feb  2015 – http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=120378

Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

On the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs

In the Committee Stage of the Budget, December 9th 2013

 

I am honoured to speak on the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, which deals with perhaps the most important subject we need to consider. I say this because, while the development programme government has put in place with regard to infrastructure is vital, it will serve no purpose unless we also concentrate on human development. In this regard we need to ensure that our children are in full enjoyment of all their rights, and that we also empower them so that any violations are minimized.

It is equally important, Mr Speaker, to ensure that women are not only protected, but also empowered. For this purpose we must put in place coherent mechanisms that can identify shortcomings and address them promptly and systematically. Above all we must move from simply reacting to problems, but rather anticipate potential problems and avoid them – a strategy, I should add, that would hold us in good stead with regard also to international relations as well as domestic politics.

With regard to Women and Children, I am happy to say that we have an active Ministry that is able to conceptualize and initiate new measures. Chief amongst these is the establishment of Women and Children’s Units in every Divisional Secretariat. If I might say so, this Ministry has been the first to recognize the importance of the Division, which is the first active interface between government and people. Indeed this Ministry has also recognized the importance of the Grama Niladhari Division, which is the first actual interface, though it is for the raising of issues rather than solving them. I should add that it would make sense to set in place, even in GN Divisions, consultative mechanisms to resolve simple problems. However it the Division that is the first level at which more important decisions can be taken, and where the front line officers of various government institutions can meet to discuss problems and plan responses – and where they can discuss trends that will help them to anticipate problems and avoid them.

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In discussing the ways in which governmental institutions can be strengthened so as to provide a better service to the people, it is obviously essential to look carefully at what happens at the first level at which officials interact with the citizenry. This is in Grama Niladhari Divisions.

Unfortunately the duties, and the responsibilities, of Grama Niladharis are not clearly defined. Their role was expanded in the nineties by President Premadasa, and there are different views as to the efficacy of his theory of consolidating government input at this basic level. Recently I heard one of our more thoughtful Ministers, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, complaining that the close attention to agriculture paid by officials at village level had been done away with when such positions had been suppressed, and Grama Niladharis given responsibility in all spheres.

This echoed a view I had heard from Asoka Gunawardena, probably the most knowledgeable official in Sri Lanka now about the various layers of government we have and their history. My own view is that a single official in overall charge at GN Division level makes sense, but such an appointment should be accompanied by mechanisms to ensure consultation, and the possibility of referral to professionals in specific fields.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2017
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