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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.

qrcode.29154522Sri Lanka needs a National Environmental Policy that can be effectively enforced to deal with current threats. We should not only react, but should develop and implement policies that will reduce risks. In fact the Disaster Management Centre, together with the National Building Research Organization, has developed plans in some sectors. But these institutions need to be strengthened, and given a mandate to ensure implementation of the Risk Reduction Plans that have been produced.

Meeriyabedda tea plantation in Koslanda

…. develop and implement policies that will reduce risks.

It is also necessary to lay down clear guidelines about the relations between such policy making bodies and those who implement. While the DMC has staff in the Districts, manpower for support has to come from the services, the military as well as the police. Active involvement of village committees is also vital. But in addition there must be direction on the basis of clear authority, which is where the Divisional Secretaries, and even the District Secretary, have a crucial role. This should all be laid down in Standard Operating Procedures, which should be known and understood by all officials, including the Grama Niladharis.

Sri Lankans wade through rain water on a flooded road of PiliyanDala suburb of Colombo on November 11, 2010

… continuing problems must be addressed

Particular attention must be paid to landslides and floods. The continuing problems in certain areas must be addressed through coordinated mitigation measures. These should include a comprehensive Water Policy, since otherwise many areas are subject to flood during some periods, and drought in others.

At present interventions with regard to irrigation and to the supply of water, are made with no proper coordination. It is essential to develop methods of storing excess water, which requires greater attention to small reservoirs that could serve a small group of villages. More responsibility for identifying schemes and for implementing them should be given to Divisional Secretariats, which are able to consult the stakeholders in the area. Such consultation should be mandatory and people kept informed of projects in their home areas, with space to object and have their concerns noted and addressed before action is taken. This should be a regular agenda item at consultative committee meetings at Grama Niladhari level, and suggestions should be collated and assessed in the formulation of Divisional Secretariat level plans.

…. ensure that threats to life are eradicated

The Policy should also aim at ensuring that safe drinking water is available to all. In coordination with the Ministry of Health, the Water Board should ensure that threats to life such as the now rapidly spreading kidney disease are eradicated. Fertilizer must be subject to rigid testing, since it seems that excessive use of chemicals is destroying traditional agricultural lands. It is also essential to develop effective information dissemination systems to ensure that necessary precautions are taken. Some time back the DMC together with UNDP produced simple booklets for schools, and such resources must be increased, with time given in the school curriculum to ensure proper understanding. In this regard it would be useful for the Education Ministry to review the Life Skills curriculum, and perhaps reintroduce some of the ideas in the curriculum developed in 2005 which was summarily changed when a new regime took over at the Ministry of Education. The Ministry should also consider making this subject compulsory at Ordinary Level, instead of History, which was hurriedly made compulsory without proper analysis of the benefits to students and the wider community.

An effective programme of Disaster Management will also involve attention to environmental protection, since steps must be taken to protect forest cover and wildlife. But this cannot be at the expense of the lives and livelihoods of rural communities. Now we find that farmers are not permitted to function in their traditional grounds while politicians amass large fortunes through acquisition of what should be common lands, along with excessive deforestation. Read the rest of this entry »

… 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

good governanceSuggestions sent to members of the committee to assist the Minister for Good Governance, set up at the Government Group meeting on March 3rd 2015.

A – Preventing Corruption

Schedule

1.  The Assets Declarations of Ministers, Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors and those heading government institutions that have entered into contracts of above a particular value should be made public. They should be uploaded on institutional websites within two weeks of laws / regulations to such effect being introduced.

I am aware that there may be some diffidence about this inasmuch as some Members of the government may not have declared their assets as required. The law/regulation should specify that no action will be taken with regard to such, provided the declaration is made available to be made public at the due date. They will also be requested to make declarations for each of the last five years.

2.  A Commission should be empowered to go into these Declarations, and instituted investigations if the assets of any individual have grown disproportionately in the last five years.

The Thai concept of people being ‘unusually rich’ could be brought into play. The Public should be invited to provide information if there is reason to suspect inaccuracies in the declaration of assets. Such information should be investigated, with provision that assets not declared may be frozen, and confiscated if legitimate acquisition cannot be proved.

3.  Individuals who hand over assets which they cannot prove were legitimately acquired may be given an amnesty, on condition of taking no part in public life for a specific period.

It could be argued that this is a form of impunity, but we should not engage in what could be perceived as witch hunts. Regaining for the country anything that has been plundered, and debarring further such activities for a fixed period, should be enough.

4.  Any information provided by the public about inflated tenders, undue costs for contracts with national and international suppliers, acceptance of shoddy construction work or equipment supplied, should be investigated. Individuals handing over assets obtained improperly through such instances may be given an amnesty, on condition of taking no part in public life.

I would urge in particular that attention be paid to the information supplied by Mr Kodituwakku, formerly of the Customs, who had to flee the country because of threats against him arising from his outstanding integrity and efficiency.

5.  Officials who felt obliged to acquiesce in abuses should be given impunity for the provision of information with regard to such matters. Provision should be made for such information to be given in confidence.

 

B – Promoting Responsiveness

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.

 

C – Removing politics from recruitment

Schedule

  1. All government institutions should have clear criteria with regard to recruitment, and such recruitment should be the responsibility of state officials, not politicians.
  2. All Ministries should have an Appeals Board to deal with allegations of unfairness in recruitment, to all institutions under the purview of the Ministry.
  3. Ministries should not issue lists of individuals from which recruitment is to be done.
  4. Politicians wishing to recommend individuals for employment should do so on the basis of qualifications and suitability. They should not mention loyalty to party as a qualification. Recommendations should be addressed to the appointing authority.
  5. Politicians and others who feel there was unfairness in recruitment procedures or decisions may bring these to the attention of the Minister, with a copy of the appeal to the Appeals Board.
  6. Ministers should not make recommendations for jobs which are within any institution under their purview. In case of alleged injustice, they should forward appeals to the appointing authority or the Appeals Board, and request a prompt report and remedial action if appropriate.
  7. Making appointments to boards or other bodies directly under the purview of the Minister should be in accordance with clear criteria. Where the Minister has discretionary powers, he should make clear the reasons for appointments where public funds are involved.

 

D – Limiting use of the Executive for political purposes

  1. Members of the Executive shall not use their offices or the equipment and services they are given for electoral purposes
  2. The personal staff of Ministers shall be limited to only such numbers as are essential for the fulfilment of their executive responsibilities. All such staff will be required to provide monthly reports on their productivity to the Secretary of the Ministry which pays their salaries.
  3. However, given the personal and political needs of all Parliamentarians, their personal staff may be increased as follows –

2 coordinating secretaries instead of 1

1 research officer as now

1 private secretary as now

2 drivers instead of 1

1 office aide as now 1

This gives them a total of 7 instead of 5.

They should also be given a vehicle for their use. This should take the place of the permits which are now readily abused.

4.  The personal staff of Ministers should be reduced as follows, and they must all be expected to report to work in the Ministry unless the Minister had given them leave, as informed to the Secretary

1 private secretary as now

1 coordinating secretary instead of 2

1 public relations secretary

No media secretary, the work should be done by the Ministry media personnel, who should be selected in accordance with clear criteria

2 drivers, without provision for a driver for a back up vehicle. If needed, such a driver should be taken from the Ministry pool.

1 office aide instead of 2, since the Ministry staff can be allocated if needed.

2 management assistants instead of 5. At least one of those should be functional in the Official Language which is not that of the Minister. Any further assistance may be provided by regular Ministry staff.

This gives them a total of 8 instead of 13.

The Minister should have at most 2 vehicles. Personal staff should have at most 2 vehicles rather than the 5 that are now available.

The qualifications of all personal staff paid by government Ministries should be made known to the public, along with the responsibilities entrusted to them.

 

E  – Restricting violence

Schedule

  1. The LLRC lays down areas as to which it believes further investigation is required, and this should be undertaken promptly. A separate Commission should be appointed for this purpose, with international observers as with the IGEP that functioned for the Udalagama Commission.
  2. The work of the Disappearances Commission should be expedited, and action taken on its interim reports, which should be published at 3 month intervals.
  3. Provision should be made for gathering of further information to expand the work of both these Commissions. Information may be sought for this purpose from the ongoing UNHRC investigation.
  4. The report of the Udalagama Commission should be published and action taken on its findings.
  5. A Commission similar to the Udalagama Commission should be established to look into incidents of Disappearances in the post-war period, or others that occurred after the Commission was established, including the cases of Pattani Razak, Pradeep Ekneligoda and the FSP activists. Prosecutions should be instituted if sufficient evidence emerges.
  6. In fairness to the last government, since otherwise it would be assumed that excesses took place only under its watch, a fact finding Commission should be established with regard to incidents such as the killings of Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi, the JVP students in Ratnapura, Richard de Zoysa, those found in the Diyawanna Oya and Kumar Ponnambalam. It should be clear that judicial action will not be taken on such matters, and an amnesty will be given for incidents that occurred more than ten years ago, but government owes it to the people to establish the truth of what happened.
  7. A Commission should be appointed to investigate the relative impunity with which the LTTE operated, in particular the failure of Sri Lanka and the international community to prevent child conscription, arms acquisition, and the taking and use of hostages in the last stages of the conflict.

10 Jan 2015The most important issue facing the new President is to restore confidence in the governmental process.

For this purpose it is necessary to establish systems that work according to the Rule of Law, and with full accountability to the people. In this respect it is vital that Parliamentary control of legislation and finances be restored.

This does not mean strengthening an Executive based in Parliament, but rather strengthening Parliament to be an effective check on the Executive. This means strengthening the power of ordinary members of Parliament, both government and opposition.

Measures to ensure this were the principle component of the Standing Order changes I had proposed last year, changes which the Speaker ignored in contravention of the existing Standing Orders. My main purpose was to strengthen Committees of Parliament by streamlining them and ensuring that they were not chaired by members of the Executive. In the case of the Finance Oversight Committees, the PAC and COPE, the chair was to be a member of the opposition.

But ensuring open discussion in committees is not enough. It is also necessary to give them teeth, and for this purpose we should ensure that the Executive either follows their recommendations, or else gives reasons in writing as to why this is not desirable or possible. The same would apply to the petitions committee, the directions of which are now simply flouted by the Executive.

I would take this principle further, to promote consultation as well as accountability at local levels. The Local Government Act should be amended to ensure involvement of People’s Representatives in Committees of Pradeshiya Sabhas and Local Councils. I have already suggested amendments in this regard to the Secretary of the Local Government Ministry who had consulted me about the Act. It will also be necessary to define clearly the areas of responsibility of local government bodies, and to give them powers to work effectively in these areas.

In addition, given the number of administrative decisions made at Divisional Secretariat level, there should be consultation mechanisms at Grama Niladhari level, with mandatory feedback at the decision making level. This is the Divisional Secretariat, and I am glad that Mr Sirisena’s manifesto declares the centrality of this level, and the need to ensure coordination of services. With regard to this I have been working together with several Ministry Secretaries on a UNDP Project to improve delivery of services, and I hope the next government studies the excellent report produced by Asoka Gunawardena and implements its recommendations. Certainly we must get rid of the ridiculous system introduced by Basil Rajapaksa, of handing over development funds to Members of Parliament to spend virtually at will, with no coordination and little reference to the plans of the Line Ministries.

Line Ministries should be strengthened, and this requires reducing the size of the Cabinet in accordance with clear rationales, as pledged in the opposition manifesto. We cannot have many ministries dealing with similar subjects, and we cannot have ministers doing what they want – and in particular accepting unsolicited bids for projects, which has become a feature of the way the present government runs things – without adherence to well developed plans. It is imperative that a Ministry of Policy and Plan Implementation be set up, and given teeth on the lines of the suggestions the Secretary to that Ministry and I forwarded to Mr Lalith Weeratunge at the end of 2009.

I have stressed governance issues, because these seem to me the most important in terms of safeguarding democracy and promoting equitable development. For this purpose it is also essential to pass the proposed Freedom of Information Act, and to give it teeth through ensuring public accountability at all levels of government. In addition I hope we will also introduce the Bill of Rights which was promised in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya, and which the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights had got drafted by the end of 2009, but which has since been ignored. Read the rest of this entry »

Colombo Post 5The last few years have seen vast sums of money expended on schools, but this has been mainly in the area of construction. There has been little concern with improving the actual quality of education. The impression created is that the work done is seen largely as a means to an end not actually connected with education. Leaving aside the large profit margins available when construction becomes an end in itself, there is also a political agenda. This is obvious from the large number of computer laboratories, for instance, that remain unopened, waiting for a politician’s convenience to claim that this is his gift to the people.

The perversity that dominates educational policy was in fact asserted by the Minister of Education who claimed, when I asked about the failure to commission these laboratories, that the people should know who had gifted them the facilities. I pointed out that these were not gifts from qrcode.26575647politicians since the money to construct them was the money of the people. The Minister granted I had a point, and said he would move on the matter, but the movement was mainly in Uva, where the President dashed about the place opening facilities which had remained closed until the election. I found this out when I followed up with an inquiry, for statistics from all Provinces. Only the North Central Province has thus far responded – there are 75 schools there where the computer labs have been built, but remain unopened. Doubtless there and elsewhere there will be a flurry of activity before the Presidential election.

Underlying this absurdity is the failure to establish the point that education belongs to the people. The most important stakeholders are children and their parents, and we need to develop systems to ensure that parents can monitor what is going on in the schools their children attend. Ensuring a good service cannot be left to the service provider, which is why government must ensure that the beneficiaries also are able to assess the quality of the service they receive. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Happy (Part 1)

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Happy (Part 2)

Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Happy (Part 3)

Underlying Basil’s solipsism was his political ambition. He made no bones about the fact that he saw himself as his brother’s successor. Indeed, he had been put into Parliament before the 2010 election, though a resignation of a National List member that was engineered, on the grounds that there had to be a Rajapaksa available for appointment as President if anything untoward happened to the incumbent. And though soon after the election of 2010 Mahinda Rajapaksa introduced a constitutional amendment to remove term limits, so that Basil’s hope of being seen as necessarily the government candidate in the next election was dashed, the President placed no restrictions on him presenting himself as effectively the main decision maker in government.

So, in addition to his work in the North, he set about taking control of developmental projects all over the country. Tourism was brought under the Ministry of Economic Development, which allowed him soon after the government was formed to sell a prime block of land in Colombo to Shangri-La hotels, a crass measure since it made it difficult afterwards to refuse outright ownership to such investors. Fortunately, after a great outcry, the principle that only long leases should be permitted was accepted, but again the move was typical of Basil’s propensity to push through deals quickly, regardless of wider consequences.

While he used to the full his position as patron of international ventures, he also tried to take control of the administration of the country at large. He did this through the Samurdhi programme, the welfare programme that was in place all over the country. Initially started to promote entrepreneurship, it had soon become the main vehicle of government handouts to chosen sections of the population.

Basil decided to use it to expand his empire, with graduates employed in every Division in the country to affirm the primacy of his Ministry. Indeed I was told that there had even been an attempt to appoint Samurdhi officials as Grama Niladharis, the office that was the first point of interaction between people and government. The Ministry of Public Administration staved off this effort, but it meant that for several years Grama Niladhari positions that were vacant were not filled, until finally that Ministry reasserted its control of the position. Indeed a measure of Basil’s unpopularity with his colleagues was the categorical statement, when I told the Minister that he should guard against his responsibilities being encroached upon, that the Ministry of Economic Development was encroaching on everything. Read the rest of this entry »

After speaking at the Officer Career Development Centre on revolutionizing the Education System, I went on to my father’s home village, where his family had many years ago donated land for a school. Vijaya Maha Vidyalaya had developed over the years, with support sometimes from the family, most recently when one of my cousins arranged a health camp there, along with a cricket match between the Colombo Medical Team and the schoolboys, which I was privileged to watch.

Vijaya had been one of only two schools in the Hambantota District (the other was a Muslim school in the Tissamaharama area if I remember right) to being English medium when we started it way back in 2001. The first few years had been very successful, and I would enjoy dropping in on the classes and registering the enthusiasm of the Principal and the staff and the students.

But hard times hit the school with the retirement of the Principal, who had been a strict disciplinarian even while devoting himself to the welfare of the students. The Vice-Principal could not be promoted because he was not qualified, and someone was brought in from outside, and factionalism it seems broke out.
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I wrote some weeks back about some welcome proposals for Reform decided on at the Parliament Advisory Committee on Education. I will now look at some other proposals that are also welcome, though I have written as follows to suggest they should be fleshed out in an imaginative fashion to ensure effectiveness.

a. 1.2.9 & 7.8 – The Principal is the backbone of the school, and should be empowered to decide on expenditure. Strengthening Principals and allowing them to run the school without constant reference to Education Offices is vital. However this should be accompanied by clear guidelines as to administration and accountability. Appointing an Administrative Secretary (4.2.4) to each school is an excellent idea, but there should be very clear job descriptions, and performance contracts for both the Principal and the Secretary. A strong School Development Society should be established, but with strict provisions against financial involvements, with heavy penalties to prevent contractual connections. Accountability should also be increased through reports to Grama Niladhari headed committees and through these to the Women and Children’s Units of Divisional Secretariats.

b. 1.2.15 – Private sector participation in education is desirable, with appropriate quality controls. This should be encouraged at all levels, including the training of teachers. The opportunity to teach in state schools should be subject to certification through state evaluation, but private and non-profit agencies should be encouraged to set up teacher training institutes, in particular for Science and Mathematics and Languages, and for English medium teaching.
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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2017
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