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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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What I think of as the brilliant idea of the Secretary of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats did have a precedent in what were termed Social Care Centres. These were set up in tsunami affected areas to coordinate the work of all agencies concerned with social service. Though they were comparatively few in number, and some have ceased to function, the successful coordination efforts that many brought to bear would provide useful lessons for the new Units. Indeed, in recent visits to the East, I have found that some still function, which will facilitate the coordination needed.

They had developed an operations manual that can be used to develop procedures, bearing in mind the difference between the DS Office and the SCC in fulfilling the needs and the rights of the people. Joint ownership of this model between the Ministries of Social Welfare and of Child Development should be developed, with officials of the former also being active members of the Units.

The resources the Government can make available must be known by the community, and these should not be diminished. Technical gaps with regard to delivery should be narrowed by developing models and setting up partnerships between academics and practitioners. The model must also be promoted and officer profiles developed so that working in it will be attractive to diploma holders and graduates of social work. The public image of the social work professional must also be raised.
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The following was sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in July 2011 in an effort to introduce some clarity into the debate on the Darusman Report, and also to coordinate better with the elements in the UN system which had also been attacked in that Report

I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

I raise these because I believe we have not responded effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

I hope very much that you will be able to proceed on these lines or similar ones.

Yours sincerely

 

1. Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Alleged rape
b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance
c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced
d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.

2. Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these
b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area
c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.

3. Were there reports prepared by the UN or the ICRC which were shared with the panel, but which were not provided to government?

4. Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’, as claimed in the report. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared?

5. Did the UN obtain other reports from international UN employees in Sri Lanka, and were these with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator? How did these fit within the UN mandate? If these reports were intended to improve the condition of affected Sri Lankans, why were they not shared at the time with government?

6. Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?

7. Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92), the attribution to government of an inappropriate response (at the end of January) to an ICRC statement issued on February 1st, the assumption that food was only sent to the conflict zone through the ICRC, the attribution (though obscurely) to the terrorist associated Tamil Rehabilitation Organization of the claim that individuals died of starvation, the claim that Manik Farm did not have its own water source, the claim that psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, etc?

8. Will the Panel study the analysis of its claims with regard to attacks on hospitals, in the light of claims made at the time, and in the context of official ICRC documentation of what was conveyed to government?

9. Will the Panel explain its selective characterization of participants in the conflict, including its description of the LTTE as disciplined, while bribery is attributed to the military as a whole, with positive actions being attributed to individuals?

10. Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? Will it also explain the sentence ‘Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure’ and how it relates to the figure of 75,000 given immediately afterwards?

11. Will the Panel explain what it means when it uses the word ‘Government’, and in particular its source for various critical comments such as those in Paras, 131 and 136 and Footnote 77?

12. Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests, as well as the manner in which funding was squandered on international personnel who were unable to ensure adherence to national and international standards with regard to sanitation?

This was copied to the Attorney General at the same time, as he was supposed to be chairing the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, with the following covering letter –

I attach a copy of a letter I have sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. I hope you will appreciate the points raised in the letter, and in particular the need to take remedial action so as to ensure that the reconciliation process continues.

In this context I would like to suggest some positive measures that could be taken immediately to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel report, which I am aware you too share. I believe we have not promoted the provision of information that would alleviate some suffering. Though there seems to be exaggeration with uncertainty, any uncertainty can cause anxiety and then resentment, so we should do our best to minimize this.

I would suggest that we establish in every GN division an agency that will collect statistics with regard to those missing, and collate them with appropriate investigation to ensure fuller information with regard to previous activities. This should lead to the formulation of a data base that can be used to provide precise information as possible.

We know that of course some of those dead will not be identified, and also that some have made their way to other countries, or have taken on a new identity in this country. While making allowance for these, I am sure we will be able to establish that the number of those dead or missing is much smaller than is sometimes bandied around.

I hope very much that we can take action in this regard, and in other areas mentioned in my letter to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, and make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka is more concerned about its own citizenry than external agencies.

I also wrote as follows at the same time to the Chairman of the LLRC

Whilst the process of reconciliation was proceeding apace since the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe some events over the last few months have affected this adversely. Whilst the different communities in Sri Lanka have not responded negatively, relations amongst some Tamils now living abroad and other Sri Lankans have been severely strained.

This may allow elements of the LTTE abroad to continue with their previous practices, including extortion from the majority of Tamil expatriates, and the perpetuation of racial prejudices. This will in turn rouse hostile feelings in the less reasonable amongst other communities. I believe therefore that we need to act firmly to nip such tendencies in the bud.

The events I refer to include in particular the publication of the report of the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on accountability issues. This has in turn exacerbated the impact of a film shown on the British Television Channel 4, and subsequently repeated on channels elsewhere. Both these have given credence to a book by a former UN employee called Gordon Weiss, and I gather that other publications related to this have since emerged, or will do so shortly.

It will be helpful then, for the sake of reconciliation alone, to challenge the impact created by these events. In particular, I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. I have accordingly sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs some queries which I believe should be sent to the Secretary General, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

In addition to this however, I believe we can also address the few real issues that the Panel Report raises. Having studied it, as well as the other publications mentioned above, it seems to me that there are only two allegations in which sufficient information as to time and place and scope has been furnished, so as to warrant further investigation.

These are the allegations with regard to the so-called White Flag incident, as well as mention of execution of prisoners, as to which the Channel 4 film mentioned a specific date. While I do not think we should deal with Channel 4, it may be useful for the Commission to seek further information from the Panel if it possesses any with regard to these two incidents, and in particular further details of the visual records that are alleged to have been made. It is possible that further examination will reveal discrepancies such as have characterized previous visual records brought to our attention, but since those were general claims whereas these involve specifics, it would make sense to try to obtain further information if available.

In addition to this, I believe concerted follow up with regard to your previous recommendations would be helpful.

I raise these to help us to respond effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

Finally, a letter sent to the Secretary to the President some months later –

The events of the last week, and the document I shared with you that had been prepared by a Ms Vigo, prompted reflections on the absurd way in which we have been conducting our foreign relations, and in particular our relations with the United Nations. I am aware that the President has been sharply critical of the UN, and seems to think that all efforts to work positively with it would be vain, but this flies in the face of all evidence.

The Vigo report makes it clear how many UN agencies and their heads worked well with us during the difficult days of conflict, despite external pressures and pressures from their younger members of staff – a phenomenon that occurred also with several ambassadors who have confided in me about this.

Meanwhile, as you are aware, Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva did a fantastic job of making sure that we received solid support from the UN system. He understood the need for numbers, and worked with influential ambassadors in each regional group, so that we had a large coalition supporting us.

This was promptly frittered away by his successor. As one distinguished journalist told me, in Dayan’s time we asked for advice, later we simply asked for votes, from people we had hardly taken seriously until their votes were needed.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we ceased to work together actively with the UN. Because of anger, understandable enough, at the appointment of the Darusman Panel, and its report, we assumed that the UN was complicit in the injustice that was being done to us. We failed to read the report carefully and intelligently, and understand that senior UN officials also were being criticized.

I told the Ministry at the time that we should communicate with those officials and develop a common response, but I do not think the Ministry even understood what I meant, nor the potential danger. As I have noted recently, following the visit of Robert Blake, which local politicians and foreign ambassadors have told me was worrying, I was told by the Ministry that all had gone very well, and newspaper reports were simply designed to create trouble.

The Secretary to Parliamentary Consultative Committees sent me earlier this month the latest Report of the Special Consultative Committee on Education, asking for observations. This had happened previously, with the previous version of the Report, but they forgot to write to me. I did respond hastily, when I got that Report, only to find that I was the only Parliamentarian to have done so. However, since other Parliamentarians told me they had not got the Report at all, I am not sure that I can fault my colleagues.

Be that as it may, I thought I should this time write comprehensively, welcoming the many positive suggestions in the Report, and noting other areas where further reforms are desirable. I will begin here with the first schedule to my reply, which looks at areas in which the Report suggests excellent measures which should be implemented as soon as possible. They represent a consensus of all Parliamentarians, so there is no reason for diffidence or lethargy

I hope therefore that all those interested in education and the need to provide better services to our children will take up these proposals and urge swift action. I should note, since I am sure many will be concerned with other areas that are equally important, that the Report covers much ground, and they will find that other areas are also addressed. The classic vice of belittling some benefits that seem less important should be avoided, though there is every reason also to request action with regard to benefits that seem more important.
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One of the main problems faced by officials involved in the care of children is the lack of precise structures with aims and reporting mechanisms. The task of the NCPA and the Probation Department, whether they are combined or simply work together coherently, involves several dimensions. They must deal with the real needs of children and families instead of being governed by archaic concepts of control. They must understand their responsibility for policy, and ensuring accountability, without dissipating energies on service delivery, which should be left to local officials.

For this purpose they must ensure structured linkages, with other central ministries as well as provincial bodies, and promote multi-disciplinary networking, This requires strong community representation and linkages, withe staff employed on the basis of appropriate skills, with mechanisms for constant training.

The other institution within the Ministry of Child Development is the Children’s Secretariat. Currently this concentrates on children under 5, but its responsibilities should be extended to cover all children. Though other government agencies will provide education and health etc, the Secretariat should promote children’s rights in the fullest sense, and ensure holistic development. Its officials should liaise with officials at Divisional level to monitor progress and satisfactory delivery of services, and conformity to national standards. They must liaise with officials of the Ministries of Health and Education to develop guidelines for action and appropriate areas for intervention.
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In a week of much depressing news, perhaps the most depressing was that presented under what seemed intended to be a triumphant headline. The headline read ‘President resolves Uswewa Junior School teacher shortage’, and the story was about how the President took steps to fill teacher vacancies in a Junior School in the Hambantota District.

Children from that school had been at Temple Trees, and one enterprising student had complained that there were no teachers for English or Science subjects. The President had directed the student to complain to the Southern Province Minister of Education and then issued orders to the Minister to take immediate steps to fill teacher vacancies in the school.

Assuming that teachers have now gone to the school, and will stay there, we should rejoice at the news. Any step to improve the education provided to children anywhere is a positive measure. But it is clearly completely unacceptable that there should be teacher shortages that can be resolved only if a child happens to be at Temple Trees and complains to the President.

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Last week saw an extremely productive consultation on promoting the Rights of Children. Organized by the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, as decided at the meetings we have been holding over the last several months to better understand the problems and possible interventions, it was presided over by the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs.

In addition to officials from different branches of his Ministry, we also had excellent input from the Ministry of Health, which is especially important given the gaps in the provision of psycho-social support nationwide that we need to fill. While delivery will have to be through various agencies – school counselors that the Ministry of Education appoints, Probation Officers appointed by the Provinces, Social Service Officers appointed by that Ministry – we obviously need better coordination as well as training, and this can best be provided by the Ministry of Health.

We also had representation from the Ministry of Social Services. The Secretary had not been able to attend, which was in part our fault because it was only after the meeting had been arranged that we realized the importance of her presence too. But she was enormously cooperative when we met her and, though committed to a visit to Japan – which is a model that we should aim at in the care it provides for the vulnerable – she has agreed to pursue cooperation in this field on her return.

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The topic of education comes up at almost all Reconciliation Committee meetings at Divisional Secretariat level. I wondered whether this was because I am still thought of as an Educationist, but I suspect those who come to these meetings have no idea about my range of experience at all levels, and talk about education simply because they see a good education as vital for their children.

They are absolutely right, and the dedication of the many educationists who established excellent schools in many parts of Sri Lanka in the 19th century, the recognition by Buddhist and Hindu and Muslim social activists that they had to start their own schools, and then the comprehensive scheme developed by C W W Kannangara, did much to ensure social mobility for all segments of society.

Sadly, when the commitment of both state and the private non-profit sector to supply a good education turned into the establishment of a state monopoly, a rot set in. The state simply could not supply enough, and maintain high quality, so we now have the ludicrous situation of additional supply being provided by international schools and by tutories. Unfortunately our doctrinaire statists object to the former, and allow the latter full rein, even though they disrupt the school system even more destructively, given that many school teachers give tuition and expect their students to come to their classes to get what is not given in school.

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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.

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I have been deeply upset in recent months, at meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings in the North, at the continuing failure to address the problem of teacher shortages in key subjects. While there is heartening appreciation of the rebuilding of schools, at much better levels than ever before, I am constantly told that there are insufficient teachers for English and Maths and Science. Of course I know this is a problem elsewhere in the country too, but that is no excuse. Given that it is those in rural communities who suffer most, I can only hope that those concerned with basic rights will at some stage institute legal action to ensure equity in education, and force government to look at alternative systems of teacher training and teacher supply, instead of sticking with the statist centralized model that has so signally failed for so long.

Significantly, I am rarely told about shortages of teachers for computing, but this does not mean that they are available. This was brought home to me graphically when I was discussing plans for use of some of my decentralized budget for education in Rideegama in Kurunagala. While I have over the last few years used part of the budget in the North, for entrepreneurship training for former combatants and this year for Vocational Training in Mullaitivu, and the rest in Ratnapura, where we concentrated on school education and English, I thought I should also do more further afield, given that the Liberal Party has a couple of Pradeshiya Sabha members in Rideegama.

I had wanted to do English classes, and these will now be conducted in three GN divisions, through the Sabaragamuwa English Language Teaching Department, which had done the teacher training in Sabaragamuwa. But to my surprise I was also asked for computer training, in particular for Ordinary Level students, since there are hardly any computer teachers in the schools in the area.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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