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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

February 2020
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