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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

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Presidency 17Recently, at a Consultative Committee in Parliament, one of my colleagues remarked that there was no need of any opposition given my own contribution. I had been critical but what my colleague, from the Gampaha District, failed to understand was that I had criticized neither policies nor action. What I had been objecting to was a failure of action, and had the gentleman understood how Parliaments should be conducted, he would have realized that I was actually trying to help. Surely it should be the business of politicians supportive of the government to promote action in accordance with productive policies, not to sit back complacently when there is no progress.

The incident occurred at the 17th meeting of the Consultative Committee on Education, when I wondered what had happened about a matter I had raised at the previous meeting, held 3 months earlier (meetings are supposed to happen every month, but this Standing Order, like almost all others, is observed in the breach). In May I had brought up the question of opening computer laboratories which had, in at least two cases I knew of, been completed and equipped, but were awaiting a ceremonial opening.

The Minister had claimed on that occasion that such a ceremony was needed so that the people would know who had gifted the laboratory. But when I pointed out that these were not gifts, but built with the people’s money, he had granted my point. So, to cite the minute, he ‘stated that the Chairman of the Development Committee of the area should be responsible to utilize them and instructed to take immediate action to open them’.

This time it was reported that some laboratories had been opened already, and that many more would soon be opened in the Uva Province. This caused a lot of giggles, but that did not matter so long as the children were now able to use the equipment. But surely it should have struck my colleagues that, even if the priority was to get brownie points from these computers, the sooner they were in use, the better for the politicians too, as well as the children. For obviously the people would know if there were an unnecessary delay – it was parents and teachers who had kept me informed in areas I am familiar with – while there is also a risk of computers deteriorating if not swiftly put into operation. Read the rest of this entry »

There are two reasons why I find ridiculous the constant assertion that the Executive Presidency must be abolished. This was made most recently by the most prominent member of the Human Rights Commission, who claimed that it was the root cause of all our problems. But I do not think that he, or all the others who parrot panaceas, have thought about what will replace it.

And the problem with such panaceas is that no effort is made to actually make the current situation better, as for instance the Human Rights Commission could do in its own area of responsibility, by taking forward the Bill of Rights. There is an excellent draft, which we managed to get done before the Ministry of Human Rights was abolished. But the Minister did not agree that it should be put forward, given the then concentration on elections, and since then it has languished. I suspect I am the only who who has even reminded the President of its existence, and the fact that it was prepared in fulfilment of a pledge in the 2005 Mahinda Chintanaya. His answer was that he did not agree with everything there, but the simple solution, to admit those elements, was obviously not thought satisfactory.

With regard to the Presidency, it is assumed that we can go back straight away to the Westminster system. But the Westminster system demands a functioning Parliament, and with the complete dysfunctionality of the current Parliament, we will have even greater chaos if it had supreme power. Even now, Parliament does not fulfil the role laid down for it in our Presidential constitution, which is one reason why the Executive has nothing to check it.

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I referred some weeks back to the games being played by various individuals and institutions in Colombo with regard to the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, the political foundation of the German Free Democratic Party. This is a member of Liberal International, though its Liberalism is generally more concerned with free market economics, and does not have the same commitment to social equity as say the British Liberal Party. Still, there are enough people in the FDP, and also in the FNS, who understand our commitment in Sri Lanka to a more Gladstonian version of Liberalism, though sadly they have been in comparative short supply in dealings with South Asia.

I suppose this is understandable in that South Asia tended, at the time the FNS established itself here, to be committed to social equity from a more socialist standpoint, and it was free markets that needed nurturing. However this led to at least some personnel neglecting other aspects of Liberalism, as with the official who said he saw nothing wrong with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s assertion that democracy could be delayed, as in South Korea and other East Asian countries, until development had reached a satisfactory level.

This mindset has contributed to a generally hostile attitude to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, though there have been honourable exceptions, including the Regional Director who encouraged my conducting workshops on Liberalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sadly he was soon sent away from Delhi, though he has since contributed immeasurably to Liberalism in South East Asia, where the command model of an open economy held sway, and it was necessary for Liberal parties to argue for the restoration of democracy and social equity.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2017
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