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grumpy 4The Secretary to the President, Lalith Weeratunge, explained to me how it happened. In 2010 the President had wanted to put this brother too into Parliament, but he had scoffed at the idea and said the prospect did not interest him. However, he had added that, if the President wished to give him other responsibilities too, he would be pleased to look after Urban Development.

So, after the election, the Ministry of Defence was renamed the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, and Gotabhaya went, as it were, to town. Colombo, which had suffered both from neglect over decades, and from ghastly makeshift barriers for protection of important places when terrorist activity was in its heyday, was transformed, and began for the first time in the last half century to look beautiful.

Gotabhaya was helped in all this by the hard-working military personnel he could employ. I had had some experience of this when, as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management, I found that I had to coordinate work with regard to the many canals that wound their way through the city. The care of these, and their banks, were allocated to a dozen different agencies, and coordination between these was not easy. It was only the navy I found that had fulfilled its responsibilities swiftly and effectively, and the stretches in their care were the cleanest and best maintained.

With the Ministry of Defence coordinating action in this and other areas, development was swift. Gotabhaya also chose capable people to head the Urban Development Authority, and they were able to plan more coherently than most government departments, though it should be noted that there were still some shortcomings about coordination, especially when it came to working with local authorities not under the control of the government. Still, the UDA was quick to respond when difficulties were pointed out, and in this regard its work ethic was admirable.

This was a distinct advantage Gotabhaya had over Basil, who was not a team player at all. Perhaps because of his military training, Gotabhaya was able to identify and work with capable people. Of course in fairness to Basil it could be argued that he thought he had to do everything himself, because many officials he came across were inefficient, or incapable of taking quick decisions – unlike the military personnel Gotabhaya had worked with, both in his youth and as he took over at the Ministry of Defence. But whereas Gotabhaya was also concerned with training, and with ensuring a new generation able to work effectively, such concepts were beyond Basil.

This was another area in which the capabilities of the forces were well deployed. They were asked to take charge of a pre-University training course since it was noted that those who were admitted to universities, perhaps because of the purely academic training they had undergone in the struggle to get good enough grades for admission, had no soft skills. Read the rest of this entry »

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SriEquity for children through quality education Lanka has every reason to be proud of its record on education, in comparison with those of other countries in the region. But we should also remember that we had a similar leading position many years ago, and others are catching up. Indeed other countries in Asia have forged ahead, so we really need to stop making comparisons with those who started off far behind us, and should indeed concentrate on making things better for all our children.

For the fact is, educational disparities are still excessive. Another problem is that our children are not getting the type of education needed in the modern world. And we have done little about ensuring acquisition of the soft skills essential for productive – and lucrative – employment.

Unfortunately those who make decisions on education now do not take these problems seriously. The manner in which education reform has been delayed indicates that those in charge of the system have no interest in change. This has been the case for most of the last three quarters of a century, following the seminal changes made by CWW Kannangara when he was Minister of Education, and make equity and quality and variety his watchwords. Though there have been some exceptions, notably when Premadasa Udagama and EL Wijemanne and Tara de Mel were Secretaries to the Ministry, given the self-satisfaction of most of those in authority, even their contributions were limited.

I saw ample evidence of the lethargy in the system when I was finally sent statistics with regard to teacher availability in the poorer Districts of the Northern Province. At first glance the situation seemed acceptable, but this was because statistics are collated on the basis of Educational Zones. These often combine urban and rural areas, so that it looks like there are sufficient teachers in place. In reality however teachers are concentrated in urban areas, and it is only when one checks on teacher availability in individual schools, or in Educational Divisions, as I do during Reconciliation Meetings at Divisional Secretariats that one realizes how deprived the poorer areas are.

It has been recommended by the Parliamentary Committee on Education, which has now been discussing reforms for over four years, that Zones be abolished, and Divisions treated as the unit of significance, but nothing has been done about this.

Another problem is the appalling paucity of teachers at Primary level. The teaching of English suffers worst perhaps in this regard, and this means that the victims of this have no hope at all of learning English. Given the manner in which syllabuses are constructed and implemented, the poorer children, who generally have no foundation, have no hope of getting one, let alone building on it. Though we tried when I chaired the Academic Affairs Board of the National Institute of Education to introduce remedial activity into the curriculum, this initiative was stopped in its tracks by the so-called professional educationists who took over after my term was cut short for political reasons.

But in any case that is not the solution, and we should be doing more to strengthen the training and deployment of primary teachers. But given that the Ministry has failed to solve this problem for decades, it is not likely that it has any hope of improving things on its own. However the idea of developing partnerships with private institutions, or even with Provincial Ministries, to increase supply is anathema to those who have enjoyed their debilitating monopoly for so long.

The same goes with regard to another eminently sensible initiative the Ministry has recently started. I refer to the establishment of a Technical Stream in schools, in recognition of the need to train students for the world of work that many of them could satisfactorily enter. Unfortunately this initiative is confined to a very few schools, and even in some of these there are not enough teachers. Unfortunately it has not struck the Ministry that it should also simultaneously instituted mechanisms to develop teacher supply. Read the rest of this entry »

Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

 

In the last segment of this presentation, I will look at a number of factors that have to be taken into account in assessing possibilities of effective coordination. Some of them relate to government machinery, and some to the work of NGOs.

  1. Government officials have difficulties about preparing and implementing plans coherently because they have to report to many political masters.

In earlier times, government officials in particular areas related to Ministers for particular subjects and to individual Members of Parliament in whose constituency they functioned. Senior officials such as Government Agents had to relate to Members of several constituencies, but this was in terms of just one for each area.

Now however all Members in a District feel and exercise responsibilities within the whole District. In addition, government officials also have to relate to Provincial Council Members – many of them for each District taken as a whole – and to elected local government representatives, again many of them for each area.

The result  can be conflicting instructions and conflicting priorities. This also leaves little room for initiative of the part of the official. Previously such initiatives could be explained to political representatives and taken forward together, but with so many masters, it is natural for most officials to adopt more passive approaches. This applies also to suggestions that come from Civil Society, including NGOs, since it is easier to respond only to political proposals, given how many of these there can be.

 

  1. NGOs no longer function purely altruistically.

Until a couple of decades back, aid organizations provided support to those in need. They did this through initiatives that supported government programmes, or else through individual projects based on local needs. Their lead agents were primarily philanthropists who did not live off the work they did.

In more recent times however aid organizations have become businesses that provide livelihoods to the personnel who work in them at all levels. As with all businesses that have career structures, there is a relentless tendency to enhance those careers by increasing the size and influence of the business. NGOs wish to have a decisive say in policies and practices wherever they operate. Read the rest of this entry »

(This was not delivered and I was told instead that I was expected to speak on Resettlement and on External Affairs. I had however prepared a text, which seems even more relevant now that the ‘Educational Policies and Proposals for General Education in Sri Lanka’, based on what was presented to the Special Parliament Advisory Committee on Education, has been circulated again for comment)

Rajiva Wijesinha

It is not accidental, Mr Speaker, that, following immediately on the items that come directly under His Excellency the President, we move today to the subject of Education. It is perhaps with regard to Education that the Budget Speech of His Excellency introduced the most important innovations in the programme of the government this year, and I am grateful for this opportunity to speak in their favour.

One of the more balanced, if trenchant, critics of the economic policies of this government has mentioned that, while infrastructure development has been impressive, we have not kept pace as regards human resource development. That is vital, if the essentially liberal programme of this government is to be successful. Whilst ensuring that the private sector remains as the engine of growth, and develops its potential, it is also important to ensure that social justice is promoted. For this purpose we must devote more attention to equality of opportunity. A comprehensive human resources development programme is therefore essential, with stress on ensuring equitable provision nationwide.

I think it has been recognized even by critics of the government, Mr Speaker, that it was an inspired decision of the President to create a Ministry of Economic Development, and entrust it to someone with no previous Parliamentary experience, but with a track record of proven practical capacity, as the swift programme of Resettlement in the East and then the North made clear. An Executive Presidency demands technocrats at the helm in areas of urgent concern. Though we suffer from a preposterous constitution, the only one in the world that confuses an Executive Presidential system with the Westminster model of government that abandons even any pretence of the separation of powers, the institution of a Ministry devoted to development has achieved wonders. This was because of the concentration it permitted on results, without the need to work also on parochial political concerns in a particular area.

I had hoped something of the sort would happen with regard to Human Resource Development too, when a Senior Minister of proven competence was assigned responsibility for that subject. Sadly, the capacity to ensure coherent action is not possible with the current administrative structures we have. However the development of a policy document in this regard will I hope lead to more effective action, without the delays and uncertainties that stood in the way, for instance, of rapid implementation of the reforms the Minister of Higher Education so bravely put forward. The failure over several months of the Legal Draughtsman’s Department to finalize the Act that was proposed may yet prove the biggest drawback to the programme of development in which this government has otherwise been so successful.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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