Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Distinctions between Different Divisional Secretariats

( Created date: 14-Oct-2012 )

Having last month had Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings in Sinhala and Tamil areas in the Amparai District, I thought that this time I should assist Divisional Secretaries in Muslim Divisions. The Government Agent accordingly arranged meetings in Pottuvil and Kalmunai, which turned out however to be very different from each other in their social composition, and thus in the problems they raised.
Kalmunai is essentially a commercial town, and has done very well from the rapid development which government brought to the area after getting rid of terrorist threats. The problems raised were minor ones, including the need for proper water systems following a new housing scheme, and ensuring that fisher folk received assistance that had been pledged. In both cases the Divisional Secretary had received commitments of action, in the first instance by the Municipality which was in charge of that subject, but funds had been delayed. This was an ideal example of the need for follow up, and reporting back, and I believe both the Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladharis welcomed the suggestion of regular meetings to discuss Development issues, with minutes and formal requests and mandatory responses as to action taken or contemplated.
Otherwise it was a case of fine tuning services, ensuring better attention to teacher requirements and attending to these in terms of individual school needs – whereas a previous Zonal Director had reported an excess of teachers, being carried away by excesses in urban areas whereas the rural schools continued to suffer. The need to ensure adequate extra-curricular activities, and vocational training based on local requirements, was also noted, and we tried to set up mechanisms to at least convey what should be done to the authorities, even though we could not be optimistic that all requirements would be met swiftly.
All this was a far cry from Pottuvil, where there was a strong sense of deprivation, beginning with problems about title deeds to land and delays in carrying out irrigation projects, and culminating in a sense of bitterness about what was seen as privileges granted to northern areas in the District. I was told about the lack of hospital facilities whereas there were several good ones in the Akkaraipattu and Kalmunai areas, a fact confirmed by the doctor from there who attended the Kalmunai meeting. I was told that there was no post-office so that pensioners had to take expensive three wheelers to Arugam Bay to get their dues. I was told that the CTB depot set up two decades ago had been converted to a sub-depot, where employees from Akkaraipattu were sent just before they retired, so that Pottuvil would be responsible for their pensions.
I have no idea if all this is true, but perceptions are important, and government should see the need to assuage the feelings of those who feel that the greater commitment of politicians from further north has led to discrimination.
Another sphere in which indignation at what was seen as stepmotherly treatment was mixed with real concern about artificial divisions was education. It seems that Pottuvil does not have a Zonal Office, and that instead its schools are divided between Tirukkovil and Akkaraipattu and Amparai according to race and religions. Though I knew the Ministry of Education had some archaic ideas which it will not change, this was astonishing, given the clear need to promote integration, and the lip service the Ministry now pays to the concept.
This therefore would be an ideal place for the Ministry to begin to fulfil the recommendation of the LLRC about promoting programmes that bring students together. With an imaginative Director,  a Pottuvil Zone could set an example to the nation, moving rapidly on the type of institution the Ministry is now pledged to establish, colleges that allow children of all communities to study together. I have no doubt that at least a 6th form College, to give the students of the area high level teaching for their Advanced Levels, together with the opportunity to engage in creative extra-curricular activities, could readily find funding and intelligent management, if only the Ministry took seriously its obligations with regard to both education and reconciliation.
All this of course only strengthens the case I have been making for allocating much greater responsibility to Divisional Secretariats, with concomitant accountability. I have long been worried about Central government decision making with regard to matters pertaining to the day to day life of citizens. Welfare and social services should be monitored and promoted locally, though in accordance with policies established by the state. While the state must obviously plan and implement the large scale projects that have contributed so much to economic opportunities in the country at large, and in the North and East in particular, making sure that citizens have the capacity to take advantage of those opportunities cannot be left to the centre.
The Province too cannot handle this, given the distances and disparities between different parts of a Province, though it could formulate and enforce guidelines that ensure equitable development. But monitoring this, and formulating special projects to promote compliance with provincial objectives, needs the full attention of a small unit that can devote close attention to local situations. For this purpose, even Districts are too large, as indeed was clear when several participants noted the failure to follow up on proposals put forward at District Development Committee meetings.

The need to work through Divisional Secretariats has become obvious during my close engagements with these over the last year. The fact that two such Secretariats lying very near each other in the coastal areas of the same District have such different priorities makes even more clear the need for greater attention to the practicalities of administration, without recourse to dogma or indulgence to the predilections of politicians. 

Daily News 25 August 2012 -



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