Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Promoting coherent units of management for different government functions

( Created date: 21-Oct-2012 )

Over the years of conflict, a system arose in the East of separating administrative divisions on ethnic grounds. There are therefore in Kalmunai two Divisional Secretariats, within a few metres of each other, one a Tamil Divisional Secretariat and the other a Muslim one.
I had come across this before, in Vavuniya, where the Vavuniya Town and Vavuniya South Divisional Secretariats are practically on the same road, but there the latter dealt with an area south of the town. Though it was seen as the Sinhala Division, it served a distinct geographical area and was situated where it was, outside that area, only because of security problems in the past.
In the East the decision had been based on a desire, it seemed, to provide separate services to separate communities, which seems to me a way of entrenching separation. The same thing obtained in the Batticaloa District, where Eravur is carved out of what is to all intents and purposes Chenkaladi, with land issues still being referred to that Divisional Secretariat. Something similar happens further North, where Valaichenai is seen as a Tamil Divisional Secretariat, and there is another smaller urban one next door which is primarily for Muslims.
All this I believe is not conducive to reconciliation, and it would make sense, now that the conflict and the tensions it raised are largely settled, to go back to units that are responsible for all our citizens who live in a particular area. The officials I met seemed perfectly capable of handling this, without inclining to one group or another, though of course we will need to make sure that local politicians do not seek to influence them in particular directions.
I hope the group working on delimitation will adopt such principles in submitting its report to the Ministry of Public Administration. In addition, I hope it will also lend more coherence to local administrations by ensuring consistent boundaries for all government agencies that work regionally. As it is, we find that the boundaries of Divisional Secretariats, police divisions, educational zones or divisions, health divisions etc vary, which sometimes prevents the coordination that is essential.
With regard to education I found that, in some areas, the structures are based on communal distinctions that seem to run counter to national policy, and the affirmation, in both the National Human Rights Action Plan and the LLRC Action Plan approved by Cabinet, of the need to promote educational initiatives that ensure social integration. In the Pottuvil area the Tamil schools come under the Tirukkovil Zone, and Sinhala ones under the Amparai Zone. Muslim schools come under Akkaraipattu, and while I can see that the creation of yet another Zone might cause problems, given that Tirukkovil was established only recently, it would seem preferable to expand that to include Pottuvil too.
Ultimately though it would make sense to make education zones coterminous with Divisional Secretariats, perhaps by upgrading what are now Divisions, so that we have the same number of Zonal Education Directors as Divisional Secretariats. This will allow for better planning, and responsiveness to local needs, with responsibilities based on consultation with parents. Such cohesion will also help to develop the sense of community that we lack at present. It will also help with teacher deployment, because statistics based on zones can be misleading. I was for instance told recently in Cheddikulam that teacher shortages in that area could not be addressed because the zone was overstaffed, given the excesses in Vavuniya town.
The development of discrete units would also help to reduce problems children face, which range beyond academic inequities. The Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment for instance has proposed recently the establishment of a Child and Women’s Affairs Unit in each Divisional Secretariat. This would need the support not only of officers concerned with the subject, but also the Police and Education and Health officials.
Meanwhile the Health Ministry too is planning to set up a system to ensure that all those working in relevant areas would share the responsibility for ensuring that its requirements are met, with regard for instance to monitoring nutrition levels. This also requires cooperation, which would be much easier if the same group of senior officials met regularly to develop suitable systems, instead of having to work with a number of counterparts. For this purpose the establishment of coterminous geographical areas of responsibility would contribute to efficiency as well as accountability.
I should note again that the task of all these officials would be much simpler if we also cleaned up our political system to save them from having to serve several masters. While I think we  need to revisit the numbers of Pradeshiya Sabha and Provincial Council members the present overlapping systems have created, we must also get rid of multiple members of Parliament serving whole Districts, and instead work towards having a single constituency member with full responsibility for a particular area. Such a representative could readily develop close links with one official responsible for every government function, and thus help to build up teams that are better able to serve the population he represents.
Such reforms may take time, but we should make a start when working towards implementation of the expected proposals on delimitation. In the process we should develop clear job descriptions and reporting mechanisms for government officials, in particular those who coordinate all functions. These coordinating officials include Grama Niladharis as well as Divisional Secretaries, whose greater empowerment would be in the interests of better delivery of services, given that they are the basic interface between government and the people.


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