Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Getting the Administration to respond to People’s needs

( Created date: 29-Oct-2012 )

For the first time since we started holding Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings, I went to a Divisional Secretariat, to find that nothing had been arranged. I am not sure what went wrong, but since the other Divisional Secretariat in the District, to which I was to go the next day, had not known about the scheduled meeting either, I suspect that something had gone wrong at the District Secretariat. This was depressing, and I hope the District Secretary will check and let me know how this problem had occurred.
The situation was made worse by the fact that nothing seemed to be happening in the Secretariat during the period I waited. I had got there early, and was able to see officials trickling in, with almost nothing happening before 9.45. That was when the Divisional Secretary appeared, having gone to look at the Indian housing programme. 
Once he came in, all went well, and it was clear that he had a good grasp of his subject as well as the details required for coordination. But this brought home to me even more clearly the need for much more coherent administrative structures, and better training for officials who after all the first point of contact with government for most people. The point was reinforced at my next meeting, in Mullaitivu, where the Planning Officer had no work ethic at all, and had failed to follow up on the Rs 2 million I had allocated to the area through my Decentralized Budget for Vocational Training. I should note though that younger recruits seemed more enthusiastic, and were able to provide the competent Government Agent with the support levels he needs, which suggests that solid training for these youngsters will in the end give us better results than continuing with the current culture of least effort and least resistance in many such officers.
But for that we need more young officers, with suitable training and clear expectations as to performance. At the Nedunkerny Secretariat which I had visited first, there were sadly hardly any officials in place for the all important functions relating to support for the vulnerable. There was no Women Development Officer, no Child Rights Protection Officer, no Probation Officer. What was even more bizarre was that there had been some trainees, but these had left, to get employment through the recent Graduate Recruitment Scheme. 
That, which had led to vast numbers of graduates with nothing to do filling several Divisional Secretariats, and greater burdens on already over-worked Divisional Secretaries to find work for them, is yet another example of government failing to plan sensibly or constructively. Unfortunately the assumption that the provision of jobs, even if without actual employment of job descriptions, ensures popularity has taken root, and led to endless problems, including disruption of the work, in both the private and the public sector, of those who think this scheme means money – and pensions – for jam, as opposed to the even slightly more demanding specific tasks they were engaged in earlier.
What should have happened was an assessment of what was needed, in terms of a national policy dealing with administrative needs. That should have led to the conclusion that there should be at least one each of the following officials in every Divisional Secretariat – A WDO and CRPO and PO as noted above, an Early Child Development Officer, a Social Service Officer, a Counsellor, a Sports Officer and a Cultural Officer. This of course relates only to the areas of Protection and Social / Cultural activity which I have been closely concerned with, and which clearly need better organization, but of course there should also be officials for Agriculture and Agricultural Extension, for Skills Development and Entrepreneurship Development, to name just a few, to ensure that opportunities for development can be grasped at regional levels too. 
Once a Divisional Secretariat has a good team in place, arrangements should be made for productive liaison with the people as well as other officials who could help to solve problems. In the field of protection and social development, obviously the key Ministries are those of Education and Health. The latter I should note has fairly effective structures in place, but there is still need of some streamlining, so as to ensure that there is an MOH for every Divisional Secretariat. Health Development meetings could then be held regularly, so that other relevant  government officials could help with the Health Ministry programmes, regarding monitoring of nutrition for instance, or awareness raising as to Reproductive Health issues.
The Ministry of Education is currently less well organized, with both Zonal and Divisional Offices, the former having authority but dealing with large areas which prevents informed approaches to problems – as when a rural Division is without teachers but the Zone has an excess, and cannot therefore ask for more, even though teachers in essential subjects are largely deployed in the town areas of the Zone. 
It would make much more sense therefore for the Ministry to abolish the distinction between Zones and Divisions, and instead have Zonal Offices that cover the same areas as Divisional Secretariats. This should lead to much better coordination, including for sports and cultural activities, where currently there liaison between the education system and other Ministries does not occur as a matter of necessity.
Along with this there should be redeployment of the police, so they too work in terms of the same structures. While clearly more police posts will be needed in any Division, having an OIC in each Division with a mandate to liaise closely with the Divisional Secretary will help with community policing, so as to anticipate problems and deal with them effectively without recourse to the Criminal Justice system. We should in short be setting in place structures that will deal swiftly with difficulties before they turn into major problems, and this will not be difficult if we have enough officials in place with clear responsibilities. 


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