Why are we slow on this? The answer has much to do with the fact that we have little understanding of the need for structures to ensure coherent activity. The practice that has arisen, because of what is termed political necessity, of multiplying entities has led to a general belief that the structures that exist are mere formalities, and the real business of government is conducted by the efficient working on their own.
Unfortunately, because there are not so many efficient people around, they get overwhelmed, and are unable to fulfil everything they take on. The problem is compounded by the fact that, at lower levels in the public service, there is less willingness to take decisions. Even though there are many able people, the system does not encourage them to work on their own initiative to achieve results. The exception that proves the rule is the military, with its entrenched systems of planning and accountability, which is why the UDA is now such a spectacular success. But replicating this elsewhere is difficult.
This I think underlies the slow progress of both Action Plans the Secretary mentioned. The lack of a Human Rights Ministry had prevented that Action Plan being finalized swiftly, even though we had done a complete draft by the end of 2009. It was only because the then Attorney General took on the responsibility of steering it through, despite much other work, that the Plan was finally adopted by Cabinet in the latter part of 2011.
With regard to the LLRC, the President has asked for an Action Plan in December 2011, but nothing was done until, after Geneva 2012, he entrusted the task to his Secretary. Despite a heavy workload, the Secretary co-opted capable people from outside and the plan was prepared. After it was adopted by Cabinet though, the Task Force that was supposed to implement it never met.
As in the case of the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim LLRC Recommendations, this did not mean that nothing was done. With regard to the final Action Plan, an extremely able Additional Secretary in the Presidential Secretariat worked with the Line Ministries, and the record of their achievement is open to all to see on www.priu.gov.lk. But without a proper structure, it took time for the information to be made easily available to the public, and there has been no process of taking regular stock of achievements and ensuring remedial action when things were slow. Thus we found, when the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Human Rights Action Plan met, and discussed areas where there was overlap, that the basically very small administrative decisions necessary to deal quickly with the issue of Lands had been delayed.
We were promised that the required directions would be issued in a week, but that did not happen. This is unfortunate because, as I have seen in many Divisional meetings in the North, land continues a worrying issue. It is not a contentious issue, because most parties seem to recognize the basic principles involved – Government has a right to acquire lands it deems necessary, but it must acquire only what is necessary and due compensation must be provided – but applying these principles to individual cases needs to be done swiftly to minimize worries. In this regard I should add that the military have in general made their requests for what is needed and also for generous compensation, but the wheels of administration continue to grind slowly.
Fortunately, the Task Force to implement the LLRC Action Plan has recently been convened, and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Human Rights Action Plan, told me that he will have an effective counterpart. There is no formal structure and terms of responsibility, which may be a mistake, but I can also understand why the Secretary to the President continues in overall charge, given the importance of the issues to be resolved.
I hope too that the Task Force will now interact more with stakeholders, and in particular those who still feel aggrieved. Initially the President had wanted Civil Society involvement in formulating the Action Plan. This had not happened, perhaps because of the need for swift decisions, but I had been told then that Civil Society would be represented on the Task Force for implementation. Given that the Task Force did not meet, such co-option did not take place, but perhaps that deficiency too will be overcome now that a coherent process has been put in place.