By Rajiva Wijesinha -
On the basis of consultations undertaken over the year as Adviser on Reconciliation to the President, I submitted a report, with several recommendations. One set deals with problems raised at Divisional meetings. I give here the preamble, and the actual recommendations -
Much dissatisfaction is created by the sense that government is distant, and decisions are made without consideration of local wishes and needs. Explaining government decisions, and why delays are inevitable even though planning is based on a commitment to equitable development, often relieves feelings.
A second problem is resentment of perceived corruption. Enhancing accountability, and providing opportunities to discuss expenditure, with concentration on outcomes and value for money, would reduce resentments.
Confusion is also caused by overlapping areas of responsibility. Though the Divisional Secretariat was intended to be the primary unit of administration, functions impacting strongly on people are based on different areas of responsibility. These include the police, education and health. This makes coordination difficult.
1.Strengthen Local Government Institutions and give them full responsibility for administration of functions closely affecting the daily lives of people. These include education and vocational training, health and sanitation, local roads and bridges and transport, water supply and drainage and waste management, markets and agricultural extension work.
2.While policies in these areas should remain the preserve of the Central Government, consultation procedures should be entrenched. Draft legislation for local government contains provisions for consultation, but these could go further. Consultation should be of the grass roots, with mechanisms to convey ideas from Grama Niladhari level, and obtain responses. When these are negative, which will often be the case, alternative remedies for problems posed should be offered, with a time frame.
3.Accountability mechanisms should be improved, with transparency as to public spending. Strict rules are needed to prevent rent seeking by politicians, and family involvement in government contracts must be prevented.
4.All government functions should be based on Divisional Secretariats, with entrenched mechanisms for consultation and coordination. Every Division should have a police station with an OIC responsible for that Division alone. The same goes for Medical Officers of Health. The Education Ministry already has plans to strengthen Divisional Education Offices and abolish Zones. This should be expedited, while a fallback to Districts is unnecessary, and will only delay decision making. The Divisional Woman and Children’s Units instituted by that Ministry should swiftly be established islandwide with clear responsibilities.
5.Cadre positions for all social concerns should be created at Divisional level with clear job descriptions and reporting mechanisms. Concerns include Women’s Development, Child Development, Child Protection, Counselling, Welfare, Disabilities, Elders, and Rural Development (called perhaps Social Development, so that attention is also paid to deprived urban areas). Positions should be filled, and teams such as existed in Social Care Centres should be established, with individuals assigned to liaise with each Grama Niladhari Division.
6.The recently initiated system to enhance cooperation between Police and communities is working well, with one or two police officers assigned to each Grama Niladhari level. Meetings at least twice a week should be mandatory, with opportunities to refer potential problems to other officials, to resolve before they become serious. This is particularly relevant with regard to social problems such as alcoholism, drugs and teenage pregnancies, where counseling and awareness programmes must be conducted systematically.
7.The Divisional Secretary should have regular consultations with social leaders, including the Police OIC, the Divisional Education Officer, the MoH, the Magistrate responsible for the area, and selected religious leaders and professionals.