By Rajiva Wijesinha –
There has been much exultation in some quarters in Sri Lanka about the conviction of Jayalalithaa, but I was glad to see that at least some articles also noted the need for stringent measures in Sri Lanka too, to combat corruption. One article however missed the point, in citing as an example of what needed to be dealt with firmly the Ceylinco case.
The failure to deal with that swiftly, and provide compensation to the victims of the scam, is indeed appalling. But that failure has to do with the delays, not necessarily arising from corruption, of our judicial system. Certainly we also need measures to make our courts move and it is sad that those have been forgotten. Though it is featured in the Human Rights Action Plan, as far as I can see no one has bothered about that plan following my resignation as Convenor of the Task Force to implement its recommendations.
But that is a different issue, and what we are talking about in Jayalalithaa’s case is the corruption of politicians. Now this is nothing new, and it also happens all over the world. I remember the scandals in Local Government in Britain when I was a student, more recently we had the horrors of the Bush administration dishing out contracts in Iraq to agencies in which senior officials had interests.
Nearer home however aggrandizement seems to be excessive. The Jayalalithaa case is about disproportionate assets, and in Sri Lanka too it is the inordinate greed of those who are plundering the state which has skewered development plans whilst also contributing to the increasing unpopularity of the government. And sadly government seems to be conniving at this corruption, given the mechanisms it has set up this year, with no transparency, to spend public money.
Some parliamentarians have been allocated more than Rs 600 million for projects in their electoral catchment area, which in itself is grossly unjust, given also that elections are supposed to take place next year. But to compound the problem, there are no statutory methods of consultation and of project assessment, with the final decisions being made by the Minister of Economic Development – who is of course the man in charge of election campaigns.
Some Members do of course consult, and some do primarily have the interests of their constitutents at heart. Thus both Naveen Dissanayake, and Thilanga Sumathipala, explained how they had allocated the funds in their control, when the matter was discussed at length at the Consultative Committee on Public Management Reforms. But both public officials and other members of Parliament have noted the cases of individuals who are mainly concerned in awarding contracts with the commissions they will receive.
Many years ago my father noted that all Members of Parliament wanted to be Ministers, and all Ministers wanted to have portfolios that involved construction. He was hauled up before a Parliamentary Committee for saying this, at the insistence of a Minister who was said to have become unusually rich after several years in charge of a Ministry that involved massive construction work. Now however you do not have to be a Minister to award contracts, since virtually all Parliamentarians on the government side – I believe D E W Gunasekara and Rauff Hakeem and I are exceptions, for obvious reasons – have funds at their disposal which they can use for buildings.
But it is not only because of possible commissions that buildings are so popular. We have to remember that many politicians cannot plan coherently, so they do not bother about developing human resources, which is a much more complicated business. Then, buildings provide opportunities for opening ceremonies, and plaques in which names can feature prominently. The sheer cynicism with which the Education Ministry arranged the openings of several Computer Centres during the Uva Provincial Council election, having kept them closed for months beforehand, shows the aims of those expending public money – and this was admitted by the Minister of Education who, when I complained that computers which students might use were lying idle, explained that it was desirable that the people should know who had provided them with these benefits. The people of Uva however showed their contempt for such machinations in the way they voted, so I hope the President will understand that the current recipe for electoral popularity will not prove satisfactory.
So in Trincomalee last week I found that funds for education were to be expended primarily on buildings, whilst much is also spent on the provision of sports equipment. Nothing seems to have been done with regard to the needs expressed by the people for more teachers, for transport facilities, for language development and for vocational training.
I have therefore written to the Minister in charge of the area, raising some points that I have also raised with the Presidential Secretariat for the planning meeting for the North that is due to take place on October 13th. I was invited to this, surprisingly, given the deafening silence that greeted all my suggestions for measures to promote reconciliation over the last two years, but perhaps the penny has at last dropped, that decisions should be based on observation of the ground situation and the needs of the people, and intelligent thinking, none of which are characteristics of those who now make decisions.
With regard to Trincomalee, I noted that, as with Jaffna, ‘the following proposals can be put forward, to be implemented as effectively as possible in the coming year
a) Better Vocational Training, with a strong soft skills component, in every Division. In my discussions with the relevant authorities in the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, they have agreed to develop curricula to enhance productive employability, though this may also require some training of trainers (which is addressed below).
There is no need to construct new buildings for the purpose, since use can be made of schools as has been suggested in the excellent Northern Education Sector Review. Thus the computers distributed to several schools can also be used to the maximum. What is needed is to establish partnerships on the lines of those in the 5 centres I have set up in schools in the Wanni, with efforts also to inspire potential drop outs about the inclusive nature of schools. (The Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Education should institutionalize the concept, with implementation in the hands of the Provincial Ministry of Education)
b) The establishment of language centres in each Division that will develop bilingualism and trilingualism, whilst also promoting computer awareness and perhaps honing basic maths skills (the 5th language). These too could be set up in schools, and provide certification leading to a degree, which would also help with solving the problem of teachers. (The Ministry of National Languages and the Ministry of Education should institutionalize the concept, with implementation entrusted to the Provincial Ministry of Education)
c) Mapping of schools in every Grama Niladhari Division, so that score cards are maintained at Divisional Secretariat level, along with coordination with the Divisional Education Office to improve conditions. For this purpose provision must be made to ensure that the cadre in Women and Children’s Units in each Division is filled, with additional trainees if necessary to allow members of the Unit to have responsibility for not more than 4 GN Divisions each. Facilities for regular monitoring of the status of children – including the provision of counselling and guidance – must be made available, through ensuring mobility for these primary agents of service delivery.
I suspect however that my letter will be ignored, or I will be told that allocations have already been made. And though the Secretary to the Ministry of Education does I think understand the need for more coherent spending to make education more meaningful for rural students, his hands seem to be tied. There has been no move, though nearly have three months have passed since the Northern Education Sector Review was published, to have a workshop on its recommendations.
The Review would have been an excellent planning tool for deployment of funds next year, and not only in the Northern Province. But given the political needs of the moment, given the facilitation of corruption that seems one principle purpose of the manner in which funds are now allocated, actual development in areas that do not allow for commissions has been put on the back burner. Unfortunately, given the way our electoral system functions, with the President being persuaded to have some sort of election every few months in an effort to use the only real asset the party has (regardless of the threat to his health and wellbeing), coherent development and effective and efficient use of public resources will remain on the back burner for a very long time.