By Rushdy Nizar –
In the Constitution of Sri Lanka, the accountability of policy construction rests exclusively with the executive office, using other divisions among the central, regional/provincial and local governments as in any other democratic country. Thus, constructive policy making is imperative as much as its implementation. Hence, who initiates the process of policy formulation? In theory, a voted administration has a strategy/agenda on the foundation of which it is elected to power. The governing party and its patronage should in principle make decisions on priorities stated in the manifesto.
Public policies for all intents and purposes demonstrate the objectives of the government or administration. In the absence of a policy or a strategy there can be no governance. To govern, it is essential to have a set of guiding principle. Policies facilitate the common people to measure the accomplishments of the government. Provided there is a public policy which can be assessed critically and that the regime can be toppled for not executing its policies.
A policy document lists out the targets or intentions of the government for any germane department or institution. For instance, education: the Education Department must explain what its long term and short term goals are. The same goes for any other department or institution. With a well-designed public policy, various issues can be resolved by it containing foreign policy, crime, education, health, and public welfare.
As Sri Lanka does not possess a suitable policy we are not be able to take on board suggestions put forward by policy makers in any area to fill the gaps. For the government, not having a policy sanctions it to function in opacity. It is challenging for the opposition to establish error with government if it does not have idea of what the deliverables are.
Comparing public policies is a part of our everyday life. Most importantly, at election time we often compare one candidate’s or party’s stands on given policy questions with those of another. We observe how their policies are formed, and on what basis, and the benefit the common man can get out of it. Obviously it is a complete comparison among the different choices. We assess candidates and parties and compare carefully which candidate or party put forward the best policies or proposes a conducive atmosphere which paves the way for welfare-state prior to the election.
The existence and implementation of public policies are most common in the western hemisphere. Regrettably, this takes place only in few countries of the world, but not in Sri Lanka or the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world, such as in the African continent and South-Asian region.
The Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Policy Studies, defines Public Policy as follows – “The Public Policy is the action taken by government to address a particular public issue. Local, state, federal, and international government organizations all craft and implement public policy to protect and benefit their populations”.
I would like to term public policy as the well-designed indigenous policies formed by the policy architects of a state aimed at the common good of the general public of a specific country. Whether policy makers are elected or selected the policies have to be drafted in a public-centric rather than self-centric manner. It is a well-known fact that today’s Sri Lankan leaders’ decisions are invariably self-slanted. Neither the leaders nor the government officials are concerned about the common-man’s interest, yet they rule and we dance according to their tune.
Take for example the fact that every single Sri Lankan is in debt amounting to Rs. 3.5 Lakhs. Had Sri Lankans elected educated, literate, field experts to the parliament or provincial-councils from their respected constituencies, we would not be in debt today. Ironically, the people are bamboozled by the very same leaders prior to the elections with their well timed election campaign-gimmicks.
Apparently, today’s leaders in Sri Lanka have explicitly exploited the political psyche of the common people. The leaders accurately observe and analyze the state-of-mind of the layman, and finally apply whatever they have learned from the people over them. However, the common man is not equipped to identify this dilemma. Therefore, the problem and the fault lie not in the people, but the politicians.
We are ahead of another Provincial election, yet the people in Sri Lanka still keep faith in the hypocritical politicians and their shenanigans. Now the time has come for the people to decide whether to elect educated, well-mannered leaders possessing good morals and ethics; leaders who can deliver to the nation something constructive, leaders who can defend the country on any external threat, not leaders who oppress their own people. For this, we need young, energetic, educated and enthusiastic leaders who can provide a conducive environment by which we can build a stable and strong nation.
For almost half a decade we have been living peacefully, no bomb blasts, no suicide attacks, no militant shootings reported. We have managed to establish a peaceful Sri Lanka, and this was every Sri Lankan’s dream. However, what we have achieved after four years? What is our health report like? What is the level of our freedom of speech? What is the country’s law and order situation? What sort of democracy do we have? What examples are we setting for our future young generation? What can our youth learn from parliamentarians? Where is our economy heading? Are they providing what people wanted? The answer is NO, because we have only achieved a modicum of infrastructure development in major cities. Is this what people wanted?
Politically backed goons are everywhere, ruining our motherland. We have eliminated the LTTE militarily, but replaced them with local THUGS, who do the same. The face and the location have changed, yet the same acts are taking place and it is just a re-location of violence and Killings, Killings and Killings.
These every day comparisons of public policies have one important thing in common with more systematic efforts at comparative policy analysis. By comparing we can have a deeper understanding rather than by looking at only one thing at a time, whether it be the government policies, candidate policies or the party policies. Thus, by assessing one situation against another, we gain a better perspective on our current situation as well as the options and constraints we face. In short, we identify or learn about our dilemmas through comparing.
Unfortunately in today’s politics, neither the people nor the parties present a clear policy at the time of election. Sri Lankans have adapted to a traditional political culture which has thrived for decades. This obsolete, venomous political culture is ruining Sri Lanka, and leading towards our own destruction; the destruction architected by the leaders of Sri Lanka and blindly propped up by its own people.
We should demand public policies that safeguard us and our interests for the common good. We need a mechanism whereby we can analyse, test the system and apply it to a candidate’s performance if elected. People spend their time plotting how to best steal from each and every one of us, so, likewise why would we not apply the same approach in testing suitable policies?
Finally, it is implicit that we are not devoid of policies, but leaders with no policies. For this, we need to elect leaders with good educational backgrounds, matured and able to handle any major situation. At that juncture, we can anticipate something worthwhile and positive from our leaders.
Therefore, it is advisable at least this time that voters elect to parliament/provincial council only qualified leaders who can deliver results on behalf of the people. We need to compare the party leaders’ agendas and single out the best and most suitable leader/party to represent us.
The government of Sri Lanka should ask the relevant offices or ministries to produce a documented draft on the existing situation, identify the complications, explore the numerous alternatives or possibilities, sketch out the ideally favored alternative, measure the financial effects and propose an action plan along with time limit. In many countries, America, Japan and China, for instance, each ministry owns a research organization which assists in piling up data, conducting analysis and organizing related material.
Policies on main issues like Good Governance, Law and Order, Judiciary, Economy, Media Freedom, Health, Transportation, Water Use, Land Use, Revenue Collection, Public Mechanism, Forests and Environment and so forth, are noticeable by their absence.
Policy assertion should grow into a major public plea in the 2014 provincial election. The fact that Sri Lanka has been functioning devoid of policies for more than half a decade is appalling. It displays the lack of responsibility among lawmakers and those in government and a similar deficiency of vigilance or responsiveness among the common people about the significance of public policy.