Emerging challenges of governance in South AsiaAugust 17, 2012, 7:49 pm
By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
(Continued from yesterday)
After looking together with the Grama Niladharis and Rural Development Societies at problems that occur, during the Divisional Secretariat level consultations I have set up for Reconciliation purposes, I have suggested, in a proposal sent to the Minister for Public Administration, that the duties of Grama Niladharis fall into two categories, which cover first Development and Livelihood issues, and then what might be termed Protection problems. These require regular consultation of stakeholders, in accordance with which the original Mahinda Chintanaya had suggestions about advisory bodies, but this has not been followed up coherently. Some meetings do take place, but they are irregular and do not lead to practical outcomes. I have accordingly advocated regular meetings as follows, though not all suggestions are generally relevant as some relate specifically to matters of concern in the North -
a) Livelihood and Development: This should involve Rural Development Societies and Women’s Rural Development Societies as well as youth groups. Rural Development Officers should attend and representatives from the Ministry of Economic Development should be invited, along with Agriculture Extension Officers and others working in relevant areas. Aid organizations contributing to livelihood development should be invited, in particular representatives of the UN Development Agencies and IOM.
Issues discussed should include infrastructural development, technical support, training needs and micro-credit provision. Government officials should make clear what has been provided and future plans whilst encouraging prioritization of requests. The focus should be on ensuring that support is directed towards ensuring the economic empowerment of the population rather than perpetuating dependency.
Involvement in protection
b) Protection: This should involve Women’s Societies and the police, with the particular involvement of Women’s and Children’s Desks (which should be established in at least every DS Division). Officials involved in social services should be invited, and the DS should assign at least one such official (from Health, Probation, Women and Children’s Ministry and Organizations, Social Services, Counselling) to each GN Division. Schools should be represented and should provide schedules of drop outs and possible problem cases. Religious personnel should be asked to participate and contribute to support groups actively. Aid organizations contributing to protection should be invited and should share the impact of their work with government so as to fine tune and develop it. UNICEF and UNFPA should be invited on occasion.
Issues discussed should include the provision of adequate awareness raising programmes, at schools and elsewhere, with particular attention to alcohol, drugs and sexual issues. The creation of support groups, for counseling as well as protection, should be considered, with the meeting taking cognizance of those in vulnerable situations. The meetings should lead to closer cooperation with the police, ensuring swift redress in cases of criminal activity, but also advice and warning when dangers are anticipated. Particular attention should be paid to former combatants to promote their active integration into community life.
The meeting should be followed by reporting that highlights action points. In some Divisions weekly reports are submitted to Divisional Secretaries, but to ensure action they should be short and in point form. I believe the Reports could begin with statements of
* Grave problems that need urgent action
* Priority developmental needs that require a project proposal
* Vulnerable areas that need monitoring
with just one item in each category each week, on the basis of community discussions. In my meetings in the North for instance there were many requests for irrigation or road or power works, or better health or educational facilities, but discussion and clear proposals would help officials and the people to understand priorities, and also why all facilities cannot be provided to every area immediately.
c) In addition to these basic responsibilities, I believe there should be opportunities for local initiatives to promote social and cultural activities. A regular meeting for this purpose could involve Education as well as Cultural officials. Youth and Sports Groups and the police and Civil Affairs officers from the army may also be invited.
Issues discussed should include the provision of extra-curricular activities in schools and ensuring that education is comprehensive and not confined just to academic learning. Sports and cultural activities should be provided in all schools along with societies contributing to socialization such as Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, Cadeting, St John’s Ambulance Brigades and Interact and other similar clubs, including one that deals with Disaster Prevention and Management.
The GN Division should also promote voluntary language development classes, with the police and the forces contributing to Sinhala conversation classes whilst also learning conversational Tamil themselves. It should also promote entertainment including regular performances at Divisional Cultural Centres (using school buildings where separate Centres are not available), the development of Public Libraries, and regular film shows, with organizational input from students.
In short, the GN Division should provide a focal point for the people to put forward proposals, receive responses, and also engage in socially productive initiatives themselves. For this purpose we will need much more active Grama Niladharis, but selecting them more carefully and providing good training will benefit the country enormously. I should note that we also have a ready resource available to assist them in the form of the Graduates who have recently been recruited and sent in massive numbers to Divisional Secretariats. Instead of allowing them to be used in diverse ways – including by politicians, who have requested that they be allowed to allocate their duties – they should be given specific responsibilities in geographical or functional areas. They should also be required to prepare performance reports based on action plans they formulate in consultation with the Divisional Secretaries and the other officials with whom they work.
In order to promote better planning there should however be clear guidelines as to who is responsible for policy and for administration. At present we have a whole heap of both politicians and officials functioning in all areas. To take the issue of social service, which we have been looking into in the Divisions, several Ministries are involved, and twice over, since there are Central Ministries as well as Provincial ones. I believe Probation belongs in its entirety to the Province, but this may be too simplistic an assumption, and in any case policy is or should be made centrally, insofar as the protection of children is concerned. With regard to women and children the Provinces as well as the Centre appoint officials, and this applies to Social Services too.
Of course neither can appoint enough officials to cover properly the geographical area for which they have responsibility. In addition, we have signally failed to produce enough Counsellors to deal with the problems caused by modern social trends, let alone the war. Though I should note that the Ministry of Health copes valiantly with a range of problems, a constant complaint I hear is about a paucity of personnel, and doctors have to deal with everything because there are shortages of trained support staff. But if we could have the responsibility for social services clearly allocated, I am sure that the type of satisfactory situation we have developed with regard to maternity care, where midwives and clinics function effectively islandwide, can be replicated in less obvious but equally crucial areas of concern.
Concerted training for Counsellors is essential in the modern world, where the old family support systems no longer obtain, but this has been woefully neglected. At the same time the Counsellors we produce should be familiar with community support systems, for these could provide the best support for the difficulties individuals face in a world in which they might feel themselves isolated.
I was told by one Governor that coordination with regard to social services of all sorts is intended to take place at Divisional Secretariat level, and I believe this makes sense, for that is the basic unit of governance where decisions can be made and resources allocated in terms of local needs. While the Grama Niladharis should be a sounding board to find out and report what is needed, they cannot obviously decide on competing claims and needs. The institutionalization of coordination at DS Division has not however taken place as yet, and I found in many areas that the Women and Children’s Desks at Police Stations had no contact with the Child Protection or Social Service officers. Regular meetings for discussing and arranging work plans for the whole DS Division must be made mandatory, with minutes that should be submitted to the DS as well as to the NCPA and the supervisory officials at Police Headquarters.
Regular meetings of personnel with responsibilities in each area do not take place as a matter of course. I was told that what are termed Civil Defence Committees meet, but these meetings are not structured and do not include many of those who could contribute. We should insist then on weekly meetings at GN Division level, in which representatives of the Women and Children’s Desks at police stations should be present, along with at least one representative of the Divisional Secretariat social service officials. I have been told that now the police have allocated one or two officers to each GN Division, and these should not only attend all meetings, but should be in regular contact with the Grama Niladhari as well as officials at the Divisional Secretariat who are responsible for protection issues. I should note that the Women and Children’s Desks, at least in the North, seem much more active than previously, but regular consultation is a must. And while the police, along with others, do conduct regular awareness programmes, the need to develop professional and readily available counseling must be seen as a priority.
In other areas too coordination is weak. In Mahaoya I had a long disquisition about problems that could readily have been looked at by Agriculture Ministry officials – either central or provincial – but it turned out that they were not active in the area, even though I had been told that graduates had been appointed as consultants, who should have been able to provide readily the expertise needed. And there has been little consultation about training needs, as I found from the Women’s Rural Development Society in Musali, which asked for training in marketing. I would have thought it obvious, given the excellent harvests even despite drought that the infrastructure government put in place facilitated, that training in marketing and also value addition would have been desirable, but the compartmentalization which we live with seems to have precluded this. Similarly, though there is a burst of construction in the area, which will continue in the near future, there has been insufficient training at the higher levels of the industry, for plumbing and wiring and utility repair.
Consultation of needs and aspirations would have helped with this, given the knowledge of local conditions evinced by RDS members and others with local influence such as school principals and religious leaders. But I should note that elected representatives should also be included in such meetings, and they should also be trained in formulating plans for the area they cover, with understanding of national trends as well as resources available. Incidentally, in the North I found that, while some members of Pradeshiya Sabhas were more interested in scoring political points than development, the leaders I met from the TNA seemed responsible and thoughtful, chosen for their social standing rather than political commitment. It is a pity that government did not, as soon as elections were concluded, provide initial training to them, with brainstorming about the areas in which local government could, and should, make a difference.
The same, I need hardly add, goes for all elected representatives, and I found it sad that the introduction provided to newly elected Members of Parliament was perfunctory, concerned more with the perks and privileges they had, rather than their duties as legislators. Of course this may well have been because in fact they have no duties.
(To be concluded on Monday)
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