By Somapala Gunadheera
Divineguma is perhaps the hottest topic of discussion today. It came into prominence after the Supreme Court ruled that the connected Bill could not go through Parliament without the concurrence of the Provincial Councils.
All but the Northern Provincial Council have approved the Bill by now, which is a foregone conclusion under the grip that the Central Government has over them. Whether the Governor of the Northern Province who is the agent of the President could grant a valid approval to his Principal on behalf of the non-existent NPC is a moot point in law on which the Judiciary has been called upon to rule.
This essay attempts to examine whether it was worth pressing the matter to a legal crisis on the Thirteenth Amendment when the solution to the problem lies in the political sphere.
I was the first Chairman and Director General of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Authority of the North, from where I was called upon to take up the identical post in the Southern Development Authority. That background has induced me to take a close look at the Divineguma Bill (DB). After due reflection, I have come to the conclusion that the proposal to amalgamate the poor relief activities of a number of dispersed Government Institutions was sound policy for the following reasons among others:
1. The Institutions concerned were appointed selectively on an ad hoc basis.
2. Areas of their activities were not coterminous with normal administrative topographic limits.
3. Their efficiency and performance depended on the quality of their local heads who were often not the best available.
4. There was little or no supervision of delivery from the Centre.
5. Variations in the quality of performance among them were significant.
6. Officials in power at the Centre sometimes used the units to enhance their own portfolio.
7. Often the Institutions were used to provide sine cure employment to parities to whom the ruling Party was obliged.
8. The entities were not provided with adequate funds to be in a position to make a tangible impact on the area of their work.
9. There was no coordination between them and other local institutions charged with similar functions.
10. Overlapping of activities undertaken by both sides led to wastage of public funds
11. Showcasing the intruding bodies created unhealthy rivalry between them and the traditional structures.
12. The Party in power was unable to make political capital out of the undertakings at the end of the day.
DB seeks to coordinate the various poor relief activities of the State on a holistic basis under a monolithic administration and attain a systematic and uniform spread of its benefits throughout the country. This appears to be a laudable move that would optimize the cost benefit/ratio of the investments. Placing the venture under the control of Minister Basil Rajapaksa (BR), who has proved himself in the North, augurs well for the future. He would have the support of the best talent available at the Centre and his connections will certainly bolster the effort.
I have no quarrel with the policy behind DB but I have serious reservations about the way in which it is to be implemented. The Divineguma Bill contemplates a unique top-to-bottom structure to achieve its objectives. It consists of the following components:
1. Divineguma National Federation presided over by the Minister in overall charge
2. Divineguma National Council to assist the Department in respect of matters relating to policy and management
3. Divineguma Development Department under a Director-General, at the hub of execution
4. Divineguma regional organizations comprising of Divineguma community based organizations
5. District Committees representing all Divineguma regional organizations functional within a District
6. Divineguma community based organizations
7. The beneficiaries. The proposed structure throws up several organizational issues that call for close scrutiny.
Why set up a department?
Administration under a department was the traditional approach to management under the colonial setup. A department served the modest needs of the time adequately. But it came under heavy strain as administrative problems became more and more complex with time and its rigid structure was unable to cater to the increasing demands. For that reason, departments lost their place to corporations and authorities as the latter provided the flexibility demanded by the changing scene. That became current practice all over the world. The question is why swim against the current with a Divineguma Department?
All the Institutions that DB is seeking to compress into a department happen to be second generation entities and the attempt to revert them to a department may appear to be retrogressive. But it has to be granted that in actual practice their form has failed to meet the challenges before the Institutions concerned adequately. Hence, the need to restructure them! Naturally, reformatting them under a corporation would have given them more freedom of action. Looking round, one gets the impression that in this country the structure of an organization has made little or no difference to its performance. A department by the name of corporation would smell as foul. It is therefore not proposed to press this point any further, provided the objectives of amalgamation could be successfully realized by the new department. Maybe a department fitted in better with BR’s style of management. But it is counterproductive to hitch legislation to individual characteristics as it has to survive irrespective of them.
A costly duplication?
What worries me most as an old hand in the field is the duplication brought about by the implementing machinery of DB. It visualizes a stand-alone structure from the existing administrative setup consisting of ministries, departments and corporations, District and Divisional Secretariats, Provincial Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas. DB functions by itself from top to bottom with minimal liaison with its administrative environment. The minister formulates policies with the advice of the National Council and implements them through his department with the assistance of regional organizations, district committees and community based organizations all created by the DB. None of them is based in a local authority.
The only occasion I have been able to discover where a member of the normal administrative service is brought into the picture is where District and Divisional Secretaries are asked to play an advisory role in the various bodies created by DB. That is only a nominal function for officials who were in the thick of Samurdhi Administration in the past. The natural effect of this structuring would be to build an empire within an empire. This exclusion is bound to aggravate the rivalries that haunt the existing setup instead of eliminating them. It would duplicate staff at additional cost to government reducing the workload of the present functionaries without any reduction in the cost of their maintenance. What is worse is that there is no mention at all of the authorities of the elected bodies in the field.
One might ask why all the existing Provincial Councils supported DB, despite its tendency to effectively remove them from the centre of the political ring in activities that generated their vote base among the have-nots. It is clear that their consent was not motivated by altruism and abdication of power. They would have been only too well aware of the strength of the leash that the government held on them and the disastrous consequences of resisting it. That deprivation is bound to have created a sense of frustration in them producing a negative effect on the political clout of the government in the theatre of their activity. For example, that effect is observable in the NCP since the last election, due to disappointments arising from government rulings, however fair they were.
For these reasons, a farsighted government would weave the existing politico/executive fabric into the texture of the new undertaking. As far as possible the implementing units should be based in the seats of the respective authorities with their functionaries having to do something positive with the new venture. That is bound to create a sense of belonging and ownership among them that would certainly enhance the gains of the venture. BR may be worried that habitual practices of the past might infect his undertaking. That is a real possibility but the remedy is to carefully throw away the bath water. It would be in the interest of all sides to keep the new born in good health. That job certainly calls for the close attention of a Go-getter like BR.
Why blame 13A?
An attempt is being made to blame the obstacles to DB on 13A. That is only an extraneous problem arising from the fact that there was no PC in the North at the moment. But if there was one and DB was so drafted as to attract the consent of the Northerners, the argument against 13A would collapse. The crux of the matter then is not a communal issue but the inability of DB to attract political parties of all hues at the periphery. It is the failure to do so that made all parties not under the yoke of the government to resist DB irrespective of communal considerations.
As explained earlier, even the pro government politicians in the PCs would have resisted DB if only they could do so against the overarching power of the party in power. Suppressed frustrations caused by such inhibitions have a way of getting accumulated and exploding at a decisive election, as happened in 1956. For that reason, it would be wise for the President to take a second look at the draft and make it acceptable to his supporters in the provinces, by amending its structure to give them also a place under the sun.
Confrontation is becoming the hallmark of politics in our country.
What matters is not the reasonability of a proposal but your ability to put it through by hook or by crook. Government appears to be gearing up to push through DB against all odds disregarding necessary precautions imposed by the Constitution. In that rush they appear to be unmindful of the disintegrating effect that DB would have on their own side in the long run. courtesy: The Island