By Dr. Vijitha Nanayakkara
A constructive dialogue on nationally important policies is imperative in any liberal democracy. Raising opposing views, no matter whether they are positive or negative in character opens up the opportunity to emerge correct ideologies and notions which may lead to good governance.
The Divi Neguma Bill is being scrutinized these days as an important national topic and anybody can constructively criticize it with a view of making a positive contribution.
Setting up different departments, authorities and institutions through which executive powers of the government are channelled can be made in any country based on felt needs and national interests. The central role of any government is to identify national needs, set the national development goals, formulate national development policies and implement them with the consent of the people. Based on this objective, the Divi Neguma Bill proposes to amalgamate a number of organizations, namely the Samurdhi Authority of Sri Lanka, the Udarata Development Authority of Sri Lanka, the Southern Development Authority of Sri Lanka, the Department of Peasant Rehabilitation and the Samurdhi Commissioner General’s Department. It is intended to create a just and fair society through the process of development and alleviating poverty.
The institutions cited above come under the purview of the Ministry of Economic Development and they were set up with the view of accelerating economic development of the country, particularly improving the living conditions of the economically disadvantaged across the country. Multiple institutions operating separately with similar goals and objectives in many third world countries including Sri Lanka, seem to create situations where duplication or even triplication of development activities may occur at the same time.
Employing a large number of officers for the same task, in similar organizations, wastes money and much needed resources of the country. This can be seen not only in the government sector, but in the non-governmental sector as well. Repeating the same activity in a selected village by different non-governmental organizations may lead to waste the limited resources available for disposal. It is estimated that approximately 10% to 20% waste of resources is likely in many poverty alleviating programmes and development projects in the Third World.
Given the circumstances, it is time to amalgamate institutions with similar goals and objectives on a carefully crafted plan for a common goal. The development priorities are not static and they are subject to change from time to time. It is essentially a dynamic process so that institutional frameworks need to be reformulated to fit into the changing needs of society.
The biggest organization
The Samurdhi Authority is the biggest organization which is going to be amalgamated with other similar institutions under the Divi Neguma Bill. The work force of the Samurdhi Authority alone far exceeds 25,000 at present. This Authority has been functioning over the last 15 years and when the Samurdhi Authority was first established in 1995, the percentage of families living with poverty was in the range of 25% to 30%, which is currently around 7%.
According to New Millennium Development Goals, we will have to achieve the target of 13% families living with poverty by 2015. Surprisingly enough, we have already achieved this target by recording 7% by 2012. However, programmes should be put in place to absorb people who are coming out of poverty to contribute to the national development through a strategically designed development plan. Therefore, it is time to reformulate the role played by the Samurdhi Authority over the years to reflect the current needs of the country.
The Divi Neguma Bill, literally aims at establishing a separate department named the Department of Divi Neguma Development (DDD) (hereafter DDD) to fulfil the tasks cited above. The national policies should be reformulated with the view of strengthening people’s hands through various income generating economic activities, not encouraging food subsidies or food rations, so that people will have every confidence in making their own living. The ultimate aim of the DDD is to create a situation where people can stand up on their own feet, leaving aside the dependent mentality on food subsidies, forever.
Changes in development programmes, approaches and policies are vital and they need to be adjusted to fit into the international experiences. With the collapse of the International Financial Market in 2008/2009, changes in new liberal economic policies were advocated by many including international development organizations. When reviewing the American economic history, it is also clear that certain economic protection strategies were used to protect and strengthen the domestic economy. Countries such as South Korea and Singapore made drastic changes in their new liberal economic policies in recent years.
The role of the government in the pursuit of economic development is determined by the specific condition of the country. Currently, many international development organizations and some Western Think Tanks raise the issues of ‘human rights’ ‘transparency’ ‘integrity’ and ‘good governance’ but surprisingly, the application of these concepts seems to be different in the developed countries, from the third world. The questions need to be asked about the loyalty of some intellectuals who are not prepared to question the ‘transparency’ and ‘integrity’ of these Western Organizations who maintain double-standards when it comes to practice.
We need to prepare ourselves to discard some ‘Western’ Ideologies, and disregard some Western Expertise and Consultancies made by ‘Western’ Think Tanks and instead, focus on domestic development strategies. We need to be brave enough to identify domestic needs and formulate novel development strategies to fulfil these domestic development goals. It is our own right to set up institutional structures and policy frameworks to reflect current needs of the country together with certain structural changes within the organizations.
Socially, economically disadvantaged
The clientele of the DDD under the Divi Neguma Bill is the socially and the economically disadvantaged, across the country. This group of people have so far been denied any opportunity to involve in national development projects. It is essential to secure their contribution to the national economy through a proper development approach at grass root level. Through such an approach, the empowerment of the rural poor and capacity building are vitally important. Participatory development approach has been in place in many countries for a number of years and it seemed to be a very effective in achieving certain development goals particularly in the rural context.
This Bill proposes to follow this approach, whenever needed, in our rural development programme. It is clear therefore that the structure of the DDD is formed around community based organizations and these organizations are directly linked to the DDD. Moreover, it will be a new experience in the history of government departments to mobilize human resources for meaningful national development through the encouragement of financial savings, and creating micro level financial networks for investment projects. The Department of Divi Neguma Development is not merely a bureaucratic organization where executive powers are channelled through the top to the bottom but an organization where peoples’ participation is ensured from the bottom to the top.
Creating an institutional framework to maintain the right balance between the departmental structure and the structure of the community organizations is the most important aspect of this department. Maintaining the balance between the supervision and monitoring by the department and the supervision and monitoring by community organizations, creates a situation where transparency of many development projects can be properly ensured.
While the functions of any department established in a ministry span across the country serving all citizens, its actions would not interfere with the regional political authority and the existing institutional framework at regional level. The aims, objectives, powers and functions of the proposed Department of Divi Neguma Development have been clearly specified in the Divi Neguma Bill. The improvement of the main livelihood of people, families and groups is the main objective of the proposed department. The Bill has clearly identified the necessary actions required for fulfilment of this main objective of the department.
To serve the entire population
Nevertheless, powers and functions of other departments are not included in the proposed Bill. The government has established many departments and the scope of these departments, has been identified to serve the entire population. Accordingly, all departments are functioning to fulfil a common objective of the nation. The gap between two departments is not like a definite boundary between two plots of land. The improvement of nation’s education by the Department of Education is conducive to uplift the economic conditions of the country.
Electricity needed for the nation’s schools should be provided by another department so that the collaboration between different departments is vital for the overall functioning of modern Nation State. Mutual collaboration among different departments and other institutions of the state does not necessarily mean that they do interfere with the activities of other departments or institutions. It is therefore very difficult to ascertain how the functions of the DDD affect other departments as may be case that how does the provision of electricity supply affect other department or how do the functions of the police department affect other department and the list goes on. The important point to consider, leaving aside such a painful scrutiny is to work together to fulfil the common objectives of the government, collaborating with all departmental authorities and institutions across the country.
The DDD is not an institution set up for executive administrative functions nor is it in conflict with powers and functions of any regional administrative apparatus established under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Poverty alleviation is essential for rural and regional development and the projects aiming at alleviating poverty do not affect the powers and functions of regional institutions under the 13th Amendment. The goals, powers and functions of the DDD have been clearly set up in a way that they are not in conflict with the goals, powers and functions of other regional institutions.
Some critiques highlight that the proposed department may intervene in the existing administrative structure by operating its project activities establishing new project administrative zones under deputy directors. Creating a number of administrative zones under the DDD to ease the administrative problems would not affect the existing, normal administrative set up of the country.
For example, the MOH Divisions in the Department of Health or Education Zones in the Education Department have been set up beyond the administrative boundaries of the Divisional Secretaries (AGA Divisions) for the smooth delivery of services of each department. It does not affect the general administration of the country. Therefore, it is not wrong to establish administrative zoning within the proposed department for its administrative purposes.
Expands minister’s power
A critique against the Divi Neguma Bill, deeming it an attempt to expand the power of the minister is baseless. It is within the powers vested in the minister to enact regulations and give orders to the heads of the departments of any ministry. In order to fulfil the objectives of any Bill, it is essential to have necessary powers vested in the minister to enact regulations and to pass orders. For example, it is possible to establish community based organization under the proposed Bill, but the details of the ordinance or constitutional frameworks for these community organizations are not seen in the Bill. The details of constitutional frameworks will be presented in supplementary regulations that will be put in place in future by the minister.
The selection criteria for Divi Neguma beneficiaries will change over time. If the criteria are presented in the Bill, it will be difficult to pick up the changing needs of the beneficiaries that may occur over time and in a situation of this sort, an amendment to the Bill will have to be presented to the Parliament to change the criteria! Therefore, as may be the case in other Bills, it is acceptable to have necessary powers vested in the minister to enact new rules and regulations, if and when required.
Community based organizations would be able to function independently but when they are assigned to implement government projects or use government funds, they are inevitably subject to supervision and monitoring by the department. It is necessary to monitor all department projects to see whether things are heading in the right direction, particularly to maintain the financial discipline of all projects. All projects will be audited by government auditors so that the department needs some kind of authority over supervision and monitoring.
Through strict monitoring and supervision, it is expected that the government funds will be effectively and properly utilized for socio-economic development of the country. The Divi Neguma Development Fund (DDF) is a departmental fund which will be established by the minister under Clause 35(1) of Divi Neguma Bill. As the head the department, the subject/line minister should have the power and authority to oversee the smooth functioning of the fund. There is no room for any misappropriation of the DDF because all financial dealings associated with the fund are subject to the government auditing.
With the powers vested in the DDD, it is expected to conduct lotteries with the assistance of the National Lotteries Board to boost the DDF. It is a common practice of many departments, authorities, institutions etc. to conduct lotteries in order to fund certain projects.
Previously, under the Samurdhi Act, a lottery was conducted by the Samurdhi Authority. By the same token, the Sevana lottery was introduced by the Premadasa administration for housing development. It is expected to minimize the inequality of income distribution through various poverty alleviating projects. It is also totally justifiable to conduct a Divi Neguma Lottery by the DDD to strengthen the Divi Neguma Fund. There would not be any hindrance to conduct, and maintain similar lotteries for the benefit of the above fund.
Micro financial banking networks
The main objective of the Divi Neguma Community Based Banks is to create micro-financial banking networks at regional level. It is the Divi Neguma beneficiaries who save money in these community banks, and receive benefits as well. It is important to note that these Divi Neguma Community Banks are not commercial banks in the conventional sense and only those who are members of Divi Neguma Community Based Organizations are eligible to use them.
The target group of these banks or the main clientele are those who are excluded from conventional commercial banks for a number of reasons. Individual or group based loans will be available for those who are disadvantaged by numerous rules and regulations of commercial banks. Under the Divi Neguma Bill, the DDD is empowered to establish these non-commercial rural banks with the purpose of providing much needed banking facilities for the rural poor in particular. It was the same policy under which the Samurdhi Banks were established in the 1990s. After the discussion with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, it was agreed that the regulations and clauses of the Banking Act in 1988, No 30 and 2D11, No 42 under the Financial Enterprises Act would not affect the Divi Neguma Community Banks.
However, these micro-financial banking networks will be monitored and supervised by a committee of eminent people including the representatives from Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank, Director of the Divi Neguma Community Banks, and the Director-General of DDD. Thus, financial activities will also be audited by the government auditors. It is essential to have a community banking system of this nature for the benefit of rural people who are marginalized by the ‘big banks’.
It can be noticed that some politicians criticize the sentences in the Bill regarding the confidentiality of the information pointing to the fact that such practice will challenge the rights of the people to reach the truth. The officials of the DDD are responsible for safeguarding the confidentiality and anonymity of the information on their clients. Apart from judicial proceedings, it is the ethical requirement of the department to protect the identity of individuals and to safeguard the confidentiality of information on clients.
There are some ethical constraints in any department in releasing the internal information and the officials cannot expose and release any personal information without the consent of the client. However, it is alleged that some non-governmental organizations are involved in scandalous financial dealings with the rural poor using their photographs and personal information. Under the Divi Neguma Bill, restrictions will be imposed on collecting personal information from the poor and selling them for financial gains. At the same time, the information collector who collects personal information is liable to safeguard and maintain the confidentiality of all personal information. The DDD should also be exemplary in this regard. This does not affect the transparency of the department and there is no obstacle whatsoever to question and test the transparency of activities of the department.
After all, the Divi Neguma Bill is aiming at establishing a brand new department which caters for its staff, and beneficiaries. It’s a new experience in the history of Sri Lankan departments and we see the making of a good department through this Bill. You are encouraged to generate a citizens’ voice of concerns around the Divi Neguma Bill through a new approach which is neither traditional nor completely alien to the Sri Lankan context.
We are still confined to a ‘box’ which is either ‘traditional ideologically driven’ or ‘Western ideologically driven’. It is disappointing to see that even some Western trained ‘intellectuals’ are not in a position or not prepared to think beyond this ‘box’ and create a viable institutional framework which is truly Sri Lankan. I truly believe that the Divi Neguma Bill aiming at establishing the DDD will make a great contribution to alleviate rural poverty and uplift the living conditions of rural masses of this country.
(Dr.Vijitha Nanayakkara is the Vice Chancellor of the Open University of Sri Lanka)