Not many states have been able to live up to this public expectation due to various circumstances
reating a safe, secure and peaceful environment in the country is a key responsibility of a modern state. Yet, not many states have been able to live up to this public expectation due to diverse circumstances. Our experience in this country over the last several decades points to the fact that, despite various efforts by state and non-governmental agencies to create a safe, secure and peaceful environment, a large majority of people have not been able to live in such an environment. This is due to a whole range of circumstances such as unsafe roads, insecure neighbourhoods, conflictual inter- community relations, environment related health risks, violent homes, public nuisances and widespread crime. All these issues are closely linked to diverse sectors that come under the purview of a range of institutions. Yet, when the problems become acute, threatening the well being of people, governments and the wider public tend to focus attention on the security establishments. A clear case in point is the dengue threat in Sri Lanka.
Though this is essentially an issue connected with the poor management of the built environment, the dengue prevention has become largely a matter of law enforcement, making the Police responsible for its containment. While in actual fact, the dengue epidemic is the result of the failure of many state policies, institutions and interventions, apprehension and prosecution of neighbourhood offenders has become the main focus of attention of the media and the public. On the other hand, it is common sense that we need to manage our built environment well through better housing, sanitation, land use and other policies.
What is true for the dengue epidemic is equally true for student unrest, child abuse, domestic violence, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, ethnic violence, road accidents, etc. In each of these cases, law enforcement is important but the policies and interventions in diverse sectors such as education, roads, employment, transport, social welfare, reconciliation, housing, local government and health are definitely more important than police action. In other words, we need to adopt an intersectoral approach to dealing with a whole range of seemingly law enforcement issues such as the ones mentioned above. Why is this important ?
"Law enforcement is important but the policies and interventions in diverse sectors such as education, roads, employment, transport, social welfare, reconciliation, housing, local government and health are definitely more important than police action"
Many academics often tend to think out of the box. Yet, institutional development around modern states has tended to create ever more specialized agencies either around individual issues or diverse functions. The result is a proliferation of institutions and, in this country , cabinet ministries. Once these are established either by statute or by executive action, they become mini fiefdoms of either politicians, state officials or vested interests. A clear case in point today is that there are two ministries and a high powered national outfit to address issues of reconciliation. The result is that, leaving aside the critical need to come up with an integrated national plan of action to promote national integration, turf wars between different institutions are already in full swing. The danger is that, at the end, we will have everything but national reconciliation. What is true of national reconciliation is also true for a whole host of other critical areas. It is to avoid such a disastrous situation that, we at the Campaign for Sound National Policies (CSNP) proposed not only a rational framework for the formation of the Cabinet but also a system of clustering of closely inter-connected ministries in order to facilitate an integrated approach to policy development and program implementation. But, as usual, pragmatic party politics and vested interests prevented rational decision making leading to serious adverse consequences that we witness with sadness and dismay today. The reason for this situation is clear. We elevated politicians to such a high level of importance in this country that everybody else, including experts became unimportant. As a result, politicians often make uninformed and irrational decisions the adverse consequences of which we all have to live with. As is well known, the country’s economy is in bad shape today largely due to blunders of politicians in the recent past. Unfortunately, this political tradition cannot be easily changed, unless politicians develop a higher level of tolerance for expert advice. But the media and the highly politicized vested interests are unlikely to help change this situation. You only have to watch a few television talk shows to realize the pathetic situation. They are often dominated by all knowing politicians and journalists.
"Pragmatic party politics and vested interests prevented rational decision making leading to serious adverse consequences that we witness with sadness and dismay today. The reason for this situation is clear"
If we return to the theme of this article briefly, it is clear that creating a safe, secure and peaceful environment in the country is as important as economic development. This is possible only if we establish close collaboration across a range of institutions, both state and non-state, in order to share information, knowledge, human and material resources and come up with joint action plans. Such collective thinking and action can stem many problems connected with safety, security and peace in the country. A clear case in point is child protection. It is better to work together and prevent child abuse rather than spend all our time and resources to deal with a horrendous crime committed against an innocent child. We have the institutions, resources and ideas to do this. It is just that we have not done it. It is time to make a beginning, at least at this late hour.