EDITORIAL : Lanka needs evidence-based national policies

18 June 2015 06:31 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Since independence in 1948 a major negative in Sri Lanka’s socio-economic and political development has been the lack of a solid knowledge or research-based national policy in vital areas such as healthcare and education the economy, environment and agriculture. 

With general elections likely to be held soon and hopeful signs of the formation of a stable National Government we also need to reflect deeply on working out a national policy on key issues in this era of the Yahapalanaya administration.  

According to eminent professor Siri Hettige, Head of the Sociology Faculty of the Colombo University, the enactment of the 19th Amendment was a significant turning point in Sri Lanka’s history and now we need to get together and work out national policies based on objective evidence coming from scientific research or serious policy analyses. Prof. Hettige who is also the Convenor of the programme for sound, evidence based national policies laments that there has been a serious gap between research and public policy making. Since the country has not nurtured a tradition of evidence based policy making and systematic public consultations on important issues, political decisions have often been ad hoc, often resulting in adverse consequences, he points out.

He says policy-making bodies were highly politicized and over the past few decades important institutions maintained at public expense became a dumping ground for electorally defeated politicians, friends, relatives and political supporters of the powers that be.



We believe that most political analysts would agree that the past five years were among the worst with even, the Supreme Court and the Central Bank being politicised while the Police Department virtually became a branch of the ruling party resulting in a breakdown of the rule of law and the criminalisation of politics. 

According to Prof. Hettige the government needs to go beyond party lines and bring in the best experts to specialized agencies.  There are many Sri Lankan experts who are working overseas and would like to come back and work for the country for personal or patriotic reasons. Since the development of highly skilled human resources takes time, mobilization of expertise from overseas might be a necessary stop-gap measure. India went to the extent of setting up a separate ministry largely to facilitate a reverse flow of Indian expertise and capital from other countries. He points out that one of the problems here might be a subtle form of jealousy among top public servants who might feel threatened if Sri Lankan experts come back from overseas to serve the country. He cites the case where some expatriate professors who returned to Jaffna University after the war experienced serious opposition from some sections of the local academic community.

Prof. Hettige has told the Yahapalanaya government leaders that if they are concerned about the future of the country and our people, rather than their own future, they need to recognize the critical importance of sound national policies. While it is unwise for the Ministers to pretend that they know everything, it is the responsibility of professional bodies and civil society groups to proactively articulate their views on policy issues in different fields so that political leaders do not take arbitrary decisions on matters that have a bearing on the life chances of citizens. 

To move towards this vision, Prof. Hettige has called upon intellectuals, professionals and concerned citizens to come forward to facilitate and contribute to a wider process of national policy formulation. Some experts in the universities, the private sector, professions and civil society organizations have had a dialogue on this issue for several months and finally came together to launch an independent initiative to set in motion of a process of policy discussion with the view to developing broad policy ideas relating to a number of selected areas. 

The response on the part of some sections of the political establishment has been encouraging. The process is scheduled to be launched on June 22 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Auditorium in Colombo.    
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