To my mind this is the brightest spark that appears in the midst of such confused, convoluted and shallow thinking. This strategy can lead to a new dawn that will demolish the narrow ethnic, religious and other man-made distinctions
With a taste for the subject, I continued to have an abiding interest in the functioning of the District Ministry system
This article reflects on an important news item that appeared recently referring to the move made by the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wasantha Senanayake, to revive the now defunct District Councils.
To my mind this is the brightest spark that appears in the midst of such confused, convoluted and shallow thinking. This strategy can lead to a new dawn that will demolish the narrow ethnic and religious as well as other man-made distinctions and bring about a balanced equitable and Sustainable Development throughout the length and breadth of this small country blessed with such a rich diversity of cultures.
What follows below first appeared in the newspapers on September 28, 2005, under the headline “Preserving the Unitary Status of Sri Lanka” and is included in the volume of collected articles by this author entitled “Prophetic Indictments – The failed Neo-Liberal Paradigm of Economics, Politics, Governance, Society and Science in Sri Lanka and Globally” (2018, Tulana Jubilee Publications, now available at Vijitha Yapa, Godage, and Barefoot bookshops)
Preserving the Unitary Status of Sri Lanka
One of the most stupid statements I have heard in living memory was that made by a learned academic at a seminar held to discuss The World Bank’s “World Development Report, 2005”. Unless the wiring in my auditory system is faulty, I heard him on TV asking the question from a spell-bound audience, more non-nationals than locals, “’Do you think any development is possible in a state with a unitary character ? Answering that question himself, he emphatically and sternly said, “I Say No”. No one in that audience including the directors- General of National planning asked for an elaboration of that dogmatic assertion nor do I want to, because, I wish to leave such stupid ideas of development with that speaker and all who may be agreeing with him, My purpose as a student of the socioeconomics of poor Third World countries, and of course our own Sri Lanka, is to congratulate the Leader of the United National Party on resurrecting the District Ministry System. And suggesting some strategically important changes. Derived from my own field experience, if the goal of good results is anticipated.
In 1977, when the United National Party took office, the President and Minister of plan implementation appointed Dr. Wickrema Weerasooriya as the Secretary. He arrived from Australia with a missionary’s zeal and set out to make the government he supported a great success. Naturally, when the new idea of District Level Development at a greater pace emerged, he was entrusted with the task of pursuing the concept, Dr. Weerasooriya named me as the Secretary of the committee which consisted of relevant Ministry secretaries with the cabinet secretary G.V.P. Samarasighe, as chairman. After, I prepared two papers and attended two or three meeting , the subject slipped out of my hands and perhaps, of the Secretary’s as well.
One of the most stupid statements I have heard in living memory was that made by a learned academic at a seminar held to discuss The World Bank’s “World Development Report, 2005”
With a taste for the subject and its implications, I continued to have an abiding interest in the functioning of the District Ministry system when it finally came into existence. In my view in spite of all its weaknesses stoked by the cancer of politicization for a small country.,25,000 square miles in extent, the District is the most viable unit of economic development. With my experience as a public servant in the Ministry of Plan Implementation and as a parliamentarian , I have no double that the District provides optimally for integrated sub-national level development including delivery of various governmental services of the community as well as services which local bodies and village level organizations provide. The District together with all sub-national and sub-district level units is closer to the people, who matter the most, is accountable to the local community and is responsible for making policy and its administration.
Now, the main problem hindering the working of the District Ministry system is the plain fact that the Minister concerned does not enjoy political power in proportion to the responsibilities thrust on him. Time and again I observed that the Minister spends (wastes) much of his time seeking the approval of Line Ministers away in Colombo, much like the Provincial Council Ministers of today.
The remedy for this predicament had been canvassed by a senior retired public servant, W.S. Wewegama. At various public fora, with full support from the author, he suggested that the District Minister should have the rank of a Cabinet Minister for the smooth, efficient, productive, application of development strategies and policies. To this end:
i. The members of parliament who obtain the highest number of preferential votes should be made the District Minster of the relevant District.
ii. The District Minister should enjoy Cabinet status.
iii. The District Minister as a member of the cabinet gets an opportunity to obtain quick decisions from his colleagues who handle Line Ministries , and, further he in turn could monitor and provide first hand information on urgent bottle necks relating to the performance of the different Line Ministry subjects.
As a concerned citizen, I believe that such an arrangement will be a giant step forward and a just and fair horizontal economic development , particularly, if economic development is for the benefit of the many and not the few as it now goes : and, notwithstanding the Cassandra talk of that learned academic, Sri Lanka can forge a development plan at an accelerated rate, uniformly, throughout the country under such a system, while retaining its unitary character.