Gear provincial administration to meet crisisMay 27, 2012, 7:45 pm
By Somapala Gunadheera
My personal impression is that the most pervasive cause that inhibits the efficiency of the public service today is the dismal lack of leadership at the top levels. Anarchy has naturally led to under-performance down the line. Such dysfunction was prevalent in the district administration even at the time Dudley Senanayake assumed office as PM in the mid 1960s. Dudley had the vision to diagnose this malady in no time. He saw the cream of the much under-utilised administrative machinery pushing files in the metropolis while their inexperienced juniors were struggling with district administration.
Dudley was quick to perceive the net loss accruing to governance from this dichotomy and decided that the sitting GAs should be replaced by outstanding men from the centre, whom he hand-picked. There followed protests from the selected officers and demands for material benefits as quid pro quo. Dudley resolutely stuck to his order but granted all the concessions asked for, evidently to motivate the selectees. With stalwarts at the head of each district, decentralised administration opened a new page in no time, with visible improvement in all its aspects. This upsurge resulted in the much talked of Green Revolution within a couple of years, thanks to the efficiency and commitment of the new District heads. I have referred to this incident in some detail in order to emphasise the need for unadulterated leadership in maximising the output of the public service, particularly in the provinces.
Advent of Governors
The pre-eminence of the all-powerful GA in a district was overshadowed by the appointment of Provincial Governors who were vested with effective powers by the Thirteenth Amendment (13A). Article 154 decreed, ‘Executive power extending to the matters with respect to which a Provincial Council has power to make statutes shall be exercised by the Governor of the Province …. either directly or through Ministers of the Board of Ministers, or through officers subordinate to him.’ The Governor was given power to (a) summon, (b) prorogue, and (c) dissolve the Provincial Council. Where the Governor did not agree with the advice of the Board of Ministers in any case and he considered it necessary to do so in the public interest, he had the privilege of referring that case to the President for orders.
The Governor was given the liberty to address the Provincial Council and enquire into the attendance of members. When a message is sent to the Council by the Governor to consider any matter the latter was obliged to do so with all convenient dispatch. It was the duty of the Chef Minister (a) to communicate to the Governor of the Province all decisions of the Board of Ministers relating to the administration of the affairs of the Province and the proposals for legislation and to (b) furnish such information relating to the administration of the affairs of the Province and proposals for legislation as called for by the Governor.
I would not be surprised if the above recital of a Governor's powers came as a shock to the ordinary reader. These wide powers are mostly confined to the statute book and rarely exercised in practice, with the result that they assume only symbolic value like a ceremonial sword. The holders of these powers remain in the background, untold and unsung , confining themselves to routine. In contrast a pre 13A GA had a unique prestige and sparkle in his seat of power through his conspicuous presence in the public eye. Power accrued to him not through statute but from tradition and recognition. What hid the Governors with such far-reaching statutory powers, under a bushel? Were they pushed to a back seat by the domination of assertive, power-drunk politicians? It may as well be that the incumbents in office did not have the know-how and the experience to give teeth to the powers vested in them, that could make a significant impact on Provincial administration. This has been a blind spot for successive Governments.
The original set of Governors appointed under 13A were: 1. Suppiah Sharvananda 2.Edwin Loku Bandara Hurulle 3. D. B. Welagedera 4. Victor Perera 5. Dingiri Banda Wijetunge 6. Noel Wimalasena 7. Mohammed Abdul Bakeer Markar, 8. P. C. Imbulana
There is no doubt that all these appointees were men of distinction. One was a former Chief Justice and another a retired IGP. All the others were prominent personalities who had had their day in politics. Although all of them had excelled in their own spheres, none of them stood out as an administrator as such. JR, who had loaded the Constitution with substantial administrative power for the Governor, had smudged his initiative by the appointments he made to the post, with the result that what had been ordained by Article 154 was not visible on the ground.
This position has not changed over the years. A couple of Governors have been appointed from the Administrative Service subsequently but the choice appears to be more personal than selective. Certain officers who excelled in district administration have been appointed to high office, but never as Governors, thus mismatching their expertise and position. The sitting Governors have more variety in the sense that they include experienced military men and a well-known singer, in addition to politicians and their progeny. But, how many of them have proved themselves on the ground, in decentralised administration?
Let me not be miunderstood as holding a brief for my former service. Good administrators are not the exclusive forte of the Administrative Service. I can think of several men of other professions who ran their departments with distinction, during my time. GMR Rampala and DHS Karunaratna come naturally to mind in this connection. Even the Services provide fertile training ground for administrators but before placing army men in charge of civilian undertakings, care has to be taken to avoid 'Left-Right Disciplinarians', who have lost the common touch. We have seen several successful ex-service administrators running their civilian undertakings with competence.
The national priority
Appointing men who can measure up to the expectations of the Constitution has become a national priority today. Such action would also help the President to achieve his apparent target of winning a third term.
It has been said that the release of Sarath Fonseka (SF), was calculated to forestall Ranil's ride to power with the TNA, on the presumption that SF would join his opposite camp carrying the Sinhala flag. My own belief is that SF with his links to all factions in the Opposition would unify the anti-government forces as he did at the last Presidential Election, counter claiming the credit for winning the war to boot. In any case, he has suffered the unpredictable fallout of flags through bitter experience. If SF succeeds in uniting the Opposition, the President will face a critical challenge. Already people are openly protesting against low salaries and the rising cost of living. With the gathering global economic storm, there could be widespread disenchantment as we go along. Cost of imports will be prohibitive and in the current scenario of international estrangement, foreign aid would be hard to come by.
The underutilized senior ministers cannot be expected to pull the President out of the quagmire. Their over-utilised juniors would not have the capacity to do so. This puts the President in a manpower crisis that would escalate in reverse proportion to the demand for it. If this trend continues the President's ambition of getting elected for a third term would be jeopardised by the time the election is due. This is a contingency that has to be seriously considered and provided for with no loss of time. Basically, the President has to build up now itself a committed and competent support structure to meet the demand in due time. The task of that structure should be to strengthen the regions to overcome the challenge through increased production and productivity to a level that could keep the voters unaffected by mounting economic pressures.
The solution calls for a repeat performance of Dudley Senanayake's Green Revolution, a revolution that would keep the man in the street happy with what he earns against what he has to spend. The repeat performance needs provincial managers of calibre who had proved themselves in the field. Dudley had to pick them up at a personal level but now thanks to JR, we have the mechanism written into the Constitution. It is regional management by Governors, a weapon that JR forged and sharpened deftly but allowed to rust for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps, the political animal in him was stronger than the visionary. President Premadasa had the weapon in his armoury but failed to see its significance and resorted to the far less effective machinery of the Divisional Secretaries.
A change of horses
From his own experience President Rajapaksha ought to have realised by now, the value of leadership in decentralised management. The substantial material gains on the rehabilitation front owe much to the leadership of his brother, Basil, whose personal intervention in the import substitution campaign is already showing positive results. One Basil possibly cannot run the entire administrative machinery all by himself. What the President has to do is to handpick super managers of high calibre, with firsthand field experience in management and get them to head the provinces. Suitability, not political affinity, should be the criterion of their selection. Several such men may be discovered wasting their time and people's money in sinecure positions in some ministries. The selected maestros should be appointed as Governors with specific performance targets that could not be compromised in any event. It would be the unavoidable duty of the Governors to give relentless leadership to deliver the goods on target by developing their regions to optimum levels.
This proposal casts no aspersions on the honourable personalities that may have to step down as a result of the reorganisation. They are where they are for good reasons that the government thought it fit to put them. If they lose their present positions, it is because national interest demands more relevant persons in their places. But, it is proper that they are moved to posts of equal importance where personal reasons are not overbalanced by national priorities. There are hundreds of positions in the public service where they could be accommodated without detriment to the public interest.
In sum, a second Green Revolution is urgently needed to save the country from the clutches of an impending economic and political crisis in which no help could be expected as it is, from within and without. The change has to take place in the provinces under committed and effective leadership. The Constitution has provided for that leadership to come from Governors who must have the know-how and skill, equal to the task. It is hoped that the President would have the foresight and courage to lose no time in setting the stage for the aggressive counter-campaign called for. Of course the stage-manager will be feathering his own nest in the process.
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