Tamil Diplomat

“Our Officers have become rubber stamps for those in power”: says Wigneswaran

“Our officers are no doubt very conscientious and capable but lack capacity due to the nature of war time experiences. Somehow they have developed to become rubber stamps for those in power. They had got used to carrying out orders whether legal, illegal or capricious”, said Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister CV. Wigneswaran.

Wigneswaran was addressing the Post Graduate Institute of Management Capacity Building Programme for Public officers at the Municipal Library Auditorium, Jaffna on Monday.

His full speech is as follows:

I am happy to participate at a meeting conducted by my old friend Dr. Lloyd Fernando. We were neighbors at a certain time. Due to our diverse paths of function we had lost touch with each other for some time. A most respected public official he has been and today he is present among us as the Program Director, Public Policy of the Post Graduate Institute of Management.

We as a war torn society in the aftermath of the war are still in dire straits. Our capacity to deliver the facilities and benefits expected of the elected representatives of the people are dependent on the quality of our officers. Our officers are no doubt very conscientious and capable but lack capacity due to the nature of war time experiences. Somehow they have developed to become rubber stamps for those in power. They had got used to carrying out orders whether legal, illegal or capricious. The need to change their attitudes and understanding cannot be gainsaid. By effluxion of time our officers have doubt reached very high official grades. But they lack capacity due to no fault of theirs. English as a gateway of international knowledge had not been insisted upon. Nor even as a link language. They have had no experience in working within a democratic framework hitherto. They have had no experience in working with the elected representatives of the people. They have been subjugated to administrative fiats by those in political authority. In fact there had been a calculated prevention of our officers from obtaining sufficient administrative excellence. The post of the Deputy Chief Secretary, Staff Training was hitherto kept unfilled.

Experts to accelerate the statute making process have been found hard to come by due to non – availability of capable human resources within our purview. We have been advised by many and sundry to simply adopt in Tamil what the other Provinces have passed, without our officers having the capacity to see through their efficacy nor effect. The necessity to enable the existing administrative machinery to become more effective in serving post war needs and priorities of the Northern Province has not been sufficiently understood nor appreciated until now. It has been forgotten that planning, research, analysis, knowledge transfer, advisory input etc for post war reconstruction and development have been found to be essential facets in International situations similar to ours. That we need to cater to the 21st Century challenges have been lost sight of.

The administrative finesse that I found among the several Registrars of Courts with whom I functioned in the judicial field throughout the Island was lacking in the Provincial Administration when I took over as Chief Minister. I was a newcomer and hence found the blind leading the blind. Often my officers would state the case and expect my initiatives in formulating the order that had to be made without venturing to give me my options. It was quite a stress when a political figure head was called upon to wade through the administrative morass when already he was preoccupied with policy, politics and perception.

Nevertheless we have today the good fortune of the Post Graduate Institute of Management which is a semi autonomous body affiliated to the University of Sri Jayawardenepura coming forward to help us. Their institute is one of the pioneering providers of MBA, MPA and PhD and equivalent qualifications I believe and to my knowledge they are recognized widely for their high quality management education across Sri Lanka.

Dr. Fernando since returning from his stint in Asian Development Bank in Manila had been involved in socio economic research and public service capacity building. He was Chairman of Marga Research Institute for about 5 years, I believe. Dr. Fernando using the facilities provided by the PIM had been able to assist 23 senior officials from the Northern Province to obtain Masters in Public Administration Certificates.

We need such experts in the field to direct and lead our officers. The Socio- Economic development challenges facing the Northern Province are not like those faced by the other Provinces barring the East. We have come out of a brutal war. Health of our people have been affected physically and psychologically. We hardly have proper trained staff to deal with the psychological aspects of our affected citizenry.

Our environment has become polluted on ground as well as in its ambience and atmosphere. We have hardly studied the impact of the use of deadly weapons, bombs, grenades and what not on the entire fabric of the Northern Province. Pollution to water and pollution in the atmosphere have engendered diseases. Prohibited fishing methods resorted to by fisherman from elsewhere with the consent and connivance of the Military has had impacts on the catch of fish of our locals, as well as on the livelihood needs of our local citizens. Surreptitious methods of displacement of our people from their traditional places of residence and replacing them with persons outside the Province no doubt has caused much heartaches.  Large acres of our Agricultural lands are in the hands of the Military. They cultivate and take the produce from our people’s lands paying nothing to the owners. Use of fertilizers and pesticides both by them and our own farmers have increased the nitrate and phosphate content in our drinking water. Lack of livelihood opportunities have had influence on the School going student population. Many do not attend school in order to assist their parents to eke out a living. I could lengthen my list. Last but not the least we have the spectacle of officials treating those different to themselves by caste, creed, race, or residence off-handedly and indifferently raising social discontentment and upheavals.

In all this the role of the Public Service is pivotal. Transparency, honesty, and accountability cannot be mere words. They need to be embedded and instilled into the daily working routine of our officer population. I believe that is what is expected of Dr. Lloyd Fernando today – To enlighten us and instil in us management values with his vast knowledge and experience.