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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

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Holding regular meetings, keeping records, at DS and GN levels

Following the establishment of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees in all Divisions in the Vanni, follow up meetings were held in June in Oddusuddan, Puthukudiyirippu, Karachi and Vavuniya North Divisional Secretariat. As one Divisional Secretary observed, the difference in the problems raised was remarkable, and indicated the great strides made in the resettlement process.


One of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings

Where earlier in PTK, for instance, urgent queries had been raised about basic facilities, developments with regard to roads and electricity and water supply were appreciated.

Reconciliation meetings

Attention was drawn though to areas which still had deficiencies, such as villages in Vavuniya which had not been targeted for an improved water supply initially. However the Divisional Secretary was able to explain that, following a visit by the Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, the proposed scheme had been amended to service a greater area. Similarly, with regard to electricity, the anticipated commissioning of the grid at Kilinochchi would facilitate supply to areas currently deprived.

All this made clear the need for regular communication. Prof Wijesinha, Adviser on Reconciliation, explained the systems that had been recommended following the conclusion of the initial round of Reconciliation meetings, since these had revealed the problems caused by failure to ensure regular consultation. If the Grama Niladharis had regular meetings, and presented to the Divisional Secretaries brief minutes of these, with a schedule of problems to be solved, they could then ensure systematic feedback. Divisional Secretaries could take up matters immediately with relevant officials, and ensure decisions were made swiftly, with reasons for decisions being conveyed to stakeholders.

Remedial action

Thus, with a question regarding possible closure of a school, for instance, or the need for grazing grounds for cattle, or the closure of a toddy tavern too close to residential areas, relevant officials should be urged to take swift decisions and respond sympathetically to the needs that had been expressed, even while making it clear that they could not satisfy all needs totally and immediately. The failure to make it clear that problems were being taken seriously, and to communicate the reasons for decisions that were taken, frequently caused resentment that could readily be avoided.

The Divisional Secretaries made clear to the Grama Niladharis present the need for regular meetings in the areas of a) Development and livelihood and b) Protection issues, while it was also suggested that meetings to promote c) Social and cultural activities should also be held.

The need to involve government officials attached to the Secretariats was noted, with Development Officers contributing to discussions on livelihood, while the whole range of Protection officials (concerned with Probation, Child Protection, Women, Social Services, Counselling) should be involved in looking at possible problems and devising methods to deal with them, in addition to taking remedial action when problems had occurred.

For social and cultural activities, it was noted that relevant officials could also contribute to work in schools. Though some noted that they did not wish to trespass on the work of the Education Department, it was agreed that, in line with current educational policy, more co-curricular activities were necessary, to involve all students rather than only those who excelled in performance. Officials attached to Divisional Secretariats could, in consultation with Grama Niladharis and Parent Associations, monitor activity and suggest to the Education Department that greater efforts should be made with and by Principals whose students suffered from a lack of activity. Encouragement of activities such as Scouting that contributed to character development was also desirable.

It was suggested that the security forces should also be involved in such value addition activities. While it was necessary for the Police, and in particular their Women and Children’s Desk representatives, to attend the Protection Committee meetings, it was noted that for others, including for the Development meeting as requested by a senior Grama Niladhari, there should be specific invitations from those arranging the meeting.

While the forces could readily assist with sports and language classes, and even with vocational training in schools which arranged this in the absence of more formal arrangements in rural areas, the communities should decide what they needed and make arrangements accordingly.

Land issues

One problem that was brought up initially by a leader of a Women’s Rural Development Society, but which also seemed of common prevalence elsewhere, was the question of Domestic Violence, in particular resulting from alcoholism. The recent publications by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, of guides to dealing with this were discussed, and made available, but it was noted that the Tamil versions, which are in preparation, should be expedited and sent on soon to relevant officials as well as the Police desks dealing with such problems.

A constantly recurring question was that of land ownership and utilization, with queries about formalizing titles to land that had been in usage over long periods, about recovery of lands that had been used by the security forces, and about repossession after abandonment and usage by others. With regard to usage by the forces, it was noted that decisions could now be made quickly and consultation should be arranged swiftly, while in other respects the decision by the Ministries of Justice and of Lands to expedite clear-cut legal provisions should lead to resolution of problems on an equitable basis.

Fortunately, with a process of regular consultations initiated by the Task Force on implementing the National Action Plan on Human Rights, land issues had been given priority - though those concerned had also to be told that possible legal complications might delay solutions unless these were settled swiftly.

Meanwhile the progress made by several Divisional Secretaries since the first set of meetings was much appreciated. In Vavuniya North, clear schedules had been prepared of aid projects in the fields of development as well as of assistance provided to the resettled, while a systematic programme of counselling had been put in place.

It is desirable though that the Ministry of Public Administration formalize reporting arrangements to maximize the impact of the good work done by officials at the lowest but most important level of the administrative system.

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