Executive Power to Hon Ministers: Whats Wrong?: My Experience
Posted on February 3rd, 2013

Garvin Karunaratne Ph.D. Former SLAS, Government Agent, Matara District

In my time as a member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service for eighteen years and as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor to two Commonwealth Countries for four years I have seen power wielding Ministers at work.

 This matter has come into prominence due to the powers conferred on the Hon Minister in charge of the implementation of Divineguma and the tasks attached..

 I do not see any reason why the Hon Minister in charge of a subject should  be fettered so that he cannot function effectively to enable development. It is my opinion that the Hon Ministers as well as key officers should be given executive powers to bring about development. They must answer to their actions and the final arbiter lies in achieving  successful development. However all this is subject to Parliamentary Scrutiny  in any democracy.

 Let me go back to my own experience.

 Hon Minister Felix Dias Bandaranayake came into prominence with his handling of the 1971 JVP rebellion. He took charge when the JVP attacked almost all Police Stations and tried to take over the entire country in a single day like what Fidel Castro did in Cuba. In my Matara District three fourths of the District was lost for three weeks. This was the situation in most Districts. It was he that directed the administration and even established special courts to charge the accused and saw an end to the rebellion.

 I can also quote my experience in Bangladesh in 1982, where the Minister for Labour and Manpower, Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam, approved my establishing the Youth Self Employment Programme, in the teeth of opposition from  the Ministry of Finance, because the ILO Programme of establishing a self employment programme in Tangail, Bangladesh in the earlier three years had ended in failure.  This happened in a conference held to review the work of the former Ministry of Youth Development  as the Minister was not satisfied with the work accomplished. Even the Hon.  Minister of Youth Development had been  arrested in the earlier week. I was the only non Bangladeshi attending that conference and was put on the spot when the Minister asked me what contribution I can make for Bangladesh.  At that time all foreign consultants were held with contempt.  I immediately suggested that a self employment programme should be established to guide the youth that were being trained, to make them entrepreneurs who would get down to production and make them contributors to national development. My premise was that it would be better to guide trained youths to become self employed than to leave them unemployed at the end of their training, ultimately becoming disillusioned and subversive. The failure of the ILO was quoted repeatedly and I was blankly told that the Government did not have funds to waste in another failed  attempt. I argued for over two hours quoting my experience in establishing youth in employment. I added that no new funds were necessary because I will work with the staff of the Department that trained 30,000 youths every year and teach them to guide the youths who were in training, motivate them to draft their own projects to become employed and guide them till they became commercially viable. The Minister accepted what I said and approved my establishing a self employment programme. The Youth Self Employment Programme so established by Bangladeshi administrators under my guidance is today the largest employment creation programme in the world. An entire Ministry of Youth Development that earlier dealt with traditional youth work- like clubs, sports, competitions. vocational training  etc.  now spends 90% of its time and energy in creating self employed youths. In February 2011 the Bangladesh Government informed the IFAD(FAO) that two million youths have become self employed on this programme.  This Programme would never have been possible if not for the high handed decision of the Hon Minister who approved it  despite the failure of the ILO attempt at self employment as well as the objections raised by many Ministries.

 It may be interesting to note that even Officials have also been given very wide powers to get development tasks done.

 Take the Divisional Development Councils Programme, the flagship of the 1970-1977 Government, where unlimited powers were accorded to Professor HAdeS Gunesekara, the Secretary of the Ministry of Plan Implementation. In fact up to date he is the only official that has had a helicopter placed for his circuits.  He had very wide powers to approve new projects and allocate funds. Many  agricultural farms and many industries were established bringing employment to as much as 32,000 youths..

 The late Mr Nissanka Wijeyratne was a marvel to watch in his capacity as the Government Agent at Anuradhapura. He was solely responsible for the establishment of the New Town and his services were exceptional. He was very kind but firm and never took no for an answer.

 Many of us, the Government Agents of the Districts had to take on responsibilities that we were not trained for to maintain law and order during the JVP insurrection of 1971. Some of us were even compelled to commandeer police stations, equip civilian officials with weaponry  when it was absolutely necessary to restore law and order. Many were the decisions we made which could be questioned, but all that was essential in the circumstances.  

 In the implementation of the Divisional Development Councils Programme(1971-19770 we stuck our necks out in establishing industries for the first time. At Matara the Boatyard that produced 40 ft seaworthy boats was a great success. In fact when I now read the COPE Reports, I could have been found guilty many a time. In the Boatyard, we had no time to call for tenders particularly because we may not get the best machinery. I authorized a handpicked group of officials including the Executive Engineer of the District to proceed inspect and purchase the machinery. This was installed in days and the Boatyard was a great success  The  Coop Crayon in Deniyaya, where we started from scratch using the Rahula College Lab for experiments to find  how to make crayons and established the industry which produced a tenth of Sri Lanka’s requirements in 1971 to 1977 , all done within three months is another case where we did act in a high handed manner. 

 We Assistant Commissioners of Agrarian Services were not authorized to confiscate. That was a power given generally only to judicial officers. In the implementation of the paddy purchasing scheme cooperative  societies occasionally purchased paddy from the open market at Rs. 6 a bushel and handed them over to our stores for payment at Rs. 12 a bushel. To detect  this we would swoop on a store where the paddy was brought to be handed over, ask a few questions from the cooperative officials who had brought the paddy and judge from any hesitancy in answering whether they were genuinely bringing paddy from their stores. Once I suspect that the paddy was not brought from their stores a few officers would immediately swoop on the cooperative store to inspect their books, check stocks, go through the purchase receipts, contact the producers that are supposed to have sold the paddy, and also find out whether the lorry had been loaded there etc. Once we prove that the lorry did not leave that store- that the paddy was not loaded there and also support it with fraudulent purchases we stop payment for the paddy that was handed over to our store. This amounts to a confiscation. Once I confiscated five lorry loads of paddy from Padaviya, and the amount confiscated amounted to Rs. 19,000, which was a tidy sum in the Sixties. Once the cooperative society in Kamburupitiya reported me to the Hon Minister for Agriculture for my stopping payment on two lorry loads and an inquiry was held by the Government Agent at Matara Mr AI Mohideen where he approved my decision.  Our action to confiscate was highhanded but  we had to devise our own methods to avoid irregularities.

 Most of us have been accused of being too nasty on corruption. I was once hauled before the Public Accounts Committee for dismissing a Grama Sevaka. He had stolen a bag of rice that was meant to be distributed to people rendered destitute and homeless by a flood. The Committee thought that it was too harsh a punishment and wanted him reinstated.  I asked the Committee Chairman,  as to how we can ensure that government work is done properly if the officer in charge of the distribution of food were to himself pilfer. Very reluctantly  they approved three increments being differed.

 The Divineguma Bill requires a great team headed by a Hon Minister who will not take no for an answer. We have heard of the fact that it was Hon. Minister Basil Rajapaksa that did perform a miracle in finding settlements for almost three hundred thousand homeless refugees who were uprooted and taken as hostages by Prabhakaran in the last stages of the LTTE. That record has not been equalled anywhere else in the world. Who else can we find to take charge of  the Divineguma functions that has all the hall marks of becoming a successful world class poverty alleviation programme, like the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh, designed and implemented by me, which has guided over two million to be self employed.

 My thinking is that we need development today to get our country out of the abyss of foreign debt, an abyss to which the UNP of President Jayawardena took us in blindly following the Structural Adjustment Programme of the IMF which really meant that since 1977 our economy was structured to become subservient to the economies of the Developed Countries.  Aid was given to us in a manner that the funds would get back to the donor countries, in repayment of earlier debts,  in payments for luxury imports, educational expenses  for children etc, while burdening  our country with the Aid given incurred as a foreign debt!. It is a superfine method of giving countries funds, dictating their use in a manner that the funds get back to the donors and also increasing the foreign debt of the country! The Structural Adjustment Programme, which is today couched under different names to confuse us, was a shrewd masterpiece of the IMF to make our countries indebted. It is sad that this fact is not realized even today.

 As President Rajapaksa often mentions we now need a new paradigm for development, a paradigm that will bring about production that the country needs, obviating imports and creating employment and thereby bringing incomes to our people and in that task, the Divineguma Bill can play a significant role.

 May I hope that the Divineguma Bill  will enable the immediate establishment of import substitution industries. Out of many industries I can think of,  the easiest to establish will be a series of canning factories- one in Gampaha to offer a floor price for pineapples, another in Tissamaharama to make fruit juice out of the mango crop and another somewhere near Kandy, Matale or Anuradhapura to make tomatoes sauce and fruit juice. We do have enough mangoes, melon, red pumpkin(for Golden Melon Jam), ash pumpkin(for silver melon jam), tomatoes, avacadoes, pineapple etc. for this task. We can offer guaranteed prices to producers and make all the processed food items that now come to us from Singapore, the USA, Australia and many other countries. I can vouch for the fact that this is feasible and can be successfully done. We are actually talking about something we did earlier in the Marketing Department and I happened to be there as an Assistant Commissioner.. The UNP let the country down by privatizing the state of the art Marketing Department’s Canning Factory. We do have the know how and the experience, but sadly we do not have the political will to act. It is hoped that Divineguma will take on this mantle. 

 May I take this opportunity to make a definite statement that the foreign exchange to be incurred in establishing these three canning factories can easily be recouped within a single year from savings in imports. There are many other import substitution industries, like the Coop Crayon I established in Deniyaya in 1971 which fall into this category.

 We have to empower our Ministers to do the impossible task of alleviating poverty a task that has defied every country today.

 Today our country is being assailed by many international forces- The IMF, the USA, the UK, Canada , the European Union and even the United Nations all are gunning against us. They want a Regime Change and our economy to break down. It is in their interests to see us fail, because under the IMF structural adjustment loans we will import more from them which will enhance their economies. We have to be strong economically to withstand this onslaught and the ideas in this Paper if implemented will enable us to stand on our feet.

Garvin Karunaratne. Ph.D.

Former SLAS, Government Agent, Matara District

Former Commonwealth Fund Advisor to the Government of Bangladesh.

Author of:  How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka, (Godages)2006

            Papers on the Economic Development of Sri Lanka(Godages) 2013

4 th February 2013

10 Responses to “Executive Power to Hon Ministers: Whats Wrong?: My Experience”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    i f the minister is good only What about Mervin Silva . Baduddeen stoped teaching history every minister should be under a Buddhi Mandalaya What will happen to our country if PABA becomes the minister of Education She was elected with the biggest majorityin gampaha.( Idiots)

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    Senevirath,

    MS is not a minister of development. He is in charge of garbage collection.

    YOUNG, hard core, aggro SLFP MPs should be appointed district development ministers for every 20+ district. They will be very popular at the election. Make use of govt. appointed governors and district development ministers to dismantle PCs. Don’t let TNA ruin this plan with power sharing BS.

  3. Dilrook Says:

    If the government is serious about regional development and poverty alliviation, the first thing to do is to re-establish the Paddy Marketing Board and run it commercially. Next instead of borrowing from IMF, consider borrowing (as needed) from China Development Bank which is larger than the IMF, or SCO lending bank, the rival of IMF. Disowning minority held import businesses is another must. Without such structural changes condusive for local businessmen, this attempt will not work.

  4. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    While poor kids don’t have much food to go by this fool is building a stupa to rival ruwanveli saya at a cost of rs 1000 per brick to instal transported from far away places cement and sand being very expensive supposed to be completed in 2015 these very bricks could be used to build 1000 homes for the poor at this very spot if thatagata appears today iam pretty sure he will commit suiside i wonder whether there is a single minister or advisor who has the guts to oppose this unwise leader while his henchmen mint money

  5. hela patriot Says:

    The problem is that all the ministers have lost the trust of the people

  6. Nanda Says:

    Sunil Ayya,
    Who is the FOOL ? Mervyn (Gon) Silva or your buddy ? Are both in the same category ? Where is the Chayitthya being built ? Who will commit suicide ? Gon or the blessed one ? Please don’t insult the blessed one. If thatagata appears today he will ask,
    T – Fool why are you building this stupa ?
    Fool- I want to show I am the king Dutugemunu.
    T – Fool, king Dutugemunu faught warlord Elaara. Whom did you fight ?
    F- I faught no one sir , my army did.
    T- Fool. Take these bricks away and give it to poor people and Rs 1000 for each brick. Otherwise you will be responsible for all the deaths occured to brave soldiers. Give up your thron and meditate to get rid of sin. Follow your friend Sunil the wise one.

  7. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    Assuming the army chap did exagerate on cost even at 100 rupees per brick it would be a colosal amount this could be the paradigm our man is talking about! Although garvin is respectful for positions i tend to respect a person rather than the position the person holds may be this is more of a sri lankan culture issue kaalaamer suttra comes to mind how damn right was thatagata

  8. Marco Says:

    If i may revert back to the article: an example of Ministerial maladministration is the case of Champika Ranawaka, the Former Minister of Power and Energy who bemoans and takes a swipe at CEB which he says reeks of corruption.This is after the Minister made a “balls up” of the Energy prices and got found out. As regards to corruption,
    however, is why didn’t he clean it up while he was the Minister of Power and Energy.

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    Welcome back Dham (Nanda).

    How was your trip to SL? How many “yoni billas” you saw? ;))

    BTW Sunil didn’t insult the blessed one. The oppositte. He wants these politicos NOT to insult true Buddhism.

    I think he refers to the temple mentioned in defence.lk. Refer defence.lk

  10. Senevirath Says:

    KIYANA DEYAK THERENDA KIYANAWALAKO KAVUDA MOKADA STHUPE HADANNE

    That man should read the words by Buddha to VEN.. Vakkali–” It is useless looking at me Go and meditate”

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