} Lalith Abeysinghe: Road to Governance

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Road to Governance

Road to Governance

Monaragala is one of the least developed areas in Sri Lanka, situated in the Uva Province. Uva province consists of two districts namely Monaragala and Badulla.

Monaragala district consists of 11 Divisional Secretary Divisions (DSD), namely, Madulla, Siyambalanduwa, Bibile, Medagama, Badalkumbura, Monaragala, Wellawaya, Buttala, Thanamalwila, Sewanagala and Kataragama. In each DSD, there is a Pradeshiya Sabha (PS), which is the primary local government body in the country. The elections were held in every four years to elect the representatives for the PS.

Monaragala is one of such DSD, in the Monaragala district, which too has an elected PS.

Although the country has hundreds of PSs, most of them were very ineffective and, though this is primary elected body, there were no much interactions with the people.

The Uva Network of Peace and Development (UNPD), formed in 2004, with 17 Social Action Organizations “to increase citizen participation in governance” and “to promote friendship and understanding among different ethnic groups” in the Uva province. The original intention of the UNPD was to help to build up a ‘complete citizen’ in the society. The Uva Community Development Center (UCDC) in Badulla, which had lots of experiences in the Uva province and experiences and engagements in networking and advocacy work in and out side of the Uva province led the network during the whole five year period.

“We had to explore new ways and means to achieve our objectives. There were no tested set programs or activities to follow. On the other hand the Uva province has its own characteristics, “identical” with ‘Uva’. So we had to be very innovative and during the last five years, almost everything we implemented in a way were new things. We had to put lot of thinking and efforts to come up with some new ideas, which suit to the pattern of thinking of the Uva people. We were thinking as how to ‘increase the citizen participation in governance’ in the Uva Province. We know that the majority of people who live in the villages and on the estates in the province are poor. They were engage in casual work, farming and work as estate labors to earn their living. Farming in Uva, especially in Monaragala is harsh, as there is a four month long dry season. People get very low price too for their products. Casual labor has no guarantee of continuous income. The estate workers get the lowest wage in the country. Hence it was a challenge to ‘involve’ these people in ‘governance’ which is a ‘distance’ concern for them, as their prime concern is livelihood.”, said Navarathne Hennayake, the Program Manager of the UNPD.

“We also were thinking, discussing and searching for way outs and to possible structures to involve with. We thought the Pradeshiya Sabhas are one of the structures that we could work with. It is the closest ‘Elected Body’ for the village/ estate people.

The UNPD deployed two District Coordinators, one in Monaragala and the other in Badulla. Dhammika, the Monaragala district coordinator and the Head of the Community Resource Protection Center (CRPC), one of the 17 network organizations explained how all it happened. We see this program as a big challenge. The citizen participation in governance is a tricky area to deal with. In one hand the people at the grassroots levels, do not have an interest to participate in this type of act and on the other hand, the elected members do not like to see the people meddle with their work. We thought (UNPD); it was good to select some Social Mobilizers involve in this work and implementing this program through them. Because as the program requires an intense involvement with the people. The ordinary people normally expect some material benefits from NGOs. But the UNPD program was not a ‘delivery program’ as such. So I went to the villages with Amara, the President of CRCP for searching for a suitable person to involve as a Social Mobilizer in the UNPD program”.

“I am a mother of two children, a daughter and son, both of them are schooling. My husband is a farmer. We are a farmer family, live on what ever we grow on our land. We had a very difficult time for the last few years because of the drought. One day when I was working in my garden, the Midwife of the village came and told me, that the CRCP is looking for a person who has a good rapport with the people to assist with a program. She did not know much about the program though. By that time I was engaging in the community work with the villagers through Funeral Aid Society, Women’s society and with the Farmer Society in my own village. So I went to the CRPC and there were nine candidates. The CRCP interviewed us and they asked me lots of questions. At the end the interview they asked me to come to work from the following day. It was in 2007 November. Though I started work, I couldn’t understand most of the things they were saying”, explained Magilin the one of Social Mobilizers selected for work.

Navarathne explained the real situation, “This is in fact the situation in the villages. If you take Magilin for example, she has studied up to Advance Level, had an early marriage, confine to basically to home and to the village. Being a woman, she has to perform lots of duties for her family ranging from cooking, cleaning, bringing up children, and working on the garden and usually she has to work long hours almost every day. How can we involve this type of people in the issues relating to governance? It is altogether a challenge”

“For the last two years we went through lots of training and awareness programs with the UNPD program. I was fortunate to involve in all of those things. We learned lots of things that are very alien for us at that time. We participated in Leadership Training Programs, Theories and Practice of Conflict Transformation and Management, Facilitation, Gender roles and the Nature and the consequences of the War. They were very informative. We gained lots of knowledge. Slowly we were able to understand something, that goes beyond the developmental activities takes place in the village such as making a road way, digging a well etc. We were able to place all those activities in a larger frame as we gained a ‘different kind of knowledge’ from the training programs and through other interactions at UNPD. But it was still difficult for us to take this message to the people. They were in a different mindset. But we realized that we too were in the same situation before. We also were beginning to change as we interacted with this program. How ever we were very depressed, as we couldn’t deliver this message to the people. Here Mr. Navarathne came to the rescue”, explained Magilin.

“Yes, I saw this problem in most of the Social Mobilizers and even among the staff members. We were thinking and planning different things to break this barrier. Some of the Mobilizers were reluctant to interact with the Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS). Our aim was to increase the participation of the citizen in the affairs of PSs. We saw, that though there are many small organizations in the villages/ estates they were only confined to the small areas such as Funeral Aid and Thrift. They were not involved in any way with the issues related to governance and, first they have no motivation to involve in them and secondly there were no organized structure in the villages/ estates to deal with that sort of issues. Then we came up with the idea of formation of Citizen Committees (CC). The mechanism was to bring all the small societies, the prominent people and the community leaders of the village/ estate to one structure. We called it the Citizen Committee. Every body understood that the CC goes beyond the matters that the small societies engaged with in their localities. We then trained the CCs to find out the problems and resources they have in the village/ estate and to come with possible solutions. We used Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques for this and we trained the people in the villages /estates to conduct them. We understood that the people want gather just to talk about governance. We directed these CCs to organize the Public Mobile Clinics (PMC), to which most of the government officers who are responsible for the development and service delivery activities in the villages/ estates invited. Before that, there were Awareness raising programs for the people on the roles and responsibilities of the government institutions and of government officers. The villagers under the common banner of the Citizen Committee presented their problems to these officers. The people too were aware at least to some extent the responsibilities of the government officers and institutions. At the PMC, some of the problems the people encountered with directed to the proper authority. In some cases surprisingly, the officers gave instant solutions. But, though the PMCs achieved some results, this was not our intention. We wanted to get the people involve in decision making process and in particular in PS affairs. Navarathne explained the hectic process the program went through.

“Yes, we did all of these, and we knew that was not the expected aim. In the middle of program, as I earlier too mentioned, we were not that confident to carry out some of the aspects of the program. We felt that something is lacking within us, but couldn’t explain what they were”, Magilin complained.

“Yes we too observed that. We took an ‘unconventional’ move. We organized a four day ‘‘Outdoor Adventure’ training program in Wariyapola and involved all the SMs and the staff. It was amazing to see how the SMs and the staff do the ‘imposable’ things in ‘possible’ ways”.

“Mr. Navarathne was right. It largely changed us. We felt that we could do anything. We built up the confidence. We felt that we acted with some inferior complexes earlier, when we implemented the program”, Magilin endorsed Navarathne’s observation.

“We started to talk with the members and the Chairman of the PS. We were able to learn the roles and the responsibilities of the PS through awareness programs. We conducted awareness programs for the members and the Chairmen of the PSs too. They too were not that much aware of the real purpose of the PS. Most of them were not aware of the PS Act, the provisions in it and the spaces which should arrange for the citizens to participate in PS affairs. In the same time we gave training for the leaders of the CCs on the role, responsibilities of the PSs, about the Public Galleries and about the Committees of the PS. Then only the people felt that the PS is theirs and they should involve in the affairs of the PS”. Magilin explained the outcome of the ‘outdoor adventure training’.

Dhammika adds, “We had to do lots of things. We first submitted a report to the PS to get the consent and the permission to open up the gallery in the PS. We had to supply some essential furniture to the PS to organize the gallery, as they lack the resources for such move. After many interventions at various levels, we were able to ‘ceremonially’ open the Public Gallery in Monaragala Pradeshiya Sabha. I had the opportunity to preside over the meeting. Mr. Navarathne explained the purpose of this effort. The Chairman, the other members including the opposition members and the representatives of the public, who were assigned to participate in the gallery, addressed the meeting. For the first time the people, the Chairman and the members were seeing around a same table having a ‘high tea’.

One member of the PS said, “To tell you the truth, we were not aware as how even to present a proposal to the PS. We used to ‘meet’ in a ‘closed door’ room. There was no proper system. Now we have to behave with sense of responsibility as there are people in the gallery. On the other hand it helps the transparency of the transactions of the PS. We feel that the people see that the PS shifted from the ‘contract mentality’ to the ‘governance’.

I asked Magilin very casually, do you like to be a member of PS?

YES! , it was a firm answer. Three years ago a housewife, who confined basically to her own house and to the village.

What a change! , took place in three years, not only in Magilin but in many people and in many places.

Lalith Abeysinghe

20 March 2009.

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