Social progress: A perspective framework for development

Thursday, 27 September 2018 22:36 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Arjuna G. Obeyesekare

On 26 September, the death anniversary of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was commemorated. As he was a pivotal statesman in evolving a path for social progress in Sri Lanka, it would be a useful exercise to understand the underlying pattern of development that has taken place in the country.

In many respects the country remained a traditional farming society prior to the gaining of Independence in 1948. The plantation sector had taken root in parts of the country, and the economy was progressing alongside the colonial economic and public sector institutions. These institutions together with the educational schools that were established, replicated similar institutions that existed in Britain. Consequently one sees that the process of ‘modern’ socialisation in Sri Lanka society under the British proceeded steadily. 

With the end of the 2nd World War, the political changes occurring in Europe led to shifts from the then prevalent colonial mercantilist policies, once the socialist labour administration took power in Britain.

After the gaining of Independence in 1948, the governing institutions inherited by Sri Lanka had evolved through its colonial heritage, reflected the methodologies of administration that existed in Britain. This system generally reflected the “laizze fair practices of the Colonial administration. Yet, post-independence Governments began to more actively participate in the countries development process. This occurred especially in the agricultural sector with the setting up of the land army, the River Valley’s Board and the like. 

The existing system of administration was accepted to govern the country. The necessity for change was also not apparent, as the “main driver” of the economy, the plantation sector, continued to perform satisfactorily. The development agenda was being fulfilled in the pioneering expansion programs of the agricultural farming sector. Thereafter, subsequent government administrations increased public sector involvement in the economy dramatically. However, Government Administrative structures continued as in the early post independent period.

The significance of ensuring the effectiveness of the governing institutional structures to facilitate the development of a country could be seen in how Japan set about transforming society in the 1860s after the Imperial Meiji regime restoration. The challenge for ensuring development occurred with the imposition of ‘Unequal Treaties’ by a US Naval Commander Perry, after a naval blockage of Tokyo. 

Thereafter the government of Japan set about transforming the largely farming society by acquiring information, through the sending emissaries worldwide, on systems of education, manufacturing technology and other aspects of administration required for modernising the economy. Reforms were then initiated, and the reorientation of the industrial and trade systems were gradually implemented. Resultantly within a period of 30-40 years, Japan was at the forefront of military strength, and even successfully challenged Russia, the regional power, at the turn of that century.

Consequently, the functional effectiveness of the governing administrative institutions could be considered a prerequisite to the development of the country. In this context, if the ‘effectiveness’ of the public sector, and the ‘productivity’ of the private corporate sector could be functionally matched, Sri Lanka could expect to achieve the reasonable development goals set. It needs nothing that in this age of excellence in management education and training, of key management personnel, outstanding results could be achieved. Consequently it is somewhat disappointing to observe that in the Public Sector, (ministries, departments, corporations and even universities) there is much scope for improvement of managerial efficiency.

In any institution its effectiveness hinges on the quality of leadership and other operating influences that exist. The ensuring of transparent policies is a vital factor in achieving sound results. In this age of internet communications the corporation of the ‘general public’ for obtaining and disseminating of related information, are methodologies that require developing.

In an essential public Institution like the Police Department, key changes to ‘administrative regulations’ within the Department could result in significant repercussions to the general public. The relevance of sound fundamental organising principles could be seen when viewing the methodology in handling the ‘complaints book’ at the Police Stations. From inception of the Police Department, the O.I.C of a station was required to sign-off each day on investigations concerning entries made in the ‘Complaints book’. 

This regulation was change in the late 1970s for the signing off to be done by a lower officer of the station. From that time onwards, the ‘Community Police’ aspect of the service has been generally eroded.

At the same time another key facilitating public sector institution, the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) is no longer in existence. Consequently in the Rice cultivating sector, there is general disarray at time of harvest, as to disposal prices. The PMB had some series flaws in its operation, but was a key link in the paddy supply chain. However for effective marketing and distribution of paddy a constructive method of operation could have been to facilitate a joint venture on public private partnership (PPP) basis, which could possibly ensure effective performance.

Consequently in the public sector, the ensuring of performance of criteria by the provision of quality management and technical inputs by means of PPP methodology can be seen in the privatisation of the Telecom Department and SriLankan Airlines. The quality leadership provided by the joint venture partner ensured effective results, with the bulk of the employees remaining unchanged. Additionally it can be noted that in the case of SriLankan Airlines, after the joint venture partner exited, the agile leadership ceased together with profitability of the corporation.

In assessing a path for development, it can be seen that a significant strength of the country is the intelligence and amiability of the people in general. Even after the traumatic experience of the past 30 years, the absence of inter communal bitterness or animosity is remarkable. The instilling of divisiveness occurs at the political level and not at the grass root level. The value structure of communities is considered by outsiders to be on par with values in a post-industrial society. It is a big bonus for the tourism sector, but for the development of the country, it is a solid foundation.

To provide for the ‘balanced growth’ of the country’s economy, the agricultural sector has significant potential. However marketing and distribution requires careful supply chain linkages. Markets that could absorb volume production requires establishment, and could mainly be found overseas. To assist in these overseas endeavours institutions needs to be established. These need to be similar to operations of the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) or the Korean External Trade Organization (KOTRA). However an ideal solution could also be for a PPP organization to be setup to operate similar to Mitsui (a former Japanese Zaibuzu Company) or Chinese CITEC (Hong Kong based foreign trade company) to coordinate and facilitate the import and export of key commodity requirements of the economy.

In assessing the way forward, a critical path analysis of the country’s existing economic sectors alongside other economic activities with high potential, requires to be carefully considered and selected, for resource allocation needed in strategic development. Value added potential of the available mineral resources, such as graphite, quartz, etc. requires attention. The existence of offshore natural gas is beyond doubt. The ensuring of progress in key economic areas could be considered essential.

Presently, the main obstacle to progress in the country is the antiquated administrative system in place in most institutions of the public sector. The introduction of an effective ‘system study’ to get to grips with the problem is urgent. At the same time an effective ‘Human Resource administration’ methodology is acutely required to back-up a streamlined system.

Finally the observation can be made that Mother Nature has been kind to Sri Lanka and our ancient civilisation has helped us immensely to be good human beings. It is now up to us to not ‘live for the day’, but to have regard for the future generations and act with foresight for the problems at hand.