Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Grama Niladari – The most thankless job in the Government Service


I recently had the task of trying to obtain details of the most needy households in order to assist them in some way to get their lives back together from the effects of the recent disastrous floods.

The Government Servant in the field who should have the closest interaction with the residents is the Grama Niladari. Technically there are over 14,000 Grama Niladari Divisions in the Country, and each should have a GN attached to it. This Public Servant is appointed after passing an exam, and is technically a-political, though there are allegations, that in the past, these were all political appointments made for the benefit of the party in power, and they remain loyal to them.

Be that as it may, he is ONLY given a Rs1,000 a month allowance to have an office in his division, where often there is NO govt. office he can use, and has to pay and get a room from a local person from where he can carry out his activity. I understand that his basic pay or allowance is ONLY Rs15,000 a month, something that is barely sufficient to live on.

He is not entitled to nor given a computer, nor has one to keep a list of the between 500 and 2000 households that he has in his area of responsibility, covering a total population of between 2,000 and 8,000. So when the flood hit, he was NOT able to call all the homes, and find out which were damaged, as he does not even have a list of he mobile phones of those adults at the households.

One of his annual tasks is to go to each home about the end of May, and handover the Electoral Register, for the householder to fill. That is ONLY to list those ordinarily resident at that address, who are 18 years of age at 1st of June that year. SO HE HAS NO CLUE on the other members of that household he should cover.

I remember when I lost my ID card, I had to go to him, to get a letter to inform the Police of this loss, and then go back to him with the Police receipt to file the paperwork for a replacement ID card. So he has to vouch for you as being within his jurisdiction, an essential component for the receipt of an Identity Card.

Similarly, one cannot be buried without his certificate, and I know the bereaved have to go in search of their GN in the middle of the night, to release the body, with evidence of the ID card. He also issues character certificates to people, essential for a job application, to vouch for one’s residency.

I remember, I was not permitted to get electricity, by the GN who refused to authorize the document, (I still don’t have electricity there) because I was NOT the original licensee of the property I occupy, nor his rightful heir, even though I have farmed this property for over 10 years. The original family being given the property by license over 80 years ago, and has changed hands since many times, and I purchased it NOT by a legal document from the Divisional Secretariat but by a transfer from the previous occupant.

There are times when people have to wait hours to see him on his office days, which I believe have to be at least 2 mornings a week. He is not entitled to any assistance, so the wait is often outside his office with no waiting area from the elements either. I know people have to take a day out of work to meet the GN and are unable to achieve their objective due to his inability to come dring stipulated hours, out of an emergency or otherwise, we don’t know.

It is through him that many social services are handled, be it welfare, disability, nutrition subsidies for pregnant mothers, clinics, and special services for the elderly. One can see how much a local community depends on the reliability and diligence of the GN, and when these positions fall vacant and an overseeing GN is appointed temporarily to cover for another in addition to his own, there are problems of verification of information and a breakdown of sorts.

Due to the high degree of bureaucracy in Sri Lanka, where many things require a GN certificate of one sort or another, one needs to have a good relationship with the GN, as it is through him that you need to get permission to cut a tree in your property. He has had the cheek to ask for trees on my property to use to make the ceiling of his daughters house! If I say no, he will tie my hands in some other way, when I need his authorization.

This example shows that he uses his position for his benefit, and some have become exceedingly wealthy by using their position to permit criminal activity by his householders, where he shares in some of the loot for not reporting crime. This is when governance is non-existent, and we hope this is now in the past.

In the days gone by, he was called Grama Sevaka Ralahamy,  which followed the Gam Muladeni, or Village Headman, an honorary title, and was the quasi policeman ALSO for the area, and was responsible for reporting criminal activity, and got involved in personal disputes etc. He is the one you reported a complaint of loss or theft of an animal or any other criminal activity. One now has to go to the nearest Police Station to lodge these complaints.

He is usually expected to be in the Divisional Secretariat (DS) on Wednesdays Public Day) to meet with the various subject officers there, on matters of common interest to both, as he is the conduit through whom their subject matter is handled.

So in the case of those affected in the flood, he will liase with the Disaster Management Officer of the DS on needs in his area, and those who are still waiting for relief, or progress of various promises or projects to be or being undertaken in his area to give temporary and more permanent relief to the residents. I have been trying all morning to get in touch with one, but he does not answer his mobile phone.

In this particular flood, out of 49 GN divisions under the DS, 22 were affected, and 8 badly affected, and we are helping in 5 where we were able to contact and meet with the GN when we wanted. The needy in the other areas were not as fortunate! Their GN was not accessible when we wanted to visit and wrap up proceedings.


This description was given, and is in NO WAY extensive as to the duties, and responsibilities attached to this position, so that the reader can come to conclusions on the position’s relevance, and the way in which his knowledge, database, or lack of it, can be used to assist the Govt. in carrying out its duties to the Public in a more efficient and LESS TIME CONSUMING way.

The PUBLIC administration in Sri Lanka is SO EASY to manage, if the zillion people in the public sector, do the job they are being paid for. All things considered, the officers who litter the DS,  HATE to go into the field to do the job and interact with the GN on site, and with little official transport facilities, find excuses, why the numerous services of the state DO NOT get distributed to those in need of them.

This is called an overburdened in strength bureaucracy that has NOT been able to fairly allocate the responsibilities, for action and completion. In my opinion, it expects too much from an under resourced person. Nothing is done by primarily female staff who litter DS offices, due to having Degrees, but who don’t get their hands dirty, and take the needed responsibility for the State Machinery to work.

The Divisional Secretary gets a Rs10M vehicle and a full time driver, so their children and grandchildren can be dropped and picked up at school, college or tuition factory, and so does not go anywhere except for scheduled meetings.
We professionals in the private sector had a scheduled meeting with her, but she had left for an unscheduled meeting at her ministry, without making alternative arrangements for us, and wasted our valuable time, which we had reserved to help with the needs of the truly destitute victims of the recent flood!

People are NOT made of the same cloth, so we have the good and bad in every position, public and private sector. However in the Private Sector, non performers hardly last any time, and are pushed out, whilst in the Public Sector, the truly useless are often promoted upstairs, perpetuating and in fact worsening an already Red Tape laden bureaucracy. The Sri Lankan disease!

The GNs were asked to provide a list of ALL those affected by the floods, and they had done so. However this was not based on degree of being affected. Those who had an inch of water enter their home for 10 minutes, and those that were completely under water to roof level and not cleared for 10 days, went on the same list, for assistance, and those on lists received equal assistance from voluntary or politically organized groups, using those lists.

That resulted in much unfair distribution, with the truly needy often missing out as they had NOT yet been able to notify the GN of their plight, and so did not get into the lists in the first place. How would a simple hand held Pad been able to provide the needed information, if the list had been downloaded to it, and he only had to go around (by boat), and give a number rating as to extent of damage or destruction, so as to identify the gravity of the problem and provide the different levels of relief, resulting in a more equitable, and by implication, a better method of assessing and satisfying need.

In this technological age, these are very simple, cheap, and logical steps that MUST be taken, for administration of ANY emergency. No one I know has even suggested a method of improvement and use these ideas as a pilot project, using existing data of the existing emergency. The simplicity of the data, its use, and availability to share with appropriate authorities will ensure speedy action.

I am still waiting, a month after the tragedy, for the list of the MOST NEEDY 10 homes in 5 GN divisions, so I can distribute my relief supplies, I bought yesterday, and go to those homes, and see for myself, and provide additional support to rebuild or repair broken and washed out toilets, that will not be included in State Aid, and will form the second stage of my relief assistance to the needy. Some children don’t have the basics to go to school with, and others don’t even have a mat to sleep on, why are we so lackadaisical in helping them, at this late stage?


It is clear that in an age where we have 50,000 graduates wanting Govt. jobs, and the previous Govt. hired them at Rs10,000 a month, 55,000 of them! We have NOT been able to use their skills effectively.

We instead have placed too much responsibility on GN, who don’t require a degree for their positions, but have to qualify by passing a relatively simple exam.

There is a serious mismatch our Human Resource, as 70% who graduate from State Universities are women, and their first preference on obtaining an ARTS degree or AGRICULTURE degree, is to get a Teaching or Govt. Job such as at a DS, which from my observation, strengthened my hypothesis.

I know that most of the intake into Teaching are NOT competent to teach, resulting in the failure of our Education System, and those taken into the DS are NOT competent in the task handed to them either, resulting in a HUGE WASTE of resources, and a PUBLIC that has been fooled intuitively!

I recommend that the GN position is UPGRADED immediately, and better trained, and more responsible people are appointed to this post. I would seriously evaluate the effectiveness of office based staff in DS as a matter of priority, as they have a huge responsibility that they are NOT able to fulfill, and whether it is because most of them are female, and unwilling to go into the field and get their colorful OSARIES (Kandyan Style Sarees) dirty, I am not able to definitely conclude!

The name GN may have connotations that are NOT high ranking, and if that is the case, a name change may achieve a status change, and along with it a carder more appropriate to take their job to the desired level, along with promotion prospects is to be considered, and I will admit I don’t know how the system works.

I shall remind our readers that the President of Sri Lanka was a former GN, himself, and if there is anyone with more experience and knowledge on how this position should be viewed in the future it is him. I hope I can have this translated into Sinhala and sent to him, for him to get an opinion from an outsider, as to what I believe the position should be at, in the public service pecking order, due to the first line of the state’s relationship with its citizens being the all important GN.

In my extensive reading of Newspapers and journals of the day, I have yet to see one that covers this topic, and I hope I have at least raised an EYEBROW~


Ratmale,Minneriya,Sri Lanka said...

Just came back from delivering flood relief, and GN sent a helper as he was too busy. He being only 1 yeaer on the job, does not know the area well, and depends on these helpers to give him the information on homes that need assistance. We don't what the helper's agenda is, and are only relying on the information they provide as being accurate, even though it may not be.

This is just one area, where we go into each home, and assess the needs individually and give relief according to that specific need of that home.

5 more areas to cover on the first phase. Time consuming, and state of some areas, where people live is shocking!Wealth and poverty sit side by side, but in a slum.

Anonymous said...

Govt Jobs are given more on relevant qualification for the job, and not on interview as being the most likely. The interveiwer is not someone who really knows what he is looking for, and plays safe on accepting those with necessary qualifications.

So graduate JOBS fall to the 90% of women in Arts Batches who graduate, but who really take the job for the pay and benefits, but no one is checking if they are actually doing the job effectively.

That is the reason the Divisional Secretariat offices are full to the brim with women doing nothing, but being paid very well.