Tuesday, May 29, 2018

An overhaul of the way in which our biodiversity is protected is the need of the hour

 – amalgamation and DE politicization, along with teeth to manage their affairs and be accountable to the Country for their actions.

Caliber of workforce @ DWC from top down

As is typical of public service, the staff in different grades follow established practices, that place no emphasis on background, aptitude, dedication, dependability. One therefore has staff on the same pay scales, but judged differently, do different tasks, and if their productivity was evaluated, have insurmountable gaps in their performance levels.

It is impossible to standardize, but in the private sector, many positions are earned from merit, and not from years of service, and so there are many routes to the top, and promising candidates can be fast tracked. It is almost impossible to do so in the Public Sector. As a result extremely competent people are lost in the woodwork, getting no recognition, or promotion, who have to bide their time, whereas incompetent boot lickers get to the top.

Then you have many who have been given jobs, through political connections who are really unsuitable for this type of work, and are in short, a burden to the department and there is presently, no means of eviscerating them from service.

Then you may have heard of the old adage, that all the parks are outside of the Western Province, but 25% of the workforce is in the Western Province, a wholly unacceptable situation, where the staff for example in the DWC head office in Battaramulla are no different in quality to any other staff in Govt. departments. That means, in plain language, they can’t tell an animal from a human, and both visitor and animal are treated worse than animals, and you can guess what that means.

It is therefore high time, that professionalism takes over this department and a sense of pride in their vocation is instilled. For that YOU MUST have a trained, professional and dedicated workforce. You cannot have this if the department (DWC) is politicized. It is actually easier to remove this department from the normal political machinations, as it is the Wildlife and Biodiversity of the Country that these staff are dedicated to protect. A new ETHOS can be established in a short period of time. With capable people being promoted and given responsibility, with a path to even Park Warden from the lowest laborer grade, a new empowerment can take place, without which the goals of establishing the guardians of our heritage cannot be met. Of course there has to be a public debate on the benefits, before it is implemented, to give rationale to.
This therefore quite obviously warrants a training establishment, with clear guidelines and teaching as well as continuous professional education to keep all abreast of the latest technology in protection and safeguarding of the species.

The interaction with Law Enforcement

Another significant problem faced by the DWC, is their interaction with the local police force. After all the poachers in villages have connections with the local police, and so when they are caught, prosecution is somewhat compromised, and there is no swift justice, and often the worst offenders know they can get away with warnings or some form of plea bargain. This is NOT good for prevention, and notice to the community that poaching, traps, and other forms, used by farmers and villagers to kill animals or maim them even in cases of intrusion into fields, will not be tolerated.

So different means like a special court should be established for this type of crime that does not get the local police involved. You will immediately notice a drop in poaching, when the habitual offenders realize the game is up, and it is not a proposition worth pursuing. Here too change can take place immediately.

The construction and maintenance of the Electric Fences

There are hundreds of kilometers of fencing in place at present. Many have been constructed very poorly, with the contractors, in league with some DWC high officials, who have effectively pocketed much of the allocated funds. It is not difficult to have the construction side of it managed and approved centrally to required standards.

The maintenance of fences have now been handed over to the CSD, which was established to protect villages during the conflict, and now they are used to clear the undergrowth on both sides of the fences periodically and maintain the fences and repair them when broken. Elephants are becoming increasingly clever in their ability to break fences, and this task is becoming an even more important issue locally in affected areas.

The fact that DWC staff have to oversea CSD staff in this maintenance function does create conflict, as the local village is also involved in the complaint, and so with three parties to the solution, there inevitably results in HUMAN HUMAN conflict that sometimes needs to be arbitrated owing to the numerous disputes.

Part of the problem that has been recognized is that many Elephant Corridors have been blocked by these fences and there are experts, who can be consulted in how and where to place fencing in order to minimize HEC, and it is shown that fencing the villages in and not fencing the elephants out works better, despite the apparent disagreement from villagers who wish to encroach.

Due to the Elephant Population living outside protected areas for the most part, the extra trained manpower is required to cover the increasing frequency of conflict. This justifies the training and the professionalism I have referred to earlier in establishing a training school prior to being assigned responsibilities.

The public at large are blissfully unaware of the scale of this need, as it is localized and the Media do not bring out the frequency of occurance. With limited resources allocated to the Department, it is difficult to step up the game.

Half of the places of Archeological Interest lie in protected areas

While I have mentioned the need for the Forest Department and DWC to work together or joined, instead of being part of two different ministries, it makes no sense that the Archeological sites are administered by a further Ministry, where this can also be amalgamated with the aforesaid two so that our heritage is preserved as well as our Biodiversity in one swell swoop. The officers of the DWC must understand Archeology and their preservation and this too will be built into the training curriculum, as they will then know how to identify, and protect these locations within the protected areas, from looters, treasure hunters, and desecrators. One can understand the need for the upgrade of this service.

There are 250,000 areas of archeological interest in Sri Lanka, which makes it the world’s highest concentration of such sites. The fact that 95% are not secure and open to raiding, is unimaginable and if resources are in short supply, de-mobbed forces personnel could be used, as this is a further employment opportunity for people in rural areas.

To begin with the Security Forces should establish a separate section for this task and then gradually over a few years move it out into the DWC as a security unit of the DWC. Later, amalgamate the CSD into it and have a security force that guards the property that come under their jurisdiction, allowing the trained staff to take care of the other responsibilities of all protected areas coming within their purview.

Resource Allocation to the DWC

It is increasingly evident that in order to do their job according to the law, the DWC should be allocated much more resources, from the money they earn from tourism that presently goes to the Treasury, from whom allocations come few and far between, and there is no method in the way it is distributed.

It is not just personnel that is in short supply, it is the equipment needed to carry out their duties. Be they vehicles, or drones. None of this is currently forthcoming as there is no clear understanding by self-serving politicians, who are not concerned with animals that don’t have a vote.

This then is a further reason to take politics out of this task, and like the Judiciary, call this act of protecting the Biodiversity of Sri Lanka, the Fifth Estate, that is given clout and independence to carry out their duties, and their independence can also come with a Revenue Raising Mandate, that is left for them to administer, as there are many such options that are not considered owing to a lack of direction and professionalism within the service at present.

Permission has to be granted from people who don’t know anything about the subject, even if toilets are required in the National Park Entrances. Tourist have NO facilities even to take cash from an ATM, or the convenience of paying by credit card, due to this public service mentality that is NOT conducive to a tourism oriented economic growth. Those who pay don’t have any say.

A properly managed SERVICE in the format explained here, will more than pay their own way in income that has yet to be tapped, due to the inability of the present system to work as a profit center. It is simply absurd for the DWC that earns so much for the Exchequer, that it is not given the opportunity to do more. They know how to balance over visitation and opening alternative locations, and not leave it to political whims, to maximize the tourism experience, that is currently being ruined by poor management and entanglement of local politicians in the smooth running of the DWC.

You only have to look to India, that is does a super job in managing their wildlife, for examples of this in action, and look at Costa Rica that puts top priority to enhance their Bio Diversity experience and product, as they know it is a WIN WIN proposition for the country overall. In the end, if it does not benefit the citizens of Sri Lanka there is no point in proceeding any further!

I have covered a whole myriad of points, that with the experience I have gleaned from observations across the Country, I know, can result in a better product, more safeguards for biodiversity, less friction amongst players and benefit this Country enormously. We have not even attempted the potential yet!


This is a working paper on the way forward, to bring some ideas into the debate so we can end up with a Biodiversity Masterplan for the future, the need today.


Anonymous said...

A comprehensive paper covering all aspects - a good start to getting the stakeholders together. The problem is each prima donna wants to stamp their pet subject or their idea into this and so it will never get implemented as they will be pulling for their corner, instead of thinking about the whole issue as one, divided into many parts, to achieve one goal. Survival of the human race in Sri Lanka

Anonymous said...

Very few within the DWC really love their job, especially in the higher grades, who are more concerned about their perks, so they can fend for their families, pay school and university fees for their kids, and generally do the minimum work to get paid.

What that does is that the animals they are supposed to protect get shortchanged. This is not like any other Public Sector Job, this requires a different caliber of person, and there are too few like that in the DWC.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that only truly committed people are taken into this service, to ensure we have the best Wildlife Service in the world. Why can't we aspire to be the world's best for a change?

Anonymous said...

All state entities relating to this must be handled as one unit, so everyone is on the same page. That is an essential pre requisite, and so for example the Conservator of Forests and the DG of the DWC must have a meeting once a month to coordinate their departments in fulfilling this objective.

Arguably there are more elephants in land under the Forest Department than in the Wildlife Department and electric fencing would go from one's land to another. It makes NO sense to have one under the Environment Ministry and the other under the Sustainable Development Ministry.

Who are the crazy people who are ruling over us?