Objective Of Committees: Produce More Committees, Not Results
“A committee is not a structure but a plant. It takes root and grows, it flowers, it wilts and dies scattering the seed from which other committees will bloom in turn.”
This is the demystification of that bureaucratic and political panacea for most of political and bureaucratic ills - a committee – by Northcoate Parkinson a former British civil servant who became a well known writer by exposing creations of British bureaucratic myths which have now spread the world over.
Appointment of committees (or commissions) has been a regular feature of Sri Lankan political life but the realisation of the objectives of these appointed bodies is almost nil save for one or two appointed to seek political revenge. The Rajapaksa government is perhaps aiming for a Guinness Record on appointment of committees on the same subject now numbering five and a sixth being considered.
Remember the All Party Conference summoned by President J. R.Jayewardene way back in 1984 with a view to settling the ethnic problem through devolution of power? The TULF representing the Tamils refused the invitation at the outset. But the committee struggled through that year till December when the SLFP and MEP pulled out. There ended the first All Party Conference of JRJ.
We hope readers of this column will pardon us for coming back to the history of the APC once more. We do so because it proves Parkinson’s point about committees being plants scattering seeds and producing more plants (committees)but not serving the intended purpose. It happened once again last week.
We read on Tuesday that President Mahinda Rajapaksa had once again said that he was considering ‘reconvening the APC to discuss national issues!’ He had not enlarged on what his new intentions were.
Frankly, we have to confess losing count of the many APC that were summoned for the same purpose since 1984. We recall the Mangala Moonesinghe parliamentary committee, President Chandrika Kumaratunga (whether she had a committee or not) forwarded her own Amendments to the constitution which were physically torn to shreds in parliament and then the many committees appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa had an APC, an APRC and a committee of experts also appointed by him to make recommendations on the APRC recommendations. Tissa Vitharane presided over the Rajapaksa appointed committees and is said to have gone through 63 sessions stretching over one and a half years. The APRC report on sessions co-chaired by Vitharane was handed over to President Rajapaksa in 2006 but for seven long years the President has not released the report even though some members released it to the public.
Did the political labours of Tissa Vitharane that could have been as tortuous as that of Hercules himself, come to nought? Even if Mahinda Rajapaksa did not agree with the recommendations he should have released it to the public— the sittings stretching for a year and half being at public expense. Mahinda Rajapaksa once again demonstrated Parkinson’s theory on committees very well. Multiplication is the name of the game.
Shelving the report and forgetting it was easily done with the ‘historic military victory’, celebrations going on for months on end, dancing on the streets and eating ‘kiri buth’. But they were rudely interrupted when ex-patriates Tamils, backed by Western nations and the UN accused Sri Lankan military leaders of war crimes during the last phase of the war.
Ready answer: Another committee Rajapaksa had a ready answer. He appointed another committee- commission rather – the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee.
It was a carefully crafted multi pronged committee whose objectives ranged from analysis of the Ceasefire Agreement of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the conduct of the military in the last stages of the war, the lessons to be learnt and the ways of reconciliation of the estranged people.
The report raised hearty hurrahs in the Rajapaksa camp, total rejection by the TNA and other Tamil groups while there has been only a few tentative mild half hearted hurrahs from the Western camp.
The LLRC report did a fair white wash of the ‘humanitarian war’ upholding the government view that military operations were conducted with humanitarian considerations being given priority but it did call for further investigations into aspects which was its main objective such as: attacks on hospitals by heavy artillery, disappearances of people taken into custody and firing into ‘no fire zones’. The report was presented to parliament on December 16 last year but there are no moves to be seen to inquire into areas of investigation suggested by the LLRC.
Instead the full focus has been turned on the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee to make further recommendations for constitutional amendments: 13th Amendment. The LLRC flag has ceased to flutter and now it is on the 13th Amendment plus or minus. The TNA is being verbally walloped for not agreeing to participate in the parliamentary select committee forgetting the fact that they too are representative of most of the Tamil population. Various dollops in the form of economic development are on the cards they are being told. It does appear that the country has come back to square one where the Tamil people are offered what the government thinks they want and denied what they really want.
Delay is success
One of the basic objectives of ‘Commitology’ as described by Parkinson is delay. That is why a camel has been defined as a horse designed by a committee. The UN Human Rights Council is said to be in Geneva this month or somewhat later. They will obviously be told to hold their fire till Sri Lanka completes her investigations.
In conclusion we must confess that we are at a loss to understand how President Rajapaksa will collate the conclusions reached by all his APC committees, the LLRC, the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee and the APC he had proposed last week. Is he to feed all the proposals of his committees into one of the super-computers of the Sri Lanka government and draw out a solution? We only hope the results will be better than the computerised GCE A’Level results.