brand logo

Are we headed in the right direction?

20 Sep 2022

By Rohan Wijesinha   Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Director (Operations) Ranjan Marasinghe delivered a lecture on wildlife conservation in the presence of members of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) and other guests.  If the audience who joined in person or through social media were expecting proof that the DWC is heading in the right direction, with possible explanations on what conservation measures are to be implemented within the country, then they were to be disappointed.  However, within what was mostly a discourse on management theory, some important facts were illustrated by the Director, who must be lauded for his fearlessness in facing a potentially hostile audience, especially in these current climes.   Problems faced by the managers of the DWC   The Director listed the following issues faced by the managers of the DWC in complying with the supposed expectations of their role, as the statutory face of wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka:
  • Inheritance of cumbersome procedures to adhere to, as a State agency
  • Low human resources in both managerial/operational sectors
  • Misaligned quality among the operational cadre
  • Orthodox public accountability standards that discourage innovation
  • Human-animal conflict consuming time and money
  • Conflicting rights between stakeholders
  • Limitations faced when taking actions, due to Fundamental Rights issues
  • Conflicts between the stated and unstated expectations of owners/agents
  • Sensitive, dynamic, and unpredictable nature of “the subject”
While appreciating the interference of their political masters in conservation planning and implementation, at least five of the nine problem factors referred to above, are internal management issues that should have been resolved by the senior managers of the DWC.  As a prominent member of the audience mentioned, it may be unfair to expect management performances from a State agency comparable to those in the private sector, but then, why not? Everything described in the points does apply to the corporate sector, and no senior manager would dare present such a list to their Board of Directors.   What is the ‘subject’?   Perhaps the most telling point is the final one where conservation/wildlife protection is referred to as the “subject”. Sadly, for conservationists and environmentalists, that is all it will be to much of the hierarchy of the statutory organisations responsible for the guardianship of this “subject” The “subject” has become nothing more than the means of achieving longevity and promotion within the service. This is a malaise that has affected the DWC and other statutory bodies for the past 50 years, and is unlikely to change in this or the wider civil service, which has been politicised to the detriment of its effectiveness and efficiency. Instead, the Director made it clear that the primary function of the DWC today is the implementation of its legal responsibilities. Surely, shouldn’t this, as important as it is, only be a component of the main function of the DWC – the conservation and protection of the wildlife and wilderness of Sri Lanka?  In a presentation made to the members and guests of the WNPS, the third-oldest such organisation in the world, and a major influence in the setting up of the DWC, shouldn’t conservation of wildlife in Sri Lanka be the primary focus of this lecture, as encapsulated in the topic? What of the escalating human-animal conflicts, the continuing encroachment into wildlife habitat, and the ill-advised political interference in the primary functions of the DWC? Lately, the media reported the story of the alleged killing of a deer within a National Park by a member of the Government, after the park had been closed for the night. There has been a spectacular silence from the DWC on whether the allegation is true or false; or what action they propose to take if it is true. So what of this legal importance?   A new future   As evident by the recent events, this country is in the face of a new future. The future policymakers will consist mostly of a younger population who would have a greater understanding of the importance of wildlife conservation, if they are not suppressed by force or limited due to complexities of law and the Constitution. As seen through the recent events, they would not be afraid to hold accountable, even the highest positions of authority, for their failures.  Once again, all credit to the Director for his courage in addressing this forum and in his admittance that thanks to the continued cooperation of the private sector and non-governmental organisations, financial resources are not an issue in implementing conservation strategies: it just takes mutual commitment, understanding and dedication. He, after all, has the reputation of being one of the more able of the senior managers of the department.  While the Director’s presentation did its best to blur his response to the main question being asked, the rest of us are left to sadly conclude that “NO”, the DWC is not headed in the right direction, particularly as he provided nothing to demonstrate the contrary.  Fundamental to this loss of direction is that the long-standing management of the DWC, felt that they have to be the champions of social policy in this country. Yet, there are 51 other government departments in total of which the DWC is the only one responsible for the conservation of wildlife. The rest are to look after people. If the senior management of the DWC are to continue taking this line, then who will be there to look after wildlife?

More News..