Most Sri Lankans, including the Government, Officials, Judiciary, Regulators, Law Enforcement Officers, Business, Professionals, Consumers and Civil Society pay little attention to promulgated policies and practices. These remain merely as adornments in print and not guiding core principles embedded in societal values.
The initiators and promulgators of national policy need to understand that any policy is not worth the paper written on, unless there is effective communication, awareness, buying in by the public on the basis of its essential nature and acceptance by all as a core value of society.
The newspapers last week reported the true reflection of policies in practice. A full-page advertisement announced the draft National Policy on Sand as a Resource for the Construction Industry. Another news report quoted the Chief of the Judicial Services as holding the law enforcement chiefs accountable for the failure to implement judgments and allowing the illicit mining of river sand. The law enforcement officers then lamented on their inability of enforcement due to politicians and bigwig cops backing the illicit miners of river sand.
The story and saga is not limited to sand alone but spreads to every such policy whether it be the protection of the environment and ecology, safety and security of road users, mining of gems, exploitation of timber, dumping of garbage and pollution, admittance of children to schools, health care or even the solvency and security of financial service institutions.
The policy paper on sand has no reference to a strategy that will assure the enforcement automatically by society through a buying in process and acceptance as a societal norm. The paper proposes monitoring using the mechanism of oversight Ministers in charge, Standing Committees, law enforcement officers and Regulators. "If you wish to ensure non enforcement of a policy then give the responsibility to a Minister, set up a monitoring committee, set up a Regulatory Authority, look up to the police and the judiciary to round up and punish offenders," says the Wise Old Owl.
How come all knowing leaders in government and officialdom forget the need to communicate in order to assure effective awareness and buying in by the young to old of their societal accountability to assure the use of sand as a renewable resource? By merely writing a policy that there are significant dangers of the present illicit mining of river sand, dangers of exploiting sand beds and dunes around rivers and seashore and also the danger in haphazardly using sea sand, none of these risks can be eliminated.
It is the same story when it comes to regulations applicable to food. A mere gazette notice on food labeling issued earlier in the year setting out that no one should erase or obliterate any labels, compulsory requirement to specify set declarations in one or more languages, refrain from selling beyond expiry periods, display special identifying marks, refrain from indicating references from Medical Associations or references to "natural" products will not assure compliance by the importers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers. The proof of above is evident to any person visiting shops and super markets. One has to wade through a stack on a rack to find amongst expired and overprinted stocks, an item of food that has a reasonable period to run. One can then imagine the expiry dates of items served cooked and converted!
Control of rabies, dengue and malaria, drinking and driving or even driving recklessly cannot be assured by laws and regulations. Environmental pollution, conserving scarce energy sources and prevent destroying forests along with valuable endemic medicinal plants, birds, butterflies and frogs cannot similarly be left to regulations.
One of the key responsibilities of policy makers and regulators is to build awareness and involve civil society in the enforcement process. Whilst persons of all age groups can be made stakeholders in this process, especially children, teachers, religious leaders and mothers can be valuable allies.
In a nation where " Leghgha and Bhaya" or " Shame and Fear" have faded away with civil society experiencing years of civil war, lawlessness, crime, corruption, nepotism, indiscipline and ability to tide over any situation with money and power, it is obvious that policies, practices and regulations are only for some and not for others.
Cannot the terms of reference in attempting to develop policies, practices and regulations contain a few questions before terms are drafted? How can we get these communicated? How can we assure maximum buying in? How can we make civil society and identified target groups become flag bearers and enforcement champions of the policy?
All policy makers must understand and leverage the power of "Social Marketing" as the way forward in enforcement and every policy, practice and regulation must be accompanied by a social marketing strategy setting clearly the target groups and civil society champions of enforcement.
(The writer could be reached at - email@example.com).