In the bad old days when Western diplomatic missions thought that peace could only be obtained in Sri Lanka through the efforts of their chosen Non-Governmental Organizations, the Germans set up an agency called FLICT, for Facilitating Local Initiatives for Conflict Transformation. It was managed by GTZ, the German Agency for International Cooperation, but also became one of the biggest beneficiaries of British funding.
What actually was done with all the funds poured into FLICT was decided by a Steering Committee which was largely composed of individuals who shared the view of their international paymasters, that the elected Sri Lankan government could not be trusted with the important task of bringing peace to the country. In theory there was consultation with government, but in fact it was because the Secretary to the concerned Ministry, that of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, realized that the Ministry did not have the capacity to monitor everything that was going on, and asked me to help, that I began to realize the enormity of the waste and worse of the entire exercise.
Interestingly enough, I had some previous knowledge of FLICT, in that I had been asked when it was set up to comment on what was presented as a ‘strategy for civic participation in democratic and plural forms of governance’. I suspect my report was not welcome, because I received no follow up. I had said that, whilst all their recommendations were admirable,
‘we have been here before. Indeed we have been here several times already, or rather the same people have been through all this repeatedly, and continue to engage in research and advocacy, to what seems very little purpose.’
What I should have realized was that this was precisely what the funders wanted, to provide funds for their pet advocates. This was even more important at the time I sent in my report, for Mahinda Rajapakse had just been elected President, and the funders clearly wanted to empower alternative strategists and strategies to what they identified as his. I heard little then about FLICT for much of the next two years, except for Dominic Chilcott telling me how it was one of the principal recipients of British funding for peace, and that he certainly could not help the government Peace Secretariat, since that did not fit in with British policy.
What exactly was happening to British and other funding became clear when the concerned Ministry sent me the documentation. It transpired that millions of rupees had been given to vocal critics of the government, many of whom were in the forefront of the campaign for instance to ensure that Rama Mani stayed on at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies.
Easily the largest beneficiary was Young Asia Television, whose principal professional agent, Sharmini Boyle, was Rama’s chief companion in the days in which we were all accused of persecuting her. They got over 130 million rupees though, in fairness to Sharmini, even she did not know about all the projects entrusted to her business. Sithie Thiruchelvam, who seems to have initiated the first support Rama rally, at the Law and Society Trust offices, did well with nearly 30 million going to the Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust. Poor Tissainayagam too seems to have got lots of funding for his websites, which perhaps contributed to his thinking that, the more aggressive the language he used, the more money the West would give him.
The concept of interlocking networks was also well illustrated in the way in which funding was decided on. There is for instance a CPA employee on the Steering Committee (he of ICG provenance too, as it seems), as is someone else who had worked for the Berghof Foundation and was married to someone else at CPA. At the same time, it could be argued that the Germans were themselves innocent of any deliberate effort to undermine the government. They commissioned a review which was quite critical about the comparative uselessness of much that had gone on, and had a workshop at which it seemed to be agreed that there would be more consultation over the following year.
After that, again, I heard nothing. I had got the impression that the GTZ officials wanted me involved more, but I may have been wrong, and they may have been as wary about my being kept in the loop as were the interlocking networks of Sri Lankans who were convinced that the government was the greatest enemy to peace. In any case, given the load of work that overtook me over the next few months, I was not in a position to monitor FLICT carefully.
To my surprise, then, I was asked a few months back to contribute to yet another review. This struck me as preposterous, and I pointed this out in my reply. I did however note that, from a cursory glance at the papers they had sent me, the Project did seem to have done more outside Colombo.
I hoped this meant they had stopped funding the elite networks that thought attacking the government was the surest way to peace, and I thought therefore that I should respond positively when a new German official wanted to see me about the continuation of the Project. He seemed to me to share my views that the strategy employed even in this last period could have been more effective, and I hope therefore that he and his colleagues will do more in the coming year to justify the expenditure that the German government – and the German taxpayer – are so kindly providing. But I fear that the Mafia will prove too strong, and that the prejudice against active support for government initiatives will continue.
Sadly what makes all this easier, the rent seeking that in effect funding for peace became over the last few years, is the absence of statutory requirements with regard to accounting and reporting. In theory reports are submitted to the NGO Secretariat, or to the Registrar of Companies in the case of those agencies that have registered there, but I found that in many cases this requirement had not been met. In any case those agencies do not have the resources to check on what is going on, and to ensure transparency with a clear assessment of outcomes.
Since unfortunately the German and other funders also had no way of checking carefully on outlay, and there has not been sufficient dialogue between such funders and the relevant government ministries, much money through which much good could have been achieved has gone to waste – or perhaps worse, given the enormous resources at the disposal of those who did their best over the last few years to subvert the elected government, and thus indirectly the democratic will of the Sri Lankan people.