Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue at Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

But, in addition to these areas where we should work together for conceptual change, there are obviously more practical ways of improving things. In particular I believe we can profitably follow Indian examples with regard to providing a range of options in higher and vocational education. Replicating something like the IITs for instance in previously deprived regions would help with promoting the excellence we need while also showing our commitment to equity.

I was thus delighted recently to hear that our Ministry of Youth Affairs has been in contact with an Indian Non-Governmental Organization that has developed a heartening model for Vocational Training. In Sri Lanka we had concentrated too much in this regard on technical training that came close to being academic, with long courses that made no provision for the varied needs of the workplace. Aide et Action, as the Organization is called (actually of French origin, but it has developed a decentralized system of management that gives priority to local expertise), has instituted short carefully targeted courses that also develop soft skills. I was pleasantly surprised, having attended a couple of their events in India over the last year, to see the confidence of the youngsters who had benefited from their training, the skills bestowed on girls who were breaking into non-traditional occupations whilst also able to stand up for themselves in the workplace as well as at home, the capacity for self-expression and analysis.

This sort of model can benefit us tremendously, especially in the context of the single parent families that will be one of the lasting legacies of the conflict we have gone through. It was encouraging therefore that the Ministry now in charge of Vocational Training had registered the possible impact of such work, and has encouraged an expansion of Aide et Action’s work in Sri Lanka.

But in addition to assistance and example, we need too to promote contacts, to ensure that trade develops as a strong two way traffic between our countries. In this regard I believe we should move swiftly to ratifying CEPA, albeit with the institution of safeguards in areas in which problems might arise. At the same time we should also strengthen our capacity to respond to problems.

In this regard I should note that we are sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer genius of the Indian bureaucracy. When it comes to negotiations, Indian administrators tend to be single-minded and ruthless in the pursuit of their national goals. Our administrators unfortunately belong to a softer and more amenable tradition, and in the last few years they have not been getting the high level training that will enable them to deal effectively with their Indian counterparts. Language skills can also sometimes be a problem, if not at the highest levels. In that respect I believe we will benefit much from participating in some of your training programmes for administrators, just as we have benefited from sharing in your military training programmes. The difference is that our military personnel used these skills in cooperation with yours to overcome terrorism, whereas if our administrators make proper use of the training your high flying institutes provide, one result will be negotiations on an equal basis, so that we might ensure that the fine print of any trade agreements we sign benefits us as much as it does you.

But in the long run it will I think benefit India as much as us if we brought our Administrative Service back to the level at which it used to function in the past, in the days for instance when personnel from South Asia played such an influential role in world bodies. Now, as you know, we find these bodies dominated by Westerners, and also Westerners, as one distinguished Indian diplomat pointed out to me, who come from what might be termed Non-Governmental backgrounds, to which they usually return if they cannot feed for ever on the clover that the United Nations provides.

The result is that they think governments are basically incompetent if not actually evil, and it is their business to set up rival authorities, of essentially unaccountable individuals such as they once were and hope to be again. Unfortunately they do not realize – at least, I hope they do not, though some are undoubtedly shrewd, and know on which side their bread is buttered – that the Non-Governmental Organizations they privilege are funded by individuals, and often by governments, with particular political aims.

If we are to ensure that multilateral organizations go back then to serving the needs of member countries, and their elected governments, we need to work together more coherently to promote a less alien mindset. I believe that the presence of India in the UN Security Council, I hope soon on a permanent basis, will contribute to this, but it will also be helpful if SAARC as a body, through experienced and articulate Civil Servants, works towards ensuring greater equity and more attention to international perspectives in what is now almost frivolously termed the ‘international community’.

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  1. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – The International Context, Past and Present (Part 1) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  2. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Relations in the Past (Part 2) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  3. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Cooperation in the Current Context (Part 3) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  4. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Reconciliation and the Restoration of Confidence (Part 4) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  5. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Collaboration in Education and Training (Part 5) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
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