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Were the humanitarian agencies guilty then of double dealing? Were they in fact hand in glove with the terrorists? Sadly there are some people in Sri Lanka who believe this was the case, their suspicions fuelled by one incident in which an NGO concealed from us for weeks that the terrorists were using their heavy equipment for building barriers. In that case I believe there was some connivance, but in general  I have long believed that one should never ascribe to wickedness what can arise from incompetence. In the Sri Lankan case I believe that much of the problem was due to sheer incompetence, combined with a situation which privileged such incompetence simply because it was foreign – and the refusal of foreigners, who naturally hang together, to admit culpability even in obvious cases such as the one noted above, which naturally leads to general suspicions.

Adding to this was the strategy of the terrorists, to confer exalted status upon their international interlocutors, and sadly many foreigners fell for it. I recall still the European Union trying to draw up Modes of Operation for humanitarian work, in which they claimed that external agencies should hold the balance between the concerned parties, ie the elected government and a bunch of terrorists. Fortunately I was appointed Secretary to the Ministry which was in charge of aid coordination shortly after I had first objected. At the next meeting I attended the EU officials grandly said that the clause could not be changed because it had been agreed previously, but I had to tell them that I was not there to negotiate, but to tell them what government policy was, as laid down by my Minister. Needless to say, they soon lost interest in this framework, which they had been anxiously pursuing previously, in order I now believe to enshrine their own importance.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2010
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