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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

I was sorry last week to miss the Nandadasa Kodagoda Memorial Oration for two reasons. One was because of great assistance rendered by his son Yasantha Kodagoda to Dayan Jayatilleka and our Mission in Geneva at sessions of the Human Rights Council. He was a pillar of strength in dealing with the Working Group on Disasppearances, when we decided, after I became Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, that we had to clear the backlog. Much of this related to the late eighties, and Yasantha had done much work on this in the mid-nineties when the Foreign Ministry had developed tried to respond systematically.

Unfortunately changes of regime and personnel led then to that system being forgotten, in yet another example of our national curse of not ensuring continuity when structures and people change. Another example was Yasantha not joining the delegation to Geneva after Dayan left, though I was delighted to find, when I too went back to Geneva in March this year, that he was once more on the delegation. He had also done yeoman service in preparing the National Human Rights Action Plan, especially in the final consultations we had in the Attorney General’s office when Mohan Pieris, in the midst of manifold other duties, took on the responsibility of preparing the final draft for Cabinet. And since then he has been extremely helpful, along with his colleague Shavindra Fernando, in the Task Force set up to expedite implementation.

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The results of the recent Provincial Council elections are such that everyone can claim some sort of success. The UPFA got the most seats in all three Councils that were contested. The UNP did less badly than at previous elections. The TNA, contesting Provincial Council elections for the first time ever since Provincial Councils were created, largely to satisfy the claims of the party they have succeeded to, won the most votes in two of the three Districts of the Eastern Province.

Of parties that have representation in the national Parliament only through coalitions now, the Muslim Congress did very well in Amparai, and won seats also in Batticaloa and Trincomalee. The National Freedom Front got a seat in Trincomalee, and the JVP kept itself alive in the Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provincial legislatures.

Everyone then can claim victory of sorts, and will doubtless do so. My own feeling however is that the government lost a great opportunity to win a resounding victory, and at the same time to lay the ground for comprehensive reconciliation.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Having now gone through the LLRC Action Plan, I can understand how sensible it was of the Cabinet to appoint, not politicians, but the Secretary to the President to work on it. And he in turn was inspired to appoint extremely competent public servants who would

not be looking over their shoulders to see what political or personal fallouts their recommendations might cause. It was also very sensible to have selected a couple of people who, in addition to their personal integrity to recommend them, have work experience that relates so closely to the major concerns of the LLRC report.

Not obviously coincidentally, these two Secretaries are perhaps the main contributors to the Task Force intended to expedite implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan. One of them also contributed seminally to its formulation, both by chairing one of the Committees we had appointed in specific subject areas when the Ministry of Human Rights was preparing the plan, and then by contributing more actively than I think anyone else, when the Plan did not have a home as it were and the Attorney General kindly steered it through and gave us his rooms for meetings to produce a final draft.

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After the Resolution targeting Sri Lanka was passed in Geneva in March, there seemed to be a scramble in the Ministry of External Affairs to jump on what was seen as a Western bandwagon. The egregious Dharisha Bastians engaged in much bashing of many of those entrusted with various aspects of international relations over the preceding few years who had also been in the forefront of advocating, long before the LLRC made its report, that we should move swiftly towards reconciliation.

Instead, claiming to have inside information from the Ministry, which may well have been the case, she declared that a decision had been made to cleave to the West. This was accompanied by active denigration of many countries that had supported Sri Lanka in the last few years.

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When I was asked to write a regular column for an e-journal, I was not sure I had much more to offer than appeared in the regular newspaper columns I was writing. There were two a week on Human Rights for the ‘Daily News’ and one a week on Children for the ‘Island’. I thought therefore of dealing with Reconciliation, but not necessarily in terms of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees that meet in the North and East. I cover those meetings in irregular columns in the ‘Daily News’, which is all that is possible since I can go to those areas only once or twice a month, to participate in 4 to 6 meetings on each visit. Instead I will look here at more general issues, including the impact of international interventions, while also considering what it means to be an Adviser on Reconciliation without any facilities to promote suggestions that are made.

I was thinking of this the more deeply during a workshop organized by group of foreign academics, introduced to me primarily because they had no official backing for the workshop, and hence could not apply for visas. Since the Ministry they had contacted had been unwilling to issue an invitation letter, it was clearly not appropriate for me to do this. Still, the initiative seemed a good one, and to be encouraged. Fortunately the group persuaded one of the most effective NGOs we have to invite them, and the meeting therefore went ahead.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The recent occurrences at a Children’s Home in Mawanella have highlighted the need for better systems and better supervision with regard to the care of children. This is something we have been pressing for, with regard to the National Human Rights Action Plan, but I should note that the need for some remedial action has been felt for a long time.

In this and other areas Milinda Moragoda, when he was Minister of Justice, commissioned several reports, though unfortunately not all have been produced. Perhaps for this reason, or whether it is because of the chaos that arises from constant changes of Ministers without adequate briefing mechanisms, action has not been taken on those that were produced. This is particularly sad with regard to children, for Shirani Thilakawardhana produced an excellent and very caring report. Had that been implemented, with proper monitoring, the tragedies we hear of now might have been avoided.

At a recent meeting of the consultations with governmental and non-governmental organizations that have been instituted under the aegis of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, we were presented with a very informative report by one of the few professionals at the Department of Probation. Further information was received from Save the Children, which has done yeoman service in this regard, and a UNICEF publication tellingly entitled ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: a report on Voluntary Residential Institutions for Children in Sri Lanka’.

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A couple of days back I predicted that the FUTA strike would soon be resolved by yet another increase in the salaries of university staff, with no correctives with regard to the grave problems now facing our education system. Recent reports in the papers suggest that this will indeed be the case.

…no correctives with regard to the grave problems now facing our education system.

That would be tragic, for it would provide yet another instance of state resources being squandered. Salaries should be paid in terms of work done, and sadly there is no system at present to ensure that university lecturers actually work satisfactorily for the salaries they earn. Of course it could be argued that this is true of other public servants too, but other public servants are not paid so well.

I should note that some, and indeed perhaps many, university lecturers do work hard. Amongst them, I was sure, having met him, was the FUTA Head Dr Dewasiri, who seemed to me an idealist. Certainly, in the last period for which statistics are available, he has taught for 378 hours per semester.

This is in marked contrast to several of his colleagues in the Arts Faculty in Colombo. In one Department 15 out of 17 had been assigned 90 hours or fewer per semester, ie 6 hours a week, in one semester. Some of them did more in the second semester, but never more than ten hours per week. Two, though, I should note, did ten or more in the first semester.

In the Peradeniya Arts Faculty I was sorry to note that English academics seemed the most leisured, with no one getting to over 100 hours per semester except for one person who did 150, having come in in the second semester. A more senior person, having been on sabbatical in the first semester, managed 18 hours in the second, which is just over 1 hour a week.

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Politicizing Education, FUTA’s Trade Union Action and Government Spending

Uniquely as far as the developing world goes, and pretty much as far as the whole world too, Sri Lanka does not in theory permit private education. There are a few official exceptions that we all know about, namely a few private schools that are immensely popular. Then there are official exceptions in the form of paid postgraduate and diploma programmes which the universities run, and which continue to function with input from separately paid FUTA members even while the strike for undergraduate courses continue.

Then we have unofficial paid education, in the form firstly of what are termed international schools, some preparing students for international examinations, others for Sri Lankan exams in English medium. The whole country is dotted with such schools, and they have in fact a very efficient organization that prepares good textbooks, or procures them from international, mainly Indian, publishers. Secondly there are branches of a number of foreign universities, usually ones not well known in their countries of origin, though there are some exceptions. These prepare students for foreign degrees, and most can now cover the full course here, though in some cases students go abroad for one or more years.

Finally, most lucrative of all, we have tuition, which many students now consider essential to get through public examinations. In many cases, tuition is given in large tutories, in several of which serving teachers are stakeholders, and where they often teach. Sometimes tuition is arranged privately, often for teachers who explain to their students that such supplementation is necessary.

Checking with my students at university, I would find that, with one or two exceptions, all had gone for tuition. The idea that education was free was not something that they took seriously in their struggle to get into university. This is perhaps understandable, since when supply does not equal demand, then inevitably there will be alternative sources of supply. Ironically, those who argue vociferously that, to preserve free education, formal institutions supplying education at a price should be banned, pay no attention to the tuition industry which not only makes enormous amounts of money nationwide but is also deeply parasitic upon the free state system, in that those supposed to benefit from that system are providers as well as recipients. Read the rest of this entry »

FUTA President Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri

By Dinouk Colombage

FUTA President Dr  Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri has made it clear that despite FUTA demanding a six percent increase in the allocations to the educations budget, the union is still unsure of what the money should be spent on.

In a debate involving UPFA Parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, and moderated by UNP Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne, the union president was caught unawares by several questions all demanding to know where the 6% increase in the education budget would be spent. Responding to a question posed by a member of the audience, Dewasiri responded that while FUTA had highlighted some of the main concerns, they were still awaiting a proper dialogue to identify where the money should be spent.

UPFA Parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

While Wijesinghe agreed that there were numerous issues in the education sector, he denied that they would be solved by simply increasing the budget allocation. Highlighting several key aspects which needed to be revamped, including the controversial Grade 5 scholarship exam, Wijesinghe was able to illustrate the lack of direction on the part of FUTA.

He went one step further and suggested that rather than taking strike action, FUTA should have used the courts, which are at their disposal, and file a Fundamental Rights petition against the Ministry.

While Dewasiri was correct in saying that the strike action by FUTA has opened an avenue of dialogue regarding the issues in the education sector, the apparent lack of planning by FUTA is a cause of concern.

The audience were not impressed with both arguments as most members demanded to know what the 6% would be spent on. Wijesinghe suggested that the discussions take place with academics and education boards, avoiding the politicians. However, Dewasiri was adamant that no change would be possible unless the politicians were to take an active role.

The final comments of the evening from the audience showed that the FUTA strike was threatening to lead public opinion away from the issue and take on a political angle. Wijesinghe was questioned why military expenditure was on the rise, and the number of troops in the North continues to increase while the education sector continues to struggle. He responded that the politicisation of every issue would lead to no resolution, and that the sole focus should be the issues in the education sector.

Oct 3, 2012

UPFA MP Rajiva Wijesinha addressing a forum on the future of free education in Sri Lanka said there was a massive crisis in education which was due to a crisis in management and lack of productivity, and added that union demands based on wage hikes and increases in government spending were irrelevant.

The forum panel consisted of Prof. Wijesinha and Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri and was moderated by UNP MP Eran Wickremaratne.

Prof. Wijesinha said there was a dire need for education reforms due to inefficiencies in universities, students’ syllabuses and a rising trend in tuition lessons which he said was harmful to education. “I think this crisis in education is horrendous. I don’t think salaries or 6% of GDP is important. It is a crisis of management and productivity,” he said.

Prof. Wijesinha said the Higher Education Minister had attempted education reforms since 2010 but the lethargy of the Education Ministry had prevented him from doing so. Wickremaratne commenting on a recent statement by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had said he would meet with FUTA for discussions only after it had called off the ongoing strike questioned Prof. Wijesinha as to whether the President should meet the union at this time.

Prof. Wijesinha said the President need not meet with the union because it would not serve a purpose, he said. “I fully agree that discussions should be there but on a policy basis. The problem should be discussed in terms of the crisis and not two demands alone,” he said.

Meanwhile Dr. Dewasiri said the union began its trade union action because it saw there was a crisis in the education system to which the answer was still not clear. “People have questioned as to whether we have the right to make these demands but we saw the need for open discussion,” Dewasiri said.

Source: Daily Mirror – Sri Lanka

Rajiva Wijesinha


October 2012
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