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Remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

At the launch on Saturday March 23rd 2013 of  Dayan Jayatilleka’s Long War, Cold Peace


In Parliament yesterday I told Dr Jayalath Jayawardena, who is a master manipulator, that instead of making insidious use of the government’s misfortunes, he should be constructive, and move a motion to suggest that Prof Pieris be replaced as Foreign Minister by Dr Dayan Jayatilleka. He told me, characteristically, that he would be happy to suggest me instead, but I assured him that I knew my limitations. I had no doubt that I would do a better job than Prof Pieris, but so would almost anyone in this room – but there was no need to think of simply improving on what we have, when there is available a man who understands international relations thoroughly, and whose track record is one of great success.

I was reminded then of what Mangala Samaraweera – yet another Foreign Minister who was certainly better than the incumbent – had said a couple of years back, when he accused me of being responsible for all the ills from which he thought the country was suffering. When I asked for an explanation he expanded this to include Dayan as well, claiming that it was because of the victory in Geneva in 2009 that the government thought it had leeway to do whatever it liked.

Dayan Jayatilleka .. a man who understands international relations thoroughly, and whose track record is one of great success.

Though I was involved at the time with Dayan, I cannot take credit for the triumph he architected. Although the size of the victory led idiots in Colombo to assume that any idiot could achieve such a victory – which perhaps explains the failure to register the intellectual weaknesses of his immediate successor – in fact what he achieved was carefully crafted, in terms of the principles that he and Tamara Kunanayakam expressed so eloquently at the discussion on Foreign Policy that the Liberal Party organized earlier this week.

Dayan pointed out that the thin, ie bare bones, notion of sovereignty we assert needs to be thickened through a sincere commitment to pluralism that encompasses all within the bounds of that sovereignty. Tamara noted the importance of strengthening our bargaining power through alliance building and genuine cooperation, not just asking for votes at a time of crisis. Our failure to work on these lines was apparent in perhaps the most worrying element of the vote on Thursday, which was Brazil voting against us.

Instead of getting upset with Brazil about this, we should try to understand why a country that voted with us in 2009 now votes against. Does it have something to do with our failure to engage with them, as exemplified by the manner in which the Ministry of External Affairs sabotaged the decision of the President to send Tamara as a sort of roving ambassador to South America? Does it have something to do with the fact that, when she had begun the process of winning back the support in Geneva that her predecessor had squandered (as was exemplified by the manner in which, in September 2012, she ensured that the effort of the Canadians to put us on the agenda was resisted), she too was dismissed.

But there will be no sensible analysis of this result, just as last year there were only clarion calls to follow the West blindly, while simultaneously claiming that we had gained a great victory since the total of those who voted against the resolution and those who abstained was almost equal to those who voted for. This year even that cold comfort is not available, but the pronouncements we read suggest that we can be satisfied since, if we doubled the number of those who voted against the resolution, we would have more votes that those in favour. Read the rest of this entry »

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

In the last column in this series, I will look at the Civil Rights Movement, which was founded in 1971. In discussing its contribution to Rights, and the manner in which Rights can be most productively promoted, I will also talk about one of its founding members, Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, whose 86th birthday it would have been today.

Like his father, Cyril Wickremesinghe, who was the first Ceylonese Government Agent, he was a radical in his commitment to social equity. At least, I like to think this was his father’s essential approach, though he was also a pillar of the establishment, a great friend of D S Senanayake and D R Wijewardene, whose eldest daughter married his eldest son. But, like DS, much of his working life was spent providing better opportunities to the peasantry, through the opening up of agricultural lands in the North Central Province.

Lakshman, as Bishop of Kurunegala, worked in what was seen as the rural diocese of the Church of Ceylon, and followed in the footsteps of another great visionary, Bishop Lakdasa de Mel. Both of them, unlike some of their elite brethren in Colombo, worked closely with the Buddhist clergy.

This included the politically radical clergy, and the founders of CRM included five monks as well as four Christian priests, including Leo Nanayakkara, the Catholic Bishop of Kandy. The founder Chairman was Prof Sarachchandra, whose sympathies, like those of Bishop Lakshman, were with the SLFP, but who also felt that the reaction to the 1971 insurgency had been too harsh.

In its opening statement of aims, CRM said its immediate task related to restoration of ‘certain rights and liberties that have recently been suspended’. As we know from the reaction to 9/11 as well as in our own country, threats to the State lead to strong security measures. These are essential to deal with threats, but often they become an end in themselves and, unless they are subject to limitations and strict systems of oversight, they easily lead to repression that is unwarranted.

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As pressures mount in Geneva, my bemusement increases at our failure to answer systematically the many charges made against us. I had long pointed out that the criticisms made were by and large untenable, but there were certain incidents which required to be investigated further. This view, based on close observation from the vantage point of the Peace Secretariat where I had set in place mechanisms to monitor allegations and check on them, was confirmed by the LLRC Report. That highlighted the need to check on the treatment of surrendees while affirming that indiscriminate attacks on civilians etc were absurd and tendentious charges.

To dismiss those charges however requires logical argument based on evidence. This approach is sometimes not acceptable, as I realized when I was roundly attacked for having declared way back in June 2009 that there had been civilian casualties. The then Attorney General asked me why I had said this, to which my answer was that it was true. I could however understand his assertion that people would try to make use of my answer, and I sympathize with those who feel they might succumb to leading questions and therefore stay silent. But the way of dealing with such matters is to point out the nonsensical nature of such stratagems – as I did with Stephen Sackur on ‘Hard Talk’ when he asked whether I was admitting there were civilian casualties – rather than hiding one’s head in the sand, ostrich-like, and pretending one knew nothing, or even worse, denying reality.

Unfortunately, given that we have so many ostriches in the country, blank denials are thought preferable to logical argument. Thus we seem internationally to have lost the battle with regard to the number of casualties, which has reached the inflated figure now, sanctified by the blessed Darusman, of at least 40,000. These are claimed to be civilians who were killed in indiscriminate firing.

The facts speak otherwise, but we do not use the facts. The recent census report is not publicly discussed, and though there is a report that tries to use data from it to rebut allegations, the process is flawed because the report is long-winded and would not be read by anyone except those already convinced.

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The current controversy over Provincial Councils can be easily resolved, if we accept the following basic principles –

  1. Provincial Councils should not be abolished, since the 13th amendment  establishes the right of people to take decisions in areas that affect them, while affirming the responsibility of the central government for national policy on all matters as well as security requirements for the nation as a whole.

  2. The current Provincial Council system does not sufficiently empower the people, and should be reformed, to ensure that politicians entrusted with responsibilities in the Province are more accountable, and responsive to people’s needs

  3. An appointed Governor is an anomaly given the need for responsive decision making, but a fully empowered Chief Minister who also controls the Provincial Council could exercise power without adequate responsibility to the people

  4. Waste and duplication of resources and responsible personnel should be avoided.

Read the rest of this entry »

Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

In this session, with the presence also of Non-Governmental Organizations to assist with our discussions, I thought of suggesting some principles which we should enforce with regard to aid and assistance. This should be done following consultation of the NGOs which work here.

The suggestions are based on the assumption that the impact of Aid projects, like every other initiative, must be measurable, the process of decision making must involve consultation of beneficiaries and local communities as relevant, and there should be accountability to these latter as well as to concerned government agencies. It is also essential to note that Aid projects should be cost effective. This might seem obvious, but it is rarely a criterion on which projects are assessed.

All this is in accordance with the Accra Declaration, which fleshed out the Principles formulated in Paris. To cite some vital elements in the Declaration –

  • We will reduce costly fragmentation of aid

17. The effectiveness of aid is reduced when there are too many duplicating initiatives, especially at country and sector levels. We will reduce the fragmentation of aid by improving the complementarity of donors’ efforts and the division of labour among donors, including through improved allocation of resources within sectors, within countries, and across countries.

  • We will increase aid’s value for money

18. ….

c) Donors will promote the use of local and regional procurement by ensuring that their procurement procedures are transparent and allow local and regional firms to compete.

Having attended many meetings over the last year at Divisional Secretariats, I have realized that that is the best unit for ensuring knowledge of the day to day problems people face, and putting measures in place to address them. While Grama Niladhari Divisions allow for better local knowledge, these are too small for effective interventions, even with regard to local difficulties such as bad roads, deficiencies in utilities, inadequate health services, insufficient  resources for education and training.

The Divisional Secretariat can coordinate matters in such areas, whilst also ensuring technical expertise at appropriate levels to plan and implement development projects. It is vital however that consultative mechanisms be introduced to ensure that local concerns are brought to the attention of decision makers, with opportunities to make suggestions and question decisions.

In the meetings I attend, we have suggested two such meetings a week, one to look at development issues, the other to deal with protection, and support for the vulnerable, including in particular women and children. These meetings should be open to all stakeholders, and should include government representation, including the liaison officers for each GN area appointed by the Divisional Secretary and the Police. Read the rest of this entry »

Land continues to be perhaps the single most problematic issue at Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings. This is understandable given the complexity of the difficulties, and the number of people affected. That is why the issue is given prominence in the National Human Rights Action Plan, and why the Action Plan on implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission virtually gives it priority.

The Task Force for expediting implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan accordingly had a consultation a couple of weeks back with the participation of all governmental agencies involved. We also had support from the University of Colombo Law Faculty, since I have found the University Human Rights Centre has taken a number of positive initiatives to develop Human Rights awareness and best practices in various areas.

The Consultant who helped to finalize the Action Plan, and who had provided invaluable support at a meeting I had a couple of months back with the energetic Secretary to the Ministry of Lands, also participated. I am awaiting the Minutes they were asked to prepare to go deeper into the issues discussed, but I fear that delay seems endemic even in the most committed, and it is perhaps because I have little else to do that I expect everyone to take action immediately as I try to do.

Meanwhile a bright young Divisional Secretary pointed out another hindrance to settlement of problems that I had not been aware of, and which had not been mentioned in our previous discussions. This arose from the complaints of farmers in his area that they could not cultivate their lands with confidence, since there was no certainty about where boundaries lay. They pointed out that the claims of others might be put forward once they had done the groundwork for cultivation.

I was surprised that Land Officers and the administration in general had not moved swiftly to clarify issues, but the Secretary told me that there was a Gazette Notification of 1989 that precluded reallocation of lands that had been abandoned because of the conflict by those working on them previously. This obviously made sense at the time, since many people had been driven away through no fault of their own, and could not reasonably be expected to return since there was continuing threat of conflict.

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There is a very strange game being played out in Geneva, the implications of which decision makers in Colombo have not understood – or else, having understood, they simply do not care.

Though the motivations of those attacking us vary, their aim is clear, namely to undermine national sovereignty. The mandarins, or perhaps I should say the rickshaw pullers, in our Ministry of External Affairs were sanguine earlier about what they saw as a bland US resolution. The fact that it requires monitoring of our activities, in particular with regard to accountability, should worry them, but I suspect they no longer understand the basic principles on which the UN should operate.

I say this because of the behavior recently of one of our delegates in Geneva – not the ambassador, I should note, for he is one of the few sharp and independent minds amongst the English speaking elite that now runs the Ministry, and keeps down bright youngsters who are more intellectually astute. There was an attempt, spearheaded it seemed by Sri Lanka, to the astonishment of our old allies from the Non Aligned Movement, to undermine the very foundations of the Right to Development by introducing conditions to national ownership of natural resources. I cannot imagine that the President would have approved such a move, but I can understand him not being consulted on the matter.  What is frightening is that probably the Minister too was not consulted, but he has I assume learnt now that no one takes him seriously, except his publicity unit. If he was consulted, and concurred, I can only imagine that he is getting ready for the regime change that his behavior has done much to precipitate.

How should we be dealing with the threat to the country and its government? Firstly, we should look at the motivations of those now acting against us, and try to assuage those worries that are reasonable. After all, many of those supportive of the resolution genuinely think that we have behaved badly. If we believe they are wrong, as I do with regard to the matters on which they seek to condemn us, we must convince them otherwise. This should not be difficult, now that at last we are beginning to get our act together with regard to the LLRC Action Plan, but there too I was informed that the Foreign Ministry thinks the President’s Secretary is not able to deliver, and wants to take over the responsibility.

Given the hash they made of the President’s directive in December 2011 to prepare an Action Plan, which only emerged because the President’s Secretary set up a sensible team of bureaucrats, it is ironic that the Foreign Ministry wants to take over now, when those bureaucrats are in charge and have begun to move in a manner that was unthinkable when they had been sidelined.    Read the rest of this entry »

Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

In the second section of this talk I spoke about the different layers of government, and the lack of clear responsibilities for each of them, along with mechanisms to ensure coordination and avoid overlap. I advocated strengthening the relationship between the different layers and also laying down guidelines for regular consultation. This will also require very clear job descriptions, including for Grama Niladharis, who currently have a range of responsibilities with neither the training nor the resources to enable them to satisfy these.

Until very recently the only official document Grama Niladharis received was a diary that included a list of responsibilities which seemed to date back to colonial times. These were –

  • Initial responses to illegal activities
  • Assistance in emergencies
  • Land formalities
  • Excise duties
  • Valuations of less than Rs 5,000
  • Timber concerns
  • Provision of IDs*
  • Census duties*
  • Provision of Certificates*
  • Pension responsibilities*
  • Registering of persons*
  • Election responsibilities*

As can be seen, these can be divided into formal duties (the last 6, marked with a single asterisk), and those requiring discretion. With regard to the latter, there are generally other government departments which formulate regulations to guide action. Given then that the GN role is largely advisory in these areas, it is unfortunate that procedures for consultation and for consistent responses have not been laid down clearly.

Recently the United Nations Development Programme issued a Handbook which gives further advice on how functions should be fulfilled. This was as part of its assistance to promote good governance , and the book has indeed been very helpful, but some officials at the Ministry of Public Administration were not aware of this, and initially at any rate distribution of the book was chaotic.

Useful though the exercise was, more would have been achieved had it been more coherently planned, with the opportunity taken to revise completely the job description of Grama Niladharis, whilst setting down the skills and training that are required to do the job well. It would also have been helpful to lay down guidelines about office and personnel requirements, and this might have helped to ensure a more sensible way of providing jobs for unemployed graduates than what has now happened, which is to send them to Divisional Secretariats and expect the poor Secretaries to find work for them. But as yet we have not developed in our public servants, or rather restored to them, a concept of a mutually supportive hierarchy, with individuals fulfilling responsibilities in accordance with structures that demand consultation and monitoring. This of course is what the army is good at, which is why I am delighted that the Officer Career Development Centre will extend its services to other public servants too.

What we need at all levels of government is the capacity and the willingness to build up teams that will complement each other in setting and achieving goals. At the Grama Niladhari level, these will be consultative rather than decision making mechanisms, and will therefore work with Civil Society. However relevant officials should also participate, through what I term horizontal as well as vertical involvement. Read the rest of this entry »

Part 1 – Restricting Reforms within Sri Lanka

The attack on contributions to English education for rural students

wimal w

Why Mr Weerawansa is again on the rampage about me I have no idea.

I was in Singapore last week when a couple of my former students sent me messages that I had been attacked on Swarnavahini by Wimal Weerawansa. It seems he claimed I had made some reforms to the education system that were not practical. One student thought I should respond, another suggested that I give up politics and return to the university system. Hearteningly, he noted that ‘We know your contribution to the education as we were unable to make a simple sentence before entering to the university.’

Therein perhaps lies the rub. I believe I have done more since Kannangara for introducing equity in education, but this has been largely with regard to English. While the pre-University General English Language Training programme was started by someone else, I was involved from the start, in producing readers for the course that students responded to with ease. After I took on the course, along with the best instructor in the University English Units in those days, we transformed the course, and produced text books that were later prescribed for Indian universities – though perhaps that too would be anathema to Mr Weerawansa. Together with that, I was responsible for English courses at the Affiliated University Colleges, initially the diploma course but then, at the request of the UGC, General courses which were mandatory at all Affiliated Colleges.

At Jayewardenepura, whilst coordinating AUC English, I started courses which gave English degrees to students who had not done Advanced Level English. I also started an External Degree, with two and then later three subjects related to the learning and teaching of English. This is now the most popular degree course in the whole University system.

Introducing wider dimensions in University courses, and why this is resented

At Sabaragamuwa, I introduced course units and mandatory core courses, which are now prescribed in many universities. I don’t think anyone before me had studied the changes in university systems introduced by the Americans when they broadbased university education, in contrast to the elitist Britih system, which we continued to maintain long after Britain had realized the need to increase numbers. Before I rejoined Sabaragamuwa – and I should note that several of the AUCs, when they became universities, sought my services – I studied the expansion of core courses (a relative who was an academic in Canada sent me an excellent succinct volume called ‘Getting to the Core’ about changes at Harvard). I also turned down an American offer to visit to observe the 1996 Presidential election, and instead asked for a programme of visits to universities, and community colleges, since I was beginning then (having done some work for the World University Service of Canada on Vocational Training) to understand the need for reform in that area too. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha


March 2013
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