You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2013.

Join us in calling on His Excellency The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to limit the size of the Cabinet to 20, with no more than 20 Cabinet Ministers and no more than 20 other Ministers of Junior Ministerial rank.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Short link –


Recent heated statements about the 13th Amendment confirm the view, heard recently at the Seminar on Indo-Lankan relations held at Osmania University in Hyderabad, that most commentators look on issues through a single prism. They fail to look at the principles that they would like to think they are advancing. Rather they concentrate on slogans, and become emotional, without concentrating on what those slogans are meant to represent.

Perhaps this is a necessary evil in political jousting for, if you looked at the principles, you would have to accept that even people coming from different perspectives have a lot in common. With regard to the question of devolution of power for instance, we find this to be the case, the moment we use the word decentralization instead. Most people don’t understand the distinction between them, understandably so since, for all practical purposes, there is no great distinction.

Thus there is universal agreement that we need decentralization. This is because any administration needs to have clear responsibilities with regard to the people, it needs to consult their wishes as well as be aware of their needs, and it must be accountable to them. This is not possible with regard to day to day matters when you have centralized decision making.

Thus we find that those now opposed to Provincial Councils claim that the best unit for devolution is the District. This rings a bell with me because, in the eighties, the Liberal Party put forward the suggestion that District Councils should be given greater responsibilities. Dudley Senanayake had tried to introduce these in the sixties and failed, because of opposition based on racism, sadly supported in that dark period in their history by the Marxist parties too. What finally made him abandon the plan though was the opposition in his own party, led by Cyril Mathew, supported it should be remembered by D B Wijetunge, but with the shadow of J R Jayewardene lurking in the background. Read the rest of this entry »

The last section I had planned to look at in this series is the Judiciary, though that may be the most important in the current context. The basic suggestions I put forward some weeks back, before the crisis had got so grave, basically addressed problems that were developing precisely because we were confused about two principles that all constitutional dispensations should hold sacred.

The first is that the judiciary should be independent, which means that there should be no interference, by individuals or any other branch of government, with regard to the content of the decisions it makes.

The second is that the judiciary, like all other branches of government, should be accountable to the people. Its decisions should be subject to review, and it should follow procedures so that reliance might be placed not only on its judgments but on the processes through which it reaches such judgments. When procedures are established by law, it must itself obey those laws, though it should have leeway to recommend changes to the legislature when laws prove cumbersome or even unjust. When procedures have not been put in place, it must develop procedures through guidelines that are made known to the public.

For these purposes, so as to

  1. ensure the independence of the judiciary whilst promoting transparency with regard to appointments
  2. promote professionalism in the judiciary
  3. institutionalize justiciability by making all decisions subject to review
  4. introduce alternate mechanisms of seeking justice whilst preserving the ultimate authority of the Courts

Read the rest of this entry »

The recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was upsetting, and it would make sense for Sri Lanka to assess what happened and work towards ensuring that such a situation does not occur again. However there seems little chance of that, since the same was obvious a year ago, but nevertheless nothing was done, except to sit back and hope disaster would not strike twice.

The only efforts at analysis we saw from the Ministry of External Affairs were leaks to the effect that the vote engineered by the United States had put Sri Lanka back on track to working with what were described as its traditional allies. Dayan Jayatilleka and Tamara Kunanayagam were denigrated as having tried to turn us towards what were described as virtually rogue states such as North Korea and Cuba.

That juxtaposition revealed very clearly where the thinkers in the Ministry of External Affairs, if that is an appropriate word, were coming from. Cuba, loathed by the United States, is a model as far as foreign relations are concerned, and we would do well to try to understand why internationally it gets support from almost all countries in the world except for the United States and its absolute dependants. North Korea is a different phenomenon, and the idea that Dayan or Tamara would advocate getting ourselves into that particular category is absurd. But, as far as the mandarins in the Ministry are concerned, there is no need to make distinctions; as J R Jayewardene advocated when he turned to the West after 1977, we should be even more bitter than the West is in denigrating its opponents.

That philosophy underscored his appalling attitude to India. The attitude of the United States to India then explained however our attempts to take on India, even though we should have realized – and the United States indeed make this clear to us – that they would not come to our rescue in the event of conflict. Read the rest of this entry »

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 Universal Periodic Review has come, and gone, and as usual there seems to be general satisfaction in Sri Lanka as to how it went. I have no doubt that the generally excellent team sent from Sri Lanka performed well, and gave sensible answers to the questions raised.

What is sad, though, is that the Review seems to have become an end in itself. Some of the blame for this should go to a few organizations who see this as a chance to attack Sri Lanka, whereas the original conception of the UPR was that it would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to work together to improve the Human Rights situation in the country under review.

It is in that spirit that Sri Lanka should approach the Review, and this was what I thought happened last time round, in 2008. On that occasion we made a number of voluntary pledges, and then accepted several of the recommendations made by other countries. I believe that was done sincerely, and certainly we made a great effort to move on many matters, ranging from formulation of a National Action Plan and a Bill of Rights, to training for the police, and of course the fantastic effort we made with regard to resettlement of the displaced.

However several matters fell by the wayside. A good reason for this – though it should have spurred us to greater efforts after the emergency situation had passed – was the continuation of the conflict and the problems caused by the large numbers the Tigers had held hostage, who had to be rescued and nursed back to health, and resettled with basic facilities. A not so good reason was the abolishment of a dedicated Ministry for Human Rights. As a result the pledges made could not be pursued consistently. Read the rest of this entry »

When the German Liberal Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, first asked me to conduct workshops on Liberalism in other countries in South Asia, they provided me with training materials which I found enormously useful. One set related to the functions of government, and involved discussion with participants as to what it was essential that government be in charge of. We used to find then that, though Liberalism believes in limiting the role of government, there were many areas where government, even though small, had to be strong.

Areas that required a decisive role for the State related primarily to Security. This however had to be interpreted broadly, and included not just physical security, but also areas in which citizens had to feel confident of equal protection. Thus almost invariably we would decide that there were several areas which required Ministries that both made policy and implemented it. Included here are also areas where a supervisory role is needed for other layers of government, and in particular to provide training and skills development

  1. Defence

  2. External Affairs

  3. Justice

  4. Finance

  5. Energy and Petroleum

  6. Labour

  7. Ports and Aviation

  8. Public Administration and Local Government

There were also areas where clear policy decisions were necessary, for implementation throughout the country on a uniform basis. Some of the following, such as Environment, did not seem as important then, but I include them here together with areas that are of particular importance to Sri Lanka. In some cases what are now separate portfolios are combined since, while Central Government must develop policy and enforce it through careful monitoring, actual implementation will be the responsibility of other layers of government. As noted previously, in many areas the responsibility for implementation should be entrusted to small units that can ensure people participation in their work. Read the rest of this entry »

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


In the last segment of this presentation, I will look at a number of factors that have to be taken into account in assessing possibilities of effective coordination. Some of them relate to government machinery, and some to the work of NGOs.

  1. Government officials have difficulties about preparing and implementing plans coherently because they have to report to many political masters.

In earlier times, government officials in particular areas related to Ministers for particular subjects and to individual Members of Parliament in whose constituency they functioned. Senior officials such as Government Agents had to relate to Members of several constituencies, but this was in terms of just one for each area.

Now however all Members in a District feel and exercise responsibilities within the whole District. In addition, government officials also have to relate to Provincial Council Members – many of them for each District taken as a whole – and to elected local government representatives, again many of them for each area.

The result  can be conflicting instructions and conflicting priorities. This also leaves little room for initiative of the part of the official. Previously such initiatives could be explained to political representatives and taken forward together, but with so many masters, it is natural for most officials to adopt more passive approaches. This applies also to suggestions that come from Civil Society, including NGOs, since it is easier to respond only to political proposals, given how many of these there can be.


  1. NGOs no longer function purely altruistically.

Until a couple of decades back, aid organizations provided support to those in need. They did this through initiatives that supported government programmes, or else through individual projects based on local needs. Their lead agents were primarily philanthropists who did not live off the work they did.

In more recent times however aid organizations have become businesses that provide livelihoods to the personnel who work in them at all levels. As with all businesses that have career structures, there is a relentless tendency to enhance those careers by increasing the size and influence of the business. NGOs wish to have a decisive say in policies and practices wherever they operate. Read the rest of this entry »

I was honoured last week to be invited to a Conference on the ‘Changing Scenario in South Asia: Leveraging Economic Growth for Collective Prosperity’ organized by the Centre for Rural and Industrial Development in Chandigarh. Indian think tanks have always impressed me, and participating in discussions with the range of intellects they bring together has always been a pleasure as well as a learning experience.

This particular Centre was not one of those that is associated with government, like IDSA, the superb strategic analysis outfit that was almost simultaneously hosting another dialogue of particular interest to Sri Lanka. But CRID also attracts government attention and support, as was apparent from the fact that the Conference was opened by the Indian Minister for External Affairs. This indicates the interest the Indian government has in independent thought and analysis, and suggests the direction we too should move in. We must begin consultation of a wider scale, and building up consensus in the many areas in which that would be so easy, if we are to harness all our energies to pursue the immense task of development and national integration that we must now concentrate on.

The Conference was intended to cover a broad range of topics, and speakers were asked to choose from a range of issues, from Economics to Religion and Ethnicity. I thought of addressing two concerns together, namely Security as well as Ethnicity, since it seems to me that, in the current context, they are inextricably linked. I thought however that I should think in terms of cooperation, since we are in great danger of turning our backs on this, both internally and regionally. The solipsistic mindset that seems to dominate national discourse, following the recent vote in Geneva, needs to be overcome, if our national interests are not to be sacrificed on the altar of big power politics.

I have always believed that, to ensure our security, we must have good relations with India. The disasters that happened in the eighties made it clear that, if India were hostile, no one else would come to our rescue. And though commentators with no sense of time or causality still attack India for encouraging terrorist movements in the early eighties, the simple fact is that we started the distrust by trying to become proxies of the West in the Cold War. Unfortunately the West in those days – and perhaps now – has a polarizing view of international relations, and demanded total loyalty, which was combined with unremitting hostility to India, which it saw as a Soviet ally. 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.

Daily News 5 Nov 2012 –

I finally received the Minutes of the meeting on Land Issues of the Human Rights Action Plan Task Force which was held last month. They were worth waiting for, for the representative of the Law Faculty, together with the Consultant who had finalized the Plan, had done a thorough job in identifying the issues, and the action needed.

Land, as has been previously noted, is perhaps the single most pressing issue in the North, and the East, and it has accordingly been highlighted too in the Action Plan for the LLRC recommendations. Fortunately, after far too long a delay, we seem now to have begun to move, and I received also a copy of a letter sent by the Secretary to the Ministry of Lands urging action, in accordance with the regulations.

Unfortunately there is still some confusion about which instructions are valid. In addition to uncertainty about how to proceed with regard to some of last year’s circulars, given the court cases that have still not been settled, the letter does not make clear whether the Gazette Notification of October 1989, which forbade redistribution of lands vacated because of conflict, is still valid. I was told this was not the case, but given the worries expressed by the Divisional Secretary who had brought it to my notice, I think it is necessary to spell things out in detail.

Being precise can help also with showing why there is uncertainty. For instance, with regard to Sampoor, which does not seem a major problem though much is being made of it, confusion has arisen because land is being acquired for two purposes. One is for a High Security Zone, the other is for economic development.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Let me now quickly run through measures I would suggest to maximize the impact of aid interventions.


  1. Request all agencies to work in selected areas and build up close working relationships with government officials in those areas.

This means they can plan outputs in terms of needs that have been contextualized, and report within a framework that tracks outcomes on a comparative basis.

The ideal unit for this would be Divisional Secretariats, since this is the smallest unit able to plan and respond swiftly to local needs. While the first interface of government with people is at Grama Niladhari level, and while we must improve consultation mechanisms at that level, decision making is more effectively done at a higher level, with professional inputs into planning and monitoring.

If agencies wish to work on a wider scale, because this will enhance their appeal to donors, they can work in Divisional Secretariats in more than one District. But a culture must be developed in which they bear responsibility for manageable units, and are accountable to both officials and the community, with regular opportunities for discussion and explication of projects.


  1. Agencies should employ local personnel as far as possible. They should be required to provide satisfactory justification for the hiring of expatriates and salaries that are paid to them.

As it is, far too much of aid money is spent on salaries for expatriates. Though it is claimed that suitable Sri Lankan counterparts are not available, this is often incorrect. One of the horror stories I should share with you is that of the Shelter Consultant for the Welfare Centre at Manik Farm, who cost about 11,000 dollars per month. He was hired in a strange way, because though his salary was met by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it was paid through another body called UNOPS, which is one of those bodies that survives through implementing projects that should be done by national agencies. I believe it was created for the sort of situation my friend from OCHA described, where there is virtually no government, so I cannot understand why our government still allows it to operate in Sri Lanka. 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 writing recently about the need to deploy resources more effectively, I concentrated on human resources, and the failure of government to develop a coherent policy that ensures attention at local levels to local problems. Employment is created en masse, without careful study of needs, and of the skills required to fulfil those needs.

The other side of this coin is the absence of procedures that will ensure, or at least encourage, the desired results. Administrative efficiency is not seen as necessary, and administrative and financial regulations seem designed to inhibit initiative and energy rather than promote them.

One major problem is the lack of any sense of urgency. When I was appointed Secretary to a Ministry, I was horrified at the manner in which files were piled up in the in-trays of my colleagues. When I expressed surprise, I was told that government did not require matters to be dealt with for three days. This struck me as preposterous and, when I probed further, I found that three days was supposed to be the maximum period within which responses should be sent.

This had become a minimum. I explained painstakingly that responses should be made immediately, unless there was need to seek further information, and that the guideline of three days was intended to set a limit on the time any institution should take to find information internally.

Obviously there would be instances in which further information had to be sought from other sources, but that did not mean that there should be no response till such information was received. The expectation was that a response should be sent in three days, indicating the action being taken and when a substantial answer would be forthcoming.

I was reminded of this when we had an almost hilarious exchange at the Committee On Public Enterprises, when it turned out that instructions we had issued over a year ago had not been followed. The institution concerned had written to the Treasury as requested after three months. The Treasury had then replied after another three months.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2013
« Mar   May »
%d bloggers like this: