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In discussing, as suggested, recent American moves on Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan reaction, I am struck most of all by the failure of those in theory responsible for foreign policy to understand those moves. After the recent visit by Bob Blake, who had been ambassador here during the conflict period, and had a relatively positive if patronizing approach, I was assured by a senior External Affairs official that relations between Sri Lanka and America were excellent. He claimed that the negative reports in the papers were exaggerated.

Similarly, I was assured by those who claimed to have the ear of both the President and the Americans that there would be no American resolution against us in Geneva this year. Now it is conceivable that the Americans deliberately misled us, but I do not think that was the case. Not only from the pronouncements Blake made, but also from the comments made by both his successors, it was evident that criticism was the order of the day.

Why was this not understood, and why were we lulled into complacency? After all, there were several things we could have done that would have dealt with the more reasonable criticisms that were made, while also ensuring that the Americans would not find it so easy to build up a coalition against us. But we did nothing, and then affected surprise when not just the Americans, but a large majority in the UN Human Rights Council, came down on us like a ton of bricks. Read the rest of this entry »

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I wrote last week about Parliamentary Consultative Committees and the role they should play with regard to legislation. But there is more that they should do, in helping the Executive develop policies and monitor their implementation.

The hopelessness however of expecting them to fulfil these tasks came home to me when, the morning after I got back, I received notice of a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Education, and was rung up also by the Secretary to the Committee Office, urging me to attend. It is possible she does this for all members, but I doubt it, because she mentioned again that no one else on the Committee had commented on the proposals for Education Reform that have been discussed in a Special Parliamentary Committee for over two years now.

They had not commented a few months back when a penultimate draft had been circulated, and they have not commented now, when a final draft has been sent out to all of us for comment. I will continue to hope, as I think she does, that something from someone else will come in before the 15th of January, which is the deadline, but I doubt it.

One of the problems is the manner in which the Committees are constituted. The copy of the Standing Orders distributed to MPs when Parliament was convened in 2010 was printed in 1993, and notes that Committees should have not more than 12 members. This has now been changed and all Committees now have 21 members. The Standing Orders I have say that ‘No Member shall serve in more than one Consultative Committee unless the Selection Committee decides to the contrary’, but either the Selection Committee has made several decisions to the contrary or else the Standing Order has been changed. I am supposed to serve on 7 Consultative Committees, including the Committee on Civil Aviation, about which I have no ideas at all.

I don’t think the Selection Committee has been at all serious in constituting Consultative Committees, but in mitigation I should add that it would be impossible for the Committee to be serious about this job, given that it has to allocate 21 members to each of 60 odd Committees. What would be much more sensible is to ask MPs to apply to Ministers for membership of their Committees, and for Ministers to propose a small Committee of the truly committed who could meet on a regular basis to discuss issues in an informed manner. For meaningful discussion the Committee should have not more than ten members. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/his-excellency-mahinda-rajapaksa-the-president-of-sri-lanka-introduce-constitutional-amendment-limiting-cabinet-to-20-cabinet-ministers

Short link – http://chn.ge/YbSBgY

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First published Daily News 28 Dec 2012

I reproduced last week some of the recommendations I had submitted to the last meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the National Human Rights Action Plan. Here are the other areas to which I drew attention, though I should note that there is much more in the plan which requires concerted and effective action. I look here only at some areas that concerned me, of which the first seems to me extremely important.

  • Legislation to strengthen Rights

The Action Plan requires the Ministry of Justice to review within one month the Report of the Committee that drafted a Bill of Rights. We found that initially the Ministry did not have a copy of the draft, which reinforces the idea that a Ministry to ensure basic administration with regard to the NHRAP is essential. The Action Plan envisages that a Minister will be assigned the subject of Human Rights, but that has not happened, and it is unfair to expect a Minister to act as a Special Envoy when he has no mandate to ensure fulfillment of any commitments he might enter into.

We have heard nothing for some months with regard to progress regarding the Bill of Rights, and clearly no one takes the timeframe in the NHRAP seriously. We also seem, in this instance as in many others, to be ignoring the requirement that we have agreed to in general, to consult Civil Society about such measures. Though obviously government must decide on what is appropriate, it cannot do nothing and expect acquiescence in inaction.

A particular problem is our commitment to ensure the Right to Information. The responsibility for that, as for ensuring Freedom of Expression, lies with the Ministry of Justice according to the Plan, but the Ministry has pointed out that responsibility with regard to the Right to Information lies with the Ministry of Mass Media and Information, and that responsibility with regard to Freedom on Information lies with the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence. However, given that the Ministry of Justice has appointed a Committee to look into the draft Bill of Rights, it would be appropriate to at least report on the views of those Ministries with regard to the Bill.

At the last meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, it was noted that a Freedom of Information Act was not necessary, though it is not clear whether this is the view of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information or the Ministry of Justice. While that is a tenable position, it should be accompanied with details of an alternative mechanism to ensure the Right to Information as pledged.

Recommendations

The Inter-Ministerial Committee should, through its Chair, participate in the deliberations of the Committee looking into the draft Bill of Rights and expedite action. Since responsibilities must clearly be shared in some areas, the Chair could report accordingly to Cabinet, and either have the allocation of responsibilities altered or else obtain a mandate to coordinate discussion and action in areas of concern.

The IMC should also engage more actively in discussions with Civil Society and seek inputs into proposed legislative changes. Read the rest of this entry »

Over three years ago I told the President that he should not have Presidential election early, but should rather hold the Parliamentary elections first. Needless to say he ignored my advice, even though I sent him a detailed paper on the reasons for the view I held. He told me that it was only Gota and myself who thought it unnecessary to have the Presidential election so soon.

He said this jovially, implying I think that Gota and I were not politicians, and others knew much better. But, leaving me aside, he should have realized that the Secretary of Defence is the only one of his close advisors, excepting only the Secretary to the President, who has no personal agenda. And as it turned out,  many of the problems we face now spring I think from that early election, though no one  could have predicted the divisive effect – in an unexpected fashion – of Sarath Fonseka’s entry into the fray along with his insistence on being a common opposition candidate. As an aside, I should note that only one point in my paper  was later addressed, namely the lame duck effect. But the remedy put in place caused worries of another sort, and it does not seem to have helped very much, if current reports as to continuing maneuvers are correct.

I was reminded of all this when I saw that the United National Party has declared that it must get ready for a Presidential election in 2014, because it believes there are plans to amend the Constitution to make this possible. As it stands, the election cannot be held before 2015,  because the President has to complete 4 years in office before he can offer himself for re-election, as President Jayewardene quaintly put it when he introduced the 3rd amendment to the Constitution. Read the rest of this entry »

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 1

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 2

In welcoming the initiative of the armed forces to get involved in communication, and in what might be termed Public Diplomacy, I noted how the failure to have planned coherently is apparent in the manner in which Development has been targeted in the North. Infrastructure has been created apace, and certainly we have done much to put in place the tools through which livelihoods can take off. But we have not worked systematically on the training that should also be provided to ensure maximum usage of the opportunities that are available. Thus, though we knew from the start that there would be much construction, no schemes were put in place in much of the Wanni to start vocational training for the purpose.

I still recall some months back having a discussion with a bright young man from the Ministry of Economic Development in Mannar, and pointing out that such training should have been thought of. He agreed, but it was obvious he did not think it was his responsibility to have thought of such things. He may have been correct, but it should have been someone’s responsibility. It is precisely because that sort of holistic thinking is lacking in our much fragmented public service that I believe the forces have a role to play in promoting it.

Similarly, we have no systematic records of what has been achieved, and in particular the input of government and of local agencies into the process of rebuilding. We produce lots of glossy booklets, but we fail to produce clear pictures of actual outcomes. I am reminded then of what happened with regard to preparations for the displaced, when we had elaborate plans, which were clearly impractical. In fact they were used by our critics to say that we wanted wonderful facilities so that we could keep the displaced incarcerated for long periods. Much time then was spent arguing over the plans, and little was done, and it was only because of the enormous energies of General Chandrasiri, who was put in charge of the process a short time before the conflict ended, that Manik Farm was got ready in time to provide at least basic shelter to so many. I still recall him getting down to yet more work at dusk, when everyone else was packing up for the day, and the international community claimed it was not allowed to stay out so late. That to my mind was yet another example of the forces having to step in to salvage an operation that civilians – including experienced international aid workers, though the responsibility I should add was more ours – could, and should, have planned better. Read the rest of this entry »

ceylon today1. Is there a need for a completely new constitution or will reform of certain provisions in the existing constitution be sufficient?

A completely new constitution would be best, but since that could take time, there should be swift reform of the worst features of the current constitution.

2. “Ensure the independence of the judiciary whilst promoting transparency with regard to appointments” is what you have said regarding judicial appointments. This is a bit vague. Do you think the President of the Republic should have the ability to directly appoint Judges of the Supreme Court after seeking the recommendations of the Parliamentary Council which will invariably not oppose presidential nominations? This effectively means the President has direct control over Supreme Court appointments. Is this conducive or should this power be curbed in a potential new constitution?

There are three separate issues with regard to the Judiciary. The first is independence with regard to the decisions it makes, which must be absolute. As I put it in the series on Constitution Reform now on my blog, www.rajiva.wijesinha.wordpress.com, ‘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 procedure, as to which the Judiciary must conform to laws, and make rules for itself where the law is silent. I have written at length about the inconsistencies in the way in which judges give out sentences, and how they fail to fulfill their basic obligations of checking on prisons etc.

The third is appointments, where usually on a Presidential system the President appoints. However this should be subject to controls. Requiring the consent of the legislature or a component of it would be good, but consultation also can be effective in preventing hasty or inappropriate appointments. Such consultation should be transparent, which the 18th Amendment permits, because it does not require the Parliamentary Council to maintain confidentiality.

In a Westminster style Constitution, where the Head of State makes appointments, but on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, there is usually no rejection of a recommendation, but the very fact of a second entity being involved makes the Prime Minister careful. So too, if the Parliamentary Council functioned now, the President would necessarily be careful about not putting forward names of those who might cause him embarrassment. Both Shirani Bandaranaike and Mohan Peiris could have fallen into this category, and in fairness to both of them, they should not be subject to rumours but their conduct should have been subject to transparent scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 1

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 2

A few weeks back I was asked to speak at a workshop arranged by the Kilinochchi Special Forces Commander on ‘Information Operations and Civil Affairs’. It seemed an excellent initiative, and the concept paper sketched out several areas  civilian administrators should also have thought of. Sadly they don’t, so it was left to the forces to think about

  1. Communicating immediately and consistently with the community

  2. Establishing and nurturing good relations with the media

  3. Reinforcing support relationships with others

  4. Describing and updating progress on the post-conflict peacebuilding effort

  5. Gaining and maintaining a reputation as a trusted source of reliable information for the effected population

  6. Implementing an information strategy that enhances operational credibility and effectiveness

I was deeply impressed by all this, for I have long argued that the remarkable achievements of this government are being nullified by its failure to put forward clearly its remarkable successes. I have also noted that the civilian branches that have, nationally and internationally, the responsibility of setting the record straight have failed miserably. That is why I feel strongly that it is time some of the efficiency which characterized the operations of the military through the conflict period, and beyond, were conveyed to those who have let down the country so badly.

When I talk of this government, I should make a distinction between achievements before the last General Election, and what happened afterwards. There is no doubt that, before government got a large majority in Parliament, its actions were much more effective.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/his-excellency-mahinda-rajapaksa-the-president-of-sri-lanka-introduce-constitutional-amendment-limiting-cabinet-to-20-cabinet-ministers

Short link – http://chn.ge/YbSBgY

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First published – Daily News 24 Dec 2012

Last month I judged the semi-finals of the MTV Debating Competition. I don’t usually accept such invitations, given the time these engagements take, but the topic was whether the 13th Amendment should be abolished, and I thought I should get an idea of what young people were thinking.

To my surprise, both teams expressed the view that the 13th Amendment was a mess because it did not sufficiently empower people at the periphery. Those who did not want to abolish it granted that it needed amendment, to which the Proposition said that there was no point in amending it out of recognition, and that it made more sense to replace it altogether.

Of course the views expressed could not be taken as representative of the country as a whole, since the debate was in English, and it was two Colombo schools which were in the Semi=Final. But I remembered then the nationwide polls taken at the time I took over the Peace Secretariat in 2007, when the government had come to the realization that it had to deal with the Tigers militarily. Even polls taken by NGOs that had been in favour of the Peace Process initiated by the UNP government – as I had been, until I realized, very soon I should add, that this was not likely to lead to peace but to further confrontation and suffering as the Tigers used that period to build up their military strength – indicated that the vast majority of the people were in favour of getting rid of the Tigers. But they also advocated a peaceful political settlement with greater devolution.

I should add that the need for this is universally agreed, though as I have noted it is expressed as decentralization by many who urge getting rid of Provincial Councils as they now stand. My own view is that, if we go on discussing the matter in terms of Provincial Councils and emotive terms such as devolution and decentralization, we will lose sight of what is generally agreed, that we must develop mechanisms to ensure more power to the people, with greater accountability. Read the rest of this entry »

The need to train productively and continuously

Having written for nine months about children, I thought of moving to another topic that seems to me equally important in the current context. It is also possibly of greater topical interest. And though I believe the care of children is of crucial significance, and that we must do better in this regard to promote development as well as equity in this country, I think the better deployment of the armed forces would also help us immeasurably to achieve these goals.

I say this because we are faced with a terrible crisis of administration in this country. I have been exploring elsewhere, and will continue to do so, how we can make our administration more responsive as well as more effective, but I think we also need for this purpose to look at best practices that can be replicated. In Sri Lanka we find that only amongst the armed forces.

Former Foreign Secretary Palikakkara, in talking at a recent Liberal Party seminar on political reform, mentioned – perhaps in defence of the recent obvious incompetence of his former Ministry – that if foreign policy is ailing, it’s no different to decay in governance generally. I think this is correct, and that all branches of the government suffer from inadequate training and insufficient attention to thinking and planning skills – as well as our failure to demand that reports be written and monitoring of activities be systematic.

I recently found – or had thrust in my place – two obvious examples of our failures with regard to training and planning. One of the new graduate trainees in the North said that government was wasting their time while not giving them enough to do, which another said they had not received adequate training, and were not properly briefed about what they should do.

More startlingly, when we were considering, at the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Justice, the report of the Judges’ Training Institute, which the Minister said was much improved, we found no mention at all of basic training courses for new entrants to the judiciary. In the Committee was one of the brightest of the new Parliamentarians, Mr Janaka Bandara, who had been a magistrate himself, and he described to us the inadequacies of the training he had received when he took up a judicial appointment.

The exception to this sorry state of affairs regarding training is the military, and in particular the army, which has continuous training as well as entrenched accountability mechanisms. This I think explains why they have been about the most functional unit in government over the last decade. Given the enormous talent we do have in several places, better training, as well as the allocation of clearcut responsibilities as we have in the army, will surely make good people perform better in all official agencies, and enable at least some work to be got out of those who are not so good.  Read the rest of this entry »

Daily News 7 Jan 2013

At a regional consultation last week on educational assistance, I was immensely struck by the assertion of one participant that programmes should aim at ‘making the classroom more joyful’. Sadly, that is not seen by many educational administrators or trainers as important. The result is that teachers do not focus on this sufficiently, even though doing this would also help to make teaching an enjoyable vocation for practitioners, and not just a job.

I was the more conscious of this for recently I read a critique of a description I had written some time back of members of the Hela school who had made learning at S. Thomas’ such a joy. Arisen Ahubudu for Sinhala, and his great friends Mr Coperahewa and Jinadasa for Art and Science respectively, had hugely enjoyed their work, and we had hugely enjoyed both their teaching and the performances in which they engaged. In the process we had also learned a lot. Perhaps I had not made this clear, but I had the impression that the critique was based on the assumption, not uncommon in Sri Lanka, that I had been rude in describing the additional input of these memorable masters.

The absence of such teachers in many schools, or the failure to encourage them to use their social gifts effectively, is perhaps what leads to a situation in which ‘school-based education is often perceived as irrelevant’, as the position paper for the consultation put it. Of course there are other factors, such as the tuition culture which seems almost sanctified now, and the fact that many teachers in schools give tuition and expect their own pupils to attend their classes. But underlying this is the assumption that education is a top down process, and not a partnership, in which teachers and students work together towards a common goal.

That word was a key element in the discussion we had. The organization that had brought us together has innovative vocational training programmes in Sri Lanka and India and Nepal, which ensures multiple ownership of its activities. On the job internships are an essential part of the training, and we were privileged to meet four products of their programmes, 3 urban Muslim girls and 1 boy from a rural background, who were all now gainfully employed – two beauticians, one tailor and one in the retail trade, for which it is now increasingly being realized, training in soft skills and in particular customer relations is essential. Incidentally, in a context in which businesses are finding rapid turnovers in staff in some areas in the North, it would make much sense to introduce this type of training programme that develops appropriate attitudes as well as skills. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2013
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