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The last couple of weeks have seen momentous changes. Basil Rajapaksa has been to Delhi and Shivshankar Menon to Colombo, reminding one of the very successful manner in which relations between the two countries were conducted during the conflict. Even before the visits, the President announced the long delayed elections to the Northern Provincial Council, a move that Basil Rajapaksa is reported to have described as ‘a big victory in democratization’.
Given that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had come out swinging as it were against the 13th Amendment and Provincial Councils, this would suggest that the new situation represents a defeat for him, and a resurgence of moderation. But it would be a mistake to think that the viewpoint represented by Gotabhaya is either negative, or that it has been negatived. After all, it should be remembered that he was part of the troika (along with Basil and Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunge) who were responsible for relations with India during the conflict period, and he was at that stage perhaps the Sri Lankan in whom the Indians had the greatest confidence.
That was understandable, for he represented at that stage what I would call the pluralistic perspective in the Sri Lankan Defence establishment. In those days he made no bones about the fact that, while he was determined to achieve a military victory, he knew this was not enough, and it was up to the politicians to ensure a political solution.
Tragically, the TNA was not in a position to work towards this while the LTTE still survived, and sadly they did not immediately take advantage of the destruction of the LTTE to talk to government. I believe they were grossly misled at this stage by those elements in the international community that began to persecute Sri Lanka immediately with regard to war crimes, and unfortunately we did not use the good offices of India to engage in dialogue with them swiftly. Even though immediately after the conflict concluded India and Sri Lanka issued a joint communiqué that was eminently balanced and civilized – and not just Basil Rajapaksa but the President himself categorically made very clear commitments about the political solution envisaged – the TNA was sulking, and they were encouraged to sulk by some of the internationals who also bitterly resented our victory over terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »
The manner in which our Executive is constituted ensures that administrative or professional capacity are not taken seriously when portfolios are allocated. Of course many Members of Parliament have skills that will allow them to contribute to formulating policy and making decisions, but that is not a prerequisite. Given too the need to continue in Parliament by ensuring popularity in their electorates, Ministers naturally see their constituency responsibilities as more important than the claims of the Ministerial responsibilities they are given.
I suppose this is a necessary part of the Westminster system, but in Britain and other countries where that system continues, there are systems to ensure that capable people with understanding of the ministries to which they are appointed can also be selected. Most countries having a Westminster style system, of allocating portfolios to Parliamentarians, have a second chamber to which proven administrators can be appointed – as with for instance Manmohan Singh or Kapil Sibal in India. In addition, on a first past the post system, competent people can be allocated safe seats, and do not have to worry unduly about electoral considerations in fulfilling their Ministerial responsibilities. And some countries such as Thailand have gone beyond this, in allowing for portfolios to also be filled by those with proven executive capacity without them having to enter Parliament.
Remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
At the introduction of the Child Centred Budget Analysis
Presented by the Child Rights Advocacy Network
together with the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs and the Office of the Advisor on Reconciliation to HE the President
As the Moderator Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne said, this is largely about the views of those present, so I will be brief. This Analysis dwells on four areas, with regard to three of which, Child Development, Child Protection and Health, we can I think be relatively satisfied.
Though more remains to be done, we have certainly improved our record in all these areas, and I should note the excellent work being done now by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, through its imaginative and caring Secretary, and the support he receives from the National Child Protection Authority and the Probation Department. In fact I have just come from a ceremony arranged by the NCPA to appoint representatives to every Divisional Secretariat, and I can only commend the commitment of the NCPA Chairperson, who is determined to establish consistent standards islandwide. I am sure the Ministry will issue guidelines to entrench the coordination this Analysis suggests must be improved, while also ensuring that remedial measures are taken where there are shortfalls.
With regard to Health, I think the contrast the Hon Sarath Amunugama drew with Education, is something we need to think of seriously. Clearly he believes, as I do, that we can be relatively proud of our record in Health, where it seems that year by year things are improving. Sadly, with Education the opposite holds true.
Perhaps the clearest test of a pluralistic outlook amongst Sri Lankans, to say nothing of basic decency too, is their response to the events of July 1983. Anyone fit to pass the test sees it as an aberration in Sri Lankan history, an outrage in which defenceless Tamils were systematically persecuted.
Those who offer excuses or play down the event seem to me morally repugnant. That is why, despite his comparative efficiency and honesty, I think Ranil Wickremesinghe would not be a suitable leader for Sri Lanka. His comments soon after the riots, when he played down their impact, and claimed that far worse things had happened to the Sinhalese because of the Bandaranaike policy of nationalization of businesses, were disgusting.
Since he also claimed that that policy had not affected businesses in the hands of minorities, he was in a sense parroting the Cyril Mathew line that was one of the reasons behind the attacks on Tamil businesses in Colombo, namely greed and the use of emotive racism to suppress competition. I can only hope that those politicians and decision makers now in government who are encouraging the Bodhu Bala Sena, and the shadowy forces behind it that are trying to knock out successful Muslim commercial enterprises, realize that they are repeating history and behaving just as a more callow Ranil Wickremesinghe did in his youth.
But while that sort of indulgence to the racists of 1983 was appalling, equally negative are those Tamil nationalists who play down the exceptional nature of what happened thirty years ago, and present it as simply something in a continuum of Sinhala persecution of Tamils. That is nonsense, parallel to the nonsense of those who do not recognize the exceptional nature of the LTTE, and use it to attack all Tamil politicians. We should not allow such obfuscation of the difference between Tamil political agitation and the terrorism of the LTTE. Read the rest of this entry »
The first Consultative Committee to meet in Parliament this year was the Education Committee, and it went on for over two hours. This was heartening, because it suggested a high level of interest amongst Members of Parliament. However it was also sad that much time was spent discussing specific problems, such as the transfer of Principals and Officials, and individual admissions to schools, since these take away from what should be the main purpose of Consultative Committees, namely policies and general principles, leading where necessary to legislation.
There is of course need for Members of Parliament to raise such issues, and the Minister made some valuable suggestions in this regard. He proposed to have consultations with regard to particular areas, and I hope he will do this in small groups, since it makes no sense for officials and parliamentarians from all over to waste time listening to parochial problems.
Interestingly, Parliament has I think taken a step in the right direction in decreeing that not more than 25 officials come to meetings of Consultative Committees. Though it was pointed out that this was inadequate, given the range of officials needed to discuss Education, it would make far more sense for meetings intended to discuss details of educational administration in particular districts to take place at the Ministry, with only officials and parliamentarians from the district or the province. Four or five meetings in each of the two weeks per month during which Parliament meets would cover the whole country, with opportunity to go into detail without time being wasted by the generality.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the post-conflict situation is the strange combination of forces trying to undermine the security forces in their work in the North. I believe their presence there is essential, and not only for security reasons, which we cannot ignore just because the LTTE in Sri Lanka has been destroyed. LTTE sympathizers are still active elsewhere, as we can see from the determination not to condemn any acts of the LTTE – except only for the occasional general admission that both sides violated international norms, followed by a catalogue of what the forces are supposed to have done, with no specifics with regard to the LTTE.
But it is not only fear that the enormous resources LTTE and separatist sympathizers command will be used again for violence that requires the continuing presence of the armed forces in the North. It is also that they still continue with massive services with regard to the restoration of basic infrastructure. Unfortunately they have not developed a system yet of recording the number of wells they have dug, the houses they have built, the roads they have repaired, the playgrounds they have constructed, so their contribution goes unsung. And trying to introduce coherence into the government narrative is of course impossible, given that it privileges style over substance, but really has no idea of the style that would carry conviction.
Meanwhile the vociferous opponents of reconciliation in Sri Lanka ignore all the work the military has done, and continue to talk of a military presence, which only they seem now to see. Most disinterested observers, on the contrary, are now struck by the absence of soldiers on the ground in most of the North. Interestingly, the assistance provided still by the military is appreciated not only by those who actually supply assistance and see how the military has facilitated resettlement, but also by the majority of the resettled. At Divisional Secretariat meetings, while they continue to draw attention to what they see as shortcomings – and also what is occasionally described, in the Vanni, as the unfair allocations decided on by politicians – there is no criticism of the military.
In talking critically of those who now believe that we need to fall in line completely with the West, following the defeat in Geneva, I realize that there are those who think that I myself am a fervent proponent of a Western perspective. I would like to believe that they do not really think this, but use it as a stick to beat me with. However, given the way people trust their emotions rather than reason, it is quite possible they genuinely believe I too am in thrall to the West.
The reasons for this include my familiarity with Western philosophy, and particular Western political thought, as well as my facility with English and the fact that this makes it easy for me to get on well, whether I agree with them or not, with Western interlocutors. Ironically those elements in the Ministry of External Affairs which are committed to a purely Western agenda claim that I have in fact alienated the West. This is obviously not true, except for characters such as Paul Carter who tried to subvert our army officers into betraying their country. But people generally believe what they want to believe.
I suppose I should take comfort from being attacked on both sides as it were, but I have to accept that the criticism from the other side, misplaced as it is, can be quite damaging. Some of it springs from the confusion that prevails in Sri Lanka about Liberalism, which is generally confused with the Neo-Liberalism that dominated Western thinking when it finally triumphed in the Cold War. The privileging of market forces alone, without the provision of safety nets and welfare measures that enhance opportunities, is not Liberalism at all. Unfortunately, when excessive statism led to the Thatcherite reaction, the grand centre ground of British Liberal thinking was overwhelmed.
I have looked thus far at the Sri Lankan Parliament, and its failure to fulfil properly the essential duties of a Legislature. These are the making of Laws, and financial oversight, through both the Budget and control of financial expenditure.
Most Members of Parliament do not however understand that these are their main responsibilities. Rather they believe that their principal function is representational, ie that they are in Parliament to represent the interests of those who voted for them.
This is true, but the problem is that they do not understand their collective responsibilities as Parliamentarians, to make sure that laws are made, and public funds are expended, in the interests of the people. Rather, they think only of their individual responsibility, which is connected with the need to continue to be Parliamentarians.
This explains the fact that most interventions in Parliament relate to the individual needs of constituents. There are exceptions in the questions asked by opposition Members, which are intended sometimes to draw attention to general problems, but even they often lapse into personal considerations. The fact that hardly any government Members ask questions is indicative of the general view that policy – and its practice on a wider scale – is not their business.
Having spent a week over the New Year in Laos and Cambodia, exploring ancient Khmer temples and gazing at spectacular waterfalls, I thought it would be difficult to return to the mundane realities of Human Rights in Sri Lanka. However some of what I saw and was told relates to one of the problems we are going through, and sheds some light on the polarization that is taking place.
I refer to the question of War Crimes, which still bemuses me. The charge was led in 2009 by the British, for what seemed primarily electoral considerations, while now it is the Americans who have come to the fore. When everyone else welcomed the LLRC report, their demand for more indicated that they wanted their pound of flesh, though I have no doubt they are in some confusion themelves about whether it has to be cut from breast or thigh, with or without blood.
Unfortunately given the games they played with Sarath Fonseka, claimed by a senior American diplomat to an Indian friend to have been a secret weapon to extract concessions from the Rajapaksa government, their seriousness must be in doubt. Certainly this particular criticism of Sri Lanka seems the height of hypocrisy, after what I saw and heard of what the Americans had done in Laos and Cambodia. They would only command credibility in this regard if they hauled Henry Kissinger up before the Courts, and I regret that no one has tried to do this in the decades that have passed since his vicious period in power.
A little boy who insisted on following us at the Temple Complex in Sombhur kept pointing out craters caused by American bombs, and also showed us a temple that had been flattened. And in Laos we were constantly reminded, travelling in the Bolaven Highlands, of the secret war that had been conducted in the American effort to eradicate not only the Ho Chi Minh trail, but all those who contributed to the supply chain. I was reminded too of the coup that had brought Lon Nol to power, and its similarity to what the CIA had done in Chile, where Salvador Allende was murdered and Pinochet propelled into power.
Coincidentally in Cambodia I bumped into my old friend Mark Gooding, who had been Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, and then been elevated to the Embassy in Phnom Penh. He was with the intrepid Tom Owen Edmunds, who had been officially only the third in rank at the High Commission in Colombo, but was clearly the brightest person there (and a Balliol man to boot). He went straight from Sri Lanka to Pakistan, so I have no doubt his responsibilities are not slight.
The beginning of the implosion of the President’s pluralistic vision, which had led him to sideline Sarath Fonseka and his hardline views in the aftermath of the war, began I believe with Fonseka’s effort to remake his image. He did this through his interview with the Sunday Leader where, assuming the Americans were right in their report of what he had said in Ambalangoda in August, he did a 180 degree turn, and accused his erstwhile superiors of having done what earlier he had claimed to do himself.
The Americans had cited a speech Fonseka had delivered which was publicized by Lankanewsweb, one of the many sites associated with Mangala Samaraweera. That had reported Sarath Fonseka as having said, ‘I managed the war like a true soldier. I did not make decisions from A/C rooms. I was under pressure to stop the war even during the final phase. I got messages not to shoot those who are carrying white flags. A war is fought by soldiers. They do so by putting their lives on the line. Therefore, the decisions about war should be taken by the soldiers in the battlefront. Not the people in A/C rooms in Colombo. Our soldiers have seen in life the kind of destruction carried out by those people before they decided to come carrying a white flag. Therefore, they carried out their duties. We destroyed any one connected with the LTTE. That is how we won the war,’ Fonseka said at an event held in Ambalangoda to felicitate him on July 10.’
This gung-ho approach was not however suitable for someone aspiring to be a common candidate. In December therefore he told the Sunday Leader the opposite, declaring that it was in effect those in air conditioned rooms who had ordered that those carrying white flags be shot.