I was privileged last week to contribute to the first Seminar conducted by the Officer Career Development Centre at Buttala. The subject was Post-Conflict Nation Building and the role of the Security Forces, and we had two days of interesting presentations with much opportunity for discussion. The questions put by the officers who participated were stimulating, and the general approach made clear the impact of the training, in thinking as well as practical action, that the armed forces have developed over the last couple of decades.

Five of the twelve speakers were civilians, including one academic apart from myself. There were two presentations by members of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, indicating the importance the forces attach to that body, even if there is less attention than there should be elsewhere to implementation of its recommendations. The one person I did not know was one of the new Secretaries, of whom I had a favourable impression given the excellence of the two with whom I had previously interacted.

This one was in the same mould, and produced a well constructed speech on harmonizing the efforts of Government Machinery and the Security Forces in Nation Building. He made a convincingly argued distinction between State Building and Nation Building, and noted the great achievements thus far with regard to the former, including infrastructure development as well as resettlement and rehabilitation.

He did not presume to say much on Nation Building, since that was not an area for which he was primarily responsible, but he noted the guidelines set for this in two Action Plans Cabinet had approved. One was the Human Rights Action Plan and the other, obviously and given priority, was the LLRC Action Plan.

I could not agree more with his argument (and was delighted to find a senior bureaucrat putting this forward), that were we to move swiftly in these two areas we would have done much towards Nation Building. However I had had occasion to note in my own presentation that, because of the lack of formal structures to ensure consultation and cohesive responses, we were not moving as swiftly as we should be doing. Even more worryingly, we were not making clear to the world how much had been done.

This was one of the themes that had been raised throughout the seminar, namely our failure to convey positive information. I feel the more sympathetic for the officers who made this point, because our failure to tell our story will lead to problems for them. But, capable though they are, they cannot solve the problem, because there is only so much military spokesmen can do. It is civilians who must make the case for the comparatively excellent behavior of our forces during the war, and this is simply not being done.

But the civilians are also failing to tell their own story. The Secretary noted that he had been involved in progress reviews with regard to the LLRC Action Plan, and I believe the Additional Secretary in the Presidential Secretariat who is coordinating action in this regard is one of the most efficient officials I know, and will certainly do his best. But he has no control over dissemination of information, and indeed was not sure how I could access the records that he had passed on to be uploaded on one of the Secretariat websites.

After some time he found that what seemed a pop up on www.priu.gov.lk was not a pop up, but a file that had to be downloaded. Certainly what it records shows impressive progress in some Ministries. But not all have provided information, including some which I believe have taken action, at least in some respects.

It is not good enough however that one should be left wondering what has been done. Setting things down clearly will help all concerned, and also allow those responsible for the plan to prod those agencies that are moving slowly, so as to expedite action. In addition, what has been done should be shared with other government agencies. The Military Spokesman, for instance, had no idea that the website I had found existed, whereas proper coordination demands that all relevant agencies, or at least those most concerned with LLRC recommendations, should be briefed on what is going on, what is planned, and what remains to be addressed.

I have long argued that we need a Ministry to ensure required action and productive information, and I still hope that Mahinda Samarasinghe, who has the responsibility of putting our position on these matters in international forums, will be given this responsibility. Certainly there is need for some reallocation of responsibilities, since the former Attorney General, who had been entrusted with planning in this regard for several months, and also implementation once the Plan had been finalized, has now moved on to higher things.

But even without another senior person being put in charge through a Ministry, the administrators now responsible for the Plan should have their own website, and develop mechanisms whereby all relevant agencies receive and disseminate information as to progress. More staff however will be needed for this, as I have found with regard to the Human Rights Action Plan, where the website does not as yet include records of what has been done. Though, after having been prepared ages back, it was finally launched in December, it is still embryonic, and will not help us much without greater professional capacity not only to update but to actively seek updates from all responsible agencies.

The most efficient method of getting all relevant information across would be a dedicated Reconciliation website that would record not only actions in relation to the LLRC and the Human Rights Plan, but also the State Building actions identified by the Secretary. Taken as a whole, they convey a convincing message about the commitment of not just Government, but the Security Forces too, to Reconciliation.

Daily News 25 Jan 2013 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2013/01/25/fea02.asp

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