In the last few articles in this series, I intend to look at essential aspects of government that are not normally considered under the term Good Governance. That is generally associated with form, namely accountability and transparency and the entrenchment of procedures that prevent arbitrary and inequitable decisions.
But the substance of government is also vital, and we must recognize that the people who choose governments are generally more concerned with performance rather than process. I shall therefore examine the basic requirements with regard to performance on which governments are generally judged. But before that I would like to look at an area that covers both aspects.
I refer to responsiveness. Governments must respond to needs, and that is why they also need mechanisms whereby those needs can be expressed. The substance of the responses will be the object of judgment, but the selection of areas for action is also of close concern to the governed.
Sometimes however the area for action is selected by outside forces, albeit in the context of local needs. In this context I would like today to look at a field in which it seems that government has absolutely ignored the need to respond, which I fear can have adverse consequences for this country and its people.
I refer to the Report of Pablo de Grieff, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on issues concerned with Reconciliation, who visited Sri Lanka recently. He had issued what seemed a very helpful report following his visit, but this seems to have been forgotten in the drama over the 19th Amendment. We should however realize that swift action on the issues he has discussed is also essential if Sri Lanka is to overcome the problems of the past.
Sadly this government seems as slow about acting on essentials as the last one. The Rapporteur for instance is quite critical of what he calls ‘Overuse of commissions of inquiry leading to a confidence gap’. His general conclusion, that ‘the accumulated result of these efforts has increased mistrust in the Government’s determination to genuinely redress’ violations, is understandable. But we should also register that the Commissions themselves by and large did a good job. It was the failure of government to follow up properly that led to mistrust.
The most obvious example of this is the burying of the Udalagama Commission Report. Given what seemed the determination of the last government to prosecute no one, their failure to act on that Report is understandable. I should add though that I hope that even now the decision makers of that period understand what damage they did to the reputation of the forces by not dealing firmly with aberrations. Given however the very different priorities of this government, its failure to do anything is astonishing.
It was indeed agreed at a meeting of the Government Parliamentary Group that the findings of that Commission should be published, and appropriate action taken, but that decision was not even minuted. The Prime Minister did ask that that omission be corrected, but confessed he had done nothing, and I suspect the matter has not been followed up since.
Failure to coordinate and work holistically leads to inefficiency. This is apparent too in the failure of this government to build on the Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. That Report was well received by everyone, except the US State Department and the TNA and the Centre for Policy Alternatives. Had government worked wholeheartedly on its recommendations, we would have escaped the international inquiry that was set in motion in 2014. But while it is true that the Action Plan omitted some recommendations, and that the areas that did not come under the direct purview of Mrs Wijayatilaka and Anura Dissanayake were neglected, what was achieved was substantial.
Since this Government understands the bona fides of the Commissioners, two of whom have been entrusted with vital responsibilities, it is sad that the Reconciliation Task Force it has appointed seems determined to reinvent the wheel. At the very least, building on the foundations of the LLRC would help us escape the criticism of the Rapporteur that our Commissions add to the problem.
At the risk of sounding parochial, it is sad too that the Task Force is not building on the Draft National Reconciliation Policy that I prepared together with Eran Wickremaratne and Mr Sumanthiran and Jeevan Thiagarajah and Javid Yusuf (who is on the Task Force) and some bright and thoughtful youngsters. While obviously they might wish to amend some of it, it covers much of the ground that the Special Rapporteur dwells on. In particular it affirms the need for a Rights based policy, which was on my mind at the time since I had been asked to convene the Task Force on expediting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan (which had been adopted by Government, unlike the Reconciliation Policy).
Our suggestions as to improving consultation mechanisms should in particular be taken forward by the Task Force, which should play a more proactive role in coordinating restorative justice. In that regard, I hope the Rehabilitation Authority has reported to the Task Force, as well as to the Minister, the suggestions made by the Committee on Public Enterprises about taking on a Reintegration brief as well. The COPE suggestions about livelihood development for female headed households also accord with the views of the Rapporteur, as expressed graphically in his final paragraph.
Last week, in the English equivalent on MTV of Satana, Dr Saravanamuttu stressed the need to move on Reconciliation, since without that political reforms would not succeed. Though we were supposed to be on different sides, and though obviously I continue to disagree with him about the conduct of the war in general, I found that we were in agreement on many matters, including the need to move quickly on comprehensive reforms.
The recent incidents in Jaffna indicate that these are essential. I do not believe that there is any racist motivation here, but we must realize that the frustration of youngsters who see no bright future and feel that those in authority do not care is a dangerour force. The impact of this can be seen all over the world, and it is tragic that we continue to believe that top down strategies will suffice when it comes to educating and training youngsters and preparing them for the world of work. Our failure to set up consultation mechanisms and ensure responsiveness will be as disastrous in such areas as well as in our dealings with the international community.