In the last couple of weeks we have seen what seems total rejection of the ideals of Good Governance through which this government came to office. I shall look today at the performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having spent time previously on another vital Ministry, that of Finance. But I should note that with regard to many others – with a few honourable exceptions of course – there seems little activity, so that it is not just principles of Good Governance that are being breached, but the very idea of Governance.
I regret very much that Karu Jayasuriya has done nothing thus far with regard to the important task allotted to him with regard to Governance. I appreciate the fact that, given relations between him and Ranil he feels diffident, but that should not stop him taking initiatives in areas that will win him universal commendation. He could for instance easily stop the excessive perks that politicians enjoy, in particular the opportunities to abuse Ministry funds provided by the constitution of Ministerial private offices.
In my former Ministry for instance, now a Cabinet portfolio with a Deputy too, the perks of office continue unabated. My former staff, whose use of the vehicles to which they were entitled I restricted, have told me how many vehicles the Ministers, or rather their private staff, use between them. Meanwhile the two Ministers together are less in office than I was, and there is little progress in the University sector, with the imbroglio over the latest and the previous Advanced Levels continuing in the Courts. And though the new Cabinet Minister finally looked at the Act we had drafted, he like many others seems to think that there is no point in any action since an election is imminent.
With regard to Finance I have written at length already about the Central Bank Bond Scam, and I hope that soon the Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises will be published, so that discussion can be even more open. I should reiterate though that the problem is not that of the Finance Ministry alone, since the Prime Minister had brought the Central Bank under himself, an action that has been critically examined by the former Deputy Governor I quoted at length in a previous column. Given the changes that are taking place however in the economy, with the last international Bond not being taken up to the extent hoped for, and investment still slow, I believe the Finance Minister has every reason to worry. He can I think only thank his lucky stars that the Opposition thinks the No Confidence Motion on the Prime Minister should take priority, and that is something the government is very wary about.
Meanwhile what is equally serious is what is happening in the field of Foreign Relations. In London the Minister met with the Global Tamil Forum and, while I see no harm in discussions, I see no evidence that there is any coherent policy based on study by the Sri Lankan government of current needs. Thus the statement issued after the discussion, by representatives of the TNA and the GTF, expresses needs that the government should have identified and worked on from the inception.
This is the statement in full –
Confidence Building Measures in Sri Lanka The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) continued their informal dialogue over the last two days in London with various stakeholders to enhance confidence building measures between all communities within and outside Sri Lanka. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Mangala Samaraweera was also present.
The need for constructive engagement by the Sri Lankan Diaspora was discussed, including the needs of displaced people. It was agreed that a further meeting will be called to present the requirements to various High Commissioners and Ambassadors based in Sri Lanka, with the aim to raise funds for housing of over two thousand families in these newly released lands.
The release of prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the light of the review by the Ministry of Justice was also discussed. The TNA and the GTF further raised the issue of listing of Diaspora organisations and individuals by the previous Government.
Ideas of ways in which the Sri Lankan Diaspora could assist by bringing its exceptional capacity and capabilities were explored.
Such a statement creates the impression that confidence building measures is the business of the Tamils, whereas obviously the primary responsibility to heal the wounds of war and ensure better living conditions for those within Sri Lanka who suffered is that of the Sri Lankan government. Much has already been done in this regard but the current government seems incapable of building on what was done by the LLRC Task Force, the Reconciliation Unit, International Alert, the Oxford Research Group and others who have striven over the years to bring people together.
When I was in London recently, though I had not meant to engage in any work, a friend had arranged meetings where a range of friends of Sri Lanka came out with ideas as well as regrets that there seemed no coherent new initiatives. I was reminded too of the patronizing response to young Diaspora members, of all communities, were treated at a meeting in Colombo, when it seemed they were seen simply as cash cows who could invest in the country.
Underlying all this is the failure to think and plan coherently. Six months ago I had suggested a set of guidelines for the Foreign Ministry, one of which dealt with the need for ‘a wider professionalism. For this purpose Government should establish at least two high level think tanks. The existing government managed institutions could be upgraded, but they should function independently and have research staff who could produce position papers and suggest responses to international developments. In addition, these think tanks should have a training wing, which develops communication skills in addition to the capacity to analyse. They should also publish journals to which diplomats are expected to contribute.’
Given the importance of Reconciliation, this should have been a priority. And, even if government is not willing to build on what there is, they do have some capable people who could contribute ideas, Radhika Coomaraswamy at the Lakshman Kadiramar Centre, Ranjith Cabraal at the Bandaranaike Centre, Ram Manikkalingam and Selyna Pieris and Javid Yusuf in Chandrika’s Reconciliation outfit. But there is no evidence of them meeting regularly and developing a constructive policy with an action plan. Indeed, I suspect these institutions too are going the way of the National Advisory Council which Rajitha Senaratne told me the other day has stopped meeting.
And so it seems that ideas, which were already in circulation in Sri Lanka, have to come from the Global Tamil Forum, with its chief interlocutor being the Tamil National Alliance. No wonder Tamils think that they can only rely on Tamils. If the Sri Lankan government will not work for them actively they will simply confirm the view that, for governance, let alone good governance, a separate state is essential.