UntitledI was asked last week by the European Union to an exhibition about ‘Celebrating Partnerships’, and attended, though I left early when the speeches began. I was not sure why I was asked, since the invitation was for development partners and the TVEC was not involved in the project.

But as I looked round the exhibition, I realized that, as Charles Ryder put it in Brideshead Revisited, ‘I had been there before; I knew all about it’. And it brought back fond memories of the last public service I performed successfully, before (as I put it in Endgames and Excursions, memoirs of the last five years which Godage published), ‘I began to feel that my shelf life was over’.

I have written about how I helped the UN resurrect the project in the 6th chapter of that book. Though I start by saying that it seemed clear in 2013 that ‘there was no hope of stopping Mahinda Rajapaksa rushing headlong into disaster, given that so many of those around him, while pursuing their own agendas, had lulled him into a false sense of security’, the way he responded to my appeal indicated he still genuinely cared about the country and the development programme he had embarked on.

In late 2013 I had been told about proposals prepared at District level for a UN project to be funded by the European Union. This had been agreed with the government, after Basil Rajapaksa suggested modifications including that it be extended to areas outside the North and East too. But then suddenly he clamped down and said it could not proceed.

I was told that it might be because his then favourites, Bathiudeen and Hisbullah who had a free hand in the North and East respectively, had not been consulted in the planning, and were angry they could not put forward projects catering to their own agendas. An alternative view was that Basil wanted to control the funds himself and did not like the decentralized manner in which the project had been conceived. Yet another explanation was that he was upset that the Northern Province had rejected the government at the recent Provincial Council election, and this was his revenge. Sarath Amunugama indeed suggested it was because of what he characteristically described as ‘unrequited love’.

I inquired about the matter from Subinay Nandy, the UN Head whom I would meet regularly. He was upset and could not understand how government could reject so much funding. I wrote then to the President in November about the matter –

During Reconciliation meetings in the East I was told about a European Union project to spend 60 million Euros on District Development which has been abruptly stopped by the Ministry of Economic Development…Efforts on the part of the UN to meet with the Minister and the Secretary to clarify matters have proved fruitless….

I would be grateful if this matter could be looked into and steps taken to adopt a more positive approach to dealing with the United Nations. We can ill afford to alienate the positive elements in the international community at this stage 

Typically there was no response. But at the dinner after the budget I brought up the matter. It was evident he had not seen my letter, which reminded me of what he had once said when I told him, about some step that he belatedly agreed should be taken, that I had written to him about it previously. ‘But you write in English’, he  said, ‘how can you expect anyone to understand?’

At the dinner I explained the matter very simply, and he seemed to have taken action promptly. Soon after Subinay told me the Secretary to the Treasury had instructed that the project was to proceed. I felt I was not wrong then in feeling the President still had a positive mindset about how the country should move forward. But it was also clear that he was less and less in control.

Sadly the same scenario seems now to be playing out, with Maithripala Sirisena still I think committed to his manifesto, but incapable of ensuring honest and productive action.

Ceylon Today 19 Dec 2017