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April 17th 2014

The Editor

The Island

Dear Sir

I write with reference to the article by Shamindra Ferdinando, to which he kindly drew my attention, which appeared in your columns on April 16th. While I am grateful to him for drawing attention to a period when government had dedicated agencies to deal with such matters, using analysis and argument rather than knee jerk reaction, I must draw attention to one very misleading element in the article. This is important because it will also help in clarifying how to deal with the type of situation that arose.

Mr Ferdinando has a sub-heading to introduce the section in which I figure which states ‘SCOPP Chief lambastes UN’. The sections he quotes show that I did nothing of the sort, and the whole article was about Sri Lankan aberrations, to use this to attack the UN is misleading. Indeed I had nothing but cooperation from the then UNDP Resident Representative, Mr Neil Buhne (whose name Mr Ferdinando continuously mis-spells), in trying to sort out the mess.

When I first questioned the grants to the LTTE, both he, and the then Norwegian Ambassador, Tore Hattrem, whom I also found very positive in his approach, pointed out that these grants were approved, indeed initiated it seemed, by the then Sri Lankan government. The fact that the LTTE misused the grant may have been predictable to many of us, at least after it became clear, not very long after the CeaseFire Agreement was signed, that the LTTE had no intention of abiding by its terms. But when the then elected government of Sri Lanka behaved with incredible folly, to blame the UN as a whole is wrong. Indeed Mr Hattrem wrote to the LTTE to upbraid them for engaging in terrorist propaganda on the website that had been set up with Norwegian and UN funds, but the initial grant was given in good faith at the behest of the Sri Lankan government.

I should note that I found abuse too of the grant that had been given to SCOPP, as I pointed out in the article. The Secretary General of SCOPP at the time, when I questioned him, told me he had wondered what was going on, but he never bothered to find out, or to put a stop to it.

I should note too that the new head of UNICEF, Philippe Duamelle, at my request, ensured that the funds given to UNICEF were audited (though regrettably he told me that he was unable to share the report with me). When I expressed wonder at what had gone on before his arrival, he said frankly that he could not understand it. It was his predecessor who tried to tell me that UNICEF was prepared to condone violation of laws because the Tigers had told her they needed to change their legislation to stop recruiting children under 18. I complained about this to the UN and received an apology – and an assertion from Radhika Coomaraswamy who was in charge of the subject that the UN upheld national and international laws. But on other occasions when I asked others in more senior positions to get things in writing – as when the Head of UNOPS apologized to us for the behavior of Benjamin Dix – nothing was done.

It is precisely because of our failure to deal with aberrations direct, and work together with the many senior international officials who do their best to work in partnership with us, that the few individuals who had another agenda got away with bad behavior. Even when I ceased to have any executive responsibility, I suggested to the Ministry of External Affairs that they write formally to the UN to clarify matters, but of course nothing was done. Hence our failure to rebut the excesses of the Darusman Report with the support of the UN, instead of which we allowed what I might term the interventionists in the international community to engage in as one-sided criticism of senior UN officials (through the Petrie Report) as they had done of us.

Whilst we must be constantly vigilant about those who wish to attack us, the thrust of my article was that we needed also to put our own house in order. This is more true than ever now, with a Minister of External Affairs who seems determined to alienate all potential allies, whilst grossly misleading the President about what is really happening. I trust therefore that Mr Ferdinando will also devote some of his journalistic skills to exposing what is and was wrong about our own officials, instead of highlighting only the misdemeanours of a few young international staff and then implicitly criticizing the whole UN system for this and our own failure to be firm on good grounds.

Yours sincerely

Rajiva Wijesinha

Why is this country’s ever lamenting civil society set of weepers complaining twenty four hours, seven days a week about good governance and regime change, when there are real human beings out there, who are crying out for attention? How much more heartrending can the average news item get than the news about the eight year old schoolgirl who was accused of picking up eight coconuts because she had to contribute to the school fund for a new whitewash for the classroom building?

Yet, it took the allegedly Sinhala supremacist (according to the carping civil society lobbyists, that is ..) and allegedly human rights deaf president of this country (according to the same civil society whiners-brigade) to raise a din about this issue, and ensure that a small child who tried to support her school, was not scarred for life.

But civil society has time for other things, such as echoing the asinine comments of Human Rights Watch for instance, about Colombo’s having to be rejected as the CHOGM venue. What sort of human rights campaigners that have time to carp on non-issues and inevitabilities — the sessions will be held in Colombo and there is no credible chance of anything to the contrary happening — but have no time for real children, suffering tykes, and the chronically underprivileged?

When the story of the eight year old having to save face before her classmates despite her poverty and was penalized by the state found its way to the newspapers, there was nobody that saw the flip side of the episode.

The reaction among the civil society do-gooders may have been ‘well, just another juvenile delinquent’ if they deigned to react at all, before chaffing at the next sip of champagne. But, the other side of the story was that there are children who badly need a hand, from private organizations that have the money and the time to do something.

But the days of the socially productive non-governmental organizations seem to be over. They seem to thrive on more poverty and more privation of the sort experienced by the eight year old in the news, just so that they can blame it on the government and get back to hollering for regime change.

Though nobody raised a finger in the civil society circuit, they have to be mindful of the fact that it’s often their policies that continue to keep little kids such as these in poverty. It’s their carping and their painting of a negative image for the country that keeps investors away, and the economy from developing faster.

What have the peace councils and the peddlers of alternatives done for health, education, child welfare and other issues that have a real bearing on the lives of people?

Nothing, partly because the donors give all the cash for other pursuits, such as muckraking about trumped up human rights issues, and bellowing through loud hailers about governance and the rule of law.

At least a somewhat maligned MP by the name of Rajiva Wijesinha has the time to go into real problems even though in a somewhat theoretical way, about schooling, general health issues and other societal concerns that have some immediacy in terms of making a real difference to common people and the chronically poor.  At least, it has to be said, he tries.

But when the rest of civil society generally ignores the problems of schooling for instance expecting the government to wave a magic wand, to say the very least, they do not endear themselves to those such as the eight year old kid in the ‘coconuts for school’ story, the likes of which will grow up to hate the privileged but unfeeling civil society and NGO elites.

It’s small wonder then that these same ladies and gentlemen of the civil society wah-wah caucus spend all of their time writing about the unusual popularity of the president. Take Kumar David for instance. It is easy to see his insane jealousy about the fact that the president is popular when somehow his own town criers are not. May be Kumar in his sophistication cannot relate to an eight years old’s agony, but then again, he can talk for imagined thousands whom he says the president has wronged, even as his (the president’s) popularity remains unscathed and those of his own ilk plummets.

Daily News 09 Feb 2013  –

                              BY:AMANDA HODGE, SOUTH ASIA CORRESPONDENT 

October 31, 2012

THE UN is under pressure to expose Sri Lanka’s failure to improve its human rights record when it scrutinises the country’s progress in a four-year review tomorrow.

The Sri Lankan government has said it is prepared for the review and has sent a high-powered delegation to Geneva for tomorrow’s sitting in which almost 100 countries have signalled their desire to question the nation over its rights record.

But submissions from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have criticised the government’s failure since the 2008 review – when the military was still embroiled in a civil conflict with Tamil rebels – to improve human rights and address disappearances and extra-judicial killings.

“Governments should use the UPR (Universal Periodic Review) to question Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation and make recommendations for meaningful change,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said. “Of particular concern is the government’s ongoing failure to hold anyone to account for numerous deadly abuses by both sides during Sri Lanka’s long war.”

Other civil society groups in their submissions for this week’s UN review allege the government has failed to make any progress on political reconciliation or address the harassment and even murder of human rights workers and journalists.A UN panel of experts last year found up to 40,000 civilians had been killed in the last months of the war, that the military had systematically shelled designated no-fire zones, and that Tamil Tigers had used civilians as human shields and shot others who tried to escape the conflict zone.

“We have ended a war but we have not moved to address the causes of conflict or the malaise of governance in general,” Sri Lanka’s Centre for Policy Alternatives director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu said yesterday.

Sri Lanka will face a further, more crucial UN review in March when the High Commissioner on Human Rights will report on whether the government should be offered international assistance to implement recommendations from its own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee, which investigated the failure of the 2002 ceasefire and alleged war crimes committed during the 26-year war.

Rajiva Wijesinha, a reconciliation adviser to President Mahinda Rajapakse, yesterday acknowledged the government “can do better” on human rights, including more thorough investigations of journalist killings and torture allegations.

But he said the government had made considerable progress in resettling many thousands of families since the war ended in May 2009.

“I think many of the concerns of the 2008 review have been tackled reasonably well but there are remaining concerns, and we also need to work more quickly on implementing the recommendations of the LLRC and indeed the National Human Rights Plan,” he said.

Professor G. H. Peiris

Three months of agonising wait is finally over for tens of thousands of youth in the higher strata of our educational system, now that the so-called ‘university crisis’ is deemed to have ended, and our dons have decided to resume their routine duties. Many among them would like us to know that had it not been for their patriotic zeal they would have left Sri Lanka to sell their brains in far more lucrative markets. Mighty decent of them.

In fairness to this fraternity I should say that it has seldom resorted to politically confrontational trade union action, and, until a few weeks back, never took to the streets to win their demands. This time around, they mobilised considerable public support for their cause, mainly by misrepresenting their case and camouflaging their objective. They appear to have been so persuasive that even some of the sternest critics of higher education including those of the media did not (as far as I am aware) really challenge the legitimacy of the FUTA agitation for higher salaries, leave alone its other demands and claims relating to imperilled free education, inadequacy of government spending on education, university autonomy, and the brain-drain.

The FUTA strike, however, did produce a vibrant public discussion that extended over some of these demands and claims. Among the contributions by the university staff to the discussion (some of which vividly but unintentionally illustrated the crux of the real crisis in higher education) there were the attempts to present the university teachers’ perspectives on issues such as the loss of scholarly talents due to low salaries, how enhanced university grants could be used for elevating the quality of higher education (Jayadeva Uyangoda in The Island of 3 October 2012), and why politicians should not interfere in university affairs. There were, in addition, the more focused inputs by intellectuals outside the university system which undoubtedly enriched the quality of the discussion. Those among them that were particularly useful were the commentary on the ‘Trade Union Action by FUTA’ by Jayantha Dhanapala and Savitri Goonesekere (The Island, 8 October 2012), and Usvatte-aratchi’s clarification titled ‘Expenditure on Education’ (Sunday Island, 14 October 2010). The frequent references by the FUTA to large numbers of unfilled cadre vacancies in the universities, presumably as evidence of the inability of the universities to attract suitably qualified persons to their staff, were placed in proper perspective by Rajiva Wijesinha (The Island, 10 October 2012 whose data indicated that, at least in some of the faculties and departments of study he has specifically referred to, the need of the hour is retrenchment rather than recruitment. And, had the FUTA heeded the advice given by Erik de Silva fairly early in the proceedings (The Island of 13 September 2012) it could have avoided persisting with the blunder of demanding an increase of government expenditure on education to 6% of the GDP.

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FUTA President Dr Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri

By Dinouk Colombage

FUTA President Dr  Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri has made it clear that despite FUTA demanding a six percent increase in the allocations to the educations budget, the union is still unsure of what the money should be spent on.

In a debate involving UPFA Parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe, and moderated by UNP Parliamentarian Eran Wickramaratne, the union president was caught unawares by several questions all demanding to know where the 6% increase in the education budget would be spent. Responding to a question posed by a member of the audience, Dewasiri responded that while FUTA had highlighted some of the main concerns, they were still awaiting a proper dialogue to identify where the money should be spent.

UPFA Parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

While Wijesinghe agreed that there were numerous issues in the education sector, he denied that they would be solved by simply increasing the budget allocation. Highlighting several key aspects which needed to be revamped, including the controversial Grade 5 scholarship exam, Wijesinghe was able to illustrate the lack of direction on the part of FUTA.

He went one step further and suggested that rather than taking strike action, FUTA should have used the courts, which are at their disposal, and file a Fundamental Rights petition against the Ministry.

While Dewasiri was correct in saying that the strike action by FUTA has opened an avenue of dialogue regarding the issues in the education sector, the apparent lack of planning by FUTA is a cause of concern.

The audience were not impressed with both arguments as most members demanded to know what the 6% would be spent on. Wijesinghe suggested that the discussions take place with academics and education boards, avoiding the politicians. However, Dewasiri was adamant that no change would be possible unless the politicians were to take an active role.

The final comments of the evening from the audience showed that the FUTA strike was threatening to lead public opinion away from the issue and take on a political angle. Wijesinghe was questioned why military expenditure was on the rise, and the number of troops in the North continues to increase while the education sector continues to struggle. He responded that the politicisation of every issue would lead to no resolution, and that the sole focus should be the issues in the education sector.

Oct 3, 2012

UPFA MP Rajiva Wijesinha addressing a forum on the future of free education in Sri Lanka said there was a massive crisis in education which was due to a crisis in management and lack of productivity, and added that union demands based on wage hikes and increases in government spending were irrelevant.

The forum panel consisted of Prof. Wijesinha and Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri and was moderated by UNP MP Eran Wickremaratne.

Prof. Wijesinha said there was a dire need for education reforms due to inefficiencies in universities, students’ syllabuses and a rising trend in tuition lessons which he said was harmful to education. “I think this crisis in education is horrendous. I don’t think salaries or 6% of GDP is important. It is a crisis of management and productivity,” he said.

Prof. Wijesinha said the Higher Education Minister had attempted education reforms since 2010 but the lethargy of the Education Ministry had prevented him from doing so. Wickremaratne commenting on a recent statement by President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had said he would meet with FUTA for discussions only after it had called off the ongoing strike questioned Prof. Wijesinha as to whether the President should meet the union at this time.

Prof. Wijesinha said the President need not meet with the union because it would not serve a purpose, he said. “I fully agree that discussions should be there but on a policy basis. The problem should be discussed in terms of the crisis and not two demands alone,” he said.

Meanwhile Dr. Dewasiri said the union began its trade union action because it saw there was a crisis in the education system to which the answer was still not clear. “People have questioned as to whether we have the right to make these demands but we saw the need for open discussion,” Dewasiri said.

Source: Daily Mirror – Sri Lanka

UPFA parliamentarian Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha says the reconciliation process is essentially a multi-pronged approach, as the government approach to anything should be. However, he noted that although there is no guarantee that the proposed PSC would bring about the final political solution there is a trust feature if all parties including the TNA participated in it. Referring to the Eastern Provincial Council election, he observed that the government should have initiated a dialogue with the TNA on a national government since the party had expressed its willingness to discuss. “I think it should have been tried, but I also understand the difficulty. Managing a coalition is not easy. The government should however take note of the results,” Prof. Wijesinha said.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: How confident is the government that the Indian government would put pressure on the TNA to participate in the reconciliation process?

A: I am not privy to what happened in India but I do know that India would like a reasonable solution.  From what I know, while they sympathise with the TNA position they also understand our position and might take a basic line between the two positions.  It is simply that the more dogmatic personnel on both sides perhaps would like to push their points of view; I think we must take all views into account but aim to satisfy the moderates on both sides.

Q: The TNA has questioned the government reconciliation process. What is the reconciliation process proposed by the government?

A: The reconciliation process is essentially a multi-pronged approach, as the government approach to anything should be. The government assumed, with some justification but I think it needs fine-tuning, that they needed to do quick restoration which is also what is prioritized in the National Reconciliation Policy document my office prepared  In that, we divide the reconciliation process into different segments. Of which the most important is restoration, which is based on the enormous physical suffering that the war brought; the bulk of which was borne by the people of the North. The government assumed that a lot of the macro stuff would lead to people returning to normal life; this happened in the East where the remarkable development programme was picked up by the state.  By and large they gained satisfaction, this does not mean that there are no questions but by and large there is satisfaction with the President.

In the North we have two separate problems, neither of which did we address carefully enough.  The first is in the Wanni where I think we did a fantastic job in restoration, and again I think the people are very satisfied, but we are not giving them the extra skills development to take advantage of the situation. I told the Indians we had to introduce local labour for their houses and they agreed.  But when I went up last time there are three contractors in one particular area, one is using local labour the other two are not.

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Students performing a tamil folk dance

On World Children’s Day the Country Director of UNICEF in Sri Lanka, Mr Reza Husseini, opened an English Activity Centre at the Karandana Junior School in the Eheliyagoda Educational Division. The Centre, which also includes two classrooms for Grade V students, and looks out over the local hills, was built with decentralized funds allocated by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha.

Mr Husseini unveiled the plaque which was in English and Sinhala and Tamil, and students introduced the programme in all three languages. The school also presented Sinhala and Tamil Folk Dance items with great skill and enthusiasm.

Students performing a sinhala harvest dance.

Students from Sri Jinaratna Maha Vidyalaya, the Karandana Secondary School, welcomed Mr Husseini with a traditional dance. Accompanying them was an English Volunteer Teacher, Ms Melissa  Hughes, whose work follows that of an earlier Volunteer at the Junior School. Other Volunteers have also served in schools in Eheliyagoda and Kiriella and Ruwanwella under the same programme, which has contributed to greater confidence amongst school children in the use of English.

Simultaneously the English Teaching Department of Sabaragamuwa University has conducted training programmes for teachers in Ratnapura and Kegalle, and will be commencing classes, including in IT, in the Ridigama Division of Kurunegala later this year.

Another part of Prof Wijesinha’s decentralized budget is being used for Vocational Training in the Mullaitivu District, conducted by Aide et Action with support from schools in the area.

Daily News 3 Oct 2012 –

Rajiva Wijesinha


September 2022
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