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     Enemies of the President’s Promse: Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Seven Dwarfs – Happy (Part 1)

The meeting in Sri Lanka in November 2013 of the Commonwealth Heads of Government provides a great opportunity for our government. This can be summed up in one word, Engagement, which Sri Lanka has not been very good at over the last few years.

The principles of engagement, which we need to understand, are very simple. First, we need to listen carefully to what others say. Second, we need to put our own perspectives and practices clearly and systematically. Thirdly, we need to search for common ground between us and our interlocutors, and work towards strengthening those commonalities and developing understanding of how mutual appreciation could be strengthened. Fourthly we need to work out where there are differences, and point out where these are because of inadequate understanding of our situation. Finally, where there are differences based on perspectives, we need to explain our own position clearly, and indicate why changes on our part would not be beneficial to the Sri Lankan people. However – and this is a vital caveat to this last aspect – we must try to understand different positions, and listen to arguments supporting them, and if necessary adjust our own positions if those arguments are clear and convincing.

About each of these, there have been great difficulties in recent years. We do not listen carefully, and we tend to put everyone who criticizes us in the same basket. We then play to local galleries by criticizing them and, since the sincere are generally nicer than those who have a subtle agenda, we are more critical of the decent. This has made us lose credibility amongst those who, even if they have different approaches in some respects, are basically our good friends. The manner in which India is often treated in our media, and even by some in authority, is a shocking example of this absurdity. Read the rest of this entry »

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 1

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 2

In welcoming the initiative of the armed forces to get involved in communication, and in what might be termed Public Diplomacy, I noted how the failure to have planned coherently is apparent in the manner in which Development has been targeted in the North. Infrastructure has been created apace, and certainly we have done much to put in place the tools through which livelihoods can take off. But we have not worked systematically on the training that should also be provided to ensure maximum usage of the opportunities that are available. Thus, though we knew from the start that there would be much construction, no schemes were put in place in much of the Wanni to start vocational training for the purpose.

I still recall some months back having a discussion with a bright young man from the Ministry of Economic Development in Mannar, and pointing out that such training should have been thought of. He agreed, but it was obvious he did not think it was his responsibility to have thought of such things. He may have been correct, but it should have been someone’s responsibility. It is precisely because that sort of holistic thinking is lacking in our much fragmented public service that I believe the forces have a role to play in promoting it.

Similarly, we have no systematic records of what has been achieved, and in particular the input of government and of local agencies into the process of rebuilding. We produce lots of glossy booklets, but we fail to produce clear pictures of actual outcomes. I am reminded then of what happened with regard to preparations for the displaced, when we had elaborate plans, which were clearly impractical. In fact they were used by our critics to say that we wanted wonderful facilities so that we could keep the displaced incarcerated for long periods. Much time then was spent arguing over the plans, and little was done, and it was only because of the enormous energies of General Chandrasiri, who was put in charge of the process a short time before the conflict ended, that Manik Farm was got ready in time to provide at least basic shelter to so many. I still recall him getting down to yet more work at dusk, when everyone else was packing up for the day, and the international community claimed it was not allowed to stay out so late. That to my mind was yet another example of the forces having to step in to salvage an operation that civilians – including experienced international aid workers, though the responsibility I should add was more ours – could, and should, have planned better. Read the rest of this entry »

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 1

Based on a talk given at the SF training centre in Kilinochchi – Part 2

A few weeks back I was asked to speak at a workshop arranged by the Kilinochchi Special Forces Commander on ‘Information Operations and Civil Affairs’. It seemed an excellent initiative, and the concept paper sketched out several areas  civilian administrators should also have thought of. Sadly they don’t, so it was left to the forces to think about

  1. Communicating immediately and consistently with the community

  2. Establishing and nurturing good relations with the media

  3. Reinforcing support relationships with others

  4. Describing and updating progress on the post-conflict peacebuilding effort

  5. Gaining and maintaining a reputation as a trusted source of reliable information for the effected population

  6. Implementing an information strategy that enhances operational credibility and effectiveness

I was deeply impressed by all this, for I have long argued that the remarkable achievements of this government are being nullified by its failure to put forward clearly its remarkable successes. I have also noted that the civilian branches that have, nationally and internationally, the responsibility of setting the record straight have failed miserably. That is why I feel strongly that it is time some of the efficiency which characterized the operations of the military through the conflict period, and beyond, were conveyed to those who have let down the country so badly.

When I talk of this government, I should make a distinction between achievements before the last General Election, and what happened afterwards. There is no doubt that, before government got a large majority in Parliament, its actions were much more effective.

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On the votes of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integrations – December 9th 2011

I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for this opportunity to support the budget allocation and the work of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration amongst others. In fact my one complaint is that not enough has been given for the work of this extremely important Ministry. In his budget speech the President made clear the seminal contribution to national development of the activities associated with this Ministry, and I can only hope that its work does not suffer from a shortage of resources.

In one sense limitations on the funds allocated to the Ministry should not be a problem, because its work should be conducted by other Ministries too. For instance, with regard to National Languages, a greater responsibility lies with the Ministry of Education. Given the continuous failure of our Education system over the years to promote bilingualism, let alone the trilingualism that His Excellency requires in fulfillment of his vision for a prosperous, pluralistic and united Sri Lanka, there is also need for more work by the Ministries of Higher Education and of Vocational Training.

Given the need for better coordination in this regard, I hope very much that the recommendation in the Committee deliberations on the Ministry of Human Resources, to establish both a Consultative Committee and a Coordinating Mechanism between the various Ministries concerned, will bear fruit. It should be noted that the Ministry of Public Administration should also be involved in this, given the important role that the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration should play in this regard. Some years back, when I first got involved in public life in an executive position, as head of the Peace Secretariat, I noted to my line management that there would be no possibility of sustainable peace unless we developed a much more effective administration, with better skills of communication as well as planning, than we had. Every day that passes convinces me of this more and more, and unless we develop appropriate skills, and initiative, in middle management as well as elsewhere, the excellent proposals in the budget will come to naught. I hope that the Ministry of Public Administration, as well as the Ministry responsible for Public Sector reforms, will fast forward plans in this regard and ensure effective implementation.

To return to the particular question of communication skills, since we have so many Ministries to work in this area, it might be argued that we do not in fact need a Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration. But it is precisely because those Ministries have not effectively pursued practical programmes in this regard that we need a Ministry like this to propose innovations and ensure at least pilot programmes. It could for instance ensure the development of new teacher training models, given that in the near seventy years since J R Jayewardene moved his fatal motion that straitjacketed our students in monolingualism state institutions have failed to produce sufficient teachers of the national languages. Of course it is our rural schools and our rural children who have suffered most from this.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2020
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