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qrcode.30693280An ambassador who seems to understand this country well said recently that he thought the greatest mistake this government had made was to let me go. I have to admit though that that was probably more flattering than accurate.  One can see rather that the greatest mistake was to ignore completely the manifesto on which the President had won the election, and instead assume it was about two things and two things alone – the abolition of the Executive Presidency and having an election after 100 days.

Unfortunately now the government will be remembered for just two things, one the laudable reduction in the authoritarian powers of the Presidency, the second the Central Bank Bond Scam. But there was much else in the manifesto that could easily have been implemented in the almost six months which the government had before Parliament was dissolve.

I have already looked at the seven broken promises with regard to reform that were mentioned in the 100 day programme, viz

1)      Electoral Reform

2)      Amendment of Standing Orders

3)      The Right to Information Act

4)      The new Audit Act

5)      A Code of Conduct

6)      A Cabinet of not more than 25 members representing all political parties in Parliament

7)      A National Advisory Council including all political parties in Parliament

The last three of these did not require a Parliamentary majority, and three of the others could have been passed with a simple majority. But the failure to develop consensus on issues of common national interest, and instead concentrate on Ministries for one party, and the perks that went with these, led to disaster.

Those blunders are obvious. For the next couple of weeks I shall look at some of the excellent ideas in the manifesto that were completely ignored. The total failure of this government to entrench better systems of government, based on ideas that had been canvassed for a long time but which had not been taken forward, must be registered, and I hope the government elected in August will move swiftly on such matters.

One of the most innovative ideas in the manifesto occurred in the section entitled ‘An advanced and responsible public sector’.  The second bullet point there read, ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area. It will coordinate all activities such as skills development and supply of resources pertaining to the development of the economic, social, industrial and cultural sectors of the area.’

Though I used the word innovative, in fact this represents a recognition of reality. A hundred years ago, when the British began to think of appointing Sri Lankan Government Agents, the Province was obviously the practical unit of administration. But as populations grew and the business of government expanded, the District became more important and accordingly Government Agents were appointed to Districts too. Now however, with so much more to do and for so many more people, it is the Divisional Secretariat that has to initiate and oversee action in most particulars. Unfortunately we are still stuck in hidebound systems, and Divisional Secretaries do not have the decision making powers they need. In addition, many government departments are not well represented in the Division, which leads to long delays with regard to action, let alone decisions.

After the problems I had noted in the North and East, I discussed the matter with those with experience in the field including the immensely knowledgeable Asoka Gunawardena and the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, Mr Abeykoon, who is now the Secretary to the President. We then approached the UN, which set up a consultancy, and last year we got a comprehensive report from Asoka on ‘Improving Service Delivery in the Divisions’. Unfortunately, when the election season set in, the Secretary put the matter on hold. Though Karu Jayasuriya was initially keen to take things forward, it turned out that he was not the responsible Minister, given the manner in which Public Administration had been carved up. I did mention the matter to the Minister responsible, but such reforms are not really his concern, and in the mad rush for elections the matter had been forgotten.

After the election I hope a concerted effort will be made to move forward in this area. It is important to make sure however that this is done with provision to consult the people, something the last President pledged which was not done. Mr Abeykoon had set the process in motion, through a circular that instructed Grama Niladharis to chair the Civil Defence Committee meetings in their GN Divisions, but this has not really taken off. Clear instructions are needed as to how the ideas brought up at consultative meetings should be taken forward (something that can be improved in Parliament too, where minutes are not promptly circulated and action points rarely recorded). This was planned, but elections intervened.

At the last meeting of the Home Affairs Consultative Committee in Parliament, this being the Ministry entrusted with District and Divisional Administration, I brought the matter up, only to find that the Minister and the new Secretary knew nothing about this. They had not been briefed, but the Minister promised to look into the matter, and I hope that he will find some time during electioneering to at least ensure that a position paper is prepared for him, or for his successor.

Meanwhile, nothing has been done in the last couple of years with regard to the other area of governance that is closest to the people. I refer to the work of elected officials, namely the Chairman of the Pradeshiya Sabha and his team. At present their functions are confused, because there have been significant changes in the manner in which these are organized – utilities for instance are supposed to be their responsibility, but both water and electricity require much central government involvement.

Because of all this a new Local Government Act was being prepared, and with the blessings of the Minister, the Secretary gave me a copy of the draft for comment. I found it a great improvement on what we have now, but thought there should be entrenchment of consultation procedures, with the advisory committees to local bodies being composed of representatives of community organizations, not appointees of those in political authority.

The Secretary, one of the brightest of our Civil Servants, Mr Ranawaka, took the ideas on board, but he was then entrusted with other responsibilities and the Act seemed to have been forgotten. But if good governance is to become a reality, the next government should study the current situation, with the help of Asoka Goonewardene’s comprehensive report, and set in place systems to ensure that people have ready access to the services government should provide at local level.

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The following was sent to the Ministry of External Affairs in July 2011 in an effort to introduce some clarity into the debate on the Darusman Report, and also to coordinate better with the elements in the UN system which had also been attacked in that Report

I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

I raise these because I believe we have not responded effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

I hope very much that you will be able to proceed on these lines or similar ones.

Yours sincerely

 

1. Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Alleged rape
b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance
c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced
d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps, and request reports from him as well as the heads of the WFP and UNHCR with regard to these matters. In particular the UN Secretary General should be asked to share with the panel the reports of the various protection agencies that functioned during this period.

2. Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these
b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area
c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters.

3. Were there reports prepared by the UN or the ICRC which were shared with the panel, but which were not provided to government?

4. Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’, as claimed in the report. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared?

5. Did the UN obtain other reports from international UN employees in Sri Lanka, and were these with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator? How did these fit within the UN mandate? If these reports were intended to improve the condition of affected Sri Lankans, why were they not shared at the time with government?

6. Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?

7. Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92), the attribution to government of an inappropriate response (at the end of January) to an ICRC statement issued on February 1st, the assumption that food was only sent to the conflict zone through the ICRC, the attribution (though obscurely) to the terrorist associated Tamil Rehabilitation Organization of the claim that individuals died of starvation, the claim that Manik Farm did not have its own water source, the claim that psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, etc?

8. Will the Panel study the analysis of its claims with regard to attacks on hospitals, in the light of claims made at the time, and in the context of official ICRC documentation of what was conveyed to government?

9. Will the Panel explain its selective characterization of participants in the conflict, including its description of the LTTE as disciplined, while bribery is attributed to the military as a whole, with positive actions being attributed to individuals?

10. Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? Will it also explain the sentence ‘Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure’ and how it relates to the figure of 75,000 given immediately afterwards?

11. Will the Panel explain what it means when it uses the word ‘Government’, and in particular its source for various critical comments such as those in Paras, 131 and 136 and Footnote 77?

12. Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests, as well as the manner in which funding was squandered on international personnel who were unable to ensure adherence to national and international standards with regard to sanitation?

This was copied to the Attorney General at the same time, as he was supposed to be chairing the Inter-Ministerial Committee to implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, with the following covering letter –

I attach a copy of a letter I have sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs. I hope you will appreciate the points raised in the letter, and in particular the need to take remedial action so as to ensure that the reconciliation process continues.

In this context I would like to suggest some positive measures that could be taken immediately to address some of the concerns raised in the Panel report, which I am aware you too share. I believe we have not promoted the provision of information that would alleviate some suffering. Though there seems to be exaggeration with uncertainty, any uncertainty can cause anxiety and then resentment, so we should do our best to minimize this.

I would suggest that we establish in every GN division an agency that will collect statistics with regard to those missing, and collate them with appropriate investigation to ensure fuller information with regard to previous activities. This should lead to the formulation of a data base that can be used to provide precise information as possible.

We know that of course some of those dead will not be identified, and also that some have made their way to other countries, or have taken on a new identity in this country. While making allowance for these, I am sure we will be able to establish that the number of those dead or missing is much smaller than is sometimes bandied around.

I hope very much that we can take action in this regard, and in other areas mentioned in my letter to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, and make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka is more concerned about its own citizenry than external agencies.

I also wrote as follows at the same time to the Chairman of the LLRC

Whilst the process of reconciliation was proceeding apace since the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, I believe some events over the last few months have affected this adversely. Whilst the different communities in Sri Lanka have not responded negatively, relations amongst some Tamils now living abroad and other Sri Lankans have been severely strained.

This may allow elements of the LTTE abroad to continue with their previous practices, including extortion from the majority of Tamil expatriates, and the perpetuation of racial prejudices. This will in turn rouse hostile feelings in the less reasonable amongst other communities. I believe therefore that we need to act firmly to nip such tendencies in the bud.

The events I refer to include in particular the publication of the report of the panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to advise him on accountability issues. This has in turn exacerbated the impact of a film shown on the British Television Channel 4, and subsequently repeated on channels elsewhere. Both these have given credence to a book by a former UN employee called Gordon Weiss, and I gather that other publications related to this have since emerged, or will do so shortly.

It will be helpful then, for the sake of reconciliation alone, to challenge the impact created by these events. In particular, I believe that we should ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report. At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression.

This can be done more easily if we have made sure that errors are eradicated and clarification provided with regard to matters that are obscure or suggest inadequate understanding of realities. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. I have accordingly sent to the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs some queries which I believe should be sent to the Secretary General, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled. I have several others, following close scrutiny of the report, but these will be enough for the moment.

In addition to this however, I believe we can also address the few real issues that the Panel Report raises. Having studied it, as well as the other publications mentioned above, it seems to me that there are only two allegations in which sufficient information as to time and place and scope has been furnished, so as to warrant further investigation.

These are the allegations with regard to the so-called White Flag incident, as well as mention of execution of prisoners, as to which the Channel 4 film mentioned a specific date. While I do not think we should deal with Channel 4, it may be useful for the Commission to seek further information from the Panel if it possesses any with regard to these two incidents, and in particular further details of the visual records that are alleged to have been made. It is possible that further examination will reveal discrepancies such as have characterized previous visual records brought to our attention, but since those were general claims whereas these involve specifics, it would make sense to try to obtain further information if available.

In addition to this, I believe concerted follow up with regard to your previous recommendations would be helpful.

I raise these to help us to respond effectively to slurs that can irretrievably damage the reconciliation process if allowed to go unchecked. At present we simply react to relentless criticisms, without addressing its root causes. While I can understand reluctance to respond to the substance of an inappropriate report, there is nothing to prevent us questioning the methodology used.

Finally, a letter sent to the Secretary to the President some months later –

The events of the last week, and the document I shared with you that had been prepared by a Ms Vigo, prompted reflections on the absurd way in which we have been conducting our foreign relations, and in particular our relations with the United Nations. I am aware that the President has been sharply critical of the UN, and seems to think that all efforts to work positively with it would be vain, but this flies in the face of all evidence.

The Vigo report makes it clear how many UN agencies and their heads worked well with us during the difficult days of conflict, despite external pressures and pressures from their younger members of staff – a phenomenon that occurred also with several ambassadors who have confided in me about this.

Meanwhile, as you are aware, Dayan Jayatilleka in Geneva did a fantastic job of making sure that we received solid support from the UN system. He understood the need for numbers, and worked with influential ambassadors in each regional group, so that we had a large coalition supporting us.

This was promptly frittered away by his successor. As one distinguished journalist told me, in Dayan’s time we asked for advice, later we simply asked for votes, from people we had hardly taken seriously until their votes were needed.

Meanwhile in Sri Lanka we ceased to work together actively with the UN. Because of anger, understandable enough, at the appointment of the Darusman Panel, and its report, we assumed that the UN was complicit in the injustice that was being done to us. We failed to read the report carefully and intelligently, and understand that senior UN officials also were being criticized.

I told the Ministry at the time that we should communicate with those officials and develop a common response, but I do not think the Ministry even understood what I meant, nor the potential danger. As I have noted recently, following the visit of Robert Blake, which local politicians and foreign ambassadors have told me was worrying, I was told by the Ministry that all had gone very well, and newspaper reports were simply designed to create trouble.

I have been deeply upset in recent months, at meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings in the North, at the continuing failure to address the problem of teacher shortages in key subjects. While there is heartening appreciation of the rebuilding of schools, at much better levels than ever before, I am constantly told that there are insufficient teachers for English and Maths and Science. Of course I know this is a problem elsewhere in the country too, but that is no excuse. Given that it is those in rural communities who suffer most, I can only hope that those concerned with basic rights will at some stage institute legal action to ensure equity in education, and force government to look at alternative systems of teacher training and teacher supply, instead of sticking with the statist centralized model that has so signally failed for so long.

Significantly, I am rarely told about shortages of teachers for computing, but this does not mean that they are available. This was brought home to me graphically when I was discussing plans for use of some of my decentralized budget for education in Rideegama in Kurunagala. While I have over the last few years used part of the budget in the North, for entrepreneurship training for former combatants and this year for Vocational Training in Mullaitivu, and the rest in Ratnapura, where we concentrated on school education and English, I thought I should also do more further afield, given that the Liberal Party has a couple of Pradeshiya Sabha members in Rideegama.

I had wanted to do English classes, and these will now be conducted in three GN divisions, through the Sabaragamuwa English Language Teaching Department, which had done the teacher training in Sabaragamuwa. But to my surprise I was also asked for computer training, in particular for Ordinary Level students, since there are hardly any computer teachers in the schools in the area.

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As I shall be away for a few weeks, I thought it best to bring this series to a close. I have tried here to discuss the need

a. for Parliament to be strengthened, through better use of Committees so that its legislative and oversight functions are treated seriously

b. of streamlining the Executive and making it more effective

c . to strengthen local administration

d. for much greater coordination between government bodies and also elected and unelected officials

e. to provide clear job descriptions and institute and enforce reporting mechanisms

f. of much better training programmes with assessments that privilege efficiency, effectiveness and initiative

I have noted some areas in which best practice is available, as with the Community Policing programmes in the East, or the regular discussions between Divisional Secretaries and Pradeshiya Sabha leaders in some areas in the North, or even the recording in Batticaloa of unused government buildings, in a context in which the thrust is to use more and more cement as yet another intelligent and able Government Agent put it.

I have also noted some areas in which reform is long overdue. A common theme of my suggestions is streamlining and targeting, as with the proposals for electoral reform that restore the link (and hence responsibility for and accountability to) between elected representative and the people; or the recommendation that the Cabinet be reduced in number with Ministers chosen for administrative capacity and planning skills rather than electoral success.

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Speech of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

On the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs

In the Committee Stage of the Budget, December 9th 2013

 

I am honoured to speak on the votes of the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, which deals with perhaps the most important subject we need to consider. I say this because, while the development programme government has put in place with regard to infrastructure is vital, it will serve no purpose unless we also concentrate on human development. In this regard we need to ensure that our children are in full enjoyment of all their rights, and that we also empower them so that any violations are minimized.

It is equally important, Mr Speaker, to ensure that women are not only protected, but also empowered. For this purpose we must put in place coherent mechanisms that can identify shortcomings and address them promptly and systematically. Above all we must move from simply reacting to problems, but rather anticipate potential problems and avoid them – a strategy, I should add, that would hold us in good stead with regard also to international relations as well as domestic politics.

With regard to Women and Children, I am happy to say that we have an active Ministry that is able to conceptualize and initiate new measures. Chief amongst these is the establishment of Women and Children’s Units in every Divisional Secretariat. If I might say so, this Ministry has been the first to recognize the importance of the Division, which is the first active interface between government and people. Indeed this Ministry has also recognized the importance of the Grama Niladhari Division, which is the first actual interface, though it is for the raising of issues rather than solving them. I should add that it would make sense to set in place, even in GN Divisions, consultative mechanisms to resolve simple problems. However it the Division that is the first level at which more important decisions can be taken, and where the front line officers of various government institutions can meet to discuss problems and plan responses – and where they can discuss trends that will help them to anticipate problems and avoid them.

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The Indian journalist Sathiyamoorthy, one of the sharpest – and also I think most sympathetic – commentators on the Sri Lankan scene, wrote recently on questions in connection with the army and the police in the North. With regard to the latter, he seems to be of the view that the police should not come under the Ministry of Defence, which is not an argument I accept.

My main reason for this is the very simple belief – on the basis of a principle known as Occam’s Razor – that one should not create entities unnecessarily. Unfortunately Occam’s Razor is unknown in Sri Lanka, where we multiply entities endlessly, as with Ministries and layers of government. In affirming the need to keep the police under the Ministry of Defence I believe we should also extend the principle more widely, but that is another question, and requires more thought and strength of mind than is usually applied in this country.

Sathiyamoorthy thinks a division between the police and the Ministry of Defence would help ‘in recapturing the imagination of the police as a civilian force, easily approachable by and comforting to the civilian population. Not just the Tamil minorities, but even the Sinhala population in the run-up to the JVP insurgencies had felt alientated from and by the police, for possibly no fault of theirs’.

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My own concerns, both with regard to aspects of Reconcilation that are not being addressed adequately, and also in terms of my responsibilities as Convenor of the Task Force to expedite implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan, were more with Protection issues. I therefore concentrated initially on these in the consultations, with Ministries and officials from the North, that the UN has kindly facilitated.

However I recognize that the vast majority of people in the North are much more concerned with livelihood issues. It is vital therefore that the initial nexus between government and the people, namely the Grama Niladhari, concentrate also on development, construing that term in the broader sense.

The Grama Niladhari then should have regular discussions with the people for whom he is responsible, so as to find out their pressing needs, and then put these forward to the relevant authorities. In the North I am regularly asked about roads and transport, about electricity and water supply, about irrigation and the marketing and storage of produce. The more perceptive members of Rural Development Societies also raise issues of credit and better training.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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