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

Jaffna Road

Basil I think honestly believed that rapid development of the North would make everyone happy.

This did not mean it was not sincere about reconciliation. Basil I think honestly believed that rapid development of the North would make everyone happy. Certainly he seems to have been surprised when the election results were announced, and winning less than a quarter of the vote clearly upset him, even though the confidence he had expressed previously, that government would do well in several places, may have been bravado.

The problem was, he did not consult those whom he thought he was helping, rather like the devoted lady in Trollope who did everything in terms of her passion for Phineas Finn, but never thought of asking him what he might want. Thus, when the Northern Task Force was set up initially, there had been no Tamils on it. Though this was soon remedied, Basil did not much consult Douglas Devananda, the Tamil Minister who was on that body, and who was the most forceful of the former terrorists who had given up arms after the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987, and thus became the greatest enemy of the Tigers.


Rishard was a doughty fighter, who certainly did a lot for his community. But he was in mortal fear of Basil…

Douglas himself was not perhaps capable of clear conceptualization, and the most clear thinking of his supporters, who might have helped him to plan, had been assassinated by the Tigers a year before the war ended. Still, he might have been able to articulate some of the aspirations of at least some of the Tamils. But Basil could not work with other strong personalities, so the main instrument he selected to represent the people of the North was Rishard Bathiudeen, one of the Muslims the Tigers had ejected from the North way back in 1990. Having obtained a degree and then developed as a politician despite these difficult beginnings, Rishard was a doughty fighter, who certainly did a lot for his community. But he was in mortal fear of Basil, as we found when we tried to persuade him as Minister of Resettlement to urge swifter action on sending the displaced home. The reason I wrote to Basil in August 2009 was because, at the meeting at which it was decided that someone should do so, Rishard flatly refused and wanted someone else to do it.

An interesting aside on that episode was that Basil, in scolding me, told me to tell my friends that he was not going to fail in his commitment. I wondered whom he meant, and it turned out that he was talking about the Americans. It transpired that the head of USAID, who was a great friend, and had indeed supported the government actively in its happy 2reconstruction programme in the East, has been ordered by her Embassy to write to Basil herself, when they heard that we had decided to do this. She told me, when I upbraided her, that she thought this was a mistake, but she had had to do it – which brought home to me how keen the Americans were for credit. Doubtless, had my letter drawn the required response, there would have been a cable to the effect that Basil had moved quickly on resettlement because of American pressure.

After the 2010 election, when Basil became Minister of Economic Development, with a massive brief that included the main social service programme of government too, Rishard was made Minister of Industries. That someone not easily able to plan was given such an important position indicated that Basil simply wanted a sidekick he could command. It also ensured that there was little thinking about the Small and Medium Enterprises that should have been initiated in the North, little planning about the Micro-Credit that was essential, little effort to provide the training that was so desperately needed.

papaya cultivation

Little was done about the value addition that was essential if the peasants were not to be exploited by middlemen who paid them a pittance for their produce

For Basil had failed to realize that the North, and in particular the Vanni, which the Tigers had ruled, needed human resources development on a massive scale. Though agriculture came back to normal soon, the people needed training in marketing , as one bright woman from a Rural Development Society said at the Reconciliation meetings I had started holding in the North and East. Little was done about the value addition that was essential if the peasants were not to be exploited by middlemen who paid them a pittance for their produce and kept the profits for themselves. In 2013, when I was pursuing this after several meetings at Divisional Secretariats where the rural communities had made known their wants and needs, the Minister of Agriculture told me that 2013 had been designated the Year of Value Addition, but they had done nothing about it.     Read the rest of this entry »


download (5)The last few weeks have seen much agitation about Non-Governmental Organizations, with threats to introduce new legislation to control them more effectively. The whole exercise seemed to me absurd, since existing legislation is quite enough to prevent abuse. If it is not working, it is because the personnel involved are incompetent, and even much stronger legislation or regulation will serve no purpose unless more capable people are deployed.

Unfortunately the President has been pushed into a position where he can only employ the second rate for this purpose, as he has realized was the case with Lakshman Hulugalle. The only qualification for the job seems to be total subservience to the powers that be, what Dayan Jayatilleka described as the Mafia lawyer syndrome when he first identified the breed, six years ago. He actually demonstrated the posture, hands held crossed behind the back, head nodding in acquiescence, claiming that the model derived from ‘The Godfather’.

How sad the situation of the present incumbent of the position is became clear when I attended the launch of the Roadmap prepared by the Association of Women Affected by War. I sat behind so did not recognize the attractive young lady who was in the centre of the front row along with a couple of envoys. It was only at the end that I realized she was Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, whom I had met a few weeks earlier at the Oslo Forum where I had been invited to debate against Mr Sumanthiran on the propriety of talking to extremists.

By then I knew that she had been instrumental in developing Security Council Resolution 1325 about the need to involve women in peace initiatives – and also that, though invited for the launch, she had been forbidden to speak. The press had also been barred from attending the event.

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At the inauguration of the MA Course in Development run by the Marga Institute with the Open University, I was asked about a matter that had recently created some interest in the media. It was on the lines of the alleged Norwegian funding for the Bodhu Bala Sena and the questioning of the head of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung with regard to funding opposition meetings.

The way the other matter had been presented in the press suggested it was more serious, in that the suggestion was that United States funding was being provided surreptitiously to the Trincomalee Urban Council. In fact reading what was actually happening (if I have got it correct), namely the funding of American sponsored social and cultural activity in the Urban Council premises, I did not think there was any great problem.

However there is an important issue of principle, namely that this agreement seems to have been entered into without the knowledge or consent of the Ministry of External Affairs. Again I do not know if this is correct, but it would certainly not surprise me. The incapacity of the Ministry of External Affairs to enforce the norms which should govern the relationships of external funding sources with Sri Lankan bodies is nothing new.

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Text of lecture at a workshop at the Kotelawala Defence University – January 20th 2013

Let me now quickly run through measures I would suggest to maximize the impact of aid interventions.


  1. Request all agencies to work in selected areas and build up close working relationships with government officials in those areas.

This means they can plan outputs in terms of needs that have been contextualized, and report within a framework that tracks outcomes on a comparative basis.

The ideal unit for this would be Divisional Secretariats, since this is the smallest unit able to plan and respond swiftly to local needs. While the first interface of government with people is at Grama Niladhari level, and while we must improve consultation mechanisms at that level, decision making is more effectively done at a higher level, with professional inputs into planning and monitoring.

If agencies wish to work on a wider scale, because this will enhance their appeal to donors, they can work in Divisional Secretariats in more than one District. But a culture must be developed in which they bear responsibility for manageable units, and are accountable to both officials and the community, with regular opportunities for discussion and explication of projects.


  1. Agencies should employ local personnel as far as possible. They should be required to provide satisfactory justification for the hiring of expatriates and salaries that are paid to them.

As it is, far too much of aid money is spent on salaries for expatriates. Though it is claimed that suitable Sri Lankan counterparts are not available, this is often incorrect. One of the horror stories I should share with you is that of the Shelter Consultant for the Welfare Centre at Manik Farm, who cost about 11,000 dollars per month. He was hired in a strange way, because though his salary was met by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it was paid through another body called UNOPS, which is one of those bodies that survives through implementing projects that should be done by national agencies. I believe it was created for the sort of situation my friend from OCHA described, where there is virtually no government, so I cannot understand why our government still allows it to operate in Sri Lanka. Read the rest of this entry »

Shelters in Zone 0 and 1

Efforts to rouse concern about conditions at the welfare centres are understandable in sympathizers of the LTTE agenda seeking to bring Sri Lanka into disrepute. What is astonishing is that a panel appointed by the UN Secretary General should have followed this line, while ignoring the clear evidence provided by the UN itself about the tremendous efforts of the Sri Lankan government to provide relief.  It would seem that the panel had not bothered to look into UN records, else they would have known that the UN Resident Coordinator wrote that –

With regard to specifics

  1. The concerns expressed by the panel include claims that the whole process was illegal.  Ignored are the reports of the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, who was invited three times to Sri Lanka to advise on the relief programmes. He made clear the parameters under which limitations could be placed on the freedom of movement of the displaced, and the government, through gradual expansion of the categories released and then through rapid returns, did its best, subject to security concerns as well as the need to demine and ensure basic infrastructure, to follow his advice with regard to time frames.

  2. Concern was also expressed that access for humanitarian agencies was denied.  This was nonsense as is apparent from the continuous activity of several Non-Governmental Organizations as well as UN agencies in the centres. However access was provided only in terms of specific aid projects, which irritated agencies which had seen themselves as decision makers rather than supporters of government intervention. The best comment on this was provided by the Deputy Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Steve Ray, who told me before he left that the international community in Sri Lanka had not understood the situation, since many aid workers came from situations in Africa where government involvement was minimal. Read the rest of this entry »

Perhaps the most startling revelation of bad faith in the report of the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General is its repeated call for a reversal of the motion regarding Sri Lanka carried at the Human Rights Council in May 2009. At one point the Report criticizes the UN team in Colombo, in saying that ‘the public use of casualty figures would have strengthened the call for the protection of civilians while those events in the Vanni were unfolding’. The rationale for this claim follows immediately, when the Panelists declare that following the end of war, the Human Rights Council may have been ‘acting on incomplete information when it passed its May 2009 resolution on Sri Lanka’.

In short, the main agenda of the Panelists is to overturn that resolution, which rankled deeply with some countries accustomed to always having their own way in United Nations bodies. When a vast majority votes against them, they must have been wrong, so now the case has to be reopened with information provided when it cannot properly be checked.

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UN buildingThe revelation by the Darusman Panel that the UN had networks of observers in ‘LTTE-controlled areas’ has not received the attention it requires. The propriety of the UN setting this up needs to be questioned, inasmuch as it indicates what seems to be a parallel source of authority without reference to the government of the country.

The extract that refers to this network also records how it was formed: ‘An internal “Crisis Operations Group” was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the Group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by three sources or could have been double-counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni’.

The sweeping manner in which Government sources outside the Vanni are put on par with Tamil Net requires consideration in a context in which the UN is supposed to be working together with Government. Unfortunately this type of loose talk was encouraged by a lack of precision of the part of various agencies in Government. I have written enough about the battle I had almost single handed to ensure accountability to Government, only to be criticized for this even by people in government who thought I was upsetting good helpmates of Sri Lanka. So here I will only point out the effrontery of the European Union which had prepared ‘Modes of Operation for Aid Agencies’ which asserted that such agencies held the balance between Government and the LTTE. I got rid of this nonsense the week after I took over as Secretary, after which the Europeans lost interest in the Modes of Operation.

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In considering the individuals within the UN system who have tried to undermine the Sri Lankan government, and in the process also contributed to undermining the good work that the UN in general tries to do, we should look carefully at the various examples of what might be termed pernicious excess.

Most obviously we have those who have gone out on a limb, and been found out, so that even the usually complacent UN system had to deal with them with relative if still inadequate firmness. Prominent amongst these in the last couple of years were John Campbell and Bernard Dix. The latter in fact behaved badly openly only after he had left the services of the UN in Colombo, but then he turned up in Geneva where he was escorted round to various missions by Amnesty International. He did a sort of magic lantern show with slides, which were obviously not very revealing since we did not hear of them later. What gave them, and his critical narrative, substance was his status as an employee of the United Nations, which most regrettably Amnesty was selling for all it was worth.

I told the normally scrupulous Peter Splinter, head of Amnesty in Geneva, that it was really very naughty of him to make use of an emotionally overwrought individual who was in breach of his contract. Peter however seemed to think such conduct was not reprehensible. Fortunately the UN system disagreed, and the UN head in Colombo made sure that Mr Dix stopped using his position to advance criticisms that were fraudulent and proving an embarrassment to the UN as well as to Sri Lanka. Sadly the UN did not see fit on this occasion to issue a statement making its position public, but the system seems to have worked, for that was the last we heard about Mr Dix and his tale of woe. Doubtless he will be recycled elsewhere at some stage, not least because he had been taken into the UN system after a stint with Solidar, which was at the height of its influence at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

After the diversion created by Radhika Coomaraswamy’s effort to distract attention from the actual ICES escapades, it may be useful to return to less purposive threats to our efforts to deal with terrorism. In this regard I should reiterate that I believe that the International Committee of the Red Cross is amongst the most innocuous of the agencies that engage with countries in difficult situations.

They are supposed to be apolitical, and generally they live up to this reputation. However they are sometimes dragooned into a political role, as when claims are made by some countries that assistance cannot be provided for rehabilitation unless there is a monitoring role prescribed for the ICRC.

In general this would not seem a problem. However, admirable though the ICRC generally is, at the beginning of 2009 they decided to engage in a political role in Sri Lanka, or what they themselves would term advocacy. They issued a series of bulletins, which sounded deeply critical of the Sri Lankan government and its armed forces, and naturally these were made use of by the Tigers and their sympathizers.

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John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, UN OCHA

Perhaps the least insidious of the agencies which worked in Sri Lanka to substitute itself for National Sovereignty was OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance. This has been functioning in the country for just a few years now, having come in I believe after the tsunami, but it had soon converted itself into a central clearing house for much of the humanitarian assistance the country received.

 It did this through a mechanism termed the Common Humanitarian Action Plan, a phenomenon I first came across a couple of years ago, when I took over as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The CHAP was supposed to be coordinated by our Ministry, but it turned out that we were largely ignored in its formulation. The procedure that had been followed previously was that OCHA held what it termed consultations with local stakeholders, presented us with a draft, and asked for our approval within a ludicrously short time.

As Head of the Peace Secretariat I had received some information about projects under the plan, but I found that nothing was forthcoming when I asked for further details. Some international organizations for instance, which seemed to have given rather a lot of money to strange entities in the North, claimed that these were recognized agencies, but these claims could not be substantiated. Of course our own mechanisms were shaky, with no clear procedures laid down about how local organizations should be registered and monitored, but it was sad to find out that OCHA was equally if not more incompetent about keeping records.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

April 2019
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