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qrcode.31254677I was asked recently in an interview to mention seven areas of priority for the new Parliament. I began with Education and Reconciliation which have long been priorities for me. But then I also noted some other areas in which structural change was essential.

One of these was providing greater autonomy to the regions and local bodies with regard to decision making. But I did not by this mean a return to the old debate about devolution and sharing power between the Centre and Provincial governments. My stress was on more power to local bodies, and I also thought it vital to develop better consultation mechanisms.

I am glad that the UPFA manifesto notes this need, and I hope they will study the progress made in this area by the Ministry of Public Administration, working in collaboration with UNDP. A couple of years back the Ministry Secretary sent out a circular about regular meetings at Grama Niladhari level, and he also issued, together with the Secretary for Child Development and Women’s Affairs, a circular setting up Women and Children’s Units in each Division. Building on such initiatives, there was an excellent report prepared by Asoka Gunewardena on improving Service Delivery in the Divisions. This should be used to flesh out the manifesto, leading I hope to fulfilment of the President’s commitment in his January manifesto that ‘The Divisional Secretariat will be made the chief unit that performs the priority tasks of the area’.

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qrcode.26476270During my visits in the last couple of years to all the Divisional Secretariats in the North and East, I realized that little had been done to implement the proposal in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s manifestos regarding more consultation of the people. Regular meetings did not take part at village level, and the supposed Divisional Development Committees met sporadically. Their conclusions were not recorded systematically, and there was no provision for follow up. Indeed in one area it was reported that the Member of Parliament, who chaired the meetings, ignored decisions and did what he wanted, and this was confirmed by the Government Agent. Elsewhere the Committees had not met for months.

I wrote to some of my colleagues and suggested they should take their responsibilities more seriously. I also suggested to the President, in my end of year report as Adviser on Reconciliation, how systems could be developed. But there was no response, except once when he told me, when I spoke to him about the need for better consultation, to talk to Basil. I told him I could not, since Basil never listened, as I had learnt from previous experience, so the President told me to write to Lalith, which I did, for the umpteenth time. Nothing happened, and instead I discovered this year that the chairmanship of the DDCs was being used to give MPs massive sums of money, over Rs 600 million in some cases, to spend on what they saw as development.

I brought the matter up at the Consultative Committee on Public Administration Reforms, and got details of the wheezes Basil had dreamt up to give funds to members involved in elections. It transpired that no one had known about this officially before I asked, and the opposition as well as more responsible members of government welcomed the relative clarity we established, but it was pretty clear the whole process was absurd.

Not least to prevent such abuse, we must set in place mechanisms to ensure that the voice of the people is heard before money is spent on their behalf. Fortunately there did exist a consultative mechanism in the form of the Civil Defence Committees, which I found well organized in the East. Unfortunately these had no official status, but we were able, after discussion with the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, to improve the structures, primarily by his asking the Grama Niladharis to chair the meetings. This established a link with the formal administrative process, and in some places where there were able officials – such as the Nittambuwa OIC, who explained how he had taken things forward when spent some time in his office – files were systematically maintained. Still, the process requires fine tuning, and in particular provision for follow up, so the following administrative reforms are suggested –

  1. Consultation mechanisms should formally be set up at Grama Niladhari level, in line with the current Civil Defence Committees which are now chaired by the Grama Niladhari. There should be two committees, one for Development, which should discuss projects and allocations, and the other for Social Action and Service Delivery.
  1. The minutes of these meetings, with decisions / action points noted, should be shared with the next level up of government. Responses must be conveyed to participants at GN level, along with the minutes, at the subsequent meeting
  1. At Divisional Secretariat level, on the pattern of the Women and Children’s Units that have been set up, there should be coordination mechanisms for groups of subjects (ie Education and Training, Agriculture and Irrigation and Forests and Wild Life, Health and Social Services). Officials should work as a team, and ensure attention to all GN Divisions. For this purpose individuals can be given responsibility for particular GN Divisions, with the coordinating committee at DS level looking into all issues and providing feedback.
  1. There should be regular consultative meetings of department heads at Divisional level, chaired by the Divisional Secretary. To facilitate this, all government departments should treat the Division as the basic unit of administration. This will require restructuring of a few Departments, ie Education and the Police.
  1. Regular discussions between the Divisional Secretary and the elected head of the Local Government Unit are necessary. Ideally the proposed Local Government Act will lay down specific responsibilities so overlap of responsibilities will be minimal, but coordination and agreement on priorities is essential. Making the Divisional Secretariat and the Local Government Unit (or Units) coterminous will facilitate coordination.

Colombo Post 4 December 2014 –  http://www.colombopost.net/columns/op-ed/item/285-a-reform-agenda-administrative-reform

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.

Basil_Douglas

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 »

Five years after the end of Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war, there are few signs of a government-led reconciliation, MP Rajiva Wjesinha tells DW, arguing that mistrust and suspicion have only grown stronger.

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Shortly after the Sri Lankan army defeated the separatist “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam” in May 2009, President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared an end to the country’s bloody civil war which had lasted more than 25 years during that period claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people.

Five years after the end of the separatist conflict, Sri Lanka is still struggling with reconciliation between the majority Sinhala community and the Tamil minority. International human rights organizations hold the army as well as the LTTE-separatists responsible for crimes committed during the civil war. UN High commissioner Navi Pillay has repeatedly criticized the government in Colombo for having failed to establish a “credible national process to address abuses.” As a result the UN Human Rights Council recently decided to launch an independent international investigation of human rights violations during the war.

In a DW interview, Rajiva Wijesinha, a member of the Sri Lankan parliament for the ruling coalition, says the government is not paying enough attention to the needs of people in the former war zones and welcomes advice from countries “which have not been unfairly critical” of the Sri Lankan government’s reconciliation approach. Read the rest of this entry »

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

November 2017
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