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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

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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 »

Those who watched the celebration of our servicemen on May 19th told me the President seemed upset when he had to condole with the families of those who had died. Catching glimpses of the march past, I could understand that. But in addition to sorry for them, and indeed for the Tamils too who had died in the last days of the war, and earlier, I was angry too.

The LTTE had to be defeated, and those who laid down their lives for this did not die unnecessarily. So too those who died because of the brutality of the LTTE, the hostage taking, the assassinations, the horrendous tactics such as electrifying water, were victims of a megalomanic mentality, and there is no point in recriminations about Prabhakaran’s brutality, just as there is no point in recriminations about the destructive power of a tsunami. One simply sorrows, for those who died, and for those who suffered, with perhaps some regret that no one had stopped him earlier.

Wikileaks – 09GENEVA584 2009-07-15 09:23 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Mission Geneva

But there must be anger about those who contributed to protracted delay, and on May 19th I was thinking of those wicked people who supported the LTTE in the last days, in particular those who contributed equipment to enable them to build up huge defences. These led to the taking of Kilinochchi taking much longer than it should have, with many of our youngsters dying in trying to get over the tall barricades. Worse, it gave the LTTE time to plan and ruthlessly execute the hostage taking that they had determined on, in Prabhakaran’s ‘Gotterdammerung’ vision.

The most horrible contribution to my mind was that of the organization called Norwegian People’s Aid, which allowed over 40 of their vehicles to be used. They did not inform us about them, and only acknowledged what had happened when the Defence Ministry asked. Even then they only admitted to a few, and it was only later that they acknowledged the full force of the aid they had given.

Abandoned earth moving equipment – LTTE bund construction.

They lied to the European Union by pretending that this had happened because we had not permitted any Europeans to remain in Kilinochchi. At a meeting of the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance they had to admit that this was not the case, and they excused themselves on the grounds that it was only a junior person who had stayed, as though such a person could not count the number of vehicles that the LTTE had taken away.

In Colombo, when what had happened was revealed, there was anger against the Norwegians. This was misplaced. There were no Norwegians in senior positions with NPA, rather it was managed by a conglomerate called Solidar, which was headed by British personnel. The leadership of this was pretty suspect, one Britisher called Peter Sunderland I think, another with several passports called Felipe Atkins, and the spider at the centre of the web a man called Guy Rhodes. There was also Mathew Todd, who was in charge of a German aid agency, who I used to think an innocent computer buff, married as he was to a great friend of mine, until he fled Sri Lanka quite suddenly when it seemed further information was emerging about the activities of the agencies that made up Solidar.

Read the rest of this entry »

I have just been sent a typical distortion by Groundviews of what I said three years ago with regard to an Amnesty claim about cluster bombs. GroundViews declares that –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, in February 2009, called those in Amnesty International “lunatics” and their concern over the use of cluster bombs by the Sri Lankan army “rank idiocy”. ……What new levels of spin, deception, counter-claims, propaganda and hate speech through spokesmen, Ambassadors, advisors and other assorted apologists will the government employ to counter this damning new evidence of what can constitute war crimes by the armed forces?’

This is total distortion of what I said. The term rank idiocy was applied to a man called Jim McDonald who suggested it was possible that some lower ranks ‘used captured LTTE cluster bombs’.

I am grateful to Groundviews however for having, in their careful study of what I write, drawing attention to this article. It makes it clear that even Jim McDonald accepted that the LTTE had used cluster bombs. For him to claim then, in order to justify his determination to condemn the Sri Lankan forces, that what might have happened is that the Sri Lankan forces used captured LTTE cluster bombs is indeed the height of lunacywhich is perhaps even within Amnesty they began to tease Jim McDonald about his strange logic, and called him the ‘cluster bomb’.

It is useful, in the present controversy, to quote at length from my 2009 article. I should note too that several years ago I pointed out individuals who I believe had a destructive agenda. One was Rama Mani, who had to leave, despite the best efforts of the establishment trying to keep her. Sadly the advice I gave about Guy Rhodes and Gordon Weiss was not taken. It was much later that Wikileaks revealed that one of the principal sources of American charges against us was Guy Rhodes, and I suspect this fed into the contributions by Steve Rattner, who began by assuming that we were an apartheid state.

Read the rest of this entry »

The strange case of Peter Mackay

Perhaps the most telling perversions in the latest Channel 4 film come with regard to what is termed its first case study. This ‘begins on the 23rd of January when UN personnel from the last overland food convoy into the war zone became trapped in the fighting’. This is actually not quite correct, because most of Convoy 11 had gone back, but a few people chose to stay behind, contrary to what had been agreed with government, in order to try, it was claimed, to persuade the LTTE to allow UN workers who had been in the Wanni to leave.

The account relies heavily on a man called Peter Mackay, who was subsequently asked to leave Sri Lanka shortly after two individuals who worked for UNOPS, the agency by which he was employed, were arrested for transport of weapons. It should be noted that UNOPS had another employee too who engaged in show and tell, a man called Benjamin Dix who was featured in the first Channel 4 film. He had been doing the rounds attacking Sri Lanka under the aegis of Amnesty International in September 2008, until we complained, whereupon the UN system stopped him in terms of his contract, and the UNOPS head in Sri Lanka actually came into our Ministry to apologize and assure us that the incident would not be repeated. Unfortunately, when it was repeated, with the first Channel 4 film, we do not seem to have taken the matter up, and I suspect we will do nothing now, to make it clear to the UN that characters like Dix and Peter Mackay and Gordon Weiss are abusing the trust the UN placed in them.

Mackay is even more mysterious than the rest, since his name does not appear on the manifest of those who went into the Vanni in Convoy 11. The job description under which he was granted a visa states that he was supposed to ‘support the implementation of the UNOPS reconstruction portfolio in th current and future operational locations of Sri Lanka’. He seems however, according to an article in the Guardian that appeared after he was asked to leave, to have ‘collected high resolution satellite images’ and been part of the network of informants first publicized in the Darusman report which Chris du Toit, the Head of UN Security in Sri Lanka, and a former adviser to the terrorist Jonas Savimbi, had built up. Again, I am astonished and also very sad that the existence of this network was not taken up with the UN, whose senior officials were I believe as much in the dark about such shadowy networks and what they were actually doing as we were.

Mackay, like Gordon Weiss, implies that the remnants of the UN convoy faced great danger from the start. Weiss gives a starting date of January 22nd, Mackay of January 23rd. This is belied by what du Toit wrote to SF Headquarters on the 24th, that ‘I would like to thank you and your staff for excellent support to all the UN movements to date’. After the remnants of the convoy finally left, on January 29th, getting through with an ICRC convoy, du Toit wrote, on the 30th, ‘Many thanks for the close cooperation that my team experience with your staff’.

He did in that letter draw attention to possible danger to the local staff who had been compelled to stay behind, and wrote ‘Reports have been received of artillery fire as close as 100 meters from the hospital’. This is a far cry from Mackay’s sworn statement that ‘Now the closest shells landed a 100 meters from us indicating that they could control the fire if they wanted to’. Mackay thus implies that previously the fire fell even closer, but was adjusted when details of the convoy were conveyed, whereas on the 30th du Toit implies that 100 meters is an aberration that was unusual.

Read the rest of this entry »

The latest Channel 4 film on Sri Lanka dwells on four points, most of them expanded versions of what it claimed previously. Once again, actual evidence in the form of documents dating from the period concerned, indicate how selective it is.

Channel 4, following the Darusman report, talks of bombardments on a UN camp from January 23rd on. Unlike Gordon Weiss, who mentioned the same incident but without a date, attributing information to retired Colonel Harun Khan, from the UN Secutiry Office, Channel 4 now finally mentions its purported informant, an Australian called Peter Mackay.

There was no Peter Mackay in the list of those going on the convoy supplied to the army. Apart from Harun Khan, the only UN officer supposed to be in the convoy was a local employee called Mr Suganthan.

In contradiction it seems of the Channel 4 claim, the UN Security Chief wrote to the Security Forces on January 24th as follows – ‘I would like to thank you and your staff for excellent support in all the UN movements to date’ (it must be noted that Harun Khan had stayed behind without authorization, when the rest of the convoy left on January 20th, in order to persuade the LTTE to let local staff who were working in the Wanni leave).

Another letter of du Toit’s of January 31st, after Harun and his small group had got to safety, joining an ICRC convoy on January 29th as suggested by the army when the LTTE was delaying their escape, reads as follows, with regard to the local staff, ‘My office is keeping the SF HQ regularly updated as events unfurl on the battle field in their immediate vicinity and I can report that we are most pleased with the professional response and cooperation with SF HQ.’

So who was Mackay, where did he come from, and where did he get his footage? He may well have been there, but the fact that his presence was never informed to officials is suspicious in itself, given too his position at UNOPS which had had a number of staff with LTTE sympathies, for whom the UNOPS head had apologized (for instance Benjamin Dix whom Amnesty had taken round Geneva in a show and tell performance during an earlier sessions of the UN Human Rights Council).

It should be added that the deaths of civilians occurred largely because of the strategy of using civilians as human shields, and then fighting from amidst them. We were aware of this from the start, given the evidence of the Bishop of Jaffna who wrote on January 25th that ‘We are also urgently requesting the Tamil Tigers not to station themselves among the people in the safety zone and fir their artillery shells and rockets at the Army’.

Read the rest of this entry »

After the Wikileaks revelation about Guy Rhodes, I went back to the various assessments I had made in 2008 and 2009. What I found was fascinating, and suggests that what we are going through now was carefully prepared by just a few members of what calls itself the international community. Sadly the many decent members of the international community who work here stand by their own kind, and will refuse to look at the evidence of shady dealing. But I suppose one cannot blame them, given the manner in which government too ignored the evidence placed before them.

The long history of the network that continues to hinder efforts at progress in Sri Lanka can be seen in the minutes of what was termed the UN Protection Group. This indicated that ‘In a daily meeting of Security Operations Information Centre comprising UNDSS, UNOCHA, SOLIDAR and UNOPS analysis of satellite imagery and other information is being used to try to identify numbers and locations of IDPs in the Vanni and in particular in the no-fire/safe area. The number of civilians in safe area is thought to be between 70,000 to 100,000 individuals.’

I wrote about this in March 2009, in an essay entitled ‘The Great NGO Game’, that ‘ I was not sure whether it was appropriate that the UN should be dealing in satellite imagery of conflict areas on a daily basis, but I could see that permission might have been given for this by the Ministry of Defence, given our continuing cooperation with the UN. But what was SOLIDAR doing as a member of the Security Operations Information Centre?

Incidentally it should be noted that this bunch of security experts, with access to satellite imagery, thought that there were between 70,000 and 100,000 civilians in the safe area. I thought then that ‘this particular bit of information had not been shared elsewhere in the UN system, so that the poor High Commissioner for Human Rights was still claiming that ‘According to UN estimates, a total of 150,000 to 180,000 civilians remain trapped in an ever shrinking area’. The significant point in the current context though is that the Darusman panelists are clearly bonkers to claim that we deliberately underestimated figures for the Wanni, since it would seem the UN too made similar errors to our own.

For my current analysis however what is vital is something I missed then, namely the components of this exclusive UN club of which Solidar was so unusual a member. In wondering what an NGO was doing in this Security Operations Information Centre, I did not focus on the involvement also of UNOPS. This last, I should note, is a strange entity that does not function like other UN agencies we are used to, which receive funding to fulfil particular purposes. UNOPS on the contrary brings no money to the countries in which it operates, but rather picks up contracts from other segments of the UN as well as donor countries.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

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