Strengthening sub-national governance a challenge to Rajapaksa says VC Dr. Prabhu Dev

At the deliberations held at the Bangalore University on post war Sri Lanka, its Vice Chancellor, Dr. N. Prabhu Dev said, the challenges before President Rajapaksa are enormous and unenviable. In his key note speech addressing the consultative participants consisting of faculty members of the university, human rights activists, social and humanitarian workers, the VC also said, for the SL government, strengthening sub-national governance is also a challenge.

“Political will is often lacking, and the financial cost involved in implementing a bilingual administration is very high.” the VC added in his key note speech.

Dr. B. Raman of the Chennai Centre for China Studies, speaking as the Guest Lecturer, said, the biggest fear is the retrenchment of the armed forces to the north and create colonies of Sinhalese all over the North.

Talking of the escalation of the war during the 2008, Dr. Raman said, “In Sri Lanka, the President calls the Tamils his own brothers and sisters, but continues to bomb innocent civilians using heavy artillery and air force for counter insurgency operations.” and complained no one pressured the SL government against air raids on civilians.

The one day deliberations on post war Sri Lanka was organised by the Political Science faculty of the university and the sessions were declared open by the Head of the faculty Dr. Krishna.

Excerpts from the speeches made by Vice Chancellor Dr. N. Prabhu Dev and Dr. B. Raman are given below.

THE WAR IS OVER

With the death of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran, the militant campaign forVC Dr. Prabhu Dev a Tamil state in Sri Lanka seems to have come to an end.

It would be a fatal mistake to see the military death of the LTTE as a demise of the cause that gave birth to the Tigers. The cause, the legitimate grievances and aspirations of the Tamils and other minorities in the island nation, is not only alive but kicking. That explains the sullen and sombre mood among the Tamils and other minorities. The truth is that of the three million Tamils in Sri Lanka and a further one million in the diaspora, very few have faith in the government in Colombo.

The challenges before Rajapaksa are enormous and unenviable. First and foremost, he has to create basic minimum infrastructure to tender to the essential needs of 2.8-lakh war-displaced people, currently housed by the government in 29 temporary camps in the district of Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna. Simultaneously, his regime has to work on an executable plan to resettle the displaced in their original places of habitation.

Victory under its belt. Senior Indian officials who recently visited the island nation fear that there is a danger of Sinhala “chauvinism” running amok once again after the heady victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the death of Velupillai Prabakaran. Another development that they are vary of is the rise of the Sri Lanka Army as a separate power base after its achievements on the battlefield.

President Mahindra Rajapaksa, in a speech after the final victory over the LTTE, promised reconciliation and an equitable share of power for the Tamils. But, in what many observers have interpreted as a snub to New Delhi, he also said that the government would not try out solutions suggested by outside powers. Senior Indian officials have been insisting that they would ensure that the “Jaffna Tamils” would be able to lead a normal life after the cessation of hostilities.

Over the post-war scenario  in Sri Lanka. The triumphant Sri Lankan government now has to address the human terrain rather than the fields of battle.

Changing Equations

The Indian Government sees an urgent need for the devolution process to start and is also concerned about the welfare of the hundreds of the thousands of Tamil refugees living in camps.

The Indian Government may find it difficult to deal with a Sri Lankan government flush with a historic win.

“That takes us to the heart of the problem. The self image of Tamil ultra-nationalism is such that it is hostile to India when the latter does not simply forgive and forget the Rajiv (Gandhi) murder and extend unconditional patronage to the Tamil secessionist cause.

“If the Tiger Diaspora wants a separate state or a confederation, it had better seek it in one of the countries in which they are concentrated, because it is certainly not going to be achieved on the island of Sri Lanka or the soil of India.”

Lanka’s future

The Sri Lankan identity must now be built upon a confederative principle that recognises the existence of several communities as well as the three nations within the entity Lanka – the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims.

“One can win the War, but lose the Peace.” A cliché this may be but it is also a hoary truism that looms.

While the political context in Sri Lanka has clearly been transformed in the past year, significant political challenges to securing a sustainable peace for the long term remain. The Sri Lankan government needs to devise just and practical solutions for enforcing language laws, upholding human rights, and transferring responsibilities to sub-national government. The civil war in Sri Lanka has been a contest for power and control over territory, people, and resources as much as it has been about ‘root causes.’ Nevertheless, progress in addressing grievances must underpin any political solution if the government is to conciliate minority communities and prevent future conflict.

One challenge is how to strengthen sub-national governance. An assumption behind the liberal response to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is that separatism and political extremism can be undermined through power-sharing and devolution to provincial and local councils. The capacity of local government institutions to assume greater authority and responsibility for democratic governance must be strengthened if the government’s solution of “maximum devolution under a unitary state” is to be realized. Negotiating power-sharing between centre and periphery and between the centre and  Northern and Eastern Provinces especially is sure to be a drawn-out process, but the government can take steps to give elected councils more to do and the resources to do it with, in the interim.

A long-term approach to making Sri Lanka’s democracy more accountable and responsive to people’s needs and concerns requires strengthening the capacity of local elected bodies to plan, deliver better services, consult the public, and earn more revenue. Our experience working with local government has shown that giving more authority and responsibility to local authorities benefits not just minority communities in the North and East, but people in the South as well. Advances in decentralization in the South, in response to demands for more responsive governance in these areas, will also create space and pressure for similar reforms in the North and East. Politicians from opposite sides of the aisle in local councils are often more willing to work together to get things done than national politicians; they should be empowered to do more.

The end of the war must also be accompanied by a renewed sense of urgency to implement reforms that were placed on the back-burner while war raged. For example, the constitution provides for both Sinhala and Tamil as official languages and sets out a legal framework for allowing citizens to access services in both languages. The Official Languages Act and the Official Languages Commission provide the institutional structure for implementation of the languages policy. Unfortunately, implementation has been painfully slow. Political will is often lacking, and the financial cost involved in implementing a bilingual administration is very high. The government requires assistance to effectively implement Sri Lanka’s official languages policy, including in government institutions responsible for the dispensation  of justice. In many cases, lower level court officials and the police, people’s first point of contact with the formal  justice system, even in areas which have significant Tamil populations, cannot communicate in Tamil.

A third challenge is to ensure that human rights violations diminish rather than grow in a post-war environment sure to be characterized by continued threats to public security, especially if the LTTE regroups, which the government is determined to prevent. The resumption of war was accompanied by widespread human rights abuses by the state and LTTE. The LTTE is beyond the influence of the international community, so Western countries concentrated their ire on the government, arguing that it has a moral obligation to uphold human rights, whereas a terrorist outfit does not. Pressure on the government has subsequently grown, even from countries that have proscribed the LTTE. The government’s response to what it perceives as international hectoring has been to take a defensive posture, to deny any culpability for human rights violations, and to attack human rights advocates at home and abroad. With the end of the conventional  war in sight, however, there is now an opportunity for a de-escalation in the war of words, and rapprochement between the West and the Sri Lankan government, neither of which wants to see state-sponsored violence give terrorism a  new lease on life. The government’s National Action Plan for Human Rights, still under development, has the potential to be a point of agreement and the basis for a constructive dialogue, free of finger-pointing between the government and Western countries.

Sri Lanka  will hopefully never see such a prolonged season of extreme violence and upheaval again. Violence complicates everything and the opportunity now exists to ratchet it down and heal some of the country’s divisions through a political process. The system of proportional representation adopted in the 1978 Constitution was designed to give minority parties more influence in national politics. Its potential was pre-empted by war; now is the time to give the system another chance.

Dr. N.Prabhu Dev, Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University

10.06.2009

Human Concerns in Post War Scenario in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Tamil problem is in a very sad state as for the first time there is no B. Ramanproper leadership among the Tamils. The conventional war is over It is also a unique situation where in the organization has virtually perished with the death of its leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran. Still the objective of the Eelam is not dead. The leader of the masses is dead but the anger of the Tamils remains and today the Sri Lankan Tamils face total darkness. They have been ruthlessly suppressed, unparalleled in modern times as Israel bombs Palestinian areas, USA bombs Afghans and Iraqis but here in Sri Lanka, the President calls the Tamils his own brothers and sisters but continues to bomb innocent civilians using heavy artillery and air force for counter insurgency operations. There are no numbers of people killed, maimed, and injured in these attacks. There has been no pressure from any International organization till the beginning of this year to stop targeting civilians. The iron curtain in the war zones remain to this day as there are no independent sources to confirm or deny what the government states. The press has been severely censured and there is no access to the war zones.

Role of NGO’s

As there is no damage assessment done by the state, the first task for the NGO community is to do a damage assessment of human lives, property and then the needs of the displaced. Only the NGOs can quantify the problem and they need to be prepared for it whenever the government requests them to do so. It is also a very important task before the NGOs to monitor the resettlement of the Tamils in their own places of origin. It is also the duty of the NGOs to monitor how the money donated by the International community and India is spent as tsunami set a very bad example.

Fears

The biggest fear is the retrenchment of the armed forces to the north and create colonies of Sinhalese all over the north. With this sinister design the Chief of Staff has already announced that the strength of the defence forces would be increased by another 100,000 soldiers. This would make Sri Lanka one of the most armed states in the world in proportion to its population of 19 million people. The Tamils of the north who are now confined to only a few pockets in Jaffna, Mannar and the camps will be slowly resettled in Sinhala dominated areas. This is not a fear in the east as the Tamils are amidst the Sinhalese and Muslims.

Role of India

Sri Lanka sees the victory over the LTTE as victory over India as it was India that had trained many armed groups. India should have continued to engage Sri Lanka even after the Ceasefire. India pulled out from Sri Lankan affairs from 2002 to 2006. It is then that the void was occupied by China, Pakistan, Iran and Ukraine. In the present war India had been assisting the Lankan forces by supplying defensive weapons like anti-aircraft guns and radars. Mahinda Rajapakse very cleverly used India by blackmailing India that he would go to Pakistan and China for support as India always treaded cautiously fearing backlashes in Tamilnadu. At the same time he engaged both China and Pakistan by buying their arms. Even now it is not too late for India as we contribute a great deal towards the economy of Sri Lanka as we are their largest trading partners and buy the highest volume of tea produced in the island. Further Indian tourists and businessmen outnumber the others visiting Sri Lanka. India should reiterate its position to Sri Lanka to give a fair deal to the Tamils and create a pluralistic society. As one the largest donors towards the reconstruction programme in the post war scenario, India must ensure that independent NGOs from India working there should allowed to monitor how the money donated by India is spent by the Sri Lankan government.

Dr. B. Raman [Additional Secretary (Rtd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India and presently of Chennai Centre for China Studies]

10.06.2009

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One thought on “Strengthening sub-national governance a challenge to Rajapaksa says VC Dr. Prabhu Dev

  1. Pingback: India to engage with SL on resettlement of Tamils « Asianetindia.com Blog

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