3 August, 2021

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Civil Society-Government Dialogue Needs To Bear Tangible Fruit 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Most of the country would have heaved a sigh of relief at the early release of the Ceylon Teachers Union leader Joseph Stalin and his colleagues from Covid quarantine. This was a long standing trade union and part of civil society who had been arrested and sent for two weeks of Covid quarantine after being given bail by the courts for having engaged in a public protest. The cause they were seeking to uphold is the independence of higher institutions of learning, in particular the universities, from political and even worse military control. They were true civil society heroes, both lay and clergy, non-violent and self-sacrificial, and for that reason virtually the entire teaching profession went on a protest strike to demonstrate their solidarity.

The misuse of COVID health regulations to prohibit public protests is unacceptable in a democratic society. This is especially the case when public gatherings involving government politicians in particular take place regardless of Covid health restrictions. Similar repressive actions using Covid health regulations have quelled other protests too, such as those against the ban on chemical fertilisers which is threatening to destroy small scale farmers, corporation staff protesting against failure to pay salaries and environmental activists opposing the construction of a new power plant in an environmentally fragile area.

The government’s responsiveness to unnecessary public harm, in this case to hapless school children, is a positive indication that constructive engagement with it is possible and of some value.

The teaching profession going on strike is a very costly matter. The children of the country, including mine, lost one week of their formal education as a result. Perhaps it was a recognition of this price being paid by millions of the country’s children that softened the hearts of the government leadership who are known to take hard headed decisions.

At the base of democracy is the right of people to dissent and when they do so peacefully they need to be protected. It is to be hoped that the government will be similarly responsive to the hardships that have suddenly and unexpectedly befallen other sectors of the population, in particular the farmers of the country. Without adequate notice a total ban has been placed on chemical fertilizer imports which has led to a disastrous situation to millions of farmers and those who rely on agriculture for their sustenance. A phased approach involving a process of engagement and education of the farming community may have been more acceptable, and needs to be considered.

Phased Approach 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s commitment to revolutionise agriculture is commendable. At the same time it is to be hoped that he will show flexibility and responsiveness to the plight of the farmers. The banning of fertilizer imports cannot be compared to defeating the LTTE which some government supporters on this matter have been saying. The former is being sought to be done immediately, while the latter was done according to a plan that took at least three years to unfold and had been planned for even longer. The short term price can be unbearable to those at the bottom of the income pyramid. A change of time frame for implementation of the ban, accompanied by an educational programme, may be appreciated all round.

Faced with a myriad of problems, each of them serious enough to undermine the wellbeing of the country, the government can be seen to be moving in the direction of constructive engagement with its critics. It is ironic that the threat of withdrawal of the GSP Plus should have presented this relatively rare opportunity for constructive engagement in the national interest. Lately the Western led international community has become especially critical of the country, with four anti-Sri Lanka resolutions this year. Nelson Mandela said “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” In a like spirit, the new Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has been meeting with the diplomatic community in the country and on a personal basis with many of them.

The international community’s contribution to the wellbeing of Sri Lanka’s people has become crucial on two issues at least. One is to secure a sufficient number of Covid vaccines to permit the country to open up and to revive its tourist industry which used to be one of its biggest foreign currency earners. The second is to secure both trade opportunities and loans to tide over the present financial crisis where foreign debt that has to be repaid is threatening to bankrupt the country. Due to the shifting government policy there seems to be a brightening of the economic picture. Barclays Bank in its latest credit research has sounded upbeat, saying Sri Lanka is making ends meet despite challenges. According to it, funding lines obtained in recent months have reduced the risk of an imminent debt adjustment and recommended the purchase of Sri Lanka’s sovereign bonds.

National Interest 

A second initiative is one being facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A group of civil society members met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, Minister of Justice, Ali Sabry, State Minister of Regional Cooperation, Tharaka Balasuriya and Foreign Secretary, Admiral Professor Jayanath Colombage at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week. At the outset of the meeting Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said that this meeting is to help to understand the expectations from the government side and that the common intention is to democratically take the country forward. Justice Minister Ali Sabry said that they wished to obtain the views on how to face the challenges both nationally and internationally and emphasized the need to balance competing interests. Foreign Secretary Colombage made a sober and rational point by point response to the memorandum presented to the government team by the civil society members.

The discussions that followed took place in an environment of equal treatment and mutual respect. The civil society members, welcomed the opportunity to engage with members of the government on topics of post-war reconciliation, civil society space, and governance. They emphasized the need for the government to view civil society as a partner in resolving national issues and to be consulted. They called on the government to take meaningful and concrete stops to address emblematic human rights cases, repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, uphold civil society space, establish District Reconciliation Committees and form a parliamentary caucus on reconciliation, among others. The government members affirmed their commitment to getting the participation of civil society in development and post-war reconciliation and ensure that any prospective law with regard to NGOs would be discussed with them.

The government members also stated their conviction that government policy was to treat every citizen equally, to consider diversity to be a blessing rather than a liability and that the provincial council system would be sustained, and the elections would be held when technical issues are sorted out. They pointed out that institutions set up for reconciliation, including the Office on Missing Persons, the Office for Reparations and the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation would work in coordination in the future. The need to make the appointment process a more inclusive one was made. The meeting concluded with the prospect of future dialogue and engagement, with the civil society members calling on the government leadership to inform the general public about its position on issues of post-war reconciliation in particular and obtain their support. The prospect of moving from a divided past to a shared future is an alluring one that needs to be realized on the ground through a more all-encompassing dialogue.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    2

    Jehan what about rehabilitation instead of quarantine camps for our civil society. According to Rajapaksas it worked the last time. ( post war).

    • 3
      2

      After a war, there is a need to go the full cycle of rehabilitation, reconciliation and restoration to the non war state. We stopped too soon in the cycle to declare SB, easter bombing created chaos and vote for a deceptive vision which was out of character for those who declared it.

      • 6
        7

        Dr. J.P. What are the NGOs and particularly women’s NGOs doing about the case of the Girl who was a sex slave at Rishard Bathudeen’s house in Colombo 07?
        Now churches are being attacked in Mannar where Bathudeedn was King Kong to the US backed Saudi Project. The attacks on churces in Mannar are to continue the Easter Sunday 2019 crime Project and cause a ‘Buddhist-Muslim Clash of Civilizations’ and distract from the fact that Covid-19 Bio- SECUITY project and the evident militarization of the planet is a Crime against Humanity.
        Bathudeen like M.L.M Hizbullah who funded Zaharan are both implicated in the 2019 Easter Carnage having received huge funds from Saudi Arabia govt. the CIA’s ISIS Proxy. But they are protected by the US and Saudi embassies in Colombo!! What a world of fake Human Rights and Farcical democracy!

  • 9
    2

    Jehan,
    “The prospect of moving from a divided past to a shared future is an alluring one that needs to be realized on the ground through a more all-encompassing dialogue.”
    Yes, so very alluring. But you guys are talking to a regime that came to power by selling racism, and still does. They are only taking you for a ride.
    “Foreign Secretary” Colombage is a pompous incompetent who wouldn’t know the truth if it fell on his head. He talks to people only to convince them he is right.

    • 3
      1

      old codger
      -.
      When is the “The State Minister of Production, Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals” going to start production and supply of Pharmaceuticals?
      Is he really going to produce and supply Pharmaceuticals or awaiting for another reason to bash Muslims and Muslim Doctors?

      • 1
        0

        Native,
        He’s waiting for the Minister of Batik to finish his job of putting Batik on every table.

        • 1
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          Native,
          Interesting fact: Muslims make up about 1/3 of Covid deaths. According to statistics of burials at Kandakadu. So that blows the popular belief that all Muslims are rich and live in big houses.

  • 7
    9

    Dr. JP Surely you know that Covid-19 is a Numbers Game based on false positive PCR tests in Sri Lanka which has recorded fewer deaths in this period than in previous years?!
    Globally, Covid-19 is an attack on the UN’s founding principles of “National Soverignty” and self-determination of Peoples in the Global South.
    Covid-19 with its Face Mask is part of bio-warfare waged by the crashing empire that has morphed into the Biggest ROUGE STATE on the planet. Covid-19 bio politics and Vaccine Geopolitics, is meant to attack emerging economies and the Rise of Asia led by China and promote the Deepstate and the military business intelligence and media Complex’s Corporate interest to promote Global Surveillance and the Global Governance Project using Covid-19 BIOPOLITICS and BIOSECURITY as the mask. Please read M. Foucault’s “Society must be defended and wake up.
    The USAID donated Covid-19 Surveillance Hospital at Iranavilla has enable external interests to capture the Sri Lanka army, health system and education sector using the CovidMask and erode workers, civil society, national policy making, even as Coid-19 ‘permenant Emergency’ has enabled installation of US citizens to run the country and serve foreign interest rather than those of the citizens of the country. Covid-19 fake data project is a frontal and brutal attack on people’s soverignty and right to self-determination.

  • 2
    6

    These teachers who strike are ruining the education of children from ordinary families in this country. When online classes were introduced, even poor people bought smart phones and paid for data so that their children could learn to face examinations. But, teachers resort to strike action to win their demands and rights completely ignoring the rights of tax payers who pay their salaries and rights of students. Tax payers pay their salary to work and not to resort to strike action. If they are not happy with the conditions, they are free to leave and do something else.

  • 1
    7

    The teachers who resort to strike action are an utter disgrace to this country. These dumbos ruin the respect students and people have for teachers.
    A similar blunder was made by Muruththettuwe Ananda Thero. By encouraging nurses to strike while the country is experiencing a pandemic, people lost the respect they had for nurses.

    Strike action is a curse introduced to this country by Marxist politicians to win the support of workers for their political survival. In Sri Lanka, the number of man-days lost from strikes and protests is very high. The Government should ban employees of Government and semi-Government Institutions resorting to strike action. After all, the tax payers are paying their salaries to work and not to strike. On top of their salary, they get other benefits and privileges. They also get pension (Pin Padi) after they retire until the day they leave this world. Out of the tax revenue in the country, 86% goes to pay salaries and pensions of Government employees.

  • 2
    0

    It appears that the only hope left for the ordinary citizens are the Trade Unions.

    • 0
      0

      That is right. This middle class has some understanding of politics. But the problem is Aanduwa can easily target them as they stand out as a separate group, away from lower class, the farmers, hard labor workers, in other word the Sinhala Community Mass. So the mass has to be guided to cover the unions. The educated Sinhala Community have to offer the full support and protection for the unions.
      The end has to be a new constitution that the Sinhala Chauvinist class cannot tamper with or make them as the Kings, Queens, EPs , and PMs for life time.

  • 3
    2

    Without adequate notice a total ban has been placed on chemical fertilizer imports which has led to a disastrous situation to millions of farmers and those who rely on agriculture for their sustenance
    ————–
    Freemasons world wide are trying to take ownership of all agricultural land.
    Bill gates and his cronies are doing it in america.
    Modi is doing it in india
    Nandasena has been tasked to oversee it in sri lanka

    • 3
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      Weakening and destroying local farmers is done deliberately so the government or corporations can come in and take over the land.

    • 0
      0

      Humble, Shock therapy, mind altering drug therapy, and controlling education to make slaves is all part of parliamentary process, while the mutating viruses are released to reduce the world population and collapse the economy. We have hope in that wickedness is released ad hoc where younger mulans have no understanding and can be deviated as education will be different. Sad that they do not know that finally, they crave and inherit defeat.

  • 2
    1

    Jehan
    You keep talking about reconciliation in the country but on the ground level we only see the opposite.
    Creating an ‘archaeology task force’ who then go around stealing land from tamils in the NE is not ‘reconciliation’ unless thats your idea of sarcastic humour.

    • 1
      1

      Humble,
      Archaeology Task Force was formed not to steal land from Tamils but to protect Sinhala Buddhist heritage sites that are being vandalized by Dravidians who came to work for colonial rulers and occupying Sinhala land in NE.
      —-
      “Creating an ‘archaeology task force’ who then go around stealing land from tamils in the NE”

  • 1
    0

    “Nelson Mandela said “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
    This is Jehan PhD’s “White Paper ” technology to train the Oliver Twists( the Colombo foreign diplomats) in the racketeering game of Medamulana Royals!

    Koolukkum Paadi Kanchikkum Paadi, Jehan PhD’s joke!
    It is our 40%, man, the new disciple of the Great Man, Mandela. Shameless third grade writing! “Kathaikatta oruvan Piranthuviddal, Kanagi Valvilum Kalangam Undu, Kaapaara silapeer inrunthuvildaal Kalvarkal Vaalvilum Niyayam Undu” ( If there one is born to disgrace Pathini Theiviyo, many little dirty secrets can be mined in her life too. If there are artful lawyers, they can justify Escobar’s crimes).
    For 75 years the Rascals have been fighting with Tamils and International community. Now there is a surprise bliss in their deadheads, and they have started to follow Nelson Mandela. Mr. 40% is meeting the foreign Diplomats! What a horrible, horrible gimmick is this joke! It is that Jehan PhD has been advising Yahapalanaya to make friendship with Lord Naseby to defeat the international community on the human right violation issue.
    Every writer has had a topic to express her/his opinion, here. Jehan PhD is the only one learning to swim for Olympic sports, inside a baby bath basin.

    • 1
      0

      Mallaiyuran,
      The truth is rascals have been fighting with Native Sinhalayo to grab their land to create a separate State for the Dravidians who came to work for Portuguese and Dutch using a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’.
      —-
      “For 75 years the Rascals have been fighting with Tamils…”

  • 0
    0

    GOTA’s government will have a ready-made answer they will say
    1. We are protecting people from the spread of Virus hence Isolation in Army barracks
    2.We are not against any protests as we are elected with two third majority idiotic Sinhala Buddhist voters
    3. Buddhist monks supported us now Americans and Indians have bribed them to protest against us
    4. LTTE may come up again and we suspect some of them are protestots
    5. We are not aginst gree speech but we will find some excuse to put our political
    enemies behind bars under the pretext of COVID
    6 We know how to suppress protesters as China, experienced in suppressing protests is advising us
    7. Our economy is getting affected because of protestors and not Covid or bad management
    8, There is a brain drain from single masses as they cannot tolerate our militarisation policy

    Someeting wiil not give riped fruits but sour fruits

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