By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Over the last few years I have been astonished at the manner in which very clear instructions from the President are simply ignored. For instance, there are two extremely visionary recommendations in last year’s budget, but it seems no one has done anything about them. One is the suggestion, which indeed harks back to his 2005 manifesto, that we move to a school based system of teacher recruitment. Another, vital in the context of our efforts to implement the National Human Rights Action Plan, is the suggestion that we move towards greater use of non-custodial sentencing, and indeed reduce the number of persons held in remand.
In trying to understand what has gone wrong, I realize that there is no mechanism for follow up in this country. Given the proliferation of Ministries, no one is quite sure who should initiate action, and very often excellent ideas fall to the ground because of a failure to allocate responsibility and ensure monitoring. Sadly, this failure to take policy and policy implementation seriously was underlined by the abolishment of the Ministry of Planning and Policy Implementation, which was just getting other Ministries used to regular reporting of achievements and keeping close track of financial accountability.
This seemed so silly a step, that I wonder whether we have not now reached a stage where a few bureaucrats, who would like to have charge of more than they can handle without clear responsibilities, advised against continuing with institutional responsibility for urgent matters, and promoted the getting rid of that Ministry and the Ministry of Human Rights. Sadly, they have failed completely to deliver swiftly the results that the President may have anticipated in allowing such confusion.
Unfortunately, this contributes to the impression that the President does not want action on such matters. I believe such a view is nonsense, and I know of several instances in which the President had allocated responsibilities, had believed that work was being done, and had been grossly misled. The latest is the preparation of a Road Map for implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. He had indeed suggested this be taken to Geneva, but was then told it should not be publicized. When I asked for a copy, having seen what a positive impact my own draft Reconciliation Policy document had had – which goes beyond the LLRC and presents a national perspective on reconciliation that avoids the undue emphasis the more politically motivated place on particular aspects of reconciliation – I was told by one of those entrusted with preparing the Road Map that I should check with the Minister of External Affairs. The Minister, bless his honest soul, made it clear the document was very far from being ready.
I was reminded then of the utter farce that had followed the desire of the President to implement the interim recommendations of the LLRC. He had assured me that this was being done, and was astonished when I told him that I thought very little had been achieved. He then wanted me put on the Inter-Ministerial Committee tasked with implementation, but having first being assured that there was no objection to this (which made me wonder, since I could not understand why it should be thought there could be objections when the President had given a clear directive), I was then told that since I was an MP, this would not be proper.
Instead it was included in my terms of reference as Adviser on Reconciliation that I should monitor the work of that Committee and report to the President. I tried over the next few months to find out when the Committee would meet and, having been assured regularly that this was imminent, I was finally told that in fact the Committee did not meet. I had rather suspected this, for when I had initially asked for minutes of the meetings, I was told that such minutes were not kept.
I should add that some work was indeed done in implementing the recommendations. But I think it utterly disloyal to have allowed the President to think that the Committee was meeting and that implementation was taking place systematically. Of course it is possible that some individuals did not want to implement all the recommendations. That should not be a problem because, when a Committee makes recommendations, it is not required that everything be implemented. But the standard practice, of implementing what is acceptable, and then of explaining why other things cannot be done while working out effective ways of achieving the desired results, can only be done if there is clear-cut administrative responsibility. Sadly this is not understood by those who have suggested to the President that he can trust them to do whatever is required.
How serious all this prevarication and postponement can be came home to me when I was sent recently the report submitted by the American Office of War Crimes with regard to ‘the Secretary’s October 21, 2009, report on crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka detailing what, if any, measures have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka and international bodies to investigate such incidents, and evaluating the effectiveness of such efforts’.
The later report, submitted in August 2010, noted that the government had appointed a group of Eminent Persons to investigate, but that ‘The Department of State concludes that the Group of Eminent Persons was ineffective’. This is understandable since ‘The group’s report was initially due to President Rajapaksa on December 31, 2009, but the due date was subsequently delayed to April 2010 and then again to July 2010. The group did not submit a report and has been subsumed by the recently-formed Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation (LLRC).’
What I suspect the US knew well, though it was concealed from the President, was that the group scarcely met. I know this because, in early December, when I met a member of the Group and asked what had happened, he said they had still not met. I was deeply upset, because I had indicated that I had much material that would effectively rebut most of the charges. Needless to say, I was not summoned, until June 2010, when I was abroad. I told them when I would be back, but that was the last I heard of them, and soon enough they were abolished.
I had studied that report in detail, and indeed suggested to the then Attorney General that we could together prepare a brief that would deal with the Report but, though he kept agreeing that something should be done, he was obviously not in a position to take things further. This is the more unfortunate in that that particular Report was politely phrased and in fact itself provided us with much material to counter the allegations. Though I have no doubt that there were already those in the US State Department who were preparing the full frontal assault on us that their intrigues with Sarath Fonseka foreshadowed, I think that we in effect let down those who were more supportive of us by so contemptuously ignoring that initial very helpful Report. The fact that the harshest allegation there referred in fact to Sarath Fonseka should have made us appreciate the thinking at that time in the US, but instead we succumbed to the usual combination of lethargy and irresponsibility – and appalling advice to the President, failing to make it clear to him the potentially very serious repercussions.
There are other instances of what amounts to duplicity in dealings with the President and, though I used to think earlier that this was due to incompetence, I am now not so sure. I will discuss other matters later, but let me end with something I was told recently which, if true, suggests the complete lack of professionalism in those who pretend to the President that they know what they are doing. It seems that he was not briefed about the actual position of Maria Otero in the Department of State, that she was senior to Bob Blake and was indeed one of the most senior persons to visit us in recent years. I almost cannot believe this, but having seen the manner in which so many of those with executive responsibility function, I wonder.