By Salma Yusuf –
Key aspects of the proposed National Policy on Reconciliation drafted at the Secretariat of the Presidential Advisor on Reconciliation are particularly striking as creative and innovative in that they require the participation and support of all stakeholders involved coupled with the fact that while being essential towards a larger reconciliation framework, individually and separately have merit in the reconciliatory dividends that each is capable of realizing. The strategy embedded in the Policy Proposal straddles four aspects, namely, Recovery and equitable development, Political participation and administrative accountability, Justice, Truth and Understanding and an Implementation Plan.
The Draft Policy was initially produced by a small group of persons characterized by multi-party, multi-ethnic representation. The Draft Policy was then circulated to leaders of all political parties and followed by a discussion with Members of Parliament including those Cabinet Ministers actively involved in working on issues of reconciliation.
Thereafter, the Draft Policy was taken through a process of consultation with key national stakeholders including religious leaders, civil society and the media. Following the several rounds of consultation, feedback and comments were carefully considered by the core group originally involved in drafting the Policy and amendments were incorporated as relevant into the existing framework before which a Final Consolidated Draft Policy was produced.
With the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the armed conflict came to an end. The ending of the armed struggle meant that there had arisen a suitable foundation upon which socio-economic development and citizen empowerment could be built.
Sri Lanka is faced with a unique opportunity to foster sustainable peace, unity and national reconciliation. The present Government wields the broad support of the citizens of the country and possesses the capacity to present a political solution that is acceptable to all peoples and communities.
Finally, the end of the armed conflict has opened up space to address the task of nation building unhindered by preoccupation with a debilitating armed struggle, which was a drain on the nation’s resources. With the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to ensure large infrastructure development in the past two years, healthy growth rates have been achieved. The economic achievements can now be translated into meaningful and equitable benefits that will impact on the life of every Sri Lankan.
The key aspects which the proposed National Policy on Reconciliation and for which support from all stakeholders is required are a programme of equitable distribution of educational facilities in the different areas of the country; a clear policy on compensation for victims of the conflict whereby benefits including scholarships and loans on easy payment are provided to such persons as a minimum; and a proposal for a Second Chamber of Parliament based on the principle of equal representation for all Provinces.
For this purpose all communities must work hard to create governance, administrative and social structures that create and foster interdependence among them. This will help create the feeling in each of the communities that their progress or downfall is inextricably linked with the progress or downfall of the other communities and thus help to inculcate a strong sense of nationhood among Sri Lankans.
Steering the journey out of conflict is inherently a complex process where specific aspects of the proposed National Policy on Reconciliation may gain greater attention and importance undermining the whole of the outcome that is sought. It is therefore necessary that the implementation of this Policy be envisioned within an institutional framework designed and functioning according to the principles of democratic governance which underpins the approach to reconciliation. The implementation arrangements should then ensure the widest possible publicity to the Policy and its actions promoting public awareness of the implementation actions in a manner that brings about the widest possible engagement of the people in the implementation of the Policy.
To this end, the proposed National Policy on Reconciliation recommends the mainstreaming of the policy and implementation actions into the Mahinda Chintana Vision for the Future Development Policy Framework of the Government; and envisaging reconciliation as a process without rigid timeframes.
However, implementation actions would be guided initially by a three-year implementation plan organized on the basis of timeframes that would be required for implementation i.e., short-term, medium-term and long-term; Envisioning implementation as a shared responsibility between the Government and civil society where respective roles and responsibilities would be worked out on an evolving basis; Establishing a multi-stakeholder institutional mechanism with responsibility to promote and monitor the reconciliation process.
A Parliamentary Select Committee should review the work of this mechanism. The mechanism should thereafter cease to exist at the end of three years unless Parliament decides otherwise; Mainstreaming implementation through assigning responsibility for implementation of policy responses and actions to the relevant government agencies; Organizing implementation at provincial, district and division levels allowing institutional space for maximum ownership and engagement of the people in the implementation process. The triple hallmark of the proposed National Policy on Reconciliation for Sri Lanka has very appropriately been identified as development, empowerment and restitution.