22 October, 2020

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Need For A Better Communications Strategy 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government has begun to respond to the mounting criticism of its handling of the economy by explaining the background to the current economic crisis. The difficulty of the government to deliver economic benefits to the general population for more than a year since it assumed office is the biggest drawback it is facing at the popular level. Last week, development strategies and international trade minister Malik Samarawickrama gave a clear explanation of the government’s position on the economy in parliament. He pointed out that there were both external and internal constraints on Sri Lanka’s economic situation that were beyond the control of the present government. The external constraints included the economic downturn in China, the ongoing crisis in the middle east, the impact of the Syrian crisis on European economies and interest rate increase in the United States.

Minister Samarawickrama also explained the consequences of the previous government’s policy on loans. Due to Sri Lanka’s economic transition to a low middle income country, it was no longer eligible for concessionary loans from Western countries. Therefore the previous government had borrowed on a commercial basis at high interest rates, but used the money for low productivity investments. It had a virtually unlimited supply of such loan funds due to the special relationship it had cultivated with China. The problem that the present government is faced with today is to repay these loans without getting into a vicious cycle of further indebtedness.

The need for the government to take this information to the people became evident at a civil society discussion on the reconciliation process held in Kurunegala last week. One of the key points brought at the discussion was the charge that the government was not doing what it had promised during the election that brought it to power. A specific reference was to the purchase price of rice, which was promised to be stabilized. However, after the elections the price of rice has plummeted further. The other was with regard to the fertilizer subsidy which has been replaced with a grant and an exhortation to utilize carbonic fertilizer.

Breaking Promises 

There was also the critical observation that while the government was not delivering on the promises it had made, it was now getting ready to do things that it had promised not to do. The government was alleged to be reneging on its election time pledge not to permit any war hero to be handed over to the international community. This has become one of the opposition’s main propaganda points against the government. The opposition cites the UN Human Rights Council resolution that the government co-sponsored in Geneva, and which calls for the participation of international judges and prosecutors.

On the other hand, what was encouraging at the discussion in Kurunegala was the willingness of the participants to appreciate the need for a lasting political solution to the problem of the Sri Lankan state with the ethnic and religious minorities. When the four areas of the transitional justice process that would lead to reconciliation were outlined to them, there was no dissent from the participants. The four areas of transitional justice mandated by the UN system are seeking the truth about the past and its violations, judicially imposed punishment for those who have been perpetrators of crimes, reparations for losses suffered, and the reform of institutions to ensure that the past will not happen again.

During discussions with civil society groups, two key messages get highlighted. The first is the limited information available to the general population regarding these issues. There is an absence of strong and systematic messaging by the government. Second, the message from the Tamil-speaking participants from the North and East is their scepticism about the ultimate outcome of the ongoing transitional justice process. This highlights the need for greater inclusion of such groups into the process and for trust building with them. The role of civil society in these circumstances in taking the message to the people and in ensuring a sense of participation is extremely important.

Moderate Leaders 

The great majority of those who attended the Kurunegala discussion, which included religious clergy from all four religions, school teachers and grassroots society members, were appreciative of the concept of transitional justice. However they said that the government had yet to take this message clearly to the masses of people. There was appreciation that the concept of transitional justice was a reasonable one and fair and essential by the larger society. More significantly, when they were asked to respond to questions, most agreed that the truth about the past needed to be ascertained. Almost an equal number agreed that those who committed crimes outside of their duties should be punished, and close to half of them had no objection to a hybrid court with international participation.

The outcome of the discussion with the community leaders in Kurunegala is not an exception. Discussions with similar groups in Kalutara, Ratnapura and Trincomalee have also revealed a similar pattern of answers. This shows that the population at large reflects the moderate ethos of the present political leadership. The present government has not adopted a belligerent stance in dealing either with the international community or with those who are in the opposition within the country. The attendance of all top political leaders of the government and ethnic minority parties at the annual convention of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress is evidence of their desire to cohabit, coexist and be mutually supportive.

The task for the government is to mobilize the moderate sentiment of the general population so that they will be publicly supportive of the need to engage in reconciliation and constitutional reform activities at the national level. At present there is little or no mass awareness of what this government framework is in respect to both these highly important, and potentially controversial, areas of reform. As a first step it is necessary for the government to carry out a mass education campaign, so that the people who are going to be consulted have a fair idea of what the issues at stake are. The government needs to communicate a stronger message to the people with regard to the economy, transitional justice and constitutional reform.

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Latest comments

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    [Edited out]

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      The problem is deeper than the absence of communication strategy, JP!

      The problem is about the lack of Sira-Ranil Ayahapalanaya action against CORRUPT POLITICIANS and the failure to hold them ACCOUNTABLE and put them behind bars.

      Politicians and the Parliament of corrupt morons is above the law and enjoying massive perks under Ayahapalanaya GOvt of Ranil and Sira and have IMMUNITY AND IMPUNITY from being held accountable for their corruption and criminality.

      Politicians have become a privileged caste. Look at Wimal Weerawansa who had 3 passports and is living the high life in the Parliament of corrupt morons!

      People are NOT STUPID.
      It is about the Lack of POLITICAL WILL of Sira and Ranil to hold accountable the snakes in the Parliament of Morons – the and their corrupt crony politicians who enjoy complete IMMUNITY and IMPUNITY from accountability in the current Sira- Ranil Ayahapalanaya govt. that is tangoing with Jarapassa.

      Politicians are the BIGGEST CURSE on Sri Lanka.
      Not a single corrupt politician has been tried and put behind bars.
      Buddhist monks have been put behind bars and military personal, but the corrupt politicians are above the law.

      This is a joke called Ayahapalanaya in the miracle of Modayas!

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    Jehan is busy making hay while Sun shines. He knows the dollars will dry up no sooner Bodhi Sira puts a serious U turn on UN commitments and Ranil’s government gets flushed down the toilet with Mangy. The Hyde Park rally is the beginning. No one believes the MR debt payment story which Jehan conveniently covered up talking about the Fertilizer and Paddy. Well a hand full of groups in a artifial environment is not a reflection of the Sri Lankan society at large. The very fact that Jehan mentions the Muslim Congress convention as a significant cohabitation shows he has no clue what is happening in the country. He is happy that TNA opposition is in attendance at the convention. Now I wonder from which orifice I should laugh.

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    Jehan , please pass this on to Minister Malik:
    What is the reason the govt chose AceroMittal to build highly unliveable houses at a cost of Rs.2.1m each when locals can build suitable houses at about Rs. 7,8 or 9 lakhs or so(people are flexible when they receive govt funding)? What about the plight of the uemployed in SriLanka? How do we meet the SDGs? Leave alone everythingelse but the application of Buddhist precepts to our life? What’s the point in filling up the island with Buddha statues when we have seawater entering inland because of seasandmining? What about the houses for future generations?

  • 2
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    Jehan.

    Were such discussions held in the Vanni, Mannar and the Jaffna peninsula? If held, what were the preponderant concerns about reconciliation and ethnic concerns? If not, when will they be held? Will such discussions be held in the predominantly Muslim areas? Is it possible for your organizations to also assess opinions regarding perceptions of each ethnic group about the other ethnicities and the reasons?

    I think wider and deeper discussions on various aspects of ethnic/ community needs, will give direction and focus to the reconciliation process and prevent it being hikacked and strangled by the extreme, but noisy fringe elements in each ethnicity/ community.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

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    Jehan
    Thanks for your very long service on peacebuilding.

    1.”need for greater inclusion of such groups into the process and for trust building with them” = the President telling the masses what he told IFRC Chief about inculcating the mindset of the South = what Austin Fernando told LLRC on consensus-building among the Sinhalese = many *SriLanka-watchers in the international community have also commented on this

    *THE SANGHA AND ITS RELATION TO THE PEACE PROCESS IN SRI LANKA, A Report for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2005): ‘’Lack of political consensus in the south and opposition to the various peace processes by nationalist and Buddhist pressure groups have time and again made peacebuilding difficult in Sri Lanka. … One possible strategy for supporting pro-peace actors might be to encourage support from countries like Thailand which is also a Theravada Buddhist country like Sri lanka.’’

    2.As many young Sinhalese think that the conflict began in 1983, at least a brief summary of what happened in 1948-1983 as regards resolution of the conflict would be very helpful at this juncture. In fact it is urgently needed:
    In the 50s and 60s when any government in power negotiated a reconciliation pact with the Tamil parliamentarians the Opposition took to the streets in protest and the government withdrew the pact + series of racial riots

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      “Thanks for your very long service on peacebuilding. …”

      What!
      He is busy earning Dollars selling ‘peace’… One of the worst kind of NGO master Sri Lanka ever produced … Look, he thinks communication is the problem … What he thinks is that government is not bull shitting enough to deceive people … Nothing works in SL now … All government politicians b.s. saying there is no power cuts … But, it is there … Oh! What a government which can unashamedly deceive people … So this [Edited out] thinks that it is not bull shitting enough ..

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    The Nothern Province Governor Reginald Cooray, at a meeting in the north, has said that on Wesak Day, pirith will be chanted in Tamil.

    http://onlineuthayan.com/news/11848

    This will at least partially break down the “communication barrier”.

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    http://www.media.gov.lk/news-archives
    Ministry website of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass media doesn’t have President’s visit to Jaffna this March and last March to distribute token pieces of Land from HSZ.
    Is it a mystery or forgetfulness or simply a boycott?
    This is why Austin Fernando told LLRC what he told about ”consensus among senior politicians from day one”.

    Are the citizens, civil societies, Ministry of Reconciliation, Ministry of National Dialogue, Task Force for Reconciliation(etc etc) and international community taken for a ride the umpteenth time?

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    The previous government doctored statistics to diddle the citizens about its glorious economic performance. In no small measure it convinced itself that it had triumphantly pulled wool over the eyes of developed countries, not to mention lending institutions.

    Little did it realize that doctoring is a double edged sword. With bunkum claims to low middle income threshold, right to concessionary loans was lost. Miraculous economy spelt out only inflationary disaster. By January 2015, it was caught between the hammer and the anvil and was cast out.

    Let the successor government be truthful.

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    I dont think any government can be truthful, but the people can be truthful when they vote in 2020

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    [Edited out]

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    Definitely the Government needs a better, more proactive communications strategy. This call for qualified experienced personnel, two traits that are missing from most of the members of Government.

    When those who post comments finish their personal attacks on the Author, that is the BOTTOM LINE !

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