26 June, 2022


Reparations Across All Divides

By S. Sivathasan –

S. Sivathasan

What really was lost by all groups – ethnic, religious and class – in the years of war, turmoil displacement and emigration? The accumulations of several decades of individual enterprise and effort helped by the collective support of the state were damaged, destroyed or expropriated. Do the deprived have the means, the will or the resilience for a fresh start? No. Pro active initiatives by the state with liberal funding through aid by the international community and spread over a long period are needed to resuscitate individual economy as well as collective life. A spirited beginning is called for and a sustained demand needs to be made for the state to give substance to it.  

Tamilian Frailty

Why are the Tamils in the position in which they are from the time of independence? Many a Tamil would attribute it to one reason. “We are not united” is the unexamined factor that is blithely advanced. “They are not united” for us to parley with and to agree on any settlement, is the handy refrain of non-Tamils, lukewarm to a changed future. This senseless way of arguing needs to be ruthlessly rooted out. For the Tamils of Sri Lanka there is a paralytic obsession with unity or the absence of it, to deny the sharp tasks of today. A troubled conscience is thereby salved and we move into our comfortable routine. Is unity a condition for moving forward? Do past happenings the world over support it?

Disagreements Are a Common Feature

Tension is greatest at the nodal points. Evidence of it may be seen in the twentieth century when the world itself was in turmoil and was striving for change. In the decades preceding the Russian Revolution, a galaxy of intellectuals from Plekhanov to Lenin and Trotsky were drawn in as revolutionaries. They had the fiercest debates and the sharpest differences before they were able to forge the best strategies for success. The Communist Party itself split into two and Bolsheviks the majority moved forward eclipsing the Mensheviks, the minority segment. In the name of strength no time was wasted on chimerical unity. The fittest enlivened the masses in their favour.

In India too similar happenings were seen. From Gandhi’s advent to time of independence, there was no smooth sailing. Tilak, Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Bose were towering and charismatic. Yet the British manufactured synthetic leaders – Aga Khan and Ramaswamy Mudaliyar among others. The authentic leadership would have no truck with the spurious. An unbridgeable chasm however developed in 1939 when Bose was President of the INC and he struck out a line of action disagreeable to the leaders. The Congress leadership took the unprecedented step of removing the incumbent President. When the overweening consideration was India’s independence, some counterfeit appearance of unanimity was irrelevant.

The same story holds for China and the Communist Party, particularly in the period 1927 and 1949. Whatever the intrusive directions from Russia and Stalin, Mao’s sagacity prevailed virtually at all times. He conceptualized, organized and led. During this period there was a continuing process of winnowing and the leader remained steadfast with unshakeable faith in his discernment, strategies and approaches. Never was there an attempt to bloat cadre strength through fake compromise.

The above is just a brief recount of the way in which those who created history set about their tasks. Historical evidence is legion. Life experience to has taught us the same lessons. It is for the genius of the leadership to capture the mood of the masses, chart a future course of promise and to lead them to victory. This applies to the issue of reparations in Sri Lanka. Those in governance and the leadership of ethnic entities have a shared responsibility.

Needs Assessment Study 2003

The stance of living in isolation was briefly set aside from 2002 to 2007. With the help of foreign powers and funding institutions like Asian Development Bank, World Bank, JBIC and JAICA aid flowed in. Professionals did a commendable job in preparing a 1800 page document for the North East and another 1600 pages for adjoining districts affected by the war till the Ceasefire of 2002. The sectors covered were 17 and this report served as the foundation for the programme of restitution and rehabilitation. It set out an investment magnitude of $4.5 billion and an achievement of 10% was reached by 2007. Officialdom along with their retired counterparts measured up to the mission. Of great significance was the broadminded attitude and  statesmanship displayed by HE the President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga. Of as much importance was the proactive support of the Prime Minister, Hon. Ranil Wickremasinghe. They did not say with a single wave of the hand that such a programme was not needed. Reparations can work if the same attitude could prevail in the future as well.

Germany and Israel

From earlier years we have to come to recent times. Germany and Israel offer the world a lesson in going from the worst of relationship to acceptable norms of conduct. With statesmanship on both sides together with steps that assuaged misgivings and built trust, a new order emerged. It didn’t however come easily. First there was disbelief that either party could be honest about it’s professions. The leadership of Adenauer in West Germany and of Ben Gurion the PM of Israel, changed the picture. Ben Gurion said bluntly, “I am not going to go to America to take part in a vigil against Adenauer”. He added “I don’t want to run after a German and spit in his face”. Solution of the material problem to ease the way to a spiritual settlement, was Adenauer’s approach.

Implementation commenced with solemn sentiments and was yet fraught with setbacks. In Israel though there was no conceptual reservation about reparations or on the pattern of disbursement, the absence of trust or positive distrust virtually derailed the process. A five hour demonstration by Israelis against receiving payment resulted in 200 arrests and injury to 200 demonstrators and to 140 policemen. The PM stood firm and the decision was approved 61-50 in 1953. It was stated that in 1957 reparations became a decisive part of Israel’s income at 87.5%. Germany too had a similar experience with stiff opposition. In both countries leadership triumphed.

As of now Sri Lanka stands at a similar juncture. Without trust being built, no progress can be contemplated. Four years are past for just nothing. Reparations comprehensively understood will take two decades or more to deliver. Can funds be mobilized is the question. Yes is the answer. From where? Local and foreign is the reply. Before that a counter question. In the last seven years was there a single project of the powers that be that was not taken up for want of funds? The answer is no. For the reparations programme, if the need is appreciated, consequential action will follow and funds can flow.

Sri Lanka’s Supposed Robust Economy

As per official documents, the economy is doing fine. The GDP has near trebled in 2012 compared to 2005. This miracle has boosted capacity and confidence to borrow. In 2005, Public Debt totaled Rs. 2.222 trillion and was was 102.3% of GDP.  In 2012 it was more than Rs. 6.262 trillion and was 78.5%.  Exponential GDP growth permitted a near trebling of public debt in 7 years. One cannot have it both ways. The government cannot prate about close to trebling national income in just 7 years and yet continue to deny to the deprived and the devastated their legitimate due. It is to this voiceless group that one seeks to give a voice. Those prostrated by the state must be enabled to rise again by the same state.

The robust GDP accommodates in 2013, Rs. 289.5 billion of which 95% is for the coercive apparatus, the armed forces and the police. In contrast is the allocation of Rs.65.8 billion for Education and Higher Education, less than a quarter as for the armed forces. This sector employs as many as the forces if not more and student beneficiaries are in excess of 4 million. If people are with the Regime, why is this dread of the populace? State munificence extends to unproductive employment as well with 1 minor employee for every 4.2 officers in staff and non-staff grades. In semi government institutions, 40% are minor employees. Do the developed countries extend this luxury of retainers for the officer class?

What Next?

Earnest endeavor. Handling reparations is not difficult when financial profligacy is contained and public spending is rationalized. Even more is inevitable local and foreign borrowing to benefit the future of those who are now forlorn. The beneficiaries will be across all divides, ethnic, religious or class. It is for those in governance to get a programme crafted, to finance it and to see it through.

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