By C. Narayanasuwami –
Sri Lanka witnessed the ravages of a civil war for three decades. After peace was restored in May 2009 expectations ran high on building a united and stable country with focus on reconciliation, reconstruction and development. Although infrastructure development was initiated in the war affected areas, no serious efforts were made to bring about peace and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of the population. Attempts, if any, to bind the north and the south were half-hearted and were largely aimed at achieving political mileage than real reconciliation. This combined with attempts orchestrated to create religious disharmony created divisions and disunity among communities. Fissiparous tendencies tore the nation apart and it was in this context that the newly formed Government of President Maithripala Sirisena brought about an expectation that justice, fair play, peace and reconciliation will form integral components of the good governance formulae enunciated by his government.
It is well recognised that relief, reconciliation, reconstruction and development are primary areas of concern to the war affected areas in the north and east. The issues that require urgent attention comprise;
(a) Identification of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north and east,
(b) Location of their former abodes
(c) Release of private land currently occupied by the military excluding those considered vital for security reasons
(d) Resettlement of displaced persons
(e) Development of a sustainable plan of livelihood for the resettled families
(f) Creation of a conducive atmosphere for community living, especially establishment of necessary infrastructure to facilitate education, health, water supply, rural roads and transport and
(g) Restoration of self-confidence and dignity among those adversely affected by trauma and war affected conditions.
These are no easy steps and would require strong policy commitment, determination and an administrative structure that supports all these initiatives. Although the district level implementation of policy and procedural processes would fall within the ambit of the relevant provincial government, the initiatives as well as the broader policy framework to set the operations as going concerns fall on the shoulders of the central government. Each one of these items constitute extensive administrative, judicial and political decision making which cannot be done overnight. There also needs to be a structured and well planned implementation process if success is to be ensured in the long term.
The new Ministry of Resettlement and Reconstruction does not include reconciliation as one of its subjects although it is presumed that it falls broadly within the Ministry subjects as resettlement and reconstruction without reconciliation may be less meaningful. Hopefully, the new Ministry’s organisational structure would be a three tiered one with each one of the subjects, reconstruction, resettlement and reconciliation, coming under the administrative purview of a commissioner or a director. Each commissioner/director should be given the responsibility to coordinate efforts at provincial and district levels to ensure that the programs of action conceived at the central level are implemented in line with targets and achievements set at the beginning.
The release of private lands occupied by the army and the removal of unauthorised occupants in the lands of the previous owners are difficult but essential items of work that require the intervention of the central government. It is only through policy level determinations that these issues could be satisfactorily resolved. The new ministry through its organisational and administrative fiats must provide for enabling mechanisms to achieve initially the targets set under the hundred days’ program. Symbolic efforts have already been made to implement some of these measures but substantial investment of time, labour and resources are required to expedite the process of settlement.
Resettlement involves not only settling people in their own lands but also providing facilities that would support the establishment of sustainable livelihoods. Creation of jobs and development of necessary social infrastructure such as health clinics, schools, rural roads and water supply systems should go hand in hand with the settlement process. Meaningful peace and reconciliation would surface only if the resettled families are able to manage their own affairs without fear of intimidation from either legal or extra-legal entities.
It is apt to mention here the steps taken ten years ago when the present Prime Minister spearheaded a program of relief, rehabilitation and reconciliation (Triple R mechanism as it was called then) which unfortunately went into abeyance with the change of Government in 2004. The writer as a UNDP Consultant was closely associated then with the Office of the Commissioner General for Triple R headed by Mr.Bradman Weerakoon in the organisational and management aspects of the relief, rehabilitation and reconciliation program and the preparation of a document entitled, “Creating the Dividends of Peace” which articulated the scope and level of inputs required to settle issues pertaining to IDPs, refugees and war-affected individuals and bring them into mainstream development efforts. The document identified various measures to deal with issues faced under reconciliation, reconstruction and resettlement. Though ten years have lapsed and intermediate political interventions have changed the character and focus of these issues, fundamental problems still remain the same. The document dealt with human rights issues, language parity, reform of the educational system, including reformulation of educational policies to strengthen integration and reconciliation, strengthening of the media to address national identity and diversity issues, provision of translators and interpreters to improve communications between communities and adoption of non-discriminatory measures to improve the legal and judicial frameworks.
To prepare a realistic plan of action for reconciliation there is obviously a need to have a national vision, a mission and a strategy that works. At the national level, the institutions involved in reconciliation namely, the Ministries of Policy Planning and Economic Development, Resettlement, Reconstruction and Hindu religious Affairs, Justice, Defence, Public Administration, Home Affairs, Education & Cultural Affairs, and the Ministries handling Buddhist, Muslim and Christian Affairs, should be requested to provide leadership and advisory support to reconciliation through their district, divisional and village level offices, where appropriate. These Ministries should be requested to follow up systematically on the implementation of programs relevant to reconciliation on a national scale.
At the provincial and local levels, reconciliation should be aimed at healing wounds and forging links through people-oriented programmes that would promote social and emotional integration and create a sense of national unity and cohesiveness. The level of reconciliation required at the village level has to be generated through the involvement of the two communities themselves. If history is of significance in this regard, the concepts that were widely employed in the past by the village elders, the school teachers, the Grama Sevakas and the village priests to bring together villagers and forge links among them for common national endeavours should be relevant and useful. In each village, these respected citizens could still constitute key elements for promoting peace and reconciliation. The existing community-based organizations and civil societies should also be enlisted to provide further support in this regard.
A fundamental problem that has hindered the reconciliation process is the lack of mutual trust among communities and fear of the country being divided on ethnic lines due to the prolonged civil war that supported fissiparous tendencies. Recent events have clearly supported the concept of the unitary character of the country and have overwhelmingly emphasized the need to live as equals in an undivided country. This should be the basis on which trust should be built, confidence building initiated, and programs formulated to disseminate the concept of a pluralistic society having equal access to opportunities within an undivided nation.
Reconstruction requires not only strong political and social commitment but also budgetary resources aimed at training and education for sustainable means of livelihood, capacity development, restoration and rehabilitation of educational, scientific, health and community based institutions, and funds to repair and restore damaged rural infrastructure such as roads, water supply systems, hospitals and health clinics.
The funding resources required for reconstruction are substantial and a “needs assessment” has to be undertaken to understand the scope, extent and magnitude of damage caused to public property and individual assets. This in turn has to be categorised under various sub items such as public utilities, hospitals, schools, health clinics, community services buildings, houses, apartments, cultivable land etc. Detailed statistical information needs to be collected to identify the scope of work and funding resources required. The provision of 50,000 houses under an Indian grant as well as similar foreign funded projects that supported housing and public works should be taken into account in providing for a plan of reconstruction and development.
Funding could be solicited externally for development work to supplement budgetary provisions and could be sought from multilateral and bilateral institutions if analytically sound project proposals are submitted through the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. Private resources available with the expatriate community which has shown willingness to invest in the north and east should also be tapped. This may become simplified if the expatriate community is satisfied that there is tangible evidence of reconciliation in the country.
Role of Provincial Councils
The role of Provincial Councils as catalysts in the entire process of reconciliation, reconstruction and development should be fully acknowledged and stable and sustainable support provided to pursue implementation efforts at the district and divisional levels. The unfortunate power struggle that prevailed earlier in the Northern Provincial Council leading to lack of cooperation between the centre and the periphery resulted in non-utilisation of allocated funding resources and inadequate implementation of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. The change of Government has already cleared the air with some of the obstacles to implementation processes being removed. The Provincial Councils should not only have access to funding resources but should also have the capacity to assess needs, prepare programs of action and implement, monitor and evaluate them in due time.
The extent of progress in reconciliation, resettlement and reconstruction would be dependent on the level of interaction and support that exists between the centre and periphery and the goodwill and cooperation displayed in the formulation and implementation of development programs. The overall success of these interventions, including the realisation of anticipated outcomes however, would depend on the quality and adequacy of the implementation strategies adopted and the capacity of the public service to deliver.
*The writer – Member of the Former Ceylon Civil Service and retired Asian Development Bank Professional, could be reached at email@example.com