16 April, 2024

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The Hardware & Software Of Reconciliation

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe addressing a conference of over 300 members from inter-religious committees from across the country summed up his plan for national reconciliation in less than 20 minutes. The president was clear in his articulation. He spoke with no notes. There were no superfluities in his speech. He noted how racism and bigotry have become convenient tools for politicians to wield power and for religious leaders to maintain their authority. He pointed to lessons learned from prolonged use of these divisive tactics, which ultimately led the country into a devastating conflict. He took two questions from the audience and before the organisers of the conference could even thank him on stage he left the podium for his next meeting.

In his speech, the president stated that the country was close to reconciliation. Then proceeded to set out what needed to be done. There was the question of missing and disappeared persons, and long term prisoners suspected or convicted for engaging in LTTE violence. There was the question of land taken over during the war and land disputes of the present. There was also the question of the provincial councils and their powers. He said that police powers could not be devolved for the present, but that the powers on the concurrent list presently shared by the central government and provincial councils to the detriment of the latter could also be decided, but that might require passage by a two-thirds majority of parliament. None of these are easy tasks and have been promised in various ways by various government leaders but remain at a standstill, the president’s period being no exception.

In his short and succinct presentation, the president demonstrated that he had the entire plan for national reconciliation mapped out in his head. He also spoke of a truth and reconciliation mechanism to be set up; the passage of a land commission law which would be implemented to deal with land issues; and that some Buddhist monks and Tamil leaders [from the Diaspora] had presented the Himalaya Declaration, which outlines points of convergence on a mutually acceptable blueprint for a solution which would be taken forward. He also had the confidence to articulate his thoughts in public in front of a large and representative group of religious leaders and civic activists who had diverse political and ideological orientations.

Bleak Picture 

Since taking over the presidency in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in the country, President Wickremesinghe has faced challenges in a decisive manner. Among these challenges have been addressing the crippling shortages of dollars and imports that brought the country to the brink of collapse, the restoration of order following the chaos of street protests and coping with geopolitical rivalries involving the most powerful countries in the world today. This has won him grudging admiration from even those who have been previously opposed to the policies he has stood for. But public opinion polls continue to show him lagging behind his rivals due to the harshness of the fallout of this restoration of stability.

The present stability has come at a high cost that cannot be sustained without a massive infusion of resources that cannot be sighted at the present time. Over the past two years, the poverty level has more than doubled from 13 to 27 percent and a recent study shows that girls in Sri Lanka count among the world’s most underweight, a form of malnutrition, a life-endangering condition that has remained unchanged in the country for more than three decades. This is a crime for which successive governments, including the present one, are guilty. Findings published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, covering 33 years from 1990-2022, released February 29, reveal that Sri Lanka, ranks second below India globally, for the highest prevalence of girls (5 to 19 years) who are dangerously underweight. The study was done by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Despite this tragic situation, by all accounts, corruption in high and low places continues unabated regardless of laws that have been put into place. This lack of implementation of the laws applies similarly to the reconciliation process. The office of reparations for instance which should be devoting its attention to those large numbers in the north and east who are victims of the war has been forced to deal with the government politicians who lost their mansions to the mobs who set fire to them during the period of the Aragalaya protests. The office of missing persons has done much work in cleaning up the list of missing persons of its duplicates, but the information about what has happened to those thousands on the list continues to be a secret.

Cannot Delay

There is the hardware of reconciliation and there is also the software. The hardware consists of the institutions and mechanisms, like the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) and the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and laws like the constitutional provisions regarding equality and freedom of religious worship. The president’s speech at the symposium demonstrated his grasp of the hardware necessary for reconciliation. However, there is also a need for the software of reconciliation. These are the software programmes without which a computer is an empty shell. Where reconciliation is concerned, the most important software is trust. It can also be likened to the engine oil without which the engine will grind to a halt soon after it has started.

The first way of building trust is by delivering on promises made without delay. Over two months ago, the president on a visit to the east made a promise that the problem of grazing lands used by cattle herders would be resolved and the farmers from outside who had encroached on their lands with the support of the state machinery would be found alternatives lands by the state. But this problem persists, despite judicial rulings that the encroachers have no right to the land. The government needs to show that it respects the law and the institutions that function under the law, rather than flout them not only in the east, but at the very centre of governance where directives of the Supreme Court are ignored by the president and government.

Second, there is an inescapable need for a consensus on resolving the ethnic conflict and bringing about national reconciliation. The inter-religious symposium that brought together political leaders from a wide spectrum of the polity to share their thoughts with the religious and civil leaders present is an indication that this consensus can be obtained. There needs to be a consensus on protecting democratic values and human rights norms and civil society freedoms that create the enabling environment for state mechanisms to have credibility and to work effectively, in providing software to the system. Such a consensus alone can bring about the positive peace that the late Professor Johann Galtung posited, where all people feel that the state protects and nurtures them, in contrast to negative peace, which is merely the absence of war.

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Latest comments

  • 16
    2

    When Lankans seem lost and no where to go , Jehan keeps talking about hard and software. Apparently Ranil, noted how racism and bigotry have been convenient tools for SB politicians to wield power ( for 75 years) and SB religious leaders to maintain authority (for 75 years ) which ultimately led the country into a devastating conflict. But he admitted , true reconciliation is not a easy task , and have been promised in various ways ( SHAMS ) by various SB leaders / parties, but remains at a standstill. Okay, thank you for telling that, but isn’t it the same many here have been expressing and those same bigots keep lying and denying, for a decade.

    • 16
      1

      In that case why not go to Geneva, and admit to it , get necessary advise and help, instead of inter – religious party meet.

      • 8
        3

        c
        You should know that JP is not serious stuff.
        He sings for his supper, perhaps paid by word count.

        • 10
          2

          SJ,
          JP neglected to mention that this “conference of 300 people” was organized by his own NPC, and that he was a prominent participant.
          Nothing wrong in that, but openness would have helped.

          • 9
            1

            OC and SJ, don’t you’ll think Jehan is benign, when compared to those who comment on an impulse, then immediately deny, retreat, back step, ” blow hot and cold”, make abrupt U turns, put the blame on others, intimidate, self pity, look for groups, split, divert, detract, deflect . . . . . . flip flop . . . . . . . .typical oppositional / defiance of a child . ( symptoms of ODD). Isn’t most of our rogue politicians resemble them.

            • 9
              1

              Chiv,
              Yes, Jehan is pretty predictable and harmless. Unlike those who write pseudo- intellectual gibberish and complain when it’s recognised as such.

              • 8
                1

                You mean development without unity, integrity without trust ………. that kind of BS.

                • 0
                  7

                  @Chiv –
                  .
                  I said : (1) Development should be the priority and could be a unifying force; and (2) the most important software is NOT trust but integrity. Therefore trust without intergrity is useless. Because trust could exist among crooks and criminals too but not INTEGRITY
                  .
                  Don’t lie.
                  .
                  It looks like you have no integrity. That’s a bad trait for a doctor to have.
                  .
                  Lester is right your comments raise the question whether your claims are true?
                  .
                  Claims that (1) you couldn’t complete your medical education in Sri Lanka; (2) you got a scholarship from India; and (3) that you did your PG training in an Ivy league school in the US.
                  .
                  But ofcourse we all know now you want to focus on important conversations, like the one you are having here.

                  • 7
                    0

                    Chiv,
                    Did you or I mention this software genius from a private school? Seems he has a fatal attraction.

                    • 7
                      0

                      Chiv,
                      The latest gem:”It is lack of integrity that made them commit illegal crimes.”
                      I wouldn’t mind committing some legal crimes.

                  • 8
                    1

                    R, yes Jester is right. I’m not a doctor, I work for a call cab firm and right now feeling very tired after putting 12 hours straight. If this ( is what) will make you two happy, then lets maintain, as it is. Why on earth will a person who’s about to take up on early retirement will waste time, convincing otherwise. For rest , see my above comment to OC / SJ, ” those who comment on an impulse . . . .”. . Your first few comments after joining were good enough to realize, your true intentions. Other than me trying in a scuttle way ( by a cryptic response), decided to wait and watch for others to make up their own mind. Jester is a known pathological liar, but for you to sleep walk and loose your integrity / credibility , is some thing else.

                    • 5
                      0

                      Lester,
                      “Besides the fact that no one drops out of medical school in SL to study at a 2nd rate school in Toilet Nadu.”
                      But some do drop out of private schools to run away to Europe and process toilet output with a high-tech scraper.
                      And there are others who get pissed off by the “low depths” that people descend to, even threatening them with something called “lightening”..

                  • 1
                    6

                    Ruchira,

                    You are right in principle. Those without integrity are simply opportunists and have no loyalty. They serve all sides depending on whoever is in power. A prime example being Ranil. Regarding the charlatan, yes, I caught him in the act. One day he was saying he’s currently studying for the USMLE, on a different day he said he’s fully licensed to practice medicine in the US. Besides the fact that no one drops out of medical school in SL to study at a 2nd rate school in Toilet Nadu.

                    • 0
                      5

                      Lester – I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to him but I am no longer sure. I am still willing to believe his story but I am no longer sure of his integrity. Because like you said getting selected to a university to do a bachelor’s is a competitive process where as securing a PG training is a whole different ball game, that may depend on to whom you are connected to etc., And Ivy league schools are no exception. They may accept someone for strategic reasons even if their grades dont really make it up. I am sure you have heard of the secret societies like Skull & Bones at places like Yale and how they supposedly dominate the influential circles in the U.S. So unless he comes out clean with his whole story I would be suspicious about his integrity. For all I know even if he is telling the truth he may have been given a break for crooked strategic reasons.

                    • 0
                      6

                      Lester – Something about his story and demeanour just don’t add up. The fact that him and Old Codger get along well make it even more suspicious. But we’ll soon find out.

                    • 3
                      0

                      Ruchira,
                      “The fact that him and Old Codger get along well “
                      Some others only get along with fascists. Is that a qualification?

                    • 3
                      0

                      Ruchira,
                      “may have been given a break for crooked strategic reasons.”
                      Maybe, but he doesn’t come up with sentences like :”If a socialist Like De Mel implemented capitalist policies successfully, there’s no reason why a party that was historically known for its socialism could lead Sri Lanka to economic prosperity”
                      Did you really get through your Grade 5 English paper? Oh, sorry, I forgot about the private school. My humble apologies.

                    • 3
                      0

                      Ruchira
                      “But we’ll soon find out.”
                      Do you happen to know the fake professor that runs a youtube channel specialising in a strange mixture of science and religion?

            • 4
              1

              Benign because he is timid.

  • 5
    4

    Ethnic problems started since independence where Sri Lanka had gone through a number of Governments, prime ministers, presidents, agreements, peace talks, commissions and the current president had almost six time being prime minister have seen number of peace talks in and out after massacring thousands of people but still speaking of solving ethnic problem and economic problem by talking about hardware and software. Even after 25 years you may repeat the same reconciliation after completely wipe out Tamils.

  • 6
    1

    … taking over the presidency in the midst of an unprecedented crisis in the country.
    _ The President was jolted into the Presidency by the skillful, manipulative Rajapaksas. They were looking for an artful dodger; And, had Ranil marked for such a scenario!

  • 3
    13

    President Wickremasinghe’s grasp of the so called hardware is quite evident by: (1) the manner in which his government passed the Online Safety Bill with scant regard to Supreme Court directives; (2) the recent media communique issued by his office controversially claiming that the Constitutional Council comes under the purview of the Executive not under the Legislature; (3) and the recent appointment of the IGP following the voting of the Constitutional Council members on the same, that mocks not just the Consitituion of the country but also known democratic practices, according the author Nihal Jayawickrama in his latest piece to Colombo Telegraph titled ‘That Abstention Vote’ – a must read for anyone interested in good governance – to give just a few example on top of the head.

  • 2
    10

    Dr. Perera writes: “Where reconciliation is concerned, the most important software is trust.”
    .
    I however has a slightly different view. I think the most important software is NOT trust but integrity. Trust could even exist among criminals but not integrity.
    .
    When speaking about software one could say that there’s great trust among the hackers that hack into an information system that contains sensitive information about important individuals, but what they lack is intergrity. It is lack of integrity that made them commit illegal crimes.
    .
    Therefore I think the most important software is INTERGRITY not trust. What most Sri Lankans lack across the board of ethno-religious divides.

  • 6
    1

    Why is the conference hall so Red? …….. Does it signify all the blood spilled on this issue?

    Ranil’s problem is, he has no credibility: none whatsoever, 0.0.

    The only leader who could’ve given the Tamils a solution acceptable to them was Mahinda Rajapakse, days/weeks after the war was won: he squandered the best and the only opportunity the country ever had (If you want lessons in history study how General Gowan of Nigeria treated the defeated Biafrans soon after the war.)


    Now, Like in the movie/book “The Godfather” ……… Ranil can offer only a solution the Tamils can’t refuse.

    Poor Jehan knows nothing about Hardware or Software. Or about reconciliation. …….. He gets paid by NGOs/Foreign-embassies to “work on”/bring-about reconciliation, so it’s in his interest for the parties not to reconcile: keep it going on forever. Until he dies.

    So, this is what he writes …….. it’s neither here nor there.

    We went to this restaurant in Weligama, they said we cook only for foreigners ……. the curries weren’t the usual hot/spicy Lankan, very yellow and mild for foreigners to stomach ……… like Jehan’s writing: it’s for foreigners, not for Lankans.

    I’m sure Sinhala_Man was his English teacher ….. the writing has his fingerprints/hallmark all over ……. another hapless Lankan student’s life wasted ………

    • 3
      1

      Nimal
      “I’m sure Sinhala_Man was his English teacher ….”
      ROFL….

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