|Our wildlife: When will the funeral be?
There were two speakers, Rohan Wijesinha, a member of the EFL and former Hony. Secretary of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society, and Jagath Gunewardene, an Attorney-at-Law and a Director of EFL. Rohan Wijesinha provided a general overview of the project, the areas of concern and the suggested amendments to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to make the Project acceptable, while Jagath Gunewardene focused on the many legal implications of the Project. Both speakers had much to say about the Project that would alarm any Sri Lankan concerned about his or her countrys long-term wellbeing, let alone local wildlife enthusiasts.
In the audience were Jayantha Jayawardene, the Project Director, and Sanath Ranawana, the ADB representative. They sat quietly in the audience until asked to respond to some of the questions posed by members of the audience and, of course, also to the issues raised by the two speakers.
Mr. Ranawana was attending the meeting, he said, as a member of the EFL, and not as a representative of the ADB, but felt compelled to speak only because of the many criticisms being levelled against his employers. One can hardly be accused of being over-critical for saying that their varied, and ingenious, responses can truly be summed up in two of Mr. Rs own words "Misunderstanding" and "Misinterpretation". The audience was reassured that all the concerns and issues raised by the two speakers and by those in the audience stemmed either from some misunderstanding of the ground reality or through misinterpretation of the actual intent and content of the Project documents. Here, then, are some prime examples of M & M as exhibited by those opposed to the Project:
51% of the project funds (that is 51% of 34.7 million US dollars) will not come into this country but will be spent abroad on consultancy fees and for purchase of vehicles and other equipment.
Mr. Ranawana: the money will, of course, come into Sri Lanka, ALL 34.7 million US Dollars but, of course, some of it, as indicated in the document, might go out again for the expenses mentioned above. Just shows how utterly wrong we were all along!
The Government of Sri Lanka will have little or no control over the project because the MoU states "The Government will refrain from any action that may interfere with the independence of the PACT [Protected Area Conservation Trust]" (Assurance 5, pg 32).
Mr. Jayawardene: the intention of this assurance was to ensure that no "politician" could interfere with the Trust for his/her own personal ends. It is the Sri Lankan "politicians" that the ADB wants to keep at bay, not the Government of Sri Lanka. Mr. J remained impassive and silent to the immediate cries from the audience why, or rather why not, even at this stage, substitute the word "politician" for "Government" in the MoU? Instead the March 2002 Status Report on the project seeks confirmation from the government of their compliance with this clause.
The MoU was not approved by the Attorney Generals Department before it was signed, as required by law, considering that the Project, while calling for changes in the countrys laws such as the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, (FFPO), also renders the lawfully-elected Government impotent vis-a-vis the Project. After much verbal give-and-take, Mr. Ranawana held out a document which, he claimed, was the written approval from the AGs department. Some in the audience, however, say they heard, or thought they heard Mr. R, in the same soft tone he spoke throughout, casually drop the words "loan agreement", while waving the document. Assuming he did not so identify the document, then Mr. Rs subsequent conduct, in not acceding to the Chairmans request for copies ["without first checking with my boss"], cannot possibly be in keeping with the transparency his employer now lays great emphasis on in all its dealings. If, however, some in the audience had indeed heard right, Mr. R is guilty of the very charge he levels against his critics deliberate misrepresentation of the facts, for the point was NOT whether the clauses of the Loan Agreement, but those of the MoU, had been specifically approved by the Attorney General.
The FFPO will be amended and then superseded by new laws. Assurance 1 of the MoU (pg 32) says the FFPO will be amended within one year of loan effectiveness.
Mr. Ranawana: this is a misunderstanding because amendments will be made only after consultation, and only if deemed necessary. The MoU says nothing about consultation, and even less about changes being made "only if deemed necessary". The document simply says: "The FFPO of 1937 will be amended to make specific provision for several policy priorities, including participatory PA management and benefit sharing, ecotourism development, involvement of the private sector. The amended FFPO will be superseded by entirely new legislation before the end of project year 5." (pg 11). [our emphasis]. There does seem to be a strange problem-within-a-problem here: a misunderstanding-within-a-misrepresentation, and Mr. R is clearly the innocent party. Mea culpa!
Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve (SNR) is one of the areas coming under the project. The critics of the MoU have expressed grave concerns about the exploitation of this area for ecotourism and extraction of medicinal plants
Mr. Jayawardene: the project will merely implement existing management plans for each protected area and Ritigala, as an SNR, would, to quote him, remain "sacrosanct".
With the existing Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) now sentenced to death, will Ritigala continue to get the no-nonsense protection a Strict Natural Reserve requires under the new dispensation? Moreover, the MoU says "the combination of ecosystem diversity, species richness and endemism and location within the Cultural Triangle all make Ritigala SNR a unique resource for education and ecotourism with good potential for developing village-based ecotourism." (pg 44). Well, the executioners are poised and ready. So, goodbye FFPO. As for Ritigala, when will the funeral be?
A consortium of international NGOs will carry out research into the biodiversity of this country. The issue here is that not only will money be spent on hiring international NGOs, while local NGOs are ignored, but also and more importantly, that the exercise carries within it the danger that the fruits of such research will be taken out of the country and used without any benefit flowing back to Sri Lankan and to its citizens.
Mr. Jayawardene: international NGOs will not be used for this purpose. Yes, deny, deny and deny again, just like that! But it didnt take Jagath Gunewardene long to prove Mr. J was either misinformed or, worse still, quite untruthful.
The use of foreign consultants in various areas of the Project is another area of concern Mr. Ranawana: We Sri Lankans must be humble enough to accept that we simply do not have all the expertise required in a project of this nature, so we must to some extent depend on foreign consultants. We are good at eating humble pie, even when it is totally uncalled for. Ashley de Vos, from the audience, reminded Mr. R that some of the so-called foreign consultants who provide their "expertise" to this country were not fit to make tea in his office! We certainly dont need (as indicated in the MoU) a consultant to tell us how to design a visitor centre in a national park, he said.
Another concern raised was that, not one, but 7 of the most valuable national parks, were being used to pilot test the Project
Mr. Jayawardene: the 7 parks represented different ecosystems and habitats. Since what is being pilot tested would be the management strategies and techniques (and changes in institutional functioning) one does not need different ecosystems for the experiment.
The above list of issues is merely a summary of the many, many concerns raised by the speakers and by the audience. Also present at the meeting was a representative of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC), the Additional Director Mr. Herath, who found himself in the unenviable position of having to defend those in his department who had signed the MoU. He held out the assurance that, where the Project was under the control of the department, it would be implemented in the best interests of the department, the people of this country and its wildlife. Nice man, Mr. Herath, and our sympathies go out to him, for he is in for a big surprise. If the Project is implemented as stated in the MoU, the DWLC will find its spheres of control greatly reduced; the department, Mr. Herath may discover one fine morning, isnt there any more! Of course, Mr. Jayawardene told us and heres another of those "misunderstandings" that figured so prominently that evening the DWLC has control over the Project and every meeting is chaired by the Director of the DWLC. He, poor Mr. J, merely sits on a side, and does not sign a single letter! Now we are beginning to understand Mr. J is merely part of the office dcor. Hes a live specimen, of course, like the potted plants around that office.
Mr. Jayawardene was one of 15 prominent conservationists appointed to a Presidential Task Force in September 2000 by H.E. the President to advise her on wildlife conservation. Interestingly, the MoU had been signed before the Task Force was appointed. But the Task Force stumbled upon the existence of the MoU; in Mr. Jayawardenes own words, they "came across it". Thats very much in keeping with the ADBs policy of openness, public consultation and transparency. As a member of the Task Force Mr. Jayawardene too recommended that the Project be re-negotiated because certain sections, if implemented, would be "detrimental to wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka". The three main recommendations made by Group 1 of the Task Force, chaired by Mr. Jayawardene, were as follows:
That the MoU be renegotiated with the ADB, keeping in mind the actual needs of wildlife conservation in this country.
A Steering Committee be appointed by the President to monitor the implementation of the project, give it direction and report progress to her.
Appoint suitable persons as Project Director and Project Coordinator for the implementation of this Project.
Recommendations 1 and 2 have not been implemented to date. As for 3, a Project Director and a Coordinator have, as far as we know, been appointed. Whether they both are "suitable" is, of course, quite another matter. At the discussion that evening, Mr. Jayawardene said the recommendations of the Task Force had been incorporated to a sufficient degree to allow him to feel comfortable in his new role as the Project Director. He would be happy, he said, to provide to any member of the public the evidence of the Task Force recommendations that had been incorporated into the MoU.
The point made by all the speakers was that they were not lobbying for the Project to be cancelled altogether, but urging changes to safeguard the interests of the country and its wildlife, rather than further exploitation of both.
If the proponents of the project are sincere in what they say, there is a very simple way to prove it. Put it down in writing, Mr. Jayawardene and Mr. Ranawana. Show us the documents we have been asking for and which would help clear up the "misunderstandings" and the "misrepresentations" you kept harping on the whole evening. To sum up,
Provide a copy of the loan request made by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1997 and on which, you tell us, this Project is based.
Provide a copy of the letter from the AGs Department approving the MoU which Mr. Ranawana waved around at the meeting.
The revised copy of the MoU which incorporates the changes recommended by the Presidential Task Force (which included Mr. J.) with the changes preferably highlighted. We wouldnt want any more misunderstandings, now would we?
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