Rukman welcomes contributions for protected-area management project

Environment and Natural Resources Minister Rukman Senanayake has directed the Wildlife Conservation Department to invite contributions from NGO’s and the public at large on weaknesses if any on a request by the Environmental Foundation Limited for a revision of the Protected Area Management and Wildlife Conservation Project.

Senanayake in reply to a letter from Environmental Foundation Chairman Ravi Algama states:

I acknowledge with thanks your letter dated 6 May 2002 with regard to the Protected Area Management and Wildlife Conservation Project: Sri Lanka (Loan No. 1767-SRI (SF) Department of Wildlife Conservation project. I have noted also the media interest in this project. In view of the concerns expressed, I have directed the Department of Wildlife Conservation to formally invite contributions from NGOs and the public at large on weaknesses if any of this project together with recommendations as to how these may effectively be addressed. A notice to this effect will appear in the media during the next few days.

All proposals received in this process will be submitted to a panel of experts, who will report on their consistency with national policy and wise practice; naturally, NGOs too, will be represented in this. I shall ensure that the recommendations of this panel will be taken up for negotiation with the relevant government and funding agencies with a view to effecting the necessary changes if necessary.

With regard to the specific issues raised by you, kindly note as follows:

It was unfortunate that the project did not follow an open process within the country. We did not see any participation or transparency at the project planning stage.

I am reliably informed that, the initial Project Preparation Technical Assistance (PPTA) activity commenced in October 1997. In November 1997, an initial three-day workshop was held in Kandy. Over 100 participants were present, drawn from among NGOs, CBOs, leaders of local communities (in areas adjacent to protected areas) and experts in conservation biology. The Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Forest Department were represented at the highest level, in addition to the senior level representatives of the IUCN.

During the following 9 months, the PPTA consultants together with their counterparts from the Department of Wildlife Conservation had consultations with park staff and local communities associated with Minneriya and Horton Plains National Parks. At this stage the project envisaged only a loan of US$ 10 million.

In April 1999, a fact-finding mission reviewed the project, especially with a view to examining the possibility of using the commitments already available to leverage additional grant funds for the project. The potential of the project to be eligible for co-financing by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) was established during this period, and the World Bank, as one of the GEF implementing agencies, was requested to consider co-financing the-project. A further PPTA then commenced in 1999 to develop a framework for a project of wider scope.

The Ministry of Public Administration, under which the DWLC came at the time appointed a Task Force chaired by the secretary to the ministry to assist the project preparation and to formulate a National Wildlife Policy. Members of the Task Force included the following:

• Ravi Deraniyagala (WNPS)

• Jagath Gunawardena (EFL and Wildlife Advisory Committee)

• Rohan Pethiyagoda (WHT)

• Jayantha Jayewardene (BECT)

• Prof. Sarath Kotagama (University of Colombo)

• Prof. Nimal Gunatilleke (University of Peradeniya)

• Mano Tittewala (Chairman, PERC)

• Jagath Fernando (Deputy Chairman, John Keells Holdings, representing private sector)

• Thosapala Hewage (Additional Secretary, Ministry of Forestry & Environment)

• H. M. Bandaratilake (Conservator General of Forests)

• A. P. A. Gunasekera (Director, DWLC)

• H. M. B. C. Herath (Addl. Director, DWLC)

The Task Force met nine times over a period of several weeks. It is important to note that there was no dissent whatsoever voiced by any of the members of the Task Force with regard to the outcome of the group either (a) The National Wildlife Policy; or (b) Draft MOUs of the Project.

In addition to the above, between December 1999 to April 2000, Mrs. Mallika Samaranayake, Consultant Sociologist and Mr. W. Hendavitharana, Rural Sociologist of the DWLC, conducted several appraisals/public discussions with village communities in and around Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, Horton Plains National Park, Bundala National Park, Wasgomuwa National Park, Minneriya-Giritale Protected Area Complex, Flood Plains National Park and the Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve. Their reports run into several hundred pages and are available at the DWLC for perusal.

With regard to the consultancy process, it is important to note that a senior staff officer from the DWLC was attached to each and every member of the consultancy teams so as to ensure that the department was fully represented in all interactions the consultants had with communities and stakeholders. The various consultants in turn had detailed an extensive discussion with departmental staff (at both field and head office levels) with regard to all aspects of the project.

Once the draft project document was completed, a further workshop was held in Colombo in May 2000, at which the DWLC’s Director, Additional Directors, Deputy Directors, Assistant Directors, Wildlife Rangers (of different grades), Park Wardens, Range Assistants, Wildlife Guards and leaders of all trade unions represented in the department, were present. At this workshop, the draft was discussed in detail, and a large number of suggestions made by the staff were incorporated into the project proposal.

You will therefore appreciate that the project preparation process was not only transparent, but involved all levels of society and stakeholders, including NGOs.

As a result of this situation, several NGOs and individuals — have expressed their disagreement to the Minister

This has indeed been the case. In view of the media publicity relating to this project, I personally took the initiative by inviting persons (including Messrs. Nihal Fernando, Rohan Wijesinghe, Milinda Morahella, Ranjit de Alwis, Ashley de Vos and Prassanna Kannagara) who had expressed reservations on the project to two meetings at which these issues were discussed in detail. I also directed relevant senior officials to provide further briefings, and provide me with a report after outstanding issues had been resolved. I understand Mr. Prasanna Kannangara has now finalized this report.

I wish to record that your letter comprises the first intimation I have had with regard to the views of the EFL on the Project. Had I been aware of this earlier, I would certainly have sought your views and acted upon them. I have also directed that several of those who have voiced objections to various aspects of the Project, including yourself, be invited to serve on the project’s Steering Committee, in order that their inputs could enrich the project’s execution.

With regard to the specific issues you have raised on the technical aspects of the project, I suggest that these be addressed through the procedure I have identified at pare (1) above.

Finally, I fully appreciate the concerns expressed by several NGOs with regard to the privatization of park bungalows. I shall take this issue up with the funding agencies and ensure that a solution is found that is consistent with best management practice for the convenience of all national park visitors and effective conservation goals. I will ensure that the DWLC will continue to be fully integrated into all aspects of wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka, whether in a executive, management, monitoring or in a supervisory role.

I would like to assure you that I am deeply committed to seeing this project concluded successfully and welcome the contributions that NGOs and the cognisant public could make in this regard.