Reconciliation through trust and participation


Continued from Saturday

By Somapala Gunadheera     

Pare ca na vijananti
mayamettha yamamase
ye ca tattha vijananti
tato sammanti medhaga.
(Antagonists do not realize that they must all die someday. The wise realize it and so end their quarrels.)

Reflexes of disappointment

I must hasten to add that the situation I faced was much less complicated than what prevails today. The civil administration and the people I dealt with did not identify themselves altogether with the LTTE. They were acting under compulsion but were not won over completely. Annihilation of the LTTE created a different mind-set. With all his limitations, Prabhakaran was their kin and he was claiming to fight a war of liberation on their behalf. The sudden disappearance of that symbol must necessarily have a shock effect on ethnicity. Besides many a family had lost one or more of their members to the war. Whether they were killed fighting or collaterally, whether they were fighting voluntarily or under conscription are beside the point. Bereavement by itself is a stunner and winning over the bereaved calls for extreme tact and compassion.

I left the North leaving behind a motivated bureaucracy. Thereafter there were no regular visits from the centre to guide them or to lend a helping hand. But all the GAs performed at optimum levels with commitment. By the way, for all the good work they did, two of them were locked up under the Terrorism Act subsequently. I was convinced of their innocence but my intervention on their behalf fell on deaf ears.  Opinionated arrogance framed charges against them from air-conditioned security establishments but both officers were finally discharged after months of degrading confinement.

What surprised me was that both officers involved resumed work after their release as if nothing had happened. They had the influence and the resources to join the Diaspora and avenge their humiliation but they continue to live among us un-attracted by the lure of life in a foreign clime. Attachment to one’s land of birth regardless of ethnicity appears to be a powerful weapon in the armoury of reconciliation. It is for the government to exploit it sensitively to achieve greater cohesion among its subjects.

Be that as it may, installing a leadership of affinity in civil administration as proposed above has to be followed up with linkages down the ladder with a view to creating the climate of participatory management that existed in my time and continued up to the dislocation brought about by the initiatives introduced to contain the aftereffects of dislodging the LTTE. That calls for the progressive withdrawal of external elements brought in for emergency operations.

Distributing work

During my time there was little or no foreign aid coming in. Pullets and seed onion came in crates within the limited capacity of air freight and paid for fully by the exchequer. Today aid comes in huge containers and is distributed by dignitaries local and foreign, highlighting the donation over its effects on the recipients and ignoring the operatives that make them meaningful. From all reports, massive steps have been taken at infrastructure development. But has that activity resulted in job opportunities to local youth who have been starved of employment through the troubled years. The President himself has stressed the importance of utilizing local labour in the North. Recent homicides of two workers from the South have highlighted the reaction to influx of labour into an over supplied local market. The resultant jealousy is likely to be at the bottom of these crimes.

This is a situation where ‘thy need is greater than mine’ and I need to stand back until thy need is satisfied. What appears to happen in practice is that Northern enterprises are not in a position to compete with their long established Southern rivals. Having won a contract the latter naturally import the labour they are used to blocking out local job seekers. This is a dichotomy that has to be tackled at the awarding stage. Distributive justice demands that appropriate concessions be given to offers from the disadvantaged areas until normalcy is achieved. If the demand cannot be met with local supply it will be prudent to offer the excess to the local army units so that they could serve two purposes at the same time.

Even in the normal public service there appear to be many positions that are best filled with personnel with a knowledge of local language and culture. For obvious reasons cadres had been brought in from the South to satisfy the needs of troubled times. If the claim that we were back to normal was true, no time ought to be lost in substituting the stand-in cadres and filling vacancies with suitable native hands. I understand that efforts made by departments to recruit Tamilian staff have met with limited success.

If the reason therefore is non-availability of applicants with requisite qualifications, standards may be lowered temporarily, as in the case of award of contracts until the ground situation returns to normal. If it is feared that this concession could affect prevalent quality standards, applicants with qualifications closest to the required may be appointed on a contract basis, giving them time to come up.

Similarly available opportunities may be used to the optimum to enhance the participation of local citizens in the activities of governance. Civil Defence Committees recently established by the Police offer an ideal chance to involve local leadership in security management from a ringside seat. However the most suitable community leaders are said to be shying away from these responsibilities thus making way for less suitable persons to fill the vacancies to the detriment of peace administration.

Turn the other cheek

This apathy is said to be manifest even in other spheres where the authorities are trying to involve the populace in the recovery effort. Officials visiting schools to motivate students to join the reconciliation effort are said to be met with stiff faces and stark silence reminding me of my own experience as I began my work after Riviresa. I received the returning crowds at Wembady and fed them with the assistance of some people I hired locally. My guests never looked me in the face. I understood their plight and feelings. They were tired by the long walk up and down and were no doubt upset by their dislocation. I moved them to their homes in army trucks and continued my task of resettling them regardless of their intransigence.   

Installing the NPC

One of the biggest obstacles that lies in the way of reconciliation is the failure to hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council. This brings to my mind the following observation I made in my article on, "NPC election: The positive side", published in The Island on February 12, 2012: "PC elections have been held in all provinces except in the North and the elected Councils are in operation despite their alleged shortcomings. That disparity naturally catches the eye and creates credible room for the allegation that the North had been discriminated against. Such negative criticism boosts the already overloaded charges of partiality against the Government."

I have no quarrel with those who oppose the Provincial Council system. They may have their own reasons for their objections. But they have so far failed to present their alternative. There is not even a sign of an attempt to evolve one except for nebulous concepts. In the meantime the North has to be waiting for Godot. The objection to establishing a PC in the North appears to arise from its potential to encourage separatism. Granted the allegation is true, surely it cannot happen in a hurry. Even if the opposed institution happens to create obstacles to national legislation, the government has the power to take steps, as in India, to get over them and a Ministry of Defence that was able to handle Prabhakaran alive can easily be trusted to contain the situation until more appropriate and sustainable modalities are worked out with political maturity and mutual trust.

As I have guessed in the above article, another reason that pushes the government to keep on postponing the NPC election and rationalizing the delay with red herrings might be the fear of losing at the poll. But for obvious reasons, no man in his senses will expect the government to win an election in the North in the near future. Once an election is held with the ruling party holding itself back, the government then joins hands with the winners, whoever they may be, to help them to run the best regional administration possible. There is no dishonesty in such a move as the coming together is not aimed at getting political advantage, for the government had not staked its politics at the exclusive election of the region. Besides the new leadership uncovered by the election may look at old problems with new eyes.

Remove the blinkers

The North also has a duty to engage itself more actively and positively in the reconciliation initiative. It takes two to tango. The Indian Ocean has predetermined that all communities inhabiting this small island must willy-nilly live together. The sensible thing to do in such a situation is to try and make that living together as harmonious as possible. Of course, some enterprising siblings have moved to more salubrious climes. While they keep imperceptibly losing their own identity in the madding crowds of their new habitats, paradoxically they keep fighting tooth and nail to preserve its shadow back at home. Most Northerners, like the two GAs I mentioned above, are content to spend the rest of their lives in the land of their birth. It is the bounden duty of the majority to ensure that they live with equity and dignity. 

Our generation and its immediate predecessors have been confined to the narrow limits of ethnicity due to the compartmentalizing policies of our rulers. Hence our difficulty to remove our blinkers to see that death shall remove all our differences. Nevertheless I am optimistic that progressive policies of education, advances in technology and expansion of the global village would merge our progeny together in a united Sri Lanka.


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