Friday, October 23, 2009

Sinhala Government that abdicates its responsibility towards its people is guilty of mal-government...!!!

Threatening to sue the UN over plight of IDP's in Wanni
Manufacturing Emergencies and Abdicating Responsibility

By Nishan de Mel

Imagine this scenario: A man engages in excessive drinking of expensive alcohol and squanders the long overdue school fees for his children, without which they have been told they cannot return to school the next day. His friends respond to the emergency and gather the money to make the payment. The man asks them to pay for the whole year, but they offer to pay only for a term. With time, it’s clear that the man is not going to give up his drinking habit, and the children will have to soon quit school humiliated. A relative, who helped gather the emergency support, threatens court action against the friends, because they refused to pay for the whole year.
The Sunday Leader on June 14, 2009 reported that the head of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies in Sri Lanka (CHA) had threatened court action against the UN, which helps to provide basic necessities for the 250 thousand plus people detained in government-run camps. The concern which gave rise to this threat has been a concern widely held by NGOs – that the detained people face a high risk of calamity from impending monsoonal rains. The concomitant threat, of taking the UN to court, however, suggests poor understanding about the fundamentals of responsibility in this situation.
When a recent bout of showers – a precursor to the monsoonal rains – resulted in flooding, sewage overflows and intolerable conditions in detention camps, the government too claimed that the UN was to blame. The threatened court action by CHA, and government allegations, are both based on the fact that the UN had insisted, from the beginning, that it will only contribute to the construction of temporary infrastructure, which cannot be expected to withstand the ravages of time or monsoonal rains.
But this charge against the UN begs the question; why did the Sri Lankan government contract the offered services of the UN agencies, which it well knew would be inadequate, given the plans for prolonged detention?
Two things are clear; one, the UN did not force the government to contract their provision of such temporary infrastructure. They simply couldn’t have – the government has not been wanting in its ability to assert sovereignty, in making decisions within the territorial boundaries of Sri Lanka. Two, the UN did not act in stealth, and the type of infrastructure is not a result of incompetence – the UN was loud and transparent in insisting that the infrastructure it would provide would be adequate only to fulfil temporary needs. The government could well have refused the offer of such infrastructure (just as tender bids are refused for not meeting technical specifications), and contracted privately or through state machinery for infrastructure of adequate quality. Then, on what basis is blame placed on the UN?
The most compelling rationale for faulting the UN is that in extremely acute emergency situations providing emergency relief is a recognised obligation of the UN to its member States, and therefore, the UN is accountable for the adequacy of such relief. With regard to the recent events enfolding Sri Lanka, however, this argument is mistaken in two ways. First, because there was no de facto emergency situation – apart from the one that was manufactured. Second, because the UN did provide infrastructure adequate for the immediate needs of this manufactured emergency.
Manufacturing Emergency
It was widely reported, and was common knowledge, at least from January 2009, that over 300 thousand people were being sandwiched between the fighting forces of the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE. Common sense would have dictated that many of these people would need at least temporary shelter and food when the army over-ran the LTTE. In addition, the army’s victory was established somewhat later than anticipated – the LTTE’s ability to resist the military onslaught for as long as they did, until mid-May 2009, was unexpected.
Both these factors suggest that the government had about half a year to plan for and provide for the accommodation of these people. This, therefore, was no Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. There was no element of surprise in the situation which gave rise to the acute need for temporary basic infrastructure requirements and services. There was no de facto emergency. The emergency that arose was created by the callousness or incompetence of government planners.
This planning failure, it needs to be noted, was not systemic to government functioning. The military strategy against the LTTE, the media campaigns launched to win the support of the people, and the propaganda against opponents of the government’s war strategy, all demonstrated great competence and effective planning. The "emergency" that gradually emerged out of the situation was not only preventable, but preventing it was also well within the expectations, competence and normal functioning of the government. The fact that such prevention was eschewed is the reason for recognising the circumstances as a “manufactured” emergency.
There are several countries in the world run by dysfunctional governments that are not able – due to corruption or incompetence – to meet the basic responsibilities of governing. Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have shown how famines (which were entirely avoidable) have been allowed to develop as manufactured emergencies, and that this is a phenomena common in countries with irresponsible and undemocratic governments.
Nevertheless, even in cases of such manufactured emergencies, UN agencies have generally been willing to become involved and provide necessary direct services, since in most instances, the people thus harmed by their own governments tend to be quite powerless and in desperate need of rescue from the consequences of such mal government. Did the UN fail to do that in Sri Lanka?
Identifying Responsibility
In the case of mal-government, the obligation of the UN to protect distressed people cannot be an open ended obligation. It does not even serve the enduring needs of the distressed if that assistance simply subsidises and strengthens a continuance of mal-government. As a result, like in the cases of famine in Ethiopia, assisting UN agencies have a responsibility to use whatever influence they have to encourage a revision of government policy, so as to address the root causes of such mal-government and manufactured emergencies.
The offer of UN assistance – to build infrastructure of only temporary durability– was grossly inadequate and inappropriate for the purpose, if the plan was to keep people detained for more than two to three months. But the offer did meet the criteria of providing immediate relief to the manufactured emergency that arose in May 2009.
The government has now proceeded to gratuitously detain these people beyond 4 months – well past the immediate need of the first manufactured emergency. The detention is being affected outside of any known laws of the country, with mounting evidence that it is unproductive even in terms of its stated security enhancing objectives.
Most people currently held in detention camps are not asking the government to house and feed them; their principal need is simply to be let free. They are not insisting on immediate resettlement to their home-towns, which may still be riddled with land-mines, but they may justifiably wish to join friends or relatives in safe neighbourhoods in and outside of Sri Lanka.
This purposeful policy of perversely prolonged detention is not a situation in which the UN responsibility for emergency assistance can be legitimately invoked. The responsibility lies with the government. Will the government continue to forcibly detain these people in precarious temporary shelters when the monsoonal rains begin to wreak havoc? Will the government seek to leech out even more international assistance by manufacturing yet another emergency?
Economics of Detention Camps
Since the miseries of these people arise "post-war", it is not possible to make the excuse that the government cannot afford the cost. Even through the costly war with the LTTE, there were resources left-over to subsidise Mihin Air by over six billion rupees. This budget airline was revived in January 2009, on the “eve of the war's end", amply demonstrating the availability of funds for policy priorities. It cannot be true that subsidising air tickets of workers in the middle-east is more important than providing basic needs to people who have been rendered unemployed and helpless by forcible detention en mass.
The cost of prosecuting the war against the LTTE, on the defence budget alone (not counting the public security and safety budget), was over one hundred and thirty four billion rupees (Rs. 134,710,000,000) in 2008. That is about Rs. 1,500 per day, for every single man woman and child currently detained in camps. What is the actual cost? Using current poverty line data of the department of Census and Statistics, we find that all the needs of these people (enough to classify them as non-poor) can be provided at Rs. 3,000 per person per month. Even for a whole year, that would amount to only 6.7% of last years war budget for all the people detained. Alternatively, all the costs for 8 months could have been met just by the Rs. 6 billion busted on Mihin Air. Therefore, any failure on the part of the government to meet the cost cannot be a matter of resources, but would have to be a matter of purposeful priorities and policies.
The government has reported that US$ 196 million or 22.5 billion rupees (Rs. 22,540,000,000) has been received in donations from international organisations to help provide relief for the detained. That is about Rs. 90,000 for every single person detained or about Rs. 450,000 per family. The amount is so large and the conditions of detention so poor its difficult to imagine how this money was spent. Furthermore, the economic activity created by this infusion of capital feeds handsomely in to government tax revenues. It is possible, therefore, that the government of Sri Lanka is in fact profiting and prospering itself through the generous response of the international community to this policy of en mass Tamil imprisonment.
Misunderstanding Fundamentals
The threat by the CHA of court action against the UN implies a belief that there is some continuing emergency situation in Sri Lanka which the government is incapable of avoiding -- thus transferring responsibility internationally. But this is contrary to fact. The dire needs of the detained people are needs that are manufactured and persisted by government policy, and therefore, the responsibility of ceasing these unjust policies and meeting the needs created by these policies lies squarely with the government.
The primary responsibility of providing basic care to a population must rest with the government under which that population lives. This is basic. A government cannot be absolved from such responsibility in the absence of Tsunami-like situations or needs that are too enormous for a government to solve (like the need for Maldives to prevent the rising of the sea level). In the absence of unavoidable emergencies or global externalities, a government that abdicates its responsibility towards its people is guilty of mal-government. Threatening to take the UN to courts suggests a gross misunderstanding of the fundamentals.

October 6, 2009 Contact Email:
Next time some one might take God to courts as well. We Sri Lankans are so smart and literate that wouldnt be beyond us too. How ever we fail to see beyond our noses, that what is happening is self inflicted. First we bomb our own people, their homes, their businesses, their schools to the ground. Then we lock them up in camps. Next we invite the UN and International Community to come and resettle them. Inspite of this we attack and villify them all the time.
Meantime we are busy celebrating our victory, now going on the 4 mth. Hold multiple elections, build stupas in every province, build ports, airports in Hambantota in the middle of nowhere. Build palaces all over the place. Going around by Helicopter etc
Posted by: Gamarala | October 7, 2009 07:03 AM

The above comments and observations are a candid analysis of the despicable propaganda and downright hypocrisy that is used to cover up their cruelty towards helpless victims trapped or caged in camps. Iam reminded of a stupid comment made by a Senior Govt. Official that the cesspits in these camps began to overflow during a spell of heavy rain due to the poor construction by NGOs. Why did he not think of taking them to Courts?
It is heartening to see that there are civic minded people who have the courage to expose this bluff. More strength to them.
Posted by: | October 7, 2009 11:05 AM

No comments: