Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NGOs are in the running for grants from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) in the fifth round of funding..!!!

UN Democracy Fund: Lankans in the fray for newest grants
March 29, 2011, 9:52 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Several Sri Lankan NGOs are in the running for grants from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) in the fifth round of funding. The recipients are expected to be announced mid 2011 by the UNDEF. It is not clear whether any of the NGOs under investigation for alleged irregularities are among those vying for more grants.

According to the UNDEF, a record 3,700 applications had been received by Dec. 31. 2010 deadline and were in the process of being studied. The number of applications received for the latest round was the highest since the launch of the project in 2005, the UNDEF said. The UNDEF estimated the increase at 200 per cent when compared with the previous year.

Sources said that in spite of a Sri Lanka NGO being successful only once in the previous three rounds, many organizations had applied for grants this year. Saviya Development Foundation received $ 225,000 to promote democracy a few years ago.

Funds are made available for projects promoting rule of law and human rights, media, community development, youth, women and democratization.

UNDEF is funded through voluntary contributions by Member States. Established by the Secretary-General in 2005 as a Trust Fund under the UN Financial Rules and Regulations, cumulative contributions so far have surpassed $110,000,000.

Sources said that as much as $ 500,000 could be obtained by one NGO to carry out a two-year project. Government sources told The Island that due to the conclusion of war in May 2009, those who had been in lucrative business of promoting peace would now have to increase their presence in other fields such as rule of law and human rights and media.

Sources said that 200 per cent increase in the number of applications for the latest round meant the global expansion of the NGO industry.

Number of Lankans seeking asylum drops

With the end of the war the number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in the industrialized world has seen a considerable drop though the country still remains in the top 10 source countries.

A report by the UNHCR released yesterday saw less Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia and Europe last year as compared to a year earlier.

The Australian media quoted a spokesman for the Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as saying the number of Sri Lankans arriving in Australia has fallen as a result of improvements in circumstances in northern Sri Lanka and not as a result of changes in domestic Australian policy.

There were no comments to the report from other countries where Sri Lankans had sought asylum over the years, particularly during the conflict.

Unveiling the report, High Commissioner António Guterres said the global dynamics of asylum had changed in recent years.

"We need to study the root causes to see if the decline is because of fewer push factors in areas of origin, or tighter migration control in countries of asylum," Mr. Guterres said.

Serbia – including Kosovo – provided the biggest number of asylum-seekers in 2010, with 28,900 claims lodged, compared to only 18,800 the previous year.

The other leading countries of origin of asylum-seekers were, in order: Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Russia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria and Sri Lanka.

Guterres noted that the developing world is still "carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for hosting refugees," with countries such as Liberia and Tunisia playing host to asylum-seekers despite their own problems and challenges.
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The Hindu : News / National : India among the most corrupt nations surveyed by PERC

The Hindu : News / National : India among the most corrupt nations surveyed by PERC

The Hindu : News / The India Cables : A community scared of both Muslim and Hindu extremists

The Hindu : News / The India Cables : A community scared of both Muslim and Hindu extremists

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : Tamil Nadu: the local vs. the general

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : Tamil Nadu: the local vs. the general

Monday, March 28, 2011

If NGOs are to be investigated by the criminal investigation arm of the govt there shd be prima facie evidence of criminal activities on their part.!!

Government reassurance regarding NGO probe

March 28, 2011, 12:00 pm

By Jehan Perera

President Mahinda Rajapaksa appeared to take a reassuring stance towards non-governmental organisations when he addressed editors of media organizations. The President said that the ongoing probe by the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Sri Lanka Police had nothing to do with politics or with suppression of dissenting views. On the contrary, he had said that the government had a right to ascertain how funds received from foreign countries by some NGOs had been spent as no organization was above the law. The last time that a government ordered an investigation into NGOs was when President Ranasinghe Premadasa appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to look into the work of NGOs two decades ago in 1990.

Although the government at that time claimed that they were investigating the NGO sector as a whole, it was evident that the NGO Commission focused their efforts on the Sarvodaya Movement led by Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne. There was speculation that with President Premadasa systematically knocking out all his political rivals, he was merely ensuring that there would be no challenge from civil society either. It was with suspicion that the late President looked at the widespread grassroots network that the Sarvodaya Movement had developed over the course of its decades’ long service to rural people. At the same time, he sought to utilize its concepts, such as Village Re-awakening, pioneered by the Sarvodaya Movement.

NGOs can expect a more understanding response from President Rajapaksa who has a track record of working in close collaboration with them. Law students in Sri Lanka who study constitutional law delve into the famous case of Rajapaksa vs. Kudahetti and Others (1992). This case filed in the Supreme Court gives details of how the President, who was then an opposition parliamentarian, was apprehended at Colombo’s international airport with his luggage containing documents relating to the enforced disappearance of persons to be submitted to the 31st Session of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.

On that occasion, although Mr Rajapaksa was permitted to continue on his travels to Geneva, the documents he was taking with him were held back by the police personnel at the airport. This included information about missing persons and photographs, which the police considered documents which were likely to be prejudicial to the interests of national security and which were likely to promote feelings of hatred or contempt to the government, which was an offence under Regulation 33 of the Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions and Powers) Regulations prevalent at that time. On his return to the country, the President-to-be took this matter to the Supreme Court on the basis that a number of his human rights had been violated.

Heightened Controversy

The heightening of controversy surrounding the work of non-governmental organizations at this time has arisen at the same time as the publication of details of funding received by NGOs active in the fields of human rights, anti-corruption and peace. A question that was posed was why they should be receiving so much foreign assistance for their work when the war has ended and there is peace. At his meeting with the media editors, President Rajapaksa said that the government had been compelled to make inquiries why three NGOs had received as much as Rs. 618 million after the end of the war while the country had not received anything in return. The implication is that the end of the war has obviated whatever need there was for the work of these NGOs.

The three NGOs that the President was referring to, and which had been identified as the recipient of large foreign funding, were the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Transparency International Sri Lanka and the National Peace Council. When the President said that the country had not got anything in return for the funding they had received, he may have been referring to the absence of visible and material results, such as houses, wells and micro credit, for which some NGOs have become acclaimed. NGOs such as Habitat for Humanities is building hundreds of houses for the displaced people in the north with government support while the Sarvodaya Movement today is working in tens of thousands of villages where its water supply and micro credit income generating schemes have provided livelihood to tens of thousands of people.

While it is true that NGOs such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Transparency International and the National Peace Council do not generally engage in activities where the output can be seen and felt or measured in terms of bricks and mortars, or income increased, this does not mean they do nothing. The financial accounts of these organizations are audited by internationally reputed audit firms working in Sri Lanka and made available to relevant government authorities. These three organizations are primarily involved in public education activities and work that involves changing attitudes, which are less visible, tangible and measurable. But the outcomes are real, even if not so readily visible, tangible and measurable.

For instance, when the government decided to expel temporary Tamil residents from Colombo city on the grounds of safeguarding the city from terrorism, the Centre for Policy Alternatives filed legal action in the Supreme Court. As a result of the court order, the hapless Tamil residents were permitted to stay in Colombo while the government found less draconian methods of safeguarding the city from terrorist attack. This action of an NGO helped strengthen law and order and respect for the higher judiciary not only in Sri Lanka but also internationally. For its part, Transparency International has, among its many activities, conducted surveys of the general population ascertaining their views on corruption which the government could use to correct weaknesses that exist in the country. They also look to safeguard public property during elections. In these circumstances it is not reasonable to assert that these organizations do nothing for the country.

President’s Reassurance

What motivated the National Peace Council at its origins in 1995 and up to this date has been to support the efforts of successive governments to peacefully and politically resolve the ethnic conflict in the country without resort to war and terrorism. This requires the transformation of the hearts and minds of the people at large rather than of the elected representatives alone. The organization does not in any way seek to engage in any partisan political activity and is committed to work within the democratic framework alone. All the work that we do is transparent and in the public sphere. Throughout its years of existence, NPC has also been politically non-partisan, and its policy making bodies and staff are of diverse ethnicities, religions and political convictions. It has in no way supported the use of violence to win minority rights or any other rights. It is committed to non-violence.

Most of NPC’s work is in the areas of peace education and advocacy. In the past two years its major projects have been in the areas of enhancing north-south inter-ethnic understanding and relations through exchange visits that have included schoolchildren from the north visiting the south and supporting child care in the north, enabling humanitarian solutions through multi-religious cooperation involving religious clergy, seminars on building peace through power sharing and devolution of power, seminars on living in a plural society, and holding trainings for university students and youth on non-violence using the example of Martin Luther King. Others activities have included programmes of Tamil language training for language teachers, publications on the importance of the 17th Amendment, Human Rights training manual for school children and advertisements in the mass media.

So far it appears that only the National Peace Council has been subjected to the CID investigation. At the meeting with the media editors the President had asked why the NGOs were making an issue of being questioned by the police. The prevailing Emergency Laws and Prevention of Terrorism Laws in the country that continue to be extended by the government despite the end of the war, arm the police with extraordinary powers of arrest and detention. This creates apprehension in the minds of anyone who is summoned before them, even those innocent of any charge. The question is why the government did not use other means at its disposal to engage in fact finding in regard to the organization.

It is a basic right in a democracy that citizens have freedom of association. They also have the right to obtain support for their work, their vision and ideals, so long as they are operating within the law. If they are to be investigated by the criminal investigation arm of the government there should be prima facie evidence of criminal activities on their part. If they are being investigated without such evidence or charge against them, it is suggestive of intimidation. The fact that President Rajapaksa worked with NGOs in the past as an opposition parliamentarian to promote human rights and good governance and even in opposition to governments, is the greatest reassurance to NGOs that his government will not be seeking to intimidate those organizations that are taking stances at variance with it on matters of national interest.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The two sides proceeded to discuss appropriate constitutional arrangements to meet the aspirations of all the people of Sri Lanka...!!!

Monday, 21 March 2011 00:00

The on –going political dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has registered some positive forward movement at the third round of talks held on Friday March 18th in Colombo.

The essence of the dialogue was succinctly revealed in the following excerpt from the joint communiqué released to the press after the talks -

“The two sides proceeded to discuss appropriate constitutional arrangements to meet the aspirations of all the people of Sri Lanka. They agreed to continue their dialogue with a view to arriving at a structure to fulfil these aspirations.”

It was indeed heartening to know that the third round of Govt-TNA talks had concluded on a positive note. Despite two earlier rounds the past few weeks had seen an escalation of political tension threatening to disrupt this dialogue.

The assassination attempt on TNA Jaffna district MP Sivagnanam Sritharan was a disturbing event. This column which reconstructed the attack in the “Daily Mirror” of March 12th made a specific appeal to the TNA that in the interests of the long suffering Tamil people the party should not let the incident affect the talks with the Govt.

Apart from the Sritharan incident there were other acts of omission and commission affecting the course of the dialogue. There seemed to be a hiatus between pledge and performance on matters agreed upon.

An ill-informed Tamil media spurred on by anti-govt elements both local and abroad was extremely critical of the TNA for participating in the talks.On the other hand there seemed to be some lethargy on the part of the Govt also in pursuing the dialogue constructively.


It was against this backdrop that the long awaited third round of Govt-TNA talks took place on the 18th.Fears about the talks collapsing proved to be liars. The engagement seems to have been positive and firm groundwork seems to have been laid for future positive progress.

Before delving into the happenings of March 18th this column would like to trace briefly the sequence of events that led to the current situation in the dialogue between the Govt and TNA.

The Govt – TNA political dialogue is the best thing that happened in the sphere of ethnic relations in this country after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was re-elected to office for a second term last year.

It was initiated by President Rajapaksa in a quiet yet firm bid to explore ways and means of resolving the Tamil National Question by talking to the single largest Tamil political party in Parliament. The TNA which contested the 2010 polls under the house symbol of the Illankai Thamil Arasuk Katchi (ITAK) won 13 seats from all five electoral districts in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. It also got a national list seat.

This column in the “Daily Mirror” of December 11th 2010 revealed exclusive details about how President Rajapaksa initiated the political dialogue with the TNA.

President Rajapaksa broke the ice by meeting the TNA Parliamentary Group leader Rajavarothayam Sampanthan on a one to one basis without aides. This was followed by a second meeting with Sampanthan.

As a result of these meetings a decision was taken to set up two joint mechanisms comprising Govt and TNA representatives. One was to concern itself with immediate issues facing Tamils affected by the war. The other was for commencing a structured dialogue aimed at achieving a political settlement.


TNA leader Sampanthan also submitted two lists of seven and five names to be included as party representatives on each of the joint mechanisms.

The seven names proposed to be on the joint mechanism concerning matters such as relief,resettlement, rehabilitation, reconstruction and livelihood were TNA Parliamentarians R.Sampanthan,S. Senathirajah, K.Premachandran,S. Sritharan, A. Adaikkalanathan, P.Selvarajah and MA Sumanthiran.

The five names proposed to be on the joint mechanism regarding talks for a political settlement were TNA Parliamentarians R.Sampanthan, S. Senathirajah,K.Premachandran, MA Sumanthiran and the reputed lawyer K.Kanagiswaran who is not an MP.

In addition to these moves there was another positive development also. Two trusted representatives nominated by President Rajapaksa and R.Sampanthan held a series of discussions among themselves in Colombo.

These talks were focused on the contours of a potential political settlement based on maximum devolution to provincial units while ensuring the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Both representatives reported back regularly to Rajapaksa and Sampanthan after each round of talks. With the encouragement and support of their principals both representatives succeeded to a very great extent in their mission.

Various aspects of Devolution -substance and unit – were discussed and agreement was reached in many areas. Agreement was not possible in some areas and a few were somewhat grey areas.

These talks provided to a great extent the spadework in evolving a basic outline for future talks between official high –powered delegations.

In writing about these talks in the “Daily Mirror” of December 11th this column did not disclose the names of both representatives as it did not want to hinder the dialogue in any way.

Since events have progressed to another plane the names can be revealed now. Central Bank Governor Ajit Nivard Cabraal was the President’s representative in these talks.TNA national list MP and Lawyer MA.Sumanthiran was Sampanthan’s nominee.


The stage was set therefore for further forward movement on these lines after 2011 dawned. President Rajapaksa set up a joint mechanism called the Committee on long –term reconciliation through a political settlement.

Three cabinet ministers were nominated by the President to be on the committee. They were Ratnasiri Wickramanayake,Nimal Siripala de Silva and Prof.GL Peiris. Galle district MP Sajin de Vass Gunawardena was appointed secretary to the committee.

The five TNA representatives proposed by party leader Sampanthan were on the committee. But Sampanthan himself was indisposed and in India due to health reasons.

The preliminary meeting between the Govt and TNA took place on January 10th 2011. It was decided then that meetings should occur on a fortnightly basis and the next one was fixed for January 24th.

That however did not happen and the second round of talks took place only on February 3rd. There was a further delay in scheduling and the third round was fixed for March 1st.

This too was put off at very short notice.It was said that the ministers could not be available in Colombo due to their ministerial duties and because of their involvement in local authority electioneering.

The TNA requested that the meeting be scheduled for March 7th as the ministers would have to be present in Colombo at that time due to Parliament convening . There was no immediate response to the request.It was as if the Govt had lost interest.

This seeming lack of interest contrasted sharply with the Government’s public attitude about the talks. Government ministers and diplomatic envoys had referred to the talks with the TNA positively at International conferences.

The Rajapaksa regime has been under tremendous international pressure on a number of issues in recent times. One among these was the perceived unwillingness or inability to commence measures for resolving the long festering ethnic problem.

Now the Govt was able to showcase the talks with the TNA and tell the world that it was addressing the issue by negotiating with the premier representatives of the Sri Lankan Tamil people.

It was suspected that the Govt was using the talks with the TNA as a device to deflect or contain international criticism without any sincere commitment towards the dialogue. The Tamil media both local and overseas began accusing the TNA of colluding with the government wittingly on this or being taken for a ride unwittingly.

The TNA itself was in a troubled state of mind on the issue. Sections within the party began doubting the government’s bona fides on this. They felt that the govt was on the verge of abandoning or aborting the talks because it was unable or unwilling to deliver on some of the immediate issues raised on earlier occasions.

Some of these issues raised by the TNA in the first round of talks were the removal or reduction of high security zones, disarmament of persons and groups bearing arms illegally in the North and East and the fate of 600 -800 Tamils being detained from pre-May 2009 times at various places in the Island under the Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA) and Emergency regulations.


The Govt side promised to return with a positive response at the second round of talks.When the second round began the TNA was rather disappointed with the Govt response.

The govt minsters said that there were no high security zones anywhere in the North and East. The TNA then provided the Govt representatives with particulars about the high security zones in Palaly in the North and Sampoor in the East. These included documents filed by the govt in courts regarding the fundamental rights case SC FR 646/2003 SC FR 646/2003.

On the question of disarming those bearing illegal arms in the North and East the govt response was that an amnesty period would be announced for surrender of illegal arms and thereafter the criminal procedure code would be amended to make such possession of illegal arms a non –bailable offence. Again the TNA was disappointed as the party’s focus was on Tamil para-military organizations carrying arms illegally.

There was also a disconnect on the issue of detenues.The TNA was referring to those being detained for many ,many years under the PTA and emergency regulations as LTTE suspects without being brought to trial. But the Govt response did not deal with this category and only dealt with that of LTTE “surrendees” being held after May 2009.

The TNA therefore had to explain in detail about these unfortunate people being held for many years and present more documentation. Among the documents presented were an interview given to “The Nation” of January 30th 2011 by the former Minister of Prisons Reforms DEW Gunasekara. In that the minister stated 600 -800 persons were under detention for 10 to 15 years.

The Govt representatives then assured the TNA that they would get back to the third round of talks with more information on the three issues raised. There was however another related issue arising out of the Govt response to the detenues issue that was discussed during the second round of talks. Subsequently this matter became a serious cause for friction between the Govt and TNA.

What happened was this. At the second round of talks The Govt delegation informed the TNA that there was a computer data base about Detainees, IDP’s and next of kin being maintained at the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID) office in Vavuniya.


The TNA was told that these data bases were active and that family members could avail themselves of this facility to know more about affected kith and kin. The TNA then inquired whether they could publicise this and ask people to go to Vavuniya and get information. The reply was in the affirmative.

The issue of detenues and IDP’s is a very important one to Tamil people. There are thousands of families languishing without information on the whereabouts of their loved ones. Many do not know whether they are in the realm of the living or not. Some know they are alive but do not know where they are being held. The dimensions of this humanitarian tragedy are not realised by the world at large and the government has been accused of being callously insensitive .

It was quite understandable therefore that the TNA seized the opportunity and gave much publicity through the Tamil print and electronic media to the availability of a data base facility. The TNA was under pressure for talking to the govt and utilised this chance to demonstrate that there were tangible, practical gains from its dialogue with the govt.

Thanks to the publicity generated by the TNA hundreds of people went to Vavuniya to utilise this data base facility and locate their loved ones if possible. But they were in for a rude shock. The Police in Vavuniya reportedly turned the people away saying there was no such facility and that it was only an election gimmick by the TNA.

Thoroughly disappointed relatives who had travelled long distances complained bitterly to the TNA as a result. The credibility of the party was eroded. Moreover the TNA was in an unenviable position as the party could not come out publicly with the truth as it may have undermined the talks with the Govt.

Adding insult to injury was the perceived lukewarm attitude of the Govt on this matter. When the party complained orally and in writing to the Govt about this there was no effective response.

Compounding the situation further was the perceived lethargy of the Govt in scheduling a definite date for the third round of talks. Some members of the TNA began to suspect that the Govt was insincere on the matter. Given the inadequate response to the issues raised earlier and the data base fiasco these sections felt the Govt was simply procrastinating on the one hand while using the dialogue for international propaganda on the other.

Those in the TNA who wanted the dialogue to continue found themselves assailed by the extremely unhelpful, negative attitude maintained by influential sections of the mainstream Tamil media. These elements who seemed grossly ignorant or thoroughly ill-informed about the actualities of the Govt-TNA dialogue poured scorn on the talks.


While pro –tiger media organs abroad launched a vicious campaign that the TNA had sold out to the Govt and was collaborating with it to de-value the so called war crimes issue , sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil media charged that the TNA was being manipulated by the Government.

Sadly , many of the media reports about the talks were inaccurate but the TNA was being criticised on the basis of these reports. To cite one example the Editor of a Tamil weekly wrote a news story under his name that the TNA had agreed to local authorities being the unit of devolution and then called out “Et Tu Brute” to the TNA in a signed article. The news was incorrect and charges baseless

In such a situation the TNA was also forced to counter media criticism by resorting to tough talk. Some frontliners like Suresh Premachandran the accredited spokesperson of the party began to give media interviews expressing pessimistic sentiments about the talks with the Govt. He described the talks as being a “sham”.

Despite this posturing to the media the TNA was not critical about the talks with the Govt in their election campaign. There, the TNA asked Tamils of the North and East to vote for the party in order to strengthen their position at the talks with the Government. There were reasons for that.

The reality was that despite the misgivings and disappointment in tackling some immediate issues through the dialogue there had been commendable progress in the larger issue of devolution. While some areas were still under dispute considerable forward movement had been achieved on many matters.

Both sides were engaged in a joint exercise to determine the extent of devolution by apportioning specific functions and responsibilities to the provincial unit through the devolved list and to the central govt through the reserved list. Under the 13th amendment there was a third “concurrent” list. Now both sides were trying to do away with the concurrent list altogether or reduce its scope to a great extent.

The TNA fully realised the importance of evolving a satisfactory scheme of devolution acceptable to all sections of the Sri Lankan nation. Since President Rajapaksa has gone on record that the devolution he had in mind was 13th Amendment plus there was every chance that the substance of devolution could be greater than what is available now.

Under these circumstances it was imperative that the TNA should stay the course in continuing the dialogue with the govt in spite of pressure.Resentment over immediate issues however prickly should not lead to a situation where the talks collapse. President Rajapaksa has the power and capacity to deliver on maximum devolution provided a consensus can be arrived at. That opportunity should not be missed


Thus the TNA adopted a double-track policy. While its accredited spokesperson Kandiah Premachandran alias Suresh blew hot in media interviews and was harshly critical of the Goverrnment’s stance in talks , the TNA speakers at political meetings spoke differently. They asked the Tamils to vote for the party so that the hands of the TNA would be empowered at the talks. TNA leader Sampanthan issued a statement on these lines soliciting Tamil support at the local authority hustings.

Meanwhile there was growing interest within the international community about the Govt – TNA talks. The Govt had contributed to this situation greatly by referring to the dialogue in glowing terms at various international fora including the UN. Several countries were interested in what was going on.

The US ambassador Patricia Butenis met with the TNA and was briefed on the status of the dialogue by that party. Subsequently she met President Rajapaksa and sought to clarify the position about the talks. The president informed the US envoy in unambiguous terms that the talks would be on until positive results were achieved.

Another complicating factor was the local authority elections. The TNA and the Govt were at loggerheads with each other as rivals wooing the hearts and minds of voters in the North and East. The election rhetoric was harsh and vicious. There were also charges of electoral malpractices and violations. The stresses and strains of electioneering also cast a shadow over Govt-TNA relations.

The double track approach adopted by the TNA towards the talks upset sections of the Govt too. Premachandran’s harsh critique of the dialogue in media interviews made some feel that the TNA had changed its position. The TNA explained to the govt that the sentiments expressed by Premachandran were due to frustration at the progress of the talks. The Govt was assured that the TNA was ready, able and willing to resume the talks.

With doubts about the TNA position being removed efforts were on to hold the long awaited third round. The date fixed was March 24th but with the TNA informing the Govt that two of their members would be unavailable on that day the date was re-scheduled for March 18th.


The long –delayed third round of talks commenced at 4 pm on March 18th. Both sides were in a buoyant mood as the results had been announced . The ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had won 205 of the 234 local authorities to which polls were held. If the Govt had won resoundingly in the Sinhala majority areas the TNA had also scored creditably in the Tamil majority areas.

The TNA had won all twelve Tamil majority local authority polls it contested in the Mannar,Vavuniya,Mullaitheevu, Amparai and Trincomalee districts. It also won the most number of Tamil votes in the Muslim majority areas it contested. The solitary exception was the Oddamavaddy PS where the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) got more Tamil votes than the TNA.

Since the TNA had sought a mandate from the Tamil people to continue the talks with the Govt the party regarded the election results as an endorsement. The TNA was elated that the Tamil people had overwhelmingly supported the party despite media criticism about talks.The results had strengthened the party in the dialogue with the Government.

The Govt – TNA talks got off on a positive note with both sides beaming with satisfaction at their respective polls victories. The “hurt” feelings of the TNA over the Database fiasco was soothed to a great extent when the Government delegation apologised profusely for the “misunderstanding”. The TNA was assured that the matter would be resolved satisfactorily in the near future and that both Sajin de Vass Gunawardena and Suresh Premachandran would be in Vavuniya together to flag off the data base facilty when open to the public.

The Government delegation also required more time and more information on the issues of detenues,disarming groups carrying illegal arms in the North and East and high security zones. This was agreed to.

The TNA also referred to the issue of photographing northern residents by the armed forces. The party had resorted to legal action earlier and courts had been informed by the Attorney-General’s dept that the practice would cease. But it had been resumed again and the TNA was once again seeking legal recourse.

It was felt that this issue as well as the earlier unresolved ones were all directly related to the Defence ministry. Realising their constraints on these defence related matters both sides agreed that an effective communication channel with the Defence establishment was necessary . It was resolved that greater liaison with the defence ministry be established on a permanent basis.

It was also realised that other ministers should also be approached if and when matters pertaining to their ministries are discussed. It was accepted that some form of linkage be evolved with relevant ministers whenever required.

It was also accepted in principle that an arrangement for meetings on successive days be made when the talks reach a critical stage. Effective decision making would be made easier under such an arrangement

Both sides made significant progress on the discussions on devolution. Although no decision has been finalised the lists of powers and functions allocated as Devolved and Reserved have been further enlarged. The committee is continuing with its task of identifying each area in a specific and detailed manner.

A better ,utilitarian approach towards scheduling talks was also adopted. It was decided to demarcate future meetings as being for immediate issues and for the devolution issue. There would be a meeting on April 7th to discuss everyday problems and immediate issues. There would be another meeting on April 29th to discuss matters related to Devolution.


It appears therefore that the teething troubles of the Govt-TNA talks are over. Both sides seem to have clarified misgivings and doubts about each other but it cannot be denied that a vast amount of mutual trust needs to be further established.

While the Govt needs to be more aware of the pressure exerted on the TNA by extremist Tamil elements the TNA also must be sensitive to the Government’s situation in talking to them. Although the party is distancing itself from its pro-LTTE past and has the support of moderate Tamils there does exist a negative image of the TNA in the minds of many Sinhala people.

The TNA must be appreciate the difficulties faced by the Govt in adhering to each and every request made by the party. The TNA must strive to re-furbish its tarnished image in the eyes of the Sinhala majority. That would make the Government’s task easier and facilitate true reconciliation and unity.

The parameters for future talks seem to have been set and the basis for further negotiations outlined. It would also be necessary to include Muslim representatives after further progress.

Given the climate of mistrust and hostility that prevailed the third round of Govt –TNA talks seemed a non – starter. Fortunately it did take place and considerable forward movement has been achieved.

To adapt the words of Neil Armstrong the progress made at the Govt –TNA talks may amount only to a “small step”in quantitative terms but it is certainly a “giant leap” in qualitative terms. (ENDS)

DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at djeyaraj2005@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Copyright © 2010 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In the wake of Norway’s admission that it had spent NOK 100 million (over 1,800 million rupees) to support the peace process...!!!

Tigers, ‘peace support groups’ et al received Rs. 1,800 m from Oslo
March 20, 2011, 9:34 pm

By Shamindra Ferdinando

In the wake of Norway’s admission that it had spent NOK 100 million (over 1,800 million rupees) to support the peace process, it would be pertinent to establish the total amount of funds received by various organizations and individuals to promote peace.

According to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) tender document calling for consultancy services to evaluate Norwegian peace process in Sri Lanka (1997-2009), out of staggering NOK 2.5 b Norwegian Development Cooperation with Sri Lanka, NOK 100 m had been allocated to ‘activities aimed at directly supporting the peace process’, including the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission and Peace Secretariats set up by the government and the LTTE.

Government sources say among the recipients of Norwegian funds allocated for ‘activities aimed at directly supporting the peace processes were the National Peace Council, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, Sri Lanka Press Institute, Peace Secretariat for Muslims, the Sri Lanka government et al.

Sources say the LTTE Peace Secretariat was the largest recipients of Norwegian grants during the peace process.

Responding to a query by The Island, a senior official said that the bulk of Norwegian funding had been made available after the LTTE suspended its participation in direct talks with the government in April 2003. The official alleged that the then government of Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe hadn’t at least tried to dissuade Norway from funding the so-called LTTE Peace Secretariat. In spite of the collapse of the peace process, those involved in ‘activities aimed at directly supporting the peace process’ had received mega funds.

Officials said that Norway had been the single largest contributor of funds to the LTTE Peace Secretariat and NGOs involved in the peace initiative.

Sources said that UN agencies, too, had provided funds to the LTTE peace secretariat with the blessings of the then government. The LTTE is alleged to have spent some of the funds to set up a website, which went to the extent of featuring suicide squads with LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

‘The Island’ recently revealed funding received by the NPC, CPA and TI to the tune of Rs 618.33 million from 26 foreign sources and an undisclosed number of unidentified sources. (See page 2)


The watchdog role of media and vigilance of civil society..!!!

The watchdog role of media and vigilance of civil society
March 18, 2011, 7:02 pm


by Shanie

"What we can't face look for us anyway. If there is any chance people have to be willing to think; to not be afraid of thinking. If we learn to think clearly and coherently, we will create the solution."

"I am just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing its understanding of being human."

- John Trudell (US lyricist and poet)

When Basil Rajapaksa announced in Parliament last week that the Government had taken over the land on which the Hilton Hotel was sited, not many were surprised. The Urban Development Authority had in 1984 leased out the land to a developer with a stipulation that the lease rent should be paid annually. Apparently, the lease rent had not been paid for the last twenty-five years and the holding company itself had run up huge debts. A few years ago, Nihal Amarasekera, that irrepressible initiator of public interest litigation, had unsuccessfully moved for the winding up of the company. But despite the lack of surprise, there was also concern about a lack of transparency by the UDA, now curiously under the Ministry of Defence. This take-over followed the leasing out of prime property on Galle Face to the Hong Kong based Shangri La Hotels, and the proposed eviction of the urban poor from Slave Island and Kollupitiya areas to make way for this kind of development.

There is widespread rumour floating around business circles in Colombo that the government has decided or even already signed an agreement with an Indian hotelier to lease-out the Hilton Hotel. One does not know what element of truth there is in these stories but they spread because there has been no statement from the UDA about their plans for Hilton. The take-over should have been accompanied by a plan for the future of one of Colombo's land-mark hotels. But there has been no announcement by the UDA of any such plans. Indeed, there has been no announcement by the Defence Ministry administered UDA about their plans for Colombo. There is a popular feeling that they wish to develop Colombo on the Singapore model and the eviction of the urban poor who have been long-time residents of the city is in keeping with that plan. The human element gets lost in such plans; this is what John Trudell referred to as a world that was very rapidly losing its understanding of being human.

The lone dissident of Singapore

What is even more appalling is that both civil society and the media have been intimidated into silence. This perhaps also follows the Singapore model where the opposition have to undergo much harassment. Those who have followed politics in Singapore will know the harassment that the lone opposition figure Ben Jeyaratnam had to go through. Court cases were brought against him at regular intervals and unfortunately, in the light of the authoritarian mood that prevailed in Singapore, Jeyaratnam did not receive the justice that he was entitled to. Neither did the media take up issues of justice for him and his Workers' Party.

Ben Jeyartnam's case has interesting parallels. He was first elected to Parliament at a by-election and at the subsequent General Election was re-elected with an even bigger majority. When he was elected for the first time, he was the sole opposition member of Parliament. By the time he was re-elected, there were two. But the Government was in no mood to tolerate even such a tiny opposition. Jeyaratnam was indicted on several counts, primarily of having submitted falsified party accounts. Justice Khoo heard his case and acquitted him of all the charges except one. On appeal, his case was now transferred by the Chief Justice to a District Court which found him guilty of all the charges and ensured that he was deprived of his seat in Parliament and disbarred from practising his profession as a lawyer. Justice Khoo who originally found the charges not proven was demoted from being head of the subordinate court to the Attorney General's Chambers. Appeals to the Privy Council were not possible from judgements of District Courts; and Jeyaratnam had to be content with an appeal to the Privy Council against his disbarment from Parliament and his profession.

The Privy Council judgement was unequivocal: "Their Lordships have to record their deep disquiet that by a series of misjudgements, the appellant and his co-accused Wong, have suffered a grievous injustice. They have been fined, imprisoned and publicly disgraced for offences of which they are not guilty. The appellant, in addition, has been deprived of his seat in Parliament and disqualified for a year from practising his profession. Their Lordships order restores him to the roll of advocates and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Singapore, but, because of the course taken by the criminal proceedings, their Lordships have no power to right the other wrongs which the appellant and Wong have suffered. Their only prospect of redress, their Lordships understand, will be by way of petition for pardon to the President of the Republic of Singapore." As expected, the appeal to the President failed. Further, such appeals to the Privy Council were abolished by the government the following year.

Jeyaratnam was returned as a Member of Parliament after his period of disqualification was over. But cases after cases continued to be filed against him. In the bar of public opinion, he was an honourable man. At the age of 82, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam suffered a heart attack and died, his conscience and reputation vindicated. But sadly, neither the media nor the civil society dared to speak out against the injustices he had to endure during his lifetime.

It is not only in Singapore but in many other counties claiming to be democracies, the civil society and media dare not speak out against injustices and corruption in government. Even in Sri Lanka, the private media is muted in their criticism of any wrong-doing. Even when they do criticise, the leader-writers seem to think that they have to balance their criticism by speaking of past wrong-doings of the opposition as well. The role of the media is to keep the public informed. They fail in their duty when they remain silent on issues that affect the integrity of the nation and its leaders, and on issues that have a direct bearing on the rights of the people, particularly of the poor and the marginalised.

Legitimising a rigged referendum

A little over thirty years ago, a military ruler was in power in Ghana following a military coup. He wanted to legitimise his rule by holding a national referendum. Andrew Walker,a journalist with the BBC, was sent to cover this referendum. He soon discovered that that the whole exercise was a fraud with the opposition denied access to the media and all sorts of dirty tricks being employed. The Judge supervising the referendum was threatened with death if he did not produce the results that the government wanted. As the results began to be counted, a group of soldiers walked into the Judges' office demanding to be let in. Not surprisingly, he took fright and fled, first to the home of a priest nearby and later to a safe house in the country.

The priest and a representative of the Judge saw Walker at a secret location and related the story. The local media did not report the story and when Walker put the story over on telex to London, his copy was confiscated. Telephones were not available but Walker managed to send the story to London on an audio-cassette through a helpful airline employee. The BBC broadcast the story the next day. The local media had still not reported the story so the BBC story created a sensation. The local Radio Ghana reported that the Special Branch were looking for a BBC reporter who had sent out false reports.

Walker had to secretly flee the country leaving through the land border with Togo. An interesting incident at the land order was when the Ghanian policeman handed back Walker's passport by saying, 'You've been covering our referendum, haven't you, Mr Walker. You'll always be welcome.' But two British businessmen, one an MP, wrote separately to the BBC complaining about its coverage of the referendum and the injustice done to 'that honest man' – the military ruler General Acheampong. In contrast were several letters from ordinary Ghanians 'grateful that some of the facts about Ghana's plight had been made public.' As a footnote, it may be mentioned the some months later, General Acheampong was forced to resign by his fellow-officers and a year later, executed by firing squad for 'crimes against the people.'

We close with the advice given to newspapermen in the well known words of C P Scott, who edited the Guardian for over fifty years: A newspaper's primary office is the gathering of news. But, 'at the peril of its soul it must see that the (news) is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free, but facts are sacred. "Propaganda", so called, by this means is hateful. The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard. Comment also is justly subject to a self-imposed restraint. It is well to be frank; it is even better to be fair.'


We who form the silent majority

March 21, 2011, 12:00 pm

Those of us who feel secure in our homes are, I suppose, indifferent to - and sometimes unaware of - the woes of others placed in a much less fortunate position."Shanie" your regular Saturday columnist (Notebook of a Nobody), has repeatedly drawn our attention to the sad plight of hundreds of city dwellers in Slave Island and Kollupitiya who are threatened with eviction from the modest dwellings they have lawfully occupied for years on end, in order to make way for "development".Often, we remain silent on such issues, either through fear of incurring the displeasure of the powers-that be - or because we go on the premise that what doesn’t affect us personally is no concern of ours. However, if someone we know is being victimised, then our feelings are roused and we are moved to protest.

I find I know one lady who is in danger of losing the home in which her family has lived for decades. Her name is Muniamma and she is a valued minor employee in a leading girls’ school which is within walking distance from her home.Muniamma was working in this school when the present Principal started her schooling there! Now she has been peremptorily told that she must be ready to quit and alternative accommodation has been offered her in Avisawella or it may be in Kottawa, she was subsequently told. You can imagine her distress. But, "whom to tell?!"Muniamma and her neighbours must feel that nobody cares and that the erection of imposing hotels or other grand structures has priority over consideration for ordinary human beings, their feelings and their rights.

Actually, it was a comment made in the excellent editorial in today’s Sunday Island (20/3), that put me to shame and spurred me to write even at this late stage.Although the reproach in this editorial is in connection with quite a different issue, it’s worth quoting here: "The tragedy for this country is that mattrers such as these, instead of getting better, become progressively worse with each succeeding administration.





The public are you and I and thousands like us who form the silent majority. So, we get the government we deserve.

Anne Abayasekara.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ability to interact not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of matual respect, character, merit and goodwill! That is what matters in FUTURE.!!

Mutual respect, goodwill - the need of the hour - Dato Kulasegaran

The world is shrinking into a `global village'. Therefore race, religion, caste and creed become immaterial in a highly globalised system. What is important is the ability to interact not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of matual respect, character, merit and goodwill. That is what matters in a country of multi ethnicity, says President of the Federation of Malaysian Sri Lanka Organisations (FOMSO) Dato S. Kulasegaran, who is a Malaysian of Lankan origin. His Federation is here to assist in humanitarian activities and to explore the possibility of investing in various projects in the island. Excerpts of the interview

Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan organisation (FOMSO) member are seen here with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa

Q: What is the intention of your visit to Sri Lanka?

A: The delegation to Sri Lanka has been organised by the Federation of Malaysian Sri Lankan Organisations (FOMSO) which began in 2006 and has been registered in Malaysia.

The Federation comprises eighteen Malaysian and Lankan organisations made up of Malaysians of Lankan origin. I am the President of the FOMSO. Our fourteen member delegation has arrived in the island with two objectives.

The first objective is to provide humanitarian assistance. We will be handing over medical assistance worth US $ 150,000 to victims of the recent floods in Batticaloa. Apart from medical assistance, computers and stationery for schools in the North and East will also be donated.

The second objective is exploring the possibility of making investments in various projects in the island.

Q: What are the areas in which your delegation is wanting to invest in Sri Lanka?

A: The delegation first visited Sri Lanka soon after the three decades of conflict which ended in 2009. Since then several visits were made to the island by our delegation. However, this time around, the delegation is exploring the possibility of making investments in various development projects. We have been focusing on investing in communication, low cost housing, oil and gas, a cement plant, solar power, a green technology park and a hotel project.

Q: What is your observation on the post-conflict atmosphere in Sri Lanka as far as trade and investments are concerned?

Dato S. Kulasegaran

A: With the end of the three decades of civil strife, a stable atmosphere prevails in Sri Lanka for investments, trade and tourism. Since we understood the potential in Sri Lanka for business investments, the interaction between our federation and the Lankan government was initiated by us through the Lankan mission in Malaysia. The government of Sri Lanka has been very supportive, accommodative and receptive to our business proposals.

The government is supplying us with information and assistance with regard to the projects we are looking forward to launch in Sri Lanka.

Therefore with the end of the conflict, business can move forward, infrastructure could be put in place with the enhancement of communication facilities.

Sri Lanka being a small country, is easily manageable as far as business and investment ventures are concerned.

Q: Malaysia is multi ethnic. How are the issues of the minorities addressed in Malaysia?

A: Relations among races in Malaysia is very good. We are one nation. The unity of our country is now embodied in the slogan `Malaysia truly Asia'. The issues of the minorities are addressed in real terms with partnership in the political sector, business and in the social sector. Therefore stability in all these sectors remains the fundamental factor in the success of Malaysia.

Q: Being the President of the Federation of the Malaysian Sri Lankan Organizations which comprises a considerable number of Malaysian Tamils of Lankan origin, how do you see the Lankan Tamil issue?

A: Frankly speaking I do not like to get drawn into ethnic issues. I see ethnicity as an incidence of destiny. We do not ask to be born as Tamils, Sinhalese, Chinese, Malays or whatever. This is divine. The important thing is how we get along with each other. The root cause of ethnic conflicts is nothing but ignorance. Now we are living in an era with rapid transformation in every aspect.

The world is shrinking into a `global village'. Therefore race, religion, region, caste and creed become immaterial in a highly globalised system. In the ultimate analysis, what is important is the ability of mankind interacting with each other not on the basis of ethnicity but on the basis of respect, character, merit and goodwill. That is what matters in a country of multi ethnicity.

Q: Could you give details of the meetings you had in Sri Lanka and the outcome of these meetings?

A: As I told you earlier, the meetings we had in Sri Lanka were very fruitful and constructive. Our federation was formed in 2006 and now we are here for the sixth time since the conflict ended in 2009. We do not have any political agenda. We met ministers, secretaries, senior officials and members of the business community. What we could understand is that Sri Lanka is on the path of rapid development. Several foreign investors are showing a keen interest on launching new business and industrial projects.

Lankan officials we have met were very receptive and interaction with them was positive with regard to our intended plans for Sri Lanka. We are in the process of coming out with good deals.

Q: Is there any plan mooted by your federation to improve the tourist sector between Malaysia and Sri Lanka?

A: Of course Sri Lanka has a lot of potential as far as tourism is concerned. However, to improve the tourism sector, infrastructure such as the development of highways, bridges and transportation should be improved significantly. For instance travelling to the North and East by road is a big time consuming affair. Therefore if air transportation from Colombo to the distance cities such as Jaffna and Batticaloa are improved the business fraternity will show greater interest in enhancing their activities.

We agree there are marvellous locations for tourism in the island. But to make them more vibrant, infrastructure should be improved. We are also focusing on coming out with new hotel projects.

We have plans to encourage travellers from Malaysia to Sri Lanka. On the other hand, proper marketing strategies should be adopted to make Sri Lanka a good tourist destination internationally.

I would like to mention that our association FOMSO has already sent two groups of tourists from Malaysia. They were drawn from our association to see the island. The volume of visitors to Sri Lanka from Malaysia has increased in recent years.

Q: How do Malaysians see Sri Lanka as a holiday destination?

A: The people of Sri Lankan origin living in Malaysia want to come and see the places of their origins. Several of them have relatives in Jaffna.

On the other hand, business tourism and eco-tourism could also be promoted on a big scale. So what I would like to say is that Sri Lanka has to do a lot more to publicise that the conflict in the island is now over.

More action should be taken to inform the outside world through web sites about the peaceful conditions within the country and accessibility to trade and business sectors in the island.

Measures must be taken to attract expatriates in the post-conflict development process in the island. The emotional attachment of the diaspora should be tapped in order to make them more involved in the development of the country.

Q: What is your observation on the state of the economic conditions in Asia, particularly on the massive progress in India and China. Where does Sri Lanka stand in this new economic trend in Asia?

A: This is the century of Asia. This was waiting to happen. This part of the world has two large countries in terms of population-China and India. Half the world population is in Asia.The number of people means productivity. So the people of these countries are more involved in productivity. Sri Lanka whether it likes it or not will get drawn into this.

Though Sri Lanka is a small country compared to India and China, the island nation could utilise whatever its resources to its best. The prime resource is human resource. So if you have an intelligent workforce you could develop the country in a big way.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Several farmers have recently committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh due to their inability to repay loans&the failure of their crops!

Death of the farmer

March 7, 2011, 7:50 pm

Indian farmers protest (File Photo)

By Y. P. Gupta

Several farmers have recently committed suicide in Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh due to their inability to repay loans and the failure of their crops. This confirms that the livelihood of the distressed farmers hasn’t improved despite the relief package announced by the Union government, notably the loan-waiver up to Rs 71,000 crore for small and marginal farmers. Last year, farmers in Vidarbha and its neighbouring regions had committed suicide. Clearly, the relief package has not been able to mitigate the distress, let alone address the tragedy of suicide by farmers.

It is shocking that 86,922 farmers in the country committed suicide between 2001 and 2005. The rate rose sharply to 17,060 in 2006. Maharashtra tops the list followed by Andhra Pradesh. An estimated 40,000 farmers in Punjab killed themselves between 1988 and 2006. They could not withstand the impact of natural calamities and were not able to repay the loans. The Vidarbha region has around 2.4 million small and marginal farmers. Rural indebtedness, the insufferable pangs of hunger, the failure of crops either because of spurious fertilisers and pesticides or unseasonal rain and hailstorms or drought have been the critical factors behind these tragedies.

Another problem is that the farmers have not been receiving proper remunerative price for their produce. The government effected certain policy changes in an effort to help the farming community. It removed the restrictions on storage, sale and movement of food and agro-products. However, these steps did not prove effective in checking the rate of suicides.

The agro policy had earlier envisaged an annual growth of over four per cent. It provided a comprehensive crop insurance for farmers from sowing to post-harvest operations to protect their interests. Agriculture was also accorded the status of industry.

But it is the rich and progressive farmers who have been the beneficiaries of the government’s measures. In consequence, the disparity between the rich and the poor has widened considerably. The poor peasants obtained loans to be in step with the rich farmers. But the misery deepened with the failure of their crops. Also, agricultural development in Maharashtra did not generate adequate employment opportunities. As a result, there was a sharp increase in the number of unemployed youth.

India’s new economic policy has posed a challenge to the farm sector because of the burgeoning population, dwindling natural resources, the depleting underground water resources and growing indebtedness. In recent years, the stagnating yield and decline in productivity are the disturbing trends. It is now apparent that certain problems are rooted in the Green Revolution. There has been a general degradation of environment and natural resources.

The national agro policy was framed to meet the major challenges of Indian agriculture, chiefly to ensure food security and restructure the agricultural sector so as to benefit the farming community. It highlighted various shortcomings in the rural sector in respect of regional disparities, marked by uneven development and low levels of productivity, low incomes and unfavourable prices, problems relating to rainfed and dryland areas, unemployment, lack of rural industry, constraints on movement, storage and sale of agro-products and so on.

The policy envisaged an effective pricing strategy to ensure remunerative and profitable rates to the farmers and a better distribution system for the needy. There was a degree of flexibility in the fixing of support prices on a regional basis to protect farmers from the adverse impact of price fluctuations in the world market. The rural-based approach was intended to meet the socio-economic aspirations of the farmers and to improve their standard of living.

Today’s agriculture is a high-cost and energy-intensive technology, which needs high inputs in respect of quality seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation, farm mechanisation etc. Therefore, farming has become an expensive proposition. It is the rich and progressive farmers who are in a position to provide these inputs. No wonder they have been the beneficiaries of the government’s policies. The small and marginal farmers could hardly afford the required inputs. Further, there was no mechanism that could assist the impoverished farmers. As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor farmers has widened. The rich became richer and the poor poorer. The rich farmers became big landlords and a privileged group, and this intensified the wide disparity in the rural areas. The farm policy has to work out a mechanism that will provide for subsidised inputs and incentive pricing to the poor. This will raise this segment above the poverty line.

In rural India, agriculture is the most important means of livelihood for over 65 per cent of the population. It is, therefore, essential to achieve sustainable development of agriculture. The agro policy should aim at developing agro-based industries. This will generate employment and income for the poor round the year. Small and marginal farmers as well as farm labourers will thus be gainfully employed and will not have seek employment elsewhere. This may even raise their income level to enable them to procure food.

Our food output in 2009-10 declined to 218.19 million tones from 234.47 million tones in 2008-09. The reason was insufficient rain in 2009. The population has increased by 1.4 per cent over the last five years. It has risen to 119.8 crore in 2009-10 from 115.4 crores in 2008-09. Therefore, the present food output will not be enough for the country if the entire half-fed population is fully fed. At present, one-third of the population is half-fed because of poverty and lack of purchasing power.

Thus, it is urgently imperative to overhaul socio-economic and farm policies in order to remove rural disparities. The public distribution system has to be revamped and the "Antyodaya Anna Yojana" programme expanded to cover rural households. The task of ensuring food to the poor to make the country hunger-free is extremely challenging. It is important to implement the poverty-alleviation programmes in order to ensure food availability to the poor farmers to and prevent suicides among them.

(The Statesman/ANN)
The writer is former Principal Scientist, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi

Investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 can break entrenched cycles of poverty & inequity, UNICEF says in its 2011 State of W.C.R.

Invest in youth to tackle poverty, says UNICEF

March 7, 2011, 10:34 pm

Investing in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents aged 10-19 can break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity, UNICEF says in its 2011 State of the World’s Children report entitled Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity, which was released during a ceremony in Colombo, on Friday.

The report was launched in partnership with the Youth Affairs and Skills Development Ministry.

It states that strong investments during the last two decades have resulted in enormous gains for young children up to the age of 10. The 33 percent drop in the global under-five mortality rate shows that many more young lives have been saved, in most of the world ‘s regions girls are almost as likely as boys to go to primary school, and millions of children now benefit from improved access to safe water and critical medicines such as routine vaccinations.

Youth Affairs and Skills Development Minister Dullas Alahapperuma said that greater investment in the education and training of youth could break the root causes of poverty and discrimination and significantly contribute to the growth of Sri Lanka’s economy.

The UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka, Reza Hossaini said that adolescents face a unique set of collective global challenges, including an uncertain economic outlook, high levels of youth unemployment, an escalating number of humanitarian crises, climate change and rapid urbanisation. "Faced with these challenges, we have to equip young people with the skills and knowledge to build a prosperous and peaceful future."

The report sets out that adolescence is a critically important age. Young people who are poor or marginalised are less likely to make the transition to secondary education during adolescence, and they are more likely to experience exploitation, abuse and violence such as domestic labour and child marriage, especially if they are girls. Girls who marry early are most at risk of being caught up in a negative cycle of premature child-bearing, high rates of maternal mortality and child undernutrition.Girls also experience higher rates of domestic and/or sexual violence than boys and are more susceptible to the risk of HIV infection.

Sri Lanka has an adolescent population of more than three million. Steady investments in health, education and water and sanitation services have resulted in improving and high survival rates, better literacy levels and improved access to safe water and sanitation.

This new report provides data on youth around the world and indicates 28 births per 1,000 girls, aged 15-19 in Sri Lanka. This figure is lower than the South Asian average which stands at 54 births per 1,000, aged 15-19. It also suggests up to 54 per cent of females aged between 15 and 19 in Sri Lanka believe that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife.

With 81 million young people out of work globally in 2009, youth unemployment remains a concern in almost every country. An increasingly technological labour market requires skills that many young people do not possess. In many countries large teenage populations are a unique demographic asset that is often overlooked,the report adds.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

APRC recommended devolution of power to the regions& power-sharing at the centre! However, SINHALA President had buried the final report...!!!

Of International Forums and Local Aspirations
March 5, 2011, 4:06 pm

By Ahilan Kadirgamar

Over the last week, I participated in two discussions on Sri Lanka in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Harvard University, as an activist with the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, I was on a panel discussion with Ambassador Palitha Kohona and Prof. Vasuki Nesiah, moderated by Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former Under-Secretary under the Bush Administration and now on the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government. At the other discussion, I spoke at length to a number of graduate students at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Both events attracted individuals who had some interest in Sri Lanka, and while the Harvard event was politically charged with respect to recent events, the Fletcher discussion provided some room to delve into deeper historical and political questions about Sri Lanka’s place in the international order and the manner in which global political economy has shaped our state and society.

There is always an element of disconnect at international forums, with respect to the historical and ground realities of Sri Lanka. Here, western academic institutions are also encumbered by the generalizations and biases of distance. At such talks, my first concern is to dispel what the mainstream media in the west often characterizes as a Sinhalese-Tamil conflict. Such characterisation ignores the existence of the Muslim and Up-Country Tamil communities, as well as the history and continuing coexistence of all communities. A deeper understanding articulates the problem as not one between communities, but between the state and various minorities and classes; of how, historically, the political elite in all the communities, particularly the ruling regimes, had failed to address this problem, allowed it to fester and permitted militant forces to respond with armed violence leading to the massive destruction of our society. Indeed, the decades-long war in the North and East and the two major insurrections have ravaged our social, economic and political fabric.

Rebuilding our society then is about reforming the state, borrowing on what many Lankan scholars have debated as constitutional architectures for devolution of power and power-sharing. It is also about demilitarizing state and society, which as a priority must include ending the culture of impunity and ensuring freedom of expression. Whatever reforms attempted in recent times have been mere tokenisms and clearly inadequate. Furthermore, it raises questions about our economy, of the rural/urban divide, the marginalisation of certain classes, the mounting inequalities, and our diminishing sense of social welfare. Such changes to our state, society and economy will not be possible without a deepening process of democratisation, which would allow for greater participation and empowerment of all sections of society and checks on the powers of our ruling regimes. Indeed our ruling regimes have either created or failed to address problems that come back to haunt us in the future.

My generation and the two generations before me saw destruction in ways that one never imagined possible. When I think about my discussions with students and young lecturers during my many visits to Peradeniya University, or for that matter my discussions last year at the Eastern University, they were engaging and enriching. Clearly, it is the political commitment to a shared future held by these youth that is encouraging. And it is here that I place my hope most of all, in the next generation of youth. What kind of society and what kind of democratic space is there for the generation that has come of age during the war? One likes to hope that, at least of this generation, visionary social movements and actors with a democratic and plural ethos will emerge to shape a future that might finally confront our troubling postcolonial history, a history replete with tragic and short-sighted politics that our past and current political leaders have continued to repeat.

In the interest of placing my views on record, and to give a sense of what I attempted to convey during the short time available for opening remarks at the panel at Harvard University, I provide a transcript here:

At the outset, I must express my concern about the contested character of any discussion on Sri Lanka. Critical views in the spirit of constructive engagement are often distorted in the public sphere. Here, the Sri Lanka Democracy Forum, to which I belong, has always valued critical engagement and, when necessary, not shied from criticizing any actor, whether it is the Sri Lankan state, the LTTE or international actors. Next, neither I, nor my views are representative of any community within Sri Lanka or for that matter the Tamil Diaspora. In fact, the Tamil community is not homogenous. Rather, I believe in the importance of dissent. And my political commitments are towards a democratic, just, plural and united Sri Lanka.

The recent history of Tamil politics, from the separatist call to the armed struggle, has devastated the Tamil community. Tamil dissent foresaw this tragedy unfold, but was unable to change the political dynamics to salvage the country as a whole from such destruction, and the Tamil community in particular, in the face of the fascist and suicidal politics of the Tamil Tigers. However, there are no victors in this brutal war. Sri Lanka as a whole has lost in terms of the thousands of wasted lives, of tremendous suffering and economic devastation. Here the blame must be shared by the political elite from all communities for not arriving at an amicable solution that could have projected a politics to avoid the war. Thus we have all failed.

It is in this context that Sri Lanka’s post-war moment is an important opportunity to address the root causes of the conflict, through a far-reaching process of democratisation coupled with a constitutional settlement acceptable to all people: the Sinhalese population and particularly the minorities - Lankan Tamils, Muslims and Up-Country Tamils. Indeed, the devolution debate over the last two decades and the All Party Representative Committee process, appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, have recommended devolution of power to the regions and power-sharing at the centre. However, the President seems to have buried the final report and recommendations of the APRC, the substance of which I believe are essential political conditions for meaningful reconciliation.

Almost two years after the end of the war and the decisive decimation of the LTTE, the Rajapaksa government’s approach to post-war Sri Lanka has been very worrying. Their priorities seem to be two-fold, to consolidate the power of the Rajapaksa regime and a singular focus on "economic development" as the solution to all of Sri Lanka’s woes. The only constitutional change that it has engaged with is the 18th Amendment, which removes the two-term limit on the Executive Presidency and extends powers over the appointment of independent commissions responsible for broader governance. Now, development for a war-devastated country is indeed important, but the process of development and whether it is inclusive and transparent, will ultimately decide if all the communities feel they have a stake in such development. Without a parallel track of greater democratisation and a political process to address the grievances of the different communities and classes, "economic development" can breed resentment. Sadly, Sri Lanka’s great opening and opportunity for a sustainable peace with meaningful reconciliation, I worry, are quickly being washed away by the narrow interests of the Rajapaksa regime.

With respect to the issue of reconciliation, the centre stage given to Sinhala Buddhist nationalists by the Rajapaksa government continues to alienate the minorities and polarises the country. Indeed, throughout our history, extreme Tamil nationalism and extreme Sinhala Buddhist nationalism have reinforced each other to the detriment of progressive actors within all communities. The appointment of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission a year after the end of the war is welcome, particularly given the near absence of reconciliation initiatives. However, the mandate of the LLRC is far too narrow to address the long history of the conflict and the breadth of abuses by all actors. The LLRC has the limited mandate of looking at developments between 2002 and 2009 and particularly the failure of the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002. We can only hope that the LLRC will bring out its recommendations soon and that its work will not drag on. Similarly, the panel of advisors appointed by the UN Secretary General also has a limited mandate. Both reports should be made public for engagement by the people and assist in the opening of space for reconciliation. However, both these mechanisms are clearly inadequate to address the challenges of meaningful reconciliation.

A country that has gone through decades of armed conflict and two devastating insurrections in its short six-decades-long independent history needs a much more robust process of reconciliation. From the war-time decades of militarization, there needs to be a process of democratisation that changes the political culture. The constitution of the country needs to go through fundamental change. There needs to be an accounting of those who were killed and disappeared, particularly given allegations of tens of thousands of deaths caused by both parties to the last phase of the war. The people affected by the war should be given the space to mourn and heal their wounds. In all of this, as with development, the United Nations and the international actors that engage with Sri Lanka have a role, but ultimately, it will be change that only the people of Sri Lanka can bring about. Creating the democratic space for the people inside the country to lead in such change remains the priority for any form of solidarity.

Opening Remarks, "War, Peace and Reconciliation: The Way Forward for Sri Lanka", Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1 March 2011

Planned water storage does not mean big hydro reservoirs, but rehabilitated irrigation tanks, and localized mini rural schemes, says Team leader/WMI.!

Planned water storage might still solve impending climate change disasters says two experts
March 5, 2011, 7:01 pm

Text by Steve A. Morrell

Planned water storage does not mean big hydro reservoirs, but rehabilitated irrigation tanks, and localized mini rural schemes, says Team leader, Water Availability and Access International Water Management Institute, Dr. Vladimir Smakhtin. Rising sea levels and changing monsoon patterns coupled with environmental differences in temperature would have debilitating effect on global ecology, he said in an interview with The Sunday Island. "The effects would not be inconsiderable", he warned..

What could be measured is being done, but as with most scientific data each read–out could see variances subject to new approaches that would emerge, he noted.

In the Indian Sub Continent spatial access to water varies from one region to the other. However, country-scale distribution have identified areas that are well endowed with sufficient precipitation. Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Orissa are areas where water and access are concerned, there is no real problem.

Sri Lanka too is well within these areas of water endowment. However, parts of Pakistan where desert conditions prevail have to distinctly manage available water., Smakhtin explained.

"In this context, Green House mitigation and extreme 4 emission levels have to be urgently addressed and controls be to be put in place".

Emission levels presently being severe is gradually melting the ice cap causing rising sea waters. In Sri Lanka, coastal areas from Jaffna surrounding the entire island would be submerged, he further warned.

More to be concerned would be salt intrusions into the main fresh water ways causing substantial damage to the prevailing eco system, he said.

Visiting Adjunct Professor Mike Muller, said globally there was great variation in water use. African countries are faced with bigger challenges, and should be addressed and discussed.

At the conference on Water at IWMI last week, he said Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are all present discussing interconnected water problems.

However, one obvious conclusion is that river basins bisecting states should be controlled by the central government and not left to management to each state, he said.

Australia was a good example where about 10 years of discussion broke down in the management of the waters of the Murray- Darling. States through which the river flowed could not agree on a common policy for water distribution where each state claimed priority, he said.

He said in South Africa there was no such problem. This crucial necessity when the subject came to be discussed, common consensus was that river waters be managed by the central Government.

In Europe water availability is not a real problem. More so demand is much smaller. Conversely in South Asia water is intensively used and management in these areas is much more challenging, Muller noted.

Australia is therefore not a good example for water management. What is now necessary is water partnerships to ensure equitable distribution, he suggested.

However, politicians the world over have propelled their own laws and invariably caused one disaster or the other which in the larger picture did not quite solve problems but caused more dissatisfaction, he said.

"The Australian example stands out as an instance of bungling".