A Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Building National Harmony has been appointed on Friday following a motion to that effect which was passed in Parliament last Wednesday.
Despite national harmony in the country or reconciliation -- as it is called -- in the recent times being a long sought situation the news about this Parliamentary Select Committee did not seem to have created any enthusiasm among the people in general and minority communities in particular who are at the receiving end whenever the peace and harmony among communities are disturbed.
This is nothing but the lack of trust on the peace efforts made by government or non-governmental entities for the past four decades. The situation in the country is such that the peace efforts are looked at by both the people of the south as well as north with suspicion or ridicule. Also, interestingly those efforts have always been stimulus of fresh controversies and certain southern politicians have created a situation where even the word reconciliation is being hated or ridiculed.
Earlier we have had two PSCs -- one during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure and the other during the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime- round table conferences, All Party Conferences and peace talks with armed rebels since 1984, for the same purpose, and a huge amount of tax payers’ money had been spent on them. But all have gone down the drain with nobody or no entity being prepared to take the responsibility for any such effort or its failure.
The present government has given or pretends to give an elevated place for peace, national harmony and reconciliation in the process of governance. It is such a prominent place that it has been a major concern in the government’s constitution making process and the very place, in turn, has become a stumbling block in that process.
Government’s concern about peace and communal harmony is being well manifested by the number of entities -- ministries and other organizations -- that have been formed by it, apart from the PSC appointed last week. One of the initial steps that were taken by the government on its assumption of office in January, 2015 was the creation of two ministries charged with the responsibility of bringing in much needed peace and harmony. The Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation has been placed under President Maithripala Sirisena, indicating the top priority that has been given by the government to national harmony while another ministry, the Ministry of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages has been assigned to Mano Ganesan, a minority leader.
Apart from this, two more bodies namely, the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) and the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) have been established for the same purpose, in the wake of the present government assumed office in 2015. ONUR was the result of a resolution which was moved by the Prime Minister; approved by the Cabinet and was Established under President, chaired by Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
The SCRM seems to have stemmed from the resolutions adopted by the UNHRC on Sri Lanka. Mano Tittawella is the Secretary General of the SCRM, which is entrusted with coordinating transitional justice mechanisms in Sri Lanka such as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), Truth Seeking Commission, Accountability Mechanism and Office for Reparations -- some of which are yet to be set up.
However, we did not see any of these ministries or bodies being in action or at least on the ground when the canard on contraceptive pills was spread after several Muslim owned properties were torched in February or when anti-Muslim riots were unleashed in several towns in the Kandy District in March. Neither did we see these entities when the Northern Provincial Council passed resolutions that provoked Sinhalese sentiments nor when Tamil politicians such as Vijayakala Maheshwaran called for the resurrection of the LTTE.
Instead, the ONUR itself is in a midst of a controversy over its inappropriate usage of wordings in some of the radio dramas it had sponsored, in the name of reconciliation. Unless the latest Parliamentary Select Committee takes these matters into consideration it also would be another body further burdening the public coffers, in the name of reconciliation.