By Vidya Abhayagunawardena
An eagerly awaited National Action Plan (NAP) or the road map to implement the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC report of 2011 November) was tabled in July 2012 by the presidential Secretariat and also made available for the general public two days later.
To finalize the NAP, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Task Force headed by the Secretary to the President to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC. Subsequently NAP was approved by the Cabinet before it was made available to the public. The NAP reflects Sri Lanka’s commitment to achieving considerable reconciliation and particularly to win the hearts and minds of people affected by the conflict, to counter attack the LTTE diaspora activities against the government, increase the government vote base in the conflict- affected areas, and particularly in the upcoming elections for the Eastern and Northern Provincial Councils.
The Government of USA had warmly welcomed the release of the NAP by the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) stating : We have long encouraged the full implementation of the recommendations outlined by the LLRC. We believe that full implementation of the NAP will benefit all citizens of Sri Lanka by furthering long-term reconciliation and lasting peace. This statement is welcome news for the GOSL because the US Government led a coalition against Sri Lanka which passed a resolution at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2011.
Ministries to carry out LLRC recommendations in the NAP
The NAP has named the implementation of recommendations according to activity, key responsible agency, key performance indicators (KPI) with a timeframe for each task. To carry out activities listed in the NAP, the GOSL has indentified 19 Ministries and their related departments and commissions with the Presidential Secretariat. But, still some will argue that, why other key ministries were left out or not involved in the NAP to implement the LLRC recommendations? All the government institutions should be part of this exercise and they can be given the task of addressing the sub-recommendations of the LLRC, if the government is considering wider implementation of LLRC recommendations.
Who will work for the most vulnerable?
The LLRC has identified the vulnerable groups such as women, children, IDPs and disabled and made valuable recommends regarding them. Such as meeting of basic needs of these groups should be a matter of priority for the Government in the current post conflict environment, while durable solution should be found in the medium and long term, without which a sustainable and all inclusive reconciliation process cannot be achieved. It has been reported that there are over 80,000 war widows in the aftermath of the war in the North and Eastern Provinces. There are some children without parents found through the survey carried out by the Ministry of Defence with the assistance from the UNICEF. The Commission strongly recommends that support for children, especially in their education, should remain a key priority. Providing schools, teachers, school supplies, financial and other forms of support such as scholarships should be considered in this regard. The provision of better educational and health facilities, and the continued support, financial and material, for children’s homes and orphanages are also vital in this endeavour. But there is no such activity given to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs except minor activity with three other ministries to assess the impact of existing programmes to improve health, education and housing facilities for the estate sector, to identify areas that require improvement and revise programmes to make interventions more effective. This came under the LLRC recommendation to ensure the post conflict development agenda and programmes for reconciliation take account of the essential needs of the Tamils of Indian origin. Improve the health and educational facilities and also provide better living condition in the estate areas. Within a six-month timeframe involvement with other ministries such as Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Plantation Industries has to prepare a publication of a report indicating the effectiveness of banks existing programmes under the KPI.
The Ministry of Social Services (MSS) is not included in the NAP as the implement agency. The MSS should be allocated key activities with regard to the issue of vulnerable people including elderly and disabled persons in the conflict-affected areas. As this ministry’s mission states “To make the disadvantaged, partners in national development by providing conducive environment and opportunities through policy initiatives in Social Welfare & Social Development”. The MSS is mandated to provide services for elders, person with disabilities and single parent families. With regard to the elderly persons the LLRC has recognizes and recommends that elderls in the conflict affected areas have suffered immensely, and sometimes left to provide for their extended families for many years throughout the conflict as their children and grandchildren have become direct victims of the conflict with physical difficulties, psychological trauma and economic hardships to address those issues setting up programmes to improve the conditions of such people.
The role of Provincial Councils (PC) and Local Governments
The Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils should also be a part of implementation partners of the LLRC at some point. The PC's consist of ministries which also can carry out some of the NAP activities supposed to be carried out by the central government ministries and departments. The Local Government bodies such as Municipal Councils, Town Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas involvement in this regard is vital. Those independent political bodies will be able to make real change in the ground level catalyst in decentralization of power to the periphery from the centre. The LLRC strongly encourages the Government, local authorities and other stakeholders, including community and civil society organizations to pay special attention to create child friendly environments in the areas affected by the conflict including easy access to schools, better healthcare facilities, recreational facilities such as play grounds, and children’s parks. Most of the developed countries have achieved high socio economic development at grass roots levels mainly due to the strength of their respective local government bodies and Sri Lanka could follow the same.
Support the global initiatives and link with them constructively
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had briefed the diplomatic and donor community based in Colombo after the NAP was published. With the international community the GOSL expects to build a strong relationship and regain the international community support in development and reconstruction work in post war Sri Lanka. Also to seek the attitudinal changes from negative to positive by the western governments and particularly from neighbouring India on Sri Lanka with the NAP implementation. It is very important for Sri Lanka when they engage with the international community in this endeavour to looking at and accede to the international treaties, conventions which will bring positive impact on post war Sri Lankan’s rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. The commission recommends that necessary national legislations be put in place to realize the rights of persons with disabilities in line with the UN Convention on Rights of Person with Disabilities and also there they refer to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons and its Five Protocols (CCW Convention); the 1997 Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of Anti Personal Landmines; the 1999 Protocol to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict; and the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. MEA would have been allocated with an activity and a timeframe to accede the above conventions and treaties in the NAP.
The establishment of MNLSI by the GOSL needs to be appreciated
In post-war Sri Lanka, the Government has taken a wiser decision in setting up a brand new ministry for National Languages and Social Integration (MNSLI) and also appointing a minister who is capable enough and with sufficient knowledge to handle the subject matter. Such a ministry needs to become one of the key ministries in the cabinet and needs to allocate sufficient human and financial resources from the national budget if Sri Lanka is looking for a genuine reconciliation process. Not only the MNLSI but also its related institutes such as; Department of Official Languages (DOL), National Institute for Language and Education Training (NILET) and also Official Languages Commission (OLC) need their support in the same manner.
Sri Lanka needs a new ministry for Diaspora Activities and Develop
Setting up a Ministry for Diaspora Activities and Development in post-war Sri Lanka would be another wiser decision if the government thinks of this as a serious issue. Sri Lanka has the second largest diaspora community, around 3 million in the world today according to newspaper reports. “Diaspora” the word always has been a negative meaning in the popular political culture in Sri Lanka and particularly the Tamil Diaspora. The LLRC mentioned that ‘hostile diaspora groups’ can potentially undermine the genuine efforts in Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. But there are thousands of people in the Tamil Diaspora who are against the LTTE cause and some Tamil diaspora groups seek to contribute constructively to broad based reconciliation efforts including development partners in areas such as housing, schooling, healthcare and livelihoods activities. And also there are thousands of Sinhala, Muslim and Burgher diaspora who live in other countries and many of them left Sri Lanka mainly due to the conflict. The majority of them are highly skilled and wealthy people.Setting up such a ministry would be a wiser idea and to tap their knowledge, expertise and capital for the country’s economic development drive.
The way forwardment
If the Sri Lankan government is capable enough to achieve sufficient targets under the key performance indicators (KPI) as it is listed in the NAP, it will bring some results in coming years and months as planned. To achieve more results there is still room to expand the NAP and to increase its activities and add more partners (ministries and provincial councils particularly the North and East). Broadening such activities will reach wider sectors in the community, particularly the most deprived or vulnerable people affected by three decades of bloody conflict and help relieve their post-war traumas.
Writer is a researcher in socioeconomic development.