Colombo, Economy, Politics and Governance, Post-War

Post-conflict Transition and Aid Effectiveness: Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka – Part 2

[Editors note: Read Part 1 of this article here.]

Economic and Governance Challenges in Post-conflict Areas
The Rajapakse government is increasingly dovetailing its policies to make Lanka a destination of Indian and Chinese investment. As a first step in attracting investments in the former north-east conflict zones, the government recently announced a 15-year tax holiday for companies setting up operations in these regions. Among those queuing up are NTPC, Cairn, L&T, Purvankara and various information-technology (IT) companies. India’s National Thermal Power Corporation is expected to sign an agreement soon to set up a 1,000 MW coal based power plant in Trincomalee with an investment of US$500 million, while Cairn India has received approvals for oil exploration projects at a cost of US$400 million. Infrastructure companies Larsen & Toubro and Puravankara are also headed to the island nation to set up shopping complexes and housing projects. BSNL recently bid for the Sri Lankan operations of Luxembourg-based mobile service provider, Millicom International. Sri Lanka is seeking technological investments too. Meetings with IT majors like Mphasis, HCL and Accenture to set up delivery centres concluded, according to C. Ignatius, Director of the Board of Investment, the Sri Lankan government’s investment promotion agency.

Clearly, development cannot be a substitute for democracy and power-sharing with the minority communities in the north and east. Rather, development and democratisation must be concurrent. Currently, in the northeast, some government-backed Tamil paramilitaries continue to engage in the old war economy of terror, extortion, taxation and cronyism. Development priorities are not done in line with the development needs and priorities of local populations, but are rather controlled by Colombo, particularly, the President’s brother, Basil Rajapakse, who controls northeast reconstruction with related crony capitalists.

There are anxieties about a land grab of valuable coastal lands from IDPs to build hotels and for a Special Economic Zones particularly in the Sampur area in the Trincomallee District where INTP is to build its coal power plant and other parts of the north east at this time. Simultaneously, moderate Tamil voices remain marginalised from the development process. In the context, there is an urgent need to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and devolve power to the provincial and regional governments. The Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, a former LTTE child soldier that was part of an eastern wing that broke away from the organisation and supported the government, has repeatedly stated that his office is marginalised and does not receive the funds necessary for reconstruction and development work in the eastern province. Moreover, recently, the highly respected University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna reported that while fishing restrictions by the navy have been lifted in the conflict affected regions, Tamil fisherman were and harassed by the navy, when Sinhala fisherman brought to Mannar (on the west coast), were challenged by the native Tamil and Muslim fishers of the area who have smaller boats and no political or military backing.

Aid effectiveness and responsible donor-ship
International donors would need to co-ordinate and strategically target their efforts to ensure aid effectiveness, democratization and Human Rights in post-conflict Sri Lanka. The EU’s removal of the GSP plus facility would affect many working and poor women. At the macro-level in the context of an expanded defense budget for 2010 despite the end of the war, the IMF may need to review the situation before disbursement of the second tranch of its 2.6 billion loan to the Government of Sri Lanka. The expanded military budget may be subsidizing corruption in high places given aid fungibility, this is especially so since military budgets are rarely open to scrutiny for reasons of “national security”. At this time questions are being raised as to whether the defense budget is part of a Rajapakse slush fund given that significant parts of the almost defunct Mihin Airlines budget came out of Defense, and the President and his brother are the Minister and Secretary of Defense.

Locally in the north-eastern post conflict zone, the old land and resource conflicts and forms of state-sponsored economic discrimination against the minorities that were at the root of the 27 year war need to be addressed in a transparent and objective manner to ensure economic justice and necessary reconciliation, particularly for people who have been displaced and the traumatised in the 30 years of war between the government and the LTTE in the north and east. In the context, post-conflict reconstruction assistance provided by foreign donors must have provision for tracking, monitoring and evaluation of aid projects by independent academics and civil society experts to ensure transparency and that the funds reach their intended beneficiaries. Aid should not contribute to a new set of conflicts and conflict-sensitive aid policy and frameworks are necessary. Aside from Japan, the new Asian donors tend to have a circumscribed view on aid and have not been concerned about linking aid to good governance or human rights, monitoring and evaluation that have increasingly been part of OECD aid frameworks which have recognized during long experience that aid could fuel poor governance, corruption, and cycles of conflict.

Simultaneously, the current regime in Colombo needs to reaffirm that Sri Lanka is a multicultural and multi-religious polity and a Commission on ethno-religious equality should to be set up. Finally, the challenge would be to move from a national security state to the human security paradigm that puts people and equitable human development first in the post-conflict period to ensure sustainable peace in Sri Lanka. In the language of human rights, this would entail balancing civil and political rights with economic and social rights.

Local-global disjuncture in the post-conflict aftermath
In post-conflict Sri Lanka, it is apparent that there is a disjuncture between a significant part of the international community and domestic opinion. Domestically, President Rajapakse and the UPF government enjoy high levels of popularity for defeating the LTTE, listed as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organisations in the world. The conflict was a 30-year scourge on the country, with an estimated 80,000 killed and well over half a million displaced internally and into the Sri Lanka diaspora during that time. Prime Minister Wickremanayake announced during his United Nations General Assembly address that the last thrust to defeat the LTTE had cost the country US$2.8 billion. At this time, a majority of people in Sri Lanka, regardless of their ethnicity, are glad that the bombs are not longer going off, their children have a more secure future and the prospect for development in the country is brighter than it has been in the past three decades of armed conflict. Yet the question of reconciliation and substantive peace-building which would entail re-structuring of the highly centralised state and power-sharing with the minorities in northeast Sri Lanka remains.

A general and a presidential election are expected in 2010. President Rajapakse and the SLFP are widely expected to sweep through, given the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. President Rajapakse’s personal popularity and the ruling UPF coalition government’s popularity is evident in the local government and municipal council elections held in August and October 2009 in the southern and northern districts. In the south, the ruling party’s candidate won almost 80 percent of the vote. Municipal council elections were held in Jaffna and Vavuniya. In the north, the results were mixed, with the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (headed by a former rebel, Douglas Devananda) which supports the government, winning in the Jaffna municipal council elections, while in Vavuniya, where over 250,000 people are held in internment camps, the TNA which is the LTTE’s political front, won.

There is a continuing trust deficit between Colombo on the one hand, and the United Nations and West on the other, which was not helped by Colombo’s decision to cancel the visa of a United Nations employee in the country last month – for the first time. At the same time, the European Union is currently pondering and likely to extend the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP)-plus facility, which if lost to the country, could significantly affect the garment sector. The extension of the European Union’s GSP plus facility is linked to the human rights situation in the island.

Sri Lanka was once recognised as a leader in the developing world in the decades following independence in 1948. During the heydays of the Non-Aligned Movement, the island’s politicians and diplomats wielded an influence disproportionate to the county’s size on the international stage. During those decades, Sri Lanka was also considered an ‘outlier’ with some of Asia’s best human and social development indicators despite relatively low per capita income. However, the last 30 years of armed conflict and the form of its ending has tarnished the county’s international reputation.

It may be that the government that won the war in Sri Lanka may loose the peace but the jury is still out on this matter. Having succeeded in comprehensively defeating the LTTE and securing the lasting gratitude of the majority of the people, the government has a golden opportunity to move quickly to heal the wounds wrought by three decades of war on the island’s multicultural and multi-faith social fabric, by ensuring demilitarisation and restoration of full democratic rights and institutions, including a repeal of the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

At the same time, the Sri Lankan’s defeat of the LTTE raises the question of how, when and under what circumstances do the ends justify the means in combating terrorism. The key players in the international community, including the United States and the European Union, had listed the LTTE as one of the most dangerous terrorist organisations in the world and the mess of the final show down was orchestrated by the LTTE that held civilians as human shields. The international community had agreed that the LTTE needed to be neutralised but the means employed by the Sri Lankan government have been regarded as excessive. On the other hand, there are claims about western hypocrisy with regard to the war on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where tens of thousands have been displaced and drones that target terrorists also fall on civilians. It seems that there are degrees of difference and these degrees matter when it comes to the numbers of persons killed and displaced and the manner in which this is done, as well as, perhaps, most importantly, how reconciliation, peace-building and post-conflict justice is enabled.