Photo courtesy Tamil Guardian
For the last couple of months we have been wallowing in the CHOGM Dilemma- will it happen or will it not? Which country will be represented? How many of the Heads of State will attend? What kind of rabbit will the Diaspora pull out from their magic bag? Which of the states will come out without blemish if the commonwealth values are applied uniformly to all? Will Sri Lanka be angry and lash out, at all the accusations of deficit, in the last stages of the war against terrorism and/or since then in governance?
When, oh when will this caravan move on? Then will it be business as usual?
CHOGM for the rest of us ordinary Lankans is an equally traumatic period. It is a question of ‘to be or not to be’? When the CHOGM conference is in process the wish of most is to become ‘invisible’. That would be the only way to get by all the closed roads and through no entry points at various public places.
Be that may let’s wish the conference great success and Sri Lanka lots of luck.
Once all this is over, regardless of what was said or not said at the CHOGM, Sri Lankans need to begin with serious retrospection as to where we are and where we want the country to be. The first concern of the people will necessarily have to be focused on:
- Inclusivity – Inclusivity of all the people in spirit and in action through planned strategies to create a strong Sri Lankan identity regardless of other ethnic or cultural divisions within the polity. It is necessary to reach out to those with whom we are estranged and, if need be, build brick by brick, a genuine community of Sri Lankans.
- Civic culture and democratic ethos- Create awareness amongst the people of their rights and responsibilities vital for active partnership with the governance processes. This should pave the way to transform a ‘passive people’ to become pro-active responsible citizens. Periodic elections alone will not deliver the democratic ethos. Not only at elections but more so afterwards, civic society must aggressively posture themselves to be reckoned with – to be leaders of their destiny- in the decision making process. Too often this role which legitimately belongs to those who elected their representatives on a mutually agreed take on the manifesto is acquired and manipulated by the powerful and the rich and a variety of interest groups. Civic culture will thrive if humanity is allowed to prevail in guiding the political and societal destiny of the people. This trend will post a fresh look at attitudes and thought processes which will contribute to the building of the moral base to knit society together. This approach to civic culture will resonate with the needs of the time and encourage mutual trust and fairness to tilt effectively towards dispelling ethnic hatred, intolerance and fear while paving the way for movement forward towards democratic pluralism.
- To make this a reality there has to be a significant change in the hearts and minds of the people not only in that of the decision makers. A wise decision would be to keep an open mind and a pragmatic approach to hitherto held ideological assumptions. “Pragmatism is the best guiding spirit” to have as the people go forward further into the post conflict period. All the communities living in this country, Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays, or Indians need to rethink their political mandate to accommodate the rights, interests and the equal recognition and protection of interests of the totality of the constituent members of the communities. Majority/minority considerations have to become an archaic rendition.
- No doubt to work out the perceptions that concentrate on people’s interests as opposed to the present dogma of largely majoritarian perceptions would require new institutions that will help smoothen the irritants of the past and provide some gleanings of hope for the future. Institution building to manage the contradictions in society is the first step towards resolution of outstanding issues. But institution building alone is inadequate. It has to be given infusion of hope based on the principle of equality and appropriate strategies that will not only be inspirational but also give credibility to the process. Membership to such an institution should not be on terms of proportionality, of ethnic, religious or other divisions. The ideal will be a membership of fifteen composed of individuals who can constructively contribute a politically and without other predispositions to the resource base of the organization and work out strategies for the welfare of the plural polity within a united nation state. It is vital that the vision presented highlights the value of cooperation which should induce people to abandon their narrow dreams of reliving past history and ideologies that have brought about confrontations causing present and future generations to suffer from the consequences. In this setting chauvinism under any brand will have no place.
- Today some of the core problems of the country are evident in the ever increasing level of corruption, abuse of power, politicization, lack of judicial accountability and the obscene level of impunity prevailing in the country. Accountability has to be seen as a measure of fairness in governance vital for securing a value based moral society. The standards of accountability and transparency of each and every action has to be applicable to all with no exceptions. During periods of social unrest actions violating natural justice and the code of jurisprudence gain a degree of forbearance that cannot be permitted in peace times. It is vital to condemn such transgressions and ensure that strict conformity to the rule of law is maintained. Arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances, assassination are some of the violations repeatedly committed during the period of conflict as well as in the post conflict period. This has been the much touted areas of accountability the country has been called upon to respond to by the international community. The new institution will be relevant, if it does not fight shy of such charges. It would be a call of duty to investigate them and if the charges can be substantiated seek ways of redressing/ compensating victims as a process of restorative justice. A sovereign country is responsible to her people for all its actions irrespective of international scrutiny. It would be imperative to see that international pressure is not applied through a freeze in the country in following up on its responsibilities.
- The focus of this institution should be to see that social justice is spread out for all without differentiation. Obviously inequality is going to exist for many years to come but what would be acceptable is if the institution is seen to work effectively in implementing programs.
- Collaborating for progress of the country must be a commitment for all. The President and the Cabinet, the Government and the Provincial Councils (and other local government institutions) Government and the Opposition, must adopt the credo that whatever their differences the interests of the country and the people have to be their priority concern. The constitution has provided for these institutions and the parameters within which each must function. Those who are part of this constitutional edifice are obligated to work the system confining themselves to the letter and the spirit of the constitution not to manipulate the system to serve parochial interests. A majority of Sri Lankan politicians have been masters of the manipulative teething problems attended to strengthen the system. Governmental processes must be developed, teething problems attended to strengthen the system. Freedom to critique will have to be a vital prerequisite. However, working in partnership will open up avenues for cooperation which will activate people to people engagement with the other players in the field. When such contacts are made differences will begin to recede in importance even as areas of convergence will come to the forefront. It is necessary to look at points of linkages as connectivity for greater understanding and not as intrusions into another’s territory. Celebrating the commonalities will help to understand the differences. In understanding the differences accommodation becomes a tool for action providing the hope for peaceful coexistence. This is the recipe for patience and restraint, for tolerance and reconciliation. It is up to the strong minded to take up the challenge to build with the available tools. The road will lead to unity of purpose, of hearts and minds.