In a news item telecast over ITN at 9.30 pm on 23rd March 2012, Hon Maithripala Sirisena, Minister of Health accused Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka as an NGO of being responsible for instigating farmers to protest. He also claimed that Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka had a presence in Geneva where the UN Human Rights Council had its 19th Sessions recently.
As Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka which is the social arm of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka functioning under the purview of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka, we unequivocally state that these allegations are baseless, unfounded and without even a semblance of truth.
Apart from the fact that Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka is not an NGO, we are especially saddened by the fact that the Hon Minister has chosen to level such accusations at a faith-based institution with a history of over 40 years, having rendered yeoman service to the people of this country without any considerations of ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.
During the many years of ethnic conflict and in the aftermath of the devastating tsunami, Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka was present among the unfortunate victims of these disasters and helped in the relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction process. We always worked in close cooperation with the Government and collaborated with State officials and military authorities with whom we have endeavoured to maintain cordial relations.
The records will show that our commitment to serve the people of Sri Lanka received the recognition of the highest authorities in the land. Worthy of special mention is the Presidential Award bestowed on Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka in 2005 for the construction of a record 10,713 permanent houses and 12,616 temporary shelters for tsunami affected families, 34,163 tsunami affected farmers and 26,967 fishermen were directly assisted for their livelihood and 46,984 persons in self employment ventures.
Presently, we continue to assist in the resettlement process in the North and East by building core houses, providing livelihoods, educational and psychosocial support to a large number of war victims who are in need of these services. All such activities are carried out with the approval of the Presidential Task Force (PTF). At the same time, we are mindful of the needs of poor and marginalized people in other parts of the country and are implementing various programs which are of benefit to them.
As a Church institution, Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka has always had tire welfare of the people as its motivating force. We have been sensitive to their needs. We have sought to uphold the dignity and the rights of the people even in challenging circumstances. Moreover, we have never engaged in any activity inimical to our Motherland and her people. Nor have we at any time encouraged or promoted any unpatriotic measures that would undermine tire sovereignty of the nation.
It is regrettable that such serious charges should be leveled at our institution by a senior and responsible Cabinet Minister of the Government. This kind of statement therefore is most unfortunate and yet we reiterate that our commitment to the service of the poor and the marginalized will continue in the hue spirit of the faith we represent, even in the future.
(Rev.Dr.Harold Anthony Perera is chairman of Caritas SEDEC Sri Lanka)