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Sri Lanka: Democratizing the North

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran

A dialogue on governance, development and vulnerability

Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister, Northern Provincial Council delivered the opening address at a discussion on “Democratizing the North: A Dialogue on Governance, Development and Vulnerability on January 10th at the Green Grass Hotel Jaffna. The dialogue was organized by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). Justice Wigneswaran spoke on the Governance.

New Year 2014 is starting well for us. The War had got us into a cocoon in which we managed howsoever we could, not really appreciating the changes taking place locally and globally all around us.
We failed to appreciate the nuances of political or administrative terminology too. We are thankful to ICES for coming forward to help us to get out of our niche by introducing to us the processes that are functioning in the field of Governance and Development not forgetting to identify areas of vulnerability.

The term “good governance” is a loaded term. It is viewed in the modem Sri Lank context as a term used to criticize or stifle or malign a regime even if that regime itself may pay lip service to the term. Espousing “good governance” would be met with a cheer in certain quarters of our society and would be decried as an instrument of Western conspiracy in others. The more restrained may refer to it as a Western philosophic terminology that requires a home grown alternative. These variegated views arise because each person has his or her own conditioned background and agenda whether in espousing good governance or seeking to undermine its significance. Let me be candid and. state that my views on good governance are shaped no doubt by the challenge that we face in the Northern Province.

Good governance has many facets and it may be useful to clarify the different ways in which we could understand it. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCO) defines good governance as “the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”. Put differently, good governance is about how we make decisions. The UNESCO identifies the following eight characteristics of good governance viz

1. Participatory

2. Consensus orients

3. Accountable

4. Transparent

5. Responsive

6. Effective and efficient

7. Equitable and inclusive

8. Follows the rule of law

Good governance could also be understood as the successful relationship between the different stakeholders in society. Sam Agree notes in the Commonwealth publication, Promoting Good Governance — Principles, Practices and Perspectives that good governance could be understood through the following Governance structures:

* the relationship between government and citizens

* the relationship between governments and markets

* the relationship between governments and the voluntary or private sector

* the relationship between elected (politicians) and appointed (civil servants)

* the relationship between local government institutions and urban and rural dwellers

* the relationship between the legislature and the executive

* the relationship between nation states and international institutions.

In other words, good governance is about the intricate web of interconnection that forms the fabric of society and how well those connections function in relation to and in conjunction with each other.

For me good governance is then about three Ds which encapsulate the different ideas discussed – Dialogue, Duty and Discipline. I will try to explain my view of good. governance in the context of the special challenges that we have faced in Sri Lanka, and in particular the Northern Provincial Council.

First and foremost good governance is about Dialogue. Dialogue between the various stakeholders as discussed earlier – the government, its different branches, the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, its citizens, the market regulators, civil servants and even other countries, multinationals and INGOs. Without proper dialogue, there can be no communication of interests or needs. There can be no sharing of concerns. Without a governing entity being privy to the needs of its polity it. can hardly be expected to address their concerns. Recently when I asked my colleagues in the Provincial Council to obtain the needs and wants of their respective constituents, some farmers in Vavuniya had said that this was the first time that those who govern had asked them what their wants and needs and problems are. In other words our governing entities hitherto had foisted their selective decisions on the people.

This is my democracy bias comes in. It is possible to have an efficient and sometimes even effective system of governance, even without a democratic framework. There could be a philosopher – king who may be able to lead his people towards the light. But in my view, the probability of having philosopher – kings who can put the interests of their people above their own in today’s context is miniscule. More importantly, the extremely complex society in which we live makes it extremely difficult for a central authority to divine the needs of all groups of people and govern. them accordingly. Inevitably, the governance regime will be captured by a powerful few to the detriment of the many. This is why we need a democratic framework, where the peoples’ wishes are represented and addressed. The rationale for such a framework is dialogue.

Two important issues, particularly relevant to the Northern Provincial Council, should be understood in the context of dialogue.

Firstly dialogue cannot be one — way but both ways. Take for example a Military set up where soldiers are expected to carry out orders without question based on the grand strategy of the commanders. One cannot wage war by deliberating or voting on battlefield strategies. That requires a different mindset and understandably so.

A democratic framework is fundamentally different — for the source of power and the beneficiaries are the People. The governance structures are the framework for the trustees of those structures to deliver benefits to the people. This framework is important as it displaces the traditional idea of the governor and the governed and replaces it with a collaborative structure of a trusteeship. This is why I have been requesting for the removal of the Army from the Northern Province. Five years have passed since the end of the war and the same Army who killed and maimed our people during the war have been allowed to stay back here. The security of the Northern People far from being ensured has been aggravated. Several IDPs have not been repositioned in their residences. Their houses are the dwelling quarters of the Armed Men. People’s lands taken over in acres by the Army are cultivated by them with adequate financial help from the Government. The locals have to purchase produce from their own personal lands cultivated by Armed Men. One could go on expatiating on the effect such stationing of the Military among the civilians has had on their community and personal life. Women and children are the persons worst affected.
 courtesy  – The Island

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