We Fell Into The American Trap – Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe
Reputed for his outspoken nature Professor Rajiva Wijesinghe feels that the government has been too hasty in proscribing the Diaspora groups, and the Foreign Ministry has done nothing about the LLRC recommendation to build up positive relations with the Diaspora. Instead, Professor Wijesinghe said, in an interview with The Sunday Leader, “as happened with Dayan Jayatilleka, they engaged in adverse propaganda about those who talked to the moderate Tamils.
No attempt has been made to work with multi-racial groups in Britain or Australia, where there are very moderate Tamils. But when you have a lunatic situation where the person supposedly in charge of implementation of the LLRC initially was suspicious of people simply because they were Tamil, you have a recipe for disaster.” Professor Wijesinghe feels that the government has now institutionalized a blunderbuss sort of approach which will alienate the positive people, while having no doubt that those who are engaged in nefarious pursuits will still manage to slip through the net.
Following are excerpts:
Q. How will the listing of Diaspora groups impact the reconciliation process?
A: This seems to have been a hasty decision without proper consideration of the possible consequences. The general tendency of our decision makers in promoting reconciliation seems to be to do too little too late, but this time it is a question of too much too late.We should have sent a very clear message, four years ago, about the disruptive impact of certain Diaspora groups while working positively with the majority. Four years ago, when I still had an executive position and met the British Foreign Office, they told me that we should be talking to the Tamils, which I said was obviously the case. When they mentioned the TGTE, I told them that was an outrageous suggestion, and they should distinguish between the TNA and Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are our people on behalf of whom too we fought terrorist and separatist movements which had encouraged and financed terror.
Q: Would this send a negative image to the international donor agencies operating in Sri Lanka?
A: I think the donor agencies have no illusions about the failure of government to develop clear guidelines. They appreciate that lots of good things have been done with their support, but that nothing of this targets reconciliation is now apparent. I have recently drawn up guidelines, on the suggestion of a very helpful donor decision maker who unfortunately has now left us, about how we could work together more coherently on support for reconciliation. We need to involve the more humane ministries, who can work together with NGOs without being overcome by mutual suspicions. We must also ensure better consultation of local communities, but we should set in place mechanisms for this, and give greater responsibilities to Divisional Secretaries, rather than leaving proposals to emerge without coherence from individual NGOs which cannot see the whole picture.
Q: There is a fear that, as the next step after listing the Diaspora, the government is going to target the NGO’s over funding received from the Diaspora. Is this a good move?
A: Following the intrusive resolution in Geneva, this seems another sign of panic. I think the idea of targeting NGOs is wrong, but we should certainly have better monitoring mechanisms about funding. I have long advocated this, but those in authority are so incompetent that they have failed to set in place the necessary measures. Soon after I entered Parliament, I asked several questions about funding. The government failed to reply. I don’t think they have even bothered about checking on the tax position of various organizations that get massive amounts of funding.
The point I kept making was that, while we could not demand that donors did what we wanted with their money, they had no right to do what they wanted without consulting us. We should have mutually agreed guidelines, which we tried to develop when I was Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, with a mandate to coordinate assistance. But then the Northern Task Force pushed us out so that it could build up the monolith that has proved so disastrous in the North in terms of winning hearts and minds, even though it has done wonders in terms of construction.
The Secretary to the Task Force, who is very competent, did ask me to check on some NGO reports, but then he was not able to work on what I produced, even though he has subsequently confirmed that those I said were not working had in fact done little. Unfortunately, those who have no discriminatory skills continue, as the President said perceptively, but unfortunately without taking remedial action, to clasp everything to themselves. Then, when problems arise, they come down like a ton of bricks, and destroy everything. The recent effort to sabotage the massive UN/EU grant is another case in point, but fortunately the President intervened and saved that project.
Q: As the former head of the peace secretariat, which played a role in facilitating peace between the LTTE and the government, do you feel that having a confrontational approach with the Diaspora is good for the future?
A: It will be disastrous, because it ignores the many positive people in the Diaspora. But I fear that we are adopting what I have characterized as the Western practice of confrontation on the basis of oppositioning, rather than the more inclusive and circular Eastern approach. J R Jayewardene did this in destroying the moderates, amongst both the Sinhalese and the Tamils, until he was left with the LTTE and the JVP, which led to torment for the country for many years.
Q: How should Sri Lanka deal with the whole UNHRC issue and the resolution which was adopted recently?
A: We have been provided with a lifeline by the statesmanlike speech of the Indian representative in Geneva, and this has been fleshed out now by the Indian High Commissioner in Colombo.
But in fact they have said nothing new, because this was precisely what the LLRC recommended, and we should have worked on that swiftly and systematically. Unfortunately we fell into the American trap and, when they claimed the LLRC was not enough, our mirror images of extremism claimed it was too much.
You will remember that, when practically everyone welcomed the LLRC, it was only the Americans, the CPA and the TNA who were excessively critical, the last two I believe following the American lead as they had done over Sarath Fonseka. I believe the President, who appointed the LLRC, who immediately tabled its report in Parliament, who wanted an action plan and then got his efficient secretary to produce one when those he first entrusted with the task did nothing, would like to move forward.
I can only hope he listens to those members of the SLFP who have now at last begun to understand the problems they will face if they leave decisions to interlopers with no understanding of traditional moderate and people friendly policies.
Interviewd by Camelia Nathaniel