Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: How peace and development feed on each other

News and Press Release
Originally published
by Jayantha Dhanapala
Sujatha Jayawardena Memorial Oration delivered by Jayantha Dhanapala, Secretary General, Government Peace Secretariat, on July 14, under the aegis of the University of Colombo Alumni Association.

May I begin by thanking the University of Colombo Alumni Association for inviting me to deliver this "Oration" - a grandiloquent and somewhat pompous description of my simple effort to share some thoughts with you this evening.

Dag Hammarksjold, the most revered UN Secretary-General ever to hold the office, once wrote "The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you hear what is sounding outside.

And only he who listens can speak." I hope my qualification to speak today is that I have listened over a lifetime of service - as a national diplomat and an international civil servant - to the connected causes of peace, disarmament and human rights. The fact that I am an alumnus of 'the other place' up in the hills, which my fellow alumni from Peradeniya and I proudly regard as the most picturesque campus in the world, has been a strong reason for me to welcome this invitation.

A stronger reason is that I have this opportunity of paying a sincere tribute to the memory of Sujatha Jayawardena who I had the privilege of knowing personally together with other members of her family. Her dynamic personality, her versatile talents and her wide ranging interests alone were sufficient to mark her as an outstanding person of her time.

Exquisite exponent of Bharatha Natyam and other forms of dancing, gifted actress on stage and film, talented TV personality, conservationist and social activist - Sujatha Jayawardena played many roles in addition to being an exemplary wife and mother. But it is her warm and generous concern for her fellow citizens and her robust social conscience that will most be remembered. It is fitting that her magnificent work to help the students of the University of Colombo, through her energetic fund-raising efforts to build a hostel for women students, is so well recognised and commemorated in a country where memories are notoriously short and where.

"The evil that men do lives after them.

The good is oft interred with their bones." The Sujatha Jayawardene Memorial Hostel Complex for women undergraduates and this memorial oration remain as permanent tributes to a great and noble lady.

Perhaps a more appropriate way to perpetuate the memory of what Sujatha Jayawardena did for the students of the University of Colombo is for all of us to address the urgent issues of student poverty and other problems confronting the university students of all our universities and seek solutions for them.

Alumni have a special role to play and I was glad to learn of a scholarship program which the University of Peradeniya alumni have begun for needy students in that university. Lalith Athulathmudali's pioneering Mahapola Scholarship Program - a major contribution to student welfare at the time - needs to be supplemented in the context of the rising cost of living today.

I have chosen as my theme for today a subject that dominates the daily discourse of all of us as we, in our sixth decade as modern, democratic and pluralistic nation, struggle to achieve the yet incomplete post independence nation building task overcoming, and not blaming, the legacy of four and half centuries of Western colonialism. In doing so I must state very clearly that I express my personal opinions which are not necessarily the views of the Peace Secretariat or the Government.

I am deeply convinced that peace, development and human rights are the tripod on which we must base the future governance of our country a united and democratic nation in the interests of all its citizens and their legitimate aspirations.

A collapse or weakening of any one of the legs of the tripod will lead to disastrous consequences. As a democracy we must place our faith in dialogue. It has to be an all-inclusive dialogue with all those involved and affected by the conflict. Peace is not an event; it is an incremental process.

It involves as change of mind sets of those directly involved in the conflict, those who cheered the combatants on and those of us - the majority - who helplessly watched the horror of war visit our own land causing an estimated 65,000 deaths, half of them civilians, 1.2 million displaced, thousands traumatised and an ongoing brutalisation of our society and its value-system.

The mere signature of a ceasefire agreement cannot be a transformational event. It has to be supported by a genuine desire on both sides to make peace work. Large scale fighting has stopped but if the issues that caused the conflict are left to fester there is a danger of conflict resuming. A ceasefire, however flawed it may be, is a valuable opportunity to build peace. For that direct negotiations between the Government and the LTTE, which broke off in April 2003, must be resumed urgently.

The dust of the controversy over the signature of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the establishment of a Post-Tsunami management Operational Structure (P-TOMS) between the Government and the LTTE has not settled. While the MoU was conceived primarily as an administrative arrangement "to deliver expeditious relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development" to the coastal areas of six districts in the North and East, issues over negotiating any agreement with the LTTE and the future of the peace process itself have been raised.

It is important, therefore, to ascertain how broad-based the support for peace is in this country where, even as a democracy, the silence of the majority is frequently interpreted as an acquiescence with the views of the stridently vocal minority.

In addition to the debilitating frequency of elections with blurred policy choices, the absence of referenda on specific issues prevents the emergence of the truth of what the people really think. To compensate for this, at least partially, we now have professionally conducted opinion polls by independent organisations in our country as a reality check.

A series of polls under the Knowledge Attitudes and Practice (KAP) survey have revealed the full extent of the peace constituency in Sri Lanka. KAP-1 conducted in June 2003 and KAP-2 undertaken in July and August 2004 in 21 of the 25 districts in the country have given us in the Peace Secretariat valuable information to correct the more elite and urban based political opinions we hear on a daily basis.

First and foremost it was revealed that the overwhelming majority of citizens from all ethnic groups and regions strongly favoured a peace agreement to end the conflict. Almost all those surveyed felt that a peace agreement would bring significant benefits while a return to war would be disastrous. One innovative aspect of the surveys was the linking of peace proposals in packages or bundles that call for compromises or trade-offs the inevitable feature of any negotiated political solution.

The findings showed that people were able to make sophisticated judgements over the compromises that were necessary and that certain bundles could lead to a public acceptance of proposals that were unacceptable when they were presented in isolation.

The frame within which questions are posed and the presentation of counter-arguments are other techniques used to elicit responses that proved a greater flexibility of our public opinion than what we have recently heard on platforms and seen on the street. A more recent survey, conducted this year, showed that a majority of 72.4% regarded the current 'no war no peace' situation as unsatisfactory and agreed that the Government and the LTTE should negotiate a permanent solution. This opinion cut across ethnic divisions.

A small minority of 5.6% still believed that war was the only route for a permanent solution. Within ethnic groups there were different perceptions of the Government and the LTTE's commitment to peace, their motives and their respective ability to achieve peace.

Reflecting the views of all ethnic groups 54.2% believed that the tsunami had decreased the prospect of war. The most significant statistic I would like to quote is the 65.5% who approved of the facilitation of an agreement between the Government and the LTTE on a joint mechanism to effectively distribute and utilise tsunami relief as against 25.9% who disapproved and 8.5% who were in the "Don't know" category.

My point therefore is that we must all be very cautious in discriminating between the demagogue and demonstrators who say they are the voice of the people and the authentic majority view of the average man or woman in the streets of our cities and towns and in the heartland of our rural villages.

May I now move on to the link between peace and development the interdependence of which, both globally and nationally, is too self evident to require detailed explanation. And yet the uncompromising opponents of peace would sacrifice the fruits of peace for a resumption of war or the perpetuation of the fragile ceasefire situation we are in.

While there can be no development without peace it is also true that there can be no peace without development. Viewed on a global scale the United Nations Report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change entitled "A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility" noted that the internal conflicts of states, rather than inter-state wars, dominated the global security scene in the post World War II period and that these conflicts showed a remarkable correlation between poverty and civil war.

Based on data from several sources the report showed that at a per capita GDP of less than $250 there is a 12% probability of the onset of civil war which declines dramatically to a little over 2% at a per capita GDP figure of $ 5000. "Make Poverty History" must therefore not only be a slogan for the young demonstrators on the streets of Edinburgh as the G8 leaders assembled, but it must also be a global policy for the UN and international organisations and state policy for all our nations.

There are of course international strategies for development to reduce poverty in view of the highly integrated world we live in and the Millennium Development Goals. There is also the influence of external factors in the economy of any developing country.

At the same time there are policy choices we can make in our national development strategies that will improve the living conditions of all citizens in all regions equitably. Grievances, especially ethnic-based perceptions of discrimination, are nurtured by the lack of development. As the Finance Minister noted in his Budget Speech last year the share of the poorest 40% in the national income declined from 21% in 1980 to 14% in 2002 whereas the share of the richest 20% increased to 54%.

Lopsided development of one region can also lead to allegations of discrimination and the heavy preponderance of the Western Province in its share of the national GDP (43-49% in the 1996-2003 period) is a case in point. The Northern Province in contrast had the lowest per capita GDP of the country. So not only must we have pro-poor development strategies but we must also have regional development strategies with their implications for meeting the aspirations of minority ethnic groups especially in the North and the East.

But let us begin with the current situation before we talk of an interlocking peace and development strategy for the future. The North and the East have in fact benefited from the ceasefire since the beginning of 2002 despite the protestations of the LTTE and others but obviously more, much more, needs to be done.

While poverty can cause conflict, the conflict has also caused poverty especially in the North and East of our country. At this point of time only a permanent peace can reverse this in a sustainable way. Development is ultimately an investment in peace. It builds a firewall against conflict.

The Government is totally committed to the development of the North and East as an integral part of its development strategy for the country and the admirable work of the Ministry of Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation, both before and after the tsunami, proves that.

It is what the people of the North and East want. I am greatly indebted to my colleagues Seneka Abeyratne and Rajith Lakshman of the Economic Division of the Peace Secretariat for their original research providing a quantitative analysis of how the CFA has triggered economic growth in the North and East.

The findings of Abeyratne and Lakshman, which I hope will soon be published, are (and I quote):

"a) The GDP of the Northern Province grew by an average of 12.6% during the post-CFA period compared to 3.4% during the pre-CFA period;

b) the GDP of the Eastern Province increased by 10.1% per annum during the post-CFA period, compared to 4.6% during the pre-CFA period;

c) the GDP of the North-Central Province (NCP), which shared common borders with the Northern Province and Eastern Province, increased by 8.2% per annum in the post-CFA period compared to -0.2% in the pre-CFA period;

d) the Northern Province grew twice as fast as the Western Province (WP) in respect of annual post-CFA GDP growth (12.6% versus 6.2%);

e) while pre-CFA GDP growth was highest in the Western Province (6.0%) followed by the Southern Province (5.5%); annual GDP growth in these two provinces during the post-CFA period was more or less the same as during the pre-CFA period;

f) pre-CFA growth was lowest in the Sabaragamuwa Province (-3.0% per annum) while post-CFA growth was lowest in the North-Western Province (-1.4% per annum).... The facts speak for themselves; the Northern Province, Eastern Province and North Central Province are the only thee regions to have realized significantly higher GDP growth rates during the post-CFA period compared to the pre-CFA period.

It is therefore plausible to argue that the increase in the average GDP growth rate of Sri Lanka as a whole from 3.9% per annum in the pre-CFA period to 5.0% per annum in the post-CFA period was due largely to the exceptionally high growth rates realized collectively by these three provinces.

Indeed, these findings are compelling evidence that the transition from war to peace has realised a substantial economic dividend in the three main provinces affected by the civil conflict (two directly and one indirectly), from which the entire country has also benefited to some extent as reflected in the higher average GDP growth rate for Sri Lanka in the post-CFA period compared to that of the pre-CFA period."

Analysing the statistics further Abeyratne and Lakshman say (and I quote again): "The most positive feature of the post-CFA economic experience has been the phenomenal growth of the agricultural sector (in real terms) in the Northern Province (32% per annum) and Eastern Province (19% per annum) compared to 4.3% and 4.9%, respectively, during the pre-CFA period.

On the basis of data published by the Department of Census and Statistics, it is possible to demonstrate a marked increase in paddy production in the affected areas during the transition period. In the Northern Province, annual paddy production averaged 138,000 metric tons during post-CFA period compared to 65,000 metric tons during the (pre-CFA) period while in the eastern Province, the post-CFA average was 752,000 metric tons compared to pre-CFA average of 619,000 metric tons.

The combined share of the North and East in national paddy production is also significantly higher in the post-CFA period (31%) than in the pre-CFA period (27%). Hence, its contribution to enhanced food security is also significant.

Undoubtedly, this dramatic agricultural revival is due largely to the creation of a more stable, secure and enabling environment for economic development, i.e. absence of war, reopening of the A9, lifting of the trade embargo, and access to markets in regions outside the North and East, as well as supporting services and infrastructure facilities provided by donor-funded projects, such as the North-East Irrigated Agriculture Project (NEIAP) and the North-East Coastal Restoration and Development Project (NECORD).

Given that the farming community in the North-East consists largely of small-holders, this growth is likely to be broad-based as well as pro-poor.

It is interesting to note that the other two-sectors (industry and services) have also shown positive growth during the post-CFA period in both provinces, which means the creation of productive employment opportunities in these two sectors as well. We should note, in particular, the growth of the industrial sector in the Northern Province, which averaged 11.6% during the post-CFA period, compared to - 2.0% during the pre-CFA period."

Comprehensive data on pre and post-CFA private investments in the North and East are not available. But in some sectors, such as banking, retail trade, and information communication technologies, there are clear signs of increased private sector activity in the conflict affected areas since the signing of the CFA.

The communications sector, especially, has showed no hesitation in venturing into high-risk investment. For example, Dialog Telecom, which was not operating in the North and East prior to the CFA, has invested more than US$ one million in the Northern and Eastern Provinces since then. Of the 1.5 million mobile users in the country, 250,000 (17%) are located in the North and East alone. This statistic is highly significant when the combined population of the North and East is only 13% of the total.

It is true that while the North and East directly benefited from the ceasefire the national economy as a whole has only benefited moderately. Post ceasefire growth rates in the North and East can be sustained and improved with greater impact to the national economy if we can consolidate the peace process, implement the post conflict and post tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction programme and move towards reopening direct negotiations with the LTTE within the framework of the Oslo Decisions that they signed with the Government on December 5,2002.

Let me now identify some of the very specific programmes being undertaken in the North and East, since the ceasefire was signed.

* The Government through the Ministry of RRR has been delivering humanitarian and development assistance to the affected people of the North and East, including those in the uncleared areas of Mullaitivu and Killinochchi with the cooperation of the LTTE. The RRR Ministry is at present implementing an impressive number of projects which include resettlement of internally displaced persons and assistance to host communities, rehabilitation of provision of basic physical infrastructure such as roads, power, and communication facilities as well as rebuilding of social and communal services such as health, education, sanitation and judicial services.

* Since the ceasefire agreement was signed the 'Triple R' Ministry with donor assistance has rebuilt and rehabilitated minor irrigation schemes, rural roads, drinking water wells, service providing buildings, schools and health facilities.

* The CFA has also enabled the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons and to some extent the return of refugees to Sri Lanka. Up to March 2005, the Government with the assistance of UNHCR has resettled 383,990 IDPs in the North and East. A large number of refugees mainly from India has also returned to the country since then.

* The demining efforts undertaken by the Government together with NGOs have facilitated this resettlement of IDPs as well as reconstruction and rehabilitation work in the North and East. Consequent to the ceasefire agreement, a comprehensive programme for demining is being coordinated and implemented by the GOSL during the last 2 years.

The objective is to have a 'Mine Free Sri Lanka by the end of 2006'. It is a little known fact that the Field Engineers of the Sri Lanka Army were the pioneers in humanitarian mine action in Sri Lanka and have now become the most professional demining unit in the country.

* furthermore, countries like Sri Lanka, which have been affected by conflict, have to think about how to improve the investment climate in general, and also come up with investment promotion strategies specific to the conflict-affected areas. Attracting private-sector investment in troubled areas is not easy. At present the Government is negotiating a Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) facility to promote investment in the North and East. MIGA is the political risk insurance arm of the World Bank which promotes foreign direct investment in developing countries by insuring against political risk and by providing technical assistance.

In an effort to consolidate and strengthen some of these efforts, the cluster for Donor Co-ordination and North East Development (NEDCO) of the National Council for Economic Development is chaired by me. The cluster members including development partners meet once a quarter to review key policy and implementation issues relating to relief, rehabilitation and reconciliation and address implementation bottlenecks in the North and East.

So much for the development aspect of the subject of my oration or the essential economic underpinnings of peace. What about the peace negotiations themselves? Time does not permit a detailed analysis of past peace negotiations - what happened and why they failed. Suffice to say that the quest for peace has gone on right through the conflict and talks have been held at different times by successive Governments.

Each phase of the peace negotiations continues from the other with elements of both continuity and change. We must try to learn from the past negotiations to ensure we do not repeat their failures. We have today the longest respite from fighting that we have ever had. But in that respite let us not forget that the six rounds of talks held by the UNF Government took place in a limited time frame of just 7 months.

The structures created as a result of decisions reached at the talks - the Sub-Committee for De-escalation and Normalisation, the Gender Committee and SIHRN - are not functioning. The Oslo Decision signed by the two sides in December 2002, agreed "to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka." This remains a dead letter with the LTTE steadfastly refusing to reiterate it publicly.

The Ceasefire Agreement, despite the best efforts of the Nordic staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, has a sorry record of violations - 3,906 by the LTTE and 132 by the Government Political killings - especially of Government security personnel and of Tamils opposed to the LTTE - and child recruitment continue despite worldwide condemnations.

No mechanism exists for corrective action or targeted sanctions against violations. Suspicion and deep mistrust continue to mark the relations between the two sides

Since March 2004, a dramatic split in the ranks of the LTTE has created further problems. The murky internecine war going on between the Karuna Group and the LTTE, imposes major burdens on the Government to maintain law and order.

Confidence-building measures and reconciliation initiatives begun by the UNF Government in a different context are more difficult to implement in the changed security situation. Public confidence in the role of the facilitator is eroding in the growing frustration over the current situation.

With the change of Government in 2004, a fresh impetus appeared. The acceptance of the Ceasefire Agreement, the reiteration of the objective of a politically negotiated solution, the retention of the services of Norway as facilitator and the strengthening of the existing Peace Secretariat were all part of the continuity that signifyes a broad consensus between the two main national parties on the conduct of the peace process.

Additionally, the establishment of the National Advisory Council for Peace and Reconciliation (which has still to realise its full potential), reconciliation measure such as the payment of compensation to the victims of the July 1983 riots on the basis of the Truth Commission report, the amalgamation of all bodies dealing with rehabilitation, relief and reconstruction under one Ministry with the President as its Minister and several other policy measures augured well for a fresh chapter in the peace process.

But it is direct peace negotiations that are critical in any peace process and that has eluded both sides so far. A dispute over the agenda probably conceals other factors. The stalemate from April to December 2004 over the reopening of negotiations revolved around whether the ISGA alone should be the only subject of the agenda as the LTTE demanded or whether all proposals for an interim authority should be discussed as a prelude to a final settlement within the framework of the Oslo decision of December 2002, as the Government proposed.

At this point, the Tsunami intervened and I would like to quote the President who addressed the nation two days after the Tsunami -

"This is a moment of great humility for us all. We have been incredibly humbled by nature's great forces. An ineluctable truth has been laid bare before us all. The mighty forces of Nature have compelled us to learn a lesson that some of us refused for long to learn. We have to act together, if we are to emerge from the ashes of this destruction.

This disaster has not been selective in the destruction it has wreaked. Tidal waves have treated all people alike. Nature does not differentiate in the treatment of peoples. Loss of life, loss and destruction of property take place irrespective of whether it is in the North or South. It does not differentiate between the Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims.

It knows no difference between religions or castes: the high and low in society or the rich and the poor. It is necessary that we reflect carefully upon this lesson nature has taught us."

We did reflect on the impact of the Tsunami and as a consequence a negotiating process was inaugurated between the Government and the LTTE which resulted in the MoU on P-TOMS. This has now been signed although the controversy continues to reverberate. There are several aspects of the MoU that need to be highlighted.

* It is fundamentally a response to an urgent humanitarian need to provide foreign donor assistance to the coastal communities of 6 districts in the North and East who were affected by the Tsunami.

* The equitable allocation of post-tsunami donor funds to all parts of Sri Lanka affected by the tsunami is based on accepted needs assessments that have been prepared by TAFREN and the multilateral agencies.

* The fundamental human rights principle that there should be no discrimination against any person on grounds such as ethnic origin, sex, langauge, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, birth or other status, is firmly embedded in the document.

* The high level committee will be guided by the principles that funds should be allocated in proportion to the number of affected persons and the extent of damage.

* The principle of adequate gender representation in the regional and district committees has been provided for.

* The Ceasefire Agreement 'shall continue in full force and effect and nothing in this MoU shall be construed to prejudice this agreement or alter in an any way". Thus the status of the high security zones and the security of our coastal areas under government control will be unaffected.

* The interests of minority communities in the North and East are protected from the arbitrary exercise of power by the LTTE, especially in the Regional Committee.

There will be transparency and accountability at all levels together with the participation of civil society, non-LTTE Tamil parties at the District Committee level and donor community observers at the Regional and High Level Committees.

* As a party to the MoU, the Government of Sri Lanka can suspend its cooperation in the High Level Committee even before the expiry of one year duration of the MoU, if it appears that there is no consensus on the implementation of P-TOMS.

* The "proper approved procedures" to be followed by the Regional fund and the required agreement "on a mechanism for the establishment and operation of the Regional Fund" will in fact result in the Treasury - by whom all donor funds are received - being authorised by the cabinet to sign an agreement with the World Bank to route donor funds for approved proposals via the relevant line Ministry to the Regional Fund to be disbursed to implementing agencies under the strictest financial procedures, accounting and auditing standards, subject to Parliamentary approval of proposed expenditures.

* The Government's decision not to establish a similar structure for the South and West of the country also affected by the tsunami, arose out of a conviction that the existing Government machinery was entirely adequate.

Apart from the immediate objective of providing post-Tsunami reconstruction aid to the citizens of the North and East, a successful working of this three-tier structure of committees would be an opportunity for the LTTE, the Government and the Muslim parties to work together in a spirit of partnership and cooperation so that consensus decisions can be taken benefiting all communities. It is my fervent hope that this will generate trust and confidence that can lead to a reopening of direct negotiations with positive results.

Let us, as John Lennon once sang, "Give peace a chance".

Let us also not take the current ceasefire for granted and let us endeavour to make the fundamental attitudinal changes to achieve peace and development in Sri Lanka.