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Towards a National Policy

“The hegemony of economics in development has rendered cost-benefit analyses to only take quantifiable, economic criteria into consideration. Pain of mind, harm to families, break-up of communities, disruption of social networks, loss of employment opportunities, disturbance of local cultures these are all costs that find no place in the segmented, one-dimensional equation of the economist.”
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by Mahinda Rajapaksa

(March 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) I thank the organisers for inviting me to deliver a Minister’s address at the inaugural session of the workshop that focuses on the need for developing a National Policy on Involuntary Resettlement in Sri Lanka. Though a mission to New York which I have been constrained to undertake at this very time precludes me from being present in person at the workshop, I take this opportunity to place before you, all, my own perspective on the issue of Involuntary Dislocation and Resettlement.

As you are aware, I represent the Hambantota District tucked away in the deep south. Ours is one of the more economically backward districts in the country. My development vision for the people of our district includes three large infrastructure projects for which we are trying to lobby the support of the international donor community. These three projects of which we dream and for which we plan are the Hambantota Port, the Extension of the Southern Expressway and Railway to run through the Hambantota District, and an International Airport in the District. While the vast majority of people living in this economically backward district, apart from others, will benefit immensely, it has also to be realised that the lives and homes of a few thousands of others, albeit a minority, will be adversely affected. Their community structures will no doubt be disrupted; their social networks disturbed; their livelihoods and employment opportunities affected; their local cultures disturbed; and, their productive assets such as their lands, houses and sources of raw materials rudely snatched away from their grasp. The dilemma that will confront us in the Hambantota District finds itself replicated wherever major infrastructure projects are, have been or will be implemented.

The dilemma of which I speak is a necessary offshoot of Development. How we grapple with it depends, therefore, on our vision of Development. To me, coming as I do from a rustic, rural background, Development is a holistic process of societal upliftment and progress. Development is a process through which the totality of society holistically improves its well-being. Economic and technological improvement when integrated with ethical, moral, social, spiritual and environmental upliftment constitutes, in my view, what Development is all about. The goal of development is the creation of a coherent, integrated society, free of poverty and the exploitation of man by man. As such it is a moral society in which a system of ethics, drawn from the spiritual spaces of the inner self, guides all dimensions of interaction, be they social, economic or political.

Development, therefore, is not a matter of economics and technology alone. On the contrary, it is expressive of a much broader, much wider, all inclusive process. As I understand Development, its concern is not with people seen as economic objects but with people seen as total human beings. At a time at which the imperialism of the market and the hegemony of economics are aggressively invading the thoughts and minds of most people in all parts of the world, I consider it my responsibility to articulate to the best of my ability the holistic concept of Development to which the simple rural people of our district still subscribe.

Development therefore is not a simple matter of rupees and cents. It is also not a numbers game. It is not morally or ethically correct to say that in the interest of the ‘majority’ who will benefit from an infrastructure project, the sad and painful dislocation of a ‘minority’ of persons is justified and legitimate. Development is not predicated on majorities and minorities, on economic cost-benefit analyses alone or on segmented professionalism and technique. Development is predicated on the coherence and integrity of the totality of society taken as a whole.

In order that we may translate the above concept of Development into practice in the context of major infrastructure projects which require the re-settlement of people adversely affected, I now move on to propose Nine Guidelines for a People Centred National Policy on Involuntary Resettlement.

1. Those who are adversely affected should be perceived as constituting an integral part of the development process in the same way and to the same degree as those who are likely to benefit from it. In practical terms this means that the project should be planned in consultation with them. Their participation should commence in the pre-planning stage itself and continue through the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation stages as well. Through such a process of dialogue and negotiation between the project agency and the people, it is expected that the project design and implementation will take a form and shape in which those who are leaving their lands and homes in the interest of the project will themselves be gaining very definite benefits from the project itself.

2. If the communities or persons affected adversely by a development project are to be transformed into active partners of the development activity itself, there should be absolute transparency on the part of the project agency in their relationship with those who are likely to be affected. In practical terms this means that there should be a free and transparent flow of information from the project agency to the people through all the stages of the life cycle of the project. This also means that appropriate institutional arrangements should be made for this purpose and incorporated into the project design and budget.

3. At the very start of the project life cycle itself, the people likely to be adversely affected should be organised at a micro or grassroots level. For example in the case of an Expressway, the communities affected should be mobilised into a series of micro level community based organisations along the route through which the road will run. This should be followed with a programme of awareness building in the communities about the project, its objectives, its practicalities and its time frame. Once a desirable level of awareness about the project is achieved, the project agency should commence an on-going dialogue with the community based organisations. The objective of this exercise is to progressively transform the ‘potentially dislocated’ communities or families into active project partners and beneficiaries. The micro level negotiations and exchanges with this objective in view would possibly mean that parts of the project blueprint would have to be redesigned in response to the requirements of the local people. The social, ethical and human benefits that accrue to the totality of society through this process of dialogue and exchange more than compensate for any possible trade-off in terms of financial costs. Thus it is important to build the activities relating to the organisation of the people, awareness building, dialogue, continuous negotiation with the people affected and design modification in conjunction with the people, into the project design and budget.

4. A plan for providing access to benefits deriving from the project, on a priority basis, to those adversely affected by it, should be built into the project design itself. Such opportunities include the providing of lodging, food, transport and other such services to those employed on the project. They also include opportunities for undertaking sub-contracts to supply skilled and unskilled labour, raw materials and relatively low cost machinery and equipment for the project itself. Unless planned at the very inception with the criteria for the selection of beneficiaries, identified through dialogue and negotiation with the affected communities, embedded in the project plan itself, local political authorities are likely to direct these opportunities to their favourites.

5. Together with the formation and animation of community based organizations specially for project purposes, it is important that already existing community based organisations and in particular the institutions of local government (the Pradeshiya Sabhas) be activated to help strengthen the process of dialogue and negotiation. The mobilisation of the civil structure should be built into the project design and budget. It is also important to ensure that in these civil structures the requirements of women, children and children are adequately represented.

6. The hegemony of economics in development has rendered cost-benefit analyses to only take quantifiable, economic criteria into consideration. Pain of mind, harm to families, break-up of communities, disruption of social networks, loss of employment opportunities, disturbance of local cultures these are all costs that find no place in the segmented, one-dimensional equation of the economist. To give expression to a multidimensional perspective of development, it is necessary over the next few years to sponsor a multi-disciplinary initiative that has as its objective the evolving of holistic analyses of the costs and benefits of development projects. The universities and research institutions of the country could be encouraged to initiate such an endeavour.

7. Development projects have to be designed not from the engineer’s or economist’s standpoint but from the standpoint of society. In practical terms this means that we - engineers, economists, planners, officials and perhaps above all, politicians have to learn to trust the people. My inner self has always told me that when a person relates to another in a spirit of trust and compassion, the other responds with reason and understanding. Any dialogue, exchange or negotiation founded on trust and compassion generally ends with a victory of reason over ego and emotion. Trust, compassion and transparency enable spirituality to enter some of the spaces normally occupied by the ego. In this deeply religious experience we need to place our faith.

8. Radical attitudinal change is the bedrock on which most of the guidelines I propose are constructed. It is perhaps too optimistic to expect such a change of perspective and attitude to be accepted and internalised by mainstream technocracy and officialdom within a short term time frame even with several programmes of intensive training. In the short run, therefore, it is expedient for every infrastructure project to hand-pick a small group of people-friendly, compassionate, flexible, positively-oriented technocrats and officials and constitute them into a high-powered committee with the task of planning, implementing and monitoring the process of dialogue and negotiation. They could work in conjunction with a equally high-powered cabinet sub-committee composed of ministers from the areas affected by the project.

9. A change of attitude to, perspectives on and concepts relating to those adversely affected by development projects should be also reflected in a change of terminology. Words smacking of derision towards the people such as the concepts of ‘ejection’, ‘eviction’, ‘involuntary’ and ‘displacement’ should gradually find their way out of the literature on the subject. The National Policy Paper of Sri Lanka could take a step or two in this direction.

If the proposals that I make are implemented, the time-frames that both officials and politicians normally set for development projects will have to be expanded. The procedures for narrowing the chasm that separates ‘Development’ from the ‘People’ are time-consuming. And, unless and until this gap is bridged, the people will not associate themselves with the project. Some sections will not cooperate while others will place obstacles in the way of the project whenever an opportunity for doing so presents itself. A development project will have a smooth life cycle on the one side and be sustained over time on the other, only when the people feel they own it: and for them to feel it is their own, they would need to have participated organically in every stage of its life cycle through participatory processes that require time and patience. This is the lesson of recent development history.

But politicians and officials are often in a hurry when dealing with development projects. They have no time for the procedures that guarantee the authentic participation of the people in them. Participation, if at all, is symbolic, ritualistic or cosmetic - not authentic, organic or real. Such projects designed and implemented in a hurry without time for ‘people’, are destined to follow a tortuous course, littered with roadblocks and landmines. As such they reach their goals - if ever they do so - much later than would have been the case had they been designed, planned and implemented with the authentic participation of the communities concerned.

In conclusion let me say that in my short address to you I have tried to view the painful problem of Involuntary Displacement and Resettlement from the standpoint of the rural communities of the Hambantota District. Our people want the major infrastructure projects that will hopefully be planned and implemented in our district. They desire the projects very much. In fact they yearn for them. But when planning, designing and implementing projects that have as their goal the improvement of their well-being, they want to be treated with dignity. They want to be ‘trusted’ so that they may respond with ‘reason’. They want to be ‘partners’ and ‘stake-holders’, not ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘involuntarily re-settled persons’. I hope your workshop over the next two days will be able to respond to them. Good luck and thank you for giving them, through me, a patient hearing.

(The writer, attorney at law and the President of Sri Lanka. The article wrote in 2001 while his tasks as a Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development. - from the Ministry Archives in Colombo)
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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