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Inclusivity and Pluralism – indispensable for reconciliation and reconstruction

by Shanie

"Development means good governance – that is the efficient management of government. This would include a rational, effective vision of development, translated into a workable action plane, implemented with transparency and integrity. The vision for development must be founded on scientifically assessed national needs and not on the whims of a few individuals nor their corrupt intentions of self-aggrandizement. For this one needs to operate within a political framework of democracy and individual freedoms and the free and full participation of all citizens in the development process. In the absence of this, government would soon deteriorate into dictatorship or anarchy and development into a farce, enacted to further the ends of a powerful few."

"Let us have the humility to admit that we Sri Lankans have failed as a nation. Let us look truth in the face, have the honesty and the courage to accept our mistakes and the generosity to make amendments. Continued denial of proven facts and abuse of our honest critics will not resolve the problem for anyone. Our leaders must take the lead in the noble task of reconciliation and reconstruction."

When she spoke last week in her Justice Palakidnar Memorial Lecture of development as good governance, workable only within a framework of political democracy with the participation of all people in the development process, she was only reiterating what has been her vision and that of her late husband Vijaya Kumaratunga ever since they together launched their political struggles forty years ago. They also stood for justice for the ethnic and religious minorities in our country. It was this vision that enabled her to gain a sweeping victory in the Presidential Election in 1994.

(July 30, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is one of the few political leaders we have had in independent Sri Lanka who have had a vision for an inclusive pluralist society that would bring justice and dignity for all people, particularly the disadvantaged and the marginalised of all communities. When she spoke last week in her Justice Palakidnar Memorial Lecture of development as good governance, workable only within a framework of political democracy with the participation of all people in the development process, she was only reiterating what has been her vision and that of her late husband Vijaya Kumaratunga ever since they together launched their political struggles forty years ago. They also stood for justice for the ethnic and religious minorities in our country. It was this vision that enabled her to gain a sweeping victory in the Presidential Election in 1994. She did initiate major economic and educational reforms and also proposed constitutional reforms both to abolish the Executive Presidency and a consensus solution to the National Question. She had some success with the former but failed in the latter. In her lecture last week, she has explained the reasons why her constitutional reforms failed. If she had better skills as a political manager and if her late husband was still around, her Presidency would probably have been marked with greater success on this front.

Vijaya Kumaratunga was assassinated by the southern insurgents and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga herself barely survived assassination by the northern insurgents. The motives of both sets of insurgents were the same – eliminate those who were a threat to what they considered was their sole right of monopoly to their political agenda. The southern insurgents considered Vijaya Kumaratunga as having the capacity to lead the disadvantaged and the marginalised to justice in an environment that respected democracy and individual freedoms. That would have clashed with their revolutionary struggle to capture the organs of state power with arms. The northern insurgents considered Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as one leader at the centre who had the capacity to bring about a settlement to the National Question with justice to all. That would have prevented their own leader's ambition to be the undisputed (but unelected) leader of a separate state carved out of Sri Lanka. Hence the assassination of one and the near assassination of the other.

Lop-sided Development

But to come back to Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's lecture. It was about the need at the present moment in Sri Lanka for reconciliation, inclusivity, pluralism, transparency and integrity if Sri Lanka is to move forward with its development goals. The above comments are offered only to place her remarks in the proper context. In her lecture, she pointed out to the need to have a cohesive and inclusive society, where everyone, irrespective of ethnic, religious, political or any other differences, would feel satisfied that they dignity, rights and the space to lead their own lives. Leaders and all citizens should be encouraged to cherish the value of diversity, to rejoice in its richness and limitless potential and strive to build unity within diversity. That was the only way to ensure peace and a participatory democracy.

As Kumaratunga correctly pointed out the benefits of development programmes must not only be distributed evenly to all regions and all communities but also implemented with transparency and integrity. It is a shame that this cannot be said of some of the major projects undertaken by this government. An international sea port, an international airport, an international cricket stadium and now a venue for the Commonwealth Games are all being sited in the south eastern corner of the island in President Rajapaksa's home district of Hambantota. This would have been alright if there had been transparency and integrity in the selection process and independent experts found Hambantota as the most viable site for all these projects. But there has been no such transparent process. No feasibility report on the sea port project has been released to the public. If such a report was in fact commissioned, who were the experts who prepared it? Did they not envisage the problems to be caused by rock formations at the entrance to the harbour? What is the reason for the Port to be still non-operational eight months after its opening? Have the international underwriters agreed to provide insurance cover to ships wishing to call at this port? When these same questions were raised some months ago, the Ports Authority issued a statement that did not answer any of the questions but simply stating that they assumed responsibility for 'the safety of the port'.

Such statements issued by a politically appointed authority has done little to reassure either the Sri Lankan public or the those concerned with international shipping. This is why transparency and integrity are integral to any development programme.

The same goes for two of the other projects sited in Hambantota. Were feasibility studies undertaken by experts in the relevant field before choosing to build the international cricket stadium at Hambantota, Can the viability of this stadium be sustained over the years. Of course, it is good to have international venues spread throughout the country; their viability will have to depend on various factors like the number of international matches scheduled to be played in Sri Lanka, the facilities for the players and spectators to travel and find accommodation at the different venues, the weather and ground maintenance factors, etc. Transparency and integrity will require the public to be informed of the experts who picked on Hambantota as the most suitable venue. Already, despite a lot of money and effort having gone into developing them, the Dambulla, Asgiriya and Wanathamulla Oval are hardly being used for international matches. The same charge of a lack of transparency and integrity can be levelled at the selection of Hambantota district as the site for building a second international airport. The public have not seen any feasibility study by any expert/s in this area.

The latest is the move to build up the infra-structure for the holding of the Commonwealth Games in Hambantota in 2018, if Sri Lanka is successful in its bid to hold the Games here. Environmentalists and wild life conservationists have already lodged a strong protest at earmarking thousands of acres of land in the region for this project. This is land that is home to a variety of fauna and flora in the country including endangered species like the Ceylon Leopard and the sloth bear. Was this site which encroaches on the Yala National Sanctuary the only site available in the country for the Commonwealth Games? Of course, it was not surprising to see some prominent personalities holding important public positions being associated with Sri Lanka's bid to hold the Games at this venue. One has ceased to attach any credibility to these persons who seem to feel that promoting the interests of their political masters is more important than the national interest.

Environment and wildlife conservation

On the question of environmental and wild life conservation, two reports this week have caused considerable concern. One is a proposal to build a road through the Sinharaja Nature Reserve. Sinharaja is one of our last remaining primeval rain forests and is a world heritage site. Prof. Senake Bandaranayake has observed that it is unique in that a greater part of it has never been affected by human activity nor, for millions of years, by any natural calamity. Scientists believe that it represents a botanical and zoological environment whose evolution has been undisturbed for at least the last one hundred million years. Prof Savitri Gunatilleke, one of our foremost scientists who has made extensive studies on Sinharaja stated in a paper she once presented to the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science: 'The bulk of the forest comprises endemics, which makes our rain forests quite exclusive to the island – nowhere else in the world is there this particular combination of species, this gene pool not only of plants – whose medicinal and agricultural potential has yet to be studied – but also of animals and micro-organisms.' it is this national treasure that some young political adventurer is seeking to destroy by constructing a road through the forest. Are there no thinking men of character in the government who have the courage to stop the destruction for all time of the rich bio-diversity of our country?

The other news report refers to the alleged discovery of a fresh leopard skin at the home of a young government Minister, the scion of an important political family in the North Central Province. This discovery followed the handing over of three motherless leopard cubs from Wilpattu to wild life officials, leading to suspicion that the leopard skin is that of the mother who has been killed. Despite a search, wild life officials have found neither the mother nor the carcass of a killed leopard. The Ceylon leopard is an endangered and protected animal and the possession of the leopard skin is a criminal offence. The head of Wild Life Conservation whose officials conducted the raid and discovered the skin has now been removed from his position. One does not know if the transfer of this official had anything to do with this raid; but the important question is will the inquiry into the Minister's possession of the leopard skin be quashed and will he continue to illegally retain the leopard skin. Going by past instances of such cases involving political figures, probably nothing will happen: the Attorney General will find that there is insufficient evidence to proceed.

The Algerian-born Albert Camus, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was part of the French resistance during the second world war. In a critical essay he wrote shortly before his death in 1960, he spoke of the need to safeguard the democratic liberties the world now enjoys and which were won after centuries of revolutionary struggles. Choosing freedom is also choosing justice. 'If someone takes away your bread, he suppresses your freedom at the same time. But if someone takes away your freedom, you may be sure that your bread is threatened. Poverty increases insofar as freedom retreats throughout the world, and vice versa.' Kumaratunga's lecture last week was on the same lines. Camus concluded his essay: 'Freedom is not a gift received from a State or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and the union of all.'

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