| Statement issued by the National Peace Council on meeting between defence secretary and NGOs at the ministry of defence
( September 10, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Representatives from eleven non-governmental organisations who were engaged with CHOGM 2013 and the associated Commonwealth People’s Forum met with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and other officials from the NGO Secretariat and Ministry of Defence. This meeting was facilitated by Dr Lalith Chandradasa from the Presidential Secretariat. On the positive side, this meeting revealed a opening for a dialogue to commence between the government and NGOs. The discussion between the Defence Secretary and officials present and the NGO representatives was cordial and covered the areas of interest of the NGOs that participated in the meeting as well as the concerns and perceptions of NGOs in general.
There was a discussion on the issuance of the NGO Secretariat circular on the need for NGOs to work within their mandates and the Finance Ministry advertisement that the general public and government officials should check on the credentials of NGOs prior to working with them. The discussion also extended to the government’s surveillance of NGO activities, the devolution of power, the problem of missing persons and the unwillingness of NGOs to dialogue with the government. The issue of government regulation of NGOs through the NGO Secretariat was also discussed and the need for a regular programme of meetings and consultation between the NGO Secretariat and representatives of NGOs was agreed upon.
The Defence Secretary explained his position on each of the problems that the NGO representatives brought up. He urged the NGOs present to discuss their problems with the government rather than internationalizing them. He also proposed that the NGO Secretariat’s liaison officers in the District Secretariat’s could be called upon to resolve any problems encountered in the field. He also stressed his commitment to environmental protection in urban development activities and on the possible role that can be played by NGOs working in the environmental sector.
Two matters for follow up were also agreed upon at the meeting. The first was to regularize meetings between the NGO Secretariat and the NGOs to collect relevant information and to iron out problems. The second area was to bring the Defence Secretary into dialogue with those NGOs that are more strongly and openly critical of the government.
The NGOs that attended the discussion were Colombo District Business Development Co-op Society, Maternity & Child Life Development Foundation, Eco friendly Volunteers (ECO-V), The Sarvodaya Movement, Seva Lanka Foundation, Vanni Cultural Fund, National Peace Council, Centre for Poverty Analysis, Oferr Ceylon, Manawa Shakthi Padanama and the Human Rights Organization of Sri Lanka.