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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Impact of tsunami on human values and peace

Daily Mirror: "07/05/2005 By Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera (Bishop of Colombo)

An anticipated challenge is emerging as plans are underway to provide rehabilitation for the victims of the tsunami. This is the claim for recognition and justice being articulated by other deprived communities. These are those who, due to no fault of their own, have been uprooted and displaced for several years because of the civil war; and the poorest of the poor who have been economically deprived and ignored for as far back as memory goes. These Communities are an intrinsic part of the afflicted in this country and have waited for justice with much patience and resilience. They want the Nation to remember that they have been victims of visible and structural violence and that Justice cannot be partial. To by-pass these Communities at this time would be a travesty in justice that would inevitably sow the seeds of future conflict.

In these circumstances it is imperative that the Government should seek the approval of all Donor Governments and Agencies to use a percentage of the funding for the rehabilitation and economic enhancement of these Communities as well. Donor Governments and Agencies need to understand our predicament and respond as magnanimously as they did when the tsunami struck. Similarly all Religious groups and NGOs that receive funding should, after due approval, exercise greater flexibility in the allocation of these funds. Checks and balances are indeed necessary to ensure that this widening of scope does not lead to corruption. Neither political rivalry/favour nor ethno-religious bias should determine the recipients.

This is certainly the time for courageous and imaginative policy decisions that will significantly alter the political and economic destiny of all victims of disaster, caused by wars, inadequate wages or waves. All Parties and Religious Movements who are in touch with these communities must unite to speak on behalf of these voiceless persons. The current unprecedented goodwill must be channelled to all who thirst for God’s will.

Transparent Ethics

Repeated voices have called for transparency and justice in the massive task of rehabilitation that the Government is called upon to direct. The people know that funding is being received and that they are the legitimate recipients. But this is not enough. Our political culture of distrust regarding the sharing of power and resources, requires that the quantum of all funds received and criteria for distribution must be disclosed. All Relief Agencies and Religious Groups should also disclose this information to their respective constituents. This will ensure greater accountability and at the same time reduce unhealthy conflict ridden comparisons. It may even silence mischievous elements and professional critics.

All non-governmental organisations handling large sums of money placed at their disposal in trust must take serious note of the temptation and tendency to develop and expand their assets and interests in the course of extending relief and rehabilitation. This includes the Religions. Human suffering simply cannot be exploited for institutionalised, religious or ideological gain. Those who engage in community service, rehabilitation and development work must strive for an integrity that rejects any such benefit. This calls for a self imposed code of ethics that such groups and persons must design and adhere to. It would be totally unacceptable for a Church or Temple, Mosque or Kovil or NGO engaged in Relief and Rehabilitation work to further its own ends in the cause of humanitarian care and support. Precise principles must be clarified and adhered to. Where essential facilities/equipment have been acquired for the enhancement of the work, these must be viewed as interim resources and returned for the benefit of the afflicted who are the real recipients. In all this, administrative costs must be minimised and audited statements of accounts presented to our respective constituencies at the appropriate time.

In the exercise of this ethical obligation, we will do well to remember that the funds we hold are not ours. They really belong to the afflicted. We have been entrusted with funding by those who trust us to ensure that the recipients receive these monies with dignity. Consequently we cannot work for any personal advantage and do not deserve or may not dare to claim any credit for any work done. This is why publicity reporting and photographs of work done through the media leaves such a bad taste. In the exercise of this duty we have neither the authority to expand nor the authority to project our Institutional image but very simply the privilege to be of service.

Coastal Buffer-zone

Some uncertainty and growing dispute regarding the coastal buffer zone needs to be addressed. Inspite of official declarations it is obvious that an uniform scheme rigidly applicable island-wide will be extremely difficult to implement. Many houses and commercial establishments within the buffer zone have not been destroyed. These persons may want to continue undisturbed. Some are influential and determined enough to resort to public protest and litigation to fight their causes. Some affected communities within the 100 metre zone refuse to return and want alternative land and housing; while others are equally adamant to return and have literally pitched their tents where their houses once stood. All this will hamper and complicate the rehabilitation process in which all agree that a speedy return to normalcy is a priority.

At the same time any responsible Government needs to take preventive and precautionary steps to reduce the destructive impact of future possible tsunamis. It is imperative that we have an early warning system in place as soon as possible. It is also imperative that steps are taken to prevent damage being caused to the coastal ecological system by the wanton destruction of the reefs, corals, etc.

Consequently, a compromise in policy by which the people will be educated on the pragmatism of a safe buffer zone, are encouraged to accept this principle and then left to decide in communities seems to be the most viable option. Professional scientific, environmental and socio-economic expertise can be mobilised for this exercise. Where communities agree with the principle of the buffer zone, provision for permanent housing elsewhere must be provided. These persons should receive priority. Where people prefer to return, their houses should be built with as much safety precautions as possible on the available space. This way the people will be consulted and will take informed decisions which they will own and the Government would have exercised its responsibility. It would be advisable however to prevent or regulate any future transactions and new structures within the prescribed zone.

If such a compromise is not possible we are likely to run into another huge conflict which will create new Tsunami displaced persons (TDPs). This could well become another protracted, politicised issue, adding to the already unbearable burdens that our torn, divided and exhausted Country has to bear.

The immediate tensions and allegations that rose with regard to the distribution of relief was a clear indication of the real and fragile nature of the peace process. It is apparent now that since the war stopped very little reserves of trust and good-will have been built. The interim remained a vacuum with little to fall back on. This alarming revelation begs the question that given our inability to collaborate in a natural calamity of this magnitude in which all groups have been affected and that literally touched the hearts of the whole world, how ready are we to share real political power. Consequently it is time we acknowledged that external packages and agreements for a peace process, useful for the short term, are hopelessly inadequate as long term solutions.

What we need is forgiveness and reconciliation through a change of heart and a commitment to a peace pilgrimage. The culture of inter-religious suspicion and computation on the one hand and the subtle and cynical rejection of true religion as a force for transformation on the other has gone on for too long and just won’t do.

All of us, very specially those who play leadership roles in the diverse sectors of national life need an inner transformation and a visible commitment to universal human values. For this to happen there must be a return to disciplined reflection and meditation, self criticism, and an inner search for truth and justice. The best in our religious traditions must be built on. The dynamism and spiritualities of all religions are indispensable for this pilgrimage. Such a shared quest will make us more vulnerable and open to the other in our dealings. It has to spill over beyond the frustrating and inhibitive clichés and rhetoric into a shared peace for all.

The current alarming spate of political killings are a serious set back to this pilgrimage. Our agreed hope for sustainable peace has been that those who take to the gun as a means of resolving political injustice would return to the democratic political process, and that this way a new culture of democratic negotiation and governance would provide space and the way forward for all. History teaches us of numerous instances when this was made possible. The GOSL and LTTE have, on paper, agreed to an admirable violence-resistant MOU as to how this could be done. This requires the abstinence from and prevention of violence as a problem solving method. Such a stance has been locally and universally welcomed and endorsed. If, inspite of this, an under-current of violence still prevails, then we are in a, “one step forwards two steps backwards” process which could be deadlier than open war.

Consequently these killings need to be viewed in this broader context. The President’s initiative to investigate these killings is compatible with and also a moral requirement of the GOSL commitment to the CFA. How effective this will be, given the practical difficulty of summoning persons before the Commission so that the perpetrators may be identified is a real question that is likely to hamper the proceedings. If however, despite these constraints, prevailing suspicions can be addressed and clarified, a welcome and somewhat more serious signal than silence will be conveyed. However, the more urgent and pragmatic way forward is undoubtedly a serious collaboration between the GOSL, LTTE and the SLMM to resolve this very dangerous trend before it becomes counter-productive.

It is in the light of this shared pilgrimage to shift towards an anti violent democratic culture that the intimidation of parents and the conscription of children by the LTTE must be viewed. Sadly this trend still continues. The recurring violence against these little ones is violence against the most vulnerable within the Tamil community. It is also violence against future generations. The LTTE must demonstrate its commitment by the new non-violent political culture it has opted for through a transparent policy. This is necessary if it wants to persuade more Sri Lankans, Tamils and non Tamils, as well as the International Community that its cause is just.

Particular attention must be paid to the fate of children in the LTTE controlled areas as a post tsunami phenomenon. Institutionalised care for orphans or children of single parents must not under any circumstances lead to indoctrination, training for war or indirect conscription. The best way that the LTTE could demonstrate transparency in this connection is to reveal how and where these children will be cared for, and to even entrust their care to agencies with a proven track record of caring for children.

Shared Governance
The magnitude of the task of rehabilitation and the distribution of human resources are such that the Government cannot and should not undertake the planning and implementation of this work alone. Whatever the structures, continuing dialogue and collaboration at the local level between the Government Sector, representatives of those affected and Civil Society groups is essential. Government Agents should be empowered to initiate this collaboration and make recommendations to a clearly representative Central Body.

This Central Body will perform best if comprised of hand picked experienced Government Administrators, Professionals and skilled and experienced persons from Civil Society. They must all be persons who have their ear to the ground, are reputed for efficiency and integrity, treat the afflicted with dignity and are sensitive to human suffering. Without doubt this country is still blessed with many who fit this profile. Needless to say this Body must be empowered to act independently but made answerable to the people through Parliament. Such a Central Body, empowered to make policy decisions and implement the work of rehabilitation and reconstruction, will be our best chance of matching the gigantic task at hand.

The LTTE should play a significant shared role in this process in the LTTE controlled areas. This however should not be seen as a new phenomenon and to make an issue of it at this stage would be unrealistic. For instance LTTE collaboration was essential for the development programmes after the Cease-fire Agreement. The A 9 and other roads and bridges could not have been built in the LTTE controlled areas without the willing and active collaboration of the LTTE.

This was also the case even before the CFA when it was only possible to maintain some element of Government machinery and administration in these areas such as the payment of salaries of Government servants (an admirable and shared policy of successive Governments often not appreciated enough) with the co-operation of the LTTE. The tsunami has changed little in terms of this culture, known very well by the Government, the LTTE and most people of this country. The point is that as in the past, if the people in these areas are to be relieved of hardship speedily, the LTTE cannot be by-passed.

The option to circumventing the LTTE in the work of rehabilitation is to further deprive the people in these regions who have suffered tremendous hardship for years and add another grievance to the current cluster. On the plus side, the necessity for all forces to collaborate for the good of the people will provide an excellent opportunity for lessons in trust building. Whether a much-hoped-for model of co-operation will emerge out of this exercise, much hoped for, is left to be seen. If it does this will be a bonus.

Nevertheless, GOSL magnanimity in initiative, LTTE reasonableness in response, and the co-operation of all other interest groups, is imperative. None can have our own way exclusively. Political pride from any side at this stage will deprive the people, spread animosity, further aggravate the peace talks and expose the real agendas of all groups. A concerted goodwill effort from all concerned seems the absolutely good and right thing to do.

Repentance and solidarity
While we should have done this a long time ago and need to apologise to all victims of the war we need to restrict all indulgence and declare this year as a year of solemn repentance and a return to solidarity, universal human values and sustainable peace with justice.

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