|The Last Dance - The Aid Game Now|
|Tuesday, 26 August 2008|
By: Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
For many years, Sri Lanka has been a recipient of aid. Initially this was to government, but over the last couple of decades, aid has increasingly been given also to non-governmental organizations. However, the principle has always been that such donations are with the concurrence of government. It has also been generally understood that funds are to be used in accordance with general government policy.
These principles have gradually been changing. Most obviously, at the inception of the Ceasefire, the idea spread that there was a conflict in Sri Lanka which required donors and the international community to hold a balance. Unfortunately, this idea was not repudiated promptly by the then government. Thus we now have situations when external agencies ‘call upon the government and other parties’, which is inappropriate for agencies working to assist the government. It is the government that has the prime responsibility for all its citizenry. Any statement of principles should make it clear that the government undertakes certain obligations, with the assistance, not the control, of external agencies.
Secondly, there had sprung up, perhaps after the end of the Cold War, an assumption that a particular mindset was dominant, and also the best. This led to an unstated but pervasive feeling that the West was entitled to tell other countries what they should be doing. This sense of superiority crept even into the UN, though it is not generally considered to be the UN policy. With the proliferation however of young Westerners in UN positions, the ethos gained credence, and was sadly encouraged in Sri Lanka. Thus Sri Lankan inputs have been downgraded in decision making, a process encouraged by those Sri Lankans whose primary obligations are to their external donors.
Finally, many donor nations also began to give assistance, or increased the aid they gave, through non-governmental agencies based in their own or like-minded countries. Initially, this was designed to promote efficiency, at a time when governments began to doubt the efficacy of government bureaucracies, even their own. At the same time, it allowed governments to engage in more subtle foreign policy initiatives. This facilitated prioritizing aspects that would not have been appropriate in bilateral relations.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
Thus, to sum up, we have assistance from foreign governments or multilateral agencies given
It should be noted that, when aid is not given direct, the transaction costs are increased. Though the ostensible aim is efficiency, value for money is often much less, given the overheads. These include Western style salaries to youngsters who could easily be replaced by local staff with proper training, so as also to develop capacity. Sadly, instead of local capacity building being a priority, the new aid dispensation seems designed to perpetuate donor decision making – which affects not only practicalities but also policy.
Support for advocacy groups
What might be termed interference with policy has also been extended through donor support for what are termed advocacy groups. In Sri Lanka, this reached a height in the first part of this decade, when the peace process seemed to depend on it. Sadly, the mindset that was dominant then has been artificially extended through massive international subventions. Thus, though that mindset was conclusively defeated at successive elections, it is privileged internationally.
The most extraordinary example of this occurred when Rolf Timans, Head of Human Rights at the European Commission, called in our Ambassador to pronounce on our Human Rights situation, and even suggest that elections should not be held in the East since he had been informed that the situation was not conducive. When I met Mr. Timans, he turned out to be a very nice person, obviously anxious to know more about Sri Lanka. Leaving aside the briefings he got from Colombo, he had however also been prey to advocacy groups, funded by donors to go and repeat the same old story. He had obviously not been totally taken in however for, though the European Union office in Colombo had indicated that I should not do so, he told me I could write to him direct, with clarifications as necessary.
In short, here was a wonderful example of the local office working together with local advocacy groups, to emphasize a particular viewpoint that was certainly not representative of Sri Lanka. It was also odd that, in the interests of their joint higher goals, or whatever they thought they were promoting, they were so opposed to democracy. But, sadly, it is that type of perversion which occurs when a few strongly motivated individuals are given their head.
All this I thought was history. But it seems now to be rearing its ugly head again, with what seems a concerted attempt by these advocacy groups to denigrate the Sri Lankan government publicly over the next few weeks. It began with a rather crude attempt to write to the UN Secretary General to complain about Sri Lanka. Initially, leadership seemed to be taken by a couple of Sri Lankans, but it rapidly became clear that the moving spirits were foreigners. These included representatives of Amnesty International, of the International Working Group of Sri Lanka, and of Gareth Evans’ International Crisis Group.
This last is still represented in Sri Lanka, by a young man called Alan Keenan, who just happened to have known Rama Mani, of Right to Protection fame, before she came to Sri Lanka. Keenan, like a little boy complaining to anyone who will listen to him, had the bright idea of writing also to Bernard Kouchner since, as Keenan rather patronisingly puts it, ‘he likes to think of himself as one of the inventor's of humanitarian intervention. Of course, he's got his hands full with Georgia and Russia, as does much of the UN and international system.’
The moving spirit against Sri Lanka at Amnesty seems to be Yolanda Foster, who I remember as yet another of the charming groupies who used to flock to Kynsey Terrace in the days when ICES, having abandoned its pro-UNP stance of the eighties, was building up a reputation for scholarship. The IWG character is Peter Bowling, considered by our Mission in London to be close to the LTTE, a view he seems to justify in his questioning of the idea that the LTTE might be restricting access to food or forcing populations into their areas or refusing them to leave. Finally, associated with these Britishers seems to be an Australian called John Ball, though he does not appear to have contributed actively to the proposed petition, now designed for the Human Rights Council in Geneva rather than the Secretary General or Minister Kouchner.
Current efforts to destabilize
Does it matter that these advocates are gearing again to try to embarrass Sri Lanka? Unfortunately, it would seem that all this is part of the desperate effort that was being made in early August to claim that there was a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. The prompt efforts of the government, accompanied this time by uncharacteristic publicizing of the supplies being sent up and the yeoman service of government agents and other official bodies, ensured that that particular build up was forestalled. We were also helped by relatively responsible statements from the UN that has been assisting us, making it clear that things were under control now, though they could of course get worse. A particularly crass headline, trying to attribute to the UN an attack on the government that that particular media outlet was pursuing, led to a firm response by the UN, which made it clear that they would not let themselves be used.
So far, it seems, so good. But we have to remember that, for reasons given above, there will be great pressure on the UN too, through its younger members as well as non-governmental organizations that will see their gravy train melt away if the Sri Lankan government succeeds in restoring peace and prosperity. Add to that the elements in those organizations that have some sort of sentimental commitment to the LTTE, to the extent even of facilitating or concealing its theft of equipment that could be used in bloody combat, and you have the possibility of increased emotional confrontation in the weeks to come. In a context in which, rapidly losing the support of the people in the area, the LTTE finds other confrontation difficult, it is this sort of verbal confrontation that it may count on to support its final stand.
Particularly worrying then is the meeting the NGOs plan to have in Habarana this week. It coincides with a meeting of the UN, at which donor assistance will also be discussed. Since this is of concern to Sri Lanka, doubtless a government presence will be necessary, but there seems no sign of the NGOs seeking to engage with government at this stage. Instead, they have fixed a very long session with the UN, at which some of them at least will doubtless put a forceful case against the government, aided by the advocacy paper that may or may not differ very much from the demarche planned for the Secretary General and Mr. Kouchner.
Will the UN stand firm? I hope so, for I believe that the leadership of the UN in Sri Lanka has done much recently to heal the distrust that had sprung up when the mindset of an earlier period seemed too dominated. But we have to deal also with a continuation of that mindset in some UN agencies abroad, which led to publication on UN websites of anti-Sri Lankan material, even from the TRO, which local UN officials had to deal with promptly.
The UN has to deal now with ensuring that NGOs in the Vanni are not taken for yet another ride, and that equipment in the Vanni is not stolen or misused. It has to concentrate on persuading the LTTE to refrain from subjecting civilians to further suffering, while working together with the government to alleviate problems. It needs to make sure therefore that it is not dragged into the last dance of the LTTE and its would be rescuers, however idealistic the motives of some of these may initially have been.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
|< Prev||Next >|