Sri Lanka’s challenges brought forward to 2016?!

New Year has just dawned and this is also the time for personal resolutions, new expectations and beginnings. Looking back at 2015 and the way forward for Sri Lankan state, it continues to remain challenging! In this article, I would like to take stock of the challenges faced by us as a country in 2015 and assess whether they will ease or get worse in this New Year!

2015: Change of leadership

Hon. Maithripala Sirisena, Health Minister of the former government and one of the senior leaders of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), took office of President over the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Sri Lanka Presidential election on January 08 2015. President Sirisena presented the 100-day Action Plan as promised in the common opposition front election manifesto. Immediately after taking office as the President, he appointed Hon Wickremasinghe as the Prime Minister, irrespective of the power structure in Parliament at the time. The newly appointed leaders committed to bring a list of radical changes, including[1];

  • A Bill to transfer the executive powers of the President to Parliament through the Cabinet of Ministers.
  • Enact the 19th Amendment to the Constitution repealing the provisions of the 18th Amendment and to establish independent commissions.
  • Appointing a Cabinet of not more than 25 members, including members of all political parties represented in Parliament
  • Introducing amendments to the Standing Orders and Ethical Code of Conduct for peoples representatives
  • Establishment of a Commission to Investigate Corruption

Parliamentary Elections held in August 2015 subsequently changed the power structure in the House leading to a formation of a National Government at a time where either party failed to secure a majority[2], and pledged to continue the implementation of the 100 days plan.

This newly appointed Government in 2015, primarily attempted to ease the economic burden through the interim budget by introducing salary increments and reducing the cost of essential items to a certain degree. Democratic values in the society including establishing law and order, assuring freedom of expression and introduction of new policy measures to promote reconciliation are some of the key successes of the government during the past year!

Inevitably, the government have also faced a series of internal challenges and external threats during this year.

Internal Challenges:

Although President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe together with other partners have managed to set up a government, it lacks a clear vision and the ability to build consensus among the government members on important policy matters. The budget proposals 2015 was the best example which failed to draw consensus within the government and ended up totally deviated to the economic plan presented by the Prime Minister in Parliament.

On the other hand, the fate of any coherent, coordinated plan around reconciliation further highlights policy incoherence and confusion within the government[3].

The clear crisis of prioritisation and its growing apace have further caused inefficiencies in delivering the promised changes with the progress made with the 100 days plan itself during the last 365 days has been extremely slow.

While law and order, freedom of expression and other democratic values have somewhat regained with the changes in 2015, the economy during the year aggravated the fundamental weaknesses of the economic legacy the country inherited weakening the economy further to fragile proportions[4].

Both at presidential and parliamentary polls last year government assured to deal with bribery, corruption and other malpractices of the previous government. The government stakeholders themselves were accused of committing such acts and protecting those who committed them during the previous government. Parties to the coalition government also express their displeasure on the pace at which things have moved in this regard[5].

For President Sirisena, the inability to secure his power within SLFP remains the most important of all these challenges which he has inevitably brought-forward to the New Year.

External Challenges:

Year 2015 brought equally tricky external challenges to the newly appointed government including managing the competing relationship of India and China, and Sri Lanka’s accountability for the alleged human rights excesses issue at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

India’s expectations from Sri Lanka after the War were four-fold: maintain their close strategic security bonds, trigger the reconciliation process starting with the Tamil leaders by implementing the 13th Amendment in full; correct the tilt in favour of China to provide a level platform for Indian trade and investment; and resolve the Tamil Nadu fishermen’s issue amicably while respecting Sri Lankan sovereignty[6]. Whilst President Sirisena has distanced himself from China he chose New Delhi to be the first overseas port of call after assuming office and continued to maintain healthy ties with India.

Government proudly announced its success at the UNHRC in September last year. The HRC’s 30th session ended with another HRC Resolution supported by the Government to promote human rights, justice and reconciliation in the island nation that’s still recovering from a civil war that spanned nearly three decades. I would like to consider this move as a success for the 2015 where actually the challenges are yet to be faced with the implementation of what was promised in the resolution, in the years to come.

2016: Challenges brought forward?!

The National Government is expecting another challenging year ahead with continuing investigations on bribery and corruption, getting ready to introduce a new constitution, implementation of the co-sponsored resolution at the UNHRC and putting the economy on the right track. Most of these brought forward from 2015 and/or before to the New Year. Out of them the most concerning areas as I see are;

  1. Economic Challenges
  2. Policy inconsistency and lack of prioritising within the government &
  3. Slow pace of delivery/policy implementation
  4. Dialogue with the people

Economic Challenges:

The attention of most middle class citizens is drawn by the contemporary economic situation of the country. Some even call it an “economic crisis”. The fundamental macroeconomic indicators seem to have reached a crisis level. The fiscal deficit is increasing, the current account in the balance of payments is widening due to poor performance of exports and increased expenditure on imports, and foreign reserves are at a low level inadequate to service the country’s foreign debt obligations[7].

The government has few challenges in this front: weak fundamentals have to be strengthened by corrective economic policy measures. This includes taking immediate rationale actions that are politically difficult to avoid it falling further into crisis.

Government need to put the economy on track to remain politically legitimate as well. If the corruption in the previous regime exacerbated the economic crisis and the new government came to end such mal practices and turn the economy right, they cannot afford to fail in their theory in the face of the public.  In the event of a failure to deliver on the economic front would be much more painful and politically catastrophic.

  1. Policy Inconsistency and lack of prioritising within the government

One may point out this more as a weakness of the government more than a challenge. For me this poses serious challenges for the government in the New Year. Government needs to master in prioritising and clear delegation of work. Particularly given it is a coalition or as they call it a National Government.

Taking back the example on the economic policy, government could not have afforded to have an inconsistency between its economic policy and the budget proposals, understanding the importance of prioritising the need to put economy on the right track things. This goes beyond the economic policy leading to most other key policy areas including reconciliation.

  1. Slow Pace of delivery/policy implementation

Lack of a clear vision coupled with the policy inconsistency and no ability to prioritising within the government inevitably cause slow paced delivery or inefficiencies. The inability to build consensus among the key stakeholders in the government has worsened it. The government will continue to experience this and will clearly expected to be visible during the constitution making process in the New Year.

Government’s slow pace delivery can hurt not only themselves but also the people if continued in this year as well. Hence it needs serious measures taken to avoid the country leading to further catastrophe.

Educating people on the challenges ahead

Considering the risks and immense challenges ahead of the government in the year, it is imperative to continue a constant dialogue between the people and the government. This needs to go beyond responding to the questions of the people. The government is also expected to educate the people on their policy priorities and how they intend addressing some of the above listed challenges.

There is growing polarisation on ethnic lines in Sri Lanka. The government has sweat over the last year to promote reconciliation without explaining the people the need and rationale for most of the action undertaken by them. There has been little in terms of explaining the UNHRC resolution to the people[8]. There is equally low explanation as in why they had to present the initial budget proposals.

Instead, different stakeholders in government share their own interpretation to the context. The best is when they interpret the UNHRC resolution it co-sponsored in a way that suits its political interests. In this regard, as Ruki (Fernando) clearly points out, government could deftly explain that while the country’s plans for transitional justice will be uniquely Sri Lankan, international assistance is advantageous to ensure a truly credible, inclusive process. “A major part of this will be to explain to the Sinhalese population why independent mechanisms are important, and why [a] significant degree of actual international participation – beyond monitoring, advising, offering finances and training – is important to ensure independence and effectiveness of transitional justice mechanisms,”[9].

In the New Year, it is important for the government therefore to overcome this challenge and have a vision and courage to be transparent and honest about intentions and plans and do the correct thing, even if it may not be the most popular and politically convenient.

 

 

 

[1] http://100days.lk/

[2] http://www.themalaymailonline.com/world/article/rajapakses-opposition-party-joins-sri-lanka-government

[3] https://sanjanah.wordpress.com/2016/01/02/the-bra-effect/

[4] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160103/columns/2016-the-year-of-the-bitter-pill-hard-times-and-no-great-expectations-177316.html

[5] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160103/columns/as-2016-dawns-unp-and-slfp-face-internal-crises-177337.html

[6] http://www.claws.in/images/journals_doc/611870433_RHariharan.pdf

[7] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/160103/columns/2016-the-year-of-the-bitter-pill-hard-times-and-no-great-expectations-177316.html & https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/sri-lankas-looming-economic-crisis/

[8] http://thediplomat.com/2015/11/sri-lankas-unexpected-political-opening-wont-last-forever/

[9] Ibid

SLRF 01 – Post-Election(s) Scenario in Sri Lanka and Prospects for Reconciliation and Young people.

This blog post is based on my recent contribution at a panel discussion organised by Sri Lanka Reconciliation Forum in Sydney.
Introduction:
The National Youth Policy of Sri Lanka defines youth as those between the age group of 15-29 (Page 11). Although I am not in that category any more, I would like to put few questions on the young people perceive the current context in Sri Lanka and what could be the possible scenarios that derive from that analysis. In that regard, the presentation will mainly discuss youth participation in the two elections, their perspectives on reconciliation, possible scenarios in post-elections Sri Lanka and how young people will embrace them.
Role of young people in the recent elections:
I wish to take the findings of National Human Development Report 2014 as the base of the discussion on this topic, considering the most recent evidence based findings on the subject could be located in them. The report under civic and political participation highlights some interesting discoveries.
The report tells us that 88% of the young people are interested in what is happening around them, which I personally consider as an extremely positive phenomenon. However, 72% of young people indicated their primary choice of political engagement was through voting. This reiterates what I have always been challenging or refusing to believe as a student of Political Science: electoral participation does not demonstrate or make a society democratic. Going further, the report also tells us that 89% of the young people have no trust in political parties signifying an enormous gap between 2014 and National Youth Survey 1999-2000 findings: 47%.
In this backdrop, it is inevitable that young people in Sri Lanka are interested in their electoral participation which was also clearly demonstrated in the two recent elections: both the Presidential and Parliamentary. The sea-change in these elections in fact was their participation was mainly demonstrated through social media. “This election saw an unprecedented use of social media in Sri Lanka,” says Ajith Perakum Jayasingha (‏@ajithperakum), a leading blogger, and political commentator. “Over 80% of our youth is computer literate – many have smartphones and regularly log in to social media. Political content they absorb from online sources spreads fast to (offline) communities in villages.” (Groundviews)
Who do these statistics indicate us? Did young people play a leading role in changing the power through elections? Do they still remain to be the key catalysts for change? What is that “Change” they demanded? Is it to end a corrupt government or to restore principles of good governance? These are some of the questions that are ahead us, which we need to seek answers for.
Understanding the “Change” demanded by young people:
Majority of us have been thinking that the young people in Sri Lanka expressed support and demanded a change of governance: good governance. I do not intend to take you through a deep theoretical discussion on good governance; however it is imperative to at least understand what the key elements of good governance are. It includes; accountability, transparency, responsiveness, equitability, effectiveness & efficiency, follows the rule of law, participatory approach and consensus oriented. Going beyond the conventional approach, I would further think the young people in post-war Sri Lanka would have also thought to have wanted a leader with a clear vision and do what is right than what is popular and promote inclusiveness and reconciliation together with the above elements of good governance.
Within this framework, 100 days program that was presented as the election mandate by Maithreepala Sirisena would have been more appealing to the young people of the country, particularly in comparison to the Mahinda Chinthana III that was proposing an extension of the existing system. In that regard, the key features of the 100 days program including 25 member cabinet, an all-party National Advisory Committee, amendments to the Standing Orders, abolishing the Executive Presidency & return to Parliamentary System, Code of Conduct to Members of Parliament, mixed Electoral System, independent commissions including one to investigate corruption, National Audit Bill & Right to Information Bill and National Drug policy to be implemented.
I would have loved to believe that young people thought strengthening legitimate institutions and governance to ensure human security and rule of law is critical in breaking cycles of violence and building sustainable peace. Yet, did these young people really vote to establish the principles of good governance? Were they merely responding to the mega corruption campaign? Hence did they only want to get rid of a corrupt leader and a corrupt government they believed to have robbed their money? Or are they really policy oriented? If so, will they settle for a short-term policy manifesto? How vibrant was the discussion on principles of good governance and future policy on social media? What is their reaction to non-implementation of a majority of the key elements of the 100 days program?
My reading on the context says that a majority of the young people in Sri Lanka were mere responding to the mega corruption campaign during the two elections. The presidential election campaign was heavily based on the assets and moneys of the former president, his family and other Members of Parliament who were in his support. While this continued up-to certain degrees till the General Election, the statement by the president and Thajudeen incident managed to keep the momentum going. Having said that, I also do not believe that corruption campaign was appealing to the young people from ethnic minority communities as same as for the majority. In the case of both Muslim and Tamil youth; there was a clear need to ensure human security. They were desperately seeking for an alternative to Sinhala nationalist Rajapaksa government who could assure some level of security.
Hence, they settled with the change of government instead of looking at the policies that the new government would follow. Interestingly, not only their focus on policy was minimal but also they paid almost no attention to the discourse on post-war reconciliation.

Need for reconciliation among young people:
Talking about young people and prospects for reconciliation, one need to understand that making the transition from war to peace is a complex understanding for any society and particularly for young people. While I am not a young person who falls under the above definition, we have grown up over a 30 years of war and have been experiencing a life without war for the first time. Hence it is inevitable that today’s young generation has been exposed to ideological teachings such as suspicion, fear and mistrust. This protracted civil war has also left us with immense polarisation as a society with a strong consciousness on ethnicity than nationalism. Going back to the section on social integration in the National Human Development Report, it is alarming to see how 46% of the young people have indicated that, their sense of belonging to their ethnicity intensified after the war.
Within this backdrop, I am struggling to understand whether they really believe in a need for reconciliation. Unfortunately there is no evidence to clear this out for me, but is a good area for research in the future.
The best possible way to have some kind of an understanding of young people and their prospects for reconciliation as I realize is via examining their response to the recent progressive developments to promote reconciliation. I appreciate and consider the following steps taken by the government of Sri Lanka between the two elections as the most significant policy changes towards assuring reconciliation.
• Special statement of peace at the Independence Day celebrations
• Protocol on the singing of the National Anthem of Sri Lanka
• Strengthening the laws related to hate
• Freedom of speech and liberty
• 19th amendment to the constitution, establishing the independent commissions
• Release of land in the North and the East
• Recommencing the dialogue with the Tamil Diaspora
• National Day of Remembrance and Unity
• Office of National Unity
How did young people perceive these initiatives towards bringing that “change” we aspired for? What was the reaction of the young people from the Sinhala Majority on these initiatives? I recall clarifying my friends and followers on Facebook that the Government did not introduce a new anthem in Tamil and it was merely an implementation of an existing law and the anthem in Tamil always existed. Nevertheless, the comments on social media against this initiative was extreme and the sad truth was a majority who had their posts demanding for “change” did never thought twice to upload these racist comments against the government’s new policy directive.
One may think, this is a problem with the Sinhala majority! No, I will not be coming to that conclusion too soon. How did young people perceive Hon Sampanthan’s presence at the recent Independence Day? Was it any different to the behaviour of the young people from the South?
This clearly indicates us there is a significant investment to be made towards reconciling the hearts and minds of the young people. For me personally, this is the biggest task in the presence of Sri Lankan state irrespective of who is in power. If reconciliation on the ground means promoting a sense of belongingness, respect and responsibility how do we ensure that we replace deep rooted suspicion, fear and mistrust by these.
Post-elections scenario in Sri Lanka: Prospects for reconciliation and young people
Looking at post-elections scenario in Sri Lanka, I personally believe that the present government headed by Hon Sirisena is in the best position to strengthen legitimate institutions and governance to ensure human security and rule of law that is crucial in breaking cycles of violence and building sustainable peace. They probably have the best opportunity to reconcile the hearts and minds of the people.
I tend to believe this because they came into power to end corruption and restore principles of good governance, to ensure freedom and democracy reinstated in the country, with the support of the USA led Western Nations and India and currently holds the support of the majority of Sri Lankans in and out of the country. In another words, they currently hold the support of all the key stakeholders to work towards reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Looking ahead of possible scenarios for Sri Lanka 2020, I have few major concerns on some key areas including; vision, efficiency and approach to reconciliation. As mentioned previously, Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore believes leadership should be guided by a clear vision and do what is right than what is popular. Inevitably, a clear vision is utmost importance to governance a country to its end goal. In fact, what is the Vision for Sri Lanka by 2020? Whilst a majority of the voters did not know what it is, I assumed the leadership to be aware of the vision for the country that they rule and this is what Hon President mentioned at the inaugural sitting of the Parliament after the general elections.
“My manifesto for the last Presidential Election, approved by the majority of people in Sri Lanka will form the foundation of the agenda for the new consociation government. Further, the manifestos of political parties represented in this parliament, namely, the “Panchavida Kriyavaliya” (Five-fold Plan) by United National Front for Good Governance, “Anagathayata Sahathikayak’ (Certificate Guaranteed for the Future) by United People’s Freedom Alliance and the “Harda Sakshiye Sammuthiya” (Agreement of Consciousness) by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, and the election manifesto of Tamil National Alliance, have been subjected to a comparative study in terms of the principles of good governance presented in my manifesto; ‘A Compassionate Maithri Governance – A Stable Country’. Accordingly, I will take action to establish policies of the new consociation government by incorporating the policies of other parties into the vision for the future outlined in my manifesto.” – Policy Statement of the President addressing the 8th Parliament
How realistic is it to rule a country based on a consolidated version presented by the political parties driven by parallel ideologies? The best example in light of reconciliation highlights one party’s position on devolution beyond 13th amendment and granting self-determination to ethnic minority Tamil while the other is vehemently opposing the same. I fail to understand the government’s inability to realise the importance of a vision to guide the country. On a broader context if the government continues to be on a mission to promote good governance and end nepotism how could they justify their moves to bring the losers back to parliament via the national list or Dhaham Sirisena’s presence at the UN General Assembly? What were the responses from the young generation on these moves? Do they feel cheated by their rulers? Are they continuing to hold faith on them?
Efficiency of the present government to deliver what they promise is the second area of concern. While I am hopeful that they have the support of all stakeholders towards reconciling the hearts and minds of the people, how efficiently can government deliver what they promise? Establishing a domestic mechanism on the human rights violations that are suspected to have taken place during the last phase of the war is one of the key commitments of the government in power.
Bhavani Fonseka on her recent analysis on “Revisiting Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka” clearly highlights the inefficiencies of the government with regard to the most crucial initiative: domestic investigation on human rights violations as recommended by LLRC.
o “President Sirisena Assures Domestic Mechanism”-13 February 2015;
o “Government keen on initiating a credible domestic inquiry”- 20 February 2015;
o “We are ready for domestic probe mechanism” – Mangala- 3 March 2015;
o “Sirisena rejects UN probe, insists on domestic mechanism”- 12 March 2015;
o “Mangala assures domestic probe before UNHRC sessions”- 8 May 2015;
o “Domestic mechanism to probe right violations to be finalised in July”- 19 June 2015;
o “Probe on alleged war crimes: Domestic mechanism being finalized, says Acting FM”- 21 June 2015;
One can also argue that government is neither efficient nor it has the political will to implement them hence the delay. Either way, it is crystal clear that work towards reconciliation has been heavily neglected by the government. They have managed to approve the critical policy initiatives that were pending at the Cabinet of Minister’s level for few years and bring all parties together against the common enemy. However that does not in any means demonstrate their efficiency or will to work towards reconciliation.
In contrary, for the Government of Sri Lanka working towards reconciliation is limited to pleasing the United Nations Human Rights Council. I strongly feel, maximum the government would deliver with regard to reconciliation may include;
1. Domestic Inquiry on the HR Violations
2. State sponsored arbitration process to award compensations to the families of the missing, issue birth certificates and welfare
3. Truth Commission and Amnesty Laws
4. Other: Implementation of the language policy and Chapter IV of the constitution, Equal Opportunities Bill and other mechanisms to ensure balance of power etc.

These initiatives assure the three main aspects of post-war reconciliation as spelled in theory: political reconciliation, psycho-social reconciliation and victim perpetrated reconciliation are looked into at a surface level to please the international community politically. This exercise of ticking boxes, will that promote belongingness-respect and responsibility that society needs? Will that replace the existing ideologies among the communities: suspicion, mistrust and fear?

Concluding remarks
My narrative on prospects for reconciliation and young people in this post-elections context therefore articulates the present government is the most capable to invest in positive peace for the next generation of Sri Lankans. However due to lack of a vision, slow deliverables and nearly to no initiatives at ground level to promote reconciliation among the communities, I am questioning government’s will to work towards reconciliation.
If government considers reconciliation as a national priority; I strongly feel government need to take few essential and urgent steps.
1. Government to demonstrate a clear will and genuine commitment to principles of good governance to ensure human security and rule of law towards assuring the foundation for reconciliation
2. Government to present a clear vision and a road map for the next five years
3. Government to launch a campaign to ensure that young people feel the need for reconciliation and to promote belongingness-respect-responsibility
4. Values of mutual respect, belongingness and appreciation of diversity to become everyday experiences of Sri Lankan youth
5. Basic institutions: education, public administration, law enforcement and justice system to foster values of reconciliation and social integration particularly, social justice, equity, non-discrimination and respect for the rule of law
Due to heavy political influence in our conflict, every golden opportunity to turn the violent conflict towards peace has been wasted in the past. There are few generations who have paid from their lives for those mistakes made by their elders. I sincerely hope, this national unity government will stick to their pledges and deliver the best for the future.
To end my presentation I would like to share one of my recent posts on social media with you.
“We tried everything to transform our conflict while simultaneously trying to end the war through a CFA and did not realise that we unwittingly sowed the seeds for a military end to the war. While we will be happy to see these commitments towards reconciliation will be genuinely implemented, we need to learn our lessons from the past to eliminate them leading to more chaos”

Governance between the elections: Drawing lessons for the new National Government in Sri Lanka

With the election results of no absolute majority to either of the parties in Parliament, the United National Party (UNP) that secured simple majority has invited all parties to form a national government. The whole concept of national government has never been a successful model in the history of Sri Lankan politics; hence it is imperative for all stakeholders (president and the parliament) to draw lessons from the history: both in Sri Lanka and outside.

What is a national government? Working definition for contemporary Sri Lanka

A National Government in a Sri Lankan context means a government established based on a “supply and confidence” agreement and it will never be an idealistic model of having the support of all the parties for the policy that are presented in Parliament. In fact, under the supply and confidence agreement, the parties in parliament will commit to support the UNP in a national policy framework and to ensure they don’t vote against a budget (supply) or in a “no confidence” vote (confidence). However, this does not limit the space for the parties in the national government to disagree to the policies of the other parties or openly criticise them.

Setting the agenda

A majority of Sri Lanka has not given a mandate to any of the manifestos presented by the parties. The inability to secure an absolute power by either party in Parliament also means that people do not wish to be governed by the policy frameworks presented by them. Setting the agenda for the new national government therefore is the utmost important task for them at this moment. This would have once again taken a different shape if President Sirisena had presented a vision for the country and a framework to achieve them within the next 5 years. Given the mandate requested from the people at the presidential election was for a short-term agenda as a base for bringing the country back to democratic pathway, it is imperative for the new national government to set their agenda under the leadership of the President.

Policy Focus

The most important rationale for setting a common agenda is to have a common policy focus for the nation. If the hyper-partisan nature of the parliament that we experienced during the first 7 months in the then ruling government continues, we will not be able to progressively move forward as  a nation. This will also limit us to strictly political side of policy: short-term thinking and “what have you done for me?” mentality. Indeed, the policy focus rather than four or five years then is more likely to be limited to just few months and a constant state of “how this plays” will continue. Everything will them be seen through uncertainty.

Beyond my agenda

One could always question the fact, whether Sri Lanka actually had a “national government” or will have one? If we say that we had one in the first seven months of the year, one cannot accept the opponent to agree to run the agenda of the government: “my agenda”. While it could also be different in a presidential election, it shall definitely not the case when it comes to a general election. The main party of the national government, UNP cannot expect all others to agree to run “their agenda” as the people has neither given a mandate to run the country under that. Hence, the importance of agreeing for a common agenda is vital.

Intra-party cohesion

An agenda on a functioning national government will further need to maintain intra-party cohesion, particularly among the two main coalition parties: UNGGF and UPFA. The ‘National government’ during the last seven months in Sri Lanka was an utter disorder mainly due to the break-away wings of the UPFA that never entered into a “supply and confidence” agreement as I call it. The President as the head of the coalition and the SLFP holds a significant responsibility in maintaining the intra-party cohesion if he wishes to see successful deliverables from the new national government. I wouldn’t see any successful deliverables based on a national government, if it is merely based on the shared MoU.

Managing Parliament: Relationships

I assume this would by far be the strongest theme and a lesson learnt from the government between elections. Managing the parliament and trusting relationships through respect was a failure during the last few months of the previous parliament. Prime Minister holds the responsibility in this regard and one cannot expect him to humiliate the opposition members in the chamber and then expect them to vote for the laws. It is imperative for the Prime Minister to be reminded that, if we are serious about the whole concept of a national government, the members in the opposition although they are seated on the other side of the parliament are also members of his government. In addition, for the sake of democracy constructive criticisms should be accepted and the opposing views arising due to ideological differences between the parties also need to be taken into account.

Consensus

To be successful in a national government, I believe leaders need to take a more transactional approach and genuinely seek consensus in a hung parliament for the interest of the nation. The purpose of a national government would be lost if there is no room for consensus development. Hence, it is also imperative to have a strong back channel negotiation process to complement the parliamentary process. The information regarding any development is expected to be shared among all MPs regularly and openly as consensus cannot be entered without a proper information sharing mechanism.

Concluding remarks

The list may look idealistic for Sri Lankan politics in a snapshot. However, if the country is serious about forming a national government (instead of a coalition government with the support of few parties) it is imperative for such an arrangement is principle based. Unless we put forward an effort to draw lessons from the government in the first 7 months towards re-strategizing the coming years, Sri Lanka will continue to be in an anarchic situation where addressing the key issues: the national question and the economic development will be limited to a mere dream.

Nonprofit Governance 04: Good Governance and Nonprofit Organisations

The general understanding among the public (I assume anywhere in the world) is that the standards of governance and accountability in the nonprofit sector is not in par with that of the private and public sectors. Ideally, given that nonprofit organisations depend on donations, public and/or government funding, it is imperative to maintain g a higher degree of accountability.

In the process of understanding what is good governance for nonprofit sector means, it might be good to list out what is poor governance look like…Through my experience and understanding I would like to list out the following as instances of poor governance: when we do not see an independent chair or board members who are not independent or no CEO performance indicators, Board meetings that spend more time on operations than on strategic thinking or when there is hardly any agreement between the board and the management, organisation extinction is regularly discussed and eternal complaint about lack of funds and issues regarding the deliverable.

How can we avoid such situations of poor governance and bring effectiveness to nonprofit governance? As we see most of these practices are linked to Board of Directors, lets first try to come up with a solution to make them more effective. In that regard, it is imperative to look at three main dimensions: Board structure, the competencies of its members and their behaviour. Board of Directors should be guided by proper policies, processes and procedures. Prior to providing the strategic direction to the organisation, Board needs to put themselves in order. Secondly, when thinking about members of the Board, they need to be a set of individuals who have knowledge, skills, abilities and a good network that will benefit the organisation in numerous ways. Finally, the board behaviours: their values, ethics, management relations etc.

It might be a good idea for the Board of Directors of nonprofit organisations also to introduce an annual performance assessment for themselves. I have come to understand that formal board reflection exercises have been increasingly used by many boards already in the sector. This actually seem to be both a norm and a practice in Australia. These evaluations will inevitably bring benefits for the organisation in a positive manner. They may actually reveal how effective is the working style of your board, how competent your directors have been and to think more and more about this, it looks critical if boards are to function at a high level to give strategic direction to an organisation. Most importantly, board evaluations allow the board to set the ‘tone from the top’ by sending a strong message to stakeholders that the board values a performance culture. If properly conducted, these evaluations will also help establish the individual and collective responsibilities of directors and identify where the board and individual directors need to enhance their performance.

These evaluations then will inevitably put the board on track to perform the role that is expected from them: strategic direction, CEO selection, monitoring and performance evaluation, monitoring the management of the organisation, risk management, compliance, policy framework, networking, stakeholder communication, decision making that leads to effective governance. Having established these processes and procedures from top to bottom, nonprofit organisations can provide incremental governance initiatives leading to good governance.

 

 

 

Nonprofit Governance 03: Constituent/Representative Board Model

The research on nonprofit governance further highlights the constituent or representative board model as another model of governance. According to this style of governance, there is a direct and clear link between the organisation’s board and its constituents. The Board of Directors (BoD) are also representing the constituents who also participate in policy development and planning. This participation benefits the constituents as they are actively engaging in and have a control over the policy decisions through their representatives in the BoD. However, due to the representative nature, the BoD’s under this model are generally large in size. The research highlights that they could be as big as 40 in some instances.

The clear difference of this model in comparison to the policy governance model is that while they both continue to maintain centralized decision making, this model has a value addition of a decentralized input which leads to a healthy operation. However, in most occasions the relationship between the BoD and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) are not clearly defined and although the numbers are large the relationship between the BoD and CEO seems no different to the policy governance model. This also means that BoD sticks to its role of providing policy directives leaving the CEO to manage the operations within the limitations set by them.

In fact, if the model is working effectively it is also noticeable that there is a broad base of participation which gives meaning to the power of decentralization as this governing system allows the perspectives of constituents also be represented at the board level. Ideally if the system further had sub-committees which are action oriented, that will bring more effective governance avoiding most downfalls of the policy governance model. Given the large number of members in the BoD compared to a normal BoD the communication and coordination are expected to be effective. Particularly because there need to be a clear process of obtaining the input by the constituents.

This also bring the challenges of this model on the other hand. As communication is a key concern and a feature for the success of this model, there are pressures and demands for communication to be timely, adequate, consistent, clear and accessible. While the system of sub-committees on one hand will assure inclusiveness unless properly coordinated and managed it could also be the most unproductive system. Another frequent complaint within this system is identified to be the lack of focus on policy directives and broader concerns of organisational management and significant amount of time spent on constituency interests, leading the BoD meeting to another level of a management one.

My personal experience of this type of a model reminds me that conflicts among BoD members are natural and common. On the other hand, they are also not easily resolved and leads even to a level of damaging the board relationships. With representative interests and positions, there is a tendency to pursue self-preservation rather than shared interests.  The model therefore generally requires some form of written contract that needs to be renewed regularly to keep it in force.

Nonprofit Governance 02: Policy Governance Model

Governance context of the nonprofit organisations is an area of interest for most scholars who are interested in this subject. The next few articles of this series will therefore explore various governance models and analyse them.

Policy governance model is the most commonly used among the nonprofit organisations. This model focuses on single organisation with clear differences distinguished between the Board of Directors and the Chief Executive Officer. The role of the board is one of stewardship on behalf of its communities. For this purpose, they focus mainly on the vision, mission, values and strategic priorities of the organisation. They further ensures the responsiveness to community stakeholders and empowers staff to carry out the mission within established limitations.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) on the other hand is expected to provide operational leadership in managing the organisation and ensure the fulfillment of its mission. The Board of Directors monitors the CEO and evaluates his performance based on the KPIs agreed upon. Within this clear demarcation of roles, the Board of Directors govern the organisation by engaging at a policy level and monitoring the key official who is in-charge of their implementation.

In order to ensure efficiency within this model it is expected to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities of the CEO and the Board of Directors. Secondly, accountability stands as another important feature. The focus on outcomes and results are expected to lead to increased accountability. An external and policy focus of the Board of Directors will connect them with other boards and stakeholders. The Board of Directors need to be satisfied about the leadership role they perform in order to empower and support the CEO to efficiently manage the operation. The Board is expected to engaged in the system by scanning the environment, becoming familiar with the “big picture”, trends in the sector and entering into strategically important partnerships for the benefit of the organisation. This leadership and networking role of the Board will facilitate ensuring adequate resources and make the CEO’s role in fund raising more easier towards accomplishing the organisational mission.

While this model has been commonly used by the nonprofit organisations, they also identify this as a more familiar and comfortable framework of governance. However, this model also faces few significant downfalls. Board and staff relations are put in a vulnerable and disconnected position where there is no space or opportunity to build productive working relationship between the Board and staff. The staff may often mistrust the Board’s ability to govern them as their understanding on the operation is minimal and the Board will also feel disconnected from program and operation related work. This creates a gap between the policy makers, policies and their implementation towards achieving the expected outcome. The policy governance model further limiting the ability to embrace evolution and change as a result. The only successful way to address these issues is through a CEO who would be able to balance both the staff and the Board where the opportunity for both parties to interact will also be provided. However that has not been a very successful means of addressing this issue.

 

Nonprofit Governance 01: The Basics

My current research and online studies have largely focused on the governance of nonprofit organisations. Hence, I have actually decided to work on a series of articles on this topic as a means of reviewing the work I have been involved in for nearly a decade and also to understand the developments of the contemporary discourse on the subject.

Lets begin with the very basics, primarily by understanding what is meant by nonprofit sector and analysing how important is it in the world economic landscape today.

What do we have a nonprofit sector? Historically communities formed way before governments existed, people joined together to solve their problems. As the public and private sector grew and take a significant proportionate of the formal governing structure, it came to be realised that they are not able to or willing to resolve all the problems and concerns in the community. The failure of market and governments paved the way for the formal rise of the nonprofit organisations.

Their existence become more significant within the liberal system where market and government generally tend to ignore the unpopular issues among the communities. Nonprofit sector therefore have a niche market where they can help those with interests not large or popular enough to be of concern to the state or profitable enough for the markets.

What do we call the nonprofit sector? They are variety of terms used as a third sector of the economy including, social sector, social economy, civil society, non governmental sector and many more.

What types of organisations do fall into this category? They are mostly established organisations (incorporated) considered to be private and not controlled by the government. They are also organisations that do not share profits with the owner but invest in the mission instead. Generally management or employees of these organisations have a higher representation of volunteers.

How big is this sector by today? The nonprofit sector is large and diverse in terms of the numbers, types and sizes of the organisation. In the US nonprofit sector accounts for 5-10% of the national economy. Compared to national economies, the global nonprofit sector is equal in size to the 8th largest economy in the world.

As a sector of the economy where does the nonprofit sector fit in, particularly in relation to the public and private sector? One way to think is along the public private goods and services. Nonprofit sector that falls in between these two are diverse in nature, exempted from taxes, does not distribute its profits among members with self-governing volunteer boards. These organisations serve not only the niche communities but also the public and private sectors.

In addition to the use of significant number of volunteers, these organisations also depend mainly on government funding, gifts and donations. In Australia almost 50% of the revenue for the nonprofit sector organisations are generated through gifts and donations.

Role of these organisations are also another key aspect to look into. Their roles mainly include, influencing public policy and policy makers (advocacy role), providing public and private goods and services (service provider role), organising and empowering community through action (community development role), informing and resolving complex issues by working collectively with government and other actors (problem solving role).

Tearing up the Magna Carta or Reconciling Human Rights & Counter-terrorism?

As a frequent reader of Foreign Policy online Journal, I was going through my weekend reading yesterday morning. The journal was entirely taken up by the recent attacks in Paris, France and among them my attention was immediately caught by an article named ‘Tearing up the Magna Carta[1]” on how fear risks trumping civil liberties in a Europe rattled by so called ‘Islamist terrorism’. The first thought that came to my mind while reading this article was; as human beings we are always left with two choices: the easiest, tearing up the Magna Carta and the toughest, attempting to reconcile human rights and counter terrorism. Which path would we take?

Today, we all live fearing blowback from ‘home-grown jihadist radicalisation of foreign wars’. This has been the biggest security concerns of most of the states over the last few years. It is a concern today more than ever before. One can understand the gravity of the situation when France’s former Interior Minister in 2003 (summer) claimed that returning Jihadists were ‘a ticking time bomb’. How do our governments address these challenges?

We often see our governments introducing laws on counter-terrorism or bringing amendments to the existing ones as a means of preventing such attacks and ensuring the safety and the security of the citizens. The real challenge for our governments today is to decide; as democracies do we fall into the trap of the terrorists and compromise the basic principles of human rights, our openness, rule of law and freedom and continue to provide legitimacy to their existence ? or are we open to find the right balance between human rights, social cohesion, freedom and counter terrorism?

Former Secretary General of the United Nations has observed that:

…compromising human rights … facilitates achievement of the terrorist’s objective – by ceding to [them] the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits. Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element.

As someone who have lived through a conflict during most of my life, the popular discourse on reconciling human rights and counter-terrorism has been that human rights laws are often inflexible and does not pave the way for government efforts to effectively respond to danger. However, it is also important to keep it in mind that the birth of human rights law also was in the midst of conflicts. Hence, it also leaves provisions to strike a balance between security interests and the rights.

For example, it recognises that sometimes individual rights need to be balanced against the need to protect collective security. ICCPR further envisages that human rights may be justifiably infringed by states in times of public emergency without suspending the basic human rights such as the right to life and the right not to be subject to torture.

While this is the case in technical terms, our real challenge lies in practical terrain. In this unique contemporary context, the governments should not build grand theories that punish an entire race for the detrimental terrorist acts of one or two individuals of that community. Let’s ensure our counter terrorism policies focus on one race or community! Governments with long democratic traditions cannot afford to fall into the trap of the terrorists by tearing up Magna Carta.

At the same time, in order to reconcile human rights with counter-terrorism strategies the society as a whole need to fulfil its duty too. Under neo-liberal economic framework, we have settled to be in our comfort zones more as individuals than a holistic society. This very nature of individualism has been used as a weapon by the terrorists to destabilize our societies. While we need to maintain the openness and freedom in our societies, we also maintain social relationships with our neighbours, our colleagues, our fellow citizens to ensure the feeling of belongingness and responsibility. This will preserve the cohesive nature of our societies and the rights of all. Together we are much stronger! Our diversity will stand as our strength!

[1] http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/09/tearing-up-the-magna-carta-europe-terrorism/

Towards strengthening multi-cultural policies and practices in Canberra

Recently, I got the opportunity to be part of a dialogue on multiculturalism and multi-faith in Canberra thanks to #Libby[1]. The objective of committing half a day for this engagement was mainly to familiarise myself with the work on the same subject matter I have been engaged in out of Australia over years. Having listening to this group of eminent personalities who have been working to promote ‘One Canberra’ made me only realise how common some of these issues we face in Sri Lanka to Myanmar to the UK to Australia are.

Islamaphobia like everywhere else is challenging the democratic practices of Australia as well. No different to any other country, this is once again promoted mainly through social media. This was recognised as one of the key challenges to the multi-cultural practices of that of Australia in general and that of Australian Capital Territory in specific. I was happy to see the large numbers at the symposium on a working day morning and their enthusiasm to contribute to the dialogue. There was significant amount of time spent on identifying and analysing the issues regarding multi-culturalism and multi-faith. The survey findings of the researchers from Scanlon Foundation and Monash University[2] were also highlighted in support of problem analysis.

It is the general practice in anywhere in the world to allocate a significant space and time to analyse problems than proposing solutions. Without following the same norm, I would like to share some thoughts on ways and means of promoting multi-cultural and multi-faith practices and policies in Canberra in specific and Australia as a whole.

My thesis would be based on the following strategy that could be considered as incremental steps to promote multi-culturalism. Each of the five steps can be approached and understood in terms of both “process” and “contents”.

 

 

  1. Visibility: All practitioners and the policy makers in Australia or anywhere else in the world will undoubtedly accept that hate and racism that threatens multi-cultural and multi-faith practices are widely promoted through social media. Whilst we accept this there is limited promotion on the beauty of our diversity, importance of multi-cultural practices in the same platforms, addressing the concerns voiced by many in the past few months. This clearly shows we have no visibility in terms of promotion of multi-culturalism.It is imperative that together we work on a campaign to enhance the visibility of our policies, activities on multi-culturalism and multi-faith, feeling of belongingness and social cohesion on social media as well as traditional media. Whilst Canberra has had beautiful strategic documents to promote One Canberra over the years, there is hardly anything found in social media. I hope the social media presence of the recent symposium will be a starting point in this regard.

 

  1. Dialogue: ‘One Canberra’ symposium was a rich dialogue that engaged a significant number of people. This needs to be broadened to engage more young people and those in the business community. It is vital that we engage people of all levels, representing all sectors, age levels and backgrounds. The proposal for a multi-cultural week in that regard can be considered as a wonderful idea. Examples can be drawn from Sri Lanka Social Integration week that I was actively engaged in http://lanintegmin.gov.lk/social-integration-week-2014/. Every year the multi-cultural week will be based on a specific theme, with various activities including cultural festivals, seminars and public discussions to enrich the macro dialogue.However, by dialogue I do not necessarily mean the public discourse. It essentially needs to trickle down to the individual level too. The discussion spared a significant amount of time on casual racism and understanding each other, commencing from learning about our neighbours. Some of the proposals put forward by the audience in this regard were to celebrate Ramadan with your neighbours, organise street parties and events etc. While I appreciate all those proposals in the process, I also believe it is important for us to have discussions on our religious and cultural practices openly. By integration we do not mean living in parallel societies. Such societies will scatter at challenging times very easily. Do we know why Muslims do fast? why Buddhists celebrate Vesak? what is the message behind Devali? At our homes, work places, neighbourhoods, schools, universities and community organisations we need to take time not only to celebrate them but also to understand them. Our understanding will promote social cohesion gradually.

 

  1. Access: By access I mean not only the fact that People must be able to engage in society’s activities and social networks in their daily life, including economic, social, cultural, religious, and political activities with no discrimination based on their religion, colour, race, country of origin or their long name but also to have access to a formal body to make their case. This needs easy access than filling lengthy forms and making submissions. Once again I would like to take an example from the Sri Lankan context where I have personally been highly involved in bringing a significant change: introducing a hotline to complaint about such incidents at the time it occurs might be one way of tracking them. This way, the victim can provide his or her details and report the discrimination. It could indeed be as small as someone requesting to change the name in the resume. The person requested would even not understand it as discriminating someone. Yet denying such a request would only make the applicant loose an opportunity hence most of the time he or she will agree to change the name, how much we hate to be called by a strange foreign name. The change of each and every such practices are essential for us to promote the feeling of belongingness and to have a feeling ‘we are all part of One Canberra”.

 

  1. Rights: One Canberra policy mainly focuses on ensuring the rights of all communities living in the Capital Territory and to promote feeling of belongingness. Not only the policy makers, but each and every individual in our society needs to understand the rights of all the people. It is common for most of the cases pertaining to racism not been reported due to lack of understanding on the rights. Understanding or awareness of these will inevitable be made when the above three elements are addressed successfully, why we also can identify this as a process. Let people understand that they have rights to act and claim, rights to be different, legal rights, rights to access social services, such as housing, education, transportation, and health care. They must have visibility, engage in dialogue, access to services and resources to fully participate in this. Most importantly, the right to claim will regress if one is discriminated.

 

  1. Responsibilities: The general phenomenon is that those who do not have access to rights are not able to participate fully in society which challenges our multi-cultural element. However, even if people have rights to access, they are unable to participate or strop participating because of conditions such as lack of recognition, lack of respect or physical constraints where the responsibility becomes an important element. We all as elements of this society hence needs to have a responsibility to take an extra step to make everyone feel part of this society. The responsibility does not essentially lies with the governing bodies, it is of all, each and every one of us.

 

In this regard, I would like to emphasise the role of media as the creators of ‘public mind’ in the 21st century. Media holds a significant responsibility in promoting belongingness and to avoid all discriminatory reporting or statements for petty profit purposes.

 

It is our Canberra and our Society! Let’s celebrate our diversity and make One Canberra a living reality!

 

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/pub/libby-lloyd/11/585/349

[2] http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/economic-concerns-terrorism-and-racism-top-australian-worries-survey-finds/story-fni0fiyv-1227105599775?nk=8b4c55ae9abfc6e602d636df31077c84

Gough Whitlam didn’t make roads, harbours and ports, but he changed Australia: Lessons to Sri Lanka

Australia as a nation is in tears about the loss of Gough Whitlam, a much better legend than a Prime Minister. Irrespective of party differences, it is surprising to see how all Australians believe that the country would not be what it is, without him.

As the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had led a chaotic big-spending government for less than three years between 1972 to 1975. That was not to make high-ways, new ports, new harbours, beautify Australian cities or to maintain the world’s biggest Cabinet of Ministers. He is a legend in the history of this country for ending the White Australia Policy and the Vietnam War, opening Australia to Asia, ending discrimination against women and Aborigines and for opening doors for the poor people to access the university education.

As www.bbc.co.uk[1] highlights it is interesting to understand what are the biggest reforms he introduced to be someone more than a Prime Minister of this state. He had pioneered in introducing a universal health insurance scheme targeting the low income earners which later developed to be Medicare. As a brand new migrant to Australia, I am privileged to enjoy this facility and thankful for the policy he fought for the betterment of the people of this country.

Education has been a core area of reform for the Whitlam Government, where he had taken all necessary steps to abolish the university fees and establish greater equity in the way state and private schools were funded, through the creation of a Schools Commission.

Whitlam government had been capable of breaking the previous system of government control over nearly every aspect of the daily lives of the Indigenous Australians and introduce reforms in the area of ‘self-determination’ for them and land rights.

The next most progressive reform he has introduced in 1973 had been ending the white Australia policy that intentionally favoured immigrants from European Countries, in particular the UK, dropping all references to race in its immigration policy. Since then, immigrants were chosen on merit and eligibility for various categories rather than on the basis of race, colour or religion.

What can Sri Lanka learn from this legendary personality? Recognising the significant damage caused to our lives and livelihoods from an array of conflicts since independence, including the protracted armed conflict that spanned three decades and the mistrust and insecurity generated between and among the peoples of Sri Lanka, our first focus would have been to take measures to build up a collective Sri Lankan identity, affirming the equality of all citizens irrespective of their ethnic, religious or any other differences with a commitment to ensure that all peoples have the right to preserve and promote their respective identities and live with dignity in one nation. My wish list towards this is not too long:

  1. As we have realised that we cannot win the rights of any community through a violent means of conflict, it is imperative to build consensus among all political stakeholders towards a governance structure that will protect the rights, dignities and responsibilities of all communities.
  2. Full implementation of the National Languages Policy assuring the right for any citizen to use either of the two national and official languages of Sri Lanka: Sinhala and Tamil as pronounced in Chapter IV of the Constitution whilst promoting trilingual competence amongst the entire population.
  3. Sri Lanka to have an education policy where the access to quality education for all is assured with no political interferences in the system. Sri Lanka as a nation will not be able to move forward without sufficient allocation of resources for education and research where we encourage generation of knowledge and skills of the next generation of the country.
  4. Stressing the importance of sustainable economic and social transformation to eliminate poverty and meet basic needs with a commitment to work towards realising adequate standards of living for all citizens including adequate food, clothing and housing, the full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities can complement the process of reconciliation and national unity.

 

Sri Lanka has commenced post-war development from the last point of my wish list of which also was not a priority of the late Whitlam government. Having read the work done by this great personality within a very short period of three years, only reminds me the sinhala idiom “hitha ethnam patha kudada”. Its time!

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-29699576