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Lesson to be learnt: A point of view - Lessons

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Lesson to be learnt: A point of view
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The issues cited above have been stated by the Tamil community as the reasons for triggering the demand for a separate state that was justified even through violence. For the sake of genuine reconciliation it then seems appropriate that the issues that ignited the conflict are revisited to ascertain whether the perceptions that prevailed three decades ago were in fact correct, or have been distortions that concealed other agendas. If such an inquiry is undertaken with openness and transparency it would perhaps demonstrate that circumstances had existed to vindicate some of the policies adopted by successive Government. Such acknowledgement would go a long way to foster healing and reconciliation among communities and transform the attitude of the International Community towards Sri Lanka. The lessons to be learnt are that Governments in power should involve the people and that there should be transparency in the decision making process regarding issues that affect them. The mistake of not doing so is being repeated even today, at best because political leaders fear that this may result in an opening of a can of worms, or at worst, in the misguided notion that leaders know what is best for the people.

Over a period of three decades the issues that became the causes for the conflict have undergone radical changes. Except for language and colonization the other two issues are non-issues. Since language would continue to be a source of future discontent because of its impact on education and employment, it is vital that open and frank inquiries are held in order to evolve acceptable and doable arrangements if history is not to repeat itself. This would require a Parliamentary Select Committee to be appointed to evolve overarching language policies for administration and for education with the objective of transforming the society into a unified nation. Similar attention needs to be paid to colonization. The Northern and Eastern Provinces cannot be developed with the manpower currently available in these two provinces. Therefore, infusion from the rest of the country is inevitable because the alternative of limiting development to existing man power availability is unacceptable. This would alter demographics with impact on political representation. These contentious issues need to be negotiated and resolved in a transparent manner with minimum effect to the interests of those concerned. The lesson to be learnt is that decisions and policies relating to issues with serious consequences should be held in all parts of the country in order to seek out as many perspectives as possible, maximizing public involvement.


What are the lessons that could be learnt for the future? If a frank and open inquiry reveals that there are grounds for vindication of the policies adopted by successive Governments, the causes for discontent must then be due to the people being ignorant of the circumstances that warranted the policies implemented. Such ignorance is due to the people being marginalized in the decision making process; a consequence of a top down approach to decision making. If the mistakes of the past are to be avoided in a country like Sri Lanka with its high political awareness, the focus has to be in building institutions that strengthen democracy and attendant democratic processes. Since practically all decisions that have a consequential impact on the lives of people are made at the center, the focus of strengthening the democratic institutions should be at the center rather than at the periphery. The four sources of discontent that gave cause to initiate the conflict originated at the center. If the democratic process with its attendant safeguards had functioned effectively at the center the extent of discontent could have been mitigated. The lesson therefore is to ensure that democratic processes and arrangements are strengthened so that they function more effectively at the center than was done in the past. Most importantly, there has to be greater transparency.

If mistakes of the past are to be avoided, the democracy deficit has to be made good. Since most of the decisions with far reaching consequences could continue to be made at the center regardless of the powers devolved to the periphery, it is vital that the institutions and arrangements at the center are organized in a manner to foster the best practices of democracy with fairness and justice - not in its most elemental form of majority rule under all circumstances. This means strengthening Parliament to oversee Executive action and making the Executive accountable to Parliament.

~ ~ by Neville Ladduwahetty


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