rebuild our nation together
Sri Lanka today is akin to a mass funeral house. As the country
continues to mourn the death of more than 40,000 men, women and
children lost to the deadly tsunami in just under three fateful
hours on Boxing Day, VIPs from faraway lands have been dropping
in to shake hands and sympathise with our leaders.
thousands upon thousands who did survive, but were injured or displaced,
now have to face the dismal prospect of rebuilding from the rubble
while living with the trauma of having seen their loved ones swept
away before their very eyes.
envelopes of cash have been given or pledged to meet the expenses
associated with rebuilding the nation from the devastation caused
by the seaquake off Indonesia. At last Thursday's summit in Jakarta,
solemn pledges were made. Billions of US dollars were pledged and
it was agreed that an early warning system be quickly set up so
that the nations affected by the most recent post seaquake-tsunami,
would never be caught unawares again. UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan, however, has seen it all before. He has seen many countries,
especially western nations, pledge princely sums for earthquake
victims before, only to translate their words into beggarly amounts
when it came to actual aid reaching the victims. He cited the recent
example of Iran, where these same nations did not really put their
dollars where their mouth was.
nations are already engaged in some mathematical gymnastics and
are converting their pledges into partly cash, partly debt-relief
measures. The stark reality is that in the modern world, these never-never
'soft loans' are mere book entries that economically poor nations
like Sri Lanka, hardly repay anyway. The US once even tried a new
method by tying these never-never loans to the upkeep of our natural
rainforests like the Sinharaja, so that they can have a firmer foot-hold
in this country.
two weeks to the day the tsunami hit this country with a vengeance,
the outpouring of support from the ordinary people of the world,
as well as foreign governments continues. Some more than others,
perhaps because nationals of western countries were victims themselves.
The scale of giving has nevertheless, been stupendous. Yet very
soon, the world will move on and we will be left with the burden
of re-building our nation. World attention will turn in a different
direction and focus on a different issue.
we then moving in the right direction of nation rebuilding?
The government has just appointed a task force called TAFREN to
re-build the nation. This organisation, as we have been told, is
going to be the centre of national reconstruction, with the President's
Office as the epicentre thereof. Unfortunately, national reconstruction
has not got off to the right start. The different committees appointed
by the President for relief and rehabilitation and reconstruction,
and law and order have all been disappointing. Some of those in
these committees have no known expertise in any of these areas.
Some are even businessmen of questionable repute, albeit well connected
with the ruling party. Some of them are the Haliburtons of Sri Lanka,
smacking their chops and hoping they can play a part in the construction
contracts that will come with the re-building programmes.
fat cheques to the President must not be the qualifications for
these committees. They can be placed on the Presidential honours
list and such ranks, but why has the Public Service for instance
been all but sidelined.
and architects, scientists and urban planners have been ignored
and professional institutes have not even been considered. At the
first news conference of the new TAFREN high-ups, there was no suggestion
of a bipartisan approach, politically, by TAFREN which is engaged
in ear-marking areas for future planning in the wake of offers by
foreign countries and the private sector, both local and foreign
indicating their willingness to adopt ravaged towns.
have we been told, for instance, who is going to be ultimately responsible
for TAFREN. Is it going to be the President of the Republic? And
if it is the President, whether she will be immune from being questioned.
the wake of the 1983 race riots, the Government of the day appointed
a Rehabilitation Commission to see that those who suffered damages
were able to apply for funds directly from the Commission. TAFREN
must not be seen to be a political outfit run by the President's
Office, by all the President's men and women, where largesse is
dispensed only to those who subscribe to the ruling party. Confidence
in the Government, not just this Government, but in Governments
of contemporary times, has not been healthy. Even the President
has acknowledged that widespread bribery and corruption exist in
the country. There is thus, a great need for transparency and accountability
in all activities connected to the reconstruction effort.
country must also be alert to the influx of foreign NGOs and the
continued presence of foreign troops. We need to be sure too that
local input and ground experience are foremost in rebuilding the
country. Blindly accepting every handout, even those with strings
attached is not the answer. All of us Sri Lankans need to get our
act together and along with foreign help see this nation rise again,
a stronger, more united Lanka. That is the challenge facing us in
this new year.
No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2. P.O. Box: 1136, Colombo
2, Sri Lanka.
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