District Committees, key to deal's success- US Don

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 28 June 2005, 10:48 GMT]
For the Joint Mechanism to be successful, "It is important that the District Committee works for the betterment of the district, not a particular ethnic, religious group. Additionally, the Regional Committee has to ensure that the aid reaches those in the most need or those facilities that have the biggest impact on the people in the district, region," said Professor Brian Blodgett of American Military University when TamilNet asked for his views on the recently signed aid deal between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers.

Full text of Professor Blodgett's responses to TamilNet's questions follows:

TamilNet: What do you think the immediate impact of the Joint Mechanism on tsunami related reconstruction will be? What is the likelihood that the JM will succeed in its objective?
Blodgett: The immediate impact of the Joint Mechanism (JM) will depend on the ability of the JVP to disrupt its implementation. If the JVP is successful, then the JM will obviously fail to help the tsunami related reconstruction.

However, for the purpose of your questions, it will be assumed that the JM is implemented as is. Therefore, the JM will allow the release and dispersion of much needed financial aid to the northern and eastern sections of the country, which were severely damaged by the tsunami. The fact that both Muslims and Tamils occupy these areas should be of no concern for the government, the Tamils, or Muslims if they truly care about the welfare of the Sri Lankan citizens. The all three groups should be willing to assist all citizens, regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds. The fact that it has taken this long for the government and the Tamils to reach a deal that will release the financial aid is deplorable.

In order for tsunami related reconstruction to occur, the individuals of the country need to unite against the common enemy – the disaster itself. There should be no issues between Tamils, Muslims, and Sinhalese and who receives how much of the financial aid. However, this is unlikely since each of the three groups will probably attempt to ensure that their ethnic / religious members are taken care of and will attempt to funnel more money to them than to other deserving ethnic / religious individuals.

It is therefore important that the District Committee works for the betterment of the district, not a particular ethnic / religious group. Additionally, the Regional Committee has to ensure that the aid reaches those in the most need or those facilities that have the biggest impact on the people in the district / region.

If the Tamils, Muslims, and Sinhalese work together for the betterment of the country / district / region, then it is likely that the reconstruction will work. If any of these three parties decide that it is in their best interest to ensure that they religious / ethnic group receives more than their fair share to the detriment of the others; then the reconstruction is likely to fail.

TamilNet: Do you think Muslims should have been included in a tripatrite deal?
Blodgett: As far as if the Muslims should have been included in a triparte deal, it is rather late to address this issue since the JM is already in place. In reality, the JM should have never had to be written and the government should have simply been able to disperse the financial aid as required; without regard to religion / ethnicity.

However, the government did not accomplish this simple act and has instead caused the delay of the release of the financial aid. Yet, the government finally opted to work with the Tamils and ensure that they financial aid was able to be released. Did the lack of active participation hurt the Muslims? At first glance, it appears that the JM is fairly written and that both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils agreed to it. The fact that the Muslims have less members than the Tamils is only important if individuals want to further their own cause and help out their own ethnic / religious group and not the country / district / region as a whole. If the JM is to work, each side has to put aside its differences and work together – something that may be hard to do. However, if successful, then it will help unite the country more than it has been since its independence from Great Britain.

TamilNet: Do you think the Joint Mechanism will help to advance the peace process forward?
Blodgett: This is a tougher question. The fact that the government recognized the Tamils and officially included them in the JM is meaningful and should help reconcile some of their differences. However, hard-core members of both sides will see the JM in a negative light. Hard-core Sinhalese, believing that the government did not have to include the Tamils in the JM and that by including them it has actually officially recognized them as a legitimate power in the country, may cause problems within the government and with the general implementation of the JM. The Tamils can use the JM’s recognition of them as a group that had to be dealt with first prior to the disbursement of the aid to further their cause for autonomy. Likewise, some Sinhalese can use it to show that the government has gone too far in its recognition of the Tamils – as the JVP has shown by its actions.

The JM has caused considerable problems in the current government with the President losing much support. However, it was a bold move to include the Tamils in the JM and the decision was undoubtedly made after careful consideration and a desire to end the stalemate of the peace talks and to ensure that the aid to the victims of the tsunami is finally distributed.

Will the JM have a lasting effect on the situation in Sri Lanka depends on if any of the Sinhalese political parties or the Tamils or Muslims use it in an attempt to further their own agenda and not as it should be seen – as a tool to help the citizens of the country.

Brian Blodgett is a professor with the American Military University, Charles Town, West Virginia, USA, and recently published a book on Sri Lanka titled "Sri Lanka’s military: The Search For A Mission," where he examines the historical evolution of Colombo’s armed forces.

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