Robert Blake: U.S. 'development' doesn't seek majoritiarian inroads to East

[TamilNet, Thursday, 18 December 2008, 09:35 GMT]
Responding to an article that appeared in TamilNet on U.S. enthusiasm in 'developing East' to link it with markets in Western province, ignoring the Tamil perspectives on development, the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Robert Blake, in an article that appeared in U.S. Embassy's blog has defended that the U.S. development program has a goal of "fostering economic development, good governance and stability while preserving the existing ethnic balance in the east." Disagreeing with the perspective shed by the Batticaloa district TNA parliamentarian Ariyanethran, the U.S. Ambassador says that meaningful development can take place in the East before a political solution is agreed upon.

Based on U.S. Embassy's own literature, the TamilNet feature article, to which the U.S. Ambassador was responding, had referred that the US programme was being implemented by The Services Group, a US based company, in coordination with five ministries of the Sri Lanka government. The article also named some of the programmes undertaken at the moment as the introduction of new financial products in the conflict zones through Lanka Orix Leasing Company (LOLC), introduction of certain crops like Gherkins (a kind of small cucumber) and peppers to supply McDonalds, Burger King etc., four vocational schools, potable water supply at Poththuvil and the reconstruction of the Municipal Public Market in Batticaloa.

The TamilNet feature further referred to a press release of the US Embassy, dated 17th September: "By addressing the disparity in economic development between Eastern Sri Lanka and more prosperous Western Province, CORE [Connecting Regional Economies] aims to establish conditions whereby sustained economic development can be launched."

"The American planners and all those who harbour such development ideas to the East are either ignorant of the dynamics of Majoritarianism in Sri Lanka or think that the Tamils and Muslims of the East can be easily isolated and subjugated," the feature article quoted Batticaloa district TNA MP Ariyanethran in the feature published on 28 November, 2008.

The U.S. Ambassador, in his response published on 15 December, while admitting that the programs were being carried out with Sri Lankan central government's coordination, explains that the money doesn't go through the central government.

Extracts from the response by Robert Blake in the U.S. Embassy's blog, where he states he was disappointed to read on TamilNet criticism of the US Government’s programs to help stabilize and develop Eastern Sri Lanka, follow:

Robert O Blake
"First, a Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP asserts in the Tamilnet article that Washington’s purpose in our programs for the east is to, “help Colombo make majoritarian inroads into the east.” This is incorrect. We have specifically established the goal of fostering economic development, good governance and stability while preserving the existing ethnic balance in the east. It is well known that the east is one of Sri Lanka’s poorest provinces and that poverty and lack of adequate economic opportunity are principal drivers of conflict. One of the best ways to address such poverty is to establish programs that will link new businesses in the East with the country’s principal markets in the western and other parts of the country. Indeed, USAID’s Connecting Regional Economies program in the East has five goals:

"-First, support livelihood development for vulnerable populations;
-Second, promote the development of agriculture-based value chains;
-Third, ensure that groups in conflict-affected areas benefit from participation in these value chains and our other efforts;
-Fourth, implement a workforce development strategy;
-and finally promote a business enabling environment. (click here for more info)

"The Member of Parliament also alleges that that U.S. development initiatives “ take place through direct collaboration between the American agency and the ministries of Sri Lanka, sidelining the provincial council.” This also is incorrect. While we of course coordinate with the central government as we would in any country, none of our money goes through the central government. Rather, it goes directly to U.S. and/or Sri Lankan organizations working in the east to implement our programs.

"Furthermore, one of the goals of our “Supporting Regional Governance” program in the East is to improve the capacity and governance of the Eastern Provincial Council and local government authorities. Specifically, this program aims to support and facilitate increased citizen engagement in regional and local government, strengthen inter-community reconciliation, and promote social equality by, for example, promoting citizen interaction with government institutions, and strengthening the capacity of journalists and media outlets in the East.

Lastly, the MP alleges that America’s program in the east will only “add to the ethnic conflict in the island.” He says “meaningful development of the east can take place only after a substantial political solution to the Tamil national question.” We agree that a political solution is necessary (click here for my recent speech to the American Chamber of Commerce), but we do not agree that meaningful development can take place only after a political solution is agreed upon. It is important to give the people of the east the opportunity now to obtain vocational training and sustainable private sector jobs. Such sustainable livelihood opportunities are an essential part of ensuring stability and development so that the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese communities in the East can rebuild their lives and cooperate with each other to help the East realize its potential."


Chronology:


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