Aid ‘disconnect’ in Paris

[TamilNet, Friday, 22 December 2000, 03:27 GMT]
(News Feature) The ambiguity surrounding the outcome of the Sri Lanka Development Forum in Paris this week has been rapidly seized upon by Sri Lanka’s main opposition and (belatedly in response) by the government’s supporters, with confident assertions of failure or success respectively. However, with the meeting concluding sans the customary pledges of monetary assistance and the critical tone of the final statement from the Forum - with warnings of the need for “an utmost sense of urgency” from the government and “a sense of frustration amongst donors” - it is clear that things have not gone according to plan for President Chandrika Kumaratunge.

Summing up at the end of the 2-day meeting, Mieko Nishimizu, Vice President for the World Bank’s operations in South Asia Region and chair of the forum, initially struck a positive note, perhaps belying the acrimony that had reportedly characterised the meeting over December 18 and 19.

But the tough message soon became apparent, despite the diplomatic language it was couched in: - the conflict-driving ethnic discrimination by the (majority Sinhala) government must end, as must Colombo’s foot dragging over the Norwegian peace initiative; there was a “perceived gap” between the government’s statements and realities in practice and the wastage of funds must cease.

However, Nishimizu’s conclusion was the clearest indication that the donors had been less than enthusiastic about providing aid this year: “Despite our diverse views and concerns, we have all learned from our shared time here and I hope we leave Paris as a stronger team, for indeed the challenges are immense.”

“As true friends of Sri Lanka, I think we felt we must be frank with our Sri Lankan colleagues about our concerns, but I also know we are all committed to supporting Sri Lanka as it faces these challenges with her characteristic determination and thoughtfulness,” she said finally.

Sri Lanka’s delegation at the Forum – formerly the Paris Aid Club – was led by President Chandrika Kumaratunge who holds the defence and finance portfolios in the cabinet, and Mr. G.L. Peiris, Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Industry and Deputy Minister of Finance.

“In the last two days, we have indeed learned a great deal about the complexity of the challenges that the Government faces in addressing the issues of economic management, ethnic conflict, governance, poverty reduction, and tertiary education,” Nishimizu said. “I have heard two strands in our deliberations…”

“On its side, the Government has urged us to understand the ways in which these complexities are rooted in Sri Lanka's history, culture, and social norms. And our Sri Lankan colleagues have helped us to understand much better the context of development in Sri Lanka,” she said.

“But I also heard what I have termed a "disconnect", a sense of frustration among donors that, while appreciating the broad constraints of historical, cultural, and social forces, the Sri Lankan Government needs to act with an utmost sense of urgency now,” Nishimizu said. The World Bank statement cited the “rising cost of war and the dramatic increase in oil prices” as reasons for the need.

“This disconnect is not unhealthy if we can all take away what we have learned to refresh our discipline to act; to act sensitively, yes, but also with great urgency. Putting on my strict economist hat here, I want to jolt us with that stark number that the President shared with us: expenditure on the war has risen to 6% of GDP,” she said

“But I think we all appreciate the intense linkages to poverty and how reduced opportunity, be it the result of ethnicity, language or religion, creates the sort of social exclusion that explodes in the conflict at its most extreme,” she said.

The World Bank statement underscored the point: “Social exclusion driven by ethnicity, language or religion had resulted in reduced opportunities over decades and created the extreme tensions which drove conflict.”

“This understanding, I think, emerged in repeated references to the "disconnect"; to the perceived gap between official policy and commitment on the one hand and, on the other, the voices on the ground in Sri Lanka,” Nishimizu pointedly noted.

“The path to peace and prosperity lies in improving the quality of life for all Sri Lankans, in empowering people, in broadening the voice of decision making and in creating social opportunities for the poor,” Nishimizu said, quoting Sri Lanka’s Minister of Samurdhi, Mr. S.B. Dissanayake.

“These are broad themes, which cut to the heart of Sri Lanka's challenge to resolve its conflict, to build efficient institutions that have legitimacy for all citizens, and to pursue quality growth with equity and social harmony.”

“Minister Samaraweera underscored the President's commitment to resolving the conflict by relating to us how courageous she has been in taking the message of negotiated settlement with the Tamil minority to the heartland of Sinhala chauvinism,” Nishimizu said, reminding the Forum that Kumaratunge had told them that ending the war was her "first and most major priority."

“More broadly, we have come to appreciate the inter-linkages among poverty, the war, and governance,” Nishimizu said.

Touching on the matter of accountability for funds, the World Bank executive observed: “Both our Sri Lankan colleagues and their development partners recognized that there is a significant scope for better utilization of available resources.”

“Consistent with this understanding, as the Government begins to put the Framework [for Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation] into action, I am sure that the development partners will be there to support Sri Lanka, with knowledge and experience first, and if necessary and appropriate, with additional financial resources.”


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