A sangam Research Analysis

A Critique of the UNDP Report,
"National Human Development Report, Sri Lanka, 1998"

By A Staff Writer

This Report was commissioned by the UNDP to assess the situation of Sri Lanka on various indices which measure the human dimension of development. Although the introduction says the object of this report is to measure the uneven human development in various parts of the country, the report left out the data for the districts in the Northeast Province (NEP). The data from the districts in the NEP are such that the indices for 1996 and thereafter would be the worst of any districts in Sri Lanka. I want to argue that neglecting the data from the Northeast is a deliberate and political attempt to make Sri Lanka’s relative international position look favorable, as it has been in the past, and to hide the devastation the war has created in the Northeast.

The Composition of the National Team
The UNDP appointed a National Team to write the report, with five members from the University of Colombo and University of Peradeniya and a sixth member from the SL Electricity Board. One of the six from the Universities is a Tamil and the rest are from the Sinhala community. The UNDP also appointed a consultant from the UNICEF office in India. The Report, in addition, lists a Consultative Committee chaired by the former UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. Arve Ofstad, who was in office during the period of the study. The other members of the Consultative Committee were Government staff or former staff of the Finance Commission and National Planning, all of who are Sinhalese.

Since 1956, in Sri Lanka, it is common to be suspicious of any committee composed of members from a single ethnic community looking into a national situation. The matter has become so serious since the war started fifteen years ago that any report written by committees such as the one commissioned to write the UNDP Report is viewed as one would a report on the cancerous properties of cigarettes written by a tobacco company. It is surprising that UNDP was not aware of the current situation. One has to also ask the question whether UNDP, like many international NGOs, international aid agencies, and UN organisations, is compromising its independence by acceding to the unethical and immoral regulations and practices of the Sri Lanka government against the Tamils, with the justification that it is better to stay in the country and help the Tamil people in distress, even in small ways, than to stand on international protocol and be expelled and be unable to help at all.

By putting a Tamil on the team to write the report, an attempt was made to provide some balance, but the way the report ignores the Northeast, this Tamil was either as ignorant or as uninterested in the Northeast as his Sinhalese colleagues or was powerless to influence his colleagues. Even Mr. Ofstad’s prodding in the Introduction saying, "In particular the Northeastern Province and the adjoining districts have suffered from the prolonged conflict, special security measures and massive displacement of people, which have resulted in social and economic setbacks," did not elicit any attention to the issue.

Data Availability
The data for variables used to calculate the Human Development Index, Human Poverty Index, Gender Development Index and Gender Endowment Index given below for the post-displacement years of 1996, 1997 and 1998 are available in government institutions in the Vanni districts controlled by the LTTE and they are also available in the Government Agents’ offices and Provincial Government offices of the respective sectors in Trincomalee, the administrative capital of NEP. Most of these data, however, are in Tamil, though some of them are available in English.

The Human Development Index:

Life expectancy at birth.
Adult literacy rate.
Combined Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education enrolment ratio.
Real GDP per Capita.

The Human Poverty Index:

Population proportion dying before age 40.
Proportion of adults.
Proportion of children not enrolled in Primary and Junior Secondary schooling.
Population proportion without access to safe drinking water.
Population proportion lacking access to safe sanitation.
Proportion of child births that are made outside formal medical institutions.
Proportion of children who do not receive immunisation coverage in the following diseases: B.C.G. diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus; polio; and measles.
Proportion of pregnant women who are not immunised with tetanus toxoid vaccines.
Population proportion lacking access to electricity.

The Gender Development Index:

Same indices and formula as for Human Development Index used, but differentiated by gender.

The Gender Empowerment Index:

Percentage share of female parliamentary representation.
Percentage share of females in administrative and managerial positions.
Percentage share of females in professional and technical positions
Proportion of national income earned by females.

Data necessary to calculate these indices and other data are not only collected on a regular basis by the respective government departments in the Northeast Province, but are also collated by the Government Agents of the districts in question. With respect to the supply of electricity, fuel, water, rail, road transportation and telephone services, it is common knowledge that these services to the Northern part of the NEP were cut off in 1990 and the infrastructure to provide these and other government services have been destroyed due to the war. The availability of electricity to the population is almost zero and close to zero for other services. The member of the National Team from the Electricity Board should have known that fact. Hospitals and clinics keep accurate records of immunisation and other health records in the Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Vavuniya districts, despite repeated displacement. These records are sent to the provincial and national health departments regularly.

Examination Results
The only instance in the UNDP Report where statistics were given for the NEP, for education, is the GCE O/A Level results for the examinations for 1992 - 1996 and the number of schools, teachers, and teacher-pupil ratio for 1997. It gives no data on the displaced schools, students, their parents, teachers and families, dropouts and non-school going children, and other relevant data which are all readily available from the Provincial Directorate of Education, Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports in Trincomalee, and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Colombo. Are these pass percentages given because they compare well with the rest of Sri Lanka in spite of the war, disappearances and displacement? All other data on education presented for the other provinces are also available for the NEP. The UNDP team left this data out because it would present the disproportionately devastating effect of the war on the children in the War and Conflict Zones when compared to the other provinces.

With only the percent pass in the GCE examination results, and no other data on education presented, the Report has the audacity to conclude in its comments on the Education Sector, on page 61 and 62 that, "Despite the hardships experienced in the North-Eastern Province, the quality of education has remained roughly comparable with the rest of the country," and, "Education in the North-Eastern Province has been sustained due to the strong commitment of the government and the population to investment in human capital through education." Such conclusions without the relevant data or a thorough inquiry, can only be made by propagandists, not legitimate and impartial researchers.

Save the Children Fund Report
The Report by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of the NEP and Save the Children Fund (UK), "An appraisal of the Education System in the Vanni Area of Sri Lanka," May 1998, concludes otherwise. Why did the National Team not do a 20-day intensive study such as the one above if they did not have access to the appropriate data? Surely, with UNDP assistance, money and travel were not the problems. Any educator or lay statistician knows that pass percentages alone do not give the number of students who dropped out of the system and never had the chance to reach the GCE "O" and "A" levels or sit for the examinations due to displacement, war, arrests, torture and death. Percent pass at the GCE examinations is only one statistic or indicator of the educational level out of hundreds. Distinguished University academics and Planning and Finance Ministry stalwarts should have known this fact, which is common knowledge. The question that needs to be asked is, "Why did the National Team make such claims and why did the UNDP accept and publish such unsubstantiated conclusions?"

The credit for the functioning of the schools in the war and conflict zones in the face of the war and repeated displacements must go to the Tamil people, Tamil educationists, the Civil Administration of the LTTE, especially the LTTE’s Education Sector, and the Tamil and international NGOs and aid agencies. Ask any International NGO in confidence and they will tell you so. The evidence of attempts to destroy the education of Tamil children is abundant and one only has to ask the educators in the War and Conflict Zones and the various sectors in the Northeast Secretariat. The truth will be told only if the inquiry is in confidence, but the data is there for all who want to know the truth. The National Team apparently did not want to seek the truth because the facts will not be complementary to the Government. The UNDP, knowingly or otherwise, let them make statements without data. Neither the National Team nor the UNDP were fair by the Tamil children and their parents who are in distress.

Resident Representative of UNDP Denied Access
It is surprising that UNDP underestimated the bias of the National Team composed of any single community knowing the politics of the war in Sri Lanka. The Resident Representative responsible for the commissioning and conduct of the Report, during his tenure in office, was never granted permission by the Sri Lanka Government or the SL Armed forces to visit the Vanni Districts, except Vavuniya and Mannar towns. On one occasion, in 1996, when he got permission from the Government and the LTTE to visit the Vanni, at the Thandikulam checkpoint the army refused permission for him to enter the LTTE controlled area. UNDP staff and staff of other UN organisations, however, have visited the Northeast, including Jaffna and the eastern areas. They could have advised the National Team and the Consultative Committee as to where to get the data for the Northeast. Medecines Sans Frontiers (MSF) could have advised where to get the health data, if the UNDP team was not aware of the sources. The UNDP and the National Team could have visited the districts concerned to collect the data. Either they did not have the will or the Ministry of Defence did not give them permission to go into the former or current LTTE-controlled areas to collect data that would prove embarrassing to the SL government.

There is an interesting appendix to the Report in Table 13, the ‘Manufacturing, Trade and Banking’ activities and in Table 14, the ‘Service Sector’ activity for 1990 and 1995, in which the data for the Northern Province and the Eastern Province are presented separately by the Ministry of Finance and Planning: Regional Economic Accounts. The only industry that was functioning in the North in 1996 and thereafter, according to the tables, is the Tamil daily paper ‘Uthayan.’

The Northeast Province
The UNDP and its National Team were not independent enough to note that there is no such entity as Northern and Eastern Provinces in Sri Lanka. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution unified these two provinces in 1987, ten years before the UNDP Report was written in 1997. There is only one Governor and one administration for the Northeast. It is surprising that this fact had escaped the UNDP and its National Team or is it that they refuse to accept the de jure and de facto status of the Northeast? The National Team, as researchers, should have observed the distinction. UNDP as an agency of the UN should never have published the Report with such demonstrated bias by the National Team. One would however expect the Ministry of Finance and Planning, composed of 97 % Sinhalese, keeping separate records for political reasons: colonization schemes in the Eastern parts of Northeast being one, and the expectation of future division of the Northeast into different provinces as expressed in the draft new constitution tabled in Parliament being another.

Recommendation for an impartial report
The UNDP should not be party to the selective presentation of data that would hide or ignore the devastating effect of the war on Tamils and their Human Development Indices, and equate Sri Lanka’s Human Development with Sinhala Human Development. The Resident Representative states in the Preface that, "...while UNDP and the Government have supported the Report and participated in the review of various drafts, they do not necessarily agree with all the analysis, conclusions and recommendations, which remain the responsibility of the authors." This statement may dissociate the UNDP and the government from the errors in analysis, conclusion and recommendations, but it does not absolve them from glossing over the plight of the Tamil children and their parents by not reporting the various human development indicators given above and misrepresnting the status of their education. UNDP had the option to reject the Report or else delete all reference to the Northeast and restrict the Report to districts in which Committee gathered data without refering to the Northeast.

We therefore request the UNDP to make amends to the grave error of judgement they have made, and withdraw the Report, and research and produce a new report with the assistance of an independent and more independent team. Alternatively, UNDP should, with the assistance of a Northeast Team and data from the various sectors in the Northeast administration, conduct a study on the Human Development in the Northeast and publish that Report as a supplement to the one already published. This is the least UNDP could do to redress the harm the 1998 Report has done to the children and parents living in the Northeast under conditions of war.

A Staff Writer at
sangam Research [July 1999]