The Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure and its Implications

by Dr. Victor Rajakulendran, Sydney, Australia

The idea of creating a joint management structure between the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was mooted just days after the tsunami struck the coast of Sri Lanka.  Now, after 6 months of foot-dragging by the SLG, it has become a reality - at least on paper.

After direct, intensive negotiations, initially between the Peace Secretariats of both sides and later through the Norwegian facilitators, a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the establishment of a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS) was agreed to by both sides months ago.  However, President Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumarathunga’s (CBK) hands were tied from proceeding with the signing of the MOU due to the opposition shown by one of the constituent parties of her coalition government, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the People's Liberation Party.

The JVP opposes any deal that the government attempts to make with the LTTE as it perceives any such move as giving recognition to LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, which they think will enhance the LTTE’s demand for a separate state in Sri Lanka. 

CBK knew very well that the government’s failure to sign the MOU would force the International Community to deal with the LTTE directly to help the tsunami victims in the NorthEast of the country and, thereby, the LTTE would gain that legitimacy which the JVP is trying to prevent.  Therefore, CBK went ahead with the signing of the MOU, even in face of the threat by the JVP to quit the government.  The JVP, as it threatened, quit the government, and CBK is now head of a minority government in parliament, triggering high level political uncertainty in the country. 

UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, the Canadian government, the European Union and India have already applauded both parties for making the MOU on P-TOMS a reality.

Necessity for a P-TOMS

The cease-fire agreement (CFA) signed between the LTTE and the last government, headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW), at the beginning of the current stalled peace process, recognized the existence of an LTTE administration in the NorthEast of the country.  The CFA clearly recognized and demarcated LTTE-controlled areas and government-controlled areas in the NorthEast.  The international community (IC), which supports the peace process, has not failed to recognize this reality.

From the time the idea for the establishment of a P-TOMS was mooted, the IC has been encouraging and promoting the idea, and a joint mechanism almost became a pre-condition for the delivery of the $3 Billion pledged by the donor countries for tsunami reconstruction.  This is why, as the government started dragging its feet on signing the MOU, statements were issued by the IC emphasising the importance of a P-TOMS for the equitable distribution of their aid to all the communities in Sri Lanka in order to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to speed up the process.

Donors of the $ 3 Billion pledged for tsunami rebuilding, recognizing the existence of 2 different administrations in the NorthEast, were not comfortable leaving the decision-making on how to spend their money in the hands of the SLG.  The IC knew very well the discriminatory practices of the SLG in the past in distributing development funds to the Tamil-dominated NorthEast region.  They also knew very well that this is one of the main reasons for the birth of Tamil separatism and the growth of the LTTE.  The donors wanted both parties, the SLG and the LTTE, to come to an agreement as how to disburse the money received from the donors according to the need of the affected people.  International pressure and the dire needs of the people led both parties to sign a MOU to establish a mutually-agreed P-TOMS on Friday the 24th of June 2005.

Although the tsunami affected the south coast of Sri Lanka also, as there is no LTTE administration in this region and it is not a traditional Tamil area, the signed MOU does not cover the south.  The MOU talks only about the 6 districts of the NorthEast region that were affected by the Tsunami.

MOU in brief

The purpose of the MOU is for the SLG and the LTTE to work together, in good faith and using their best efforts, to deliver expeditious relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development to the coastal communities in the six districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee and to facilitate and expedite the process of rebuilding the affected areas.  The need for a P-TOMS to facilitate such cooperation among communities and between the two parties has been accepted by both the parties.

An integrated operational management structure will be established for the purpose of planning, implementing and coordinating post-tsunami work under the MOU consisting of:

i. The Post-Tsunami Coastal Reconstruction Committee (the "High-Level Committee");

ii. The Post-Tsunami Coastal Reconstruction Committee for the Six Districts (the "Regional Committee"); and

iii. Post-Tsunami Coastal Reconstruction Committees for each of the Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, and Trincomalee districts (the "District Committees").

The high level committee (HLC) will comprise 3 members; one nominated by the SLG, one nominated by the LTTE and the other one nominated by the Muslim parties.  One of the members of the High-Level Committee will serve as the chairperson to conduct and coordinate its meetings.  The role of the chair shall rotate among the members, with each chairperson serving for two months.  The HLC will formulate policies for the equitable allocation and disbursement of donor funds in the Tsunami Disaster Zone (TDZ) based on needs assessments submitted to the High-Level Committee, guided by the principle that funds should be allocated in proportion to the number of affected persons and the extent of damage.  It will also provide advisory and monitoring service for the functioning of P-TOMS.  The High-Level Committee will have one observer representing multilateral donors and one observer representing bilateral donors attending its meetings.  These observers will be nominated by the multilateral donor community and the bilateral donor community, respectively.

The Regional Committee (RC) will act exclusively within those areas of the TDZ in the Six Districts and comprises: 2 members nominated by the GOSL, out of which one will serve as Deputy Chairperson; 5 members nominated bythe  LTTE, out of which one will serve as Chairperson; 3 members nominated by the Muslim parties, out of which one will serve as Deputy Chairperson.  As in the HLC, the RC also will have one observer representing multilateral donors and one observer representing bilateral donors attending its meetings.  The RC is supposed to strive to make decisions based on consensus, but, if consensus cannot be reached, a simple majority will be needed to implement a decision.  Approval or rejection of a proposal with issues having adverse effects on a minority community and acknowledged by at least two members of the committee, will need a 2/3 majority (i.e. 7). 

A "Regional Fund" will be created with a multilateral agency acceptable to both parties acting as the custodian of the fund.  The purpose of the Regional Fund shall be to expeditiously make available funds, following proper approved procedures, to facilitate and accelerate the relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development program in the tsunami-affected areas of the Six Districts. 

The RC will be responsible for development of strategies for implementation and prioritisation of post-tsunami emergency relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development measures.  It will approve and manage projects related to post-tsunami relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development and manage the regional fund.

Each of the 6 districts will have a District Committee (DC) and each will act exclusively in relation to those areas of the TDZ within its district.  The DCs, already established and well-functioning in these districts, will continue to function.  The DCs may further discuss and decide on issues relating to their composition and decision-making.  Adequate Muslim representation will be ensured in the DCs.  Each DC will identify the needs, prioritise the needs, generate, receive, appraise and prioritize project proposals from various stakeholders and submit recommendations to the RC and monitor and report on project progress to the RC.

This MOU will be in operation for one year and can be extended with the consent of the two parties.

Opposition to the P-TOMS

There was opposition, mainly from Sinhalese nationalist forces, before the MOU was signed and the same forces are still expressing opposition to the P-TOMS.  There was, and still is, verbal criticism from some of the Muslim politicians.

As we have stated before, because of the opposition shown by the JVP, the main coalition partner of CBK’s government, CBK had to delay signing this MOU.  Not only did the JVP organise protest rallies against CBK’s attempt to sign the MOU, they also instigated the National Bikhu Front (NBF), a national organisation of the Buddhist priests, to get out onto the streets.  These protests were neutralised by the security forces.  One of the priests from NBF went on a hunger strike against the signing of the MOU and this was also interrupted by the police.

One of the Jathika Hela Urumya (JHU, another opposition party represented by Buddhist clergy in parliament] MPs also started a hunger strike in front of the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth relic in Kandy.  CBK also thwarted this protest with the help of the high priest of the Kandy temple.  On the day of the signing of the MOU the JVP violently protested inside as well as outside parliament.  Protesters outside were teargassed and chased out by police.  However, the protesting JVP members of parliament were able to force the speaker to suspend parliament until the 5th of July.  The JVP is now talking about organising country-wide protest soon and has filed a case in the courts against the MOU.

The Muslim politicians from the East of the country, who have been demanding direct participation as a third party in the bi-partite peace negotiations, also started to agitate for equal representation for Muslims in the P-TOMS.  They argued that their community is the most affected by the tsunami and, therefore, they also should be a party to signing the MOU.

Because CBK, the LTTE and the Norwegian facilitators knew very well that the need for P-TOMS arose because of the two administrations that exist in the NorthEast, namely the SLG and the LTTE administration, and not 3 (there is no Muslim administration), they have ignored the Muslim politicians’ demand.  Rather, they have assured adequate representation to Muslims in in all 3 levels of committees.  Muslims have always participated in the SLG.  In every government several Muslim politicians have participated at cabinet level.  Under the P-TOMS, the Muslim representatives will have to negotiate with either the SLG or the LTTE, as the tsunami-affected Muslims are living in areas controlled either by the SLG or the LTTE.  If and when, as the Muslims claim, the LTTE attempts to discriminate against the Muslims in aid allocation, then the Muslims would be justified in their complaint that there is no adequate Muslim representation in P-TOMS.  In reality, the Muslims will have quite a bit of influence under the P-TOMS as both the SLG and LTTE will try to woo the Muslims to their respective sides in order to gain political strength on the committees.  [It is still unclear exactly how Muslim representatives to these committees will be chosen. -- Editor]

Some of the Tamil print media from the NorthEast have been sceptical about the signing of the MOU.  This scepticism is expressed based on the past experience when pacts made between Tamil leaders and Singhalese leaders have been abrogated by the various governments in no time, under pressure from Singhalese nationalists.  Although this scepticism is justifiable based on history, it is premature to make any forecast on the implementability of the P-TOMS.

Implications of the P-TOMS

If P-TOMS is implemented according to the spirit and the words of the MOU, the tsunami victims, irrespective of race, religion or creed, will be benefited quickly without any discrimination.  However, in response to the opposition that may gather momentum in days and weeks to come, if CBK starts dragging her feet again as she did in signing the MOU, the other party - the LTTE -, the IC, as well as all the tsunami victims, will loose faith in P-TOMS and P-TOMS will doomed to failure.

Which way the pendulum is going to swing depends on how P-TOMS is used by CBK and her opponents for their own political gains.

A presidential election is due at any time between November 2005 and November 2006.  When the election occurs depends on how the election commissioner interprets CBK’s second term in office.  Ranil Wickramasinghe has already started his campaign for president and he is expecting the election to be held as early as November 2005.  The CBK-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is expected to meet on the 30th of June to select its presidential candidate.  Depending on who this candidate is going to be, the JVP will decide whether to contest on its own or to support the SLFP’s candidate to defeat Ranil Wickramasingha.

If the JVP does not field a candidate in the presidential election, whoever gets the support of the LTTE (and hence gets the Tamil votes as a block) will become the next President.  Therefore, both Ranil Wickramasingha and the SLFP candidate will try to earn the support of the LTTE.  This may be the reason CBK signed the MOU, even at the expense of loosing her majority in parliament.

Although CBK cannot contest the presidential election (one cannot contest more than twice), she has had plans to change the constitution in such a way as to abolish the Executive Presidency and bring in an Executive Prime Minister-type administration so that she can remain the Executive as long as she wishes.  She may still be planning this strategy and she may be depending on the LTTE for this. 

Now that CBK has demonstrated that she can face down any opposition to deliver mechanisms to share power with the LTTE, she may quickly negotiate with the LTTE and convince the LTTE that she could do the same with the LTTE’s Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) proposal.  She could then propose a change in the constitution, ostensibly to accommodate the ISGA, but with the necessary amendments to change the Executive Presidency to an Executive Prime Ministership, too.  Since she needs Ranil Wickramasinghe’s support also for this change in the constitution, she may be hoping to cajole him to agree to this by saying that this change in constitution is necessary for finding a permanent solution to the ethnic problem.  Ranil Wickramasingha could be forced to agree to this to avoid being blamed for not cooperating in solving the ethnic conflict.

Therefore, CBK’s decision to sign the MOU could have been due to political compulsion rather than real humanitarian compulsion.  Whatever her compulsion, CBK may have no reason to waste any more time in implementing the P-TOMS and gaining the confidence of the LTTE.  Implementation would only help her to start negotiations to establish the ISGA and proceed with her plans to keep herself at the pinnacle of power.  That is the only incentive for CBK to move forward on the stalled peace process. 

The speed with which CBK moves in the days to come to implement the P-TOMS will reveal her choice for her future role in the politics of Sri Lanka.

It is an irony that the plight of the tsunami victims is so dependent on the political ambitions of the rulers in Sri Lanka.

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Posted June 28, 2005