News Features

A nation of contradictions: Lanka failing its people?

By Frederica Jansz
The twelve indicators by wich a country is judged:

- Mounting Demographic Pressures

- Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs

- Legacy of Vengeance - Seeking Group Grievance

- Chronic and Sustained Human Flight

- Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines

- Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline

- Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State

- Progressive Deterioration of Public Services

- Widespread Violation of Human Rights

- Security Apparatus as "State within a State"

- Rise of Factionalized Elites

- Intervention of Other States or External Actors

Sri Lanka today is a nation of contradictions. The country is supposedly engaged in fighting an "un-declared war" while professing to still embrace a tattered truce agreement. We have today a President who typically represents a South Asian politician. Similar to his counterparts he adopts contradictory stances on key issues. For instance, his tough pre-election posture on the peace process and his commitment to the peace process is a case in point.

President Rajapakse though is on one side of the table. On the other sits the intransigent LTTE.

A moot point for debate today is that Sri Lanka has been placed as a Failed State by a Washington-based independent research group which calls itself the Fund for Peace. Compared closely on a scale with countries like Ruwanda and Ethiopia, Sri Lanka is sandwiched between these two nations as a country that has failed socially, economically and politically.

Consider the ramifications of a Failed State. A pariah state… a banana republic…a nation slapped by human rights watchdogs for failing to observe basic codes of human and democratic rights. (Refer 12 indicators in box)

Of course there will be counter arguments as to the methodology of the study done by Fund for Peace and the credibility of its final outcome.

The issue however for all Sri Lankans is more significant than this. That Sri Lanka has warranted a microscopic study which found her greatly lacking in maintaining standards in key areas is not to be easily discounted.

After all, this country does not need any group to tell it where it has gone miserably wrong. Once considered a paradise in Asia, Sri Lanka today has turned out to be among one of the greatest disappointments in this part of the region.

A Failed State results when the leadership and institutions of the state are weakened and discredited to the point where the state can no longer fulfill its responsibilities or exercise sovereign power over the territory within its borders. In a functioning state the ruling regime has a monopoly over the administration as well as the use of force. For the past two decades, the country has been experiencing an internal conflict between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. An estimated 65,000 people have been killed and a million displaced. Negotiations to resolve the conflict over the past four years has been on a see-saw. Currently there is an escalation of hostilities.

In parts of the North and East the government has no monopoly over the use of force nor does it have control over these territories.

According to social indicators an estimated 800,000 Sri Lankans work overseas. Sri Lanka's economy in fact is dependent on some 1 billion dollars every year which is sent as remittances from her nationals working abroad - mainly in places like the Middle East.

Sri Lanka continues to maintain a growth rate of 5% with an average GDP per capita estimated in 2005 to be US$ 4,300.

Despite a steady economic growth, large parts of her population continue to live in poverty. The Tsunami contributed in no small measure displacing over half a million. The much-needed aid to the affected has trickled through a pipeline of bureaucratic bungling. Many victims still live in intolerable conditions because both the government and aid donors have failed to provide assistance to meet their basic needs.

It is a fact that the presidential elections held in 2005 though declared free and fair by the European Union, underscored the legitimacy of the State as most Tamils did not vote.

On the economic front, the skyrocketing prices of essentials have to be brought down; jobs have to be provided for the hoi polloi; foreign investment has to be attracted; foreign- aid utilisation has to improve drastically; and economic reform has to be initiated against stiff opposition from radical Marxist allies within the current regime.

The resumption of hostilities between government forces and the LTTE has also increased human rights violations. Attacks by the LTTE on government security forces have led to scores of civilians being caught in the cross-fire. On the other hand, there has been an increase in reports of police abuse and torture of civilians while in police custody.

The judiciary though independent of the executive by law, is perceived by and large to be far from perfect. An overwhelming majority rate the system as being "poor" and say that it is neither fair nor just. In a poll conducted recently by 'Lanka Monthly Digest' 72% were unanimously of the view that the country's legal system is in a shambles.

FfP reiterates in their study that there have been reports of corruption in the Sri Lankan judiciary, and the country suffers from a shortage of judges.

Additionally, Sri Lanka's civil service is overstaffed but inefficient. The country is plagued by acts of bribery and corruption.

While we can argue the merits and demerits of the study conducted by the FfP, this nation can no longer ignore stark facts. The reality is that reports such as this assess the stability and political risk of countries by focusing on key economic, social, and political indicators, including, as applicable, their relations with other countries in the region and local issues. Companies and organizations use these reports to supplement their own internal political risk assessments for investment decisions and for developing corporate responsibility and community engagement policies and practices.

The analysis includes examination of the pressures on a state (12 Indicators), the ability of the state to cope (Core Five Institutions…. Leadership, Military, Police, Judiciary, Civil Service) and the specific investment risk factor in a country. Based on combining the political and investment risk assessments, FfP has provided a "total risk" score for a country as well as called attention to the specific risk factors for the user. Mitigating options and stakeholders are identified for each of these.

In short, Sri Lanka today is viewed by the world as a "total risk" for specific investment.

The fragile nature of interdependence among nations, threatened by four lethal world conditions -- overpopulation, unequal distribution of resources, deterioration of the environment and the chaotic status of human rights -- is the context in which The Fund for Peace operates and has concluded its analysis on Sri Lanka.

One aspect in this entire scenario stands crystal clear. Sri Lankans need to confront issues that arise from the fact of interdependence and the conditions that threaten cooperation among nations. It isn't enough to note these conditions and to say vaguely that we are doing something about them.

The Fund exerts two principal efforts to affect decision-makers. First, it promotes scholarship to define problems and to provide competent answers. Second, it uses the knowledge and information it obtains to participate in debates and inform the public of the facts.