The United Kingdom has, as we reported yesterday, announced one million pounds sterling as humanitarian aid to facilitate Sri Lanka`s post-conflict recovery. Britain deserves praise for its humanitarian gesture, though its aid pledge covers only a fraction of the funds Sri Lanka needs for rebuilding and rehabilitation. It is also not known how much of that aid package will really reach the needy usually foreign funds are channelled through highly bureaucratised INGOs/NGOs with massive overhead costs which account for most of the aid they handle. They have earned notoriety for allocating funds with a generous hand for their SUV fleets, huge salary bills and dining and wining at star class hotels. They have no qualms about fattening themselves on money meant for the poor.
Providers of humanitarian assistance usually operate in two ways. Some donors grant a lot of aid the way turtles lay eggs. Those marine reptiles come quietly at night, deposit thousands of eggs and go back without leaving a trace. Other donors given to advertising ensure that the whole world knows whatever little they give away like hens that lay only an egg each but make a great deal of noise.
The British government has come under fire for its leaders` participation at LTTE events in London thus giving the demoralised separatist lobby some oxygen and legitimacy. It has also drawn flak for trying to interfere with Sri Lanka`s internal affairs on the pretext of protecting human rights etc. Reports on the British aid package coincided with a parliamentary election here, which was monitored by foreign funded NGOs. What do humanitarian aid and election monitoring signify?
Although Sri Lanka is trying to protect its sovereignty which has manifestly come under threat more than ever paradoxically in the post-war period, it is unable to do without foreign aid in looking after its people, especially the war affected and the poor and even to conduct elections without giving foreign funded NGOs an opportunity to go places as polls monitors. Whether Sri Lanka could safeguard her sovereignty vis- -vis this kind of dependency and failure to preserve democracy is the question.
The best antidote to foreign intervention/interference is to build the economy and strengthen democracy so that the country will be free from Greeks bearing gifts and agents of foreign powers masquerading as protectors of human rights and democracy. So long as Sri Lanka depends on foreign powers that are supportive of its enemies, to provide for its people and fails to get its act together on the human rights front, it cannot aspire to protect its sovereignty.
The new government to be formed today will find itself in an unenviable position. The daunting task before it will be to extricate the country from the debt trap it has got into over the years under various political dispensations, build its economy, facilitate the full recovery of democracy battered by three decades of war and to eliminate the politico-economic factors that gave rise to three armed uprisings, two in the South and one in the North and the East.
Through a low voter turn-out, the people of the North have sent a strong message to the powers that be. Elections are not on their list of priorities. What they need urgently is State assistance to return home and rebuild their devastated lives.
Winning elections is one thing. Living up to public expectations is quite another. For the first time in thirty years, there is a government that will not be able to use war as an excuse to cover up its failure to deliver on its promises. Rhetoric is, it ought to realise, hardly a substitute for performance.