Sent by Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and Alliance for Protection of national Resourcesand Human Rights MONLAR (ANRHR)
In our previous communications, we have spoken about the « Issues and New Developments in Relation to process of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka. »
The alarming new developments that we saw are now being further confirmed:
1. The Chairman of the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation stated that the Rebuilding Process after Tsunami would also include the Plans that had already been there before Tsunami. He was obviously referring to the « Regaining Sri Lanka » Strategy and Plans that had been agreed upon at the Previous « Donors Meeting held in Tokyo in June 2003 ».
It should be noted that this Strategy of Economic Reforms that was agreed upon were strongly opposed by the people in Sri Lanka. This strategy proposed by the UNF Government was rejected by the People at the General Elections in April 2004. Chandrika and the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) criticized this economic policy and promised to do differently. The « Budget 2005 » proposed in November 2004 was strongly critical of these strategies and reforms. Although the WB.IMF, ADB and the « Donor » Governments such as Japan, USA, and EU were very keen to continue the same it was politically difficult for the UPFA to push this agenda.
2. Tsunami provided an easy opportunity for both the major parties as well as the big powers of USA, Japan and others to go back to their previous plans.
3. The plans of the New Task Force were finalized on 15th of January and were announced on the 17th. In a full page advertisement by the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation in all news paper it stated the Objective as follows,
The objective is to put in place a new infrastructure and systems to meet the challenges of the 21st century and fulfill the dreams and aspirations of a modern society.
The introduction or preamble to the objective and action plan of TAFREN is clearly stated as follows. « The best tribute we can pay to those who have lost their lives is to restore life in the affected areas. The economic, social and development activity must continue in order to build a prosperous future for the people who have been affected by this disaster and the nation as a whole.
We need to examine and analyze whether the action plan and the objective in the operational section will enable the nation to pay the best tribute to those who have lost their lives.
Will a new infrastructure and systems to meet the challenges of the 21st century designed to fulfill the dreams and ambitions of a Modern Society enable the people who have been affected by this disaster and the nation as a whole to build a prosperous future? The nation includes the 80 percent of the population in rural areas a vast majority of whom are subsistence farmers, agricultural workers and casual employees. What is modern society? Is it the Western Province? Whatever modern society is, those who have been affected by the disaster and the vast majority of people in the rural areas do not belong to the modern society. Putting in place a new infrastructure and systems to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of a modern society will therefore the irrelevant and harmful to them.
Almost immediately the Government announced that the Construction of the Colombo Matara Super Highway would be included in the rebuilding programme. Within days of these announcements armed police went in to the areas where people were resisting their eviction from land to make way for the highway and threatened them to leave. Those in charge of land acquisition told the resisting communities that their houses would be soon bulldozed. A letter that was received by some people who faced these threats is sent separately.
Water privatisation policies rushed through.
On 30th December, just 4 days after Tsunami, the Government introduced a policy document on National Water Resourcesand obtained Cabinet approval. This bill initially drafted in 2000 aimed at inviting the private sector for water development and water marketing, in the name of making arrangements for better water management. People resisted this policy and the initial draft was withdrawn and amended by both governments. The new Government promised that they would not do any water privatisation or marketing of water. However, the ADB continued its insistence that these water policy reforms for privatisation should be adopted and implemented if the Government was to receive the loans. The introduction of Water Privatisation policies on the aftermath of Tsunami was a clear indication that the continuation of the anti poor policies of economic reforms would be integrated with the Post Tsunami reconstruction.
The « Rebuilding the Affected Area » plans produced by Dept of National Planning, Ministry id Finance and Planning – January 2005 has included a whole series of « Re-establishment of pipe borne water supply scheme » in 10 Districts Hambantota, Colombo, Gampaha, Puttalam, Ampara, Matara, Galle, Tricomalee, Batticaloa, Kalutara, Jaffna and Mullativu.
If these proposals are really aimed at rebuilding the damaged water supply systems for the affected people this is appreciable. However, if this is a case of utilizing the situation and the rebuilding process for building the type of water infrastructure that were planned earlier in order to build infrastructure for big private water companies to begin marketing of water it is a total abuse of the Tsunami relief assistance. The rushing of the Water Resources Policy, to meet the deadlines laid by the ADB, creates a suspicion that the poor people in the urban areas will soon be compelled to pay heavily for their drinking water to private and local water businesses. The declaration by the task force that previous plans would be integrated in to the Tsunami rebuilding plans confirms these fears.
Proposal to Sell away of the Eppawela Phosphate Deposits Revived
At a public gathering at Narahenpita on 16th January as reported in Lankadeepa – a major Sinhala Daily in Sri Lanka, the President made this statement. She said that it was a big mistake not to utilize the rich natural resources in the country and Tsunami was a way by which Nature punished the country for not utilizing these natural resources. She said, « It has been found that we have rich natural gas in our seas. There are very valuable gems not yet unearthed We are only scratching the surface. If we go deeper as is done in African countries we can find enough wealth to last all our life. »
« There is a great mountain of Phosphate in the North Central Province. A Buddhist monk and a few others were shouting against the utilisation of these deposits. It was stopped. I am also answerable for this mistake. We get frightened when they shout. We will not do this in the future »
« If this small group of protesters shout on the streets again we will not put them in Jail. We will lock them up in a hotel and we will give them good food, and then we will continue our work. »
She was referring to the huge protest movements in the country that included people of all sectors, scientists, scholars and clergy that protested against the selling away of National Resources and violation of Human Rights. led by the ANRHR. This was not a hundred or two hundred people but over two hundred people’s organisations covering all sectors of society.
The Post Tsunami rebuilding plans include the building of 8 new fishing harbours and rehabilitation of 13 Fishery harbours that were damaged in 8 Disrticts There were previous proposals to build big, modern fishery harbours to be built by big companies to anchor big fishing vessels. This was to attract big fishing companies for deep sea harvesting There were earlier threats of thus displacing the small scale fish workers. The movements of fish workers such as the National Fisheries Solidarity were campaigning to protect the fishing rights of small scale fisher communities. These proposals combined with the rushed decision not to allow the fisher communities to resettle in the coastal belt increases the fears and suspicions.
Tourist Hotels promoted in the coastal belt.
From the beginning the Government and the « new rebuilders of the nation » have repeatedly stated that the continuation of tourism and tourist hotels in the « protective » border of 300 meters would be encouraged. President stated that the repairs and reopening of the Hotels within the border would not be prevented. Budget for Tourism for 2005 has been doubled. On 18th January 2005, as stated in – Daily News ( Sri Lanka ) on January 21, 2005, the Minister of Tourism, Anura Bandaranayake said, « Sri Lanka has many properties away from the coast. Tourists still prefer to visit the hotels on the coastal belt and this is one reason we want to have flexibility on this 100 meters proposal »
So, it is clear that the whole plan is one of driving away about 800,000 small scale fish workers and their families from their livelihoods and settlements near the beaches in order to clear the beaches and the sea resources of the people living on the sea, to make way for rich tourist businesses and big fishing industry.
Elections to be postponed for 5 years and the Big political Parties to Unite
The Big Private Businesses represented by the Joint Business Forum (JBIS ) has been saying repeatedly that the two big rightwing political parties should join if the economic reforms of Neo Liberalism is to succeed in Sri Lanka. Tsunmai provide the opportunity to the WB, IMF and other powers to intervene in bringing about this united. Mr. James Wolfensohn the President of the WB visited Sri Lanka immediately after Tsunami and met only the President, Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and left . We feel this visit was to finalize the above agreement. UNF that proposed the « Regaining Sri Lanka » is now extremely happy that their plans that were defeated by the people have now been totally accepted by the UPFA that promised to do otherwise.
A few big NGOs that have had a practise of working in close collaboration with the WB, IMF and other powers, that have been campaigning for the « unity of the big parties » as necessary for the continuation of the peace process , without raising issues of economic policies and economic justice to the poor, have now begun to play a prominent role in this united approach of the two big parties. Similar measures have been adopted to get some of the Journalists not to raise these essential questions for protection of the interests of the victims of tsunami and of other natural and socio political disasters.
The situation in other affected countries such as India, Indonesia and so on are not very different in any way. In this situation of danger, it is urgent and absolutely necessary for the local people, their movements for justice should unite with the global efforts towards Working for Justice for the Tsunami survivors in South Asia and else where. Close monitoring of these developments and building pro people solidarity is one of the top most priorities is a disaster worse than Tsunami is to be prevented.
We appeal to all people of good will of all countries to insist on justice to Tsunami victims by demanding the Governments of the respective countries be vigilant about the abuse of the funds contributed by their people.
Written by Sarath Fernando on behalf of Movement for National Land and Agricultural Reform and Alliance for Protection of National Resources and Human Rights