Skip to main content Skip to footer

Take Action: Statement for Donor Forum

An Action Alert from Monlar, Sri Lanka, May 13, 2005

To Read Other Action Alerts from the Oakland Institute, click here

Dear all,

We have previously written about the upcoming meeting between the Government of Sri Lanka and the International Donors - World Bank, IMF, ADB, Japan, US, UK etc. - that will take place in Kandy on 16th and 17th May.  They are planning to finalize funding and mechanisms for the TAFREN post-tsunami rebuilding the nation plan and also decide how to push ahead with the previous PRSP economic reforms agenda of privatizations etc.

We are going to submit a statement to the Government and Donors setting out our opposition to these plans and protesting the highly undemocratic and non-transparent processes behind this.  We held an open meeting this morning to discuss and finalise the content.

We ask you now to sign up your organization definitely before the end of the day on 15th May 2005. We also request that you try to mobilize signatures from your other contacts both within Sri Lanka and outside.

We will submit the statement to the Government and Donors in Colombo, and will also try to hand over a copy in person on 16th May 2005 at a rally in Kandy.


Sarath Fernando


Please send endorsements to [email protected]

Telephone enquiries may be made to 011 2865534 or 011 4407663.

Statement of Sri Lankan Civil Society Organizations on the Occasion of the Donor Forum on May 16-17, 2005

On 16th and 17th May 2005, the Government of Sri Lanka has convened a Donor Forum in Kandy to discuss the 'Rebuilding Sri Lanka: Post-Tsunami Action Plan' that is expected to be published on 15th May 2005.  The World Bank, IMF, Asian Development Bank and UN Agencies, as well as the Japanese, American, British and many other Bilateral Donors, will be present.  From the non-governmental sector, it is understood that the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, World Vision, Oxfam GB, Sewalanka and Sarvodaya have been invited to attend.

The civil society organisations endorsing this statement represent fish worker organisations, farmer organisations, women's groups, trade unions, plantation worker organisations, local NGOs, human rights organisations, lawyers' groups, academics, scientists, clergy and others from across the country.  While we have not been invited to provide input to the Donor Forum, we take this opportunity to present our collective position in the hope that this may open avenues for further dialogue.  However, it must be recognised that the current climate of repression of dissenting voices does not bode well.

We welcome the Government's decision to take responsibility for the elaboration of an action plan for post-tsunami rebuilding and for the coordination of the different agencies involved in this work.  We also strongly support the guiding principles declared in the action plan of responding to local needs and priorities, without discrimination, in a transparent and accountable manner, through consultation and the empowerment of communities and their organisations.  However, we see that in practice almost the complete opposite is happening.

After nearly 5 months, hundreds of thousands of people affected by the tsunami are still living in the most desperate circumstances amidst complete uncertainty about their future.  Relief is being dumped hurriedly, without proper consideration of their needs and desires or of the problems of poverty and in some cases conflict in which they were living even before the disaster.  The affected people are being pushed into positions of passive, subservient receivers, who begin to compete with each other to get whatever possible, while the supposedly unaffected people, are given nothing, despite in some cases suffering equal distress, such as those who have been living in temporary camps for up to 15 years having been displaced by the conflict.

Rebuilding policies are being imposed without dialogue.  Decisions are being made by an extra-governmental body TAFREN composed entirely of big business leaders with vested interests in the tourist and construction industries, who are completely unable to represent the interests of the affected communities and who have no professional experience of dealing with disasters.  Policies and plans developed by this body are not known even by many local government officials, certainly not by the affected communities.

The action plan is hugely biased towards infrastructure construction, including superhighways, large ports and modern townships, under the banner of 'fulfilling the dreams of a modern society'.  Officials have also announced that they will be including their previous plans for infrastructure development in the country, including the Upper Kotmale Dam and the Norochcholai Power Plant.  These old neo-liberal strategies for transforming the country into a haven for export-oriented business using the people's money to build infrastructure for the businesses to use have been tried in Sri Lanka for three decades and have only served to further marginalise people by pushing them off their land and out of their livelihoods.  The only export businesses that have survived here have been the tea plantations and the garment factories, both built on the basis of very poorly paid and badly treated, mostly women workers.

The plan is also being used to push through structural reforms in the economy, including attempts to reduce labour protection, privatise electricity and water, and sell off other national resources such as the Eppawela Phosphate Deposit.  These policies have been strongly resisted by people in Sri Lanka for years and they were summarily rejected in the last election.

Given our very serious concerns, we ask that the Government take action to ensure that mechanisms are immediately established to put into practice the guiding principles.  First, the big business taskforce TAFREN must be disbanded and replaced with a people's planning commission with representatives of the affected communities and their organisations, and with appropriate experts with experience of social and environmental as well as physical rehabilitation.  The bill formally establishing TAFREN as an Authority to coordinate the development and implementation of rebuilding plans over the next 3 to 5 years, which it is reported is being discussed in Cabinet this week, must not be passed until these essential changes are made.

Secondly, the Government must make available in Sinhala and Tamil in all central and local government offices full information on the resources received and pledged for rebuilding, and on the plans developed.  This must include full disclosure of the texts of all agreements between Government and donors and between Government and private contractors.  The Government must ensure that all officials are fully aware and able to respond to enquiries from the affected communities.  The Government must also establish an appropriate complaints procedure to address possible grievances in the process.  

Thirdly, the Government must abandon all attempts to restrict people's rights of access to land.  The Government should commission a survey by independent scientists to present proposals for the protection of people from possible future disasters.  The Government's decision to allow tourist hotels to remain on the beaches demonstrates that the solution need not be to move people away from the coast.  Where resettlement is necessary, this must only be done after full consultation with the affected communities on the basis of full information about the real threats and the options available.  The coast belongs to the fishing communities.  Buffer Zones, Tourism Zones and High Security Zones that restrict their rights to access their lands and to pursue their livelihoods must be removed.

We remind the Donors that the whole world is watching them.  First, the Donors must take responsibility for ensuring that the principles of participation that they espouse are actually put into practice in this process.  They should support the Government in engaging in dialogue with the affected people and in establishing mechanisms for bringing the people into the planning and implementation of rebuilding work.  They must take the initiative to disseminate the full details of the resources they are providing and the conditions under which they provide them, in Sinhala and Tamil.

Secondly, where the Donors are responsible for infrastructure projects, they must pay heed to their previous experiences in Sri Lanka and the social and environmental problems that have emerged from poorly planned projects.

Thirdly, the Donors should reconsider offering loans in a situation where the Government and the people of Sri Lanka are already labouring under a huge debt burden, and where there are very few possibilities for generating the resources for paying these loans back, other than by taking yet more loans or by cutting back on essential social services.

We ask international NGOs to set an example for Government and Donors to follow.  First, INGOs should start an intensive programme of education of their supporters who have so generously contributed resources for the affected people, to help them to understand that short-term time targets for disbursing money, and tying aid to tsunami-affected areas while leaving out communities living in some cases only metres away in equally dire conditions, is totally counterproductive.

Secondly, INGOs must remember that their role is not simply to implement Government or Donor policy, but to hold Government and Donors accountable. INGOs must take the responsibility to strengthen people and their organisations and to bring them and their unique knowledge and abilities into policy debates.  INGOs must establish mechanisms for ensuring that they are accountable to the affected communities as well as to their supporters.

In conclusion, we reaffirm our belief that the very serious problems that remain to be solved must and can only be addressed through a people's process that recognises that all resources pledged in the name of the affected people genuinely belong to them and must be used in the way that they see fit.  We urge all parties to contact us for further discussions on how this could be implemented.