Donors seek ‘meaningful and lasting reforms’ first

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 05 June 2002, 12:50 GMT]
(News Feature) Donors to Sri Lanka should see practical implementation of the government’s stated commitment to reforms before providing funding, the Vice President of the World Bank’s South Asia region said Wednesday. Furthermore, without peace, any prosperity would be fragile, just as without growth ‘with equity to all,’ peace would be vulnerable, Ms. Mieko Nishimizu said, addressing the Sri Lanka Development Forum meeting in Colombo.

Held for the first time in Sri Lanka, the 2-day forum which began Wednesday brought together nearly 80 multilateral and bilateral donor countries, lending agencies and senior officials from line ministries, private sector chambers and civic groups.

The meeting was addressed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga of the main opposition People’s Alliance (PA) and Finance Minister with the present United National Front (UNF) government, Mr. K. N. Chocksy. Both used the opportunity to laud what they considered their respective administrations’ achievements and criticise the others’ policies.

Ms. Nishimizu welcomed moves towards peace but cautioned that the implementation of reform programmes should not be delayed until peace was established, saying “that would be a grave mistake, putting enduring peace itself at risk.”

“It is my ardent hope, indeed, that the peace talk will begin, and begin as soon as possible. Investment of time and patience in face-to-face dialogue is the only known cement that builds a permanent bridge of trust and transforms adversity of differences to unity of diversity,” she said.

“And as Sri Lanka so builds her peace with the goodwill and support of the international community, Sri Lanka must also begin to build a strong house of growth, and begin immediately without delay.”

“You may recall that I did not speak, at the last Development Forum, of peace and security as one topic and growth and poverty reduction as another,” she said in reference to the last Development Forum in 2000.

That meeting, at which President Kumaratunga’s administration was bitterly criticised for a lack of “good governance,” ended with warnings of the need for “an utmost sense of urgency” from the government and “a sense of frustration amongst donors.”

Saying that “Sri Lanka's leaders know what they need to do to deliver growth and poverty reduction,” the World Bank official pointed out two important aspects she considered key success.

“First of all, implementation, implementation, implementation ... Simply put, do it,” Ms. Nishimizu said. Acknowleding that external factors contributed to Sri Lanka’s negative growth last year, she said: “But, we know that the economy would have weathered the external shocks and performed far better, had the known reforms been implemented.”

“Secondly, communicate, communicate, communicate, as implementation proceed,” she said. “People's mandate for change cannot be assumed to sustain itself. They need to be informed of plans, actions and reasons for change, constantly.”

“And the people need to see a leadership whose consistency of words and actions wins their trust over time,” Ms. Nishimizu said.

“This Forum is not going to be a Forum where donors try to convince the government to reform, and go home hoping that we were heard. Instead, this will be a Forum, where we engage frankly, openly and spontaneously in a substantive dialogue,” she said.

More pointedly, Ms. Nishimizu said: “To be sure, the focus of this Forum will not be on aid levels. I am afraid we might disappoint the press … There will indeed be no talk of money at this Forum.”

“The best support that development partners can give to Sri Lanka is a disciplined response, that offers knowledge first and foremost and financial support when meaningful and lasting reforms comes about.”

Sri Lanka will present a Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation (‘Triple R’), outlining plans to rehabilitate conflict areas at the Forum. Discussions will be centred on the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS), which sets out the “government’s priorities for external assistance and its broad intentions for structural reforms.”

Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister, Mr. K. N. Chocksy, assured the Forum of his government’s “commitment to revitalise the economy and infrastructure of the country by making maximum use of donor technical and financial assistance.”

Welcoming the Forum’s “ongoing objective assessment and evaluation of our progress,” Mr. Chocksy said Sri Lanka looks “ forward to our development partners assisting us both by means of technical advice and funding to implement the proposed measures.”

Pointing out that the new United National Party-led government had taken over “an economy in deep recession last year with a decline in economic growth and the budget deficit standing at 10.8%,” Mr. Chocksy said the UNF was introducing greater transparency on expenditure, ‘de-politicising’ government institutions, ending excessive bureaucratic control of the economy and addressing ‘gross under-use of available donor funds by the PA.

These measures were intended to redress the lack of “good governance” which the Development Forum had pointed out in 2000 [during PA administration], he said.

But in her keynote address, President Kumaratunga lauded her government’s achievements and said when the PA had in 1994 taken over from the UNP, “we were faced with numerous challenges.”

Stating that “for the first time the Sri Lankan economy was developed with a clear medium term policy and short term action programmes,” President Kumaratunga elaborated on subsequent successes she said the PA had achieved.

Kumaratunga claimed credit for the Triple R and PRS, which she said “which were formulated and implementation commenced by my previous government.”

“It is noteworthy that the people of Sri Lanka endorsed our policy by voting us back into government in 2000,” she said in reference to violent Parliamentary polls which the opposition then claimed were ‘the most fraudulent ever.’ The PA was swept from power by the UNF in the December 2001 polls.

Kumaratunga said that “the resilience of the economy we built up was amply demonstrated by the fact that our economy avoided a collapse as happened elsewhere.”

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