US Aid - Sri Lanka Democracy and Governance Assessments
David Timberman, MSI, Gwendolyn G. Bevis, MSI
May 18, 2001[full text in PDF]
"...Based on its interviews and review of
literature, the assessment team believes that the central Democracy and
Governance problem facing Sri Lanka is: The gradual unravelling of the
Sri Lankan nation-state due to the combined effects of protracted
ethnic-based conflict and
rights and institutions...The team has identified five key and
interrelated causes of the DG problem Sri Lanka faces.. They are: 1)
The notion of the Sri Lankan nation subscribed to by many Sinhalese –
including most of Sri Lanka’s politically influential Buddhist monks – is
based on a firmly-rooted belief in the primacy of the Sinhalese/Buddhist
majority and its culture.
2) Elite political competition, principally between two major political
parties, fuels ethnically-based majoritarianism and is increasingly
This assessment is intended to provide USAID with an analytical and
programmatic framework that can be used by the USAID Mission in Sri Lanka to
determine its democracy and governance (DG) program priorities and, if
deemed necessary, develop a new DG strategy. Given the huge impact Sri
Lanka’s 18- year-old civil war has had on politics and governance, this
assessment treats the armed conflict as a key aspect of the DG sector. It
posits a central DG problem, explains the dimensions of that problem, and
suggests ways donors can address some of the elements of the problem. It
then outlines a framework for the Mission’s DG program, taking into
consideration existing constraints, opportunities, and resources.
Defining the DG Problem in Sri Lanka.
Based on its interviews and review of literature, the assessment team
believes that the central DG problem facing Sri Lanka is: The gradual
unraveling of the Sri Lankan nation-state due to the combined effects of
protracted ethnic-based conflict and deteriorating democratic rights and
This statement of the problem has two components worth underscoring.
First, it reflects the belief that serious and perhaps irreparable damage
is being done to the very foundation of Sri Lanka, the notion of it being a
Second, the problem statement reflects the team’s belief that the
protracted conflict and the obvious decline in democratic politics and
governance are directly and powerfully linked: the conflict fuels democratic
decline and vice versa. Thus, efforts to address the decline in Sri Lanka’s
democratic institutions will have limited impact if they are not supported
by efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. And conversely,
strengthening civil society and reforming government can contribute to the
process of ending the war and achieving a lasting peace.
Key causes of the DG problem and options for donors . The team has
identified five key and interrelated causes of the DG problem Sri Lanka
faces. It follows that efforts to address Sri Lanka’s DG problem must
directly or indirectly address all or most of these causes. They are:
1) The notion of the Sri Lankan nation subscribed to by many
Sinhalese – including most of Sri Lanka’s politically influential
Buddhist monks – is based on a
firmly-rooted belief in the
primacy of the Sinhalese/Buddhist majority and its culture.
2) Elite political competition, principally between two major
political parties, fuels
ethnically-based majoritarianism and is
3) The government is excessively centralized and the large size of
the state sector gives the government excessive influence over society
and intensifies political competition for control of the state.
4) The impact of civil society organizations (CSOs) on politics and
governance has been limited by ethnic and other divisions within civil
society, by the relative power of the state and political parties, and
highly partisan nature of the media.
5) The ethnic conflict has become a well-entrenched institution that
exerts a pernicious influence on society, the economy, politics, and
policy-making and governance.
Following from this, we believe there are five broad areas where donor
assistance can help to strengthen democratic institutions and governance in
Sri Lanka. These are: supporting efforts to end the conflict and achieve a
sustainable peace; discouraging undemocratic forms of political competition;
encouraging the rule of law and respect for rights; supporting efforts to
improve national and local level governance; and supporting greater and more
effective citizen participation in politics and government.
Key considerations and assumptions.
The team’s recommendations regarding the focus and priorities of the DG
program reflect the following considerations:
Constraints in the political environment: Ending the conflict is
largely a matter of “high politics” which fall outside the direct influence
of a foreign assistance program. Given the top-down nature of governance in
Sri Lanka, the power of the executive presidency, and the weakness of
sub-national government, the opportunities for supporting meaningful reform
within the government are limited, although not entirely absent.
Furthermore, there is little evidence that parliamentarians and political
parties are strong proponents of peace, rights and reform.
Opportunities: On the other hand, the independence, diversity and
vitality of citizens groups in Sri Lanka (and, to a lesser degree, the
media) provide opportunities for addressing the country’s pressing DG
problems. While civil society has a number of shortcomings, elements of it
are committed to promoting peace, rights and democratic reforms at both the
grassroots and national levels. In recent years, there has developed greater
public awareness of the costs of the conflict and the need for a political
solution to it, in part as a result of fairly extensive debate over
potential changes to the constitution. A debate is currently underway over
the creation of four independent commissions.
Assumptions regarding funding and management: Given the uncertainties
surrounding both levels of future funding and the management configuration
of the USAID Mission, the team’s recommendations are based on three
· DG activities need to have impact with relatively low levels of
· The DG program needs to have flexibility to adjust to changing
funding levels and mandates;
· The DG program must be manageable by the USAID Mission.
Other donors’ activities: Our recommendations take into consideration the
program areas of other donors, including both the areas in which other
donors are not active and areas where they are active and USAID/SL can
complement these activities.
Recommendations for USAID Sri Lanka’s DG program. Given these
considerations, the assessment team recommends that the Mission consider
developing a DG program that works in three primary interrelated areas:
1. Expanding constituencies for peace. Given the duration and huge cost of
the war, there is surprisingly little organized opposition to its
continuation. This is in part a reflection of the real risks of appearing
sympathetic to the LTTE/Tamil cause and in part a reflection of the
weaknesses of civil society groups. While the potential impact of civil
society groups on the process of ending the war shouldn't be exaggerated, a
larger and more effective constituency for peace can help to create an
environment more supportive of a negotiated end to the war. In order to
increase the size and effectiveness of constituencies for peace, the
following are needed: the capabilities and reach of existing groups need to
be strengthened; new groups and sectors of society need to become involved;
activities need to be better coordinated and sustained; and there needs to
be more and better use of the mass media.
2. Empowering groups to defend against rights abuses springing from the
conflict and the erosion of democracy. This program area addresses the need
to empower groups of people whose rights are abused or curtailed owing to
the conflict and the erosion of democracy. It will focus on the abuse and
statutory contraction of rights stemming from the conflict and the erosion
of democracy. The rights addressed within this program area include
universally recognized basic human rights, political rights and civil
rights. This program area also might address land issues related to
resettlement/ relocation and the particular rights issues of displaced
communities. The target populations include detainees under the PTA and
emergency regulations, families of the disappeared, IDP’s, disenfranchised
voters, and journalists subjected to intimidation. Support would also be
given to strengthen democratic labor groups seeking to protect and expand
the rights of women and other disempowered workers. Assistance will be
directed to organized groups of affected citizens in order to multiply the
effect of support and to sustain citizens’ capacity for defending their
3. Strengthening support for key democratic reforms. Government-initiated
efforts to reform Sri Lanka’s political institutions usually are episodic
and half-hearted. Frequently these reform initiatives are sidetracked or
diluted by partisan political concerns. Typically there is little follow
through or poor implementation. Therefore, there is a need for independent,
non-partisan and continuing support for genuine reform of governance,
including inputs into the design process, lobbying, public debate and
monitoring. Mission support should be principally for non-governmental
groups, but there may also be occasional opportunities to support the
efforts of reformers in the government by providing technical assistance and
the means to open the reform process to greater public participation.
Recommendations regarding program management. The team believes that the
proposed program can best be implemented by a US PVO partner under the
oversight of the Mission. We believe that the program requires that the
implementing organization establish an in country presence. We also
recommend that the lead PVO partner be part of a consortium of U.S. and Sri
Lankan organizations that can provide expertise in the three program areas.
Given this, we estimate that the minimum amount of funding necessary to
successfully implement a DG program along the lines described above is
approximately $800,000 per year (excluding the cost of additional Mission
staff). If funding permits, the team recommends that the Mission consider
hiring at least one additional staff person to properly oversee the
development and management of the proposed program.
Other recommendations. In order to maximize the impact of USG-funded DG
activities, the team recommends that the Mission consider the following:
· Explore ways that other USG/USAID programs can support the
Mission’s DG objectives;
· Actively promote donor coordination and dialogue with the
· Engage quasi-governmental and private organizations, including the
U.S. Institute of Peace, the National Endowment for Democracy, and US
foundations and universities.