22 March 2014

Blessed are those who gave despite threat, abuse and scandalous pilfering

In the mid-eighties, when the then Government was facing a growing threat of by-any-means separatism that included bomb explosions targeting civilians, assassination of prominent politicians, academics and professionals, and guerrilla attacks on the security forces, I remember President J.R. Jayewardene quoting Marcus Tullius Cicera, ‘Laws are silent in time of war’.  My father, a senior member of the Administrative Service, observed then, ‘this does not mean that administration should cease’. 
It came under threat, yes, but the administrative apparatus, regardless of numerous obstacles to smooth operation, did not stop.  Not then and not during the last days of the conflict.  Throughout the thirty years of conflict, from the most senior public servant right down to the lowly, thankless but nevertheless indispensible Grama Niladhari, everyone worked. 
Even during times of intense battle and even in areas that the LTTE controlled, the civil administration never ceased to function.  Even as the LTTE claimed it was running a ‘De-facto State’ with Killinochchi as the ‘De-facto Capital’, even when its Dollar and Euro driven apologists in Colombo, certain sections of the local and international media and even representatives of big name players in the international community endorsed such characterizations, these institutions survived and performed because salaries were paid and resources provided by the State. 
Successive governments continued to send food, medicine and other essential goods or facilitated the delivery of such items provided by various donors, even though it was well known that the LTTE could and did pilfer, stock and consume the same. Those in the Administrative Service, the Planning Service as well as in other state institutions and services including teachers, doctors, nurses, labourers and others were not paid by those who ran the so-called de-facto state.  The State of Sri Lanka paid their salaries. The people of Sri Lanka paid taxes to make it possible for such salaries to be paid. 
The Government Agent of Mullaitivu during the last stages of the humanitarian operation to rescue the hundreds of thousands of civilians held hostage by the LTTE, Ms. Emelda Sukumar, has boldly stated what the LTTE did and did not do during those terrible days.  She has revealed that the Norwegian based LTTE leader, Perinpanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyavan, one of the main movers and shakers of the current onslaught against Sri Lanka in international forums, had threatened her during the final months of the battle.  She claims that she was urged to cease operations, resign her post and leave Mullaitivu.  If anyone was interested in starving the civilian population trapped in the area, it was the LTTE, her testimony reveals.  There was no hesitation on the part of the Government or Government Servants when it came to ensuring that the people did not go hungry or the sick be deprived of proper medical treatment and relevant medication.  The Vanni enjoyed a bumper harvest in the Maha Season of 2008.  There was enough food, both produced locally and supplied from other parts of the country courtesy the government machinery. 
There is only so much that a Government can do under such circumstances.  The LTTE attacked ships transporting food, medicine and other supplied to the North.  The LTTE robbed whatever got through and did their best to destroy the distribution mechanisms.  They put the civilians on a daily ration of one glass of rice gruel.  Had the troops not moved in at great risk and cost to facilitate the escape of these civilians, over a hundred thousand would have died. Of starvation.  Courtesy the LTTE. 
What is important here is the commitment of the Government to do the best it can. What is important is the commitment of the humble public servant to do the job at hand under the most trying of circumstances, including the risk of being summarily executed by the LTTE. 
Immediately after the LTTE was eliminated and the saved hostages transported to welfare centres, there was an outpouring of generosity from all parts of the country.  Donor agencies devoted to humanitarian assistance did their part. The Government, with the help of the security forces, channeled enormous resources to ensure that the basic needs of the hundreds of thousands in these facilities were provided for. Doctors volunteered to serve in these areas.  Ordinary people joined the more organized relief efforts.  Dry rations, clothes, stationary, medicines, drinking water and other essentials were sent to these facilities by the lorry-load.  The generous entertained no illusions that among those they sought to help were hundreds of ex-LTTE cadres and many who chose to be silent on the efforts by the state to ensure there was enough food and medicine even in areas controlled by the LTTE. 
The disingenuous sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and the double-tongued whiners and ‘shriekers’  determined to punish the Government because the LTTE did not prevail over the security forces, as they expected and/or hoped, lack the eyes to see these truths and lack the integrity to acknowledge they were wrong. 
Those who gave and in fact keep giving, would not be deterred by these lies and ingratitude as such is often evident.  The honourable, when they give, do not expect acknowledgment or thanks.  They do the has-to-be-done thing.
Today, Ms. Sukumar is not threatened by the LTTE.  Today, supplies sent to Mullaitivu are not robbed by the LTTE.  Today, people are not being forced to starve.  Today, sacks of rice, flour, dhal etc sent by UN agencies are not being used to make bunkers by the LTTE. 
It was not like this before.  In the ‘before’ of war-end, there were many who went beyond the call of duty to serve the people.  There were people who gave knowing well that gift could be pinched by a butcher, but hoped that something would trickle down to those who needed food and medicine most. 
They were not thanked then and perhaps they will not be thanked tomorrow.  They are blessed, nevertheless.