THE CONTRADICTING ROLE OF CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVISTS IN SRI LANKA
Posted on July 11th, 2018

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Civil society is generally considered as an instrument that works as unions of civilians, which organized for the benefits of civilians in a country.  The meaning of civil is similar to the definition of the word civil” in law, for example, the law is basically divided into civil law and criminal law. The meaning of civil also applies to the word of civil in the term of civil society. Civil society defines in Wikipedia as” the aggregate of non-governmental organizations that manifest interest and will of civilians”. The civil society organization in Australia defines that “civil society comprises the relationship and activities that make up the life at the grassroots level of society, in families, communities voluntary associations'(www.civilsociety.org.au).  It clearly indicates that the term civil society does not refer to politeness or civility in public life.

According to the general definitions of civil society, the role of civil society activists appears to be complex at the global level, but I feel that it shouldn’t be a political role or a government role or an attempt to bring an interested person or a political party to form a government. As ordinary people, the general public has an understanding that civil society activists should not play politics in the society, which focused on activities that aiming to bring a political party or a preferred figure to power in an election. Obviously, the behavior of civil society activists in Sri Lanka has come to light that they have seriously aligned to some form of party politics and attempt to mislead international community that they are playing the right role, which could be justified and accepted by the citizens of Sri Lanka. The hidden motive of these activists is to attracting funds for their survival.

Civil society in Sri Lanka has been working since the colonial rule, various type of voluntary organizations such farmers groups, cooperatives, religious groups, benevolent societies, and many others were working in the society without open or hidden political motives.  Therefore, the public appreciated the role of them and generously contributed to fundraising attempts and worked with them in common activities such as Sramadana, Cultural events, sports events and many others.  Currently so-called civil society activists don’t play a role extending supports to traditional civil society, despite they do play selfish   and hidden role for international hegemony related politics.

By the definition of civil society, any member of political parties or army forces could work with activists of civil society as they are too civilians of the country.  Accordingly, members of UNP, SLFP, SLPP, CP, TULF, or any party could be worked with civil society without party differences. However, there is a doubt whether civil society activists in Sri Lanka, are playing an impartial role to the community or are they playing a hidden role to attract funds for own enjoyment from international funding agencies, is an unresolved problem to the general public.

The funding solicits for activities cannot ignore the accountability to taxpayers in foreign countries and they cannot use foreign funds for political activities. The other vital aspect is that NGO funding cannot treat as similar to giving money to beggars on the roads and they should be accounted with the outcomes from the use of them.  In many developed countries, there is an open question from electors, what sort of work have done using in developing countries using aids and some years ago in Australia restricted donations to the third world on the basis of accountability actor.

Recently I watched a TV program in Sri Lanka, a former civil society activist, who participated in the program was reluctant to express what kind of role was specifically played by civil society using foreign funds and also rejected to clearly express the amount of money received from so-called President Obama’s USD millions of funds, which spent to re-establish democracy in Sri Lanka and what they have done with that money? Was that role within the meaning of civil society or a role that is relating to party politics in Sri Lanka?  I don’t think taxpayers in any country would like to hear that that their tax contribution was used to give bribery or play politics in third world countries.

The other example was, a few weeks ago civil society activists had a gathering in Sri Lanka Foundation Institute and President Sirisena was also there.  Mr. Keerthi Tennakoon, an activist of Civil Society attempted to blame ordinary voters of Sri Lanka addressing the meeting that voters did not vote for their political favorites at the Local government election held in February 2018.  If he is a civil society activist who is acting within the framework of the definition of civil society, he cannot blame voters for their voting preference.  Voting is a fundamental right of citizens in a democratic society, which is recognized by the United Nations. Why this guy is talking and working against the fundamental rights of citizens and the concept of civil society.  It is obvious from the speech of this activist that the so-called civil society activists are playing a contradictory role.  They play politics and when the favourites of them lost the election blame to voters.

The concept of civil society publicly emerged in Sri Lanka during the era of Mr. Rajapaksa’s rule and activists attempted to show that they were playing a right role and the saviours of democracy.  Although people in the country had an experience of genuine civil society work in the country, average people were misled by technical jargon called civil society. Later the true picture of these activists revealed that they were playing a political role against the concept of civil society and now people reject them. Why were civil society activists rejected by people?

  • Many of civil society activists had Marxist – Leninist political background and they were defeated and rejected at the general election in 1977. When the market economic system was gradually attracted by people, Marxists were further pushed to a plateau. Civil society became an apparatus for old Marxist-Leninists to come out of the cave and during the past several decades, they have given up the revolution and lined up with capitalist movement. People are doubted by civil society activists
  • Rajapaksa had a clear vision and policies for economic future of Sri Lanka and China supported to Mr. Rajapaksa’s trust providing financial supports. The economic progress of the country under the Rajapaksa regime was visible to the public and now people of the country firmly believe that they were bluffed by civil society activists during the presidential election in 2015.
  • Civil society activists couldn’t bring economic supports from the Western world as people expected and the promises of civil society activists have confirmed to hallucinations. It further confirmed that civil society activists are interested in bringing money into their own pockets from international NGOs rather than working for the citizens of the country.
  • Civil Society activists are not accountable to public or political parties or international community or any other organization.
  • Neither the activists of civil society nor Mr. Sirisena had an economic development vision and plan and a strategy to implement reforms in the political, legal and reconciliation process. In fact, they were not knowledgeable, skilled and experience to bring a miracle to people.  The effort of civil society activists was similar to bringing rice from the moon as stated during the election period of 1970.

It seemed that the recent meeting of civil society activists at the Sri Lanka foundation institute was an attempt to reengineering another mirage for next presidential election.  They participate in various television programs and many of them attempt hide from people. The demeanour of these activists are clearly known to international NGOs and can they beguile international community again?

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