Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka and Chairman of the Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation (TAFREN), Mano Tittawella has said it is the Sri Lanka Government's expectation, that “the successful completion of the Post-Tsunami Action Plan would not only restore infrastructure and livelihoods to the affected people, but would also serve as a catalyst in moving the peace process forward”.

TAFREN Chairman Mano Tittawella addressing the meeting

Mr. Tittawella made this observation when he addressed the Private Sector Summit on Post-Tsunami Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, held Thursday May 12, 2005 in Washington, D.C. The Summit focused on the role of the U.S. private sector in post-tsunami assistance and provided a forum for representatives of the affected countries to meet with corporate representatives and Non-Governmental Organizations to seek solutions and resources for the next phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Attended by over three hundred participants from the corporate and NGO sectors including academia, this event was sponsored by the Coca Cola Company, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Pfizer Inc. and Evergreen International Aviation Inc. of the US.

Mr. Tittawella noted that “Sri Lanka was overwhelmed by the generosity demonstrated by the international community and particularly encouraged by the tremendous response of U.S. corporations and foundations, which was in the highest tradition of corporate social responsibility. He said “ the Government of Sri Lanka together with the donor community had developed a comprehensive post-tsunami reconstruction plan for Sri Lanka on a sectoral basis, that covers all the affected districts in the North, East and South of Sri Lanka. Over 80% of the resources needed had already been pledged and in most cases MOUs have also been signed”. Mr. Tittawella hoped that “the partnership established with corporate America would ensure the successful completion of this massive undertaking”.

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the Co-Chairs of U.S. Private Sector Tsunami Relief, who delivered the keynote addresses at the Summit, recalled their visit to the region earlier this year and said that the response of all Americans in this hour of crisis showed “America at its best”. President Clinton, who also serves as the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the countries affected by the tsunami, impressed on the need for the corporate sector and INGOs to move fast and ensure that their funds are put to use now, rather than later, as the need for such funds will be felt most acutely over the next six months, until the affected countries completed negotiations with bi-lateral donors and international organizations on the more long term projects.

President George H. W. Bush addresses the meeting, while President Bill Clinton and
Chairman Asia Society Ambassador Richard C. Holebrooke looks on.

A special session of this meeting chaired by Ashley Wills, US Assistant Trade Representative and former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka was devoted to Sri Lanka, where the specificities concerning post-tsunami relief in the island was discussed. Opening the discussion, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Bernard A.B. Goonetilleke said that given the magnitude of the task before Sri Lanka, the government had decided to allow the private sector as well as local and international NGOs to undertake all the work that can be done by them and to be partners in the medium and long term rehabilitation and reconstruction strategy of Sri Lanka. Ambassador Goonetilleke emphasized that the development needs of the country do not stop where the tsunami waves stopped and that Sri Lanka did not wish to create imbalances between the tsunami affected areas and those adjacent to such areas. He pointed out that although most of the specific projects had already been taken up, donors from the private sector and INGOs, who might be interested in contributing immediately to a project should do so, as resources that have been ear marked for projects to be funded by institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, ADB, JAIC etc., could be re-allocated in consultation with those institutions, to be utilized for other projects within or beyond the tsunami affected areas.

Mr. Rohan Edirisinghe, who addressed the session representing civil society groups of Sri Lanka, emphasized the need to ensure that post-tsunami work was carried out giving due consideration to issues of governance. He urged greater involvement of those affected in the decision making process and the need to avoid political patronage. Mr. Edirisinghe, who cautioned that evangelical groups, who had got involved in post-tsunami work in Sri Lanka, were seen to be aggressively seeking to promote the spread of their faith “holding aid in one hand and the Bible in the other”, said it had resulted in an increase in social tensions in some areas. He urged that foreign governments prevail on such groups to act with restraint. He also expressed concern over the hostile attitude that was being taken against NGOs in Sri Lanka, particularly against those that were supportive of the peace process.

Ms. Jeanne Samuel, President of the Rotary Club, North Chapter said, much had to be done to heal the wounds of those, who lost their loved ones or were affected by the tsunami. She noted that half of those displaced continue to remain in camps and that urgent measures had to be taken to redress their plight. Ms. Samuel also emphasized the need to ensure better accountability of funds and that zero tolerance be excercised over corruption.

Among the other issues raised during the discussion was the implementation of the buffer zone concept, delays in clearing relief supplies from the port, the tax imposed on funds received by NGOs as tsunami relief, the inequities that might result following development of tsunami affected areas and other areas as well as the opposition by some political parties to the Joint Mechanism for distribution of tsunami relief.

TAFREN Chairman Mano Tittawella responding said, while the government had decided to impose a buffer zone as a general principle, in situations where it was not practical, the Government was considering other criteria that could be applied for land use. He noted that the tax imposed on NGOs was a fiscal measure introduced in the last budget prior to the tsunami. While there was a need to check what was coming into the country, there is a clear criteria according to which NGOs engaged in relief work could be exempted on a case by case basis. The government was mindful of the social inequities that could result in the course of the implementation of the Action Plan and had set out a number of guiding principles that would inform the tsunami reconstruction programme. Mr. Tittawella said the President was firmly committed to the implementation of the Joint Mechanism and that the reconstruction process following this massive tragedy should not be treated as a partisan issue. He emphasized that as with the provision of immediate relief in the aftermath of the tsunami, reconstruction work could also be undertaken even without a joint mechanism. However, setting up of such a mechanism would be beneficial as it would also help in building bridges between the parties that have been in conflict with each other.

The private sector summit on post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction was organized by Asia Society, The Asia Foundation, the United States-ASEAN Business Council and the United States Chamber of Commerce.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

12 May 2005


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