Over To You, UN

They are everywhere as you head to the North and East — the ubiquitous white four wheel drives, with the well-known symbol emblazoned across.
The UN has become the centre of some controversy in the recent past, with the question of an independent investigation into war crimes. Now, yet another prickly issue has reared its head within the humanitarian community.
The issue at hand is the Joint Partnership Alliance, between NGOs, the UN and Basil Rajapaksa’s Presidential Task Force in the North. The aim of this alliance was to enable government and non governmental entities to work together on developing the North. While this is an admirable initiative, it seems that the UN is trying to solidify its own position within this agreement.


In the past was the Common Annual Appeal. This was essentially a UN funding call. The UN would distribute the money to itself, other INGOs, and would sub-contract to a few government departments after meeting its overheads.
It also meant the annual importation of those sleek white four wheel drives for UN work (complete with duty free allowances) and hotel reviews. It soon became practice that when the UN imported new vehicles, it would ‘gift’ its old ones to the government, despite the fact that the vehicles were not really gifts, already being state property due to the allowances.
The government slowly put a squeeze on these wayward habits. With Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa putting his foot down, it was looking to be a bleak end to 2010. With less funding, many UN staffers would have to leave, and operations would be transferred to Sri Lankans instead. Until, that is, a compromise was reached, with the UN agreeing to partner the government and NGOs for humanitarian development.
The Presidential Task Force, chaired by Basil Rajapaksa, laid out guidelines and several meetings followed. Many other government officials contributed to this document as well. Everything seemed under control.
A copy of the Joint Plan Guidelines 2011 (dated November 30) is in The Sunday Leader’s possession. The action plan is split into seven sectors. These are; shelter and provision of non food assistance, water and sanitation, health, education and sports, service provision, food security, agriculture and livelihood and mine action and economic development. The relevant minister will chair meetings in each sector. Guidelines were set out for rebuilding houses, providing water, seed materials and women development programmes, among other things. While the guidelines are systematic and well-intentioned, a series of emails indicates that while the UN publicly supported the initiative, they had other ideas in private.


An email sent from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to Colombo cluster heads states, “Note there should be no government or development projects.” Instead, the email says that partnership with government agencies should be emphasized. So far, there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary in this.
The next red flag is the statement that once a project feasibility study is carried out, the sector projects should be first shared with OCHA. They would then meet with sector leaders to ‘vet’ project submission. What this seems to suggest is that the UN would be evaluating project feasibility, thus indirectly identifying to donors what most needed to be done. What’s more, the same email goes on to say that OCHA will upload the final projects onto an OPS website, tracked by the UN. Nowhere is there any mention of government involvement, or indeed of Basil Rajapaksa’s Presidential Task Force, despite the Joint Partnership Agreement.
The UN is subject to certain guidelines which need to be heeded whilst operating in Sri Lanka. The partnership agreement is just one of them. It would seem that the UN is trying to muscle in on development activities in the North. Yet Minister Basil Rajapaksa has signed off on the document, indicating that he is completely unaware of the UN’s agenda. Presidential Task Force Secretary Divaratne was in continuous meetings and was unable to respond to The Sunday Leader’s queries on the partnership agreement.

However, Information Officer at OCHA Carrie Howard responded to queries via email.
“The UN has been working with the government and NGOs on a wide ranging consultative process to jointly identify priorities for assistance to the Northern Province in 2011,” she said of the agreement itself. She added that the plan would help the people in the Northern Province to rebuild their lives, including the newly resettled and those who remain in welfare centres.
“This process will assist with both raising funds to meet the needs and with the effective implementation of those funds,” she said.  Responding to questions on the UN’s role in the agreement, and specifically on whether projects would be suggested by the UN alone, she had this to say: “The UN is supporting the government-led plan, which identifies priority needs and activities for 2011. The plan is being developed in close consultation with all parties in groups led by technical government agencies.”
In short, though the UN claims to be working with the government, its private correspondence indicates differently. The email in question contained guidelines on how to finalise UN and partner projects in line with the JPA. The only suggestion of government cooperation is in the first line, “Complete consultation with your partners, and if appropriate your technical line ministries ….. to support humanitarian and early recovery projects in 2011.”  The question is why the cluster heads were not specifically instructed to work with the Presidential Task Force, in light of the Joint Partnership Agreement. Was it a simple omission or something else entirely? Over to you, UN.

6 Comments for “Over To You, UN”

  1. Free Thinker

    Rightly or wrongly there is a majority perception that NGOs, Westerners and UN cannot be trusted because of their perceived partiality in dealing with LTTE issue. Rather than doing tit for tats and going behind the government UN should work with the government to build the loss trust. This is not a time to impose western ways of doing things and trying to undermine the government. I am not trying to white wah our government but foreigners should understand the ground realities and start to trust the government. That is the best way of reducing wrong doings of the government ministers and agencies. The important thing is maintaining the dialogue and achieve the noble set objectives.

  2. What is the gurantee against government politicians interfearing with the provision of assistance to identified special groups?
    Recently, Namal Rajapakse MP and son of the president, forcibly ‘took over’ 400 two wheel tractors donated by UNICEF, to be distributed to farmers in the north, identified by due process by the provincial authorities and UNICEF, and “donated” them to his own political supporters.
    The UNICEF representative, a lady, wept in frustration. This caused hardly a ripple in the state news media which downplayed and ‘buried’ the incident. The government ignored what happened. Now UNICEF has been asked to wind up its activities.

    • veedhur


      Get your facts correct. Incident involved 40 odd tractors not 400, Namal was not involved, and it was not UNICEF but ICRC.

    • Montisoori teacher

      Please do not worry, usually Montisoori Kids , they behave like this. Please forgive this kid.

  3. dickhead

    Myeeeee Basil has gone and got his teeth whitened!…..

    Ban-KI-Moon – What big teeth you have Basil

    Basil – All the better to lie to the public and eat their tax monies too Also I lie to you and the UN and the world too.

    I like the hair piece too Basil – Nice like a fryin pan on the head. soon you and your brotherhood will be roasting in that frying pan. Every Dog has its Day Basil these your days so enjoy while you all can.

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