A top US official in the Obama administration has lashed out at former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, saying he governed largely through divisiveness and fear.
Samantha Power, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, speaking during the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in Mexico said that the Rajapaksa regime persecuted critics.
She noted that during the January 2015 elections, Maithripala Sirisena ran on a platform of open Government, anti-corruption, and reconciliation and the people chose him for President.
“The new government moved swiftly to show it was serious about living up to its commitments, from stopping harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, to exposing rampant corruption. The impact was immediate. A labor organizer who had gone into hiding during the Rajapaksa administration’s rule resumed his work, saying he no longer feared being targeted for what he was doing. A journalist who had been routinely harassed for his reporting said, “the fear has gone.” But in many ways, that was the easy part. Because walking the walk of open government means not only refraining from muzzling one’s critics and refraining from stealing public resources, but finding ways to empower citizens so they can use their greater freedom to shape the government they want,” Power said.
She said that it is so encouraging that while confronting some of the darkest and most painful chapters in its country’s past, the Sirisena administration is also pursuing initiatives to open itself up to greater scrutiny.
“An access to information law is currently being considered in parliament; Sri Lanka’s information technology agency is working to bring connectivity to marginalized communities, who too often have lacked access and the information it provides; and, today, Sri Lanka has joined OGP, one of several new members. None of these tools is transformative in and of itself. But together with other steps, they can help enable citizens to play a greater role in shaping the government they deserve,” she said.
She says the experience of Sri Lanka embodies so much of what is at stake. She says it shows the world the profound costs of impunity and corruption. It shows how a determined and persistent civil society that would not give up can swing the pendulum back toward greater accountability and transparency. And it shows how much leaders can achieve, even in a short period of time, when they are willing to engage the people they serve.
“But I close with this example not because of all it has achieved, but because of all the challenges that lie ahead. As it works to deliver on its ambitious platform of reform, the Sirisena government has a lot to learn from the fellow governments of OGP. Just as we will have a lot to learn from it. As Sri Lankan civil society asserts an increasingly active role in shaping its Government’s actions, one of its greatest resources will be the counsel of the civil society organizations in this room. And this is a tremendous resource that just a few years ago did not exist, for a Government making a transition like Sri Lanka is attempting,” Samantha Power added.
A Sri Lankan Government delegation was also at the Mexico event. (Colombo Gazette)