Interview with Suranjan Kudithuwakku,
Yuli Ismartono [time 29:43]
Yuli Ismartono: Mr. Suranjan, thank you for being with us.
YI: Let me start by asking you to explain how the Green Movement of Sri Lanka began and what are its activities.
Suranjan Kudithuwakku: During the early 1990s, there were a lot of international pressure for environmental conservation and life-threatening environmental hazards. In Sri Lanka there were also dialogues in universities, basically about these human and environmental crises. So there were political dialogues in terms of how politically this can be settled or can be taken up. And at the same time, some people felt a little bit of social environmental anger looking in that. I was one of the groups looking at this from the community angle and how to get social justice within this e nvironmental conservation paradigm. Then we worked together with several NGOs in Sri Lanka. As a freelance journalist I started my career with some of these environmental organizations, co-editing the Sri Lanka Citizens Report on Environment Development for the UN Conference on Environment & Development held in Brazil. So that was the beginning of becoming a small network to work on the environment and development issues. Then there were several networks attached to that. I had a feeling that the rural communities and rural youths should come up with this environmental awareness and that they should be empowered. Then in 1998 I formed the Green Movement of Sri Lanka, getting the 98 organizations working around the country, especially on community development and organizations which had some kind of environmental concerns. That was the beginning of the Green Movement of Sri Lanka.
YI: What are its main activities?
Suranjan Kudithuwakku: The main activities is empowering communities, create environmental activists and training of trainers who can train their own people on the ground. Those are the two programs. We call that empowering the community. The second one is policy lobbying advocacy in terms of environment development which has become one of the more powerful advocacy organizations in Sri Lanka and still we dialogue with the government and also the decision makers. At that time, we thought the Sri Lankan government was not only the policy makers or the decision makers, so we went to the IFIs - International Financial Institutions - such as the World Bank, the ADB (Asian Development Bank) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, etc. So, we started dialoguing with those people. But it was very strange. They asked, "why are you talking to us, you should go and talk to your own government." We said, "no, you are the people, you have the resources. Whatever you put into the Sri Lanka government, you put a conditionality." So we want you to look into this problem. So for two to three years it was embarrassing and they thought we were like mosquitoes but now it's okay. We have briefing meetings every three months. So that is the greatest achievement we achieved in the last six to seven years in terms of the decision-making process in the country.
YI: So, basically lobbying to change policies?
Suranjan Kudithuwakku: Yes, exactly. We started with country strategic papers and then with the Poverty Reduction Strategy Program. So it was like all the donors, banks everybody in a kind of basket donor cage. And we had to lobby with some donor country embassies, and also lobby with the three major banks that funded Sri Lanka's annual budget.
YI: In developing countries, NGOs - especially environmental NGOs - are always in conflict with their governments because of commercial interests, or security interests. What is the situation in Sri Lanka? Do you have adversorial relations with the government?
Suranjan Kudithuwakku: Yes, we like to say we have a love-hate relationship with the government. Sometimes the government wants us, sometimes they don't like us, they don't want us. So, in terms of big development programs, they think that they should hide everything from us. When we asked where the Environment Report was, because that's in the constitution. So where is it? So that was the beginning of a bad relationship. But now the government also understands the importance of environmental organizations. They criticize, comment or enrich some of their (government) programs. So, in that sense, we think not only the government, but the World Bank and the ADB have now developed a lot of good policies, in terms of safeguards towards development programs. So we think that it's okay, we have some good and some bad relations also. It has reached some kind of a balance. In the past it was very bad, many environmental activists were threatened, but now we have a more balanced relationship. At the same time, because of the present situation, most of the organizations have applied some kind of self-censorship with their activities.
YI: Like keeping a low profile.
Suranjan Kudithuwakku: Yes, a low profile.