13th Amendment and Tamil polity: A pragmatic approach
By Dr Nirmala Chandrahasan
There is much speculation in the Tamil political circles as to the usefulness or otherwise of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and whether the Provincial Council system set up under its aegis gives a measure of power sharing or devolution of powers to the Tamil speaking provinces, or whether it is an ineffective institution which blocks out any greater devolution under the exercise of internal self- determination. This debate has been sparked by the decision of Tamil speaking parties including the TNA, to send a letter to the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, requesting him to use his good offices to induce the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the 13th Amendment fully, in the context that the 13th Amendment arose out of the provisions of the Indo -Sri Lanka Peace Accord of July 1987, to which treaty India and Sir Lanka are signatories. The letter was duly signed by six Tamil party leaders and handed over to the Indian High Commissioner, triggering some protests by those opposing the 13th Amendment. This debate takes on even greater urgency in the context of the impending new constitutional proposals of the Experts Committee appointed by the Gotabaya Government to be tabled in Parliament shortly.
In order to determine which is the better view we have to take a look at the provisions of the 13th Amendment and the workings of the Provincial Councils set up under them, which have been in operation from 1988 onwards in most parts of the Country. Although the PCs as originally envisaged were intended to be set up for the amalgamated Northern and Eastern provinces, to give expression to the long standing demand of the Tamil speaking people since independence, for devolution and power sharing within a Federal framework, it was extended to the Sinhala majority provinces as well although there had been no demand for them in these provinces. The first Provincial Council elections were held in April 1988 for the North Central, North Western, Sabragamuwa and Uva Provinces, and subsequently for the other provinces. In September 1988 the Northern and Eastern provinces were made one administrative unit in accordance with the provisions of the Indo -Sri Lanka Treaty, and in November 1988 elections were held for the North East Provincial Council. In 1990 the PC was dissolved. Thereafter the North East Province was directly administered by the Central government. During the civil war it was not possible to hold PC elections In the northern and eastern parts of the Country. In 2006 pursuant to a Court decision the two provinces were separated. It was only in May 2008 that the Eastern province, Provincial Council election was held. Subsequently after the termination of the war in the north, the Northern Province, Provincial Council election was held on 21st September 2013. We can see that this institution has been operating over a long period of time but during this long period certain sections of the 13th Amendment dealing with the powers conferred on the Provincial Councils, set out in the 3 Appendixes to the 9th Schedule of List 1 Provincial Council List, are yet to be activated and are in abeyance. These Appendixes deal with the following subjects; Appendix 1, law and order which has to do mainly with Police powers and institution of a Provincial Division of the Police Force alongside the National Division of the Force. Appendix 11 Land and land settlement, and Appendix 111 Education.
Apart from the above, the Provincial Council exercises powers in respect of the subjects assigned to it, over which it has both legislative and executive powers. The subjects assigned to the Province and set out in the provincial List, List 1 include inter alia Provincial housing and construction, agriculture and agrarian services, rural development,health, land, Irrigation, roads bridges and ferries within the province, planning, and plan implementation of provincial economic plans, educational services, and supervision and administration of local government authorities. The list even includes ancient and historical monuments other than those declared to be of national importance. I mention this in the context of the Archaeological explorations being made in the northern and eastern provinces by the recently appointed task force on archeology without any representation from the Tamil and Muslim communities. There is also a concurrent list, List 111, over which both the Provincial Council and the Centre can exercise powers, these include planning and appraisal of plan implementation strategies at the provincial level, education and educational services, higher education, agriculture and agrarian services, health, irrigation, tourism, etc. In these areas there can be overlapping powers and hence disputes arise. The Provincial Council can pass statutes and exercise executive powers in respect of the subjects set out in the Provincial and Concurrent lists. These powers are largely based on the powers conferred on the States in the Indian constitution part VI. The States in India are running efficiently and providing the people with the services that they need. Tamil Nadu for example is recognised as having a very efficient administration presently under the Chief Minister M. K Stalin. The question is why the Provincial Council system in Sri Lanka is generally regarded a white elephant and as not effective in providing services to the people. For this we must examine the road blocks in the system and make the necessary adjustments, rather than just dismantling the entire system, and throwing the baby away with the bath water so to speak.
An appraisal of the workings shows that most of the stumbling blocks to the smooth functioning of the Provincial Councils are as a result of the provisions of the Provincial Councils Act no 42 of 1987, which was passed alongside the 13th Amendment. Under this Act the Governor is given powers over the finances of the PCs and is given control of the Provincial Public service as well as the Provincial Public Service commission. The 13th Amendment provides that the executive power of the Provincial Council is vested in the Governor and he acts through the Board of ministers or through members of the provincial public service. The Chief Minister and the Board of Ministers aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions and the Governor Shall act in accordance with the advice except where he is required under the Constitution to exercise his discretion. In the Indian Constitution similarly in respect of the States ,the executive power is vested in the Governor but as in the Westminster scheme of governance the Governor acts on the advice of the Chief Ministers and is a nominal head. On the other hand, in Sri Lanka we find many instances of Governors exercising these powers like executive heads and not as nominal heads, particularly in the Tamil majority provinces and not so much in the Sinhalese majority provinces. The Governors stranglehold over the functioning of the PCs is most clearly demonstrated in his power over the finances of the province. To run the PCs money is required and this is where the Councils have been most hamstrung as the Provincial Councils Act gives the Governor controlling power over the finances of the Province. The custody of the Provincial Fund is with the Governor. The PC cannot pass any statute imposing or abolishing taxes without the consent of the Governor. More over the constitutional framework severely limits the revenue raising capacity of the PCS, as pointed out in the Report of the Parliamentary subcommittee on Centre- Periphery relations of November 2016. Hence the PCs have to depend largely on Central grants for their funds.
Another area which needs to be redesigned is the Administrative system. To run the Provincial Councils effectively the Council requires control not only over its funds but also an effective administrative system and defined areas of competence. At present the District Secretary and the Divisional Secretary as well as the Grama Niladaris come under the Central Government These officers perform administrative functions within the territory of the province but without any control from the provincial administration. Also, although the Local Authorities are under the supervisory control of the Provincial Councils as per the devolved List, most of the power at the local level remains with the Central Government.
For efficient administration of the province there has to be defined areas of competence. But in effect, the Centre has been encroaching on the areas assigned to the provincial administration. The reserved List of the Centre List 11, starts with the Rubric” National policy on all subjects”. This has enabled the Centre to take over subjects which it designates as National. To remedy this, what is National policy or National standards should be laid down through a participatory process with the involvement of the Provinces culminating in framework legislation passed by Parliament to which both Centre and Provinces should adhere. This has been proposed in the Report of the Experts Committee on the Constitution,2006. Another matter which has to be amended is the Concurrent list. Here too it has been recommended that the List be eliminated and the relevant subjects be divided between the Centre and the Province, so that they each have defined areas.
In an article of this nature, it is not possible to do a more in-depth study but I have outlined what are the important issues to be addressed if the Provincial Councils are to provide meaningful Devolution. Some of the areas which need amendment are as follows. The Governor’s role has so far tended to be an obstruction to the functioning of the PCs. The Governor should continue as a nominal head and leave the running of PC to the elected representatives. This is also a recommendation of the Parliamentary subcommittee in its 2016 report.
Hence the Governor’s powers have to be pruned and the Provincial Councils Act suitably amended. The revenue raising capacity of the PCs must be enhanced. It is suggested that they be given the power to obtain loans from foreign sources or at least have the power to administer projects financed by foreign aid. Another important issue is to put in place an administrative structure that can carry out the functions of the Provincial Council in services delivery to the people and for this the administration has to be redesigned so as to bring the District Secretary , the Divisional Secretary and the Grama Niladaris, under the Provincial administration while they still carry out agency services for the Centre. Furthermore, although local Authorities are under the Authority of the PC, as per the devolved List, this provision is being undermined by the Centre using the Urban Development Authority (UDA), Mahaweli Authority and other Central bodies operating within the Province. Hence it must be mandated that such bodies operate within the Province only with the consent and in conjunction with the Provincial and Local Government Authorities. As for the powers in respect of Law and Order and Police powers contained in Appendix 1 of List 1 the 9th schedule , they could be transferred to those PCs which request them as for example in the case of the Northern Ireland Assembly in the UK , where these powers were initially with the Centre, but there was a provision that allowed them to be released on request. In 2010 they were transferred to the Assembly under the Hillsborough Agreement. Until such time as Appendix 1, comes to be activated other provisions can be put in place, such as a policy of recruiting a percentage of the Police cadre stationed in the northern and eastern provinces from these provinces and mandate that they have an O level pass in the Tamil language so that they could operate efficiently in the Tamil speaking areas. I would suggest some similar provision in respect of some areas in the Central provinces so that the upcountry Malayaha Tamils, are also benefited. It is submitted that the Appendix 11 on land be fully implemented as it is essential for the land security of these provinces that the utilization of state land as well as alienation of such land under Presidential order be done in consultation with, or advise of the Provincial Council. The provision in Appendix 11 on the constitution of a National Land Commission with members being appointed from all 3 communities should be carried out forthwith.
I would suggest that the Tamil parties take up the proposed reforms with the Government of Sri Lanka in a negotiated process. As the Government of India was the other party to the Indo Sri Lanka Treaty, India can legitimately demand that the obligations undertaken in the treaty be carried out and the provisions of 13 A be implemented fully so that meaningful devolution is assured to the Tamil speaking people whom the Treaty specifically denotes as the historical inhabitants of the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. In line with the UNHCR resolution the Sri Lankan Government should also hold the Provincial Council elections so that these institutions can be functioning and not in abeyance as they have been for some years. The Provincial Councils in the South will also benefit from the reforms proposed as it will provide the citizens of the entire Country a stream lined system which is a service provider to the people. I note that the President in his Budget speech has advised the Tamil parties to look to their peoples’ needs and concentrate on economic development of their areas. This can best be done when there is true democracy and the people are taken into the process of consultation as to the strategies for economic development and this is best done at the local level through the Provincial Councils, and local Government Authorities, rather than through bureaucrats sitting in Colombo who have no knowledge of the local conditions or the needs of the people. In my view the Province remains the best unit of devolution at present to serve the needs of the Tamil speaking people. It gives them some measure of autonomy in their traditional areas of inhabitancy. Similarly, in the United Kingdom which is a Unitary State, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland which are ethnically distinct have their own Legislative Assemblies, in the case of Scotland it is called a Parliament, and exercise similar powers to those set out in the 13th Amendment.
I would like to point out that all the major changes suggested in this article respecting the Governors powers, Financing of the Provincial Councils and the Re-designing of the Administrative system in the Provinces have been recommended in the following Reports: Report of the Experts Committee advising the APRC on Constitutional matters and resolution of the National Question 2006, the Report of the APRC( All party Representative Committee) on a new Home grown Constitution 2010, Report of the Parliamentary sub- committee on Centre -Periphery relations 2016 , presented to the Steering Committee of the Constitutional Assembly which was engaged in producing a new Constitution during the tenure of the previous government. In the circumstances the proposed new Constitution could incorporate these features and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I would submit that the Provincial Council system can be an efficient and successful system if all the short comings referred to above are eliminated and the necessary amendments made. These changes will not require any major constitutional procedures, and can be accomplished by legislation in Parliament with a simple majority, and the administrative changes by Presidential gazette notification under the provisions of the 13th Amendment itself.
*The writer was a member of the Experts Committee 2006, and a signatory to the Majority Report of this Committee.
Teach geometry to sharpen mind
By Prof.Kirthi Tennakone
Decades ago, language, classics, science, and mathematics emphasiing geometry stood as the cornerstones of the high school curriculum, shaping students’ minds. These disciplines inculcate learning aptitude, creativity, abstract thinking, and empathy. Many who followed the theme in schools and colleges became professionals excelled in their art, businessmen and intellectually motivated laypeople.
In learning mathematics, geometry stands out as particularly important because the subject invigorates the mind to think deductively and imaginatively in understanding spatial relationships. Unlike in arithmetic and elementary algebra, where the problem-solving strategy proceeds with a set of operations, in geometry the student concentrates deeply looking at a sketch drawn on paper – a different kind of brain stimulating exercise.
The book Elements of Geometry by S Barnard and J M Child, widely used in Britain and our schools since the early 1900s, states geometry is the science of space and deals with shapes, sizes and positions of things. The definition agrees with the more modern view that geometry, though abstract, is essentially a study of the nature of physical space and has cosmological implications.
Virtues of learning geometry
Whatever you plan to do, geometry is invaluably relevant, directly or indirectly. Exposure to the subject influences the mindset beneficially to tackle problems beyond mathematics. So many renowned men and women have commented on the virtues of geometry.
Plato said, “Experience proves anyone who has studied geometry is infinitely quicker at grasping difficult subjects than one who has not. He attached so much importance to geometry, inscribing on the entrance to his academy the phrase “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”.
Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab historian and philosopher, said “Geometry enlightens the mind and sets the mind right. All proofs are very clear and orderly and errors would not enter into geometrical reasoning. Thus, a mind that constantly applies itself to geometry is unlikely to fall into error. In this way, a person who knows geometry acquires intelligence.”
American poetess Rita Dove wrote, “I prove a theorem, house expands”.
The columnist Marlin Savant, once hailed as the world’s smartest woman, having the highest recorded IQ, wrote, “Geometry is beautifully logical, and teaches you how to think and prove things step by step. Proofs are excellent lessons in reasoning. Without logical reasoning, you are dependent on jumping to conclusions – or – worse, having empty opinions”.
The British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dill Faulkes, describes geometry as the surest and clearest way of thinking available to us.
History of Geometry
The history of geometry tells how profoundly the discipline influenced human thinking. Geometrical ideas originated in Egypt and Babylonia as methods of measuring the extents of agricultural land. Perhaps independently in Sri Lanka as well, after initial Indian influence. Our ancient irrigation systems, monuments of rich architecture, and stupas could not be built without a practical knowledge of geometry.
Greeks looked at the subject in the spirit of abstractness, revolutionising the line of human inquiry. If they also continued to adopt geometry in the same way as Egyptians, Babylonians and Sri Lankans did, confining it only to practical uses, there wouldn’t be a modern technology.
Early Greek philosophers indulged in geometry, believing it is divine and inherent. Plato, having noted that perfect geometrical figures cannot be drawn, said they exist in a higher spiritual realm, and a man can retrieve their properties instinctively. In one of his discourses, Plato states, Socrates did an experiment to prove the point by telling an ignorant slave boy to draw a square double in area compared to one he sketched on muddy ground with a stick. The boy did it wrong in the first instance, but with a little help from Socrates, he instinctively recollected the Pythagoras theorem (both Plato and Socrates were followers of Pythagoras who lived earlier) and solved the problem. Plato’s bias to his opinion is obvious, and the experiment he attributes to Socrates may be fictitious. Nevertheless, the story shows how deep were the European philosophers, in their endeavors to fathom abstract fundamentals, paving the way for the West to dominate the world scientifically, technologically, and therefore economically.
The next bold step that enlightened geometry, radically influencing all branches of mathematics and philosophical contemplation, was the work of the Greek geometer and logician Euclid, who lived in Alexandria. He did not attribute geometry to the realm of spirituality or an inherent instinct of humans, but built its theory on the basis of a few axioms written below, taken as self-evident truths.
1. Two points are connectable by a straight line.
2. A straight-line can be extended indefinitely.
3. A circle may be drawn with any radius and an arbitrary center.
4. All right angles are equal.
5. If a straight-line intersect two other straight-lines in such a way the sum of inner angles of on one side is less than two right angles, two lines will inevitably intersect when extended in that direction.
Using the above axioms, Euclid logically deduced important properties of triangles, circles and other geometrical figures as theorems. The fifth axiom, the so-called parallel postulate, remained controversial for more than 2000 years. Mathematicians tried hard to prove it using other axioms. Finally, the impossibility of proving the assertion was understood. Many important theorems in geometry, such as the equality of the sum of three angles in a triangle to two right angles and the Pythagoras theorem, are consequences of the parallel postulate. Mathematicians in India and China knew the property of right-angled triangles attributed to Pythagoras. However, Euclid’s proof of the theorem using the parallel postulate shocked mathematicians of antiquity.
A new chapter in geometry was opened after realizing the independence of the fifth axiom. German mathematicians, Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann showed other consistent geometries exist, corresponding to figures drawn on curved surfaces. And Pythagoras Theorem is not an absolute truth but a consequence of the parallel postulate. These developments motivated Albert Einstein to formulate the general theory of relativity.
Euclid’s art of argument, making few assumptions identified as self-evident truths and logical reasoning based upon them, finds applicability and validity in affairs beyond mathematics and science. Many things you and I do depend on certain assumptions.
Examine assumptions carefully to see whether they are consistent, deduce consequences logically, and then proceed.
Abraham Lincoln, in his speeches, clearly identified assumptions, justified them as natural truths and argued logically to validate a point. After listening to a speech by Abraham Lincoln, a man asked him how he acquired such an amazing oratorical skill in presenting ideas and arguing consistently. Lincoln said, when other lawyers were sleeping and snoring, he lit a candle near the pillow and read six volumes of Euclid.
Mahatma Gandhi frequently made references to geometry in clarifying arguments. In one of his writings, Mahatma says, Euclid’s straight-line exists only in imagination, never capable of being drawn. Nevertheless, it is an important definition in geometry, yielding great results. So may a perfect bramachari exist only in imagination? But if we did not keep him constantly before the mind’s eye, we would be like a rudderless ship. The nearer the approach to the imaginary state, greater the perfection.
Teaching Geometry: Education and Science Policy Reforms
Since the time of Plato, geometry has been an integral part of academic instruction. Before Christian schools were started in the 1800s, geometry was taught only in universities. Later, these institutions demanded higher qualifications in mathematics with geometry for enrollment. Thereafter, the educationists’ world-wide emphasized formal exposure to geometry, an essential prerequisite in completing secondary level education.
Until the Education Department’s curriculum reforms were implemented in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka followed the same concept, teaching geometry as a separate subject in the 8th grade and after – largely a continuation of the school mathematics curriculum introduced by the British in the early 1900s. In those days, the Ordinary Level (OL) Mathematics, students had to sit for a separate geometry paper. Later, the geometry component in our high school mathematics syllabus was reduced, perhaps to accommodate things considered being more important in commerce and technological studies. Today, teachers and students pay less attention to geometry and concentrate on areas more straightforward in learning.
Recently, Sri Lanka, Department of Education reported that in the OL Mathematics Examination, the majority of students do not select geometry questions, and those who attempt them often give erroneous answers. Sometimes teachers advise their students to omit geometry, telling them, questions in the area are hard. Now we have a generation of mathematics teachers who neglected geometry in their school days.
The repercussions of the deficiency in teaching geometry during the past three decades have probably gone beyond OL exam performance and may account for our weaknesses in intellectual pursuits, technological innovations, and the inability to adopt an evidence-based approach in solving problems.
The poor performance in geometry can be rectified by adding more explanatory material to the OL syllabus and devoting more time to teaching. Unless the subject is made compulsory by revising the examination structure, the tendency of the teachers and students to neglect the section will continue. Furthermore, the subject should be made interesting to the students, highlighting its importance and history. Isaac Newton’s assistant has said that he witnessed the great man laugh only once when, someone asked him whether geometry has any use. Why not tell this to the students? The teachers should also tell the students, mastering geometry requires sustained mental concentration. Swami Vivekananda, a vocal advocate of the powers of concentration, said, “Just two or three days before the entrance examination, I found that I hardly knew anything of geometry. So I began to study the subject, keeping awake the whole night, and in twenty-four hours I mastered four chapters in the geometry book”.
At a time when Sri Lanka plans to propose educational reforms, to divert the human resource towards technological innovations and commercial ventures, it is prudent to note what the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, said when he visited the 11th grade mathematics class in a science oriented college in Moscow 2021. Having noted that the students were attempting to answer a problem in business, he asked, “Why do you guys work on business projects in school?” Here you need to gain fundamental knowledge, and gave them a stunning problem in geometry to solve.
The message the Russian Prime Minister conveyed is clear. In schools and universities, students have to be exposed to the fundamentals to sharpen the mind and nurture creativity. With that experience, they are better equipped to specialize and deliver innovations. If fundamentals are omitted to accommodate more technological and business courses, the outcome will be counterproductive. We jump into technological fashions that emerge from time to time – biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and now artificial intelligence – believing they would deliver marketable products immediately. Yet the fruits of these efforts originate elsewhere, mostly in Europe and the United States of America, where schools and universities emphasize fundamental science. Teach geometry to boost the natural intelligence of our children, before embarking on artificial intelligence! For a student to enter the field of artificial intelligence and compete, he or she needs to acquire in-depth knowledge in several branches of mathematics. It is true that just like in information technology, the subject of artificial intelligence can be pursued without extra brilliance and advanced mathematical preparation. However, to make a mark and compete, those qualities are essential.
Shyness to undertake fundamental studies
The neglect of geometry is one example of our shyness to undertake intellectually challenging fundamental areas of inquiry. What the Russian Prime Minister told the mathematics class, giving a problem in geometry, is also a reminder to research institutions devoted to fundamental research. They should pursue the mandated theme without gross deviations, adulteration, or engaging in commercialization trivialities. All major innovations that pushed the West to the forefront had been curiosity driven investigations. Intellectual fantasy and dreaming and working on challenging problems, not necessarily yielding immediate results, is more important than writing papers for the purpose of getting them printed in journals.
We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’.
Educational curricula and science policy reformers should keep in mind that downgrading or elimination of topics engendering qualities of abstract thinking, imagination, and empathy will lead to disastrous consequences, now beginning to be seen above Sri Lanka’s societal horizon. Bringing in reforms to accommodate technologically oriented programs curtailing the fundamentals would be ineffective. We are not competitive in technology and continue to be poor in innovations. We don’t engage in advanced frontier research, once confined to the West, but now pursued eagerly elsewhere in our region. The country doesn’t produce sufficient numbers of original thinkers, productive scientists, entrepreneurs, and knowledgeable administrators. In many situations, myth overtakes rationality, and social values are on the decline.
Our students are clever and talented. Their weakness in geometry and generating innovations is not their fault, but our wrong policies continuing for decades.We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’ and our teachers and researchers to be men and women of the caliber to engage ‘there’ as philosopher mentors.
The author can be reached via email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis: Finding peaceful, equitable and sustainable way out
By Siri Hettige,
Emeritus Professor of Sociology,
University of Colombo
I wish to begin this article with a very broad assertion, namely, Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis is the result of a series of deliberate and short- sighted policy measures taken by post-liberalisation regimes since 1977. These policy measures led to not only structural changes in the economy but also far reaching changes in many other sectors such as education, health, transport and social welfare. As regards the economic changes, the trends have been quite clear. To understand this, one only has to follow the changes in the macroeconomic indicators over the last four decades.
If we first look at the structural changes brought about by liberalisation policies, it was quite clear that the service sector expanded rapidly, often at the expense of industrial and agricultural sectors leading to a widening trade gap as imports of industrial and even agricultural commodities increased steadily, far exceeding the value of exports. But, instead of addressing the emergent structural distortions of the economy, successive governments promoted export of labor and tourism as a way of earning foreign income to pay for rapidly increasing industrial and other goods Imported to the country.
Increasing availability of foreign exchange from worker remittances and tourism not only helped bridge the otherwise widening trade gap but also pay for all sorts of consumer goods demanded buy the increasingly affluent sections of the population. The expansion of this class was facilitated by low tax regimes maintained by successive governments. Increasing disposable incomes of a sizable segment of the population also increased the demand for private services in health, transport and education. And this led to the opening up of these sectors for private investment resulting in the proliferation of private health care providers, international schools in and around Colombo and Importation of hundreds of thousands of private vehicles.
The above developments contributed to unprecedented inequalities in the areas of health, education and passenger transport, all of which hitherto remained mostly publicly provided services. Inequality became clearly evident in all these sectors but post- liberalisation regimes failed to do anything significant to contain increasingly visible inequalities not only in household income but also the widening gap between urban and rural/estate sectors.
The failure of the post-1977 regimes to contain growing income inequality by implementing a progressive taxation policy led to decreasing state revenue, making it impossible to allocate adequate resources to publicly provided health, education and transport services. Poor quality of these services in turn created highly unequal life chances for lower income groups in society. For instance, poor educational facilities in rural and estate areas forced parents to pay for private tuition that emerged as a thriving business in all parts of the country. Poorly funded and crowded public transport services forced even many low-income people to buy transport equipment like imported motor cycles and three-wheelers to have more convenient modes of local transport, not to mention hundreds of thousands of all sorts of motor cars imported for the use of higher income groups. The same sort of development was also evident in the health sector when private provision of health care became an integral part of the health sector in Sri Lanka.
increasing cost of living as a consequence of the above developments encouraged more and more people including young men and women to migrate overseas for extended periods of employment and this helped many families to earn supplementary incomes not only to cover their day to day consumption but also to save money for children’s education, buy land, build houses, etc. But such economic gains came with considerable social costs such as the neglect of small children, break up of families and even the spread of alcohol abuse by men. Yet, increasing remittances soon became the biggest single foreign exchange earner for the country, often over 7 billion USD per year. On the other hand, increasing outflow of labor from rural and estate areas for overseas employment led to increasing costs of agricultural labor making small scale agriculture unviable, often resulting in the abandonment of many small parcels of agricultural land by farmers resulting in a decline in agriculture production and related livelihoods.
Despite social costs of labour migration, increasing worker remittances became a blessing in disguise for successive governments. In fact, populist governments began to label migrant workers as “Rata Viruwo” (“Oversees heroes”). following the equally adulatory term “Rana Viruwo” used for security service personnel fighting in the war in the north and east of the country. Availability of foreign currency earned by migrant workers enabled the governments and private companies to pay for all sorts of imports demanded by consumers, in particular those who purchased all kinds of motor cars and electrical appliances.
In spite of largely consumption driven economic growth, state revenue continued to remain low as a proportion of the GDP. In fact, state revenue declined from about 20% of GDP in the mid 1970’s to about 8% to 10% of GDP in recent years. Implications of this became so obvious when university academics asked the government to allocate 6% of the GDP for education alone. While this was obviously an impossible proposition, public investment in education had declined to about 1.5% of the GDP. In fact, this was a small fraction of what many countries, even in the Asian region invested in public education in recent decades.
The result of a very low level of public investment in education has had serious consequences for the education sector. Well to do families began to move their children from government schools to international schools that proliferated in urban areas alongside well-equipped private schools. Poorer families had no choice but rely on poorly endowed schools for their children’s education. In short, providing equal opportunities to all children and youth became an impossibility within a highly unequal education system. The situation in the health and transport sectors has not been any better than in education.
As it is evident from what is outlined above, the economic and social conditions that emerged following the implementation of neoliberal policies over the last several decades have not been equitable, just or sustainable. In fact, the conditions became worse over the last two decades when the populist regimes that came to power did not seem to care about the emerging vulnerabilities of the Sri Lankan economy due to its serious structural distortions and weaknesses. Moreover, when the public funds raised through commercial borrowings were diverted into infrastructure projects that often did not have any prospect of generating an economic return, public debts became a very serious issue that needed urgent attention. Yet, what followed was even worse when authorities began to rely on commercial borrowings to raise public funds to support government expenditure and this eventually led to high inflation imposing a heavy burden on lower income groups in the country.
The developments outlined above eventually prepared the ground for the unprecedented economic crisis when the foreign debts accumulated over several decades could no longer be serviced, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy in early 2022.
Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that the path to the present economic crisis was laid by shortsighted policies adopted by successive governments with callous disregard for the serious adverse effects of such policies on a large majority of people. But, what is equally important to note is that there are no political leaders and others to take responsibility for the obvious policy failures. On the other hand, the country cannot move forward, beyond the present crisis, unless a genuine national effort is made to not only agree on what went wrong but also come up with an alternative policy framework to guide desirable policy shifts and necessary institutional reforms at all levels.
Land where ‘boo’ is a crime
On Tuesday March 28, The Island editor as is his way, struck the nail on its damn head and fearlessly made his point. He wrote: “The efficiency of the police is truly amazing,” and then added the damper: “the only problem being that it is selective.” This selectivity seems to be worsening. During the weekend their Brownie points with the government was secured at the expense of a lone person who involuntarily, we are sure, his bitter anger overcoming him, dared boo at the passing Minister Bandula Gunawardana. The many khaki Johnnies escorting the said Minister flashed into action, chased that poor guy and arrested him.
We remember the little girl who, to continue her schooling and save herself from being exposed and taunted as poor, stole three coconuts to sell to get the money she had to take to school; her sensitivity realising her mother was too poor to give her the much-needed amount. She was arrested by the police and remanded in their custody. Fortunately, word got around and the girl was rescued by someone with clout intervening.
This super efficiency in the face of murders being committed under their very noses, who knows with whose help, a harmless sportsman Thajudeen was tortured and then killed; trussed up in the seat adjoining the driver’s seat in his car pushed to crash against a wall and burst into flames, burning him to cinders and all evidence. The fire did not ignite. The case came to the very end of catching the movers and murderers and givers of orders and then poof! The case evaporared as evidence had been made to disappear by, they said, certain police officer/s. Similar with the brutal killing of Lasantha W. In these cases, and many such, the police and armed forces personnel involved are not in the public’s memory; it’s the VVIPs who are suspected of giving orders. This small fry Cassandra with a strong power of remembering may be vapourised, but the People know, remember, and may very well extract retribution since waiting for Fate or Karma to do the job takes too long.
Why on earth take notice of a boo, the tooting of a horn, the throwing of a rotten egg or overripe tomato? Such voice users and missile wielders should be thanked since much worse could be shouted out, or thrown. The patience of the masses is most often limitless; justified searing anger and galling resentment are held in check. Politicians should be thankful for this forbearance of the general public.
Across the Palk Strait
Similar to this is an event that unfolded recently in India. Resembles somewhat what happened to Ranjan Ramanayake.Poor Rahul Gandhi, MP and leader of the Congress Party and perchance a future PM of the subcontinent, has been served a two-year term of imprisonment. His crime, which one would think serious, is merely voicing a single sentence which could be taken as harmless, heard now forgotten the next moment. But no, on orders from above, the sentence he proclaimed in 2019, yes as long ago as that, said at a campaign gathering has come home to roost on orders from high up for sure. However, one wonders whether it is the police who are so perturbed with the target of the insult, unconcerned. Maybe India’s security police are also selectively over- efficient as ours is. Gandhi is accused of saying that those with the name Modi are thieves. Heinous? Not at all! Slanderous? No! Defamatory? Could be but also may not be so classified. But his saying it has brought PM Modi to the picture and over there too, it seems to be a case of pleasing, sycophantic loyalty etc.
Gandhi is given time to appeal and may go free or may, if incarcerated, gain sympathy votes for his party. He will not be able to contest the forthcoming Congress leadership election nor national elections. This last mentioned in an article Cass read means that the Lok Sabha in New Delhi does not allow those accused of crimes to enter its portals. So different over here. How many convicted of serious bribe taking, corruption, stealing, drug dealing and even rape and murder are our MPs in the House by the Diyawanne, and living off the little fat left in the land.
No to interference with justice system
Israel is in spasms of mass uprisings against the judicial reforms proposed by the government of recently re-elected PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The Star of David flag waving protests started on January 7 in Tel Aviv, spread to various locations and are masses now. The newly-appointed Justice Minister proposed judicial reforms and curtailing the power of the Supreme Court and also sought more places for govt. in the committees appointing judges. As BBC reported on Tuesday March 28, Netanyahu and his government are reconsidering the reforms.
The Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, disagreed with the move and made known his opposition. Netanyahu promptly dismissed him which caused resignation of Israeli bigwigs like the ambassador to the US.
Cassandra has a purpose in bringing this piece of world news into her chat this Friday. Netanyahu is not the whitest of politicians, not at all. So grey and even black are many of our leaders, stained with crimes of amassing wealth and also eliminating foes and challengers to them. The Israelis attempted interfering with the judiciary and wanting more say in matters judicial. So similar to over here. Remember Chief Justice Dr, Shirani Bandranaike and how she was demeaned and grossly insulted in the Parliament premises by Rajapaksa stooges who still wield power and pontificate endlessly. Recently, wasn’t there a move to summon SC Judges to Parliament? For questioning? Attorney-at –law Prez Ranil W was the mover of this plan, his hand probably puppet-stringed. It could also very well be that he decided on his own. Attorneys at law have been protesting.
Dissimilarities appear in the matter in Israel and how things pertain in SL. They are thinking twice about the reforms and taking due note of protests. Over here strong-arm tactics and the PTA are used. Seen on TV was containing the Israeli protestors by the police with mild water cannoning and no mass temporary blinding and chocking of people, unlike in this paradise gone rotten by the hand of politicians and their vassals. The tear gas used here is not to just temporarily affect the eyes but to harm eyes and nose, lungs and life itself. And we pride ourselves as such a pacifist, democratic country!
The Island editor on Wednesday March 29 reminded his readership that ex-Prez M Sirisena is still hopeful and awaiting answers to his call for help in paying the 100 m fine imposed on him for negligence in preventing the Easter Sunday bombings and mass loss of life and serious injury. MS aka Aiyo Sirisena sure is presumptuously optimistic, stupid and dull-witted to think any Sri Lankan will contribute to save him from imprisonment. He sure must be having plenty lucre as almost all our dubious politicians have amassed. If he was scrupulously honest and has no money to spare, his brother Dudley can bail him out many times over. People were shocked by his – MS’s – changing sides but they hoot now at his SOS and methinks, wait to see him in the place he deserves to be! Bye for now, says Cassandra!
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