by Malinda Seneviratne
Over the last few weeks there has been a concerted campaign in social media attacking President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The ‘Gota Fail Campaign,’ as it was, promoted a strong response questioning the success of the President’s detractors. The campaign was clearly targeting the President’s first anniversary celebrations and the impending reading of the budget. The campaign failed or rather, now that the moment has passed, the campaigners have taken a break.
It was a week marked by celebrations. We had Mahinda Rajapaksa celebrating his 75th birthday. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa completed his first year in office and addressed the nation to mark the occasion. The first budget of the Government that came to power in early August was presented. Secretary to the then President (Mahinda Rajapaksa) Lalith Weeratunga (also the ex officio Chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission) and Anusha Palpita (former Director General, TRC) were acquitted of all charges of misappropriation by the Court of Appeal.
Quite a week, to say the least.
Ranjan Ramanayake, predictably, ridiculed Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mahinda Rajapaksa ‘for not standing while presenting the budget.’ Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa rapped Ramanayake on the knuckles for doing so, in a gesture of good grace rarely seen in Parliament.
Obviously, Mahinda Rajapaksa is no longer the energetic man he used to be. This of course does not necessarily mean he is infirm in mind. He still remains one of the most effective communicators in our tribe of politicians. He’s had his good days and bad ones, like anyone else. He receives praise and blame, which again indicates strong passion, fierce loyalty and, on the part of his detractors, equally intense sentiments which include envy, fear and disgust.
That said, as ‘The Gadfly,’ a regular contributor to the website www.theleader.lk observed, when the post-independence history of this country is written, there will be a special chapter devoted to Mahinda, whereas the likes of Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sajith Premadasa, Rajitha Senaratne an Wijedasa Rajapaksha would get, at most, a line or two. Again, depending on who is writing the history, someone might say. However, Mahinda’s’s mark is unmistakable and certainly hard to brush aside.
Some argued that he should have gracefully retired in 2015. Maybe he should have. On the other hand, ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ is not just a man but a brand and moreover a name that’s etched in the political consciousness of the nation, and, as the August 5 results indicated remembered with gratitude that obliterates memory of his blemishes. If Gotabaya Rajapaksa was captain-designate and Basil Rajapaksa the man chartering course, Mahinda Rajapaksa was the name of the ship (with a tagline, ‘Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’) and ‘MR’ a signature that was on every element of the vessel.
So, let us wish him, belatedly (on account of circumstances), a very happy 75th birthday, good times ahead, good health, continued guidance of his younger brother the President in matters political and restraint in deference to changed times and more importantly the leadership and power that is constitutionally granted to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The budget is still being debated. Predictably Harsha de Silva has come down hard on it. He tweeted, ‘the most boring budget speech in years,’ adding ‘…a weak n inspiring (he probably meant ‘uninspiring’) budget w totally unrealistic revenue figures…a shift towards protectionist n failed ‘Import Substitution Industrialization’ model.’ Having opened the debate for the Opposition, he then tweeted ‘a short edit’: 1. Figures fudged. 2. No stimulus package. 3. About to explode foreign debt issue ignored. 4. Import Substitution Model has failed; need bridges not walls.’
Now de Silva is a fear-mongerer if ever there was one. There was a time when again he was in the Opposition, when he would issue dire predictions of imminent economic collapse almost on a weekly basis. The man had to keep quiet when the UNP regime he was a part of mishandled the economy. He had nothing to say on the Central Bank bond scam.
He might have been thrilled when that regime wagered on the West coming to Sri Lanka’s help, but he didn’t contradict his then leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who, when ‘Brexit’ happened, suddenly said ‘we will look East.’ This after badmouthing China in the run-up to the January 2015 presidential election. We remember Harsha posting selfies with the Port City construction in the background at the time when his party was swearing to put a stop to the project. Finally, his government signed an agreement even less favorable to Sri Lanka. This was to be expected; after all the Yahapalana Government cheered itself while compromising sovereignty by way of Resolution 30/1 in Geneva. Anyway, neither de Silva, Wickremesinghe, Premadasa and pretenders to various political crowns now in the Opposition seem to have cottoned on to the fact that the USA is no longer the big boss in the global economy and that the sun set on the British Empire a long time ago.
Nevertheless, the onus is on the Government to respond to the charge that figures were fudged. As for the revenue plan, we will certainly assess it, realistic or otherwise, as time goes by. The rest is obviously Harsha rattling off received (non) wisdom about things economic.
Stimulus packages hinge on the erroneous premise that the private sector is the one and only engine of growth, where ‘growth’ itself is a concept that is contentious at best in the development discourse and has by and large been rubbished considering what that model has done to the world, the health of the planet and of course the most vulnerable sections in the global population.
Pertinent here, as has been editorially pointed out in www.gammiris.lk is Harsha’s myopia about the Bretton Woods institutions. Here’s a quote:
He (Harsha) does not seem to have gone through Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents, which talks in succinct detail how these institutions operate, particularly in underdeveloping countries. A pity, because Stiglitz took the trouble of writing on Sri Lanka, and more to the point, of cautioning the then administration against hedging its bets on the IMF-World Bank paradigm of, what else, “globalizing and liberalizing.’
Siglitz, interestingly, observed, that if Sri Lanka is to progress, it should start “learning to produce, learning to export, and learning to learn.” Harsha of course can’t think beyond the outdated and erroneous neoliberalism model. The budget has sought to empower local production. This is not the same as import-substitution, though. All framed by Covid-19, one must add.
It must be pointed out that the strategy laid out doesn’t make sense if the banking institutions are not focused on development. The Bretton Woods institutions have always been against development banks. There has been talk of setting up a cooperative bank, but the details are still to be worked out. This was an opportunity to get it down in black and white.
Meanwhile a delegation of the European Union and the Embassies of France, Germany, Italy Netherlands, and Romania issued a statement slamming the government’s trade policy, ‘with an obligatory non-sequitur to human rights,’ again editorially observed by ‘gammiris.’
‘Thanks to the EU’s special Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+), Sri Lanka enjoys competitive, predominantly duty- and quota-free access to the EU market,” they said. Trade, they pointed out, ‘not a one-way street,’ and observe (gravely) that ‘a prolonged import ban is not in line with World Trade Organization regulations.’ They interjected the par-for-the-course HR reference (Resolution 30/1) and said ‘we are concerned.’
The hypocrisy of Europe crying foul over human rights is well known. But why talk of WTO rules here? Just last year Indonesia complained to the WTO over EU restrictions on palm oil imports. Both Germany and France blocked their own exports of crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hypocrisy much, eh?
Well, if the EU’s ‘concerns’ (threats?) do translate into action, it would only push Sri Lanka even further into the Chinese circle of influence. Sri Lanka would have no option but to promote domestic production and rebuild as per the demands of the home market.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa completed one year in office. Not given to pomp and pageantry, his first year has been relatively subdued. He promised ‘work’ and ‘systems.’ Covid-19 was an obvious dampener. And yet, in this one year, we saw a mandate overwhelmingly reiterated. We also saw the passage of the 20th amendment which resolved the confusion of the 19th Amendment with respect to who really rules the country. The 19th, let’s recall, as acknowledged by its authors themselves, is full of flaws. The Supreme Court shot it down and the then regime introduced what was almost a fresh document; and in clear contravention of established parliamentary procedure (in the UK, the House of Lords can make changes but only minor ones). Here, there were wholesale changes at the committee stage. In contrast, the 20th it a) retained certain elements of the 19th such as term limits and b) incorporated the observations of the Supreme Court).
The President’s anniversary speech was essentially a rehashed version of his ‘throne speech.’ He didn’t detail the modalities of getting the ‘One-Country, One-Law’ going. He probably should have explained the controversial circular on ‘Other State Lands’ over which he has been getting a lot of flak. It was a no-frills anniversary speech quite in keeping with the personality he has projected or even the person he is seen to be. The proof of everything is in the ‘works’. Work is where he will be judged eventually.
Given the announcement that the Government is planning to introduce a new constitution, the buzz over the 20th seems silly. The Government, of course, could have incorporated the 20th into a new constitution and seek passage in one go.
Covid-19 has framed the president’s first year. He has had to balance coping mechanisms with keeping the economy going. The Opposition, as pointed out in a television discussion on Thursday by Deputy Editor, The Island, Shaminda Ferdinando, was bailed out by Covid-19. Now they have something to talk about, he said. There are charges of mishandling. The rise in numbers is certainly worrying. The Government does have a plan and it is as reasonable as any given multiple constraints.
However, it is certainly ridiculous that so many government officials and healthcare professionals are commenting and contradicting each other on Covid-19. The Government should authorize a single person to do this. Others should obtain from what this person says and not act as though they are epidemiologists. That goes for the opposition and political commentators as well, of course.
In Canada, for example, according to a Sri Lankan who is a long time resident there, ‘there’s a chief medical officer giving daily recaps at the federal level with Prime Minister Trudeau offering a daily non medical brief. At the provincial level, the chief provincial medical officer gives a daily briefing. All financial assistance information is conveyed by Trudeau since it’s all federal at this stage. In Sri Lanka, in contrast, everyone except the Minister of Health is an authority on the pandemic!’
Finally, the court decision on Lalith Weeratunga and Anusha Pelpita. Now they were acquitted not by judges appointed by this government. The charge that the court was politically motivated is therefore silly. In this regard it is pertinent to point out that the President has nominated the six most senior judges for promotion to the Supreme Court. Seniority was spurned out of hand by the much-celebrated Constitutional Council of the previous regime. Friendship and loyalty were rewarded. Good move by the President but one which he ought to apply across the board in the matter of appointments/promotions.
The 62-page verdict notes, ‘There is no dishonest intention with which both accused appellants have acted. They were not actuated by men rea or actus reus. There has been a bona fide exercise of their powers and duties. Neither accused was enriched. Whilst the board authorized a transaction which is protected by law and corporate social responsibility, it is a travesty of justice that only two members of the TRC had to endure the traumatic experience of a selective prosecution at a prolonged trial, causing a senior public servant of long years of meritorious public service humiliation and anguish.’
Intention of course is always assessed subjectively. It’s the act that the court has to assess. The court was of the view that the prosecution failed to establish the ingredients of the offenses laid in the indictment. The court also determined that the circumstances in which the presiding judge came to hear the case created a serious doubt on the impartiality and validity of proceedings adopted. In other words, there was selectivity and deliberate maneuvering to obtain a pre-arranged outcome.
Weeratunga is a seasoned public servant. He probably knows the Establishments Code inside out. He probably knows not only what’s possible and what’s not but all the loopholes that can be used and abused. He was obviously following orders from the top on sil redi, but, as the Court has determined, in a legal manner. He didn’t benefit personally. Neither did Palpita. One can argue that had Mahinda Rajapaksa won in January 2015, whether or not the sil redi issue was a factor, both would have benefited. At the very least they wouldn’t have been subjected to the obvious harassment meted out by overzealous yahapalana operatives (who essentially turned the FCID into a kangaroo court and operated from the Prime Minister’s office). That’s however in the territory of speculation. Courts are not in that business.
The court has ruled. That’s that.
On nation(s), nationalist(s) and nationalism(s)
by Malinda Seneviratne
Around 20 years ago, a young politician with nationalist pretensions made an interesting observation (in Sinhala), the gist of which is as follows: ‘There is no such thing as a “Sinhala Race” but people think there is — we should exploit the perception.”
Interestingly, he was at the time in a political party that was contesting an election on a Sinhala card, so to speak. Now if there’s nothing called ‘Sinhala Race’ then there cannot be subjective identification with that term. Why then should anyone who speaks Sinhala vote for such a party, is a question he may not have considered.
The party didn’t do well in that election, returning just one candidate to Parliament and this too on the national list courtesy of predetermined ratios. Perhaps some ‘Sinhalese’ did consider ‘race’ as a subjective identifier; some as in a tiny minority. Barely three years later, a shift from Sinhala to Buddhist in political rhetoric yielded far better results and yet the overall vote was just a fraction of the population that spoke Sinhala.
Perhaps Sinhala or Sinahla Race aren’t that important when it comes to elections. Perhaps other factors have more compelling weight in the calculations of a voter. Perhaps, as he said, there’s no such thing as a ‘Sinhala Race;’ one might argue, never mind that nothing in this country has been as vilified as Sinhala Nationalism, real or imagined, and never mind that the vilifiers play deaf and dumb over act and word from other communities (real or imagined) that would, in terms of equivalencing, qualify for the ‘nationalist’ tag and, let us not forget, again by virtue of similarity warrant similar vilification.
Twenty years ago, turning to a random page in a copy of the Majjima Nikaya, I came across the Payasi Rajaagna Sutra which gave an insight into this issue of identity. Here’s the gist:
The sutra is essentially a conversation between Kumara Kashyapa Thero and an argumentative merchant who took issue with the doctrine of the Buddha and expressed doubt by posing unanswerable questions such as the following: ‘what is nirvana like?’ By way of response, the Thero related an anecdote about a fire-worshipping Jatila.
This Jatila had an apprentice of sorts. One day the master had to go on a journey and he had instructed the boy to make sure that the fire would not go out. The boy was careless. The fire went out. The boy didn’t know how to make a fire. He split the firewood to tiny slivers, he searched among the ashes for the fire that had gone missing. The Jatila, returning after a couple of days, duly reprimanded the disciple and lit the fire.
And so, the Thero expounded: just as he who does not know how to make fire will not make fire, those who without wisdom look for nirvana will not find it.
The application: he/she who looks for race without knowing what it is or rather what it is constituted of or is not empowered with techniques of identification, will not find it. My comment from 20 years ago went on the following lines: it is a good thing that identification is hard for if that was not the case that which was looked for would be destroyed or purchased.
And so, for reasons of political convenience Sinhalaness (or for that matter Tamilness or any other ‘ness’) misidentified is observed in the persona of the enemy of the moment. That enemy, admittedly, might even wear the identity-garb, sometimes with conviction that the cloth covers the real thing but more typically because it is also convenient. And so we have battles among the convenient for reasons of convenience.
Identity is an interesting thing. Prof Arjuna Parakrama, speaking on the subject at a Commonwealth Literature confab in Peradeniya University around 16-17 years ago, told the story of a ‘Sinhala’ individual somewhere in the North Central Province (if memory serves right) who, when asked who he was, had lots to say with ‘Sinhalese’ or ‘Sinhala-speaking’ either not being mentioned or mentioned as one among many self-identifiers. Parakrama was asked how he, Parakrama, would identify himself. His response was ‘good question.’ He did not answer.
And yet, nationalism is an often used word. Nationalists there are. Of all kinds. Rata, jathiya and aagama (nation, race and religion) are easy words that are used frequently in power politics. They are ferociously affirmed and equally ferociously vilified. It’s like a set of clowns or thugs averse to acknowledging silliness and belligerence respectively and therefore talk about the clothes they and their political others wear.
Of course the self-labeled nationalists (of all hues) are in-your-face visible. The more extreme the position or the more intractable in terms of political project(s) the more visible they are. And that’s where one finds the nationalist discourse. The label-wearers are the stars/villains. The parties they identify with have star/villain value. Whether their amalgam constitutes THE NATION is of course a moot point. They are part of it, obviously. They do shape/disfigure the political edifice. What they do and do not do, what they say and do not say, have a bearing on nation, nationalists, nationalism that have little truck with them.
It’s easy. Too easy, even. Profitable though in many ways for many people. Somewhere where those lacking wisdom cannot see nation, somewhere outside of the universe they traverse in nation-garb, there is probably a nation and a people who identify with it in ways that don’t make it to even the footnotes of the nationalist discourse.
That’s a good thing, for after all the shouting is done, the buildings brought down and upon those ruins other mansions or hovels (as the case may be), the blood letting is done and the wounds dressed, foundation and heart will remain. That’s how civilizations survive and reincarnate themselves.
Meanwhile, however, politics we will have. The young politician mentioned at the beginning still spouts nationalism. Less frequently of course and without any chest-beating whatsoever. He has reinvented himself several times and is quite conversant in the doctrine of strange bedfellows. He’s not done too badly, all things considered. He’s not done with nation, though. It is a convenience, after all, and a useful political tool.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]
Sinharaja – The island’s priceless treasure
THE WORLD HERITAGE SITES OF SRI LANKA
For both foreign and local tourists Sinharaja Forest is certainly not a hot spot like Yala or Wilpattu. It elicits neither excitement nor thrills. Traveling inside requires no jeeps nor four wheel drive SUVs – just your two legs! Yet adventure is there. In plenty. To be experienced, by seeing, listening and feeling as Nature embraces you in its sound of silence. Sinharaja may it be emphasized, is the most valuable and unique environmental treasure in Sri Lanka. Located in the South- Western part of Sri Lanka it is the island’s last viable area of primary rainforest.
So, what is a rain forest? It is a forest which consists of tall, mostly evergreen trees, on which there is a very high amount of rainfall. These forests are earth’s oldest living ecosystems, with some surviving in their present form for at least 70 million years. According to experts it is likely that Sinharaja was formed during the Jurassic era. This means that Sinharaja is between 145 million to 200 million years old. Hence its uniqueness. Hence its value. To put this incredible fact in its proper perspective geologists have claimed that most of Sri Lanka’s surface lies in the Precambrian strata some of it dating back to 2 billion years. It belongs to the earliest part of Earth’s history.
According to folklore ‘Sinharaja’ derived its name from the lion king that dwelt in and protected this rain forest. It will interest readers to know that the three largest rainforests in the world are the Amazon in South America (also called ‘Amazonia’) which is 2,482,636 sq. miles in extent; next is the Congo rainforest . in Africa which is 1,108,113 sq miles. (Those who are literary minded may recollect that Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was centered on this forest through which runs the Congo river; then there is the Valdivan rain forest on the West coast of South America bordering Chile and Argentina. It is 95,753 sq miles.
Just for comparison of their vastness and extent, Sri Lanka is 25,332 sq. miles in extent. So the Amazonia is 98 times the size of Sri Lanka! Sinharaja is 3,422 sq. miles in extent. But its smaller size compared to the largest rain forests just mentioned in no way detracts from its unique endemic fauna and flora. It makes Sinharaja truly incomparable. Sinharaja borders on three districts – Galle, Matara and Ratnapura. Its elevation ranges from 300 to 1,170 meters. The average annual rainfall over the past 60 years has ranged between 3,614 mm to 5,005 mm which is attributed to the South West Monsoon ( May to July ) and the North East Monsoon ( November to January ).
There are three points from which one could enter Sinharaja. One is from Kudawa which is the most frequently used. It is from Colombo to Kalawana to Kudawa. Next is the Pitadeniya entrance. From Colombo to Galle/Matara to Deniyaya to Pitadeniya. The third and least used, is from Colombo to Galle/Matara to Morning Side Estate in Suriyakanda. Whichever way one desires to go it is always advisable to get a licensed tracker. Otherwise there is a danger of getting lost and more importantly a tracker who can unfold the wonders within. Hiking is the only way to go..
And now let’s get inside this marvelous, mystical, mysterious, forest.
Inside Sinharaja, because of the green canopy of trees, through which only about 5 % to 15 % of sunshine falls through, it is dark, eerie and foreboding. And yet it is fascinating. You will be, as Thomas Gray said ‘ far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,’ hearing only the orchestra of the forest – the chirping of birds, the chirruping of insects, the occasional ‘coot, coot’ of monkeys and the soft tread of your own feet, as you walk through this cathedral like sanctuary of trees.
Many of the trees reach a height of around 40 meters ( 131 feet ). More than 60 % of these trees are endemic and what is more, many are rare species. Some of the trees, the timber of which is used in house building, are ‘Hora,’ ‘ Bu Hora’ and ‘ Balau’ which is a type of Mahogany. The vegetation density is around 240,00 plants per hectare ( 11,960 sq. yards ) which makes Sinharaja the most dense rainforest in Asia.
The wild life is exotic and enchanting. However unlike in Yala the wild life is not easily seen. The thick dense vegetation hides many of Sinharaja’s mysteries. It has been claimed that there may be a few elephants and leopards but the most common large mammal is the purple faced langur which is endemic. Langurs are long tailed monkeys which have a characteristic loud call. Some have described this species as ‘old world’ monkeys found mainly in India. There can also be found the Brown Mongoose, the Golden Palm Civet, the Small Flying Squirrel and with plenty of luck one may sight the Red Slender Loris, which sleeps by day and ever so stealthily is active at night.
The bird life is varied and colorful. There have been 147 species of birds recorded, whose habitat is within Sinharaja. Of the 26 endemic birds 20 can be found in Sinharaja. Amongst the birds are, the Red Faced Malkoka; the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie’; the Ashy Headed Babbler whose head is grey while its body is ochre/brown, its leg are pinkish while the beak is grey above and pink below; the White Headed Starling with its white head and breast and yellow legs and beak; the Sri Lanka Spotwing Thrush which is light brown in colour with white spots on its body and has a black beak; the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon which is similar to a dove since both species belong to the same family, (columbidae); the Dusky Blue Fly Catcher which is blue grey in colour with a bright blue forehead. It darts from branch to branch catching tiny insects while in flight. And the Green Billed Coucal which is a type of cuckoo with black plumage and a greenish beak. It is supposed to be the rarest of Sri Lanka birds.
Butterflies of kaleidoscopic colors and sizes flit and flutter amongst the greenery. Here can be found the Sri Lanka Tree Nymph, with a wing span of 15.5 centimeters or 6. 1 inches it is the largest butterfly in the country. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Blue Banded Peacock whose iridescence is unmatched by any other butterfly. The rarest of butterflies is the Sri Lanka Five Bar Swordtail which makes its timid appearance from January to end March.
Reptiles are ever present. The very venomous cobra. The equally venomous Russel’s viper and its cousins, the green pit viper and hump nosed viper. There is also the equally poisonous, krait. Living in peaceful co-existence is the quite docile but frightful to see, the rat snake ( ‘Garendiya’), not to be confused with the poisonous rattle snake, which is not found in Sri Lanka. Finally the very largest and longest of all snakes in
Sri Lanka. It is around 23 feet long weighs about 200 pounds and has a girth as large as a telephone pole. It’s the python. It is non-poisonous. But with its sharp backward forming teeth it grasps a prey – anything from rodents to monkeys to deer, wraps several coils around it and constricts it to death prior to swallowing it.
Hence the reason why this species is also called boa-constrictors After a very delicious meal (from the python’s point of view) it coils itself and lies in deep slumber. There are also the scary, but harmless tree frogs which will spring on to you as you move through the heavy undergrowth. Within the damp surface leeches abound. Hence it’s best to wear slacks with the bottom tucked into knee high socks and the shoes liberally doused in salt water. Leeches can bleed you until you faint from blood loss.
There are eight waterfalls cascading down the rocky slopes near the Pitadeniya entrance. One in particular called the Duwili Falls because its three step downward cascade is like a dusty spray, has two large bathing spots at the bottom of the falls. The water is chillingly cold. But if you are brave enough to take a dip you will after the initial shiver find it most invigorating. There are three sparkling, gurgling, streams of cool, clear water which criss-cross through this forest. These streams wind their way and lead on to the North to the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga. In the South and South West to the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga. To the West the Kalukandawe Ela and Kudawa Ganga.
In 1978 Sinharaja was declared by the UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and in 1988 was declared as a World Heritage Site.
We now need to turn to a threat – deforestation. It is one of the most serious issues facing our motherland. In the 1920s the forest coverage was 49%. By 2021 it had dropped to just 17%! and alas! Sinharaja, this million year old ecosystem of a treasure gifted by Nature to Sri Lanka did become a victim of partial deforestation. It happened during the 1970 – 1977 tenure of Srimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. Whether it was her own decision, a Cabinet decision or a Minister’s decision, only history can reveal. But yes, by the early 1970s selective logging had commenced. Canadian contractors had with the full authority of the Government entered the forest reserve and begun felling. A 12 meter roadway was cut and trucks, bulldozers and back hoes moved freely carrying the felled trees. The purpose was to feed a massive plywood factory in Salawa, Kosgoda.
There is a saying ‘ Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’. That man was Thilo Hoffman. During the time of this near calamity to Sinharaja he was Managing Director of A. Baur & Company. He was also President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS ). He did not wear the mantle of the latter position lightly. He was an active, dedicated and professionally qualified (holding a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science) protector and conservator of wildlife.
On being informed about the deforestation of Sinharaja, the WNPS headed by Hoffman initiated a fact finding mission. Hoffmann the indefatigable worker, traversed the length and breadth of Sinharaja and published a report explaining in detail the magnitude of the destruction of fauna and flora in Sinharaja. The WNPS published a booklet written by Hoffmann and freely circulated the English and Sinhala translations. This created a major public outcry against the further damage to Sinharaja. The Government could not ignore the issue, and was compelled to take notice.
A Ministerial Sub- Committee headed by George Rajapakse was appointed. Apparently the plywood was for the manufacture of tea chests. In 1977 Srimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government was defeated getting a mere six seats in Parliament. It was at that election that J.R.Jayewardene’s UNP won a landslide victory. Thilo Hoffmann met the new Prime Minister who, it may be recalled, became President one year later, and explained the gravity of the situation in Sinharaja. Jayewardene immediately banned any further logging. Perhaps at this point it is most relevant to request the Governmental Authorities to have some sort of memorial built out of stone at the entrance to Sinharaja, mentioning the name of Thilo Hoffmann – The Saviour of Sinharaja. May he be remembered for generations to come.
There is presently a controversy that a hotel is about to be built within Sinharaja. However in a statement reported in the press on April 8, 2021 the Dept. of Forest Conservation has completely refuted this allegation. The hotel is being built five km away from UNESCO’s World Heritage Site demarcation of the boundary of Sinharaja. It is on a private land adjacent to the Pothupitiya – Rakwana road.
But Sinharaja is too tempting to be allowed to continue its millions of years old existence. Either through colossal ignorance or supreme indifference there will threats to ravish Sinharaja. We know. We are confident. President Gotabaya Rajapakse would never permit this. After all was it not he, who as the one time Secretary Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Authority, pursue the Colombo Beautification Project? Remember how the old Grand Stand at the Race Course was transformed? How the International Rugger Grounds opposite it was created? How the Walking/ Running/ Cycling tracks near Independence Hall were made? His love for our motherland is deep seated and genuine. He saved Sri Lanka once from the cruel clutches of the LTTE. Yes, Sinharaja – this incredible treasure trove of biodiversity will be safe in his care.
The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves
The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come. In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.
by Malinda Seneviratne
The United Kingdom, it is reported, has rejected Sri Lanka’s request for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka had made the request during the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva a few weeks ago.
The dispatches from the then British Defence Advisor, Lt Col Anthony Gash were never referred to in any of the many ‘studies’ on Sri Lanka’s bloody struggle against terrorism. Indeed no one would have known of them or what they contained if not for Lord Naseby invoking the UK’s right to information laws to obtain them.
Gash’s dispatches clearly prove that there were no war crimes committed by Sri Lankan security forces, certainly not the kind that the terrorist lobby (strangely or perhaps not so strangely bed-fellowing with rogue states such as the UK and USA) and indeed these bed-fellows claim have been perpetrated.
British authorities pretended for years that there was no such information available. Now they can’t deny these dispatches exist. And therefore they’ve come up with an interesting disclaimer. The UK now faults Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Key word: ‘now.’ This was NOT the position originally taken by the FCO.
Alright, let’s take the CURRENT position at face value. Couldn’t the UK table the dispatches in all relevant forums with such caveats/disclaimers? That’s just one issue. There’s another. Yes, the business of ‘independent confirmation.’ What’s independent and what’s confirmation?
The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come.
In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.
It seems to me that the authorities in the UK don’t know whether they are coming or going. Well, maybe they do know that they are severely challenged in logic, in intellect, in moral standing etc., but believe that the world someone does not notice. A third possibility: they just don’t care.
The United Kingdom, with respect to the UNHRC resolution and all matters relevant to it, then, hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory, but what of that considering that shamelessness is the blood-stained batch on its coat of arms, so to speak?
Let’s humor them, though. There’s a lady called Sarah Hulton. Let’s assume she knows English. Let’s assume she has some skills in language comprehension. Let’s not assume she values truth, justice and being honorable for we shouldn’t kid ourselves too much. Nevertheless, we can ask some questions.What’s the value of hearsay? Do we discard ‘word’ and if so which words? If we pick some words and junk others, what criteria should we employ? The Darusman Report, for example, is ALL ABOUT HEARSAY. We have to assume that until we know who said what, for only then can we talk of reliability of source.
We have reports that toss out random numbers without a shred of substantiation. Is that OK, Ms Hulton? If Gash is unreliable, how can any report based on some other report that is based on hearsay be okay?
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is not about truth and reconciliation. The United Kingdom values lie over truth, injustice over justice, violation of all basic tenets of humanity over their protection, theft over property rights, plunder over protection. The British are yet to reconcile themselves regarding the many crimes against humanity they have perpetrated or, at least, benefited from. Seeking justice and truth from such people is silly. Seeking honor from the dishonorable is silly.
And yet, in Geneva and in other places where bucks and bombs count more than truth and justice, countries like the United Kingdom will prevail. For now. For now, we must add, for we know that nothing is permanent. For now, the reports of idiots and/or the politically compromised will be valued over those of impartial, dispassionate individuals such as Gash.
Let’s get this right. The British are not just bullies. They are cowards. Intellect is not their strong point or even if they are sophomoric at best, they are bullish enough to push aside the truth. It’s about ‘by any means necessary’ but obviously not in an emancipatory sense of that phrase, as used by Malcolm X. So when they talk of truth and justice, reconciliation and peace and other such lovely things, let’s keep in mind that it’s all balderdash. When they talk of ‘victims’ it is nonsense because without ‘wrongdoing’ that’s established, there can be no ‘victims’. Mr Hulton is not sleeping ladies and gentlemen. The United Kingdom is not sleeping. The Foreign and Commenwealth Office in that country is not sleeping. They are pretend-sleepers. They cannot be woken up.
One is reminded of a song from ‘My fair lady,’ the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’. Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? That’s the title of the song. When the English learn English — now that would be the day! Right now they speak some garbled language devoid of any logic or reason. It works for them.
Colonial-speak is a possible name for that language. It is an excellent communications device in all things antithetical to the high ideals, the furtherance of which was the reason for the establishment of the UNHRC. Indeed that has become the lingua franca of Geneva. The British know this French, pardon the irony! Ms Hulton knows it, as do her bosses in London as did their ancestors whose crimes against humanity are left out from the history books.
We are not talking of the past though. It’s the present. It’s ugly. As ugly as the past, only it’s come wearing other clothes. Nice ones. Not everyone is fooled though.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]
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