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A Celebratory Dinner!

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

As most people are aware, we have a Sri Lankan born MP in Aotearoa, New Zealand. We had what was dubbed a CELEBRATORY DINNER for this lady on the 21st of November. Now, wordsmith that I am, I would have preferred to call it a FELICITATION dinner as the Oxford dictionary says that the latter word means “words expressing praise for an achievement or good wishes on a special occasion, whereas the celebratory id defined as “organized to celebrate something”. Celebrations for this lady are still some ways away, as we need to see what she actually achieves but felicitation, certainly happened!

The event was held in the Remuera Club, an institution that must have seen better days with the main horse racing course being in close proximity. Nowadays this venue is mainly hired out for occasions such as these. The Lady herself walked into Tina Turner playing “Simply the best” into a hall full of well-wishers who stood up and clapped in tune. The well-wishes consisted of a cross-section of white people, native New Zealanders, and Sri Lankans an even mix. The Lankans from a stratum of society that is not very frequently seen at Lankan events. These were professionals, definitely from the “better schools” and the upper echelons – so to speak. Ladies College had a strong representation as the mother of the chief guest, Prathiva, who had been a pillar of the school. So, did Colombo 7 as she had spent her few years in Sri Lanka living in that exclusive part of town.

Vanushi Walters nee Rajanayagam comes from a long and distinguished line of people who have contributed to Ceylonese society. Pillars of the Methodist church in the Pearl. Her grandmother had been the second woman MP in Ceylon’s parliament, coming from the famed Saravanamuttu family. She is married to Rees Williams and has 3 children. At the tender age of 39, she is a qualified lawyer and has worked for 15 years as such. She has served on the International Board of Amnesty International, done much community trust work, and even been involved with Greenpeace for a while. All details can be obtained from her LinkedIn page and guess what; She has her own WIKIPEDIA page as well!

She contested the Auckland North Shore seat. Populated by rich Chinese of ex Hong Kong origin, a smattering of South Africans who have left that country mainly based on racial fears. It was considered extremely unlikely that a “person of colour” would ever wrest that seat away from the incumbent. We she DID and all credit to Vanushi Williams and her team.

She opened her speech with a great backhanded greeting she had got from (I’m sure one of the ex-Ladies college guests) who had said “welcome Vanushi, congratulations but where is Jacinda Ardern?!! Vanushi who had been glowing in the good wishes and vibes extended from the room as she walked in was brought to earth with a thud; her words! She seems a very warm and genuine person, full of enthusiasm. A little naïve with the exuberance of youth, to this writer’s jaded eye, which will no doubt be rectified, when the reality of life in the beehive as the parliament is called in Aotearoa, strikes.

Vanushi is committed to and motivated by human rights. She cites the example of her cousin Richard De Zoysa, which all of us Sri Lankans remember with horror. The struggle endured by Richard’s mother Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu (a wonderful lady whom I was privileged to know) after the event, to get some sort of closure and justice has also proved a strong motivation. Accountability is going to be a watchword of her actions. She went out of her way to point out that she WASN’T the first lady with Ceylonese connections to be in the NZ parliament, the first being Annette King, who had a great grandfather from Ceylon. Vanushi also mentioned some words of advice that she had gleaned from her grandmother and mother – “watch, analyse, reflect and act”, wise words which she will be guided by in her future.

Vanushi also has a strong interest in trade agreements and has put forward some proposals and intends to take it further. We hope our current trade contacts are strengthened rapidly to take advantage of these possibilities. The current personnel, more on this later, leave much to be desired!

She will be sworn in next Wednesday the 25th of November and make her maiden speech in the parliament of Aotearoa on the 2nd of December. Aotearoa has a huge diversity in her new parliament. There are 3 South Asian born members, one of whom is a minister. We eagerly await that occasion and wish all of them nothing but the best!

We were able to have a very brief chat with her but have been promised a lengthier interview after her schedule clears, not we hope in typical politician fashion but with the intention of keeping her word!

The Felicitation continued with more speeches. A long and detailed one from the main organizer, who spoke about all women who had prominent roles in the history of the world but I didn’t hear the name of our very own Sirima Bandaranaike not to mention her daughter! A charming young lady, a family friend, and hopefully someone who will follow Vanushi into a bright future, made a lovely speech which contained amusing details of the trials and tribulations faced by young people living in mixed cultures and growing up in Aotearoa. The incumbent Sri Lankan Consul, who has been in that position for 14 years made a singularly innocuous speech, in keeping with his achievements over an almost decade and a half! This is exacerbated by the fact that he lives in Wellington when the vast majority of the 60,000 ‘SRIWIs’ live in Auckland.

A proper embassy with qualified persons or at least a trade attaché based in Auckland is desperately required. This is an ideal time to put forward the massive potential there is for bilateral trade between our two countries. Huge one-way traffic in powdered milk is all that is happening now. There are SRIWIS bursting with ideas for entrepreneurship that need Government ratification, this is mainly due to the fact that finding employment is hard for those without the specific qualifications that are required and those too for lower-level jobs.

The punch line of Vanushi’s speech was that “everyone in New Zealand should be able to occupy any and all available seats and positions”. This is a subtle acknowledgment of the racial bias and the glass ceilings sometimes based on factors such as gender and if one is a born Kiwi or not, that exist and everyone, in that packed auditorium, understood to perfection.

All in all, it was a very well organised event. With great food and even free drinks, doled out in generous measure. A pleasant evening in good company and great bonhomie. Now comes the hard part Vanushi. You have raised our hopes and given all of us something to look forward to in these terrible and depressing times. Yesterday you were like a ray of sunshine with your lovely smile and your honesty and genuineness. We now await your achievements; the ball is in your court!

Looking at recent headlines, I see that one of the people involved in developing the new vaccine for COVID-19 is of Sri Lankan origin. Is this the second generation of the brain drain? Their parents took the step of leaving what used to be the Pearl of the Indian Ocean when they realised that things were not going well and the future looked bleak. Now their descendants are able to achieve what they couldn’t and also contribute positively to their host countries and indeed the world in general. If only we had been able to retain them and provide the necessary education and other facilities to produce these children, with these achievements, beliefs and commitment. IF ONLY…. But then if wishes were horses, beggars would ride!

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SLAF on hazardous wall, Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement……

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Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement in response to an article (That hazardous Ratmalana Wall) published on 21 Jan.

It is with regret that I would like to inform you that the newspaper article titled “That Hazardous Ratmalana Wall” published in The “Island” newspaper of 21 January 2021 contains false information which has not been clarified from the Air Force Director Media nor any other official channel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

It should also be highlighted that the Sri Lanka Air Force does not wish to challenge the freedom of reporting information by journalists. However, news articles of this nature published with the use of unsubstantiated information tarnishes the image of Sri Lanka Air Force.

The newspaper article in concern has caught the attention of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. As alleged in the article, the Commander has not declared on behalf of the SLAF that there is no objection for the removal of the wall and replacing it with a fence. On the contrary he had in fact stated that a collapsible wall could be put in place of the permanent wall which should have a solid finish obstructing the view from outside due to security reasons.

In addition, to date there has been no incident/accident reported at the Ratmalana Airfield related to the wall along the Galle Road. Further, vehicles such as passenger coach/container etc; travelling on the main road would be taller than the wall in concern and according to the article, the main road would also have to be closed each and every time when an aircraft approaching of taking off from that end of the runway. International runway due to limitations which is also can be considered as hazardous to flight safety, SLAF consider Flight Safety is a paramount important factor as an organization which operates different types of aircraft over the years from this airfield.

It is pertinent to mention the wall in concern was erected by the SLAF before year 2009 with the consent of the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) to address the security concerns at that time and maintained to date. The outer perimeter security of the Colombo International Airport at Ratmalana is being provided by the SLAF free of charge over years. As a measure of gratitude, with the consent of AASL and the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), SLAF authorized to erect hoardings along this wall and to utilize the funds generated for welfare measures of airmen.

Further, publishing of an article which has an author with a fictional name will have serious and adverse effects on the newspaper as well as the goodwill which prevails between SLAF and AASL. The goodwill which prevails between the SLAF and your esteemed Organization will also be adversely effected by articles of this nature. SLAF Directorate of Media always provide accurate and precise information to media institutions which has an impact on general public as well as to other organizations. Undersigned is contactable any time of the day through mobile (0772229270) to clarify ambiguities of SLAF related information.

In conclusion, I would like to express our displeasure regarding the newspaper article in concern and the damage which has been done to the good name of the Sri Lanka Air Force and in particular to the Commander of Air Force.

 

WADC WIJESINGHE

Group Captain

DIRECTOR MEDIA

for COMMANDER OF THE AIR FORCEs

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Dog-eat-dog culture

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

There is an old joke that goes around regularly about Sri Lankans’ in hell. How absolutely no guards are needed to keep Lankans in hell because they do a very good job of pulling each other down into hell when anyone even looks like they will escape. When you extrapolate that into real life in the Pearl, the examples are plenty. All of us have personal experiences of neighbours, peers, relations and even our bosses “cutting us” as the popular phrase goes. It is mostly those who either realise and watch out for these pitfalls or those who clearly identify a powerful figure to “bum suck” for want of a better word that display pure unadulterated sycophancy to, that “progress” to propagate these trends in the future. This I believe is something that is triggered by the basest of all human emotions, jealousy, and probably egged on by a sense of insecurity as well.

One would expect that in a nation of devout Buddhists such reprehensible behaviour would be addressed and controlled. Alas it is not to be and looks like it never will be.

It is rather disconcerting to observe that this behaviour is ‘going strong’ among the Lankan community in this the land of the “long White Cloud” as well. The more I live here and mix with the community, the more I hear about people who try to start new projects or give fruition to new and possibly brilliant schemes who have been stymied by fellow citizens born in the Pearl. They indulge in the anonymous letter method (that dates back from time immemorial) made even easier by using false identities, and “one-off” e mail addresses on the web. They inform all government authorities of what they believe are attempts to break the law of their adopted country. If there are bilateral trade agreements, they diligently contact the other parties and try to cast aspersions on the people concerned. They even inform the management of any company that these people with the new ideas may be working at, that their employee may be breaking a sub clause in his contract and thinking of doing some other business while working for them. All triggered by a wonderful sense of self-righteousness from people who don’t think twice about breaking the law when it concerns their own affairs!

As a result, those who have had a measure of success, guard their positions very carefully and a few who have tried to include other Lankans in their operations have learned hard lessons from those who stole their trade secrets and started rival businesses on their own. I daresay this happens in other communities too, but among the Chinese and Indian communities that form similar minorities in Aotearoa, there are official networks formed to help new immigrants. There are schemes and methods in place to help their people do business, especially in the field of imports, to try and reach some sort of equilibrium with regard to the balance of trade between Aotearoa and their home countries. Sri Lanka imports so much milk from New Zealand but almost nothing of our spices, gems and jewellery, tourism products or even our tea that used to have a much larger share of the market, are imported.

In these desperate economic times, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve our export trade? There are so many pockets and communities of Lankans in so many different countries who are doing well enough to be able to afford some luxuries from their home countries but have to pay exorbitant prices or do without. A recent import of ‘sweet meats’ for Sinhala New Year saw such a massive offtake that great plans for expansion were disrupted by Covid-19, before the Lankan rivals could put paid to it. Although such plans were in place!

Something that is rather obvious to those observing the antics in the Pearl from outside is that there seems to be no plan. Innovative thinking, especially in the field of ‘non-traditional’ exports does not exist. We have all seen how fickle tourism is. Using our fertile soil and the artistic skills of our people to build a reputation for quality exports has been totally neglected in recent times. I daresay the relevant ministries and export bodies exist, but it is a well-known fact that they simply serve as JOBS for political catchers, who do nothing except enjoy a foreign junket or two every year on account of the taxpayer.

That brilliant marketing idea of the Ceylon Tea Centers was so far ahead of its time that no one really understood it. We had the best retail locations in some of the greatest cities in Europe and the UK and were building up a great reputation for serving quality tea and promoting our cuisine. It should have been expanded to handle handicraft products on the lines of Laksala and even spices. Of course, promoting our culture, hospitality and tourism would have followed. There are two ways to handle a crisis. We can either put up our shutters and slide deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and economic ruin, or take some bold steps, make innovative investments and take a gamble on products and ideas that are endemic to our country.

 

Even if the latter method fails the end result couldn’t be much worse! Go down fighting I say! Rather than ask expatriates to come back and try to work in a totally corrupt and politician dominated society, approach expatriates with ideas in other countries and back them to promote those ideas if they show real economic benefits to our land. Not everything will work but even a 5% success rate is better than nothing at all.

It is also acknowledged that RANIL has been reappointed as leader of the UNP. Now then, what does this mean? Is it that the Uncle-Nephew party has stuck to tradition or does it mean that at least some people have realized that an experienced politician with world recognition and a certain amount of credibility in the first world, is useful to have around? Search your minds all you critics who blamed absolutely everything on Ranil. Have a dispassionate look at the Muppets in parliament and think for yourself what sort of account they would give of themselves on the world stage. After you do this, place Ranil on the world stage next to those morons and realize for yourself the DIFFERENCE!

 

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

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Lenin comes to town (again)

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By Gwynne Dyer

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday after convalescing in Germany from an attempted poisoning by the FSB domestic spy agency, the regime-friendly media loyally failed to mention his arrival. With one striking exception: Vremya, the flagship news show of Russian state television.

Presumably, somebody there was hoping to win favour with the Kremlin, because they briefly mentioned Navalny three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s two-hour programme. In fact, they compared Navalny’s trip home to Vladimir Lenin’s famous return to Russia in 1917, and suggested that he was as great a danger to Russia as Lenin had been.

As every Russian knows, the Germans plucked Lenin from exile in Switzerland in the middle of the First World War. He was sent across Germany in a ‘sealed train’ (so he wouldn’t spread the infection of Communism there) to St. Petersburg, then in the throes of Russia’s first democratic revolution – and he did just what the Germans had hoped he would.

Lenin overthrew the fumbling democratic ‘Provisional Government’ in a military coup, took Russia out of the First World War – and launched a 73-year totalitarian Communist regime that cost at least 20 million Russian lives in purges, famines and lesser acts of repression. Is Navalny really that great a danger?

The ambitious presenter at Vremya probably won’t get the job he wanted, because President Vladimir Putin really won’t have liked seeing his noisiest critic compared in stature to Lenin, a genuine world-historical figure. Putin himself never mentions Navalny’s name at all.

Russians cannot even put a name to the system they live under, as the poor Vremya presenter’s confusion illustrates. It’s certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before they discovered a better route to power and wealth.

It’s not a monarchy, although Putin has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies. And ‘kleptocracy’ is just a pejorative term used mostly by foreigners, although Navalny does habitually refer to Putin and his cronies as “crooks and thieves”.

In fact, Putin’s regime is not a system at all. Its only ideology is a traditional Russian nationalism that is lightweight compared to blood-and-soil religious and racist movements like Trump’s in the United States and Modi’s in India. It’s a purely personal regime, and it is very unlikely to survive his dethronement or demise.

Putin has been in power for twenty years, and he has just changed the constitution with a referendum that lets him stay in power until 2036. But that seems unlikely, partly because he is already 68 and partly because the younger generation of Russians is getting restless and bored.

Navalny is a brave man who has gone home voluntarily to face a spell in Putin’s jails. (He missed two parole appointments for a suspended sentence on trumped-up embezzlement charges because he was in Germany recovering from the FSB assassination attempt.) But his role in Russian politics so far had been more gadfly than revolutionary.

His supporters do their homework and make clever, witty videos detailing the scandalous financial abuses of the regime (the latest is a virtual tour of Putin’s new $1 billion seaside palace on the Black Sea near Novorossiysk), but he is probably not the man who will finally take Putin down. What he is doing to great effect is mobilising the tech-savvy young.

Since 2018 the average age of protesters at anti-Putin demos, mostly linked to Navalny one way or another, has dropped by a decade, and their boldness has risen in proportion. Moreover, their attitude to the regime now verges on contempt. Rightly so: consider, for example, the last two assassination attempts by regime operatives.

In 2018, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, sent two agents to England to kill defector Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia. The agents made two trips to Salisbury because they couldn’t find the right house, they were tracked by CCTV every step of the way, and in the end, they left too little novichok (nerve poison) on the doorknob to kill the targets.

Equally crude and bumbling was the FSB’s attack on Navalny in Tomsk, where the novichok was put on his underpants. Once again, the target survived, and afterwards the investigative site Bellingcat was able to trace FSB agents tracking Navalny on forty flights over several years before the murder was attempted.

Neither agency is fit for 21st-century service, nor is the regime they both serve. Russians have put up with it for a long time because they were exhausted and shamed by the wild political banditry of the 1990s, but Putin’s credit for having put an end to that has been exhausted. He may still be in power for years, but this is a regime on the skids.

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