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Midweek Review

A common agenda for Opposition sought amidst political chaos

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SJB lawmakers Mujibur Rahman and Asoka Abeysinghe lead a protest opposite the Fort Railway station yesterday (27) to draw the government’s attention to the grievances of the striking teachers and the difficulties experienced by those struggling to make ends meet (pic by Kamal Bogoda)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

 

UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe recently called for a common agenda for the Opposition. The announcement was made in the wake of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) moving a No-Confidence Motion (NCM) against Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the increase in fuel prices and it being comfortably defeated by the government with a 2/3rd majority on July 20.

The NCM received 61 votes in its favour and 152 against with General Secretary of the SLPP Sagara Kariyawasam who declared war on Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Gammanpila, too, standing by the Energy Minister.

Obviously, National List lawmaker Wickremesinghe felt he could take advantage of the situation at the expense of the SJB, a big breakaway group of the UNP, which outperformed the grand old party itself, reducing the latter to a zero in Parliament, if not for the solitary National List seat it won.

The main Opposition party, the SJB, secured 54 seats at the last parliamentary election, in August 2020, against virtual zero by the UNP.

SJB lawmaker, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, on the second day of the debate, on the NCM, questioned the role played by Wickremesinghe in Parliament. Alleging that the SLPP had given Wickremesinghe an opportunity to address Parliament, MP Fonseka accused the UNP leader of trying to undermine the Opposition.

Having sought to cause turmoil in the SLPP, over Kariyawasam’s demand that Minister Gammanpila should resign over the fuel price hike, the SJB ended up with egg on its face. Perhaps, the SLPP’s strategy had been meant to pave the way for Basil Rajapaksa to enter Parliament, through the National List. The SLPP strategy succeeded though Attorney-at-Law Kariyawasam looked quite uncomfortable, defending the decision to vote against the NCM.

The bottom line is that the SLPP, too, agrees that the fuel prices cannot be brought down against the backdrop of a much deteriorated national economy. Former General Secretary of the Communist Party and one-time Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises, Dew Gunasekara, says the situation is so bad the government revenue could be even less than 09 of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Twelve years after Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism, the country is in an unprecedented financial turmoil as a result of the national economy suffering a debilitating setback due to the raging Covid-19 pandemic, as in most countries. Waste, corruption, irregularities, mismanagement and negligence also contributed to the current sorry state of the country. The country that clinched an unbelievable victory against the most ruthless terrorist group in the world, is in a state of flux. Actually, what the public now needs is certainly not a common agenda for the Opposition but consensus among all political parties, represented in Parliament, on how to overcome the daunting economic challenges.

Former Minister Mangala Samaraweera, on Sunday (25), faulted the political party system for the current state of the national economy. Samaraweera explained the difficulty in settling foreign debt, running to billions of USDs, while the country’s foreign reserves are nearing the rock bottom. Having represented the cabinet of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, Samaraweera’s declaration should be examined, taking into account his current political strategy.

During Sunday’s briefing at ‘Freedom Hub’, at T.B. Jayah Mawatha, Samaraweera, one of the fiercest critics of the Rajapaksas, asserted the futility of forming a political alliance, only on the basis of opposition to them. Samaraweera declared that such an opposition alliance should be based on a set of principles. Can Samaraweera’s call also meant to strengthen Wickremesinghe’s call for the Opposition to adopt a common agenda? ‘Freedom Hub’ is situated in the same building that housed Derana, situated in close proximity to the now sort of dilapidated SLFP main office.

It would be pertinent to mention that Samaraweera, having backed Sajith Premadasa at the 2019 presidential election, abandoned him soon after the formation of the SJB. Samaraweera quit the SJB, ahead of the 2020 general election, after having handed over nominations on behalf the newly formed party’s Matara district team.

Wickremesinghe’s strategy

Wickremesinghe is pursuing a dicey political strategy. The Embattled UNP leader has to simultaneously attack the SLPP government, and undermine Premadasa’s leadership as well. Having suffered the worst ever defeat at a parliamentary election, Wickremesinghe is struggling to consolidate his position, both in Parliament and outside.

Facing a legal challenge against entering Parliament, in violation of Section 99 A of the Constitution, Wickremesinghe, during the debate on the NCM, said that both the ruling SLPP government and the SJB qualified to enter the Guinness World Book of Records for incompetency.

Wickremesinghe declared that the incumbent government was the first in the world to mess up its affairs and ruin a country in such a short period of time, whereas the SJB had set a world record by not moving a NCM against the government.

The status of the SLPP government cannot be discussed without taking into consideration the global Covid-19 challenge. If not for the crisis caused by the epidemic, the Opposition would have been in a much weaker position. The Covid crisis has sort of facilitated an Opposition strategy meant to undermine President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government struggling to cope up with drying up of two major revenue sources, namely funds remitted by Sri Lankan workers overseas and from the once bourgeoning tourism sector. Having secured strong mandates at the 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary polls, the SLPP could have pushed ahead with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s agenda, comfortably, if not for the Covid-19 menace.

UNP leader Wickremesinghe quite obviously has forgotten the first Treasury bond scam, perpetrated by the then Governor of the Central Bank, Singaporean Arjuna Mahendran, (handpicked by him) within weeks after the 2015 presidential election. The first Treasury bond scam carried out on Feb 27, 2015, less than 50 days after the January 8, 2015 presidential election, messed up the UNP government. Its exposure ruined the UNP as it unsuccessfully tried to dismiss it, with one of its MPs even writing a book denying it ever took place. The crisis caused an irreparable damage to Wickremesinghe’s marriage of convenience with the then President Maithripala Sirisena. The Treasury bond scam rocked the UNP-led government that at the onset had nearly a two-thirds majority. An irate President Sirisena, in spite of the despicable act on the part of the UNP, tried to save the UNP-SLFP partnership. So much so the President who is also the SLFP leader, cunningly dissolved Parliament, in late June 2015, to thwart the then COPE Chairman Dew Gunasekera from tabling an explosive report on the Treasury bond scam, in Parliament. President Sirisena though being the leader of the SLFP delivered a knockout blow to his own party by declaring Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t be named Prime Minister in case of their victory. Perhaps that un-called for statement should have earned President Sirisena a place in the Guinness World Book of Records.

Having won the August 2015 parliamentary election, though it couldn’t secure at least a simple majority, the UNP perpetrated the second Treasury bond scam in late March 2016. Between the two Treasury bond scams, the UNP also betrayed the war-winning military, at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council. The Oct 2015 Geneva betrayal earned the yahapalana government the wrath of the vast majority of the people of this country.

While alleging the SLPP messed up its affairs in such a short period of time, Wickremesinghe has conveniently forgotten his own record. The emergence of the Joint Opposition, in the aftermath of the shocking defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 2015 Presidential election, and its transformation as the SLPP, thanks to Basil Rajapaksa’s skills as an organiser and the stunning victory the newly registered party achieved, in Feb 2018, at the local government polls, should be studied against the backdrop of the UNP kicking its own goal, repeatedly. Did the top UNP leadership believe that it could create a massive slush fund by way of the Treasury bond scams to undertake consolidation of the party? Those who had backed the then UNP strategy, some of them vociferously, now represent the SJB. The UNP and the breakaway faction, registered under controversial circumstances cannot under any circumstances, absolve themselves of the Treasury bond scams. Despite the two Treasury bond scams, the second far bigger than the first, Wickremesinghe made a desperate bid to retain Mahendran as the Governor. Wickremesinghe failed. The UNP accepted the seriousness of the situation only after it suffered a humiliating defeat at the Feb 2018 Local Government polls. The SLPP emerged as a formidable political force, thanks to the bungling UNP and the SLFP. By the time the Covid-19 epidemic erupted here, in early 2020, that caused the postponement of the general election scheduled for April to August, the SLPP was in control of Local Government authorities (Feb 2018), Office of the President (Nov 2019) and general election (Aug 2020). Today, the main Opposition largely depends on the outcome of the battle between President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government and the epidemic.

Stinking Bathiudeen affair

All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, embroiled in a spate of controversies, was elected to Parliament on the SJB ticket. The ACMC is a constituent of the SJB. Bathiudeen is now under investigation over the death of 16-year-old Ishalini, who succumbed to burn injuries she suffered at the Vanni District SJB MP’s Baudhaloka Mawatha residence on July 3. She died at the National Hospital on July 15th. The revelation that Ishalini had been raped repeatedly sent shock waves through the country as various interested parties exploited the situation. Some remained silent. Having first entered Parliament, at the Dec 2001 general election, Bathiudeen switched his allegiance to various political party leaders over the years, ultimately ending up with Sajith Premadasa in the wake of the UNP split. Bathiudeen served as a Cabinet minister under Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena and deserted Wickremesinghe at a crucial phase of the battle between the UNP leader and his deputy. The Supreme Court found him guilty of clearing the Kallaru forest reserve and he has continuously been under the media glare for the wrong reasons. Four days after the death of Ishalini, UNP leader Wickremesinghe, on the first day of the NCM against Minister Gammanpila, questioned the circumstances the police arrested Bathiudeen over the Easter Sunday carnage. Wickremesinghe also questioned the alleged moves to take SJB National List lawmaker Harin Fernando into custody over a statement he made as regards the Easter Sunday carnage. One cannot find fault with Wickremesinghe for speaking on behalf of those elected on the SJB. But, obviously Wickremesinghe didn’t anticipate Ishalini’s death causing such a furor with the Upcountry Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) demanding justice for the girl from there. The TPA’s Deputy Chairman Palani Digambaram led a noisy protest in the Hatton town while Vadivel Suresh, also a member of the SJB parliamentary group declared that those responsible for Ishalini’s death should be punished Saudi Arabia style.

Among those who had been arrested so far in connection with Ishalini’s death, is Bathiudeen’s 46-year –old wife Ayesha, father-in-law, brother-in-law and the broker, who arranged the underage girl to receive employment at the former minister’s residence. How many female domestic workers had been employed by the Bathiudeens, did another one of them commit suicide by jumping before a train and did any of them been sexually harassed during their employment there?

The case took a new turn on Monday (26) in the wake of shocking disclosure made by Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peris before Colombo Additional Magistrate Rajindra Jayasuriya. Peris explained how those at Rishad Bathiudeen’s residence delayed taking Ishalini to the National Hospital in spite of having the vehicles at home and deceived the hospital by giving a Sinhala name to the Tamil girl when she was admitted.

Although Wickremesinghe is on record as having cleared Bathiudeen of involvement in the Easter Sunday carnage, on the basis of a confidential police report he received during his tenure as Prime Minister, the National Catholic Committee for Justice recently named the former minister as a person who assisted terror attacks ‘in different ways.’ In a July 12 dated appeal to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Catholic Church pointed out that the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) that inquired into the Easter Sunday carnage recommended that the Attorney General consider criminal proceedings against Bathiudeen under any suitable provision of the Penal Code. The Church also made reference to the MP’s brother, Riyaj, requesting that he be subjected to further investigations by the police as well as the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.

The ACMC is obviously in serious turmoil. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in Oct 2020, at the expense of the 19th Amendment, divided the four-member ACMC group in the Opposition SJB. The Bathiudeens wielded immense power whoever was in power. There cannot be a better example than Riyaj’s sudden release, ahead of the vote on the 20th Amendment. Riyaj taken into custody on April 14th, 2020 was released though police headquarters earlier asserted a direct connection between the suspect and those responsible for the Easter Sunday carnage. Although the then Attorney General Dappula de Livera made a highly publicised intervention, Riyaj’s release remains a mystery though he was again taken into custody subsequently amidst an outcry. Actually, the Law and Order Ministry owed an explanation as regards Riyaj’s release, especially because the suspect was arrested again, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Rishad Bathiudeen, too, is held under the PTA.

The ACMC tainted by a series of equally destructive controversies will have to charter a new path as major political parties namely the SLPP and the SJB no longer could accommodate Rishad Bathiudeen’s outfit on their ticket at a future election.

The Catholic Church also questioned the delay in initiating criminal proceedings against SLFP leader, now an SLPP MP, under any suitable provision in the Penal Code, in respect of the Easter Sunday carnage, and also the P CoI’s failure to make any specific recommendation against the UNP leader.

A House in tumult

Parliament seems to be in turmoil with political parties therein unable to comprehend the crisis the country is facing. The Finance Ministry shocked all by opening LCs for the import of Toyota Land Cruisers for all 225 members of Parliament. In addition to them, LCs were opened for three more Toyota Land Cruisers though the identity of the intended recipients remained a mystery. Obviously, the SLPP felt that luxury vehicles should be ordered for all lawmakers representing 15 registered political parties in the current Parliament, though the largest beneficiary would be the SLPP with a 145-member parliamentary group. In addition to the SLPP group, those who voted for the 20th Amendment had to be appeased. The worst post-independence financial crisis didn’t discourage the SLPP from seeking to appease lawmakers at the taxpayers’ expense. Although the government spokesmen claimed the order for the luxury vehicles was put on hold the real issue is for how long?

Parliament remained silent over Attorney-at-Law Nagananda Kodituwakku moving Supreme Court against accommodating members on the National List, contrary to Section 99 A of the 14th Amendment. Kodituwakku sought the annulment of such NL appointments as well as the abolishment of the 14th Amendment itself. In fact, all political parties refrained from commenting on such a controversial issue, now before the Supreme Court. Issues pertaining to Parliament needs to be examined, also taking into consideration Ranjan Ramanayake losing his parliamentary seat (SJB/Gampaha District) after being found guilty in a case of contempt of the Supreme Court, convicted murderer Premalal Jayasekera (SLPP/Ratnapura District) taking oaths as a member of Parliament and the recent dismissal of cases involving one-time Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, alias Pilleyan, now an MP and ministers Johnston Fernando, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Basil Rajapaksa, Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Janaka Bandara Tennakoon.

The CIABOC also owed an explanation as to how the decision to drop all charges against former lawmaker and Foreign Ministry Monitoring MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena, pertaining to the Mihin Lanka case, was arrived at. That particular case dealt with misappropriation of public funds amounting to Rs 883 mn and another case involving former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris, now Sri Lanka’s top diplomat at UN, in New York, was dismissed. Present Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, the AG during whose tenure legal proceedings had been initiated against those above-mentioned persons, is now the head of the judiciary, in his capacity as the Chief Justice.

Presidential pardon granted to former UPFA MP Duminda Silva, now Chairman of the National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) should be examined taking into consideration the dismissal of a spate of high profile cases since 2019. Duminda Silva, one-time monitoring MP for the Defence Ministry is the only parliamentarian to receive a presidential pardon so far!

 



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Midweek Review

Rightwing economics or centre-left Opposition?

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By Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

The situation is ripe for a progressive, social democratic, centre-left Opposition with necessarily populist appeal, but can there be one if an archaic, conservative, rightist economic theory is propounded as an alternative to the government’s oligarchic crony-capitalism?

How can the main Opposition party become a truly progressive-centrist formation which can be a magnet for voters from the vast bloc that voted for the Rajapaksas/Pohottuwa? What must it do?

The answer to that is clear and simple, and it isn’t mine. Thirty years ago, the UNP held power at the Presidential, Parliamentary and Pradesheeya Sabha levels, i.e., executive, legislative and local authority levels. That was the last time it did so. The leader responsible for that achievement made a typically unorthodox and fascinating remark while addressing his last May Day rally in 1992, at Galle Face, a year before he was assassinated by a Tiger suicide-bomber. Ranasinghe Premadasa made a surprising and pointed reference to SWRD Bandaranaike:

“…The late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike…left the UNP and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party because he thought that his views cannot be implemented through the UNP. If one were to take into account the changes that have taken place in the UNP between then and now, I am sure that if he were still alive, he would have rejoined the UNP…When you look at it from that point of view, you will be able to guess which May Day rally he would have attended if he were alive—the rally at Galle Face or the one at Campbell Park.” (President Premadasa: His Vision and Mission, Selected Speeches, p 192)

What Premadasa says here is that SWRD Bandaranaike with the progressive, moderate nationalist, centre-left views (the SLFP’s founding document used the definition ‘social democratic’) he held at the time he ruptured with the UNP because he thought they could not be accommodated, would have felt compelled and comfortable enough to rejoin the UNP because it had been transformed so radically as to be able to accommodate and represent such personalities and perspectives.

Translated into today’s politics, it can be understood as an injunction to the post-UNP successor party (led by Premadasa’s son) to be a party so configured that it can win over the voters and personalities of the progressive centre, the moderate nationalists, by representing their ideology, sentiments and grievances. In short, an Opposition party capable of winning over the centre-left SLFP and SLPP voters; the Rajapaksa voters.

JR-Ranil or Premadasa?

The ongoing and deepening economic crisis is tailor-made for a ‘Premadasist’ intervention, for three reasons:

(a) Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has been acknowledged as proving the need for more investment in public goods and social infrastructure, rather than rely on the ‘magic of the marketplace’ with its profit motive.

(b) President Premadasa demonstrated that even in a context of extreme crisis, is it practically possible to revive economic growth, increase industrial exports and foreign investment while simultaneously, not sequentially, transferring real income to the poorest, increasing the real wages of the people and reducing inequality.

(c) The Opposition is led by his only son. It would be as absurdly incongruous for an Opposition party, led by President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son not to adopt the Premadasa development paradigm and policy as it would be someday for an Opposition party led by Namal Rajapaksa, not to have his father Mahinda Rajapaksa’s as symbol, his achievements as template, and Mahinda Chinthanaya as the basis of its guiding ideology.

The problem is that there is an ideological inclination on the part of some in society and Opposition politics, to ignore the Premadasa development model and philosophy, pat him on the back for ‘reforms’, and elevate instead, rightwing economic doctrines. In international terms these are the economic ideas that President George HW Bush (Bush Sr.), a moderate Republican, derided as “voodoo economics”.

The UNP never won a Presidential election, won only two parliamentary elections, 15 years apart, with never a second consecutive term in governmental office, after it dumped the Premadasa development paradigm and shifted to neoliberal economics, or shifted back to the pre-Premadasa economic model which helped cause the Southern uprising.

With its leadership and Presidential candidate who did far better in November 2019 than the party did before (Feb 2018) or since, the post-UNP Opposition is more organically suited for a frankly neo-Premadasist strategy for economic revival and social upliftment, which the current crisis demands.

JR+BR?

A slightly surreal slogan was tweeted recently, claiming that “we need JR+Shenoy reform once again”. This relates to the ideas of rightwing economist BR Shenoy who produced a pamphlet in 1966 which was adopted as a policy platform by JR Jayewardene, then a Minister in the Dudley Senanayake Cabinet of 1965-’70.

This policy perspective is wrong headed several times over, starting with the contextual fact that the JR+Shenoy platform was not conceived as alternative to the parental precursor of the current Rajapaksa government’s policies, namely the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera policies of the coalition government of 1970-’77.

The JRJ-Shenoy policy doctrine was one corner of an intra-governmental UNP policy debate in the mid-1960s. Today it is being revived at the second corner of a bipolar patterning of policy discourse, i.e., in an unhealthy polarisation.

Shenoy Syndrome

As a precocious lad who spent time in the editorial offices of Lake House and hung out with my father and his journalist colleagues and buddies, I was quite aware of the Shenoy episode real-time, because BR Shenoy was tapped, and his product promoted, by Esmond Wickremesinghe, the Managing Director of Lake House (and Ranil’s father). That episode was part of a policy debate that rocked the UNP government of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in 1965-1970.

Far from being the antipode of the statist closed economy of the Sirimavo regime, the JR+Shenoy (actually JR+Esmond+Shenoy) platform squarely targeted the genuinely liberal-welfarist economics of the PM Dudley Senanayake and his Planning Ministry tzar, Dr Gamini Corea.

It is absurd and dangerous to exalt the JR+BR Shenoy line today, when the logic of the Dudley Senanayake-Gamani Corea response at that time has been tragically validated by our political history: “It is wiser to spend on welfare, than to cut welfare and have to spend much more on military expenditure later.”

As the John Attygalle Report (he was the IGP, but the report was co-authored by D.I.G Ana Seneviratne) on the pre-1971 JVP revealed, and the statements of the accused in the main trial of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) confirmed, the movement was founded for armed revolution partly as a response to the ideological struggle within the UNP government. Rohana Wijeweera’s view was that the JR Jayewardene-BR Shenoy project would require the ouster of the Senanayake faction, the installation of an Indonesian style dictatorship, and the scrapping of national elections scheduled for 1970.

This was not as wildly outlandish as it seemed. The Indonesian coup and massacre had taken place in September 1965. Esmond Wickremesinghe and those who backed the JR+Shenoy programme against Senanayake liberal-welfarism, were applauding the post-coup Indonesian economic model. My father Mervyn de Silva had been in Indonesia (with his wife and son) at the invitation of President Sukarno’s Foreign Minister Dr. Subandrio for the celebration by Afro-Asian journalists of the 10th anniversary of the Bandung conference virtually on the eve of the coup. Mervyn was the last foreign journalist to interview DN Aidit, leader of the PKI (the non-violent Indonesian Communist Party) who was murdered by the Army a few months later while in hiding, unarmed. My father was among the few (I’m being generous here) in the Lake House press writing against the Indonesian coup and the massacre of 1965, while “the Indonesian model” was being promoted.

Coiled for armed resistance to a dictatorship which never came at the hands of the UNP Right identified as JRJ and Esmond Wickremesinghe equipped with the BR Shenoy agenda, the JVP uncoiled uncontrollably on the watch of the elected successor government, the SLFP-led UF coalition in 1971.

It is not that today’s JVP or FSP is dabbling in any way with violent resistance or ever likely to, but a worker-peasant-student social movement radicalised by the policies and political culture of the Gotabaya presidency, has grown to almost the same capacity as in the 1960s, and if ‘JR+Shenoy’ economic policies are followed after the Rajapaksa regime is inevitably turfed-out, the social explosion will occur no less inevitably on the watch of the incoming ex-UNP administration.

Development Debate

Today’s Lankan economic neoliberals (who call themselves ‘economic liberals’) target a giant of Third World economic thinking, Raul Prebisch. The bridge to the tradition of Prebisch, and indeed the great Ceylonese contribution to the global economic debate, was not the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera regime, but rather, those who had been the targets of JRJ and Shenoy in the policy debate within the UNP of 1965-1970: the liberal-welfarist progressives of the Planning Ministry under Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, namely Dr. Gamani Corea and his deputy, Godfrey Gunatilleke.

In the 1970s, the Lankan node of ‘Third Worldist’ progressive development thinking was the MARGA Institute, which was targeted by the UF coalition government, especially the rightwing Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike and the Communist Party.

The Gamani Corea-Godfrey Gunatilleke perspective that JRJ+BR Shenoy (plus Esmond Wickremesinghe) had targeted within the UNP government of 1965-1970 and eventually supplanted, found itself revived, revised and reaccommodated within the economic paradigm of Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Prime Minister Premadasa’s extempore remarks at the panel discussion on the sidelines of the UNGA 1980; his invocation of justice for the global South at the UNGA 1980 and the Nonaligned Conference in Harare 1986, are evidence of his commitment to the international tradition of development thinking which Dr. Gamani Corea was a giant of, but is reviled by today’s para-UNP economic neoliberals. (https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/asset/2114/2114561/)

It is hardly accidental that the founder-Chairperson of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), at its initiation by Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel and through the Premadasa Presidency, was Dr. Gamani Corea rather than an ‘economic libertarian’ or ‘classic economic liberal’.

Premadasa Project

The formula that ‘we need JR+Shenoy reform once again’ also overlooks the history of the evolution of policy within the UNP in the Opposition in 1970-1973. The Dudley Senanayake line was being eclipsed, the JRJ line was becoming dominant, but a third line was coming into view, which was to be validated by real history when the ‘JR+Shenoy’ paradigm was a causative factor of the civil war in the south.

This ‘third paradigm’ was Ranasinghe Premadasa’s, an early articulation of which was his 4th April 1973 address to the Colombo West Rotary Club. He was so committed to that speech (delivered several years before Susil Sirivardhana joined him) that he republished it in the ‘SAARC Summit special supplement’ of the Daily News during his Presidency, accompanied by an introduction in bold type which read: “The seeds of today’s concepts were sown years ago…President Ranasinghe Premadasa, then First Member of Parliament for Colombo Central was invited by the Colombo West Rotary Club to deliver an address on the topic ‘A Plan for Sri Lanka’ at a luncheon meeting of the Club. The speech was delivered when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was only an Opposition member of Parliament and portrays the vision of a young politician of what he thought was the best for Sri Lanka”.

That he chose to reproduce it in the SAARC special supplement (1991) indicates that this perspective is one he wanted the outside world to know about, and which he hoped to radiate in the region.

In April 1973, he wrestled with the same problem that the economy faces today– the crisis of foreign exchange and dependency—and gave an answer that is distinctively redolent of the Rooseveltian New Deal (his 1988 Presidential election manifesto was to be entitled ‘a New Vision, a New Deal’):

“…If the problems of foreign exchange, development and unemployment are to be satisfactorily tackled, a massive development venture has to be launched to provide the necessary infra-structure such as a network of roads, a network of electricity, a network of irrigation and a network of domestic water supply. With the launching of such a scheme large number of people could be gainfully employed. Together with development of the infrastructure the country’s agricultural and industrial ventures will automatically improve. As a result, foreign exchange could be conserved. People will get more money into their hands thus enabling them to purchase their requirements. The question of subsidies will eventually be eliminated. We can solve our problems. Scarcity of foreign exchange is no obstacle. To earn foreign exchange, we must increase production; to increase production we must develop our national resources, and if we are to develop our national resources, we must harness the human potential that we have in abundance. It is futile to go on bended knees to foreign countries begging for assistance…” (Republished as ‘People’s Participation in Government’, CDN Nov. 21, 1991.)

After the UNP victory of 1977 and the installation of ‘JR+Shenoy reforms’ the evidence of its downside piled up in the 1980s from the reports of various UN agencies which had replaced ‘classical liberal economics’ with indices of inequality, the physical quality of life index (PQLI) and later the Human Development report (HDR), under the intellectual impact of a global struggle for ‘Another Development’ (as it was conceptualized) in which Gamini Corea and Godfrey Gunatilleke were the foremost Sri Lankan figures.

Prime Minister Premadasa appointed the Warnasena Rasaputram Commission. Janasaviya was Premadasa’s response to the revelations of the Rasaputram Report. The hubris of the Open economy and the ‘JR +Shenoy reform’ model had evaporated with the bloody near-extermination of the UNP in the latter half of the 1980s by Sinhala youth from the South (just as Premadasa had predicted).

Open Economy, ‘Economic Democracy’

“If anything, I am for economic democracy” Premadasa told civil service legend Neville Jayaweera in a substantive interview given to the latter published as ‘Charter for Democracy’ (1990). For him, ‘economic democracy’ meant “turning the nation into one where ‘have-nots’ become ‘haves’”.

This was Premadasa’s perspective on the open economy:

“In a world of economic interdependence, those who are self-dependent grow in strength. We live in a world society. We cannot close ourselves off from the world. Yet, we must be free to live and develop as we wish to. We will provide all the conditions for economic growth in an open economy. But an open economy does not mean an economy dictated to by others. An open economy does not mean an economy run for the benefit of others. An open economy must first benefit Sri Lankans before it benefits outsiders.” (‘Address at the Inauguration of the Koggala Export Processing Zone’-June 14th 1991, in ‘President Premadasa: His Vision & Mission-Selected Speeches’, pp 89-92.)

The Premadasa economic philosophy, though partly based on the Open Economy, is not that of ‘JR+BR Shenoy reforms’ of 1977 still less of 1966. It is a different, far more progressive policy paradigm or economic episteme. It is Sri Lankan Social Democracy.

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Midweek Review

9/11 Imperatives

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By Lynn Ockersz

Twenty years and counting,

The 9/11 horrors rage on,

With the first splurge of civilian blood,

Which was unleashed in New York,

Soon transcending time and space,

And spilling into and becoming a flood,

In fiercely contested Iraq and Afghanistan,

Where it triggered aftershocks all around,

But blessed are those who see,

In this worldwide Slaughter of Lambs,

A shameful hour for mankind,

And hear in the tragedy a rallying call,

To lose no time to come together as one,

And bring healing to angry hearts and minds,

That by designing demagogues of divisive strife,

Are tamely led along self-annihilative paths.

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Midweek Review

Easter Sunday imbroglio!

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Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith reiterates demand for justice at a recent media briefing. The Church has sought the intervention of the Vatican as well as the UNHRC to pressure Sri Lanka over the Easter Sunday probe

Can Parliament, as an institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for tainted political parties? The House did nothing when the TNA recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Both Parliament and the Election Department/Election Commission conveniently remained silent. Both institutions turned a blind eye when the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, in blatant violation of the right to vote, ordered the Northern electorate to boycott the 2005 presidential election to ensure the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe as they thought it would be easier to prosecute the war successfully with Rajapaksa in power as he was unpopular with the West. May be the West, too, had a hand in that strategy for they, too, merely kept silent over TNA’s undemocratic demand to the Tamil electorate to boycott the vote. The TNA declared that the presidential poll was irrelevant therefore no point in the Tamil electorate exercising their franchise. But, the move was meant to ensure that normally pro-UNP majority of Tamils did not vote, thereby sealing candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat and helping Mahinda Rajapaksa win. When the writer raised this issue with Kumaran Pathmanathan aka ‘KP’ in Aug. 2009, the one-time Chief LTTE procurer of weapons, too, declared that Rajapaksa’s victory would have created an environment conducive for an all-out war. Within three weeks after the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks in the Jaffna peninsula. In January, 2006, the LTTE rammed suicide boats into a Fast Attack Craft off Trincomalee harbour. In late April 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The Eelam war IV commenced in the second week of August 2006, just weeks after the Army neutralised the LTTE threat at Mavil-aru.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage at the commencement of the 48th sessions of the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was expected. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, in her oral update delivered on Sept.13 on the Situation in Sri Lanka dealt with the Easter Sunday massacre as revealed by Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesperson for the National Catholic Committee for Justice (NCCJ).

The former Chilean President (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) Bachelet made two separate references to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. Let me reproduce them verbatim to ensure that The Island is not accused of trying to misinterpret facts.

Bachelet declared: “Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.”

Referring to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Bachelet said: “The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people. Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal.”

Bachelet conveniently refrained from stating why the one-time Attorney General’s Department Counsel Hizbullah (2005-2010) is in government custody. Bachelet was careful not to include Hizbullah’s arrest in the paragraph that dealt with concerns raised by the Catholic Church as regards the investigation into the heinous crime. In fact, the UK-led self-appointed Sri Lanka Core Group at the UNHRC on more than one occasion raised Hizbullah’s detention without making reference to the Easter Sunday carnage.

Now that the Catholic Church has declared that it had no option but to seek the intervention of the Vatican and UNHRC to pressure the government over the Easter Sunday investigation, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith should explain his stand on the detention of lawyer Hizbullah in connection with the Easter carnage.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Hizbullah on April 14, 2020. The lawyer was charged on March 3, 2021.

Why did Bachelet make reference to Hizbullah’s arrest without directly naming him as an Easter Sunday suspect? Did UNHRC conduct its own inquiries before taking up Hizbullah’s issue at the 48th session?

Although Sri Lanka Core Group had referred to Hizbullah in its statements (44th, 45th, and 47th sessions) previously, Bachelet, in her statements to the council, had never mentioned the lawyer by name before the 48th session. May be Bachelet is simply prostituting her independence like so many UN big shots on matters of Western interests. No wonder, one of the first things that the Iraqi rebellion against the US-led invasion of that country did was to blow up the UN compound in Baghdad!

Sri Lanka Core Group comprises Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom.

Obviously, both Bachelet and the Core Group have taken the Sri Lanka civil society (read Western backed NGOs’) stand on the lawyer. A number of civil society organisations made public statements on behalf of Hizbullah though the government insists on the lawyer’s involvement with extremists. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in the run-up to the Geneva sessions declared that the government had irrefutable evidence as regards Hizbullah’s role in the suicide attacks blamed on the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and other organisations with similar ideology.

Those who stood for him have described the lawyer as a minority rights advocate and legal counsel for Muslim victims of human rights violations. Amnesty International is among the groups that expressed concerns over Hizbullah’s arrest. The lawyer, held under the PTA, has handled litigation before the Labour Tribunals and Magistrate’s Courts to the Supreme Court.

Let us, however, not forget a very important fact about AI. It corroborated a fantastic piece of ‘evidence’ after the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in which a weeping teenager told the US Congress how she witnessed the invading Iraqi army pulling premature babies from their incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. Later it came to light that she was merely acting from a prepared script and she was none other than the daughter of Kuwait’s then ambassador to Washington. And she was nowhere near the action. Her performance would have easily beaten Bush/Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction script.

Truth certainly is a first casualty when states go into war, but what about so-called neutral umpires like AI when they too make truth a casualty?

The European Parliament’s June 10, 2021 Resolution on Sri Lanka referred to Hizbullah. The lawyer seemed to be blessed with sufficient support both here and abroad to move even the UN system. The UNHRC taking up the Easter Sunday issue should be a matter for serious concern. The UNHRC meets thrice a year. With the Vatican, too, taking an active interest in the controversial investigation, UNHRC and Sri Lanka’s self-appointed Core Group are likely to keep it on the Geneva agenda.

SLPP in quandary over MS

 The Church accuses the SLPP government of turning a blind eye to the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry the (PCoI). In spite of repeatedly assuring the Church of transparent investigation and judicial process, free of political interference, the Church is furious over what it calls the the government’s failure to act on the PCoI report. The bone of contention is alleged attempts to save former President Maithripala Sirisena and the then head of State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.

Before taking up the PCoI’s specific recommendations pertaining to the former President and the Senior DIG, now turned state witness and in charge of the Central Province, it would be pertinent to name members of the PCoI appointed by Sirisena on Sept 22, 2019. Senior DIG Jayawardena received appointment as Senior DIG, East, in early January 2020 in the wake of the last presidential election.

Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva (Chairman), Court of Appeal judge Nishshanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W. M. M. R. Adhikari. H. M. P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as the Secretary to the Commission.

 The PCoI handed over its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 1, 2020. The first and second interim reports were handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 20, 2019 and on March 02, 2020 respectively.

In spite of President Rajapaksa no sooner after assuming office inquiring from Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith whether he wanted to suggest a new member or two to the PCoI, the Archbishop declined the opportunity for obvious reasons.

Rev Father Cyril Gamini Fernando has declared that there couldn’t be any justifiable reason for the refusal on the part of the government to implement the PCoI recommendations.

Rev. Fernando described the appointment of a six-member Committee, headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the PCoI recommendations as well as the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security submitted to Parliament, as political intervention meant to derail the process.

The six-member committee comprised ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena.

Rev Father Fernando declared they were quite horrified by Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera’s revelation that Senior DIG Jayawardena, named by the PCoI, would be a state witness. Rohanadeera made the declaration in his capacity as the Director General, Legal Affairs, President’s Office.

Rohanadeera was on Hiru ‘Salakuna,’ a live weekly programme telecast on Mondays. Obviously, those in authority hadn’t given due consideration to their own report, the Church spokesperson said, vowing to pursue a campaign for justice.

The Island sought a clarification from those closely following the case. The writer was told that Senior DIG Jayawardena would be a prosecuting witness in respect of indictments filed in cases to be heard beginning next month. But, in respect of cases pertaining to negligence, the Senior DIG wouldn’t be there as a prosecution witness.

SLPP troubled by key recommendations

The PCoI declared that there is criminal liability on the part of former President Sirisena for failing in his duties and responsibilities. The PCoI alleged Sirisena’s failure exceeds mere civil negligence. On the basis of evidence gathered, the PCoI recommended that the Attorney General consider criminal proceedings against the former President under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol. 1, p 265).

This recommendation, the first in a series of references, posed quite a political challenge as the former President Sirisena is now a member of the ruling SLPP parliamentary group. As the leader of the SLFP, the main constituent of the SLPP, judicial or otherwise measures against Sirisena who returned to Parliament from his home base of Polonnaruwa at the last parliamentary election can place the SLPP-SLFP relationship in jeopardy. The SLFP parliamentary group headed by Sirisena consists of 14 members, including the leader. Of the 14, 12 successfully contested on the SLPP ticket, one entered on the SLPP National List (Dr. Suren Ragavan) and one entered on the SLFP ticket.

The issue is whether the SLPP-SLFP partnership can survive if the Attorney General moves court against the former President. The Church is unlikely to take that factor into consideration as it steps up pressure on the SLPP administration. The government will find itself in an extremely difficult situation. Similarly, the UNHRC, too, faces a dicey situation. On one hand, Geneva wants Sri Lanka to go the whole hog against perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks. And on the other hand, it is seriously concerned about lawyer Hizbullah held over the Easter Sunday carnage. The UNHRC, too, is also in a dilemma.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris is on record as having compared the role of Hizbullah to that of the late Anton Balasingham, British national of Sri Lankan origin, who functioned as the LTTE’s ideologue until his very end.

The government parliamentary group comprises 145 members. The SLPP leadership is aware that their relationship with the SLFP is on thin ice against the backdrop of pressure to move against the former President. The SLPP does not want to lose the SLFP’s support at this moment.

The PCoI also recommended criminal proceedings under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 287-288) in respect of Senior DIG Jayawardena.

The government seems largely reluctant to implement the recommendations or delve into certain observations made by the five-member expert P CoI. Interestingly, the Church, in a missive dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Rajapaksa, has questioned the rationale in the PCoI conveniently failing to make any specific recommendation in respect of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in its final findings, thereby literally alluding to possible bias on the part of PCoI vis-à-vis the UNP Leader.

To be fair by the PCoI it clearly pointed out Wickremesinghe’s lax approach towards Islam extremism, which deprived the then administration of an opportunity to take tangible counter measures. The PCoI asserted the UNP leader’s failure facilitated the Easter Sunday carnage (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 276-277). The Church declared: “Our view is that there should be additional investigations on this matter. We need not stress that there on that fact, Wickremesinghe, in spite of his holding special powers under the 19th Amendment, followed a soft approach. It is, in our view, a serious act of irresponsibility and neglect of duty.”

Links between suicide bombers and political parties

A wider investigation is required to find out the actual links between the Easter Sunday attackers and political parties. The SJB has repeatedly demanded justice for the Easter Sunday victims. But, Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now in judicial custody, remains with the main Opposition party. The SJB demands implementation of the PCoI recommendations but has chosen to remain silent on Bathiudeen. The PCoI has recommended criminal proceedings against Bathiudeen under any suitable provision of the Penal Code whereas reference was also made to his brother, Riyaj Bathiudeen now also back in custody.

It would be pertinent to mention that Riyaj who had been taken into custody was clandestinely released by the CID under controversial circumstances. The release coincided with some members of the ACMC voting for the 20th Amendment passed by the Parliament in Oct 2020.

A majority in the SLPP demanded an inquiry from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa into Riyaj’s release. The then Attorney General, too, sought an explanation from the CID. The government never revealed why Riyaj was released. However, he was taken back into custody later following a growing outcry over his abrupt release.

The ACMC leader has served in the cabinet of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2020-2015) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The incumbent government cannot ignore accusations that during Rishad Bathiudden’s time as the Trade and Commerce Minister of MR and MS cabinet, the politician supported the Colossus copper factory at Wellampitiya managed by the family of two of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and their father, Mohamed Ibrahim, the founder of Colombo-based Ishana Exports, which describes itself on its website as the ‘largest exporter of spices from Sri Lanka since 2006.’

The JVP never really explained the circumstances Mohamed Ibrahim ended up on their National List at the 2015 parliamentary election. Ibrahim is in custody.

Colossus management had direct access to the highest Offices in the land. During the Yahapalana administration, the Colossus sought supply of copper from the Presidential Secretariat. Interestingly, defeated UPFA lawmaker Shantha Bandara had been the recipient of the Colossus letter at the Presidential Secretariat. Shantha Bandara is now a member of the ruling SLPP. Bandara represents the Kurunegala District.

2019 presidential election

Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and Rohanadeera recently countered accusations that the 2019 Easter attacks were meant to benefit SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. ‘Salakuna’ anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema raised the issue with Rohanadeera, who pointed out that the results of the 2018 Feb Local Government polls indicated the ground situation at that time. Gen. Gunaratne declared at a recent meeting that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations and it was a despicable attempt to tarnish President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Academic Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage. Hoole shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, blamed the State elements for the attack. Dr. Hoole is unambiguous in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.

In Chapter 4, Dr. Hoole briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed NTJ to secure representation in Parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in Parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole asserted, declaring that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).

Dr. Hoole likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in Parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement finalised in 2001, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.

President Sirisena had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah in Parliament on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on its National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter Parliament (The man who helped Colossus procure scrap copper from the state at a nominal price usually reserved for craftsmen and cottage industrialists). Hizbullah was named the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the controversial Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited.

In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected from the Batticaloa District with NTJ backing, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?

Whatever the political parties may say, both major political alliances, the SLPP and the SJB are tainted. There is no point in denying the fact that the way the TNA continues to politically suffer due to its disgraceful alliance with the LTTE sometime ago, other political parties and alliances experience difficulties as a result of their relationship with Zahran’s group.

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