A daunting task for Justice Nawaz
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shakes hands with Justice Nawaz after appointing him as the President of the Court of Appeal on January 20, 2021 (pic courtesy PMD)
Geneva proposes asset freezes, travel bans ahead of HR sessions
By Shamindra Ferdinando
An Extraordinary Gazette notification, pertaining to the nomination of Justice Abdul Hameed Dileep Nawaz, as the Chairman of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI), to investigate, inquire into and report, or take required actions, regarding the findings of the former Commissions, or Committees, that investigated human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences, was issued on January 20.
The Extraordinary Gazette notification was issued, close on the heels of a ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, to welcome Justice Nawaz, Justice Kumudini Wickramasinghe and Justice Shiran Gooneratne. They were among six new Supreme Court justices, named on Dec 1, 2020, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted two months before. The other new justices are Janaka de Silva, Achala Wengappuli and Mahinda Samayawardhena.
The new Amendment approved with a two-thirds majority, resulted in the expansion of the Supreme Court bench, from 11 to 17, and the Appeal Court bench, from 12 to 20.
Having won the presidency in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted Nawaz as the President of the Court of Appeal. The appointment made on January 20, 2021, is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first high profile judicial selection. The appointment didn’t receive the media attention it really deserves.
With the elevation of Nawaz to the Supreme Court, Justice Arjuna Obeysekere received the appointment as the President of the Court of Appeal. The CoI, chaired by Justice Nawaz, includes one-time IGP Chandra Fernando, the incumbent Chairman of the National Police Commission, and retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri.
Nawaz is the first sitting judge and the senior-most judicial officer to have been charge-sheeted by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), during his time at the Attorney General’s Department, but cleared by courts during the tenure of the previous regime itself. So many actions, initiated by the CIABOC, judicial decisions and proceedings during the previous yahapalana administration, are under a cloud.
The CoI has been entrusted with the following tasks: (a) Find out whether previous CoIs, and Committees, which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences (b) Identify the findings of the CoIs, and Committees, related to the serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian laws and other such offences and whether recommendations have been made on how to deal with the issues at hand (c) The status of the implementation of those recommendations, so far, in terms of the existing law, and what steps need to be taken to implement those recommendations further, in line with the present Government policy and, finally (d) Ascertain whether action is being taken in respect of (b) and (c).
The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, is expected to finalize the report, within six months from the date of the appointment.
AG on role of judges
Welcoming the newly appointed Supreme Court Judges on Jan. 20 and Jan 21, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, declared: “The credibility of a judicial system, in a country, is dependent on the Judges who man it. Judges must be persons of impeccable integrity and unimpeachable independence. A Judge must discharge his/her judicial functions with high integrity, impartially and intellectual honesty. Speaking of Intellectual honesty; the law would be like a ball of clay in the hands of an erudite Judge. Therefore, Judges should be ruthlessly honest, independent, and impartial and possess a judicial conscience to ensure that the ball of clay is moulded, according to the law. For over 2000 years of the island’s long history, the Courts of Law have occupied a unique place in the system of government. Public acceptance of the judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary, is necessary for the rule of law to prevail in the country. Public confidence in the judiciary is dependent on the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”
The President’s Counsel further said: “The Judges in the exercise of judicial functions should be immune from outside control and influence and intimidation. That independence is also necessary from the other branches of government and from private and partisan interest. Judges should be above suspicion and should not leave even a glimpse for that suspicion to occur.”
Tamil parties seek int’l intervention
The appointment of the three-member CoI under the leadership of a Supreme Court Judge, should be examined against a section of Parliament demanding international intervention, by way of a new Resolution adopted at the forthcoming 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), scheduled for Feb-March 2021. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and two Northern Province, based new political parties – Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK) have written to 47 members of the UNHRC demanding punitive action against Sri Lanka on the basis that the administration quit the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the previous yahapalana administration.
The three parties are represented in Parliament by 13 members. At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored the controversial resolution against itself, in Geneva, the TNA had 16 lawmakers, including two appointed members, with its leader, R. Sampanthan, enjoying the privileged status as the Opposition Leader, though, ironically, the breakaway Joint Opposition (JO) commanded the confidence of well over 50 lawmakers. So that was how democracy was practiced then!
With the obvious blessings of Western powers, the Tamil parties, in a letter to UNHRC members, requested (a) Member States urge, in the new resolution, that other organs of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (b) The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability, in Sri Lanka, back to the UN Secretary General, for action, as stated above (c) Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in the country and (d) Without detracting from that which has been stated in Point 1 (above), take steps to establish an evidence-gathering mechanism, similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM,) in relation to Syria, established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, with a strict time frame of 12 months duration.
The TNA-led political grouping, backed by a section of the civil society that also supported a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, are backing the latest initiative against Sri Lanka.
The Ontario Centre for Policy Research, Canada and London Initiative, the United Kingdom have, however rebutted anti-Sri Lanka allegations with a timely comprehensive report recently to the UNHRC, especially in response to the growing threat of a new resolution. The lead Researcher and the Chairman of the Committee that prepared the report, Dr. Neville Hewage, and the UK-based practicing lawyer, Jayaraj Palihawadana, should receive public appreciation for countering the Western strategy. Let the public know of such initiatives and exert pressure on political parties to take up the Geneva challenge, together with the government.
Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva is likely to suffer in the absence of coordinated action and the failure on the part of those responsible to get their act together to attack the foundation of lies concocted by interested parties, hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court. With the UNP’s humiliating rejection by the masses, at the last general election, in August 2020, the TNA-led grouping, in spite of differences as regards political strategy, both in and outside Parliament, is confident of its new game plan.
The Swiss plot
The Tamil grouping believes the return of the Rajapaksas is advantageous to their strategy. Sri Lanka would have been in bigger trouble if the Swiss project, meant to ruin Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, succeeded in Nov 2019. If not for war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s refusal to allow Switzerland to evacuate Embassy worker Garnier Francis, who claimed that she had been sexually abused by government agents inside a vehicle close to the Swiss Embassy, within days after him being elected the President. Had that diabolical plot clicked with her being evacuated to Switzerland, in a special air ambulance, that had been brought down as part of the plot, the country would have been under heavy pressure now. Thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa taking a tough stand on the matter, the Swiss plot went awry, much to the disappointment of those seeking to undermine the new administration. Investigations exposed those responsible for the diabolical propaganda offensive that had to be inquired into, taking into consideration unsubstantiated allegations directed at the SLPP presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a media conference, organized by the then yahapalana minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.
The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, will have to examine the overall campaign against Sri Lanka, without restricting its investigation in terms of the mandate received. It would be pertinent to mention Sri Lanka paid a huge price for not properly countering lies propagated by interested parties’ hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka before hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism. In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the President, with an overwhelming victory, over his nearest opponent, the same lot wanted Sri Lanka investigated by the international community.
Sri Lanka has pathetically failed to comprehend the threat, hence the absence of proper defence, in spite of some elected members of Parliament working against the country. The government’s failure has allowed the TNA, that had no qualms in recognizing the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in late 2001, and having being the mouthpiece of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation, to pursue a high profile strategy, detrimental to the country, while enjoying perks and privileges as a recognized political party.
The TNA-led campaign is part of an overall project meant to overwhelm Sri Lanka. The Swiss operation, if succeeded, could have impaired the Office of the President.
A wider examination of facts needed
Let us hope that the Justice Nawaz-led committee would examine all factors, pertaining to the accountability issue, though its primary objective seems simple. Their responsibility in terms of the statement issued by the President’s Office, is to examine the previous CoI and Committees and the implementation of their recommendations. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) chaired by the late Attorney General C.R. de Silva, examined the conflict. The LLRC was appointed in response to a study undertaken by UN Secy. General’s so-called Panel of Experts (PoE). The PoE report, released in March 2011, is the basis for all subsequent measures taken by the UN though Sri Lanka simply ignored the threat. In addition to the LLRC, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances (the report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances) examined the conflict. However, Sri Lanka cannot turn a blind eye to the PoE report, and related reports, as they remained the very basis of the Geneva initiatives, though the incumbent government quit the 30/1 resolution. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made the announcement on Feb 26, 2020 at the 43rd UNHRC sessions.
The government certainly owed an explanation why the appointment of the CoI to examine previous CoIs and Committees, was delayed till January 20, 2021. The continuing crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t be faulted for the government’s failure. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka continues to delay using Lord Naseby’s revelations, based on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) as well as revelations made by Wikileaks to counter UN lies. Lord Naseby, in an interview with the writer in Sept 2019, regretted Sri Lanka’s failure to exploit his disclosure, made in Oct 2017. The senior Conservative politician said that he was quite disappointed and surprised by Sri Lanka’s response to information provided by him. The British diplomatic cables obtained by Lord Naseby, following a legal wrangle with his government disputed the PoE’s primary allegation. The information provided by Lord Naseby, when examined together with wartime US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s explosive statement in 2011 (read US official’s defence of Sri Lankan military), exposed the UN lie.
The primary allegation in PoE on Sri Lanka alleged that at least 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In terms of the UN dictates, the accusations made against Sri Lanka by mystery accusers cannot be verified till 2031 due to a strange confidentiality clause. Where in the world do you get a system of justice where one is precluded from facing one’s accusers for 30 years, let alone challenge their specific allegations? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is regularly bashed by interested parties on the basis of unverified accusations. Wouldn’t it have been better if Sri Lanka made reference to this most unusual confidentiality clause that effectively prevented examination of allegations? Perhaps, Sri Lanka will take it up at least now, well over a decade after the PoE report, and seven years after the country ended up in the Geneva agenda.
Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.“
Key issues that needed CoI attention
In the absence of a cohesive strategy to counter UN lies, vested interests, both here and abroad, propagated canards against the country to varying degrees. Let me mention issues that had to be examined in the overall defence strategy: (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure, based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations cleared Sri Lanka of deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives, claimed by UN, and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so called Mannar mass graves during the yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent on the Mannar graves while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Geneva faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation.
The then Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.
Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran, now an MP and leader of TMTK, claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court Judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wigneswaran is on record as having said that a US medical team visiting Jaffna, at that time, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.
Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign, and well-funded by the West, to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution to suit the separatist agenda. Had they succeeded, Sri Lanka’s unitary status could have been done away through constitutional means against the backdrop of eradication of the LTTE’s conventional power.
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Japanese embassy and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund, previously known as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), on 16 March, 2023, issued a joint statement that dealt with the impact the developing political-economic-social crisis is having on the poor in Sri Lanka.
The statement focused on the suffering of the children and measures taken by UNICEF, in consultation with the Governments of Japan and Sri Lanka, to provide relief to the needy.
However, what really captured public attention was the declaration made by the Japanese Ambassador, in Colombo, Mizukoshi Hideak, that with the latest contribution, amounting to USD 1.8 mn, the total Japanese financial assistance, provided through UNICEF alone, exceeded USD 3.8 mn, since the beginning of last year. That is definitely a significant package provided through a single UN agency, particularly against the backdrop of the unceremonious cancellation of the Japan- funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, in late Sept., 2020, by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government.
The directive, in this regard, was issued on 21 Sept., 2020, by Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, in his capacity as Secretary to the President, to the then Transport Secretary, Monti Ranatunga. That move ruined Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan.
Whoever advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to terminate the project, without consulting Japan, as head of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the ruination of vital relationship with Tokyo. Had it not been the case, Japan, most probably, would have delivered a substantial assistance to Sri Lanka, at the onset of the ongoing unprecedented crisis.
Sri Lanka made a failed bid to secure as much as USD 3.5 bn loan from Japan, during the tenure of Sanjiv Gunasekara as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo. Gunasekara, a close associate of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned in the wake of the 09 May, 2022, violence, that gave a turbo boost to the campaign against his government.
Unlike Japan, India provided direct aid in various forms to Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with what became an insurmountable crisis to overcome on our own. India has repeatedly declared that the continuing assistance is in line with Premier Narendra Modi’s much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Sri Lanka received concessional credit facility, amounting to USD 1 bn, in March last year. In addition to that, by the second week of March this year, Sri Lanka received other lines of credit, worth over USD 3 bn. Therefore, the total Indian assistance is worth over USD 4 bn, a staggering amount as Sri Lanka’s debt before the Japanese and Indian interventions stood at over USD 53 bn. Indian intervention cannot be compared, under any circumstances, with assistance provided by any other country.
The Indian assistance is of immense importance as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after much deliberation, promised USD 2.9 bn over a period of four years. The delay on the part of China to provide an assurance as regards debt-restructuring support, hindered the finalization of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, creditors and IMF. Finally, China gave that assurance, in writing, early this month.
The situation was so precarious, Sri Lanka couldn’t have even provided the free text books that have been given, annually, to the student population ,from the time of the JRJ regime. Those who had been at the helm of political power, over the past three decades, to varying degrees, ruined the economy, and, by 2021/2022, Sri Lanka was unable to provide even the basic requirements, like cooking gas, kerosene, petrol, etc., as even remittances from our expatriate workers, which in the past amounted to about seven billion dollars per year, dropped drastically due to the illegal underground banking system, hawala/undiyal, hijacking much of it from the normal banks. The government didn’t have the means to provide school text books for the 2023 academic year. In consultation with India, of the USD 1 bn concessional credit facility, over USD 10 mn was utilized by the State Printing Corporation, and private importers, to procure printing paper and other material from India. India met 45% (four mn students) of the total requirement. Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay visited the SPC, on 09 March, 2023, to dispatch a consignment of textbooks to schools. Education Minister Dr. Susil Premjayantha joined Baglay. The Indian High Commission statement, issued two days later,, was aptly titled ‘India’s support for text books investment in Sri Lanka’s future.’
The government and the Opposition should be ashamed of their failure to provide for the children’s need.
Perhaps, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to examine the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy status. Decades of utterly irresponsible management of the economy, coupled with an explosive mixture of causes – waste, corruption and irregularities – caused the current crisis.
Political parties, represented in Parliament, are responsible for the continuing crisis, to varying degrees.
Controversy over ISBs
The Island discussed some of the issues at hand in last week’s midweek piece, headlined ‘All praise for Lanka’s saviours!
What Dr. Coomaraswamy didn’t say was that as the CB Governor, he was also directly responsible for the Yahapalana government borrowing a record USD 12.5 bn from the international bond market, at high interest rates, from private lenders, primarily in the West. So what did that government achieve with such huge borrowings? All that the Yahapalana regime achieved, with all that money, we cannot see, except to lay the foundation for the current debt crisis?
Our comment on the basis of recent claims that the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Coomaraswamy (2016-2019), only told one side of the truth, attracted responses from several parties, including the Central Bank.
Consequently, the writer discussed the borrowing of USD 12.5 bn, and related matters, and was told the following: First, it is important to point out that the Governor, Central Bank, has no authority to approve or undertake any borrowing on behalf of the government. The borrowing limit, in any given year, is set by Parliament. Therefore, the government cannot borrow beyond the limit set by Parliament. In addition, all external borrowing has to be approved by the Finance Minister, and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Governor and the CBSL only have an advisory role. On ISBs, they have marketing and issuance as additional responsibilities once the Cabinet approved the transaction.
It is also important to recognize that ISBs are only one channel for external commercial borrowings. Others include short-term SWAPs, foreign term loans/syndicated loans and external flows into government rupee securities. The article dealt with only one instrument, having ignored the switching that was undertaken during 2015-19 to increase the maturity and reduce the cost of foreign borrowing.
As regards the USD 10 bn increase in ISBs outstanding during 2015-19, USD 5 bn of this increase can be attributed to switching away from shorter term (one year or less) and more expensive SWAPs and highly volatile foreign portfolio investment (hot money) in Government rupee securities to longer term (5 and 10 years) and less costly ISBs. SWAPs were reduced from approximately USD 2.5 bn to USD 500 mn.
Volatile and foreign investment in government rupee securities was reduced from USD 3.5 bn to USD 600 mn. In addition, during the course of 2019, a second ISB of USD 2 bn was issued to create a stronger buffer of external reserves to address the inevitable increase in uncertainty going into elections due shortly thereafter. (The money required for 2019 had been raised through an ISB, issued in March 2019.)
So about USD 7 bn of the USD 10 bn increase in the stock of ISBs outstanding, during 2015-19 may be attributed to increasing the stability and reducing the cost of the ISBs outstanding by switching instruments and raising the buffer provided by external reserves prior to a period of uncertainty, associated with elections.
The remaining increase of USD 3 bn may be partly attributed to the fact that borrowing incurred earlier had not resulted in a sufficient increase and/or saving of foreign exchange. Hence money had to be borrowed to repay debt incurred earlier. In fact, Verite Research found that 89 percent of external debt, repaid during 2015-19, could be accounted for by liabilities incurred prior to 2015.
The adverse debt dynamics were recognized and the Medium Term Debt Management Strategy was published in April 2019 to chart the way to sustainability. In addition, the Active Liability Management Act (2018) was introduced to expand the tools available to the CBSL for managing external debt sustainably. The CBSL, as the economic adviser to the Government, also advocated that there should be a primary surplus in the budget and that non-debt creating inflows (such as exports, remittances, tourism proceeds, FDI, inflows into the CSE and government securities) should be increased to enhance the capacity to service debt while supporting the level of imports necessary to achieve the growth potential of the economy.
They also pointed out that only one of the ISBs, issued during 2015-19, has been settled to date. This amounted to USD 500mn. They expressed the view that it is not possible to sustain the argument that servicing ISBs, incurred during 2015-19 ,led to the standstill in debt repayments in April 2023.
Treasury bond scams and tax cuts
Sweeping tax concessions to the rich and reduction of VAT, that had been introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to encourage business in 2019/2020, escalated the financial crisis, leading to the declaration of the state of bankruptcy, two years later. No one in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s cabinet dared to challenge such far reaching tax concessions and VAT reduction.
How the loss of as much as Rs 600 bn in revenue, as alleged by the Opposition ,due to tax concessions and reduction of VAT, contributed to the current crisis, should be examined, also taking into consideration (1) Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb, 2015 and March 2016 at a time the CBSL has been under the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs (2) Enactment of new Foreign Exchange Act in 2017 in the wake of Treasury bond scams. Critics say the repealing of time-tested exchange control law that has been in place for decades paved the way for exporters to ‘park’ export proceeds overseas. Of the 225 MPs, 94 voted for the new law whereas 18 voted against. In spite of Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, taking up this issue, both in and outside Parliament, remedial measures hasn’t been taken, to date. The Finance Ministry owed an explanation as to how it intended to compel the exporters to bring back export proceeds (3) Continuing public-private sector partnership in corrupt practices, particularly mis-invoicing (under invoicing and over invoicing of imports/exports) (4) Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, has moved the Supreme Court against the Central Bank Bill. The Attorney-at-Law alleged that the new law violated Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution hence needing the approval of the people at a referendum. In addition to Gammanpila, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Jathika Nidahas Peramuna leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, moved the Supreme Court in terms of the Article 121 against the Bill titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka.’ Former JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe, on behalf of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, moved the Supreme Court in this regard.
A warning from Hanke
The country is in a bind. In spite of the execution of the agreement with the IMF later this month, the situation remains dicey. The absence of economic recovery plan continues to cause further instability.
Therefore, the government and the Opposition should seek a consensus on a national action plan, even if Local Government polls cannot be conducted in late April, regardless of the Supreme Court intervention.
Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics, at Johns Hopkins University, in the USA, recently issued a dire warning to Sri Lanka. Appearing on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box Asia,’ Prof. Hanke declared Sri Lanka needs institutional reforms in order to achieve long-term debt sustainability.
Referring to Sri Lanka and what was described as emerging markets (Argentina and Montenegro), where he played a key role in establishing new currency regime, former economic advisor to US President Ronald Reagan warned “Unless you change the institutions and the rules of the game, governing these countries, they’re always going to remain in the same … situation that they’ve been in for a long time.”
Prof. Hanke added: “In fact, most of the personalities, involved in Sri Lanka ,at the high level, are exactly the same as they’ve been for years. So nothing has changed.”
In other words, those who have ruined Sri Lanka are spearheading the economic recovery process. The American is spot on. Sri Lanka is in a pathetic situation. Those who had systematically brought Sri Lanka to its knees, by pursuing ill-fated policies, emerged as its saviours. That is the bitter truth. The role of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, needs to be examined. Those who have moved the Supreme Court against the Bill, titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka,’ have quite conveniently forgotten how the Yahapalana government, and Central Bank, twice perpetrated Treasury bond scams. What would have Prof. Hanke said if CNBC raised Treasury bonds scams during ‘Squawk Box Asia.’
If not for Deepa Seneviratne, the then head of Public Debt Department, Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s role couldn’t have been proved. Former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe said so at an event organized by the Colombo Municipal Council years ago.
Sri Lanka cannot forget Prof. Hanke’s remark in the CNBC programme. “You have to remember that we have a country that since 1965 has had 16 IMF programmes and they’ve all failed. You get temporary relief in anticipation of a bailout. But in the long run … none of these IMF programmes work.”
It would be pertinent to briefly examine how interested parties brazenly protected perpetrators of the Treasury bond scams.
Having named Mahendran as the Governor, regardless of the opposition from President Maithripala Sirisena, those planning to commit the first daylight robbery of the Central Bank moved Deepa Seneviratne to the Public Debt Department as its head, in spite of her not having had any previous experience in the particular division. It seems they had obviously felt comfortable in having a lady officer there they thought they could manipulate her to suit their need. But Seneviratne turned tables on the bond thieves by putting up a note to register her strong opposition to Mahendran’s move. She should have been rewarded for her fearless stand with at least a national honour if not an international one, even from bodies like the UN, the Transparency International, Amnesty International, etc. But it seems that even these international busy bodies have their own political angles.
It would be of pivotal importance to keep in mind that President Sirisena appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) in January 2017, about 10 months after the second robbery, and two years after the first.
The Commission comprised Justice K.T. Chitrasiri, the late Justice P S Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor General V. Kandasamy. Sumathipala Udugamsuriya functioned as its Secretary. CoI issued a devastating report that implicated Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in the Treasury bond scams.
President Sirisena went to the extent of dissolving Parliament, in June 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) tabling its report on the first bond scam. SLFP leader Sirisena owes an explanation. Justice Chitrasiri’s CoI didn’t inquire into that aspect. Sri Lanka’s response to waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement is baffling. Let me end this piece reminding how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) secured a substantial sponsorship from Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) deeply mired in a bond scam, in 2016, for the Law Asia Conference during the tenure of its then President Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC. The BASL never explained why it obtained PTL sponsorship even after the exposure of Treasury bond scams. That partnership also escaped the CoI. The rest is history.
Knowing what is now happening to the US economy with a string of bank failures and unprecedented bailouts, especially due to hoodoo economics it introduced in recent decades, like repeated quantitative easing (blindly printing trillions of dollars leading many to say the dollar is now only good as toilet paper) that has been practiced to ensure its world hegemony, the whole world might be hit with bank failures and even by a depression worse than the one that befell with the stock market crash of 1929. Already the contagion has spread to Europe with some leading banks there also requiring help.
Washington’s debt now stands at USD 31 trillion and climbing, but our own debt burden is still under USD 55 billion. So if we can get our exporters, who have stashed export earnings abroad, to bring them back, the picture here will not be as scary as it is made out to be. Even Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse has said that our export proceeds that have been parked overseas is in the region of USD 55 billion.
Soonwe will start receiving the IMF bailout, but our economic whiz kids have not done anything to plug the massive foreign exchange leak that has been freely draining foreign currency from the country, since the nineties, by way of private foreign exchange dealers who have been allowed to sell foreign exchange to any Tom, Dick and Harry, including drug dealers, to take their sales proceeds out of the country!
We would also like to ask the relevant authorities what they have done to recover monies stashed abroad by Lankans illegally that were exposed in great detail by the likes of Panama Papers and Pandora Papers.
A Miscellany of Thought
N. A. de S. Amaratunga (2022)
A Review by G. H. Peiris
I cannot claim to have the scholarly competence to place under critical scrutiny all items in this collection of writings authored by Professor N. A. de S. Amaratunga, and published in The Island from time to time since the early years of the present century. Accordingly, this ‘review’ is no more than an attempt to convey to a wide readership my gratitude for what I have learnt from Professor Amaratunga’s insights on a series of metaphysical and secular issues that have figured prominently during the recent past in the arena of debate and discussion among our intellectual elite, my appreciation of his rational perceptions and his subtle banter in responding to bizarre elements in our public affairs.
As a brief introduction to the author I should state that Professor Amaratunga’s career record is featured by several decades of distinguished and dedicated service to the University of Peradeniya in teaching, research and clinical work. Acquiring advanced skills in the field of ‘Maxillofacial Surgery’, he has provided physical and psychological relief of life-long impact to thousands of patients. He is also credited to have trained several of his junior colleagues in the Faculty of Dental Science, had has served as its Dean. The offer he received from the Peradeniya University of the Prestigious Award of the ‘Degree of Doctor of Science’ is testimony to his eminence in Sri Lanka’s community of scholars and professionals.
What probably enhances Professor Amaratunga’s status among the intellectual elite of Sri Lanka is the fact that his talents, interests, and concerns have not been confined to professional expertise. He has authored several creative writings in Sinhala which the cognoscenti place at par with the best works of that genre. More relevant than all else to the present ‘commentary’ is his capacity for elucidating the essence of certain complex metaphysical issues – especially those of Buddhist philosophy ‒ with the same clarity of thought seen in his contributions to media forums on current affairs.
In his ‘Introduction’ to the volume Professor Amaratunga makes a categorical statement regarding the paradigmatic guidelines of his ‘thoughts’. They are rendered below in abridged form as follows:
(a) The distinctive elements of our island civilisation are derived from Theravada Buddhism and the Sinhala language.
(b) The leadership of Sri Lanka’s mainstream politics since the termination of British rule in the mid-20th century has continued to be impaired by a cultural duality – on one side of the divide, the ‘alienated’ whose behavioural values and norms bear the imprint of subservience to values prescribed by the ‘West’, and, on the other side, those who treasure our civilisational heritage and understand the needs and aspirations of the majority of our people.
(c) His standpoint is that of an ardent ‘nationalist’, in the sense that he is unequivocally committed to safeguarding and promoting Sri Lanka’s national interests.
On literature, Professor Amaratunga adds that he is inclined towards the need for ‘social relevance’ of the fine arts, and believes that the paradigm of ars gratia artis (‘art for art’s sake’) is inappropriate for Sri Lanka, especially in creative writing.
The ‘miscellany’ of this volume is structured to constitute four ‘Sections’ – titled as: 1. ‘Literature and Culture’; 2. ‘Religion’; 3. ‘Economy’; and 4. ‘Health’. The first two of these ‘Sections’, consist respectively of 25 and 19 essays of unequal length. In these ‘Sections’ the reader could pick out from different points of the temporal sequence in which they are arranged items that constitute a mutually cohesive group from the viewpoint of content. For example, in the first ‘Section’, there are six such items, each serving as a contribution to an ongoing media debate, but when considered as a group would be seen as an invaluable enrichment of understanding on a significant feature of the educational system of the country – such as, say, the impact of the nation-wide ‘Fifth-standard Scholarship Examination’ or ‘The general decline of standards in higher education’. Likewise, in the total of 18 articles in ‘Section’ 2, thirteen items could be considered as a mutually cohesive group of thoughts that illuminates certain vitally significant aspect of Buddha Dhamma and Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka.
The forgoing observations do not detract from the intrinsic value of the short contributions referred to. Indeed, in my amateur assessment, in Section 1, the items titled ‘Quality of University Education’, ‘Purpose of the Novel and its Appraisal’, and the twin items titled ‘Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’; and in Section 2, ‘Truth in Buddhism and Realism in Literature’, and ‘Mind, Matter and Nirvana in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism’, are examples of the author’s extraordinary depth of understanding and his skill of disseminating that knowledge in a lucid form.
It is in the 3rd Section of the volume titled ‘Politics’ that the real ‘miscellany’ of Thought is found, consisting of 78 items, and accounting for well over half the total page-length of the volume. Since they have been presented in a chronological order ‒ with the first item published in 2001, and the last in 2021‒ the list of items, at first glance, looks like a total mess which, indeed, is how our politics look. But a closer scrutiny show that all items in this list could be placed in one or another of 6 ‘Sub-Sections’ titled as ‘Ethnic Relations’, ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Electoral Politics’, ‘Development Plans and Projects’, and ‘Constitutional Issues’, with the chronology of the list providing the vicissitudinous background of each contribution which Professor Amaratunga has made, and each discussion or debate in which he has participated.
Once again I should emphasise that foregoing observation does not imply that the ‘Thoughts’ in this section, read individually, are either uninteresting or irrelevant to our present concerns. On the contrary they offer ideal readings both as reminders of the volatile scenarios we have passed though during the past two decades as well as the unshakable faith our politicians appear to have on the widespread dementia among the voter-population and on their own ability to hoodwink the electorate. Professor Amaratunga’s thoughts could re-kindle fading memories, especially on repeated failures to fulfil campaign pledges, the large-scale losses due to financial malpractices, the allegations of ‘war-crimes’ and of ‘violation of human rights’ in the counter-attack by the major powers of the North Atlantic alliance in retaliation to Sri Lanka’s close relations with the People’s Republic of China, the ingredients of success in the US-sponsored ‘regime change’ effort culminating in the establishment in 2015 of a puppet government in Colombo, the betrayal of our national interests by our own self-seeking representatives at the protracted Geneva inquisitions, the constitutional fiasco of August 2018, the euphoric Gotabhaya victory about a year thereafter, and then, the stunning exposure by the pandemic of the fundamental weakness of our dependent economy.
In the 4th Section of the volume titled ‘Health’, most of the items are devoted to diverse experiences witnessed globally and in Sri Lanka during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in an unconventional manner in the sense that they emphasise significant aspects that have not received adequate attention in the analytical writings on the pandemic. In my view the most significant issue highlighted in this section is the need for Sri Lanka to adopt development strategies towards self-reliance, especially in the availability of medicinal drugs and on food-security. Implicit in several items of this section is a forewarning of the risks entailed in the pursuit of development policies that enhance Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic dependence on the major global and regional powers.
Many items in this miscellany of thoughts contain a prominent element of dissent and disagreement with other participants in the media debates and discussion for which The Island has served as a major forum. But that dissent has all along been featured by a laudable sense of “civilised intelligence”. As a professional whose skills have an intense demand, his interests and concerns have not remained confined to his professional expertise – a feature often seen among other ‘specialists’ including those of the university community.
This volume is, first of all, a demonstration of intense and well-informed concern on a wide range of issues of vital importance to Sri Lanka. Had that quality been more widespread it is unlikely that those earning six-figure incomes would threaten collective action to bring the economy to a standstill to express their dissatisfaction on a relatively marginal erosion of monthly emoluments at a time of unprecedented national crisis, attempting to conceal their avarice with a façade of safeguarding democracy, or eliminating public corruption, or on grounds of their capacity to earn higher incomes outside Sri Lanka.
Yet another exemplary feature I discern in this ‘Miscellany of Thoughts’ is that its contents are not angry knee-jerk reactions when provoked by thoughts different to his own. Professor Amaratunga’s dissent is entirely free of the crude clashes often seen in the so-called social media. Nor are his thoughts based on a hurried consumption of internet ‘short-eats’. In his thoughts that extend beyond brief corrective interjections of ‘common sense’, what we see is an extraordinary depth of knowledge acquired through serious reading and a thorough understanding of the issues on which he had focused.
Loneliness of the Bottom Half
By Lynn Ockersz
There you crouch by your hearth,
Seeing your fires sputtering out;
Your hopes of a bubbly pot of rice,
Ending in inflationary smoke spirals,
Leaving you with the painful thought,
That your dignity as mother and wife,
Is gravely harmed and beyond repair,
For, a turn of events not of your making,
Has reduced you and yours to penury,
So much for that Trickle-down Theory,
That Pundits say will end your misery,
But they tell you not to stop dreaming,
Because soon you will be bailed out,
Of your State of longsuffering;
Thanks to Princely tips from ancient Italy.
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