by Rohan Wijesinha & Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya
“The state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”
Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General, December 2020
In Sri Lanka, the current Infection Fatality Ratio (IFR) for Covid-19, as per official figures in media reports, stands at approximately 0.5%. That is 1 in every 200 people who contract the virus sadly passes away. Yet, hope is on the way. The amazing development of vaccines, in record time, may soon help contain this pandemic. We caused it, and we will soon have the means to cure it
On the other hand, if we continue to destroy our forests, irreparably damage our climate, pollute the land and sea, and jeopardize the country’s water catchment areas, then human mortality would not be contained at just 0.5%. Instead, in time, we would all, 100% of us, face extinction. We will take most other species into oblivion with us, as well. At the current rate of destruction, it is not inconceivable that this may happen in less than a hundred years from now. Is this the legacy that we wish to leave our grandchildren, the end game of life? They will curse us for it.
Visions of Prosperity
When old men hold the reins of power, their vision is often limited by the horizon of their remaining lifespan. A year ago, however, the country overwhelmingly elected a leader who though from political clan, was not a politician. He served the country as a soldier and, famously, as an arch military strategist, and was one of those mainly responsible for the ending of the War, and of the peace we now enjoy. This strategy, this understanding from a different perspective, seemed to come to the fore in his Election Manifesto in which the now President, His Excellency Gotabaya Rajapkase, promised that decision-making would, in future, be based on the findings of science, and of those qualified with the necessary knowledge and experience to make such assessments. This was sweet sound to those of us who had got so used to living on the whims of political expediency, corruption and maladministration. Of particular joy to the conservation community was, among others, the following undertakings,
The sustainability of land and water resource management will be ensured while taking proactive measures to increase national forest cover by 30%. Appropriate and definitive measures will be taken to identify areas for reforestation purposes…
• A strong framework will be established for the protection of national heritage of our country such as elephants, all other wild animals, and birds.
The Election Manifesto of His Excellency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka (Chapter 8, Pages 62 & 73)
Sadly, just over one year into his Presidency and a few months after his preferred political party was elected to Government in a landslide vote of the people, mainly to enable the President’s stated policies to take effect, these promises are beginning to wear thin. Reports appear daily in the media of wide scale deforestation taking place throughout the country, elephants continue to be killed and, now, leopard are suffering the same horrible fate, in greater number than before, and with equally brutal methods of slaughter being used. It seems that those of his Government do not follow the President’s ideals, or have other objectives of their own.
What is the true purpose?
This breaking of promise is never better demonstrated than in the Government’s latest initiative with regard to its management of ‘other State Forests’ which, it misguidedly, refers to as ‘Residual Forests’ thereby illustrating the lack of ‘science’ in its decision-making processes. A Ministry Circular MWFC/1/2020, issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife, reversed a decision taken under Circular 5/2001 to protect unregulated forests by placing them under the Forest Department. Apparently, Circular MWFC/1/2020 is to enable development of land that is not considered environmentally sensitive.
In 2006, the Government issued Circular 6/2006 which proposed the release of barren land and lands without forest cover for development. This circular ensures that all land that is not forested can be used for development. Since the Government felt that amendments to Circulars 5/2001 and 6/2006 were needed, and the enactment of Circular MWFC/1/2020 was necessary, it gives rise to a concern that denuding existing forests for development may be the real objective of Circular MWFC/1/2020.
There are some good aspects to this Circular, however, especially Clause 4.1 which states that
Care should be taken not to select lands belonging to the following categories for the purpose of releasing lands for economic and other productive purposes under this Circular.
i. Ecologically sensitive land areas such as rivers and streams
ii. Areas with steep slopes
iii. Feeder areas
iv. Wild elephant migration landmarks
v. Areas of historical cultural and archaeological significance
vi. Proposed sites for the task of conserving biodiversity in line with the environmental policies contained in the ” Vision of Prosperity ” and to achieve the objectives of enhancing forest cover.
vii. Areas to be conserved for the purpose of conservation of endangered plant and animal species
viii. Areas identified for future development activities of the government.
ix. Areas not suitable for development activities on other special grounds
x. Proposed areas for future community participation / social forestry use
Science or politics?
If the above exemptions are implemented in spirit of word, the only land available for development will be barren or without forest cover, because exemption (vi) above states that “…proposed sites for the task of conserving biodiversity in line with the environmental policies contained in the “Vision of Prosperity” and to achieve objectives of forest cover”, virtually eliminating any further forest clearance. Therefore, the first question we have is what was the necessity to introduce Circular MWFC/1/2020 as the two existing Circulars are adequate for achieving what the Government states it wants to do? Since the Government feels that Circular MWFC/1/2020 is needed, it begs the question of whether there is an ulterior motive of large scale deforestation despite Clause 4.1?
Let us give the Government the benefit of the doubt, and assume that Clause 4.1 and its 10 exemptions will be used to protect environmentally sensitive areas from development, then this is where logic ends for who is to make this decision? It appears that the District and Divisional Secretaries are to provide land for ‘economic and other productive purposes’ in consultation with the local Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and FD officials prior to releasing the lands, but how independent will this process be? It is well known that government officials are coerced into permitting questionable activities, particularly within environmentally sensitive areas, at meetings where local politicians are present. We have already seen this on public view when a Minister berated officials of an agency under his jurisdiction for upholding the Law, the Law that governs the very Ministry he has responsibility for.
No Ecosystem Services, no development
Future development in Sri Lanka relies on the availability of ecosystem services, which are services such as water availability, fertile soils, climate control and weather, to name a few. Every single one of us realizes that without such ecosystem services, Sri Lanka’s development will be hindered. So how do we ensure continued ecosystem services, for development in Sri Lanka? For that, we need to protect our ecosystems, which include forests and biodiversity. There is an abundance of scientific evidence which shows that higher the biodiversity, higher the ability of ecosystems to provide the services needed for development. So the rational way to ensure sustainable development of a country is to protect its biodiversity and ensure diverse ecosystems exist for the provision of much needed ecosystems services.
If His Excellency the President’s election promises were to be followed to the letter, that of science and the ‘qualified’ leading the way, then these same objectives could have been achieved under the continued jurisdiction of the FD and with an ‘Independent Body’ of capable and independent scientists and researchers appointed to assess the merits of releasing these lands prior to the final decision being made. Of course, this latter process will take additional time. However, in the best interests of the future of this country would it not be best to take such determined decision before committing to an irreversible process? Why the rush?
The wealth of our wildlife
A further welcome statement in the President’s Manifesto was the understanding of the enormous economic value wildlife earns, and can earn, for this country if properly protected and managed.
The protection of biodiversity does not only mean conservation. It is also a way to improve the national economy. Biodiversity will be incorporated into tourism, education and cultural events in a planned and systematic manner in order to boost the economy.
The Election Manifesto of His Excellency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the President of Sri Lanka (Chapter 8, Page 64)
With the combined effects of deforestation, the continued killing of wild animals, and the blatant violations of the Laws of this country, there is unlikely to be any substantial populations of wildlife remaining for the President to see his vision see fruition. Human – Elephant Conflict (HEC) reached record figures in 2019, and with the ‘Other State Forests’ hosting approximately 70% of the ranges of wild elephants, this number will increase substantially in the future too. This will prove a huge blow to the future economy of this country as the President’s prescience was argued for in a recent economic analysis of the value of wild animals, in which it concluded that
“…the total revenue that a single elephant can generate is immense – $11mn over its lifetime to our hotels, resorts, airlines, travel companies, and – potentially – local economies.
Guardian of All
His Excellency the President promised great change and this inspired the people of this country to give him their fullest support to enable this to happen. It is fervently hoped that he has not lost that vision and at the end of his tenure of office leave a legacy for coming generations to venerate, especially a future in which they enjoy clean air to breathe, fresh water to drink, food from well-watered lands, and in accordance with the rich cultural traditions of this land, be seen as a leader who understood that “…the land belongs to the people and all other beings…” of which he was the Guardian.
“Human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos. But that means human action can solve it.”
Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary-General
Ways to shed pounds after 40
By Dr Ramisha Maliha
It might be difficult to lose weight after the age of 40. Slowing metabolism, and a decrease in daily physical activity, can lead to weight gain if these biological changes are not matched with a corresponding reduction in dietary calories. Still, shedding pounds, after age 40, is not a hopeless endeavour. Here are a few ways to tackle mid-life weight loss.
Over 40s, may find it easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Changes in activity, diet, hormones and fat storage can all have a role. But a few simple steps may help you slim down.
Eat your fruits and veggies
Halve your plate at each meal. Green produce has more nutrients and less fat and calories than meat, dairy, or grains. It may help you feel full when eating less. Apples and berries replace high-fat or high-sugar snacks.
Do not skip breakfast
Oatmeal or whole wheat toast, with fruit, is recommended for breakfast. It can curb midmorning hunger that leads to unhealthy grab-and-go or lunch overeating. Small meals, or snacks, every few hours, can control your appetite.
Eat less at night
If you consume most of your daily calories before 3PM, you may lose more weight than if you eat a large meal later. But what you eat is still more important than when you eat it.
Cook healthy meals
A lot of extra fat and calories can come from the way you prepare food. Instead of frying, baking, or broiling food. Avoid indulging in fried and creamy foods.Do not make a second tripAs you age, you become less active and need fewer calories. To lose weight, reduce your calorie intake. A food diary or app can help you track calories and eat less.
When you are busy with work, children, and life, you may be tempted to eat on the go or multitask. If you do not focus on your food, you will soon overeat and be hungry again. At mealtime, focus on your plate, not your TV or computer. This helps your brain recognise fullness.
Lay off the soda
Switch to water if you drink sugar-sweetened coffee, tea, soft drinks, or energy drinks. Your sugary drinks can cause weight gain and diabetes.
Cut back on alcohol
Not all beer bellies are alcohol-related. Alcohol can contribute to middle-age “spare tires.” A glass of beer or wine has 150 calories, which adds up quickly. Plus, alcohol makes you hungry, so you may eat more.
Make time for exercise
Many 40-somethings don’t have time to exercise between desk jobs, commuting, and family activities. At least 2½ hours of moderate physical activity (such as brisk walking or light yard work) is crucial for weight and health. Prioritise calendar times.
Following age 40, people lose muscle naturally, especially women after menopause. Because muscle consumes more calories than fat, it can decrease your metabolism and make losing weight more difficult. Lifting weights or performing body-weight workouts such as push-ups and squats at least twice a week might help you keep those muscles.
Relax, do not stress
Stress might increase your tendency to overeat unhealthy foods and make it more difficult for your body to break down fat. Yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going on a stroll, or reading a good book are all good options. Everyone’s stress reduction needs are different, so figure out what works best for you.
Get good sleep
After the age of 40, a variety of factors can disrupt your sleep, including health issues, stress, drugs, and, for women, menopause. On the other hand, people who do not get enough sleep are more prone to acquire weight. If you do not get enough sleep because you are too busy or anxious, attempt to adjust your behaviours and get into a pattern.
Have your thyroid checked
If you eat well and exercise consistently but still cannot lose weight, your thyroid may be malfunctioning. This affects roughly five percent of the population, with women and persons over 60 being the most vulnerable. It can induce weariness, joint or muscular discomfort, and depression, in addition to weight gain. Medications can assist, so get it tested if you suspect there is a problem.
Many people find that losing weight with others is easier than losing weight alone. For example, you may enter a weight-loss contest at work, join a social media group, or invite a friend to join you for early-morning walks or gym courses. Other people who share your goals can hold you accountable and encourage you as you improve.
If you are having trouble meeting your weight-loss goals after age 40, a careful observation of lifestyle and consideration of the above list can help towards losing weight in your 40s.
(The Daily Star/ANN)
National Defence College of Sri Lanka
I was invited to deliver a lecture at the Diners Club of the National Defence College (NDC), the highest Defence learning establishment of Sri Lanka, by its Commandant, Major General Amal Karunasekara, highly decorated officer from the Sri Lanka Light Infantry. Our inaugural NDC course started on 14 November, 2021, and 14 senior officers from the Army, seven from the Navy, six from the Air Force and four from the Police took part in the one-year-long course.
I was very happy about the invitation, as the Chief of Defence Staff, in 2017 to 2019, I was involved in securing this mansion, known as ‘Mumtaz Mahal,’ Colombo 03 the former official residence of the Speaker of Parliament, from 1948 to 2000, until a new official residence for the Speaker was built, close to the Parliament. From year 2000, this mansion, located on a land extending up to the Marine Drive, from the Galle Road, had been neglected, and when the Defence Ministry acquired it for establishing the NDC, it was badly in need of repairs. Further, the once beautiful garden had been used as a junk yard of the Presidential Secretariet, which owns the property.
It was great an achievement by the Defence Secretary and the CDS, at that time (2016), to secure this invaluable property, in the heart of Colombo’s residential area, especially when all three services were losing their prime land, in Colombo, and moving out of Colombo, to Akuregoda, including their Headquarters.
The task of repairing the building, and to bring it back to the previous glory, was vasted upon the Navy Civil Engineering Department and they did a wonderful job, in spite of the work getting delayed, due to lack of funds. The Air Force took the responsibility of landscaping.
‘Mumtaz Mahal’ was built by Mr Mohomad Hussain, well known businessman, in 1928. He commissioned well known architect, at that time, Homi Billimoria, who designed the Colombo Town Hall. This was an Italian design house where Count de Mauny was commissioned to the design garden and furniture.
On a suggestion made by Hubert Sri Nissanka,QC ( a founding member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party), a close friend of Mr Hussain, the mansion was named, under the name of his youngest daughter Mumtaz. History says the overseas business of Mr Hussain was badly affected, during the Great Depression, and he hired the mansion to the French government, in 1943, and the French Consul occupied it till the start of the Second World War. During War, the mansion was sold to the government and, in 1943, the Governor General of Ceylon at that time, Vice Admiral Godfrey Layton, Commander-in-Chief, occupied it as his residence, fearing that the Japanese may bomb the Governor General House, in Fort.
During interactions with our new President, at Security Council meetings, when he was PM and I was CDS, he mentioned some of these historical details ,and the War Cabinet, during World War Two, under Vice Admiral Layton, has met in this Mansion, in the room which is the present day auditorium.
My lecture heading was Sri Lanka and Indo-Pacific Maritime Strategies and extracts from the lecture are given below.
The former U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander, Admiral Harry Harris, delivering his keynote speech at the Galle Dialogue 2016, attributed Sri Lanka’s strategic importance to the US on three factors; “Location, location and location”.
Book cover by Shivshankar Menon
These words by Admiral Harris amply highlight the geopolitical importance of Sri Lanka in the Indo-Pacific region and in the global context. Former Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) and Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, in his book Choices, described Sri Lanka as a permanent aircraft carrier for India, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Though this claim could politically be contentious, it transpires a geopolitical reality of the region. It is no secret that other global powers, like China and Russia, also look at Sri Lanka through a similar geopolitical lens. On the other hand, this island nation is also located amidst major sea routes in the world; just a few miles South of the Dondra head lighthouse, over 120 ships pass daily, carrying goods upon which the health of global markets depend.
In this context, it is essential for Sri Lanka to hold a pragmatic policy on strategic defence diplomacy engagements with regional and global superpowers while ensuring its sovereignty and integrity is preserved all the while respecting the national foreign policy stance of remaining non-aligned and neutral. Thus, defence diplomacy should be a considerable concern of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy.
What is Defence Diplomacy? It refers to the pursuit of foreign policy objectives through the peaceful deployment of defence resources and capabilities.
In the post-Cold War period, western defence establishments, led by the UK, created a new international security arrangement, focused on defence diplomacy. Although it originated many centuries, before the world wars, defence diplomacy is now used successfully by both the global West and the developing South to further national strategic and security interests.
The work of defence diplomacy is not limited to ‘track-one diplomacy’ (official government-led diplomacy) engagements such as defence / military attaches/ advisors at diplomatic missions abroad. Engagements, such as personnel exchanges, bilateral meetings, staff talks, training, exercises (air, land and naval), regional defence forums and ships / aircraft visits are also key in fostering track-II diplomatic engagements to bolster defence diplomacy.
Some experts note these extended engagements can be considered one of the best strategies in regional and global conflict prevention, since these interactions would enhance understanding, while diluting misconceptions between nation states.
Sri Lanka’s position at the centre of the Indian Ocean makes it an important maritime hub. The island nation’s deepwater harbours, relatively peaceful environment and the democratic governing system, have been the main attractions for many countries with strategic interests in the Indian Ocean.
Empty oil tankers sail from the East to the West to replenish, while the products from Japan, China and South Korea sail to Europe, the Gulf and Indian markets, through the major maritime routes across which Sri Lanka falls, thrusting this island nation into the heart of the global economy. But the importance of the location is not limited to economic gains; the strategic significance of Sri Lanka’s ports, due to their access to some of the key regions of the world, has garnered the attention of the world.
The popular belief is that China may soon become the most powerful global superpower. But I argue otherwise mainly due to four main factors.
·USA is still the global economic giant; its GDP still exceeds that of China by a marked difference
=The USA still dominates in terms of global military strength ranking – China comes in third
=The USA is the only country that has actively engaged in strategic areas of the six regions in the world, with its Army, Navy, Airforce and Marines deployed in all these six regions. No other country has that capability of already deployed combating forces.
=The US Navy has 11 aircraft carriers for its power projection out of the world’s 43 active aircraft carriers, but China has only two in active service while a third is being manufactured. Therefore, China has a long way to go to become a global superpower even mainly from the defence perspective.
But, one could easily argue on the fact that China is also fast aspiring to become a global superpower through a different strategy. Its overseas investments, mainly on constructions of harbors and ports as well as also ship/submarine building programs are impressive new tactics in achieving maritime prowess mainly in the southern hemisphere of the globe. Being a heavy dependant on energy supply from the Gulf to keep its economy afloat, China has two strategies in dominating the Indian Ocean, which has now become its lifeline.
The first is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2013 while speaking to the Indonesian Parliament. The BRI has now become China’s ambitious foreign policy objective for the 21st century. It’s a vision encompasses over 60 countries with a combined population of over four billion people throughout Asia, Central Asia, Indian Ocean Littoral and Europe. Sri Lanka is a major stakeholder in this BRI initiative.
China’s second strategy is not announced by China but remains a geographical hypothesis projected by the US and other western researchers in 2004 – the ‘String of Pearls’. The term refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial maritime facilities (harbors and ports) along its sea lines of communication, which extends from mainland China to the port of Sudan in the Horn of Africa. The US and Indian strategists claim that the Colombo and Hambantota harbours where Chinese presence and investments are highly visible are major parts of this strategy. Of course, China denies this hypothesis and claims that those engagements are mere investments through bilateral arrangements and insists they have nothing to do with its military interests. Nevertheless, we noticed a concerning narrative even in Sri Lanka with regard to the Chinese military presence at Hambantota port during its initial stage which was vehemently denied by both governments of Sri Lanka and China.
In this context, one can notice several defence and maritime alliances are emerging in a bid to contain China, mainly due to its aforesaid two-pronged developments. One such regional collaborative defence response is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – a strategic dialogue between the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The leaders of these four nations met for the first time in Washington DC in September 2021. Among these four players, Australia has adopted a much more aggressive posture, a few weeks ago in signing the AUKUS (Australia, UK and US) pact, which allows Australia to develop nuclear submarines. Though it is not publicly announced, it is clear this move is to operate in the Indian Ocean against the Chinese presence. However, this AUKUS deal did not go well due to objections from many traditional allies like France and NATO.
On the other hand, the US, Japan and India have separate collective Indo- Pacific strategies to respond to China. , outlines a strategic plan for the country’s defence interests and has awarded a special place to Sri Lanka. Accordingly, a Defence Adviser to the Australian High Commission in Colombo was appointed three years ago. It shows that our Defence diplomacy with Australia is also becoming a higher priority in our bilateral diplomatic agenda.
In this context, balancing the existing supremacy of the US and the emerging powers such as China mainly through defence diplomacy has become one of the most important aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. We may learn from Singapore, which presently serves as a logistics hub for all US Navy ships. Providing logistic support to warship visits is also a very lucrative business. It is noteworthy to mention the fact that security and stability of a country is extremely important for foreign warship visits.
Another concerning factor is the influence by our neighbor India, which does not want Sri Lanka to become a playground for its rival superpowers. Furthermore, Colombo harbour is an extremely important venue to India where 60 percent of its containerized cargo transshipments are handled. Last week, we showed the World that even the largest container-carrying ship in the world can enter and load/unload at Colombo harbour, showing promise and capacity as one of the most important ports in the world.
The most important aim of India’s foreign policy is to become a permanent member at the UN Security Council. Indian Foreign policy is said to be influenced by the teachings of Kautilya’s Arthashasthra – a statecraft treatise written by the ancient Indian philosopher and royal advisor to Emperor Chandraguptha Maurya in the 4th Century BCE.
Under whatever circumstances, Sri Lanka should be cautious to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the security interests of India. The closest neighbor is the most important player even in our domestic lives and that argument is even greatly applicable in a country’s foreign policy formation. Next door neighbor is the fastest respondent when you are in danger or in crisis than allies thousand kilometers away and recent incidents such as the Xpress Pearl disaster have taught us that. Therefore, it may be a lesson well-remembered by Sri Lanka in deploying its foreign policy and defense diplomacy strategies in the age of the Indo-Pacific.
Azdak’s Justice: On governance, executive presidency and people’s democracy
by Sivamohan Sumathy
The Aragalaya, Porattam, Struggle is a truly people-based movement. It is messy, diverse and hugely contradictory in the views expressed, positions held. It cuts across classes, and at the same time, represents the weakest and the most oppressed. It is truly representative, on a mass scale of people’s dissent and consent. The materiality and vocalness of the Aragalaya ask for the broadest possible representation in governance. It militates against the rule of a single person, the cult like figure of the Executive President, who has far reaching, arbitrary powers.
The Executive Presidency: History
In our 74-year history as a post-colonial country, we have been living with the Executive Presidency for far longer than the Westminster model of political structure. Yet, reform of the Executive Presidency or its abolishment has been one of the key issues at almost every election and attempts at constitutional reform. The key feature of the Executive Presidency is that arbitrary powers are centred on a single political figure, lending itself to authoritarianism, and as Jayampathy Wickramratne points out, Gaullism. What it means is the near creation of a cult like charismatic figure, with power vested in the aura, the demeanour and the political stamina of a single figure. Conversely, such a focus on a single figure, has also made that office, that position a relatively unstable one, a lofty but lonely office, without equals and at the same time, without friends. As Deepika Udagama stated in the Kuppi Webinar recently, the Executive President has no place like the parliament, or the company of other parliamentarians to parley, and finesse one’s moves, where discussion could take place, feedback enjoyed. The Executive Presidency in our country has made for the destabilisation of the same office which we seem to think is the strongest and the most powerful position. So, we are also looking at a paradox, one that is not uncommon, alas.
In his series of articles in The Island, Jayampathy Wickramaratne quite cogently argued the case for why the office should be abolished. It has to be said though that all the ills of state governance cannot be laid at the feet of the Executive Presidency. In fact, both Wickramaratne and Udagama argue that centralisation of the state commences with the first Republican constitution of 1972, and not with the ’78 second republican one. The unitary state, and the clause that grants Buddhism the foremost place and the enshrinement of Sinhala as the only official language sealing the pronouncement of “Sinhala Only”, as Wickramaratne argues, sets the constitution off on the path of the centralised state.
Executive Presidency and political society
With the inauguration of the Executive Presidency, the key term of negotiation within political society shifted from a focus on Parties, characterised by lateral level relations, rank and file lobbying, distinctive ideological preoccupations, political constituencies, and mobilisation by activists with their strong ideological, familial and community based bonds TO a politics centred on figures, even at the lower levels. Firstly, it strengthened a politics of patronage (eclipsing other modes of mobilisation), a politics centred on individuals or a set of individuals known for their proximity to central authorities, secondly, instituted links between the centre and the periphery, or authority and the people, not through the MPs and political organisations, but organisations that undermined MPs, and other political bodies, such as Viyathmaga or Divi Neguma – Livelihood Upliftment programme, and thirdly, instituted a politics of disbursement of perks, favours and positions, and a simultaneous undermining of welfare measures. This shift helped create a group of people at the bottom beholden to those at the top. So, from Top to Bottom, lines of engagement between political figures and the people became lines of patronage, centred on individual figures, families of individuals. At its worst, and that’s what we have now come to experience with shock, is a total disconnect between the MPs, and members of local political bodies, and the people. So, while parties continue to function, they are stepping stones to power and the corrupting influence of governance, and not of building cohesive social groups at the village or town level. We also see a shift from understanding political governance as a democratic act to understanding governance as an abstract concept and as power sharing; not as devolution of power to the lower levels of political society. It is within this framework, the 13th Amendment, and the Provincial Councils, came to function and function rather badly. Patronage politics were further strengthened and devolution of power was never really about devolution.
The current juncture
We are in the midst of a revolution. We may not think so, but we need to understand it as a revolution. But like at all revolutionary times, there could be a pull- back, a roll- back. Only a few weeks ago, the violent and authoritarian political forces that were at bay, have regrouped at the top. Violent attacks on protestors and arbitrary arrests have recommenced. There are incipient signs of people being disappeared – again, after a hiatus of some years, post war. It is corrupt business as usual in the parliament. With shock we realise the scale of the powers of the Executive Presidency.
Two aspects of the political dominate our discussion and inform our anxieties. The economy and governance. Where governance is concerned, the Executive Presidency is what requires immediate and urgent attending to. It needs to be abolished. This call enables us, the people, to reconnect to the political, governance, authority at the deepest level possible today. It is a revolutionary call for democratic change.
Beyond the Executive Presidency and Parliamentary Democracy
It may be dangerous to stop at the call to abolish Executive Presidency. We need to assure ourselves and assume certain positions of power for ourselves in deliberate ways. For parliament to be truly representative, there have to be initiatives and processes that complement parliamentary deomocracy within both political and civil society. I flag some of the moves that could lead to participatory democracy in a more direct fashion.
To abolish the Executive Presidency, we need constitutional reform. However, we need to go beyond that and think of constitution-making as a simultaneous process. It is a process in which all peoples of Sri Lanka should be engaged at some level. At the moment, we are totally engulfed by the legalist understanding of the constitution, constitutional provisions and what is possible and not possible. Constitution making shall centre people’s concerns, not merely as rights, as we do now, but as polities and as direct participation in governance.
Modes of participatory democracy have to be explored in all seriousness. We have already experimented with independent councils and commissions, most of which have been abolished by the 20th Amendment. But even if they are to be brought back, and are to be supported by Expert Committees, as has been suggested elsewhere, they hardly represent subaltern agency. In addition to the commissions, we need to think about mechanisms like People’s Councils and a Shadow Government.
People’s council as an idea has gained much traction, but one is keenly aware that it is in practice, a messy, fuzzy one. Hasini Lecamwasam in her Kuppi Intervention in The Island, last month, outlined the way People’s Councils may be envisioned; as a tiered system that both supports and challenges the parliament’s acts.
A shadow government prepares the people for governance; to take up the challenge of holding all those in authority accountable to the people. A shadow government will run parallel and be outside of the constitutional structure. A shadow government is also shadowy; one may not know what it is. People’s councils and People’s shadow government should be envisioned as the twin mechanisms and processes of a truly democratic process.
People’s participation in governance is democracy for all; and that democracy is what I would call People’s Justice. We should seize this revolutionary moment by its horns, and create an act that is not a parody of Grusha’s crossing the river, a metaphor for the agency of the subaltern, arrogantly appropriated by Ranil Wickramasinghe to justify his authoritarianism, but one that is truly revolutionary. It is Azdak’s justice: a quixotic moment of judicial order that empowers and underlies Grusha’s subversion of authority.
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