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An object lesson in archaeological conservation

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By ROHANA R. WASALA

“Buvaneka Hotel? I wanted to renovate the place when I was Secretary to the Urban Development Authority, but the owner refused to give it up for renovation.”

– An amused President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to some young men who asked him, during his campaign tour of  the Kurunegala district on July 27, why he kept silent when ‘our kingdom’ was bulldozed.

The demolition of a part of a building that is claimed to be an archaeological site at Kurunegala on the night of July 14, 2020  caused quite a furore, with the opposition seizing the opportunity offered by the surreptitious operation to sling mud at the government. Why the mayor had to do it in the night in such a hurry is yet to be explained, though. In any case, the controversy ignited manna from heaven for the opposition, which is starved of a proper platform for fighting the election. Aside from this, the main opposition speakers are providing much needed comic relief for the corona-fears-hit audiences across the country through their empty campaign speeches. They have suddenly become champion protectors of the country’s cultural heritage. But it is hardly likely that the senior SLPP leaders would have allowed this act of (apparently accidental) vandalism to be committed, had they had an inkling of it beforehand, particularly in this run-up-to one of the most decisive general elections  held in the country.

Be that as it may, the episode has drawn the attention of all Sri Lankans to a chronic issue that is directly connected with the national security and the political stability of the Sri Lankan state: The deliberate destruction/vandalizing/encroachment of Sri Lanka’s archaeological sites by treasure hunters and politically motivated individuals. The protection, through preservation and conservation, of the country’s rich ancient cultural heritage is a national responsibility that no government can ignore. There are six main parties who are bound to take an interest in this issue; they are, to list them at random: Buddhist monks, the general public, historians and archaeologists, relevant state officials, politicians in general, and the government including the prime minister and the executive president.

The president laughed when the young men queried him about the Kurunegala affair because he knew that the name ‘Buvaneka’ had been dragged into it by interested parties to embarrass the government (by highlighting its supposed antiquity). With that answer, he pricked the balloon of false propaganda of the opposition. But there is no doubt that he takes the problem that underlies the whole affair seriously. It is very clear that, taken out of that context, it is no laughing matter, though some people may try to make it out to be something trivial and  funny. In fact, the enemies of the country want to represent even the general election as a form of meaningless theatrical entertainment, which in reality this time is the moment of truth for the whole national electorate.

Incidentally, there are those who are ever ready to attack the recorded history of the Sinhalese in their unique homeland as mere fiction. But knowledgeable local and foreign scholars, from colonial times to the present, have increasingly accepted it as something well authenticated by carefully composed ancient chronicles and orally transmitted folk traditions, both supported by epigraphical evidence and archaeological remains found across the length and breadth of the island. Ill-informed cynics are making the public outrage caused by the thoughtless act a pretext for taking a playful dig at those who are speaking up for safeguarding the rights of the variously besieged majority community. It is a different matter that there are a few political opportunists, fakes, and rogues among them as there are among members of other communities. Recent  evidence unearthed by archaeologists (some of them from foreign universities) has proved that a primitive people, who had nevertheless reached a relatively advanced stage of civilization, had inhabited the central mountainous region of the island at least some four and a half thousand years ago, which hints at the fact that the history of the Sinhalese is much older than the recorded 2500 years. The Ravana story may be a myth, but it is quite possible that it is based on a regal ancestor of the Sinhalese who fought invasions from abroad, thousands years before the time that the Mahavamsa began. Some amateur ‘archaeologists’ in the form of YouTubers, apparently none of them with any expertise in the most difficult domain of archaeology, at various levels of commitment to the discovery of the scientific truth from one hundred percent to zero percent, are turning out videos these days about real or imagined archaeological sites. Some of them have published, for example, pictures of mysterious symbolic shapes carved on a rock in a hardly accessible place, and a drawing of what looks like a dinosaur on another rock face; images worthy of being included in Erich Von Daniken’s 1968 classic ‘Chariots of the Gods’. A responsible future government must turn its attention to this so-called ‘Ravana’ aspect of Sri Lanka’s pre-history and bring it under the purview of proper archaeological study. The nation can exploit its potential for the benefit of the country in terms of its economy through the promotion of tourism, in addition to contributing to the global store of human knowledge. Equally important, it will serve to ensure the future survival of the Sinhalese as a race with their unique historical identity. So, the uproar raised about the Kurunegala incident, by both genuine and mischief-making protestors, is not something to be dismissed with a laugh.

There cannot be any dispute about the fact that the structure at the place in question is of archaeological value, though the mayor of Kurunegala, the first citizen of the city, is unaware of it. Ignorance is no excuse for a person who holds such a responsible position. However, the Adhikarana Sanga Nayake Thera of Vayamba,  at a meeting of the Bauddha Upadeshaka Sabhava with the President (July 25) said that the place in question was not an archaeological site, and that it was a big lie to say that it was. He said that there was no ‘raja sabha mandapaya’ (a royal assembly hall) belonging to king Bhuvanekabahu II at that place. In his detailed explanation of its recent history of about twenty years, he described how the premises was leased out by the municipal council during that period and was enlarged and used for various commercial purposes such as running a wine shop,a  restaurant, a barber shop, and even for renting out rooms for couples. It was implied that the enlargement of the building by adding rooms, etc was done without proper official authorization. But the monk admitted that the old structure that  originally stood there, and apparently still stands there partly damaged or tampered with, was one built more than one hundred years ago, which means that the place should be considered an  archaeological site. An archaeologist who was seen at  the meeting, had stated to a local newspaper on an earlier occasion, that, according to popular tradition, the particular place was where king Bhuvanekabahu II held assizes/adjudged cases (though there was no literary or other evidence to support this.)

With apologies to historians and archaeologists, I would like to suggest, as a lay reader, that  unrelated information available in Chapter XC (90) of the Mahavansa (continued in the Culavansa) lends  credence to the popular tradition that the archaeologist monk mentioned. That particular chapter narrates the goings on in a period of history made noteworthy by such events as the relocation of the seat of government from time to time to Dambadeniya, Kurunegala,  and Yapahuwa, internecine conflicts triggered by succession disputes sometimes leading to torture, treachery and murder, foreign invasions, the forced removal of the Tooth Relic to the captivity of Pandyans in south India by ‘a chief among Tamils, known as Ariya Cakkavatti, albeit he was not an Ariya’, and its eventual recovery through sophisticated diplomacy, cultural activity in the service of Buddhism and the advancement of letters under royal patronage, and the construction of architectural monuments such as the magnificent rock fortress city of Yapahuwa (Subha-pabbata/Subhacala/Subagiri) built by king Bhuvanekabahu I, whose son Bhuvanekabahu II ruled at Kurunegala from 1293-1302 CE. That the latter dispensed justice from a specially constructed assembly hall in Kurunegala is not an improbability. Has any archaeologist tried to compare the architectural features of the alleged  royal assembly hall to those found at Yapahuwa? In view of these facts, talking further about the issue is worth our while. (The Mahavansa references here are based on Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinha’s translation of 1889.)

The issue involves the accidental or premeditated partial destruction of a heritage building and its complex aftermath. The foreign and local supporters of the opposition may not see any complexity in either, the former because of their ignorance of, and the latter because of their indifference to, the cultural sensitivities and political perceptions of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community. Hence they might express adverse opinions about the way the six categories of people responded to the incident.

It is obvious that the mayor found himself caught off his guard when he was confronted with the fact that what was partly demolished was of archaeological value. A minister of the present government, a prominent member of the SLPP (who comes from a business background, and who was a UNP stalwart before he joined the Mahinda camp), rushed to his rescue, which one of his cabinet colleagues publicly criticised. If some irregularity was committed in this instance, which is very likely, there is a common heritage of guilt to be shared by the incumbent and previous mayors, possibly of a different political colour. Prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, it seemed, showed a special interest in the matter as the Buddha Sasana and Cultural Affairs minister in the caretaker administration. The opposition’s exploitation of the mayor’s blunder to attack the government to gain some propaganda advantage over it, with the elections round the corner, made the PM’s concern in this regard look like a mark of what they probably thought was his desire to engage in some sort of damage control exercise. In my opinion, there was absolutely no need for the government to register a panicked response. What happened was what could have happened under any government, notwithstanding its desire to avoid such embarrassment or to ensure rectification of what went wrong in such a situation. The commercial abuse of that place, and many other similar registered and unregistered heritage sites, for that matter, has persisted for a long time, in some cases, with the connivance of or under the sponsorship of politicians in the local authorities allied to main parties. Party leaders have no control over this. In politically motivated attacks on the country’s ancient Buddhist heritage in the east particularly, government officials become vulnerable to manipulation by well funded extremists through bribery.

The only solution is to leave matters to the law enforcement authorities so they can take appropriate action. The PM-appointed committee has made some recommendations (conservation of the part damaged while preserving its archaeological features, acquisition of the building by the Department of Archaeology, requesting the RDA to revise its road widening plan at this point, prosecuting the persons responsible for the destruction, and recovering the cost of conservation from the institutions or individuals responsible for the destruction) which are to be implemented in the short term. Once the building is restored and the problem, whatever it is, that required a part of it to be bulldozed under cover of the night is sorted out, the current mode of its utilization will have to be reviewed, and changes introduced as appropriate. At the meeting he had with the monks of the Bauddha Upadeshaka Sabhava on July 25, the President decided to appoint a committee of experts to propose changes to the Antiquities Ordinance, which should ensure more robust implementation of the law relating to archaeological places, buildings and objects than now.

Even in the past, the President was the only person in a position of power (as defence secretary) who made a meaningful intervention in the problem first articulated by Buddhist monks (for example, Kuragala). Meanwhile, it will be very important to depoliticize and de-communalize the problem of protecting the archaeological relics of the country’s glorious Buddhist past. Most of the vulnerable sites lie in the north and east, where the island civilization started as currently understood. Actually there is no threat to them from the mainstream Tamil and Muslim minority communities who respectively dominate those provinces in terms of population numbers, but these peaceful people are held hostage by a few political extremists (separatists and jihadists).  Tamils and Muslims are not confined to these two provinces. More than 50% of them live in the south among the Sinhalese. The protection of archaeological sites has become a political and communal issue, particularly in the north and east, because of the extremists. The government must enlist the support of ordinary Tamils and Muslims in these areas to overcome the extremists, and then entrust the protection of the archaeological sites to people of all three communities who live there, in addition to ensuring state protection of the same. Places already encroached upon must be re-acquired by the state, and people already settled on them gradually relocated elsewhere, with the least inconvenience to them.

These archaeological treasures belong equally to all present day Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity. In economic terms, the existence of ancient historical places and objects is beneficial to the people who today inhabit the relevant areas, because they are tourist attractions. Most people are ignorant of the value of these relics of the past. Popular ignorance facilitates the extremists’ anti-national activities. One of the lessons taught by the Kurunegala episode is about the importance of adequate awareness on the part of the officialdom, as well as the populace, regarding the country’s inestimable archaeological treasures.



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Opinion

Vesak afterthoughts

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Ideally, the triple commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and Parinibbana of the Buddha ought to be a religious affair, but we have made Vesak the most colourful celebration, which eclipses the religious aspects of the event. On top of decorations and illuminations in every house and street, there are pandals depicting the life of the Buddha. Although we share these with many other Buddhist countries, our unique contribution is the ‘dansala’. Having missed Vesak celebrations for three consecutive years due to the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 and the pandemic, there was great anticipation for a proper celebration this year, but unfortunately all hopes were dashed due to the prevailing politico-economic crisis.

In spite of shortages, some ‘danselas’ were held and few small pandals erected but even the weather-gods were against us, and overturned the pandal in Pettah. However, what was striking was the scant attention given by the mediat to the Vesak events. Perhaps, they had more important things to report on.

Being stuck due to the pandemic in UK, we had our own share of the problems. Most Buddhist temples here are not purpose-built; our temple Nottingham Shanti Vihara being no exception. We need to hire a venue on occasions like Vesak celebration and Katina ceremony to accommodate large crowds. We never got the opportunity to celebrate Vesak on the actual Poya day; celebrations were held during the weekends before or after that day. Due to the pandemic we had to make do with joining the celebrations via Zoom in the last two years. However, this year our Loku Hamuduruwo, Venerable Teldeniyaye Amith, was able to find a venue to celebrate Vesak, which fell on Sunday, and we were waiting in anticipation. Unfortunately, two days before the Poya Day, it was found that the venue had closed without any intimation! We had to make do with a Zoom ceremony for yet another year.

Although one of the most important messages of the Buddha is impermanence, not having developed a significant degree of detachment, I can’t help being a worrier. Therefore, these failings added to the gloom already created by the events back home. However, my mood was lifted thanks to Kirthie, Karunaratne Abeysekera’s younger brother, who sent me the link to a music programme, broadcast shortly before Vesak, where Ishak Baig sang Buddhist songs originally sung by his renowned father Mohideen Beg, whose beautiful voice entertained us for decades (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXBX8YcX5Ro).

It is one of the best music programmes I have watched for a very long time. Sparsha, a music programme by Derana TV, recorded open-air in Kande Vihara displayed what a gifted singer Ishak is. He sings from his heart and displayed a wonderful understanding, especially for a non-Sinhala Buddhist, for the superb lyrics written by the great Karunaratne Abeysekera. Surprisingly, one of the songs which many assume to be written by Karunaratne, because of the style, was by his younger brother Gunaratne, who was overshadowed by Karuayya. Ishak’s conversation with the presenter Kokila Pawan was very informative. He revealed how Gunaratna had volunteered to compose a song on Buddha Gaya, which Mohideen Baig desperately needed. Beautiful music provided by Naada orchestra well rounded an uplifting programme.

“Buddham Saranam Gachchami”, which reverberates throughout Sri Lanka during Vesak was the first song in the programme. It is from the 1960 Hindi film “Angulimaal” starring Nimmi and Bharat Bhushan which was later dubbed in Sinhala. The original song is sung by Manna Dey, who, according to Ishak, was in the sound studio when Mohideen Baig sang the Sinhala version and congratulated Baig for singing better!

The second song Minisamai Lova Deviyan Vanne, Minisamai Lova Thirisan Vanne–– ‘It is man who becomes both God and animal in this world’––has a special significance to the present as it has the words, eka kusa ipadeela, vairen mathwela, thama sohoura marai, wasa visa deela” (… though born in the same womb, maddened with hatred, kills own brother, giving poison)!

The third song, Budunge ama dharme, nothere jana me (‘eternal truth of the Buddha, the ordinary not understanding it’) is yet another song where Karu Ayya makes a fine blend of musicality and Buddhism.

The next song, Amataka karalamu perani katha, ekvemu jathiye diyuna patha (‘Let bygones, be bygones, let’s get together for the progress of the nation’), surely, should be our theme song at this perilous hour!

Suvade, mata seethala sulanga pava, himi buduwuna Buddhagayawe

(‘Even the cold breeze which comes from where He attained Enlightenment, Buddha Gaya comforts me’) makes you feel as if you are in Buddha Gaya. It has been penned by Gunaratna. Ishak considers it a great privilege that he was able to sing this song and Buddhan saranam gachchami in Buddha Gaya. He says this unforgettable moment was capped by his receiving a small Buddha statue made of sandalwood, which he kept on his lap on the return flight. Interestingly, a Catholic friend of his father, borrowed the statue and kept it with him till his death and then Ishak got it back. Is this not Sri Lanka at its best?

Sinahaven ho kathawen be manninata miniha, sithe athide, sithe athide kauda danne, kiyannata wimasa

(‘You cannot judge a person by his smile or words’) is about those who eat together, drink together yet harbour hostile feelings.

The programme ends with the well-loved song, Giri hel mudune, mahanel nopipe, hiru nonage, avara girehe (On top of a hill, water lilies do not bloom, and the sun does not rise from the West). This song concludes with Dinu jathiya vatina Sinhale, abhimnawu deya me Sinhale, ee niga sirithe geli, ha noga edinu deli, parasiritheni oba hela meni eida soketa heluwe (‘Born to great Sinhale, proud land this Sinhale, indulging in shameless behaviour … why did you bring sorrow to Mother Lanka with misbehaviour?’).

I watched the entire programme with tears welling up in my eyes, especially as Ishak’s powerful voice rang out, echoing in the plains below the Kande Vihara––Oba Hela Meni, Eida Soketa Heluwe–– ‘Why did you bring sorrow to Mother Lanka?’

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Opinion

A Postscript to ‘Political Crisis: A Way Out’

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By Chandra Jayaratne

The Island of Saturday 14th May 2022, published a proposal, submitted by the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, to leaders of political parties and civil society organisations, wherein, admirably, the essential need for adequate representations, by youth and women in governance, are given recognition. Prior to that, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) had submitted a 13-point proposal to restore economic and political stability in Sri Lanka. The writer respectfully recognizes the aforesaid proposals are caring leadership initiatives of significant value in the current socio-political and economic crisis risking the stability and future of Sri Lanka and its people.

The writer agrees with the short-term focus as set by the BASL stating as its objective:

* To create political, economic and social stability in the country.

* To create an environment to address the fundamental problems that have brought about the current crisis (and imperil future reforms).

* To restructure external debt and enter into appropriate programmes with multi-lateral institutions, including the IMF, and for that purpose to appoint the financial and legal advisers and negotiate a debt standstill pending debt restructuring.

* To obtain bridging finance. The bridging finance together with the savings arising from the debt standstill to be used to procure uninterrupted supply of essentials to the People until such time the debt restructuring, and the IMF programme is in place. This will eliminate the shortages in power, fuel, gas, medicines, food, etc.

* To create an environment to combat corruption and to ensure accountability and strengthening independent institutions.

And towards an overarching requirement of a stable government with the ability to implement reforms, domestically, and the ability/credibility to negotiate with the IMF, other multilateral agencies, and friendly countries to help Sri Lanka get out of the economic crisis.

However, this proposal has failed to take account of the need to use this crisis as an opportunity to introduce critical systems changes demanded by the ‘Aragalaya’ and implement critical change management options for long term good governance with democratic rights, equity, equality, and the rule of law being strengthened.

The writer wishes to take this opportunity to add a postscript to the submission by the former President; which appears to have inadequately focused on the severe economic crisis, threatening Sri Lanka and its people; and disregarded some key demands of the stakeholders of the ‘Aragalaya’ relating to governance failures, rejection of the leaders of the present regime, control of corruption, recovery of proceeds of crime; as well as address important unresolved national questions and the need for strengthening fundamental rights, equity and the rule of law.

The highlights of the post scripts are briefly outlined hereinafter and sets out amendments required to the proposal by the former President, whist incorporating some of the excellent suggestions in the 13-point proposal of the BASL:

1. The Interim Government to be for a maximum period of 18 months, in order to re-establish a stable and solvent governance structure, at the end of which the interim administration stands dissolved, enabling a people’s choice-based new government to be elected

2. The governing party and the leading opposition party to get one nominated member from each of their parties to resign and make way for the nomination, with the concurrence of the Parliament, of (a) a retired Chief Justice with judicial integrity, independence, impartiality and track record of acceptance and (b) a mature politician with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude

3. The incumbent President to resign immediately post 2 above and the nominated member of parliament elected under 2(a) above be elected as the President by the Parliament and such appointee to not engage in executive decision-making nor be a member of the Cabinet: whilst the nominated member elected under 2 (b) be appointed the Prime Minister and bound by a Code of Prime Ministerial Conduct and Ethics, having transparently established the capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) and having duly declared publicly the appropriate declarations of assets/liabilities and all interests of the Prime Minister and his immediate family: with the vacancy in the nominated members created by election of the President being filled in by a economist with extensive experience in public finance and macroeconomic management, who in addition being a person with integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude; and such nominee be appointed as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Management. These new appointments to take place at the earliest option.

4. An interim Cabinet be appointed charged with the responsibility and accountability regards the direction and control of the government, being collectively answerable to Parliament and be bound by a Code of Ministerial Conduct and Ethics; with appropriate amendments to article 52 (2) of the constitution where “the Secretary to the Ministry shall be the chief accounting officer of the Ministry and answerable to Parliament and bound by a Code of Conduct and Ethics, and to function in such capacity, subject to the policy direction and guidance of his Minister; and such Secretary shall exercise the control and supervision over the departments of Government or other institutions in the charge of his Minister and be accountable for professional good governance and effective decision-making and implementation, within the functions assigned”.

5. The Cabinet comprising of 15 Ministers be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the new interim Prime Minister and endorsed by a majority of members of the Parliament, post such nominees having established their capability (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values), integrity, independence and track record of achievement with no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude and having duly declared publicly their declarations of assets and a interests of the ministers and their immediate family. The Interim Government, in consultation with all relevant independent groups, including the youth representatives currently leading protests and apolitical Professional/Trade/Civil Society organisations to appoint, with the concurrence of Parliament, an independent Advisory Council, consisting of 15 qualified professionals from disciplines corresponding to the 15 Ministries or relevant to the national economy priorities (as recommended by the BASL); and such Council to be formed in place of the Council of State for National Policy recommended in the former President’s proposal; and this Independent Council should act as advisors of the Cabinet and be consulted on all major policy decisions of the government; the interim government will seek every option to build consensus and support of all parties represented in Parliament and the Advisory Council and where possible key stakeholders of the economy; the interim government will endeavor to publish White Papers on all major policy changes and restructure options proposed and will use such publications to build awareness and debate amongst citizen groups; and take heed of any positive and value adding suggestions emerging from such consultations and public advocacy.

6. The interim government should take immediate steps in resolving to the best of its ability, the shortages of essential goods, medicines and fuel supplies and services experienced by citizens.

7. The currently functioning selected three overseas resident advisors charged with advisory on debt restructure, etc., together with two younger economists resident in Sri Lanka working outside the public services, be appointed as accredited ambassadors of Sri Lanka with Cabinet Ranking; and the five-member team will collectively with the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in India, the Governor of the Central Bank, Secretary to the Treasury and the newly appointed Minister of Finance be responsible to negotiate with the IMF, International Financial Organizations and Donor Countries; and also agree the essential fiscal consolidation measures, steps leading to stability of the financial and banking systems, bridging finance arrangements, agreeing a strategic plan to ensure debt sustainability by 2027, gaining acceptable sovereign ratings for the country and agreeing with creditors a programme of debt restructure; supported where necessary by external consultants and advisors with international expertise; and recommend such measures and action plans to be adopted by the new interim cabinet. The said team may appoint sub-committees made up of technocrats and persons with requisite expertise to support the development of reform agendas covering raising revenue to GDP to 12-15% over the next three years and enhance it to 18% by year six, where the ability to pay by those with capacity to contribute, bear the brunt of the enhanced taxes; and over time the ratio of indirect to direct taxes should move from 80/20 to 60/40;

State expenditure rationalisation, (with special focus on defence, administration and nonessential projects and capex), embedding strict austerity measures, national resource allocation prioritizations and justification assessments on economy, efficiency and effectiveness of approved spends seeking positive socio economic outcomes; and develop key long term budget assumptions, fiscal outcomes and fiscal responsibility key performance targets;

Develop plans to optimize value adding growth in GDP, gradually reaching 5-8% by 2027, with enhanced and diversified export incomes, promoting savings and local and foreign investments; to develop essential reform options, including policy and regulatory changes, digitization, fiscal adjustments and factor productivity enhancements along with other change management restructure options for long term growth and stability

designing an effectively administered ICT driven ‘Aadhaar’ type scheme for establishing a strong social “Safety Net” targeting to protect the interests of the elderly, poor, marginalized and vulnerable segments of society;

Identifying change management and restructure options for improved productivity, technological advancement, human resource development for the next generation of value optimization, quality and outcomes in the operations of ministries, departments, state establishments and state-owned enterprises.

8. The interim Government will be accountable for undernoted legal and regulatory reforms:

a. Promptly bring back the 19th Amendment to the constitution with appropriate amendments that remove well established weaknesses and operational lacunae for effective good governance; with democratic rights, rule of law and justice systems strengthened, whilst enhancing the operational scope and framework, financial independence, transparency, accountability with appropriate checks and balances of the Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions, the Central Bank and the Auditor General.

b. Introduce a new Constitution that abolishes the Executive Presidency replaced with a head of state; strengthens the system of governance with appropriate checks and balances and enhancing accountability of the executive; with no immunity for any actions of governance violating democratic rights, equity and equality of citizens, rule of law, mismanagement and failing to place the interests of the nation and its people first, in all executive decision-making; promoting equitable resource allocations, protection of the environment and recognizing the interests of the poor and vulnerable segments of society; introducing a bill of rights expanding and updating the Fundamental Rights chapter (including Socio Economic Rights): Resolving the National Question and facilitating the devolution of power going beyond the 13th Amendment; equating the rights of all citizens irrespective of race, religion or status and making way for a truly harmonious and peaceful plural society, with equity and equality in all respects enabling the establishment of a truly Sri Lankan identity, that celebrates unity in diversity; and change the electoral system to a mix of first past the post and proportional representation.

c. Introduce required law/regulatory reforms connected with combating corruption and recovery of proceeds of crime, by enacting a Proceeds of Crime Act (including powers of Civil and Criminal Forfeiture and Asset Management); Serious Financial & Organized Crime Agency Act; Company Law Reforms-(Expanding the Provisions of Part XXI- Offences of the Companies Act No. 7 of 2007) and incorporate changes and update bribery and money laundering laws and the criminal procedures code (including incorporating new offences identified in the United Nations Convention on Anti-corruption, e. g. Trading influence; Abuse of functions; Illicit enrichment; Embezzlement of property; Concealment (both private and public sector); Bribery in private sector; Bribery of foreign public officials): Networking the Inland Revenue, Customs, Excise, BOI, SEC, Central Bank and Financial Intelligence Units with a newly established Directorate of Revenue Enforcement and an Independent Office for Serious Financial Crimes prosecution, for collective initiatives in the Recovery of Proceeds of Crime and Illicit Financial Flows;

d. Enact and enforce Codes of Conduct and Ethics governing elected representatives and regulations governing conduct of election campaigns and campaign finances; and introduce necessary amendments to the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law enabling the publication of the declarations of Assets and Liabilities of elected officials; and a system of recall where any such elected member with established charges of engaging in any acts of corruption and/or acts of moral turpitude;

e. Enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and amend the Audit Act to empower the Auditor General to direct law enforcement units to investigate and take action against any acts of Corruption or mismanagement in the state and state-owned enterprises.

f. Set up a Parliamentary Budget Office and strengthen the powers of the Committee on Public Finance, COPE and COPA, empowering them to make recommendations to the law enforcement authorities for action or for the Auditor General to impose surcharge under the Audit Act (duly amended to include the Ministry Secretaries as well). Proceedings of above Committees as well as Consultative Committees of Parliament and Sectoral Oversight Committees be open to the public;

g. Introduce Codes of Conduct and Ethics binding high post holders and senior management in state services and state-owned enterprises and make all public servants and legislators bound by compulsory reporting of noncompliance with Laws and Regulations (NOCLAR)

h. Update the Right to Information Act and Victims and Witness Protection Act avoiding the present shortcomings;

i. enact necessary amendments to the Monetary Law or promulgate new legislation to strengthen the independence of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka

9. All persons appointed to the Constitutional Council, Advisory Council and by the Constitutional Council and other High Post holders be persons with public acceptance, integrity, independence and track record of achievement and no allegations of corruption and moral turpitude:

10. Enact law/regulatory reforms and undertake change management leadership initiatives which improve factor productivity including labour, educational, technological and administrative reforms which enhances opportunities for export of goods and services led growth, foreign direct investments, diversify export basket, improve labour productivity and quality improvements, transparent and cost effective procurement systems and tender awards ( including rationalization of public holidays and lay off commitments)

11. Adopt a foreign policy which supports the long-term national interests;

12. Appoint a Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate into and report on the persons directly and indirectly responsible for the present state of the economy and purported bankruptcy of the nation, causing so much suffering, losses, mental trauma with disrupted the lives and livelihoods of the stakeholders of the society; and recommend what action should be taken against them in terms of the law and regulations; and what damages can be recovered from them.

Former President’s “Political Crisis: A Way Out” proposal amended as above, read together with the BASL proposal can be taken up by the ‘Aragalaya Group’ in developing the proposed “Galle Face Declaration” to be endorsed by the new interim government as a precondition to the protestors ending this youth led struggle for a system change, combined with a regime change and a new option to select the post struggle a new governance structure and peoples chosen representatives.

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Opinion

Gold standard for political humour already set by Canada!

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Canadian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, David McKinnon, recently tweeted Sri Lanka sets the gold standard for political humour. He further tweets, “maybe there’s a way to monetize this as an export?”

Poor McKinnon, representing Canada, to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, does not seem to be aware that the gold standard for political humour has already been set by Canada. Sri Lanka maybe trying hard to win the title from Canada but once again Canada has set the bar too high for Sri Lanka. In fact, this writer believes McKinnon might have just made it impossibly high.

McKinnon is the High Commissioner for Canada but he does not even know that he is a diplomat. As such, McKinnon is ignorant that such undiplomatic commentary as that he made of Sri Lanka, his host country, is a faux pas at its worst. Very difficult to beat a tactless diplomat in political humour!

We would never hear such crass commentary from any of our neighbouring countries or, for that matter, from even Middle East or Africa. These diplomats do not suffer from an undue superiority complex. Instead, they are professional and empathetic.

As such they make a sincere effort to be with the people of their host country in their hour of need instead of laughing at their troubles. It is such humaneness that strengthens bilateral relations, which is the reason for their presence in the host country in the first place.

When our neighbours are making our troubles theirs and working hard to bridge our shortfalls to ease our burdens, McKinnon is busy tweeting. What a bird! His cheap cracks are certainly not the way to strengthen bilateral relations. This makes one wonder if he is only here for the Arrack and the sun.

McKinnon is not the only one to entertain us with cheap theatrical humour. His colleague Shelley Whiting, too, had her own sense of political humour.

When we eradicated terrorism from our country, she, as the then Canadian High Commissioner, was invited to celebrate the dawn of a peaceful Sri Lanka. This was a big deal for us as we had been denied peace, or a normal life, for nearly 30 years.

With peace, children were free to go to school and, more importantly, return home in one piece or without been forcefully conscripted as slave labour to a terrorist organization. People can now keep all of their earnings and savings without been extorted by criminal elements. The fog of fear and suspicion was lifted. Instead of destruction, we could finally rebuild our country to prosperity. The dark shadows of fascism vanished as democracy swung into full action. Provinces, as North and East, were able to elect Provincial Councils, just as the rest of the country.

Whiting, however, refused to join our celebrations. She wanted to stay home to cry over the dead. Though she said that she is not shedding tears over Prabhakaran, for she knew he was a naughty boy, she never did clarify who it was that she rather be at home thinking. It certainly could not have been the Tamil civilians for this peace was every bit theirs as it was for the Sinhalese and other Sri Lankan communities.

Judging by the open support the LTTE international network receives officially from Canada, it is not hard to figure out to whom Whiting dedicated her thoughts. Oh, the prank the Canadian Government pulled on the LTTE ideologists pretending to mull over dedicating an entire week to remember the genocide that never took place in Sri Lanka was hilarious. After allowing real hope into the hearts of the LTTE ideologists the Canadian Government dashed it with a single “nah! Not happening.”

It is really funny how Canada is always preaching to us on the importance of maintaining rule of law but allowed Tamil ethnic Canadian citizens to be intimidated, bullied, extorted and terrorised by LTTE terror gangs to fund terrorism back in Sri Lanka. Looks like Canadian law is selective who it protects.

This story gets funnier still. Canada is always overlaying their sympathy on Tamils, clearly implying that the Sinhalese are discriminating against the Tamils. Yet, Sinhalese – especially the educated or skilled – have no problem gaining visa or PR from Canada. While needlessly embarrassing the Sinhalese and getting Tamils all miffed with the Sinhalese, Canada is getting both Sinhalese and Tamils alike to contribute towards their economy. What a hoot!

The best ever joke was when young PM Trudeau demanded that Pope come immediately to Canada and apologise to the indigenous community for killing their young and burying their bodies in the back garden of Catholic schools. Someone eventually had to whisper into his ear that it maybe in the name of the church that the indigenous people were made to suffer, but it was really for the benefit of the Caucasian settlers who were occupying their land illegally. That was how young Trudeau and his father before him got to be the head of the government of a country that is not theirs in the first place.

When Canada has set such a high bar in political humour, mocking others only to be exposed of their own ignorance, the best Sri Lanka can hope to set standard for would be bronze.

Shivanthi Ranasinghe

ranasingheshivanthi@gmail.com

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