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Attacks on Cardinal outrageous and unacceptable

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In strong defence of Cardinal

By ROHANA R. WASALA

As evident in social media, His Eminence Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit is taking heavy flak from certain quarters for urging the authorities to bring to justice the culprits behind the suicide bomb attacks on three churches and four hotels on Easter Sunday last year (April 21, 2019), on the findings of the presidential commission, which is about to close its proceedings. It is not clear whether the critics are supporters or opponents of the government or the Opposition; but they are definitely not lovers of the country/nation. The criticism of the Cardinal is no doubt politically motivated, though he himself is absolutely above partisan politics. He is an ideal Shepherd not only for his Flock, but also for all Sri Lankans, in both spiritual and secular (mundane) senses; he is performing this role most sincerely, with the greatest courage, and ascetic selflessness, without expecting any personal reward. It is with some reluctance and hesitation that I am broaching this subject, because I don’t want to even remotely link his name to mundane politics. Globally, the Cardinal is a great asset for our crisis-ridden country.

In response to Opposition queries regarding the progress of the presidential probe into the Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019) suicide bombings, the newly appointed Minister of Public Security, Rear Admiral (Retd) Dr Sarath Weerasekera, told Parliament (December 5) that 257 persons (suspected of involvement) have been remanded and that 86 are being held under detention orders, and that he would meet the Attorney General on Monday (December 7) to talk about expediting legal proceedings on the basis of the commission’s findings. The government has indicated that the presidential commission is about to finalise its work. The minister’s statement came amidst exchanges between Opposition and government benchers, centering on certain misgivings previously expressed by His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit about the imminent winding up of the presidential commission of inquiry and the follow-up process. Asked about the same subject by the media the next day (December 6), Minister Weerasekera said he could understand the prelate’s concerns, and that although the Cardinal didn’t know about it, almost 90% of what should be done through the government has already been done by the police: 37 have been charged with manslaughter and others with aiding and abetting terrorism.

The 2019 April 21 Easter Sunday suicide bomb attacks were a bolt from the blue. The bombers targeted three Catholic/Christian churches situated in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and four hotels, three of them luxury class hotels in Colombo and another hotel at Dehiwala, near the zoo. An eighth bomber blew himself up in a residential part of Dematagoda. These near simultaneous coordinated attacks by Islamist terrorists left at least 277 dead, including the eight bombers, and more than 500 injured, according to different but generally compatible media accounts. The dead and injured men, women and children in the church attacks had been participating in Sunday mass. Among hotel attacks casualties, there were 38 foreigners. It has now been revealed that there had been a plan to attack the Kandy Esala Perahera as the next target, but that plan was not carried out. The attacks were absolutely unprovoked and pointless from the point of view of the normal civilized world.

Of course, the eight bombers and the individuals who sponsored them wouldn’t have looked at the bombings that negative way. The choice of targets, including the Kandy Esala Perahera that they were planning to attack but later spared, suggests that they were aiming to destabilise Sri Lanka both internally and externally. Isolating Catholic/Christian churches and tourist hotels for the attack was most probably meant to create as powerful an adverse impression as possible among nations across the world, about the country that justifies foreign intervention in its domestic affairs; had a few Buddhist temples been targeted instead, the international impact would not have been so much. Hollow expressions of solidarity trumpeted from an unexpected direction with what looked like a gush of indecent haste, even before the reverberations of the bombings had properly died down, did little to allay the public’s growing suspicions of a foreign conspiracy behind the attacks. (Incidentally, the Cardinal mentioned the apparent possibility of such a conspiracy, earlier than most speakers.) In fact, SLMC MP Rauff Hakeem revealed to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Easter Sunday attacks, in camera, what he knew about alleged foreign involvement in the heinous crime; former president and SLFP MP Sirisena, who appeared before the same commission, also said that a foreign power was involved, though he did not name it.

The bombers and their sponsors must have been quite clear about their respective aims. For the terror sponsors the whole operation must have been nothing but a political project for destabilizing Sri Lanka. For the eight suicide attackers, it was purely a pious religious mission with a direct heavenly reward, and the additional advantage of serving the cause they believed in by instilling fear into infidels (that is, all non-Muslims including atheists, agnostics and others like people of no religion), as an internet post by an ex-Muslim argued (an argument that the majority of ordinary Sri Lankans are sure to dismiss as false).

Testifying before the presidential commission of inquiry former Eastern Province Governor M. L. A. M. Hizbullah said, according to the media (November 27), that he hoped to open the Batticaloa University after talks with the government, when the corona spread crisis is over. He claimed that he built it to teach the poor children of the Eastern province and that, when completed, it will be the biggest university in Asia; it had been planned to be built on 100 acres of land. He had received, it was reported, some 3.6 billion rupees in funds from donors in Saudi Arabia. No doubt, after what transpired at the presidential inquiry that cast doubt on the sincerity of Hizbullah et al, his nonchalance shocked and dismayed most of us; because it gave rise to fears among the concerned public that the unlawfully established Sharia college project will go ahead, without related issues being settled beforehand.

Islamic instruction conducted by fundamentalists even in the Islamic ‘madrasas’ in the 95% Muslim Pakistan, has been found to be problematic. About a year and a half ago, the Pakistan government under PM Imran Khan, moved to take over some 30,000 madrasas across the country with a view to ‘mainstreaming’ them, in response to international pressure, following many complaints that they radicalised the youngsters. Islamic terror attacks carried out in India and Afghanistan, were blamed on young Pakistanis who had learned in these madrasas. If that is the situation in the religiously near homogeneous Pakistan (pop. 212 m), is it unnatural for the much smaller, multi-religious Sri Lanka (pop. hardly 22 m) to be concerned about a Sharia University on its territory, that too potentially the biggest one in Asia?

Hakeem falsely complained to an Indian newspaper that Muslims faced communally institigated retaliatory violence after the Easter attacks. He was basing himself on reports of a few incidents in some unrelated places far from where the bombings took place. Muslims and other religionists and their shops and houses were indiscriminately targeted in these instances, allegedly caused by paid agent provocateurs employed by supporters of the yahapalana regime of the time; these are described in the Wikipedia (obviously, as fed in by an anti-Buddhist editor) as “anti-Muslim riots in retaliation to the bombings that were organized by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Extremist Group on Vesak Day…” (Actually, the monks of the BBS, which is meant here, played a big role in the rescue operations after the blasts, including blood donations; some blood donors had to be turned away because enough blood had been collected. Buddhists, let alone Buddhist monks, never indulge in violence, except under extreme provocation; they are least likely to do that on the day of Vesak, the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar.)

It is inconceivable how the Sharia and the madrasas problem could be effectively addressed without the cooperation of mainstream Muslims, who form 9.7% of the population. But such cooperation cannot be expected from the likes of Hizbullah and Hakeem. Not long before the Easter Sunday attacks, Hizbullah was reported as warning that Muslim youth in the Eastern Province might take up arms unless their grievances were answered (by the then government). What these grievances were only he knew. But before the time he was thus falsely complaining, there were internecine clashes among Muslims in the area, between jihadists and traditionalists, which resulted in murderous violence and property destruction. The travails of the persecuted traditional Muslims did not seem to move Hizbullah to identify with them or speak up on their behalf. Some of these persecuted Muslims made secret contact with the monks of the BBS in Colombo to plead with them to intervene, and even provided them with documentary evidence of what they were undergoing in the east at the hands of extremists.

In the aftermath of the Easter attacks, the victim Catholics were wisely and ably restrained by the Cardinal from thoughts of committing any retaliatory violence against ordinary Muslims. He rose to the occasion, as a beacon of hope, a symbol of compassion, forgiveness, and forbearance, and a great provider of emotional comfort for all Sri Lankans at that moment of universal sorrow and shock. This resonated with the characteristic patience and resilience of the general Sri Lankan populace.

Returning to criticisms of the Cardinal over remarks he made about the progress of the Easter Sunday attacks probe, this is not the first time that the prelate has articulated such sentiments regarding the performance of politicians, whether they happen to be in the government or in the Opposition, without himself playing politics. He always expresses his opinions candidly, without any malice or bias towards anyone. He says that though the church has forgiven the attackers, their sponsors must still be brought to justice, as the BBC once reported. At an audience he gave to SJB MP Kavinda Jayawardane of the Opposition, who called on him on December 3, Cardinal Ranjit expressed his sincere hope and adamant demand that the findings of the presidential inquiry be not swept under the carpet under any circumstances or be subjected to any kind of political horse trading; he also wanted the real movers and shakers behind the Easter bombing savagery be firmly dealt with according to the law. To emphasize his point, he added that if the present government fails to mete out justice to the victims by punishing those responsible, then the job will have to be given to another group of people who can do it. The Cardinal implied, however, that he has not lost his trust in the assurances already given by the president that justice will be done under his watch.

People who believed that the Cardinal is universally admired for all that he is doing for the country and for the ideals that he is bravely standing up for, were in for a rude shock. Hizbullah’s oddly defiant, affected cool that smacked of calculated dissembling (at the presidential commission) went almost unnoticed and hardly commented on, whereas the sincere, well-meant remarks made by the Cardinal about the progress of the presidential inquiry caused a flurry of adverse reactions in the media. He has been described as guilty of ‘hate speech’ for saying what he said! He’s also been made guilty of treason, for he, as one critic pointed out, has threatened to ‘overthrow the government’ by talking about handing over the business of punishing the persons involved in organizing the terror attacks to another party, even though he leads only 7.4% of the population.

I find such attacks on the Cardinal simply outrageous, indecent, and unacceptable. We know Sri Lanka has a history of appointing commissions of inquiry as a strategy to consign vital problems to oblivion. It is not wrong to invoke that reality at the present time, when we have enough reason to believe that there’s going to be a change in that unhallowed tradition, particularly, under our new president. The Cardinal has been for years stressing the need to preserve the Buddhist cultural identity and heritage of Sri Lanka, and striving to unite people following different religions as children of Mother Lanka into a peaceful, harmonious and virtuous society. He is often seen participating in Buddhist events. It is not difficult to understand that his unconventional behaviour does not go down well with some conservative Catholics. Perhaps, his severest critics are Catholics who are upset at what they probably dislike as his too accommodating attitude towards Buddhism and Buddhist monks. Buddhists have no reason to attack him when he is seen to be giving just a timely fillip to boost the confidence of the authorities who are set to move in the right direction, under arguably the least realpolitik-driven executive we have got since independence.

I would like to wind up with this tentative proposal, respectfully offered, for the attention of the President: What about inviting representatives of the clergy of the three minority religions – they should be of the same stature as the Nayake monks within their respective hierarchies – to be participating guest members of the Buddhist Advisory Council that the president consults every month? The possible advantages of such a move are self-evident.



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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’

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On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.

Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.

This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.

Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.

Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.

Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.

His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.

As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.

Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.

As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.

Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”

Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.

His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.

Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email

My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.

With gratitude,
ERANGA

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