President Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned home to Sri Lanka on Thursday to a plateful of problems, many of his own making. The farmers protests over the import ban on chemical fertilizer is nowhere near tapering off. Rather, it is gathering further highly-publicized momentum. Then there is the appointment of Bodu Bala Sena chief, Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, as the head of a Presidential Task Force (PTF) on ‘One country, one law’ which has been roundly condemned by a wide cross-section of the people. That Gnanasara, whose track record is by no means clean, enjoyed the patronage of Defence Secretary Rajapaksa before he ascended the presidency is well know. While the president was away in Glasgow at the COP26 Summit, defending (or justifying) the inorganic fertilizer ban, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, also a Gota loyalist who was on his legal team on the pre-election dual citizenship challenge, made known that he had not been consulted on the PTF appointment. There was some speculation that he would resign. But remember he didn’t over the Muslim burial issue.
Whether this will or will not be is likely to be clarified when Sabry meets the president in the short term. This is a country where sharp differences have been papered over or overcome before they caused irreparable damage; so some kind of fix is not impossible. Despite the noise they made, also well publicized like the farmers’ and teachers’ protests, few Lankans expect Ministers Weerawansa, Gammanpila, Vasudeva et al and eight other minor party leaders of the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna constituents, to give up their ministries and attendant perks, national list seats in parliament and other benefits over the New Fortress Energy (NFE) issue. This too has been getting curiouser and curiouser as Alice said in Wonderland. The CEB Chairman says that part of the NFE deal, whose critics allege had been signed in secret at midnight behind the backs of the cabinet and parliament, cannot be disclosed. Pray why? We do know that non-disclosure arrangements are not an unknown business practice. But is it correct for the sovereign to commit a country to an agreement where its people will not see the whole picture and know the whole truth?
We have also heard political leaders, under pressure like never before from farmer protests, repeatedly promising that crop losses will be compensated. Although they are silent about whose money will be utilized for such payments, the people of this country are not konde bandapu cheennu (Chinamen in pigtails) to not know that such payments, if at all, will obviously come off the state exchequer and not out of the pockets of those responsible for taking hasty, irresponsible decisions. Friday’s news reported that India, using military aircraft, “had come to Lanka’s rescue as farmers protests intensify.” This was by airlifting 100,000 kg. of liquid nano-nitrogen for urgent distribution in the context of the ever-growing fertilizer crisis. Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage whose effigy is being freely burnt in the rural hinterland has been proclaiming that there was adequate fertilizer in the country even before the current Maha cultivation season began. Why then airfreight fertilizer? He admits that “we,” meaning the government, “got our marketing wrong” in the effort to convert farmers to organic fertilizer. Clearly there had been little or insufficient preparation for the great leap into the unknown through an instant ban on the import of chemical fertilizer that the country has been used to for the past several decades.
Today the whole world knows very well that mankind must urgently get its act right if planet earth and its population is to survive. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at COP26 that the “It’s one minute to midnight and the clock is ticking” while many other world leaders and UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres offered similar sound bytes. Like smoking, the information of the dangers of greenhouse gases, climate change, rising sea levels, carbon depletion and many more is everywhere. Yet stupids keep lighting up and inhaling harmful smoke to their own detriment and tobacco remains a multi-million dollar industry. So also the global community continuing to plunder natural resources and fragile ecosystems for economic benefits. Rich countries, particularly, refuse to acknowledge reality and do little or not enough to stem tide except mouth platitudes and offer lip service to the cause of the global environment.
Even the ranks of Tuscany cannot forebear but cheer President Rajapaksa’s organic thrust. It sounds very good in theory but can it be implemented in a practical and scientific manner heeding expert advice so that the benefit will outweigh the cost? In an article on Sri Lanka’s “organic experiment” that we publish today, the writer cites Sri Lanka as a cautionary tale from which the right lessons must be taken: organic farming may sound good in principle, but ideology must not be allowed to trump science. When that happens the outcome is likely to be very bad, he says. The EU has already done an analysis and found organic farming unsustainable and be bad for the environment through increased land use. It is no doubt what the writer calls a ‘boutique’ option very attractive to greens, but trying to feed the world (in our case Sri Lanka) organically would be a disaster.
Foretaste of lawlessness?
Tuesday 26th September, 2023
It was reported yesterday that gun violence had snuffed out about 50 lives in Sri Lanka so far this year. A cold shiver runs down one’s spine when one reads local crime stories or watches television news bulletins that dish out graphic details about violent crimes. One fears whether at this rate Colombo and some other urban centres will soon be bracketed with Tijuana (in Mexico), which has come to be dubbed the ‘murder capital’ of the world, the main cause of death there being gang violence among dangerous drug cartels.
Commandant of the Special Task Force DIG Waruna Jayasundara has said in a recent television discussion that there are about 17 criminal gangs operating in the Western and Southern Provinces and their leaders are operating from overseas. Many hired guns are ready to carry out contract killings for about Rs. 100,000 each, according to him.
Criminals and reckless drivers destroy more lives daily than the Eelam war and the Covid-19 pandemic did, in this country. The police do not seem equal to the task of protecting the public against these killers. Hardly a day passes without shooting incidents and killer accidents being reported from various parts of the country. The police swing into action only after lives are lost instead of trying to prevent road accidents, which claim about eight lives a day, and organised crimes.
As for violent crimes, the situation has become so bad that a close relative of a prominent ruling party politician was gunned down, in Galle, on Saturday. The police attributed his killing to an ongoing gang war in the Southern Province. The next few weeks will see an increase in tit-for-tat killings in the South with rival gangs going all out to settle scores. It is being argued in some quarters that Saturday’s incident can be considered irrefutable proof of the nexus between persons with political connections and the netherworld of crime. When powerful politicians and their kith and kin become the targets of underworld killers, it goes without saying how vulnerable the ordinary people are.
The country may be free from organised terrorist outfits, but the rise of the underworld could pose a serious threat to national security in that the powerful crime syndicates are willing to do anything for anyone, for the right price, regardless of the consequences of their actions. These criminal outfits are equipped with sophisticated weapons and explosive devices and have well-trained military deserters in their pay, as evident from the arrest of several ex-armed forces personnel over contract killings during the past several months. One can only hope that the defence authorities will take cognisance of these aspects of the problem.
Drug cartels, which are responsible for most crimes, especially murders, have infiltrated even the CID. A notorious drug dealer known as ‘Harakkata’ almost succeeded in escaping from the well-guarded CID headquarters with inside help recently. He had his handcuffs unfastened on the sly, and tried to grab a firearm from a policeman. Luckily, he failed in his endeavour. However, a constable who is suspected to have collaborated with the drug dealer made good his escape, and is still at large. He cannot be the only dirty cop in league with the underworld. The infiltration of the law enforcement agencies will make the country’s fight against crime even more uphill.
The government is in overdrive to crush protests, claiming that it has to maintain political stability to enable economic recovery. It deploys thousands of heavily-armed police and military personnel for that purpose. But despite its braggadocio, it has pathetically failed to contain the scourge of crime. Being labelled a high-crime destination is what Sri Lanka needs like a hole in the head while trying its best to boost its foreign currency reserves by increasing tourist arrivals.
The need for a countrywide crackdown on the underworld to arrest the country’s rapid descent into lawlessness cannot be overstated. The government had better shift its focus from suppressing peaceful protests to fighting violent crimes. Rhetoric and excuses will not do.
C4, Grease Yaka and Trojan horse
Monday 25th September, 2023
Channel 4’s recent programme on the Easter Sunday attacks may have made the Rajapaksas squirm and landed President Ranil Wickremesinghe in an awkward position, but former President Maithripala Sirisena has become an unintended beneficiary thereof. It could not have come at a better time for him; he has had to pay Rs 100 million as compensation to the families of the Easter Sunday terror victims, as per a court order, and the government is coming under increasing pressure to ensure that he faces criminal action for his failure to prevent the 2019 terrorist bombings, which took place when he was the President and Minister of Defence.
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), which probed the Easter Sunday attacks, has recommended that criminal proceedings be instituted against Sirisena. He is now at the mercy of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who can have him prosecuted anytime. He has therefore opted to hold out an olive branch to Wickremesinghe, whom he wronged very badly during the latter stages of the Yahapalana rule, and indicated his willingness to support the UNP; he has gone to the extent of ousting his sidekick, Dayasiri Jayasekera, as the SLFP General Secretary for opposing moves being made to bring the UNP and the SLFP together again.
Sirisena however has got one thing right. He has said an international probe into the Easter Sunday attacks will be fraught with the risk of adversely affecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, and therefore what is needed is a thorough domestic investigation with foreign assistance and not a full-fledged international probe as such.
It is not possible that Channel 4 (C4) and those who are said to be behind its programme at issue are driven by a genuine desire to have justice served for the Easter Sunday carnage victims, for they had no qualms about backing Tiger terror, which claimed many more lives than the Easter Sunday attacks. Their real intention seems to be creating a precedent for international probes in Sri Lanka in a bid to achieve their goal of having a UN investigation conducted into alleged war crimes against the Sri Lankan military; C4 has craftily woven war crimes allegations into its programme on the Easter carnage. They have succeeded in making even the ardent opponents of the ongoing campaign for an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka support their plan, albeit unwittingly.
The government however must not be allowed to use the possibility of the country having to face a UN war crimes probe, in case of an international investigation being held into the Easter Sunday attacks, to justify its unwillingness to have the carnage investigated afresh. Pressure must be amped up on it to launch a credible domestic probe into the Easter Sunday tragedy that shook the world. The Catholic Church and other campaigners for justice have had to call for an international probe because the unpardonable delay on the part of the government to complete the ongoing police investigations into the carnage, and implement the PCoI recommendations fully, is widely viewed as proof of a grand cover-up.
Sri Lankan politicians are adept at political escapism. They are as slippery as the so-called Grease Yaka (a naked voyeur or burglar, covered in grease, moving about at night), and capable of escaping capture when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Otherwise, by now, most of them would have been behind bars for their crimes. It is thanks to their escape artistry skills that they have avoided prosecution for their serious lapses that enabled the National Thowheed Jamaat terrorists to carry out the Easter Sunday attacks with ease. They have artfully turned the C4 programme to their advantage!
Sirisena has attempted another escape stunt amidst pressure mounting on the government to have criminal proceedings instituted against him in keeping with the PCoI recommendations. He has used the C4 allegations to assail the validity of the PCoI probe and recommendations; his call for a fresh investigation with international assistance is aimed at further delaying the legal and judicial processes pertaining to the Easter Sunday carnage.
When the PCoI final report became public in 2021, we argued that ideally a fresh probe had to be held based thereon, or if the government chose to implement its recommendations it had to do so expeditiously. If a thorough investigation had been launched at that time, it would have been possible to get at the truth and have justice served many moons ago. At least, the PCoI recommendations should have been implemented fully. Instead, the Rajapaksas opted to let the grass grow under their feet and thereby unwittingly helped bolster the claim that they were attempting a cover-up because they had a hand in the terror attacks. An ill repute is said to influence judgments.
How we must play the game
We are all familiar with the famous lines of American sportswriter Grantland Rice that “When the Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes not if you won or lost but how you played the game.” Well as far as we Sri Lankans are concerned, we played the game abysmally badly last Sunday when we took on India at the Asia Cup final under overcast conditions at the R. Premadasa Stadium in Colombo.
The lines quoted above, of course, refers to sportsmanship. We were by no means unsporting and have never been so in the international sporting arena. Where we fell flat on our faces was how badly our team played last week to be scuttled out for a mere 50 runs in 15.2 overs to be trounced by 10 wickets.
The records show that this is not our worst ever performance in the white ball game. In 2012, a team that included greats like Mahela Jayawardena, Kumar Sangakkara, Tilakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews was bowled out for a mere 43 runs in 20.1 overs in South Africa. Given that the most recent defeat came days after a nail-biting victory over Pakistan a few days earlier, it was doubly devastating for Lankan fans who paid an unusually high price – not set by us but by Pakistan hosting the tournament – to witness a debacle.
We have to face the fact that our cricket fans are champion cheer leaders when things go right and are quite the reverse when they go wrong as happened in the game against India last week. However, they are not guilty of torching players’ homes as had happened elsewhere. Allegations like match fixing, without a shred of evidence, abounded over the social media and there were demands that Dasun Shanaka who led our team be replaced as captain.
There is no debate that the cricket administration in the country has in recent year sunk to their lowest depths. This is an admitted fact and some halfhearted attempts have been made over the past decades to correct this situation. Gone are the days when people like Robert Senanayake, the younger son of the late Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, ran the affairs of the then Board of Control of Cricket in then Ceylon (Now Sri Lanka Cricket).
But even then, old timers may remember, when two of the selectors (both good cricketers) picked themselves for the team. Political interventions in cricket have both been for the good like Mr. Gamini Dissanayake winning us the right to play Test cricket and much more and for the bad of which less said the better.
Right now there is very little to be said for the administration and the method of its election. Suffice it be said that Muttiah Muralitharan, our all time great bowler, once said that he could contest any seat in the whole of the country and get elected but it was doubtful that he would get a single vote in a Cricket Board election!
Some on the Interim Boards have been led by unexceptionable people who accepted office not because they hankered for position but because they wanted to do what they could for the game and the country they loved. We’ve had reputed banker, Rienzie Wijetillake, who ran a tight ship and team managers of the calibre of Michael Tissera. There were others like well like Hemaka Amarasuriya and Vijaya Malalasekera. The other side of the coin does not bear examination.
The squad for the 2023 event that will get underway in three weeks’ time is not out yet and we shall know what is to be this time around in a couple of days. On Tuesday, the selectors had met other key stakeholders of the sport and had decided to replace Dasun Shanaka as captain. On Wednesday Dasun visited the High Performance Center at the Premadasa Stadium and had told fellow players that he was quitting. Then he went to Maitland Place for a meeting with the selectors at noon and found that they had made a complete about turn. What prompted the selectors to overturn their original decision? Were there sound cricketing reasons or were they pushed to make the change?
There has been a lot of pressure, inevitably aggravated by out dismal performance on Sunday that the captain, who on his current batting form does not seem to merit a place in the team, must be changed. But as the head coach, Chris Silverwood, said after the recent debacle: “There is much more to being the captain than just scoring runs. Dasun is a very good captain. He is respected by everyone in the dressing room. He understands the players and shows them a lot of love and support and that love and support is returned.”
That’s quite a mouthful. Together with the ground reality that changing the captain at this late stage carries its own considerable downside risk, sensible people will endorse the selectors volte face in going back on their instant reaction to the debacle in the India match. The fans too must realize that lady luck plays a big part in sporting matters. If we had lost the toss and India had chosen to bat as she well might have, events may have rolled in a different direction. However that be, let us give our lads a chance and wish them the very best in India next month. That’s how the game should be played.
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