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Bad record of floods and landslides



Weather gods have hit our country in a very bad way. The worst affected are the poor living in small houses.

A few places have been observed to be adversely affected whenever it rains hard. They are Baddegama and Ratnapura. The same areas are also prone to landslides, especially in the hill country. The National Building Research Organization (NBRO) has been very efficient at warning people in landslide-prone areas. But they do it only during a disaster situation, and sometimes the warning comes a little too late for people to evacuate.

The recent rains have affected areas such as Mannar, Puttalam and Jaffna, areas that have not experienced floods in a long time. As such, the people there were not prepared for the deluge they experienced.

Torrential rains and floods, like what we experienced this month, did not occur during the last century or before. There were many landslides, some of them resulting in entire families being buried alive! Almost all these victims were not well to do, and they do not have the wherewithal to rebuild the houses that have been completely buried.

The torrential rains resulted in most of the reservoirs being filled to the brim and the sluice gates had to be opened, inundating surrounding areas. If there was a tank cascade system, the extra water could have been saved for better use.

It is time the authorities concerned take necessary precautionary measures, to ensure that the water flows freely without creating floods. The Disaster Management Centre, with the assistance of the NBRO and the Engineers of the Department of Irrigation, should resolve this eternal problem, by identifying landslide prone areas, areas that flood regularly, and take remedial measures to prevent future disasters of this nature, so that no more innocent lives are lost.


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Doctrine of immunity in Emperor’s Clothes




Ranil Wickremesinghe has emerged as the chief “dramatis personae” in the current constitutional deadlock drama. Whether the stars had foretold the event is not known. He was never a man in a hurry.  He was cool as a cucumber when he was sacked as Prime Minister by the latter and seeking the help of the apex Court regained the position. He has chosen to confront the Supreme Court in what appears to be a battle of wits as to who has the whip-hand – the Executive President or the Supreme Court. The SC ruling in respect of the release of funds for the local government (LG) elections has opened the door for many a fundamental issue, not the least being the question of immunity and that of effectiveness and priority for SC decisions. The presidential circular does not list election expenditure as an essential item.  Indeed, a direct confrontation prima facie.

Elections Commission

One does not need much grey matter to realise that as far as the government is concerned, it does not have an iota of interest in conducting the relevant election. The pointers came in very clear terms through the “machinations” of the Government Printer, the IGP and the Secretary to the Treasury.  And in this time-consuming and futile exercise, the EC through its own volition reduced itself casting away its so-called independence to be nothing more than a pen-pusher – a far cry from the Deshapriya’s lion roar of yesteryear asking violators of election laws to be shot at the head.  Fair enough  for the EC to write to  the Secretary to the Treasury (the custodian of state coffers)  but when it was clear that there was a questionable delay, it had  a duty and responsibility to bring the issue to the notice of court to which it is bound by ruling to hold the elections. The Secretary to the Treasury is bound by the Constitution to perform his duties under the direction and control of his Minister and has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. He has no leeway to pass the buck or to treat a SC ruling as subordinate to any other source.  Nothing of the sort has happened before.  The Minister of Finance may hold the office of President substantively but that does not ‘ipso facto’ imply that he enjoys the immunity he enjoys in his substantive office while performing duties in areas other than those in Presidential office. If   not anything else, this episode has the potential to become a dangerous precedent. It has to be immediately resolved once and for all.

Immunity of Parliamentary Proceedings

The question arises as to whether the immunity prescribed is limited to parliamentary proceedings. There is also the relevant issue of “absolute”and “qualified” immunity which has to be examined and argued with due reference to authorities such as Erskine May, the SL. Constitution and other such Constitutions. And who else is qualified to do it but the relevant professions, including the legal fraternity?  The question arises whether the immunity is limited to parliamentary proceedings. If so, any action initiated or proceeded with by the Hon. Speaker in entertaining a motion of “Privilege” and any follow-up action thereon in tabling it, etc,. could be construed as “contempt of court”    We have had the sad and unfortunate episode of Shirani Bandaranaike, which nobody wants to repeat and make SC judges  the hunting ground  of  politicians of one hue or another.  No-one wants our judiciary to be reduced to being a plaything of politicians.  The judiciary expects unequivocally and requires no repetition of the treatment of Shirani B or Neville Samarakoon.

Legal Fraternity and the BASL

The BASL has proudly felicitated President Wickremasinghe on completion of 50 years at the Bar (yet not in practice).  The country would not certainly seek to deny him the accolade. Yet,  the BASL and the “Black-coated” gentry in particular,  who thought it opportune to invade the courts of justice in their hundreds unsolicited to defend the Aragalaya  demonstrators without a fee almost exercising undue influence vicariously in the course of justice,  and the frenzy  in which they  took to the streets demanding the ouster of Mohan Pieris, was conspicuous by its absence in strength vocally and otherwise except through a tame letter.

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Casteism, the canker!



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The malign influence of casteism was well explained in the editorial, “Canker of clientelism” (The Island, 14 March) wherein it was stated: “Caste-based politics has stood many crooks in good stead, and led to the presence of so many semi-literate politicians in Parliament, which has control over public finance. Some of these characters such as former chain snatchers, pickpockets, hooch dealers and cattle rustlers also claw their way to the Cabinet, and control vital sectors. The caste-factor is so dominant in Sri Lankan politics that it is well-nigh impossible to get rid of these unsavoury elements at elections owing huge block votes at their disposal; political parties are dependent on them to win elections. Religion and ethnicity also blind electors to reality and tribal instincts drive them to vote for some misfits.”

For the title, the editor has used the most appropriate word, though not in common usage nowadays, canker; derived from Latin ‘cancer’ and old French ‘chancre’ which is defined in dictionaries as ‘a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate.’ How better can the role of casteism be described, not only in politics but also in many other vital spheres? Though such a division based on trades practiced may have had some significance in the past, it is a totally outmoded concept in the modern era. Though I have had a fair share of experience in my youth and was hoping that casteism would soon disappear, it has not happened, unfortunately, being perpetuated by politicians and, rather paradoxically, by Buddhist priests.

In fact, I became aware of the caste system due to the involvement of my father, C Justin Wijayawardhana in politics. Though the Matara branch of the UNP chose him as the candidate for 1952 and 1956 parliamentary elections, the high-command turned it down and parachuted a businessman of dubious repute from Weligama for the 1952 election and a retired district judge from Colombo for the 1956 election. Apparently, it was done because Matara was considered an electorate dominated by the caste they belonged to! Surprisingly, this kind of the baptism of Matara electorate had been done by the comrades of the Communist Party itself!

Looking back, I wonder whether my eligibility for the Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate studies in medicine, in 1969, was overlooked because of caste discrimination rather than political pressure. A few days before the interview, my father dropped in our flat, on his way to meet PM Dudley Senanayake over some issues in Matara, and inquired whether he should mention my scholarship to Dudley. I told him not to as I wanted to get selected on merit. I was the only applicant under the age, it was stated preference would be given. I had a Distinction in Medicine in the final examination in addition to a distinction in Pharmacology in the 3rd MBBS examination. A candidate older than I, above the age for preferential choice, and had only one distinction (Pathology & Bacteriology in 3rd MBBS) was awarded the scholarship! The chairman of the selection panel and he were from the same caste, which may be a coincidence.

The next setback is my career was also due to caste discrimination. Having missed the Commonwealth scholarship, I was in the UK on a Health Department scholarship to obtain MRCP, which I did in 1971. Prof. Varagunam informed me that a vacancy for a senior lecturer had arisen in the Department of Medicine in Peradeniya when I applied. However, as I could not afford to return for the interview, I sent an appeal to the selection panel to consider my application in absentia and was surprised to get a registered letter informing me that I had been selected.

I returned in January 1972, ready to settle down in Kandy, but my hopes were dashed on reporting for duty to Dr D A Jayasinghe, Assistant Director of Hospitals, when he told me that the DHS, Prof R (real name withheld) had refused to release me. He could not explain why, though he agreed that up-to-then it was routine for specialists to be released for permanent teaching positions in the university. I am indebted to Prof Varagunam for keeping the position open for almost two years but I neither went pleading to Prof R nor sought help from politicians to secure my release. Instead, I opted to go to Badulla as Consultant Physician and took a step down in June 1973 to join Dr Wallooppillai as his Registrar in Cardiology Unit.

Prof R was well known to be pro-Sinhala Buddhist and I had done nothing to antagonise him. Therefore, I was baffled by his decision till the subject clerks at the Health Ministry informed me of his antipathy towards one particular caste. They pointed several instances where he had given top positions to doctors of his caste over more senior and better qualified from other casts. Worse still, he had granted overseas study leave before confirmation in post, breaching the Establishment Code, to a young doctor of his caste! It was sad and so disappointing to see such puny behaviour from an academic.

The worst form of caste discrimination is the caste-based Nikaya system, which is the biggest affront to the Buddha, who preached equality twenty-six centuries ago, but our Mahanayakas indulge in discriminatory practices even today! What is the justification for Siyam Nikaya to offer higher-ordination only to Govigama caste and exclude others? The Amarapura Nikaya to have about 21 sub-divisions based on caste and creed?

Casteism is a canker, a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate, which muddles politics but has it got a place in religion? Is it not the time for all the Mahanayakas, of which there are many, to come together and declare that casteism has no place in Buddhism and higher-ordination is open to all in all Nikayas? The ideal would be the abolition of all Nikayas with one Sanghanayaka, but unfortunately that is not likely to happen!

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Viyathmaga II



Sri Lanka is fast creating a Viyathmaga II. When observing how various categories of professionals – teachers, musicians, artists, officers from armed forces, doctors …. are getting on a single stage, it reminds us how Viyathmaga was formed and what they did and finally how its choice carried the whole country towards disaster. Whatever happened later, their choice had some reputation gathered during the war against the LTTE.

The chosen Party of Viyathmaga II does not have any past to boast of but they show themselves as an uncorrupted group. But corruption comes with power and without any power there cannot be any opening to involve in corruption.  Even if a few persons already known could be considered trustworthy though inexperienced, a government is an assembly of many and there could be many who are unheard of.

Listening to tales criticizing one’s enemies and how they are going to be punished may be music to ears, but those vows cannot be fulfilled easily and quickly, and also will not bring people a country with Kiri Peni. Sri Lanka has no time to experiment and “This time we’ll vote for them and see” will bring more disaster.

Every political party has capable and incorruptible members and what we need urgently is, all opposition parties to join up to form a government with such people. Any party which has a genuine love for the country, at this moment should not act with over-evaluation of their capabilities or popularity and bring more disasters.

A Ratnayake

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