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Baurs’ coconut properties, early married life and Ceylon in the 40’s and 50’s



Excerpted from the authorized biography of Thilo Hoffmann by Douglas. B. Ranasinghe

(Continued from last week)

Mr Jobin (the Swiss superintendent) devoted most of his working life to Palugaswewa Estate and the people of the area. He established a fibre mill, produced large quantities of coconut shell charcoal, grew rice and introduced sheep rearing. The estate’s large herd of Mura water buffaloes yielded milk, curd and other products. Many thousands of selected coconut seedlings were raised and sold. Palugaswewa was the model of a modern and profitable coconut property, with much of the profits being ploughed back, until the takeover by the government.

Thilo and Mae often spent weekends here with the Jobins. ‘The property was then on the edge of the vast extent of dry zone jungle which stretched away northward and inland. He recalls the hot evenings when the hosts and guests would sit on the screened-in veranda of the Superintendent’s bungalow. Seasonally in the nearby large mara trees thousands of cicadas would fill the air with their peculiar ‘music’, coming in waves so loud that one could not hear oneself and conversation was almost impossible. A myriad fireflies illuminated the dark night. Packs of jackals would roam the area, and at night their wild howling was heard far and near. There were crocodiles in the surrounding tanks. Of course, there were mosquitoes.

Herds of elephants would move through the estate regularly, and often cause heavy damage especially to young palms and in new or replanted sections of it. The famous Deduru Oya herd, with its mystical connection to the Munesswaram temple, had its home range in the vicinity. This was until the herd was decimated in an attempt to trans-locate it to the Wilpattu National Park in the late 1960s, combined with the first immobilization experiments in Sri Lanka.

Thilo believes that the project was ill-conceived, and that the Wildlife Department organized it at the suggestion of a foreign wildlife movie-maker, who obtained dramatic footage. Sometime later several of the translocated animals returned to their home range, a distance of nearly 100 km.

In 1953 Baurs bought the mostly undeveloped Polontalawa Estate, at Kadigawa on the Deduru Oya some miles inland. This provided both Xavier and Thilo with many opportunities for wilderness adventures. It was here that Thilo’s friend Geoffrey Bawa with Ulrik Plesner later built a unique bungalow complex, its various units fitting among a group of large rocks and boulders with jungle trees between.

One Saturday evening in the 1950s Shirley Corea, the MP for Chilaw threw a party at the Sports Club grounds in the town. The Jobins and Thilo were invited. There was a large crowd, which included Bernard Soysa and Colvin R. de Silva.

Thilo was introduced to Colvin, and soon a friendly discussion took place between them about the merits of State ownership. Colvin asked him why he would not join and manage for the State a fertilizer business like Baurs, on terms and conditions equal to or better than those prevailing in the private sector. Thilo replied: “Because I would not be allowed to run it according to my best knowledge and ability; there would always be people to interfere.”

De Silva was apparently not convinced as, decades later, he used the same reasoning in connection with the State take-over of all agricultural lands of over 50 acres in extent (Land Reform), as the Minister in charge. Thilo recalls that a proprietary planter who thought he would play an important role in the scheme greeted the suggestion with enthusiasm only to find himself disillusioned in no time.

In later years Thilo tried to establish some new crop plants in Sri Lanka. Most successful was the macadamia nut. With difficulty he obtained a few dozen seeds from abroad and had them raised at the four up-country estates owned by Baurs. Then nationalisation intervened. Some years later the new Superintendent of Clarendon Estate sent him sample nuts from the first few harvests, and they were of good quality.

A fairly large trial was carried out with Hibiscus sabdariffa, the dried calyx of which is extensively used in herbal tea mixtures. Several hundredweights of it were exported. Thilo also experimented with soil-less culture and with minor element deficiencies.


After his early sojourn in the hill country, young Thilo Hoffmann returned to Colombo and lived in a bungalow belonging to Baurs named ‘Suramma’ at No. 14 Bagatelle Road. It had a large garden with a swimming pool, and in front stood a balsa tree, the ultra-light timber of which had been in great demand during the recent war for the construction of fighter planes. It was run as a chummery by young bachelors employed by Baurs. For one month in rotation each resident would be responsible for the household, supervise the servants and the kitchen, and do the marketing, as well as watch over the expenditure and income. This was a useful exercise for most of them.

At this time Thilo bought his first car, an MG TC, a brand new sports two-seater with a folding hood, bearing registration number CY 1406. He describes it as “hot and sticky” during rain but otherwise a joy to drive.

In late 1947 his fiancee, Mae Klauenbosch, came over from Switzerland. In England she boarded the Empire Brent, a converted passenger ship. She was in an inner cabin with 14 wives of European residents in India who came out to rejoin their husbands after the war. On the return trip to the UK these ships repatriated British soldiers. They were packed with people in both directions. Still, she enjoyed the voyage. Thilo recounts:

“At that time executives were not allowed to marry during the first contract of four years. I somehow managed to break this rule, which did not further endear me to the CEO. In the presence of a small crowd of friends and colleagues we were married by a registrar at the Grand Oriental Hotel.

“The ‘GOH’ then had a Swiss manager and a Swiss chef, and was much larger than today, comprising the entire building, now owned by the Bank of Ceylon. It was known all over the world because the Colombo port was a transit point for thousands of passengers travelling to and from Australia and ports in South East and East Asia. The ships had to stop here for bunkering, and they sailed on strict schedules. Almost all passengers came ashore and frequented the hotel.

“As was then the custom Mae stayed for about ten days, between arrival and wedding, with the family of the CEO of Baurs, who thus acted as substitute for her parents. She was introduced to the basic matters of life in Ceylon such as shopping and handling of servants.

“The newlyweds’ home was a small flat in Baurs building, which stood by the seashore in the Colombo Fort area, at Upper Chatham Street.”

Thilo was given one week off for the honeymoon. Their first stop was Kandy. In the evening they visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic and watched the puja. The next day they drove to Nuwara Eliya via Padiyapelella and Maturata. He recalls the railway line which connected Ragala via Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya, as they had to criss-cross its bumpy track between Brookside and Nuwara Eliya a number of times in their hard-sprung MG, an annoying experience. This railway, which today would have been a major tourist attraction, was removed a few years later.

They spent a day or two at Welimada, and then drove home via Bandarawela – Haputale – Koslanda – Wellawaya, with one night at the resthouse in Hambantota. This was then a small, romantic fishing town on the jungle-clad blue bay, with a population of mainly Malays and Burghers. The large ‘forest’ of palmyra palms on the dunes to the west was a special attraction of the place and a protection for it. It is now replaced by Casuarina trees, “alien and ugly” as Thilo says, planted by the Forest Department.

The couple returned home from their brief honeymoon to a room which had only a few pieces of furniture, by a then leading designer Terry Jonklaas. They had to unpack a new mattress and bed linen from Mae’s trunk before they were able to lie down for the night.


Colombo was then a beautiful and clean town, with numerous large gardens and trees. For instance, the Galle Road was entirely residential. Colombo was called the “Garden City” and Ceylon the “Switzerland of the East”. Since then, great changes have not only affected the rural areas of Sri Lanka, as noted often in this book, but, of course, the ever-growing towns, particularly the capital city.

The air was clean, and a myriad stars were visible in the night sky above the city.

Today a permanent haze blots out all but the most prominent of them. Vision throughout the country has become very restricted, with strong haze a normal feature. No longer is it possible to regularly see the southern sea coast from the Haputale area or Adam’s Peak from Colombo city. During his time in Sri Lanka Thilo could observe in the best viewing conditions three “fabulous” comets, namely Ikeya-Seki, Bennett and Kohoutek, a total eclipse of the sun and several of the moon.

There was no air conditioning in those days. Office papers on the desk got stuck to sweaty forearms. During the greatest heat in April and May the Hoffmanns used to drag their large double bed onto the open veranda and sleep in relative coolness under the stars or the moonlit sky. Thilo recalls:

“Our flat was on the fifth floor of Baur’s building. Lying on our stomachs looking over the edge of the veranda 50 feet above Flagstaff Street we used to watch in fascination the seasonal mass migration of butterflies, said to end at Sri Pada. From the ground up to our level millions of butterflies would flutter and fly northward for hours and days, rather like a cloud of large snowflakes. This happened at regular intervals for years, but later the migrations became fewer and the number of butterflies decreased greatly. I have not seen a real migration here for many years now.”

The crows of the whole area roosted at night in Crow Island off Mattakkuliya and their numbers were thus limited. This site is now no more. Today, as Thilo remarks, the population of crows in Colombo has increased out of all proportion, nesting and roosting all over the town, an unfailing indication of unsanitary conditions. They are now a pest and a menace to all other birds.

The Colombo Fort was the business and administrative centre of the country. All the big shops were there, too. There were impressive government buildings, many of which have, in the meantime, been demolished after falling into disrepair and decay. Only a few have been restored. From Baurs building, which stands at a prime location in the Fort, one had a fine view along the west coast as far as Mount Lavinia; this was blocked when the Hotel Intercontinental was built in the 1970s.

There was a wide space at Echelon Square, where now the country’s tallest buildings stand. Gordon Gardens was a public park, the breakwater a recreation area. All roads and buildings were well maintained. Thilo also notes:

“For a long time the tallest structure on the island was the Ceylinco Building at Queen’s Street (now Janadhipathi Mawatha). It was initiated by Senator Justin Kotelawala, who added a helicopter pad to set the height record. The plans for the building were purchased in the USA. But the local builders misread them and it stands with its back to the front. In 1996 it was severely damaged by the devastating LTTE bomb attack on the nearby Central Bank (which I witnessed and which also damaged Baur’s building). Some years later it was reconstructed and the original error corrected to some extent.

The Pettah was an attractive place with hundreds of shops, clean and well-organized roads, the old buildings pretty and colourful with country tiles on the roofs. Now, says Thilo, it is a mixture of mostly tasteless new buildings, and stalls on the pavements.

The city was also run differently, as he observes:

“Unlike today Colombo was subdivided politically and administratively into wards each of which had an elected member in the Municipal Council. The ward member was known to his voters and held personally responsible for the proper functioning of all amenities. Complaints were promptly looked into and rectified in a system far superior to the present anonymity.”

“There were no traffic jams anywhere in the country. Most people found driving a pleasure, even during the hottest season, as it was customary to have trees on both sides of all main roads. Driving on a trunk road in any direction from Colombo was like passing through a tunnel of massive rain trees (pare mara). Today, continues Thilo, only parts of Bauddhaloka Mawata (then Buller’s Road) and a few others in Colombo give an impression of how it was then throughout the country.”

There were tramways. One ran from the Fort through Pettah and Grandpas to Totalanga (just south of the Victoria Bridge) and another to Borella. Mae Hoffmann regularly used the first for shopping at the Pettah market, the fare being five cents one way.

The rupee, of course, had much greater value then. It was worth 1.30 Swiss francs; today one Swiss franc is worth well over 100 rupees. Thilo recalls:

“I had my haircut for one rupee plus a ten cent tip at the Lord Nelson Saloon on Chatham Street, which is still there. The cheapest local cigarette (‘Driving Girl’) cost 40 cents for a tin of 50, and an egg one cent.During the war as metals of all kinds were used to make arms none could be spared for coins, which were replaced by paper money, and even years after the war there were still small banknotes of 25 and 50 cent denominations.”

(To be continued)

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Teach geometry to sharpen mind



By Prof.Kirthi Tennakone

Decades ago, language, classics, science, and mathematics emphasiing geometry stood as the cornerstones of the high school curriculum, shaping students’ minds. These disciplines inculcate learning aptitude, creativity, abstract thinking, and empathy. Many who followed the theme in schools and colleges became professionals excelled in their art, businessmen and intellectually motivated laypeople.

In learning mathematics, geometry stands out as particularly important because the subject invigorates the mind to think deductively and imaginatively in understanding spatial relationships. Unlike in arithmetic and elementary algebra, where the problem-solving strategy proceeds with a set of operations, in geometry the student concentrates deeply looking at a sketch drawn on paper – a different kind of brain stimulating exercise.

The book Elements of Geometry by S Barnard and J M Child, widely used in Britain and our schools since the early 1900s, states geometry is the science of space and deals with shapes, sizes and positions of things. The definition agrees with the more modern view that geometry, though abstract, is essentially a study of the nature of physical space and has cosmological implications.

Virtues of learning geometry

Whatever you plan to do, geometry is invaluably relevant, directly or indirectly. Exposure to the subject influences the mindset beneficially to tackle problems beyond mathematics. So many renowned men and women have commented on the virtues of geometry.

Plato said, “Experience proves anyone who has studied geometry is infinitely quicker at grasping difficult subjects than one who has not. He attached so much importance to geometry, inscribing on the entrance to his academy the phrase “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”.

Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab historian and philosopher, said “Geometry enlightens the mind and sets the mind right. All proofs are very clear and orderly and errors would not enter into geometrical reasoning. Thus, a mind that constantly applies itself to geometry is unlikely to fall into error. In this way, a person who knows geometry acquires intelligence.”

American poetess Rita Dove wrote, “I prove a theorem, house expands”.

The columnist Marlin Savant, once hailed as the world’s smartest woman, having the highest recorded IQ, wrote, “Geometry is beautifully logical, and teaches you how to think and prove things step by step. Proofs are excellent lessons in reasoning. Without logical reasoning, you are dependent on jumping to conclusions – or – worse, having empty opinions”.

The British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dill Faulkes, describes geometry as the surest and clearest way of thinking available to us.

History of Geometry

The history of geometry tells how profoundly the discipline influenced human thinking. Geometrical ideas originated in Egypt and Babylonia as methods of measuring the extents of agricultural land. Perhaps independently in Sri Lanka as well, after initial Indian influence. Our ancient irrigation systems, monuments of rich architecture, and stupas could not be built without a practical knowledge of geometry.

Greeks looked at the subject in the spirit of abstractness, revolutionising the line of human inquiry. If they also continued to adopt geometry in the same way as Egyptians, Babylonians and Sri Lankans did, confining it only to practical uses, there wouldn’t be a modern technology.

Early Greek philosophers indulged in geometry, believing it is divine and inherent. Plato, having noted that perfect geometrical figures cannot be drawn, said they exist in a higher spiritual realm, and a man can retrieve their properties instinctively. In one of his discourses, Plato states, Socrates did an experiment to prove the point by telling an ignorant slave boy to draw a square double in area compared to one he sketched on muddy ground with a stick. The boy did it wrong in the first instance, but with a little help from Socrates, he instinctively recollected the Pythagoras theorem (both Plato and Socrates were followers of Pythagoras who lived earlier) and solved the problem. Plato’s bias to his opinion is obvious, and the experiment he attributes to Socrates may be fictitious. Nevertheless, the story shows how deep were the European philosophers, in their endeavors to fathom abstract fundamentals, paving the way for the West to dominate the world scientifically, technologically, and therefore economically.

The next bold step that enlightened geometry, radically influencing all branches of mathematics and philosophical contemplation, was the work of the Greek geometer and logician Euclid, who lived in Alexandria. He did not attribute geometry to the realm of spirituality or an inherent instinct of humans, but built its theory on the basis of a few axioms written below, taken as self-evident truths.

1. Two points are connectable by a straight line.

2. A straight-line can be extended indefinitely.

3. A circle may be drawn with any radius and an arbitrary center.

4. All right angles are equal.

5. If a straight-line intersect two other straight-lines in such a way the sum of inner angles of on one side is less than two right angles, two lines will inevitably intersect when extended in that direction.

Using the above axioms, Euclid logically deduced important properties of triangles, circles and other geometrical figures as theorems. The fifth axiom, the so-called parallel postulate, remained controversial for more than 2000 years. Mathematicians tried hard to prove it using other axioms. Finally, the impossibility of proving the assertion was understood. Many important theorems in geometry, such as the equality of the sum of three angles in a triangle to two right angles and the Pythagoras theorem, are consequences of the parallel postulate. Mathematicians in India and China knew the property of right-angled triangles attributed to Pythagoras. However, Euclid’s proof of the theorem using the parallel postulate shocked mathematicians of antiquity.

A new chapter in geometry was opened after realizing the independence of the fifth axiom. German mathematicians, Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann showed other consistent geometries exist, corresponding to figures drawn on curved surfaces. And Pythagoras Theorem is not an absolute truth but a consequence of the parallel postulate. These developments motivated Albert Einstein to formulate the general theory of relativity.

Euclid’s art of argument, making few assumptions identified as self-evident truths and logical reasoning based upon them, finds applicability and validity in affairs beyond mathematics and science. Many things you and I do depend on certain assumptions.

Examine assumptions carefully to see whether they are consistent, deduce consequences logically, and then proceed.

Abraham Lincoln, in his speeches, clearly identified assumptions, justified them as natural truths and argued logically to validate a point. After listening to a speech by Abraham Lincoln, a man asked him how he acquired such an amazing oratorical skill in presenting ideas and arguing consistently. Lincoln said, when other lawyers were sleeping and snoring, he lit a candle near the pillow and read six volumes of Euclid.

Mahatma Gandhi frequently made references to geometry in clarifying arguments. In one of his writings, Mahatma says, Euclid’s straight-line exists only in imagination, never capable of being drawn. Nevertheless, it is an important definition in geometry, yielding great results. So may a perfect bramachari exist only in imagination? But if we did not keep him constantly before the mind’s eye, we would be like a rudderless ship. The nearer the approach to the imaginary state, greater the perfection.

Teaching Geometry: Education and Science Policy Reforms

Since the time of Plato, geometry has been an integral part of academic instruction. Before Christian schools were started in the 1800s, geometry was taught only in universities. Later, these institutions demanded higher qualifications in mathematics with geometry for enrollment. Thereafter, the educationists’ world-wide emphasized formal exposure to geometry, an essential prerequisite in completing secondary level education.

Until the Education Department’s curriculum reforms were implemented in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka followed the same concept, teaching geometry as a separate subject in the 8th grade and after – largely a continuation of the school mathematics curriculum introduced by the British in the early 1900s. In those days, the Ordinary Level (OL) Mathematics, students had to sit for a separate geometry paper. Later, the geometry component in our high school mathematics syllabus was reduced, perhaps to accommodate things considered being more important in commerce and technological studies. Today, teachers and students pay less attention to geometry and concentrate on areas more straightforward in learning.

Recently, Sri Lanka, Department of Education reported that in the OL Mathematics Examination, the majority of students do not select geometry questions, and those who attempt them often give erroneous answers. Sometimes teachers advise their students to omit geometry, telling them, questions in the area are hard. Now we have a generation of mathematics teachers who neglected geometry in their school days.

The repercussions of the deficiency in teaching geometry during the past three decades have probably gone beyond OL exam performance and may account for our weaknesses in intellectual pursuits, technological innovations, and the inability to adopt an evidence-based approach in solving problems.

The poor performance in geometry can be rectified by adding more explanatory material to the OL syllabus and devoting more time to teaching. Unless the subject is made compulsory by revising the examination structure, the tendency of the teachers and students to neglect the section will continue. Furthermore, the subject should be made interesting to the students, highlighting its importance and history. Isaac Newton’s assistant has said that he witnessed the great man laugh only once when, someone asked him whether geometry has any use. Why not tell this to the students? The teachers should also tell the students, mastering geometry requires sustained mental concentration. Swami Vivekananda, a vocal advocate of the powers of concentration, said, “Just two or three days before the entrance examination, I found that I hardly knew anything of geometry. So I began to study the subject, keeping awake the whole night, and in twenty-four hours I mastered four chapters in the geometry book”.

At a time when Sri Lanka plans to propose educational reforms, to divert the human resource towards technological innovations and commercial ventures, it is prudent to note what the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, said when he visited the 11th grade mathematics class in a science oriented college in Moscow 2021. Having noted that the students were attempting to answer a problem in business, he asked, “Why do you guys work on business projects in school?” Here you need to gain fundamental knowledge, and gave them a stunning problem in geometry to solve.

The message the Russian Prime Minister conveyed is clear. In schools and universities, students have to be exposed to the fundamentals to sharpen the mind and nurture creativity. With that experience, they are better equipped to specialize and deliver innovations. If fundamentals are omitted to accommodate more technological and business courses, the outcome will be counterproductive. We jump into technological fashions that emerge from time to time – biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and now artificial intelligence – believing they would deliver marketable products immediately. Yet the fruits of these efforts originate elsewhere, mostly in Europe and the United States of America, where schools and universities emphasize fundamental science. Teach geometry to boost the natural intelligence of our children, before embarking on artificial intelligence! For a student to enter the field of artificial intelligence and compete, he or she needs to acquire in-depth knowledge in several branches of mathematics. It is true that just like in information technology, the subject of artificial intelligence can be pursued without extra brilliance and advanced mathematical preparation. However, to make a mark and compete, those qualities are essential.

Shyness to undertake fundamental studies

The neglect of geometry is one example of our shyness to undertake intellectually challenging fundamental areas of inquiry. What the Russian Prime Minister told the mathematics class, giving a problem in geometry, is also a reminder to research institutions devoted to fundamental research. They should pursue the mandated theme without gross deviations, adulteration, or engaging in commercialization trivialities. All major innovations that pushed the West to the forefront had been curiosity driven investigations. Intellectual fantasy and dreaming and working on challenging problems, not necessarily yielding immediate results, is more important than writing papers for the purpose of getting them printed in journals.

We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’.

Educational curricula and science policy reformers should keep in mind that downgrading or elimination of topics engendering qualities of abstract thinking, imagination, and empathy will lead to disastrous consequences, now beginning to be seen above Sri Lanka’s societal horizon. Bringing in reforms to accommodate technologically oriented programs curtailing the fundamentals would be ineffective. We are not competitive in technology and continue to be poor in innovations. We don’t engage in advanced frontier research, once confined to the West, but now pursued eagerly elsewhere in our region. The country doesn’t produce sufficient numbers of original thinkers, productive scientists, entrepreneurs, and knowledgeable administrators. In many situations, myth overtakes rationality, and social values are on the decline.

Our students are clever and talented. Their weakness in geometry and generating innovations is not their fault, but our wrong policies continuing for decades.We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’ and our teachers and researchers to be men and women of the caliber to engage ‘there’ as philosopher mentors.

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Sri Lanka’s economic crisis: Finding peaceful, equitable and sustainable way out



By Siri Hettige,
Emeritus Professor of Sociology,
University of Colombo

I wish to begin this article with a very broad assertion, namely, Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis is the result of a series of deliberate and short- sighted policy measures taken by post-liberalisation regimes since 1977. These policy measures led to not only structural changes in the economy but also far reaching changes in many other sectors such as education, health, transport and social welfare. As regards the economic changes, the trends have been quite clear. To understand this, one only has to follow the changes in the macroeconomic indicators over the last four decades.

If we first look at the structural changes brought about by liberalisation policies, it was quite clear that the service sector expanded rapidly, often at the expense of industrial and agricultural sectors leading to a widening trade gap as imports of industrial and even agricultural commodities increased steadily, far exceeding the value of exports. But, instead of addressing the emergent structural distortions of the economy, successive governments promoted export of labor and tourism as a way of earning foreign income to pay for rapidly increasing industrial and other goods Imported to the country.

Increasing availability of foreign exchange from worker remittances and tourism not only helped bridge the otherwise widening trade gap but also pay for all sorts of consumer goods demanded buy the increasingly affluent sections of the population. The expansion of this class was facilitated by low tax regimes maintained by successive governments. Increasing disposable incomes of a sizable segment of the population also increased the demand for private services in health, transport and education. And this led to the opening up of these sectors for private investment resulting in the proliferation of private health care providers, international schools in and around Colombo and Importation of hundreds of thousands of private vehicles.

The above developments contributed to unprecedented inequalities in the areas of health, education and passenger transport, all of which hitherto remained mostly publicly provided services. Inequality became clearly evident in all these sectors but post- liberalisation regimes failed to do anything significant to contain increasingly visible inequalities not only in household income but also the widening gap between urban and rural/estate sectors.

The failure of the post-1977 regimes to contain growing income inequality by implementing a progressive taxation policy led to decreasing state revenue, making it impossible to allocate adequate resources to publicly provided health, education and transport services. Poor quality of these services in turn created highly unequal life chances for lower income groups in society. For instance, poor educational facilities in rural and estate areas forced parents to pay for private tuition that emerged as a thriving business in all parts of the country. Poorly funded and crowded public transport services forced even many low-income people to buy transport equipment like imported motor cycles and three-wheelers to have more convenient modes of local transport, not to mention hundreds of thousands of all sorts of motor cars imported for the use of higher income groups. The same sort of development was also evident in the health sector when private provision of health care became an integral part of the health sector in Sri Lanka.

increasing cost of living as a consequence of the above developments encouraged more and more people including young men and women to migrate overseas for extended periods of employment and this helped many families to earn supplementary incomes not only to cover their day to day consumption but also to save money for children’s education, buy land, build houses, etc. But such economic gains came with considerable social costs such as the neglect of small children, break up of families and even the spread of alcohol abuse by men. Yet, increasing remittances soon became the biggest single foreign exchange earner for the country, often over 7 billion USD per year. On the other hand, increasing outflow of labor from rural and estate areas for overseas employment led to increasing costs of agricultural labor making small scale agriculture unviable, often resulting in the abandonment of many small parcels of agricultural land by farmers resulting in a decline in agriculture production and related livelihoods.

Despite social costs of labour migration, increasing worker remittances became a blessing in disguise for successive governments. In fact, populist governments began to label migrant workers as “Rata Viruwo” (“Oversees heroes”). following the equally adulatory term “Rana Viruwo” used for security service personnel fighting in the war in the north and east of the country. Availability of foreign currency earned by migrant workers enabled the governments and private companies to pay for all sorts of imports demanded by consumers, in particular those who purchased all kinds of motor cars and electrical appliances.

In spite of largely consumption driven economic growth, state revenue continued to remain low as a proportion of the GDP. In fact, state revenue declined from about 20% of GDP in the mid 1970’s to about 8% to 10% of GDP in recent years. Implications of this became so obvious when university academics asked the government to allocate 6% of the GDP for education alone. While this was obviously an impossible proposition, public investment in education had declined to about 1.5% of the GDP. In fact, this was a small fraction of what many countries, even in the Asian region invested in public education in recent decades.

The result of a very low level of public investment in education has had serious consequences for the education sector. Well to do families began to move their children from government schools to international schools that proliferated in urban areas alongside well-equipped private schools. Poorer families had no choice but rely on poorly endowed schools for their children’s education. In short, providing equal opportunities to all children and youth became an impossibility within a highly unequal education system. The situation in the health and transport sectors has not been any better than in education.

As it is evident from what is outlined above, the economic and social conditions that emerged following the implementation of neoliberal policies over the last several decades have not been equitable, just or sustainable. In fact, the conditions became worse over the last two decades when the populist regimes that came to power did not seem to care about the emerging vulnerabilities of the Sri Lankan economy due to its serious structural distortions and weaknesses. Moreover, when the public funds raised through commercial borrowings were diverted into infrastructure projects that often did not have any prospect of generating an economic return, public debts became a very serious issue that needed urgent attention. Yet, what followed was even worse when authorities began to rely on commercial borrowings to raise public funds to support government expenditure and this eventually led to high inflation imposing a heavy burden on lower income groups in the country.

The developments outlined above eventually prepared the ground for the unprecedented economic crisis when the foreign debts accumulated over several decades could no longer be serviced, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy in early 2022.

Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that the path to the present economic crisis was laid by shortsighted policies adopted by successive governments with callous disregard for the serious adverse effects of such policies on a large majority of people. But, what is equally important to note is that there are no political leaders and others to take responsibility for the obvious policy failures. On the other hand, the country cannot move forward, beyond the present crisis, unless a genuine national effort is made to not only agree on what went wrong but also come up with an alternative policy framework to guide desirable policy shifts and necessary institutional reforms at all levels.

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Land where ‘boo’ is a crime



On Tuesday March 28, The Island editor as is his way, struck the nail on its damn head and fearlessly made his point. He wrote: “The efficiency of the police is truly amazing,” and then added the damper: “the only problem being that it is selective.” This selectivity seems to be worsening. During the weekend their Brownie points with the government was secured at the expense of a lone person who involuntarily, we are sure, his bitter anger overcoming him, dared boo at the passing Minister Bandula Gunawardana. The many khaki Johnnies escorting the said Minister flashed into action, chased that poor guy and arrested him.

We remember the little girl who, to continue her schooling and save herself from being exposed and taunted as poor, stole three coconuts to sell to get the money she had to take to school; her sensitivity realising her mother was too poor to give her the much-needed amount. She was arrested by the police and remanded in their custody. Fortunately, word got around and the girl was rescued by someone with clout intervening.

This super efficiency in the face of murders being committed under their very noses, who knows with whose help, a harmless sportsman Thajudeen was tortured and then killed; trussed up in the seat adjoining the driver’s seat in his car pushed to crash against a wall and burst into flames, burning him to cinders and all evidence. The fire did not ignite. The case came to the very end of catching the movers and murderers and givers of orders and then poof! The case evaporared as evidence had been made to disappear by, they said, certain police officer/s. Similar with the brutal killing of Lasantha W. In these cases, and many such, the police and armed forces personnel involved are not in the public’s memory; it’s the VVIPs who are suspected of giving orders. This small fry Cassandra with a strong power of remembering may be vapourised, but the People know, remember, and may very well extract retribution since waiting for Fate or Karma to do the job takes too long.

Why on earth take notice of a boo, the tooting of a horn, the throwing of a rotten egg or overripe tomato? Such voice users and missile wielders should be thanked since much worse could be shouted out, or thrown. The patience of the masses is most often limitless; justified searing anger and galling resentment are held in check. Politicians should be thankful for this forbearance of the general public.

Across the Palk Strait

Similar to this is an event that unfolded recently in India. Resembles somewhat what happened to Ranjan Ramanayake.Poor Rahul Gandhi, MP and leader of the Congress Party and perchance a future PM of the subcontinent, has been served a two-year term of imprisonment. His crime, which one would think serious, is merely voicing a single sentence which could be taken as harmless, heard now forgotten the next moment. But no, on orders from above, the sentence he proclaimed in 2019, yes as long ago as that, said at a campaign gathering has come home to roost on orders from high up for sure. However, one wonders whether it is the police who are so perturbed with the target of the insult, unconcerned. Maybe India’s security police are also selectively over- efficient as ours is. Gandhi is accused of saying that those with the name Modi are thieves. Heinous? Not at all! Slanderous? No! Defamatory? Could be but also may not be so classified. But his saying it has brought PM Modi to the picture and over there too, it seems to be a case of pleasing, sycophantic loyalty etc.

Gandhi is given time to appeal and may go free or may, if incarcerated, gain sympathy votes for his party. He will not be able to contest the forthcoming Congress leadership election nor national elections. This last mentioned in an article Cass read means that the Lok Sabha in New Delhi does not allow those accused of crimes to enter its portals. So different over here. How many convicted of serious bribe taking, corruption, stealing, drug dealing and even rape and murder are our MPs in the House by the Diyawanne, and living off the little fat left in the land.

No to interference with justice system

Israel is in spasms of mass uprisings against the judicial reforms proposed by the government of recently re-elected PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The Star of David flag waving protests started on January 7 in Tel Aviv, spread to various locations and are masses now. The newly-appointed Justice Minister proposed judicial reforms and curtailing the power of the Supreme Court and also sought more places for govt. in the committees appointing judges. As BBC reported on Tuesday March 28, Netanyahu and his government are reconsidering the reforms.

The Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, disagreed with the move and made known his opposition. Netanyahu promptly dismissed him which caused resignation of Israeli bigwigs like the ambassador to the US.

Cassandra has a purpose in bringing this piece of world news into her chat this Friday. Netanyahu is not the whitest of politicians, not at all. So grey and even black are many of our leaders, stained with crimes of amassing wealth and also eliminating foes and challengers to them. The Israelis attempted interfering with the judiciary and wanting more say in matters judicial. So similar to over here. Remember Chief Justice Dr, Shirani Bandranaike and how she was demeaned and grossly insulted in the Parliament premises by Rajapaksa stooges who still wield power and pontificate endlessly. Recently, wasn’t there a move to summon SC Judges to Parliament? For questioning? Attorney-at –law Prez Ranil W was the mover of this plan, his hand probably puppet-stringed. It could also very well be that he decided on his own. Attorneys at law have been protesting.

Dissimilarities appear in the matter in Israel and how things pertain in SL. They are thinking twice about the reforms and taking due note of protests. Over here strong-arm tactics and the PTA are used. Seen on TV was containing the Israeli protestors by the police with mild water cannoning and no mass temporary blinding and chocking of people, unlike in this paradise gone rotten by the hand of politicians and their vassals. The tear gas used here is not to just temporarily affect the eyes but to harm eyes and nose, lungs and life itself. And we pride ourselves as such a pacifist, democratic country!

Short take

The Island editor on Wednesday March 29 reminded his readership that ex-Prez M Sirisena is still hopeful and awaiting answers to his call for help in paying the 100 m fine imposed on him for negligence in preventing the Easter Sunday bombings and mass loss of life and serious injury. MS aka Aiyo Sirisena sure is presumptuously optimistic, stupid and dull-witted to think any Sri Lankan will contribute to save him from imprisonment. He sure must be having plenty lucre as almost all our dubious politicians have amassed. If he was scrupulously honest and has no money to spare, his brother Dudley can bail him out many times over. People were shocked by his – MS’s – changing sides but they hoot now at his SOS and methinks, wait to see him in the place he deserves to be! Bye for now, says Cassandra!

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