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Be prepared



There is little doubt among thinking people here who followed the U.S. presidential election that Donald Trump was bad news for a land which prided itself as being the cradle of democracy in the world. He did everything but “Make America Great Again,” leaving a legacy of blunders and a personal stamp of a man too small for the very big pair of boots he wore during the last four years. But as the ‘Trumpkin Pumpkin,” (orange on the outside and hollow inside) depicted by a cartoon on this page, is plotting his last stand to remain in office, there have been expatriate Lankans mounting social media platforms to express fears that the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket leaves openings for LTTE supporters, particularly those living in North America, to exploit Harris’ Indian ancestry to further their cause in a country where the Tigers remain a banned terrorist organization.

Given the worldwide media focus on the U.S. election, most Lankans are well aware that Kamala Devi Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father. Her publicists took pains to project the vice-president elect as a politician who throughout her life took pains to preserve her Indian roots about which she was justifiably proud. We ran an appropriately illustrated story during the campaign of her fondness for idli, a favourite South Indian dish. Indians throughout the subcontinent, and more particularly those living in Tamil Nadu, have predictably exulted about what she has achieved in a country that is not only among the world’s richest and most powerful, but also a land that is justifiable considered a place where “anything is possible.”

Although we in Sri Lanka like to think that the LTTE is well and truly dead and buried, we cannot ignore the reality that a rump remains that is alive and kicking. This is true not only of Tiger sympathizers living this country, but of the Tamil expatriate community spread out through the wider world. They may not take arms on behalf of a separatist cause, but their sympathies lie there. Many of these expats, some voluntarily and others through extortion, were among the major funders of the LTTE throughout the 30-year war. The Black July pogrom of 1983, for which the J.R. Jayewardene government of the day, and a misguided section of the majority Sinhala community must take much of the blame, drove many Tamils out of the land of their birth. Among them were professionals, some the best and the brightest of this land, who fled particularly to the West. There were also the numerous so-called “economic refugees” who migrated to Europe and North America taking advantage of the climate created in many developed countries that Sri Lanka was not safe for Tamils.

The mere fact that the woman who will be vice-president of a world power has a Tamil ancestry, does not mean that she will be a puppet on a string easily manipulated by pro-LTTE lobbies. US foreign policy, like that of most countries in the world is anti-terrorist, and there is no escaping the fact that the LTTE was terrorist and what remains of it is separatist. It has been widely acclaimed that the Tigers were among the deadliest terrorist groups of their time. Nevertheless, expatriate Tiger sympathizers would do their best to exploit the slightest opening, the remotest possibility. During the height of the war, the LTTE ran a skillful propaganda campaign, often with a homely touch. There was a time when journalists would be invited to expatriate homes and wined and dined on delectable Lankan cuisine not easily available in restaurants and other eating places in those countries. As there is no such thing as a free lunch (or dinner), the guest would be brainwashed with a vengeance on what had happened and was happening in Sri Lanka with the intention of influencing whatever he/she would write in the media.

The various posts that have surfaced after the Biden-Harris victory have provided other tidbits, including that the new vice-president will have a woman of direct Tamil ancestry, Rohini Lakshmi Ravindran Kosoglu as her chief-of-staff. This lady is the daughter, a post said, of Dr. Wijeydevendram Ravindran who has been practicing for over 35 years as an Emergency Room physician in New Jersey. He had emigrated to the U.S. many years ago and presumably his daughter was born there. While there will be many here, and among the non-Tamil expatriate community overseas who are strong nationalists wary of incipient dangers, who would see this as a possible ethnic access route to the very top of the U.S. administration. This need not be necessarily true. Hopefully, vested interest lobbies will be seen for what they are. But it will be both useful and appropriate for Sri Lanka to be aware of a worst-case scenario and not let down its guard.

This is particularly true at a time that the incumbent administration, like all its predecessors, is making patronage ambassadorial appointments to important capitals abroad while at the same time recalling senior and experienced professional diplomats on a 60-year age rule. There has been a proposal under consideration that the public service retirement age to be raised to 62-years and this may be announced in the forthcoming budget. It is high time that a realistic cost-benefit assessment of our overseas missions is made and those that are redundant are closed down. We are massively over-represented in terms of the number of the high commissions, embassies and even consulates that we, as a country with limited resources, run abroad. Cutting them down to size is long overdue. This is true of nearly all areas of government, and in the context of sharply declining revenue and essential Covid 19 related expenditure, now is the time to grasp the bull by its horns.

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Mountain in labour?



Friday 4th December, 2020

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry probing the Easter Sunday attacks is reportedly in the process of winding up, following two extensions of its term; everyone is eagerly awaiting its findings, conclusions and recommendations. There will not be enough time for some of the key witnesses whose statements have already been recorded by the police to appear before the commission, according to media reports. The commission must be having a valid reason for this, but it would have been better if all of them had been cross-examined thoroughly and more information elicited from them.

Besides the PCoI probe, several other investigations got underway into the Easter Sunday carnage. Little has been heard about them. What has become of them?

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, addressing the media yesterday, urged the government to ensure that all probes into the Easter Sunday carnage would be conducted properly and nothing swept under the carpet. He said the authorities concerned should have the courage to find out who had been behind the attacks. Reminding the government of its pledge to have the terrorist bombings probed thoroughly, the Cardinal said that unless its promise was fulfilled, they would have to think of an alternative. He can rest assured that all Sri Lankans who abhor terrorism are on his side.

The Cardinal’s call for identifying those behind the bombings is of crucial import. He has made this call on previous occasions as well. He is not alone in believing that the terror strikes were part of an international conspiracy. Maithripala Sirisena, who was the President and Defence Minister at the time of the carnage, did not mince his words when he said before the PCoI, the other day, that there had been a foreign hand behind the bombings. Among those who insist that there was an external involvement in the Easter Sunday attacks are former SDIG CID Ravi Seneviratne and SLMC Leader and former Minister Rauff Hakeem, MP.

Strangely, the focus of none of the investigations into the bombings has been on the alleged foreign hand. Investigators seem to be wary of looking at the Easter Sunday attacks from this particular angle.

No probe into the Easter Sunday carnage can be considered complete unless the alleged foreign involvement therein is investigated fully. The focus of the probes into the Easter Sunday terror has been on identifying those who failed to stop the attacks. The blame for the country’s failure to prevent them should be apportioned to all yahapalana leaders, the police and intelligence agencies. They did not heed repeated foreign intelligence warnings of imminent terror attacks. They are now blaming one another, but it was their collective failure that enabled the NTJ to strike with ease. One may argue that all of them should be prosecuted. But that will not help neutralise threats to the country if the real mastermind of the attacks is not identified.

We have seen various probes under successive governments, but not much came of most of them. Worse, some Presidents ‘swallowed’ the probe reports submitted to them. The public who bore the cost of those investigations has been left in the dark. Some of those investigations which dragged on for months were like the proverbial mountain which went into labour and delivered a mouse. As for the ongoing probes into the Easter Sunday attacks, it is hoped that we will not be left with a tiny rodent again.

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Recent judgments: Some queries



Thursday 3rd December 2020

Any judicial decision is always acceptable to only one party to a legal dispute; the winner hails it, claiming justice has been served, and the loser frowns on it and grumbles. That is the way the cookie crumbles. The judiciary, however, is not infallible, in any country, and concerns that the public expresses about its decisions should be heeded. In fact, judgments can be discussed and even criticised by the public but without causing affronts to the dignity of the judiciary and/or its members.

It is only natural that judgments in high-profile cases come under public scrutiny, and various views are expressed thereon. SJB MP Hesha Withanage, in Parliament, on Wednesday, raised a question about the judicial decisions that have attracted a lot of public attention of late. Referring to the recent judgments, given in favour of certain government politicians and their associates, he asked Minister of Justice Ali Sabry why other cases could not be similarly disposed for the benefit of the public so that the remand prisons would not be overcrowded. If all cases had been heard expeditiously, the unfortunate situation in the trouble-torn Mahara Prison, where hundreds of remandees are being held, would not have arisen, MP Withanage said. He was obviously viewing the issue from a political angle, and trying to embarrass the government, but his query may have struck a responsive chord with many people. He also provided the public, albeit unwittingly, with an opportunity to know the other side of the story.

Fielding Withanage’s query, Justice Minister Sabry said the anthropause caused by the prevailing pandemic had created a situation where court cases could not be heard, and, therefore, the Justice Ministry had requested the Judicial Services Commission to expedite the process of delivering judgments in the cases in which hearing had already been concluded. More than 70 judgments had been delivered recently, and the ones the Opposition was referring to were only a few among them, the Minister said, insisting that the government did not interfere with the judicial process.

Minister Sabry then got on his hobbyhorse; he lashed out at the previous regime for having manipulated the legal process and set up of the Financial Crime Investigation Division, etc., for that purpose. The less said about the Police Department, the better in that it is a mere appendage of the government in power. The same is true of the Attorney General’s Department, but incumbent AG Dappula De Livera deserves praise for trying to make a difference and standing up to the powers that be in carrying out his duties and functions. Unfortunately, he has not received enough support from the legal fraternity, the media, civil society organisations and the Opposition.

It is doubtful whether the discerning public will buy into Minister Sabry’s claim that the present government does not interfere with the legal process. Under the current dispensation, the police have shown their selective efficiency by concluding probes against Opposition politicians double-quick. They have also reopened some old cases where the political enemies of the current adminstration are involved. But they invariably baulk at executing arrest warrants when the suspects happen to be government politicians and those in the good books of the ruling party.

The judiciary is the only branch of government which people repose their trust in, and, therefore, extreme care must be taken to prevent an erosion of public faith therein lest democracy should be further weakened. Hence the need for the Justice Minister to support his claim that more than 70 judgments have been delivered in court cases during the recent past; he ought to release a list of those judicial decisions. That is the least the Justice Ministry can do to clear doubts in the minds of some people about the court cases the Opposition has referred to and defeat attempts being made in some quarters to cast aspersions on the judiciary.

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A crime of utmost savagery



Wednesday 2nd December, 2020

The recent assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Prof. Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, has shocked the civilised world and been rightly condemned as a dastardly act of terrorism. His killers left no clues as to their identities. Iran has blamed the US (which it calls ‘Global Arrogance’) and Israel. Its indignation is understandable.

Those who had Prof. Fakhrizadeh assassinated may have sought to demoralise Iran and scuttle its nuclear programme, but they seem to have only strengthened Tehran’s resolve to achieve its goal. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, no doubt, is an unnervingly frightening proposition, but the question is whether those who are all out to prevent Iran from achieving its nuclear ambitions have cared to set an example by suspending the production of their nukes.

Most of the nuclear capable countries are run by bloodthirsty hawks who have engineered many wars and caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to be killed elsewhere. The world cannot be any more dangerous even if other states acquire nuclear capability. Nukes in the hands of any nation are dangerous. Those who already have huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which are capable of blowing the planet several times over, will be without any moral right to try to prevent others from producing nukes so long as they do not decommission theirs and act responsibly without abusing their military might to dominate and exploit the world.

The non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is the goal the world must strive to achieve, but assassinating nuclear scientists is certainly not the way to set about it. Given the present global order, where might is right, for all practical purposes, it is only natural that the countries whose sovereignty and independence are threatened by meddlesome nuclear powers are trying to arm themselves with nukes. Iran is not alone in doing so. One may recall what Charles de Gaulle famously said: “No country without an atomic bomb could properly consider itself independent.”

Gone are the days when the US had the run of the world, so to speak. Now, it has formidable opponents. Try as it may, it cannot frighten China into submission either economically or militarily or otherwise, and Russia is also emerging powerful. The US and China are evenly matched in most respects so much so that the former has had to look for new allies or lackey states to retain its dominance of the international order. Worse, it has had to talk to the Taliban in a bid to wriggle out of the Afghan imbroglio. About a decade or so ago, who would have thought the US would ever negotiate with terrorists?

The world is changing fast, and so are geo-political dynamics and realities. The world history is replete with instances of mighty empires crumbling. The sun finally set on the British empire. Uncle Sam will show a clean pair of heels, given half a chance in Afghanistan, and has failed to humble the ‘Little Rocket Man’, who cocks a snook at Washington, at every turn, from his hermit kingdom. Those who are riding piggyback on the US or other powerful countries and resorting to aggression against their enemies had better be mindful of this reality, and act responsibly.

Iran should be dealt with diplomatically and must not be driven into a corner. Washington should not have withdrawn from the so-called Iran nuclear deal and opted for hostile action. President Donald Trump, who made that mistake, is on his way out, and how his successor, Joe Biden, widely considered a sensible leader, will handle the Iran issue is not clear.

One can only hope that Iran, which has not chosen its enemies wisely, will remain unprovoked in spite of its unbearable loss, desist from retaliation, which may be exactly what its enemies are waiting for, and deny the perpetrators of the dastardly crime of assassinating its much-revered scientist the pleasure of having a casus belli.



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