by Shamindra Ferdinando
Executive Director of the National Peace Council (NPC), Dr. Jehan Perera, last Wednesday (24) explained, in his opinion, why India abstained at a controversial vote at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council.The vote took place on March 23.
The NPC Chief asserted India based its decision on three reasons namely (i) Sri Lanka choosing China to execute USD 12 mn renewable energy projects in Delft, Analativu and Nainativu islands, off the Jaffna peninsula. The joint venture with MS/Sinosar-Etechwin received funding from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The islands have no access to the national grid (ii) Indian Central Government concerns for its own Tamil population and (iii) a section of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government demanding the abolition of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the failure, on the part of Sri Lanka to, fully implement the law.
Dr. Perera said so in response to TV 1 ‘Newsline’ anchor Faraz Shauketally’s query ‘why did India let us down?’ The NPC spokesperson described Sri Lanka’s relationship with China as nothing but a terrible mistake. Both China and India are nuclear powers, with the former also being a member of the UN Security Council.
The NGO activist compared Sri Lanka allowing China access to Jaffna islands with the Cuban missile crisis (16 October – 20 November 1962) between the then Superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union. The conflict is considered the closest the ‘Cold War’ came to escalating into a nuclear war. The unprecedented crisis erupted when the Soviet Union deployed ballistic missiles, in Cuba, in response to the US positioning missiles in NATO member states, Italy and Turkey. The missile crisis should be also examined against the backdrop of a failed US assault on Cuba (aka Bay of Pigs invasion), which ended in total embarrassment for Washington, no sooner it started.
Dr. Perera certainly owed the public an explanation how he arrived at the conclusion that raised many an eyebrow. Can there be anything as preposterous as such a comparison. Perhaps, the NPC Chief should explain his stand on the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA), with the US, finalized in early August 2017, now suspended Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Compact and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The NPC position is vital as that of other like-minded organizations/persons as they frowned on the Sri Lanka-China relationship.
13 A continues to rattle Lanka
Sri Lanka’s wartime Permanent Representative in Geneva, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, too, faulted the incumbent government for India’s decision to skip the vote on the latest accountability resolution.
Appearing on Sirasa ‘Pathikada’, anchored by Asoka Dias, Jayatilleka, having referred to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s meeting with Indian leader Narendra Modi in late Nov 2019, claimed lucidly how the incumbent dispensation antagonized India by varying statements regarding the 13th Amendment and Provincial Council polls. Jayatilleka asserted that twice President Mahinda Rajapaksa would have responded to Premier Modi’s query on the 13th Amendment in a different manner. Jayatilleke maintained that public statements made by Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (retd.) Sarath Weerasekera, Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne and Foreign Secretary Admiral (retd.) Jayanath Colombage influenced not only India but other members of the UNHRC as well against Colombo. Jayatilleka also faulted the government for not properly assessing the forthcoming Tamil Nadu elections.
The writer sought clarification regarding veteran political commentator Jayatilleka’s status, particularly whether he expressed those views as Senior Advisor on International Relations to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. Jayatilleke said that he was not interviewed in his capacity as Senior Advisor to the Opposition Leader, nor did he respond in that capacity. “I have no position in the SJB. I am not a member of, nor organizationally affiliated, to any political party,” Jayatilleke, who led Sri Lanka to victory at the 2009 Geneva vote, in the immediate aftermath of Sri Lanka’s triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said. Sri Lanka lost four subsequent votes with last week’s one being the worst, slammed Jayatilleka, who also served as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Moscow during the yahapalana administration (Sept 2018-January 2020), courtesy then President Maithripala Sirisena.
Tamara Kunanayakam had been our Permanent Representative, in Geneva when Sri Lanka lost in 2012, and Ravinatha Aryasinha when Colombo lost in 2013 and 2014— all under the same President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in office when Jayatilleka fought a valiant fight in Geneva and won in 2009. C.A. Chandraprema, a former colleague of the writer, is the current PR in Geneva.
But certainly a defeat at the UNHRC cannot be squarely blamed on the PR as decisions are taken on the basis of policies adopted by respective governments. The 2015 Geneva betrayal is far worse than any defeat inflicted on war-winning Sri Lanka.
Reiterating commitment to the Geneva resolution, co-sponsored by the yahapalana administration in Oct 2015, Dr. Perera urged the government to ensure the implementation of that resolution though the incumbent administration withdrew from it in Feb 2020 for the obvious reason of not meekly surrendering to Western agenda against this country. Dr. Perera asserted that the government could reach consensus with what he called a responsible Opposition in that regard. Dr. Perera was obviously referring to not only the main Opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), but all those who backed Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 presidential election.
It would be pertinent to mention the NPC, established in 1995 receives funding from the British (member of the UNHRC and leader of Sri Lanka Core Group), USAID (US spearheaded the campaign against Sri Lanka, although not being a member of the UNHRC), EU (EU members Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland voted for the resolution), the Asia Foundation, UN Peace Building, Legal Action Worldwide et al. Dr. Perera established the NPC having had served Sarvodaya under Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne for seven years (1988-95). The NPC, one of the biggest recipients of foreign funding, particularly from Norway, played a crucial role in the disastrous Oslo-led peace process (2002-2003) and caused shock and dismay in Aug 2005 when it declared the LTTE’s assassination of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar tragic but inevitable.
Can the NPC be faulted for pursuing the agenda of those who fund the organization? Dr. Perera’s participation at a meeting, called by UNP leader and the then PM Wickremesinghe, during the leadership struggle in the run up to the 2019 presidential poll, cannot be ignored as one examined the full picture.
India guided by two principle considerations
Let me reproduce the relevant section from the statement made by New Delhi’s PR in Geneva Mani Pandey, before the Geneva vote. It explained India’s decision to skip the vote having made an abortive bid to put off the vote. The relevant section verbatim: “India’s approach to the question of human rights in Sri Lanka is guided by two principal considerations. One is our support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace. The other is in ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka’s progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives. India supports the call by the international community for the government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, including through the early holding of elections for Provincial Councils and to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.”
The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF) further explained India’s role that had a bearing on many UNHRC members. GTF spokesperson Suren Surendiran stated: “GTF would like to express its appreciation and gratitude to all progressive forces that made this current outcome possible – the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights, the core group of countries, all countries who voted for and/or co-sponsored the resolution, the countries that abstained without voting against the resolution, eminent persons and dedicated human rights organizations who championed the cause, and, more importantly, the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka who despite the time lapse and the risks involved, continue to provide inspiration by bravely fighting for human rights and accountability.
“Tamils are grateful to the Government of India for supporting an escalation of the Tamil demand for equality, justice (accountability), dignity and peace at a multilateral international forum, like the UNHRC.
“By specifying India’s support to the international community, calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments to devolve political power to the Tamils and to allow those devolved powers to be operationalized effectively, according to the 13th Amendment of the constitution, is very significant.
“By making a public statement before the vote and by abstaining, India has clearly shown its displeasure with the lack of progress on addressing the alleged violations of human rights and international laws and the non-implementation of Sri Lanka’s numerous public commitments of the past in addressing the grievances of the Tamil people.
“Tamils are grateful to the Tamil Nadu political parties, particularly the DMK President M.K. Stalin, for the recent statement calling on the Government of India not to support the Government of Sri Lanka by voting against the resolution.”
Why are all silent on Delhi’s role?
However, there hadn’t been any reference in ‘Newsline’ or ‘Pathikada’ interviews or in statements made by Surendiran and Pandey to India’s murderous role in Sri Lanka that resulted in the nearly three-decade long war. The bottom line is that if not for India there wouldn’t have been Nanthikadal where the victorious Sri Lanka Army (SLA) annihilated the LTTE leadership. Sri Lanka hopefully dealt with the LTTE for once and for all.
However, Sri Lanka lacked political will at least to set the record straight, in spite of being unmercifully harassed by Western powers and India. Those who had been pursuing a political agenda, since the successful conclusion of the war, at the UNHRC, conveniently refrained from making any reference to India’s despicable role here. Successive, Sri Lankan governments, too, remained silent, as regards Indian and other foreign involvement, and, thereby facilitated a relatively smooth anti-Sri Lanka project.
Before further discussing the deterioration of Sri Lanka due to India’s terrorist project here, let me remind you what one-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Shivshankar Menon (1997-2000) stated about Sri Lanka’s strategic positioning in relation to India and how Sri Lanka could threaten India. Against the backdrop of Menon’s assessment, Dr. Perera’s bid to compare Chinese on Jaffna islands with the Cuban missile crisis is rather alarming.
Sri Lanka never responded to Menon’s accusations in ‘Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy,’ launched in Oct 2016. The veteran diplomat asserted India wanted a change of government in Sri Lanka due to then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations. Menon accused Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Menon’s assertion that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier, parked 14 miles off the Indian coast, clearly underscored New Delhi’s serious concerns regarding Sri Lanka being too close to China.
Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisor, from January, 2011 to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014. Incumbent Ajit Doval succeeded Menon. Doval is on record as having told Gotabaya Rajapaksa (during the first Rajapaksa administration) Sri Lanka being a small country does not need big infrastructure projects. Doval also had the audacity to urge Gotabaya Rajapaksa to do away with major Chinese funded projects, including flagship USD 1.4 bn Colombo Port City. Having commented on the conduct of former President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Menon accused Sri Lanka of reneging on bilateral understanding with India. Menon directly alleged that the former President received Chinese funds for his political campaigns, and projects. The veteran diplomat didn’t indicate when the war-winning President first received Chinese funding.
Both Dr. Perera, who had represented the Sri Lanka delegation, to the 2016 Geneva session under the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, and Dr. Jayatilleka, warned the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government of dire consequences unless Sri Lanka acted swiftly and decisively to address international concerns. Both pressed the government to adhere with the consensus reached in respect of the 2015 resolution, whereas Dr. Jayatilleka emphasized the pivotal importance in acting on the recommendations made by the late Sir Desmond de Silva, QC, in the Paranagama report (second mandate). Jayatilleka explained how yahapalana Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and FM Mangala Samaraweera squandered an opportunity to exploit those recommendations. Alleging Wickremesinghe and Samaraweera buried internationally accepted Sir Despond de Silva’s report on Sri Lanka’s execution of the war from an international legal angle, Dr. Jayatilleka asked why the incumbent government suppressed such valuable recommendations. Dr. Jayatilleka underscored the importance in the proper use of available reports, including the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) findings that dealt with the conflict. The writer, when he sought a clarification from PR Chandreprema, was told the six reports, including the Paranamaga second mandate report, were submitted to UN member states.
Lanka’s treacherous failure
Actually, the government conveniently failed to exploit a number of other credible reports available in the public domain such as wartime (January-May 2009) British High Commission dispatches (and sections yet to be released), US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s revelations in Colombo in 2011, UN report on Vanni war (August 2008-May 13, 2009), Wikileaks and UNSG Panel of Experts (PoE) denying examination of war crimes allegations till 2031 to present a far stronger case. ‘Newsline’ and ‘Pathikada’ programmes didn’t discuss Sri Lanka’s pathetic and treacherous failure to use credible evidence provided by those propagating lies to counter the Geneva project. The SJB and JVP, too, conveniently refrained from raising the issue. In fact, no one bothered to point out accountability accusations are nothing but a joke in the wake of the Tamil speaking electorate covering the northern and eastern electorates, including Jaffna, overwhelmingly voting for war-winning Army Commander at the 2010 presidential election after having accused him and his army of genocide and just a couple of months after the SLA permanently dispatched Prabhakaran.
The Western project receives the backing of a section of the parliament with some members openly blaming the military for genocide. They haven’t been taken to task. Irresponsible political leadership discarded what one-time UN bigwig Jayantha Dhanapala told the LLRC in August 2010. The first Rajapaksa administration never bothered to examine and exploit post-war developments. Their failure to utilize Lt. Col Smith’s declaration at the first Colombo Defence Seminar in May-June 2011 that there had never been an agreement between the SLA/Government and the LTTE as regards a formal surrender and battlefield executions didn’t take place, was never used. The government was silent on this at the recently concluded Geneva sessions, too.
Having sponsored terrorism in Sri Lanka and as a result lost a former PM and over 1,500 officers and men and 3,000 wounded during the Indian Army deployment here (July 1987-March 1990) , India had no qualms in preaching to Sri Lanka of accountability. Can India absolve itself of the responsibility for its murderous conduct in Sri Lanka and men, trained by them, raiding the Maldives, in early Nov 1988. They made an abortive bid to assassinate the then Maldivian President Gayoom. Perhaps Sri Lanka should at least now take note of Dhanapala’s declaration at the LLRC.
Commenting on the responsibility to protect concepts, Amb. Dhanapala said: “Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy the arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nation states from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community, and I think this is something that will echo with many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement where Sri Lanka has a very respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue.”
Dr. Jayatilleka, who had been Minister of Planning and Youth Affairs of the short-lived EPRLF administration of the Northeast Provincial Council, between 1988 and 1989, reminded the government of the need to prepare proper defence as Geneva formed a Special Office to deal with Sri Lanka consequent to the passage of the resolution. Jayatilleka pointed out how the new Office, backed with UN funding to the tune of USD 2.8 mn, could gather information and evidence and use them to move courts in 22 countries (those who backed the resolution) unless Sri Lanka addressed accountability issues within the stipulated period.
Perhaps Sri Lanka should bring to the notice of the new Office what one-time India’s High Commissioner in Colombo, J. N. Dixit, revealed in his memoirs, ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy,’ launched in 2004. Dixit asserted that the decision to give active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants could be considered one of the two major foreign policy blunders made by the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. But he strongly defended the Prime Minister’s action, while asserting Gandhi couldn’t have afforded the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils [Chapter 6:An Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik-Makers of India’s Foreign Policy]. Dixit failed to explain how the Prime Minister hoped to achieve her twin objectives by recruiting, training, arming and deploying thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil youth. India also helped Sri Lankan terrorists establish contact with international terrorist groups.
Adele’s hand in Gandhi assassination
Did India actually cause terrorism here in the 80s to create an environment conducive for the deployment of its Army in Sri Lanka? How many Tamils perished in the hands of the Indian Army? Those demanding action against perpetrators of violence should explain how they expect to deal with those ex-Tamil terrorists living in India, Europe, Canada, Norway, the US at al. Infamous of them all is Adele Balasingham, wife of LTTE theoretician, the late Anton Balasingham, a one-time British High Commission, Colombo, employee. Adele in spite of her role in building up LTTE women’s cadre, lives under British protection. Can British assure the world Adele didn’t have a hand in choosing the suicide bomber who blew up Rajiv Gandhi in South India May 1991. The members of that LTTE squad tasked to assassinate Gandhi were killed in subsequent Indian operations. Those killed in the Indian hands are probably among the list of missing persons along with the suicide bomber!
IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS
In the final analysis despite what all the pseudo-experts say coloured by their own hiden agendas, such as even singing for their supper, it is quite obvious that Sri Lanka had no chance in hell in Geneva as the UNHRC is more or less a tool of the West and it did not matter what evidence, even if they were gilt-edged, we had in our defense, the West, particularly the US and the UK, was all-out to turn a Nelsonian Eye to whatever our pleadings. They had in fact convicted us long before all these charades there to hoodwink the gullible.
Premier Mody and, more importantly, the South Block in New Delhi, should realise if they have not done so already, the Americans only want to drag China and India into an internecine conflict or a much bigger quagmire by encouraging their rivalry – a typical tried and tested British tactic that helped it to plunder much of the world. This way they must be watching with glee the possible killing of two birds with one stone!
Lastly, remember how the Americans, in particular, used Pakistan for so long into the 90s to project their global agendas, which included their dream of breaking up India and then dropped that country like a hot brick.
India’s role in re-moulding the SAARC
Making sense of regional integration in South Asia:
By Dr Srimal Fernando
Regional integration and cooperation have proven to be vital in dealing with political and economic challenges that cannot otherwise be dealt with effectively
In a national context, India’s unique positioning in the South Asian region has influenced the responses of the other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states regarding regional cooperation. Hence, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC’s strength and effectiveness are reliant not only on the organization’s institutional capabilities but also on the stableness of the member states that are less powerful and the security issues that appear at both the regional and extra-regional levels. For the South Asian region to attain successful regionalism, the less powerful countries in the region will need to espouse India’s power. Given that the South Asian nations share close cultural, historical and social ties, it becomes almost impossible to isolate them. In South Asia, India controls a greater proportion of the trade surplus and informal trade with other nations in the region. It can be debated that India’s policies on regional cooperation and SAARC has been symbolic of a worldwide approach in addressing the problems in a region.
India’s strategic location could provide the impetus required for promoting meaningful regional cooperation. Hence, India should renew its interest in promoting the agenda for regional cooperation and also engage in developing greater ties with other SAARC member states. Given India’s power, it can cause significant implications for SAARC’s political and economic structure. Hence, it is vital that India proactively advances both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of the region. A close evaluation of SAARC’s context indicates that there is insufficient commitment amongst its member states in pushing forward the regional integration agenda.
India and the South Asian Regionalism agenda
In South Asia, India is seen as a major player in the sphere of promoting initiatives for regional cooperation. Interestingly, the concept of establishing a regional identity in South Asia to boost intra-regional cooperation can be traced back to the endeavours of pre-independent India. India’s foreign policy had been progressively shaped by the Non-Alignment principles from the time of the Afro-Asian movement in achieving its objectives. Subsequently, this Nehruvian approach to regionalism has been succeeded by new regionalism in South Asia, which has seen a redirection in India’s approach towards this concept. India was also part of the Bandung Conference of 1955, which predominantly is considered to have paved the way for regional cooperation in Asia and South Asia. Subsequently, over the years, India has taken an active role in the SAARC initiatives.
Consequently, India recognized the proposal made by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh for the creation of a regional platform which identified numerous areas of cooperation. The establishment of SAARC came to be seen by India as a remedy to the strained political posture in South Asia, and since then, India has emerged as an influential member state of the organization. Nevertheless, finally India was convinced about the potential economic advantages that cooperation could bring about by merging most of the South Asian economies at that time. Although the areas of cooperation were limited to a few spheres such as technical cooperation during the initial years of forming SAARC, India subsequently came to fully accept and support the proposal for founding SAARC.
Eventually, given India’s strategic importance in the region, it became crucial for the country to actively participate in the joint initiatives for cooperation in the region. A striking feature of the region’s political and economic dynamics has been India’s political and economic dominance in contrast to the unequal levels of development among the other SAARC member nations.
India and Regional Economic Integration in South Asia
India’s economic dominance over the rest of the SAARC member states can be crucial in unifying the rest of the South Asian nations under a single umbrella. Given India’s role in promoting trade and attracting foreign direct investment, it can be said that regional integration has been an essential part of its foreign policy. This is notably significant to India, given that the dynamics of globalization and cross-border value chains are crucial for a state’s economy.
India’s magnitude as well as its economy, which is the largest in the region, provides the country an advantage over the other member states of SAARC. India has a Gross National Product (GNP) which is almost three times the total national product of the other SAARC member states. Being a vital player in the region in advancing regional prosperity and in reviving SAARC, these elements have vested India with high prospects. Subsequently, this has led India to be actively engaged in fostering regional cooperation through numerous endeavours to promote growth and development in the region. This has been further assisted by India’s strategic positioning which makes it possible for the nation to trade with its neighbours. Notably, India accounts for 80 percent of all intra-regional trade in South Asia.
In spite of these developments, the disproportionate distribution of trade advantages, that frequently favours India owing to its economic supremacy, has caused inequalities among the SAARC nations. Consequently, the prospects of India playing a leading role in fostering regional growth and development have been riddled with suspicion and fear of India’s dominance over the smaller and weaker economies of SAARC. Moreover, there exists immense prospects for improving political and economic ties amongst SAARC member states and the rest of the world. Accordingly, one of the critical developments in regional politics in the past three decades can be considered to be the emergence of regional cooperation institutions such as SAARC. Hence, nearly all of the South Asian countries have been encouraged by this development to embraced regionalism. However, the extent to which India and the SAARC nations can remain committed towards implementing regional initiatives under the SAARC framework is yet to be seen, given the rapid proliferation of regional arrangements and manifold memberships between India and the rest of the SAARC nations within such arrangements.
New Regionalism in South Asia
A close evaluation of SAARC indicates that there is insufficient commitment among its member states towards pushing forward the regional integration agenda. However, despite many challenges, SAARC’S continued existence for over three decades since its formation provides new prospects for improving the organization. Hence, it is vital that India takes on an active role in advancing initiatives in the region as a mode of reaching high GDP rates and trade growth.
In addition, given that the South Asian region is considered to be one of the least integrated regions of the globe, it is crucial that India is robust in promoting both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of South Asia.
About the Author
Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O. P Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’
House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, at the inauguration of a three-day capacity building programme for the Staff of Secy Gen of Parliament, at CITRUS Hotel, Waskaduwa, in early March 2016. The USAID funded the programme meant to promote much touted good governance. Training of parliament staff was part of an overall project worth Rs 1.92 bn.
Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is in deepening turmoil. Political parties are in disarray, with the country’s two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) reduced to just one (National List) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) 14 (one National List/13 on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket), respectively. Leaderships of those parties have caused so much damage to their parliamentary groups, over the years, that both are unlikely to recover for a long time.
Unfortunately, the SLFP’s offshoot the SLPP, and the breakaway UNP faction the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, are struggling to cope up with the deteriorating political environment. Overall, the country is in disorder with political parties, beset by internal conflicts, pulling in different directions, whereas the status of the Parliament remains questionable.
Lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s assertion that Parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country cannot be dismissed. The declaration made by President’s Counsel Rajapakse, in response to a query by the writer, at a media briefing, called by him, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), in June 2019, highlighted the unprecedented crisis. Having made that declaration, as a UNP lawmaker, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s own political future, as a member of the ruling SLPP, is uncertain today against the backdrop of him moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill – whatever the court ruling may be. In a way, one-time BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) President Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s plight reflected the growing instability and insecurity, in general, mainly brought on by the unprecedented pandemic, in living memory, but amplified by the unabated immoral political shenanigans.
The whole political setup seems to be in a dilemma. The House couldn’t have picked a better time to launch the second volume of an academic journal, titled ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’, to discuss a range of topics which dealt with parliamentary matters. The themes are (1) Constitution and Amendments to the Constitution (2) Representative Democracy and the Committee System (3) Legislative Functions of Parliament (4) Parliament and the Endowment of its Citizens (5) Standing Orders, Members’ Conduct and Parliamentary Procedures (6) Electoral System, the Parliament and Public Outreach (7) Parliamentary Reporting and Mass Communications (8) Sustainable Development Goals and the Parliamentary System (9) New Trends in Sri Lankan Women Politics and finally (10) The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People.
The Communications Department of the Parliament called for submission of articles, in all three languages (3,000 to 5,000 words each), to: firstname.lastname@example.org by, or before, May 21, 2021, after having informed the relevant officer, handling the project, on weekdays, on 0112 777328, of their desire to furnish articles.
The writer feels the entire gamut of issues, at hand, can be addressed by dealing with only the final topic: ‘The Role of an MP and aspirations of the People.’ The Communications Department assured those interested in submitting articles that their work would be reviewed by a panel of experts.
Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is at a crossroads, with the SLPP bent on further consolidating executive powers, whereas the other political parties sought to dilute the powers enjoyed by the President. The Role of an MP and aspirations of the people, or any other relevant topic, cannot be discussed unless all stakeholders acknowledge the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfill its two primary obligations. There is no point in denying the fact that Parliament pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline as well as enactment of required laws to combat it. If Parliament achieved its objectives, or at least, made a genuine effort over the years, there wouldn’t have been a need for projects such as ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’ Would the expert panel accept the brutal truth?
Timely setting up of Communication Department
Can Parliament, as the supreme law-making institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for the deterioration of every sector, through sheer negligence? Thanks to the setting up of a proper Communication Department, the public, to a large extent, gets to know what is going on. The Communication Department, so far, has dealt quite professionally with proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and the Public Finance Committee (PFC) thereby giving the public a clear idea as to what is really going on. The coverage of COPE, COPA and PFC proceedings disclosed a pathetic state of affairs. Waste, corruption irregularities and negligence seem to be the order of the day.
Let me briefly discuss the shocking revelation made by COPE proceedings on Feb 12, 2021, just to underscore the public dilemma. COPE examination of the Education Ministry reveals that the National Child Protection Policy is yet to be implemented though the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has been in existence since 1998. COPA Chairman Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, serving his first term as a National List lawmaker of the SLPP, stressed the need to implement it without further delay.
According to a statement issued by former journalist Shan Wijetunga, Director, Communications Department, COPE directed Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to expedite the process. During the proceedings, the revelation of the failure on the part of the NCPA to furnish its 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports to Parliament, is also a grave embarrassment. The Education Ministry owed an explanation how NCPA, an institution under its care, brazenly neglected its responsibility. Would you believe the NCPA’s Legal Section comprised just two employees and just one to handle complaints? The COPE placed the number of complaints that hadn’t been addressed, by January 1, 2021, at a staggering 40,668.
Perhaps ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ should include an additional topic to address the plight of the hapless children for want of a responsible Parliament. Can Parliament explain how it failed to take remedial measures in respect of NCPA? Let me stress, The Island dealt with the Feb 12 COPE proceedings only. If one examined the entire lot, the public would curse those who had served successive governments over the years. The NCPA/Education Ministry’s failure seems relatively light when compared with the shoddy handling of almost all other key ministries.
Against the backdrop of such poor performances by Parliament, the House itself should examine a high-profile costly project, implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), during previous administration. The USAID was launched in late Nov 2016 with a Rs. 1.92 billion (USD$13 million) partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
According to the American aid agency, the three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) was meant to improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women, and underrepresented groups, in Parliament, and at local levels.
Nearly two years after the conclusion of the project, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine whether the USAID project did any good? Did the USAID project make a tangible change? If not, who benefited from the Rs 1.92 bn project? These questions need answers. Perhaps, the issue can be dealt by some of those who will contribute to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’
Why not examine the Rs 1.92 bn
Karu Jayasuriya, who accepted the USAID project, in his capacity as the Speaker, at that time, (with the consent of the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP), owed an explanation as regards how US funding benefited the country. Interestingly, KJ today heads the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), the brainchild of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spearheaded a political campaign that brought the Mahinda Rajapaksa government down. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya took over the NMSJ, in the wake of Ven Sobitha’s demise, in early Nov 2015, before giving up the post to pave the way for KJ. The civil society organization NMSJ accommodated KJ in the wake of the former Speaker quitting active politics. But the irony is, it must be noted that NMSJ, too, is involved in anti-government politics to its neck.
‘The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People,’ the last topic offered by Parliament to those interested in contributing to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha,’ would be an ideal opportunity to discuss how the political party system mercilessly failed the country. While the vast majority of people struggled to make ends meet, the political class, and their crowd, enjoyed life at the expense of the national economy. Political parties plundered the country with impunity, regardless of the consequences.
The deterioration of parliamentary standards today cannot be compared with any particular post-independence period. That is the undeniable truth. It would be pertinent to mention that lawmakers should be held accountable for massive waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence revealed by COPE, COPA, and PFC. Examine how the mega sugar duty scam, perpetrated by the incumbent administration, cost the Treasury dearly. Can the Finance Ministry absolve itself of responsibility, whoever ordered it do so?
Serving Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, recently commented on the role of the judiciary, vis-a-vis the Executive and the Legislature. Both the Executive and the Legislature should take note of the President’s Counsel’s assertion. The courts had quite justly come to be regarded as the sentinel over the powers of the legislature and the executive in Sri Lanka in order to safeguard the rights of the citizen, under the law and the Constitution, the Attorney General Dappula de Livera has said on March 23, at the ceremonial sitting of the Court of Appeal.
The ceremonial sitting was held to welcome, His Lordship Justice Arjuna Obeysekere as the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Justice Menaka Wijesundera, their Lordships Justice Nihal Samarakoon, Justice Prasantha de Silva, Justice Mohamed Laffar, Justice Pradeep Kirthisinghe, Justice Sampath Abayakoon and Justice Sampath Wijeratne as Judges of the Court of Appeal.
Just a week after the AG’s extraordinary declaration, at a ceremonial sitting many an eyebrow was raised when he had to intervene in respect of a Colombo High Court ruling, pertaining to two narcotics cases.
The PC moved the Court of Appeal in revision of two bail orders of the Colombo High Court 04 as regards detection of 65 grams and 485 grams of heroin.
Following the AG’s intervention, the Court of Appeal stayed bail being granted to the suspects. The AG intervened after a State Counsel assigned to Court No 04 challenged the granting of bail.
Of the seven High Courts in Colombo, two Courts, namely No 04 and 05, have been assigned the additional task of dealing with bail applications.
Newly appointed Court of Appeal judge Menaka Wijeyasundera issued the stay order pending further investigations. The Attorney General’s Department examined the cases pertaining to bail applications handled by both Colombo High Courts before the intervention was made.
Democracy cannot thrive unless the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary work for a common agenda. The much-touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept would never be a reality if the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary pulled in different directions, whoever wielded political power. In the absence of a common objective to lift the living standards of the public, in a stable environment, whoever exercised political power, the country will remain in simmering turmoil.
If one genuinely examines the topics acceptable to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ he or she will quickly realize the entire parliamentary system is in a mess. In spite of introducing 20 Amendments to the President JRJ’s dictatorial Constitution enacted in 1978, the very basis of the law is mired in controversy. And in some cases, the role of lawmakers has been questioned.
Ranjan’s removal et al
SJB lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Gampaha district parliamentary seat, over contempt of court charges, the arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly aiding and abetting, Easter Sunday bombers, the CID investigation into a complaint as regards SJB National List lawmaker Diana Gamage’s nationality, controversy over SLPP lawmaker Premalal Jayasekera, sentenced to death over 2015 killing, taking oaths, dismissal of murder charges against Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan as well as termination of proceedings by the Attorney General and CIABOC in respect of several other lawmakers highlighted the crisis the country is in.
The fact that the incumbent government enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the ACMC, as well as the SLMC, whose leader and Attorney-at-Law Rauff Hakeem has been pictured with Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim’s brother, Mohammed Rilvan, recuperating in a hospital from injuries he suffered while testing a bomb in 2018, painted a bleak picture. High profile accusations and still unanswered questions raised by SJB lawmakers, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando pertaining to alleged involvement of some members of the intelligence services in the Easter Sunday carnage, shocked the community. Such accusations should be examined. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for turning a blind eye to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) as the sole representative of their community. Parliament never bothered to raise this issue with TNA. How come a recognized, political grouping recognized proscribed organization as sole representative of their community. Perhaps, the now banned National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) tried similar tactics, in 2015, when it sought to infiltrate Parliament. The NTJ secured an electoral alliance with the UNP-led political alliance, ahead of the 2015 general election, and was cunning enough to secure a National List place for one of Sri Lanka’s richest traders, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons, lham and Insath carried out the bombings of the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Parliament, as the lawmaking institution, should undertake a genuine examination of its shortcomings. The House should discuss ‘ The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People’ the last topic offered by ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ as part of the overall efforts to streamline the parliamentary process.
The political process, adopted in respect of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, revealed that such politically motivated strategies wouldn’t work. Those seeking to enact a new Constitution should realize that the passage of a new Law, only on the basis of a two-thirds parliamentary majority, wouldn’t ensure the much desired political stability, especially in the face of the daunting Covid-19 challenge. All four above mentioned Amendments were introduced as part of a political strategy, pursued by those in power at the time of the enactment.
Some of those who voted in early 2015 for the 19th Amendment, depicted as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills in 2020 backed the 20th brought in at the expense of the previously enacted Amendment. Beleaguered former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena excused himself from voting for the 20th Amendment last Oct, whereas his MPs did. The SLPP has no qualms in securing the passage of the 20th Amendment with the backing of the SLMC and the ACMC, having lambasted them in the run up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 general election.
Those exercising parliamentary powers and privileges should realize that real power can be achieved through genuine consensus. Political tools, such as urgent bills, will only serve limited purposes and even if succeeded in depriving the Opposition, the civil society and the media from playing their classic role, there cannot be certainty in the final outcome. Parliament should take note of the BASL statement, dated April 15, issued by BASL Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission. Let me produce the relevant section verbatim. It stated: “On the 8th of April 2021, just fifteen (15) calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. In terms of the Constitution, a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill has to do so within one week from the Bill being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.
The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one (1) week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinize the Bill and to discuss its merits.”
The way Parliament handled the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams and the shocking revelation that some lawmakers, on both sides, received donations from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) tarnished the image of the House beyond salvation. Having funded a high profile good governance project, the USAID totally turned a blind eye to the Treasury bond scams! So, we will end this with the warning written by Virgil more than 2000 years ago; “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.
CAS for our secondary school students
by Anton Peiris
B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London ), DAES (York). Emeritus Coordinator, International
(Reduce O/L STRESS (continued): The package of 7 subjects plus computer skills plus CAS is designed to impart an all-round education.)
CAS was introduced to 10 schools in Europe, the UK and North America by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in 1970. By 2010 it had spread to more than 5,000 Secondary and High schools worldwide. Now it is Sri Lanka’s turn to introduce it. CAS should be compulsory for all Senior Secondary students (i. e. Grades 10 – 12).
It is something that is done outside school hours.
C = CREATIVITY :
That is, learning to play a musical instrument or taking lessons in oriental dancing or Art or Music or taking part in a theatre production or singing in a choir or doing Painting or Sculpture or pursuing a Hobby like stamp collection or carpentry or metal work or motor mechanism or photography or aeromodelling or playing chess or bridge or poker, etc.
A = ACTIVITY:
Playing cricket or football or basketball or badminton or tennis or netball or volleyball or hockey or swimming or athletics or any other sporting activity.
S = SERVICE :
For example, giving Tuition in English or Mathematics to a weak student from a poor family or to a handicapped child for free ( no fees charged ) for 45 minutes during a weekend or baking a cake to sell the cake slices at a fundraising event for a worthy cause or visiting an orphanage occasionally and playing a musical instrument to entertain the poor orphans or taking a handicapped person (in a wheelchair) to the cinema, or visiting a handicapped or old or retired person or couple living alone and reading a short story to them or informing them of the local / international news items once a month, etc. That is, to undertake a project that often involves community service.
It is not necessary to do a Service activity every week. The aim should be to do it at least three times during the year.
The students playing for the school cricket team or any other sports team have already fulfilled their Activity component of CAS. Similarly, the students who are members of the school band or dramatic society have already fulfilled their Creativity component. If a group of students take part in a particular community service project, then all the members of the group have fulfilled their Service component.
Some students take part in Service projects in their Temple or Church. These also count as Service activities for CAS.
It is the duty of the teachers to provide the students with some guidance on the choice of suitable Service projects. CAS should be an enjoyable experience for the students.
CAS should be monitored by the school for each student. Each school should appoint at least one CAS Coordinator, i.e. a competent teacher. He/she should not be a full-time teacher because it is a post of responsibility requiring many hours of work per week both inside and outside the school hours. A CAS Coordinator should be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Deputy School Principal.
The CAS Coordinator must ensure that, at the end of Grade 11, every student has worked on Creativity, Activity and Service for at least one year.
There is a school in Sri Lanka that has a strong CAS programme for A / L (IB) students: The Overseas School of Colombo in Battaramulla. The senior officers of the Ministry of Education should visit this school and meet the CAS Coordinator.
About 35 years ago, a teacher in the Overseas School of Colombo discovered that a village school, a few kilometres away from Battaramulla, had only a well and no tap water and there was no pipe borne water nearby. A CAS project was organised to provide the school with a water pump, a water tower and tank. To raise the required money, the students organised bake sales, staged a theatre production, donated part of their pocket money and solicited donations from parents and their employers.
A parent who was a civil engineer drafted the plans and a group of Advanced Level (IB) students spent a few hours during their weekends mixing cement, bricklaying, etc., (all under expert supervision ). Senior students in the village school also took part in the manual work. The project was completed and the school had tap water in the school premises. The grateful village headmaster brought the OSC students and their CAS Coordinator in Perahara with drummers and Kandyan dancers for the opening ceremony.
Those OSC students (most of them foreigners) not only fulfilled the Creativity and Service components of their CAS requirement but also acquired an ‘awareness of a common humanity and social responsibility ‘.
CAS will provide our students with the joys of childhood and school life that they have missed and also equip them with qualities like empathy and love of neighbour.
Long live CAS!
(To be continued.
Next instalment: A solution to the problem of extra heavy School Bags. The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.)
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