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CHRISTIANS IN SRI LANKA:

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Living in Harmony amidst Challenges after Easter Terrorist Attacks of 2019

by Prabhath de Silva

Sri Lanka has attracted the attention of ancient and modern colonial empires, foreign countries ,merchants, travelers and missionaries over the centuries owing to its strategic and prominent location at a crossroads of maritime routes traversing the Indian Ocean.

The Portuguese were the first European colonial power to arrive in Sri Lanka in 1505. Their presence in Sri Lanka’s maritime provinces between 1505 and 1656 CE, which began as an interaction of trade and commerce, later developed into a colonial rule in the maritime provinces from 1597. The maritime provinces were ruled by the Dutch East India Company from 1656 to 1796. The British captured the maritime provinces of the Island in 1796 . When native feudal Chiefs ceded the sovereignty of the interior native Kandyan Kingdom to the British Empire by the Kandyan Convention of 1815, the whole Island came under the British rule. Sri Lanka gained independence from the British in 1948.

The Buddhist missionaries from India during the reign of Emperor Asoka introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BCE, and it soon became the established religion of the ancient Sinhalese monarchy and the majority Sinhalese people. The Sinhalese majority community is predominantly Theravada Buddhist [93% of the Sinhalese population] and only a 7% of the Sinhalese population is Christian. Hinduism has been in existence since at least the 2nd century BCE The Sri Lankan Tamils are predominantly Hindu [ 85% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population]. A 15% of the Sri Lankan Tamil population is Christian. The Muslim settlers who came from the Arabian Gulf and later from South India brought Islam to the Island beginning in the 8th Century CE , converting native women upon marriage. Sri Lankan Muslims constitute 9.3 % of Sri Lankan’s population

During the presence of Portuguese in the Island (1505 to 1658), Catholic missionaries actively engaged in evangelization of natives. Thousands of native Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus embraced the Christian Faith. The maritime provinces of Sri Lanka came under the rule of Dutch East India Company after its armies defeated the Portuguese in a series of battles between 1640 and 1658. The Dutch immediately banned Catholicism in Sri Lanka by laws. Through the brave and zealous endeavors of the Catholic missionaries from Goa, a territory of Portuguese in India, a territory of Portuguese in India, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka which had become an outlawed underground church, survived and grew amidst persecution during the Dutch occupation. In last few decades of the Dutch rule in the maritime provinces, beginning from the 1750 s the Dutch granted religious freedom to Catholics.

From the beginning of their rule, the British granted religious freedom to all religions. The Catholic church emerged as the largest Christian church. The British permitted the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka to establish schools and charitable institutions. Catholic missionaries came from France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, and Goa. During the British colonial rule, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist and The Salvation Army missionaries from the British Isles introduced their respective forms of Christianity to the Island in the 19th century. They established schools and charitable institutions throughout the Island. During the early British period, the American missionaries from the Congregationalist churches arrived in Sri Lanka and established churches, schools , the Island’s first western medical school in 1851, and medical missions in the Northern Province. In the early 20th century, when Sri Lanka was still a colony of the British, missionaries from the American Pentecostal churches introduced their brand of Christianity to the Island. According to the Census of 2012, a 70.2% of Sri Lankans were Theravada Buddhists, 12.6% were Hindus, 9.7% were Muslims (mainly Sunni), 7.4 Christian [Catholic 6.1%, other Christians 1.3 %] and 0.05% others.

 

Christians in Today’s Sri Lankan Society

In order to present a kaleidoscopic picture of today’s Christian community in Sri Lanka and the issues and challenges they face, I interviewed three pastors and four lay persons of four different Christian denominations in Sri Lanka for this article.

 

Voices of Pastors

On one Sunday morning when the sun was shining bright, I stepped into the Methodist Chapel at Kalutara, a town (predominantly Buddhist) situated in the western coast of Sri Lanka 42 km south of Colombo. The Sunday worship service was in progress. Methodist Church of Sri Lanka was founded by the early British Methodist Missionaries who arrived in the Island in 1814. It was these first missionaries who had established the Methodist congregation at Kalutara through their zealous missionary endeavours in 1814. Methodist Church of Sri Lanka today has approximately 25,000 members throughout the Island. Methodist congregation of Kalutara currently has a membership of 90 people consisting of Sinhalese and a few Tamils.

After the service, I spoke to the Methodist Minister in charge of this congregation, Rev. Sunil Weerasinghe (60). “Every Sunday we proclaim God’s Word and His love, and we encourage people to live in peace with their neighbors. Most people in our congregation are a low income earners. There are only a few middle class families. In the pastour church helped people find work or start their own small businesses. After all, it is better teach someone to fish than give him fish.” Rev.Weerasinghe laments: “Methodist Church of Sri Lanka nowadays have no funds for such self-employment projects.

In evening of that Sunday, I met Rev. Shirley Faber (61),President of the Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka (formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church in Sri Lanka ) at his residence in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo. It is the oldest Protestant denomination in the Island founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1642. The Christian Reformed Church which had around 200,000 members by the end of the Dutch colonial rule in the maritime provinces of Sri Lanka in 1796, is today one of the tiniest Christian denominations today with a membership of approximately 6000 people. Speaking of ecological and social concerns, Rev. Faber said: “The mandate of the Christian Churches is not only to preach the Gospel but also to show Christian concern and love for people and the love for God’s creation. God created the world and handed over the control of His beautiful creation to the human beings. We ought to know that we are only the stewards of His creation. As stewards of His creation, we should display good stewardship. We are accountable to God as to how we utilize the resources in His creation. The Churches should show its concern for ecological and social issues. In our society, wealth and resources are unfairly distributed. During the Covid-19 crisis, our church helped both Christians and non-Christians. We should show our love for people regardless of their religion not with the motive of converting them to Christian faith’.

As for the theological challenges, Rev. Faber is of the view that some charismatic Pentecostal churches which promote and propagate the ‘new theology of prosperity’ (health and wealth), poses a challenge in that they entice the less informed members of mainline Christian churches to join them by their controversial teachings.

 

Easter Sunday Attacks : Seeking Justice

On 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, three churches (two Catholic and one Evangelical Pentecostal) and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, Colombo, were attacked in a series of terrorist suicide bombings launched by a local Islamic extremist terrorist group which had embraced the ideology of ISIS. A total of 267 people were killed including at least 45 foreign nationals and eight bombers, and at least 600 were injured. Among those who were killed and injured, there were many children and women. The church bombings were carried out during Easter worship services in St. Sebestian’s Church, Katuwapitiya in Negombo, St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and Zion Pentecostal Church in Baticaloa.

Out of the 267 people killed and 600 injured, about 221 killed and an overwhelming majority of the injured were Christians attending Easter Services in the three churches. On April 21 last year, Easter Sunday, a series of suicide bomb attacks launched by a local extremist Islamic group which has embraced the ISIS ideology inside three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. Out of the 267 people killed and 600 injured, about 221 killed and an overwhelming majority of the injured were Christians attending Easter Services in the three churches. On April 21 last year, Easter Sunday, a series of suicide bomb attacks launched by a local extremist Islamic terrorist group which has embraced the ISIS ideology inside three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka. “The impact of the attacks is still noticeable. Christians seek justice for the victims and their next of kin, “says Rev. Dr. Noel Dias, a Catholic priest, a former Senior Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Colombo and an Attorney-at–Law, who resides at the Archbishops’ House of Colombo.

Rev. Dr. Noel Dias remarked: “The leadership of the Catholic Church played a decisive role in containing the probable escalation of retaliatory violence against the Muslim community by appealing to her faithful not to retaliate but to forgive the attackers in a true Christian spirit. The Easter terror attacks have left a lasting impact on Christians. They are still seeking justice for the victims and their families.” These concerns are echoed every day by the Christians and other people in Sri Lanka and abroad. Mr. Mike Pompeo, US State Sectary who was on an official visit to Sri Lanka on the 27th and 28th October, did not forget to place a wreath at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo on 28 th October 2020. In his Twitter, Pompeo said: “Today, I laid a wreath at the Shrine of St. Anthony, one of the sites of the 2019 #EasterAttacks which killed and injured hundreds of innocent people. We stand with the Sri Lankan people and the world to defeat violent extremism and bring perpetrators to justice.”

There are some questions that remain to be answered. The most important of them all is: Why didn’t the Sri Lanka’s authorities in charge of security who had repeatedly received prior foreign intelligence reports about these terror attacks and the suicide bombers during the two weeks prior to the attacks, take appropriate action to arrest the suicide bombers and prevent them? The investigations including a concluded Parliamentary Select Committee inquiry and an on-going Presidential Commission Inquiry have not yet conclusively answered these questions even after one and a half years. Suspected perpetrators have so far been indicted in the High Court for trial in connection with the Easter attacks.

As for the spiritual challenges posed by the Easter Attacks, Rev. Dr. Noel Dias said: “The martyrdom is the seed of the Church. These challenges remind us of what C. S. Lewis once said: ’Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.’

Speaking of the role of the Catholic Church in pastoral care, Rev. Dr. Dias opined: “Catholic Church is in the fore-front of organized pastoral activity, which performs very well in the educational and social service sectors. There is a great need for pastoral care in terms of building a rapport between the clergy and the laity. In terms of political involvement, Catholic Church in Sri Lanka does not get involved in party politics but raises her voice and concern when the occasion demands justice and reasonableness in the political and social context. In the perspective in theology, the church should refrain from being elitist. External pomp, over emphasis of material structures must be moderated. There is a greater need in this direction. In terms of fostering family relationships, Catholic Church is better organized than the other religious denominations. However, there is still an urgent need to address issues like pornography, drug and alcohol addiction etc.”

 

Voices of the Lay Christians:

Aruna Silva (50), a father of six children, who earns his livelihood as a three-wheeler taxi driver and a painter of motor vehicles said: ” I was born and bred as a Methodist. I moved to this area in 1995 and joined this congregation. There is religious freedom in the country. There were a few occasional isolated incidents of religious violence against Christian churches by a few extremist groups.” Aruna opined: “I believe that the persuasive and aggressive forms of evangelism used by some evangelical Pentecostal churches disregarding sensitivities of other religions, at times though not always, may have provoked the extremist elements to attack Christian places of worship in some rural areas”.

Naveen, a 20 year old young undergraduate student in Information Technology who is a member of this Methodist congregation at Kalutara said: “I am proud to be a Christian in Sri Lanka as it gives me a unique privilege to show my Christian testimony to non-Christian brothers and sisters by my words and deeds of love. Our good deeds would speak louder than our words. In order to help the poor people to improve their economic conditions, the church should first identify their skills and help them to earn an income in the areas they are so skilled”.

Janice Benjamin (32) is a young educated Catholic mother of five children, housewife and an active member of the Catholic movement known as “Neocatecumenal Way” founded by Kiko Argüello, a Spanish artist and Carmen Hernández in 1964. She lives in Colombo and is a member of St. Lawrence’s Church there. Janice strongly believes that “Satan is waging his final war against the family”. Says Janice, “I personally see how it is absolutely true in the context of the Church here. Many Catholics, I believe, are not given proper and adequate instructions on the Catholic Church and its history, its rich teachings, and as such it is very obvious to see the prevalence of many attacks on the family. The Neocatecumenal Way is a tiny minority within the Catholic Church. In the Neocatechumenal Way, we are given a lot of insight on the teachings of the church and the Bible particularly on marriage, family, children, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. It is very sad to see only a minority in the church practice the official teaching of the Church on these issues. Many would go with the tide and agree with the modernist views of society. Sadly, many of my friends say that unless the Church adapts to the modern trends, it will lose its members.”

The Neocatecumenal Way of which Janice is a member, promotes the idea of having children as many as possible. Says Janice: As a young mother of five children, I would say that it is definitely a challenge for me to raise my five kids in a society which considers having more than one or two children is old fashioned and stupid. There are struggles economically, and physically and it is draining our energy and resources. But in the midst of all these I see the love of God resonates in my family of five children who are a blessing from God.”

Speaking of the most important reform needed in the Catholic Church, Janice opined: “In my opinion, the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka has to be more vocal in its teachings. The Church should do more to inculcate the rich traditions and values in her faithful, younger generations and children. The teachings of the church and the Bible should be slowly introduced to the children not in a moralistic and legalistic sense but in a way of showing them that this is how the Love of God is reflected.”

Professor Rathnajeevan Hoole (68) is a member of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. He belongs to the congregation of St. James’ Church in Nallur, Jaffna, his native place in the Northern province of Sri Lanka chiefly inhabited by Sri Lankan Tamils. Professor Hoole, is a former Senior Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Peradeniya and State University of Michigan. He is well known for his role as one of the three members of Sri Lanka’s Election Commission. Professor Hoole’s father was an Anglican clergyman. Professor Hoole has served as a member of the Diocesan Council of the Colombo Diocese of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka for several years. A When interviewed by me, Professor Hoole expressed his concerns about the general level of education prevalent among the pastors in the Anglican Church of Sri Lanka and in other non-Catholic churches. Said Professor Hoole: “The educational standards of our protestant pastors have deteriorated over the last few decades. Pastors of non-Catholic mainline churches (except the pastors of Christian Reformed Church) are trained at Pilimatalawa Theological College where liberal theology is taught, while the pastors of evangelical free churches and Christian Reformed Church receive their theological education from evangelical/Pentecostal seminaries. The most important reform required is to groom educated Protestant pastors. Many Anglicans and other non-Catholic Christians seem against or ignorant of the creeds and Catholic side of our faith. The free churches even think the Lord’s Prayer is Roman Catholic. So unsatisfactory is our theological education. They think transference from Roman Catholicism is conversion. Most of the educated Jaffna Tamil Christians left Sri Lanka and settled down in the western countries during last six decades due to the ethnic tensions and a 30 year Civil War that ended in 2009”.

The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka and worldwide maintains very high and uniform educational standards for its clergy. In order to become a Catholic priest, a seminarian should first read for a Bachelor of Philosophy degree awarded by Gregorian University or Urban University of Rome in English medium after his General Certificate of Education (Advanced Level)-Sri Lanka’s matriculation examination. In addition to this a seminarian is required to read for a second degree of Bachelor of Theology awarded by one of these two universities. These degree are recognized by the university grants Commission of Sri Lanka and universities throughout the world.

Amidst all the challenges, the significant contributions of Christianity to the social and moral development of Sri Lankan society in some aspects remain highly significant. The most significant and prominent among such legacies is the formal educational system of primary and secondary schools in Sri Lanka. It is a lasting legacy of Christian missionaries. The missionaries of mainline Christian denominations (Catholic and non-Catholic) were responsible for introducing a formal modern educational system by establishing their respective networks of schools throughout the iIsland increasing the literacy of the people. The non-Christians were the largest beneficiaries of the Christian missionary school system. The leaders of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities who had received their education from the Christian missionary schools later established Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim school networks on the lines of the Christian missionary school model in the last quarter of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. The British colonial government provided financial aid to both Christian and non-Christian school networks. The Christian missionary school networks served as the models for both State and non-Christian schools. The Catholic and Protestant Churches were the pioneers in establishing Reformatories for juvenile offenders, Schools for the Blind and Deaf, children’s homes, elders’ s homes, hospitals and industrial schools for young persons etc. The concept of monogamous marriage was introduced to Sri Lanka by Christian colonial rulers and missionaries. It is now a well accepted and entrenched concept among the Buddhists and Hindus. Christian influence can also be seen in wedding ceremonies and funerals and in other moral and social aspects too.



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Why record export earnings may not be good news

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By Gomi Senadhira

The press release by the Central Bank on the external sector performance ,in June 2022, perhaps was the first piece of good news we had received for a long time. According to the press release, “Earnings from merchandise exports, in June 2022, increased by 23.9 percent over the corresponding month, in 2021, recording US dollars 1,248 million, which is the highest ever monthly export earnings recorded. An increase in earnings of both industrial and agricultural exports contributed to this favourable outcome, …. Cumulative export earnings, from January to June 2022, also increased by 14.3 percent, over the same period in the last year, amounting to US dollars 6,514 million.” So, most of us would think we have enough dollars to cover our essential imports. But, apparently, that is not the case.

Earlier, the Central Bank Governor, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, had said that exporters only converted about 20% of their export earnings into Sri Lankan Rupees and the rest was not brought back to Sri Lanka. That amounts to the US $800 million a month! The Governor had also said “… At least 40% of the total export earnings should be added to the formal financial system of the country. So exporters have a responsibility, at a very difficult time like this, to bring back their foreign exchange, through the banking system, and if that happens, then we can resolve the fuel crisis comfortably.”

(Diesel shipment that arrived in Colombo, on 16 July, still not paid for want of dollars – The Island July 30th) It appears as if the Governor is pleading with the exporters to bring back at least 40% of their export earnings. More notably, from Dr Weerasinghe’s statement, it is clear that the exporter had only converted 20% of their export earnings to rupees during the last five months. Did they convert their export earnings to rupees during the last year, or in the previous years? For how long has this been going on? When the Central Bank says “… exporters have a responsibility, at a very difficult time like this, to bring back their foreign exchange, through the banking system,” does that mean the foreign exchange earned, with the exports, is brought through the hawala network, or other similar arrangements?

Exporters deserve credit for the great service they provide and should be rewarded, appropriately. But not disproportionately. The export earnings are not earned by the exporters alone. These earnings are earned by all those who contribute to manufacturing the export products. All of them should be getting their fair share of the export proceeds. If not, there is something terribly wrong with the system. Is this normal in international trade?

During the last few years, some of the studies by Indian scholars, including Utsa Patnaik and Shashi Tharoor, have placed in the public domain some of the less known facts on the effects of the British colonial rule on India. They explain how the British seized India, “… one of the richest countries in the world – accounting for 27% of global GDP in 1700 – and, over 200 years of colonial rule, reduced it to one of the world’s poorest,” and how during the period British Raj siphoned out $45 trillion from India.

How was this done? Patnaik explains, “In the colonial era, most of India’s sizeable foreign exchange earnings went straight to London—severely hampering the country’s ability to import machinery and technology in order to embark on a modernisation path, similar to what Japan did in the 1870s. …, a third of India’s budgetary revenues was … set aside as ‘expenditure abroad’. The secretary of state (SoS) for India, based in London, invited foreign importers to deposit with him the payment (in gold and sterling) for their net imports from India, which disappeared into the SoS’s account in the Bank of England. Against these Indian earnings he issued bills… to an equivalent rupee value—which was paid out of the budget, from the part called ‘expenditure abroad’.” Patnaik underlines that this was “something you’d never find in any independent country,”

But it appears something very similar is happening in Sri Lanka, many years after the independence! If the exporters do not “bring back their foreign exchange ,through the banking system,” or only bring back 20% of it, then how do they pay for goods and services obtained locally? The local value addition for most of our exports is 70% to 80% or higher! The only major exception is cut and polished diamonds. Tea exporters buy tea with rupees. Some of the imported inputs, like fertiliser, or diesel, are sourced locally! The garment industry had moved up the value chain during the last 40 years and provide many value-added services, like designing, locally.

How do the exporters pay for all these goods and services, if they keep more than 60% of their export earnings outside the country? Do they get it through “hawala” or similar arrangements? During the British Raj, payments to local producers were done with the taxes collected by the Raj. In present-day Sri Lanka, how does one manage to raise a large amount of cash to operate such a system?

If a sizeable chunk of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings goes straight to banks in London, New York, Zurich, or elsewhere, severely hampering the country’s ability to import essential items, doesn’t that mean, Sri Lanka’s wealth is getting siphoned out through our exports? And there is not much of a difference between what happened during the colonial period and the post independent Sri Lanka!

So, June’s record export earnings also mean nearly US$ billion was siphoned off during the month! A new record for the month of June! And that means Patnaik was wrong when she said this was not “something you’d never find in any independent country”

That is not good news.

(The writer is a specialist on trade and development issues and can be contacted at senadhiragomi@gmail.com)

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Improving trend needs to be sustained on multiple fronts

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by Jehan Perera

The government appears to have secured political stability in the short term.  So far President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts to restore stability appear to be working. Political stability is necessary for decisions to be made and kept.  It is a necessary element for international support to come in.  One of the IMF’s conditions to provide the country with the multi-billion-dollar loan it seeks is political stability that would ensure that commitments that are made will be kept.  The protest movement has not mobilised public demonstrations on the very large scale of the past after the appearance of Ranil Wickremesinghe in leadership positions, initially as prime minister and subsequently as president. This would be seen as an achievement by the government.  The present governmental line that protests should be within the law is difficult, and also frightening, to challenge when a state of emergency is in force.

The government has shown its ability to wield the emergency law with deterrent effect. Under the state of emergency that President Wickremesinghe declared on July 18, the period that a person may be detained before being brought before a magistrate has been increased from 24 to 72 hours. The authorities have been granted additional powers of search and arrest, and the military has been empowered to detain people for up to a day without disclosing their detention. The state of emergency also gives the president and the police broad powers to ban public gatherings, allows the police or military to order anyone to leave any public place or face arrest, and makes it an offense to cause “disaffection” or to spread “rumours.” However, in a sign that Sri Lanka’s system of checks and balances is still working, the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s Court has rejected a request by the police to ban a public protest planned by political parties and multiple organisations on September 9.

Human Rights watch has pointed out that “these provisions are vague, overly broad, and disproportionate in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and movement.”  The midnight strike on the protestors who had camped for over three months at the main protest site at Galle Face would make any reasonable person think twice before getting into physical confrontation with the government.  The social media coverage of events that night showed men in black uniform and wearing masks, attacking the unarmed protestors.  As these men did not wear identification badges, there is a question whether they were part of the official security forces or drawn from other groups that work with them.  This response brought discredit to the perpetrators and disturbed both Sri Lankan people and the international community that have the welfare of Sri Lanka at heart.

The government has also used the full power of the draconian law to ensure that the leadership of the protest movement is neutralised. Several of them have been arrested, some of them given bail, others remanded, which would send a chilling message to the others.  The government has also shown its willingness to offer high positions to those who are prepared to join it.  This has led to a situation where two trade union leaders active in the protest movement have been treated very differently.  One has been offered a high post while the other has been put into prison, although he has now been given bail.  In a signal that he is sensitive to public pressure and human rights concerns, President Wickremesinghe had spoken to leader of the Ceylon Teachers Union, Joseph Stalin, after he was remanded and reportedly said he admires the members of the protest movement who talk of a system change.

ECONOMIC STABILISATION

Apart from the appearance of political stability there is also the appearance of economic stabilisation.  The shortages of cooking gas, petrol and diesel, and the 13-hour power cuts were among the main catalysts of the protest movement.  It was during the period of long power cuts, when staying at home became unbearable, that neigbourhood groups began to converge in urban centres to hold candlelight protests.  However, at this time the supply of gas, petrol and diesel has improved significantly and the kilomere-long lines in front of fuel stations are much less common.  Credit has gone to the QR code system put in place that gives to each vehicle a weekly quota.

The challenge for the government is to ensure that the economic situation continues to be stable without experiencing the acute shortages of key items that causes distress to the general population.  The QR code system can only work if there is petrol and diesel to be distributed.  The current imports of cooking gas, petrol and diesel appear to have been made possible by a World Bank loan which was re-purposed to the purchase of essential items.  However, these funds will dry up soon.  The question is what will happen after that.  There is apprehension that the country will fall once again into a situation of severe shortage.  The government needs to take the people into its confidence regarding the future.  The government also needs to be trusted if it is to be believed.

The World Bank has given an indication that they are still to be convinced regarding the provision of further assistance to Sri Lanka.  Earlier this month, the World Bank issued a statement “expressing deep concern about the dire economic situation and its impact on the people of Sri Lanka yesterday said it does not plan to offer new financing to Sri Lanka until an adequate macroeconomic policy framework is in place.  Issuing a statement, the World Bank Group said it is repurposing resources under existing loans in its portfolio to help alleviate severe shortages of essential items such as medicines, cooking gas, fertiliser, meals for school children and cash transfers for poor and vulnerable households.  To date, the World Bank has disbursed about US$160 million of these funds to meet urgent needs.”  This is extremely concerning as the World Bank is closely connected to the IMF on which Sri Lanka is pinning its hopes for a big loan.

POLITICAL STABILITY

The issue of political stability is highlighted by the government as being necessary to obtain international assistance and also as a justification for quelling the protest movement through emergency laws.  There is explicit blame being apportioned to the protest movement for creating instability in the polity that is deterring the influx of foreign assistance and investments.  However, the fuller picture needs to be seen.  The IMF as much as the World Bank, and indeed other potential sources of donor support, want their resources to be used for the intended purpose and not be squandered or siphoned away corrupt practices and in sustaining loss-making state institutions.

The hoped-for IMF-supported programme to provide assistance to Sri Lanka is being developed to restore macroeconomic stability and debt sustainability, while protecting the poor and vulnerable, safeguarding financial stability, and stepping up structural reforms to address corruption vulnerabilities and unlock the country’s growth potential. IMF mission team to Sri Lanka last month specifically mentioned the need to reduce corruption stating that “Other challenges that need addressing include containing rising levels of inflation, addressing the severe balance of payments pressures, reducing corruption vulnerabilities and embarking on growth-enhancing reforms.”

Both the international funding agencies and the protest movement are on the same page when it comes to opposing corrupt practices.  The main slogans of the protest movement during their heyday was the ouster of the then president, prime minister and cabinet of ministers, and indeed the entire parliament, on account of the corruption that they believed was responsible for having denuded the country of its foreign exchange reserves. This was not simply the replacement of one set of corrupt leaders by another. There are disturbing signs that some of those accused of corruption are once again on the ascendant.

The underlying demand of the protest movement was and continues to be the very “systems change” that the president has said he admires in his reported discussion with remanded trade union leader Joseph Stalin. Civil disobedience to obtain a government that is transparent and law abiding, that does not steal the wealth of the country, is a noble goal, no less sacred than the civil disobedience struggles engaged in by Mahatma Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King in the United States.  The ingredients for a rebound of the protest movement continue to be in place and hopefully the evidence of a systems change will become more convincing.

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Brenda Mendis… ‘Gindara Kellek’

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I first got to know Brenda Mendis when she was very much a part of the group Aquarius, before joining Mirage..

With Aquarius, her dynamism bloomed, on stage, when she partnered two other female vocalists – from the Philippines.

And…yes, they certainly did rock the scene; the three girls were the talk-of the-town and they were featured at some of the best venues in the city.

She was also, at one time, associated with the band 2Forty2.

Brenda now operates with an outfit called C Plus Band, and with whatever free time, that comes her way, the talented artiste is now working on originals.

The latest is the song ‘Gindara Kellek’ and this is what Brenda has to say:

“I have known this guy Chathurangana de Silva for a very time and he has been involved in composing certain songs for the C Plus Band.

“We then got down to discussing about putting together a song which could be classified as a fast genre in music, and Chathurangana, along with Sampath Fernandopulle, came up with the suggestion for the lyrics, and they did so, based upon a proper observation of my lifestyle and the personality portrayal of myself, and that’s how “Gindara Kellek’ came into the scene.”

Brenda went on to say that the composing was done during a tight schedule.

“As I am the female vocalist, on a full time basis, with the C Plus Band, it took us more time than what is usual spent at a recording session, because of our public performances.”

‘Gindara Kellek’ is not Brenda’s maiden effort. She has been involved in quite a few other originals, including ‘Tharu Peedena Seethale,’ ‘Obai Mage Thaththe,’ ‘Mage Raththaran,’ ‘Kaprinna (Chooty),’ ‘You Never Know,’ ‘Mea Nilwan Nimnaye, and ‘Sitha Igilee Gihin.’ And, they are all uniquely different to each other, she says.

With the country going through a tough period, Brenda, spends her free time working out and reading.

“I would take this opportunity, through your very popular music page, to thank all those who helped me throughout my journey in this wonderful field of music.

“I shall continue to keep music lovers happy, with my music, and I would also thank my followers for supporting me and for being with me throughout my career in showbiz.”

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