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Midweek Review

City University and utilisation of existing higher education institutions

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa launching the city university project

By Sunil Dahanayake and Samanthi Senaratne

The launch ceremony of the City University took place at the President’s Office and it was followed by a discussion, on TV Derana, among high-ranking officials of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Thereafter, we googled the words ‘City University of Sri Lanka’ and noted the following utopian phrases provided on the City University website.

“COME. DREAM. DO.

There is a beginning to every story, and it is now more vital than ever, to ensure that you have the right start. City University is your platform to launch your dreams into the world.”

This is a catchy phrase used to lure prospective students to these new City Universities planned by the government. Is this a reality or a fantasy? Are Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A/L) qualified students deceived by such a university project? In this review, we critically analyse these questions and explain the current situation of university and technical education in Sri Lanka. We also provide an alternative proposal for the City University, on how to utilise the existing higher education institutions to improve university education in Sri Lanka.

The dialogue on school and higher education in Sri Lanka was initiated by the President’s policy statement, ‘Soubagye Dakma’ or ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ in November 2019. The presidential policy statement and his verbal presentations emphasised three major areas in higher education reforms to (a) decrease the time gap between the release of GCE A/L results and the university enrolment date; (b) increase the number of students for university enrolments and (c) produce employable graduates. The President has appointed one Cabinet minister for education with four state ministers and among them; two state ministers are responsible for higher education reforms. They are State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion, and State Minister of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovations. This article focuses on the City University concept initiated by the State Minister for Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research, and Innovation (SMSDVERI). The relevant state ministry plans to operate the City University under the Gazette Extraordinary No.2209/14, dated January 4, 2021, as indicated on its website.

Many students who pass the GCE A/L examination fail to gain admission to state universities in Sri Lanka. As per the statistical handbook published by the UGC, the number of students admitted to state universities in 2019/2020 was 41,641 (23 percent) compared to students qualified for admission, which was 181,206. This means that 77 percent of students could not gain admission to state universities in 2019/2020. These students, who are unable to get university admissions, explore various other avenues such as overseas universities, private non-state higher education institutes, professional examinations, the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), and technical colleges to continue their education. The President has emphasised the need to fulfil the aspirations of these GCE A/L qualified students by increasing the enrolment numbers of the state university system of Sri Lanka, with degree programmes that produce employable graduates. The City University project was initiated as a solution to address these concerns.

What is this City University? On the website of City University, it is described as “the first and only tertiary education institution in the country, that will establish a highly industry-centric focus on all the programmes offered.” As mentioned on the website, the focus of the degree programmes offered by the City University is the employability of graduates. Also, the students who are enrolled in its degree programmes will be given practical experience in different disciplines. Thus, the objectives of these City University campuses are human resource development, stakeholder collaboration, development of regional areas and facilitating technology transfer. The City University’s website provides the following information.

“The State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation has been vested with the task of establishing City Universities. It has been planned to open a City University in every district. After a feasibility study, five locations were selected to start with. The first CU will be opened in Wagolla, Rambukkana, in the Kegalle District.”

The City University campuses plan to offer bachelor’s degree programmes in Applied Information Technology, Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality Management, Post-Harvest Management and Value Addition.

We appreciate the praiseworthy objective of this City University concept. It can increase the student enrolment numbers in the state university system. Since this project is backed by the government, there is also a possibility of securing some funds from the treasury or donor agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. However, there are many weaknesses, which could doom the City University project in the long run, when considering the issues faced by the existing state universities and technical colleges in the country. Hence, we argue that the SMSDVERI ought to evaluate the needs of prospective students and should optimally utilise the available higher education institutions and resources for this purpose.

We are not pessimistic about the intentions of the Ministry of Education and the UGC, but we review this project pragmatically under the concept of ‘Marketing Myopia’ by Theodore Levitt. Levitt (Harvard Business Review, 1960) argues “that most of the dead and dying industries have shown the self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” Similarly, the designers of the City University concept seem to operate with the perception that thousands of students will enrol in this university without information on academic accreditation, programme details and standard of the academic staff. The City University website does not provide sufficient details on faculty structure, programmes and course descriptions, and the academic staff involved in these programmes. The lack of such information raises the question whether this City University and its degree programmes are properly planned. It seems that the designers of this project have adopted a production-oriented approach rather than a market-oriented approach. Thus, they should not work with the assumption that the GCE A/L qualified students are a vulnerable group who would enrol in any programme offered under a label of a university. They should realise that there are many local and international higher educational institutes operating in Sri Lanka other than state universities. As such, prospective students compare information available on this City University with that of other higher educational institutions in making their enrolment decisions. Further, the best universities in the world are not merely teaching-focused; rather they are vibrant institutions, which focus on all three functions of a university, teaching, research and community service. However, it is questionable whether this proposed City University has been designed to meet all these purposes.

There are 14 state universities, including the OUSL, operating under the UGC, apart from specific purpose universities such as Bhikku Universities and Visual and Performing Arts University. Further, the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) and its 20 technical colleges also enrol GCE A/L qualified students in their diploma programmes. These existing universities and technical colleges are under-resourced and exhibit many hallmarks of underdevelopment. These include the lack of state-of-the-art lecture halls, the absence of well-developed informational technology (IT) platforms, largely manual administration and finance systems, inadequate funds for research and staff development, and inadequate student accommodation and other facilities. State universities in Sri Lanka except for the two oldest universities, Colombo and Peradeniya, are not among the top universities in the world as per world university rankings due to the above-mentioned limitations in the university system. Most Sri Lankan state universities are mainly teaching-focused instead of both teaching and research-focused, as research funds are inadequate. Under such a resource strained environment, the UGC and SMSDVERI plan to establish 25 City Universities throughout Sri Lanka in addition to the existing 14 main universities making a total of 49 state universities in the country.

We question the rationale behind the government’s plan to spend capital and operational outlay for these City Universities without effectively utilising the resources of existing universities and other higher educational institutions. Therefore, we provide an alternative to utilise the available infrastructure facilities of SLIATE and its technical colleges, OUSL, and Colleges of Education (Teacher Training Colleges) to increase the student enrolment numbers to state universities. We argue that the breeding of new universities does not resolve higher education problems in Sri Lanka unless the existing universities and technical college education system in the country is streamlined.

Missing link between university and technical education

One of the major flaws in our university and technical education system is that these two organisational structures are not connected for the students to enrol in the relevant degree programmes of universities after completing the diploma programmes from technical colleges. Therefore, we suggest combining university and technical college education systems under this City University concept and developing one centralised university with regional university colleges, after absorbing the technical colleges. This combined approach of higher education is similar to the system that exists in developed countries like Australia. For example, Australia has three major levels of education; schools, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institutes and Universities. Students who are unable to get direct admission to the universities can enrol in a TAFE College and complete a diploma programme after completing the year 12 examination. Subsequently, these students can enter a university and complete a degree programme. The TAFE Colleges in Australia also provide education options for adult learners and school dropouts to improve their careers. Therefore, the UGC and SMSDVERI can develop a similar scheme to link universities and technical colleges to increase the number of students admitted to state universities.

Technical colleges are administered by SLIATE and come under the purview of SMSDVERI. These technical colleges offer diploma level and certificate level programmes under various subjects such as business studies, accounting and engineering. Diploma qualifications of technical college students are not currently considered sufficiently in enrolling students in undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in the state universities despite the provisions for such, in the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF). Examples are the Higher National Diploma in Accountancy (HNDA) and Higher National Diploma in Commerce (HNDC) conducted by the technical colleges under the SLIATE. These two diplomas are considered inferior to the degrees in Accounting and Commerce conducted by the state universities. Hence, the students of technical colleges are at a disadvantage when finding jobs and pursuing university education in Sri Lanka. This missing link between university and technical college education does not support the young and adult learners, who have missed direct entry to the university system through GCE A/L results. Therefore, we suggest combining and streamlining the higher education programmes of state universities and technical colleges under the concept of City University.

Utilising organisational structure of SLIATE and Technical Colleges

The SMSDVERI can reorganise and streamline the SLIATE and its 20 technical colleges into one centralised university with affiliated university colleges, instead of constructing 25 new universities under the City University Concept. The current 20 technical colleges can operate as affiliated university colleges, under the umbrella of the proposed centralised university. The proposed centralised university can be established in the Maradana or Dehiwala Technical College utilis­ing the available resources and facilities. This proposal may require amendments to the SLIATE and University Acts, evaluation of the diploma programmes conducted by the technical colleges and upgrading some of them as degree programmes under various faculties. Finally, this process of reorganisation should be followed by launching a marketing campaign to attract students, parents, and other stakeholders. We believe that reorganising and streamlining the SLIATE and its technical colleges will result in an increase in university student enrolment, as expected by the City University concept.

It is also necessary to evaluate skilled occupation areas identified by developed countries during reorganisation of higher education systems. We examined the Australian skilled migration occupation categories as provided in the web link of the Australian Department of Home Affairs. Accordingly, skilled employment areas with the highest demand are Medicine, Engineering, Architecture, Accounting, Auditing and Finance, Information Technology, Allied Health Sciences and Nursing and Hospitality and Tourism Management. The demand is also high for technically proficient personnel such as Motor Mechanics, Bricklayers, Welders and Electricians. Hence, we are of the view that the UGC and higher education authorities should assess the local and global employment needs when developing university education programmes instead of haphazard development of City University campuses in every district.

The proposed centralised university and its affiliated university colleges can establish schools or faculties for the subject streams based on employer demands as highlighted above. Accordingly, Engineering, Accounting and Business Administration, Information Technology, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Allied Health Sciences and Nursing can be considered as priority subject areas. Further, a Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences should be established to cater to students’ languages and social sciences knowledge and skills improvement. Diplomas that are currently offered by SLIATE through its technical colleges should be revised under the above subject categories. The duration of the basic diploma or associate degrees should be limited to a two-year period or four semesters. Diploma holders or associate degree holders, who want to continue their studies, should enroll in university level degree programmes offered by these affiliated university colleges of the centralised university.

In this proposed centralised university and affiliated university college system, students should be allowed to complete double major diploma or degree programmes such as Engineering and Business Administration, Business Administration and English Language and Tourism and Hospitality Management and Accounting. Hence, students who want to launch their own enterprises are facilitated as they are equipped with the necessary subject knowledge and technical skills in entrepreneurship. For example, a student who wants to open a hotel can opt for a joint diploma or degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management, and Business Administration. These proposed diplomas or associate degree programmes should be incorporated with internships, in addition to the theoretical knowledge. Thereby, these students can find local and foreign jobs as soon as they complete the diploma or degree programmes. We noted that the proposed City University has given due consideration to the provision of practical training, which is commendable.

Combining with OUSL and Colleges of Education

The proposed centralised university and affiliated university college system can also be combined with the existing academic programmes of OUSL, and Colleges of Education. The OUSL with its main campus in Nawala, nine regional centres and 19 study centres operate distance mode degree programmes under six academic faculties. Consequently, this City University can introduce inter-university enrolments with OUSL. The OUSL requires classrooms that are compatible with state-of-the-art teaching technologies in the Nawala campus, which can support both in-house and distance mode education programmes to increase student enrolment numbers. The academic coordination for each subject unit can be done by a senior lecturer at the main campus with the support of a few assistant lecturers in regional centres. Therefore, opportunities and resources are available to execute this proposed university system with the support of the OUSL.

There are also several Colleges of Education in Sri Lanka such as Nilwala National College of Education, Ruwanpura National College of Education, and Sri Pada College of Education. A few of these Colleges of Education can be upgraded to universities and combined with this proposed centralised university and its affiliated university colleges. These upgraded Colleges of Education can commence degree programmes in other subject streams in addition to the diploma programmes in education. The diploma in education programmes can be upgraded into a BA degree in education. We also noted a news item in the Daily Mirror, dated September 2, 2021, which reported that Jeevan Thondaman, State Minister for Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure, was in discussion with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on getting assistance to establish a university for upcountry Tamil students. As such, what we have suggested in this article on upgrading the Colleges of Education meets the demands of the social and political system. Thus, Sri Pada College of Education can be upgraded to a university to offer degree programmes in education and other subject streams. We noted that the ministerial sub-committee appointed to propose solutions for the salary anomalies of school teachers has also proposed the upgrade of these Colleges of Education into universities.

In summary, the proposed city university can be operated using the SLIATE and its technical colleges as a new centralised university with affiliated university colleges. Further, it can be linked with the OUSL and upgraded Colleges of Education as universities. In our opinion, this is a more pragmatic solution than establishing new city universities in every district, which is unrealistic when considering the fragile economic state of the country.

We have discussed the proposed City University concept and alternative solutions for the development of higher education institutions in Sri Lanka. In this analysis, we raise the question why the government is not utilising the available resources of the SLIATE and its technical college campuses, OUSL and Colleges of Education to increase the student enrolment numbers at universities and re-vitalising these organisations. We noted that the Ministry of Education focuses on constructing new universities without considering the effective utilisation of these existing resources. Hence, we argue that the City University concept is a utopian fantasy rather than a pragmatic project when considering the current economic and socio-political environment of Sri Lanka.

Universities and higher education institutions fulfil three main functions; teaching, research, and community services. However, universities and technical colleges in Sri Lanka do not have adequate resources to carry out these tasks effectively. For example, lecture halls and information technology systems are outdated and cannot compete with universities in the developed world. The administration and financial management systems are outdated and are largely manually operated. The academics are not provided with adequate research funds. State universities in Sri Lanka mostly focus on teaching and not on research as reflected in the world university rankings. State universities in Sri Lanka have received poor ratings in the world university ranking indexes such as Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Times Higher Education rankings due to the lack of quality research publications. The University of Colombo and the University of Peradeniya have been ranked between 1,000 and 1,200 best universities in the world by QS ranking whereas Times Higher Education ranked University of Peradeniya between 401 nad 500 and University of Colombo between 801 and 1,000. The other 12 state universities have not been included in these rankings. The City University, with the above indicated deficiencies, can lower the bar of accreditation of degrees awarded by state universities in Sri Lanka in the international arena. This would negatively impact skilled employment and higher education opportunities for Sri Lankan university graduates in developed countries.

What Sri Lanka needs is the streamlining and reorganising of existing universities, technical colleges, and colleges of education under the UGC for mutual recognition of degree and diploma programmes offered by these institutions. Hence, we have provided an alternative solution to increase the student enrolment of the existing universities, technical colleges, and colleges of education under this City University project using the available resources. The SLIATE maintains about 20 technical college campuses scattered around Sri Lanka and offers 14 diploma programmes. Therefore, it is apparent that the SLIATE and its technical colleges have the required organisational structure, staff, and academic programmes. Hence, what is required is the reorganisation or streamlining of SLIATE and its technical colleges into one centralised university with affiliated university colleges under the concept ‘City University’. A new centralised university campus can be set up either at Maradana or Dehiwala technical college.

The OUSL and its regional centres can also be used to offer degree programmes under the proposed system, which will enable an inter-university enrolment system. The OUSL can offer degree programmes for students of these affiliated university colleges. Further, a few Colleges of Education scattered around Sri Lanka can be upgraded into universities and the current diploma in education programmes can be restructured as a BA degree in Education, under its faculty of education. Further, these Colleges of Education, which are upgraded into universities, can commence degree programmes in other subject streams such as Management, Information Technology, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Engineering and Health Sciences.

We emphasise that the existing capacity of universities should be effectively utilised while focusing on obtaining international accreditation for state universities through expansion of research activities. Further, the Sri Lankan university system should be made flexible by abandoning the archaic systems of student enrolments, embracing inter-university and inter-faculty enrolments, and introducing double major degree programmes. These changes would enhance the quality of university education. We reiterate the fact that the Ministry of Education, two State Ministries for Higher Education, UGC, SLIATE, OUSL, other state universities, National Institute of Education (NIE) and Colleges of Education need to act together to optimally use the existing organisations and their resources to achieve long-term objectives of higher education in Sri Lanka.

Promoters of the City University concept have crafted an image of a utopian university, which reminds us of Thomas More’s concept of ‘utopia’ (1516) , John Henry Newman’s ‘Idea of a University’ (1873) and Robert Maynard Hutchins’ ‘The University of Utopia’ (1953). Hutchins, who served as the President of the University of Chicago, argued that the function of a university is to develop learned responsible citizens, instead of producing mere technicians. Hence, the proposed City University falls short of those philosophical concepts and will add another expenditure line item to the national budget.

Sunil Dahanayake, PhD, FCA is a Chartered Accountant and Samanthi Senaratne, PhD is Senior Professor in Accounting, Department of Accounting, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. She can be reached via email at samanthisenaratne@sjp.ac.lk)



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Midweek Review

Govt. in dilemma over anti-terrorism law:

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Tamil speaking people protest in Batticaloa on Feb 23, 2019 against the PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and the proposed CTA (Counter Terrorism Act). They demanded the abolition of anti-terrorism laws.

No letup in Int’l, civil society pressure

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Under any circumstances, post-war Sri Lanka cannot ignore international concerns as regards the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act (No 48 of 79).

A section of the international community wants Sri Lanka to amend the PTA without further delay. The civil society organisation, One-Text Initiative (OTI) has pointed out repealing the PTA is a necessity underscored by the European Union and the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as well as by Western-funded civil rights organisations and international agencies. It would be pertinent to mention that the OTI came into being in 2003 in the wake of the Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). The CFA, too, made reference to the PTA. The following is the relevant section 2.12: The parties agree that search operations and arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act shall not take place. Arrests shall be conducted under due process of law in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Code. Therefore, the public should know the PTA had been an issue for the LTTE, too.

Following the 5th Meeting of the European Union – Sri Lanka Working Group on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights on Sept. 29, 2021, they issued a comprehensive statement.

Let me reproduce the relevant section verbatim: “Sri Lanka provided an update on the action in process to review the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and reiterated its commitment to bring it in line with international norms and standards within a time bound process. The EU and Sri Lanka agreed to take stock of the progress in this regard by the next meeting of the EU-Sri Lanka Joint Commission in early 2022. The need to uphold international norms and standards of human rights while countering terrorism and violent extremism was also underlined.”

OTI last Monday (25) arranged a discussion on the PTA and its impact with the participation of lawyer Chrishmal Warnasuriya, Dr Paikiasothy Sarawanamuttu, UK-based Amal Abeywardene and the writer. Harindra B Dassanayake moderated the two-hour discussion. All agreed with Dr. Sarawanamuttu’s call for a moratorium of the PTA until the government and those engaged in discussions on the future of the security law reached a consensus. The civil society guru also suggested until consensus could be reached on the issue at hand, the Attorney General should be authorised to facilitate bail to those held under the PTA. That proposal, too, should be seriously considered. OTI raised specific issues relating to the PTA. Why does the reforming/ repealing of PTA matter? , What is the situation now, and what is likely to happen? Are there options for Sri Lanka, and with what consequences? What hinders change? And what paths and steps are recommended? The OTI initiative should be appreciated.

Western powers are eternally interested in accountability issues and related matters here. However, there is no such enthusiasm to correct far worse continuing wrongs in places like Egypt, Israel or for that matter the continuing genocide in Yemen, thanks to Saudi Arabia and UAE or against international drug rings freely operating from capitalist citadels, like Dubai!

Since the end of the war in May 2009, the GoSL (Government of Sri Lanka) has been under tremendous pressure to either abolish the PTA or amend it in line with laws in place in other parts of the world. Do we need anti-terrorism laws? Do they serve any purpose or strengthen Sri Lanka’s response to terrorist challenge? Sri Lanka should have examined how PTA facilitated the country’s overall response to terrorism.

Unfortunately, successive governments conveniently failed to do so just to appease the West fearing a greater orchestrated outcry against the country, thereby contributed to some international efforts to discredit the Sri Lankan military as well as the law enforcement apparatus.

The country experienced two terrorist campaigns in the South in 1971 and 1987-1990 and the 30-year-old war spearheaded by the LTTE. Sri Lanka defeated all three attempts through military means. The country had no option but to deal militarily with terrorism and conventional military challenge, regardless of opposition. Some sections of the international community oppose the PTA. But no one talks about draconian anti-terror laws in place for example in the USA or the UK since 9/11 and thereafter.

They always boast about a rules-based order followed by the international community. What is this international community? It is nothing but a self-appointed handful of countries in the West that earlier plundered much of the world at their will.

Interestingly, almost all those countries demanding abolition or amendments to the PTA provide refuge to those who should have been dealt with in terms of anti-terrorism laws. Those countries swiftly accept accusations that the PTA is used widely and indiscriminately at the expense of public freedom and also against political opponents.

Focus on PTA cases

Let me briefly refer to four recent cases that had attracted international attention due to some of those involved being arrested in terms of the PTA, as well as accusations relating to Sri Lankans seeking political refuge overseas: (i) Arrest of Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah in April 2020 over his alleged involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage (ii) the recent Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) statement on the arrest and the subsequent release of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and MP representing the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) Rishad Bathiudeen. The MP was also taken into custody in terms of the PTA over the Easter Sunday attacks blamed on National Thowheed Jamaat. It would be pertinent to mention that the IPU represents altogether nearly 180 Parliaments all over the world (iii) New Zealand police killing Ahamed Adhil Mohamed Samsudeen, 31, who had secured political asylum therein in Dec 2013 on the basis of him being under threat in Sri Lanka. No less a person than New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has admitted how the man from Kattankudy, who knifed several persons in an Auckland shopping mall received inspiration from ISIS (iv) New Zealand granting political asylum to a Sri Lankan wanted in connection with the Easter Sunday attacks. The suspect also wanted under the PTA received New Zealand protection soon after the mayhem in the shopping mall.

Hizbullah’s arrest was also taken up by the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group at the UNHRC as well as by HRC Michelle Bachelet. In spite of Hizbullah personally knowing two of the Easter bombers and their father, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, he should be considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.

Hizbullah knew them as he had represented the wealthy family in court and his right as a lawyer to represent anyone should never be questioned whatever the accusations directed at his clients. The UN, foreign government and the civil society, too, should have the right to represent the interests of anyone regardless of the accusations. In the absence of own legal representation or the inability to procure legal services, suspects, whatever the accusations directed at them, reserved the right to obtain legal support from the Attorney General’s Department.

Similarly, the State, in this case the Sri Lanka State shouldn’t give up its right to take security measures deemed necessary to protect the public. The government cannot forfeit its right to defend the public against acts of terrorism. However, every effort should be made to address concerns of the UN and the EU as regards the PTA.

Most importantly, the government should respond to concerns raised by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and all other political parties representing the Tamil speaking people as well as the civil society such as the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

The incumbent government in June this year appointed a high powered committee chaired by Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne to examine the PTA. The Committee has been asked to recommend whether to suitably amend the current law or introduce new counter-terrorism law.

Prez wants PTA examined

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to examine the Counter Terrorism Act (CAT) prepared on the instruction of former Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe should be appreciated. Gen. Gunaratne’s committee received specific instructions to study the CAT. The government should be ashamed of its failure to undertake a comprehensive study on the PTA before foreign powers intervened. Having examined the CAT, the writer is quite convinced it addressed concerns of all.

Prepared by the previous government in consultations with the British, French, EU et al, the CAT can be the basis for proposed new law or facilitate required amendments to the existing PTA.

Sri Lanka should seek a guarantee as regards comprehensive cooperation from Western governments to address threats posed by terrorism. They cannot ignore such a request on the basis of their domestic laws. A lot depends on international cooperation to fight terrorism. Western powers no longer can deny their response to terrorism elsewhere, in a way, promoted terrorism on their soil. How many Sri Lankan terrorists received political asylum in those countries, particularly in the UK, Canada and Germany? Sri Lanka cannot forget the fact that Western powers at least do not share information regarding missing persons. How many thousands of those categorised as missing or disappeared Lankans live overseas under different names.

The recent assassination of ruling party British lawmaker David Amess, 69, is a case in point. The police arrested 25-year-old Ali Harbi Ali, British passport holder of Somali origin over the stabbing in a church east of London. Hope the British investigate the circumstances under which the assassin received British nationality. Having declared the MP’s killing an act of terrorism, the British should conduct a no holds barred investigation. The British media reported the suspect has been detained in terms of additional powers under anti-terrorism laws.

In June 2016, another terrorist, who believed in white power, assassinated 41-year-old Jo Cox. She was shot thrice and then stabbed 15 times. The British cannot turn a blind eye to the growing threat posed by terrorism. Perhaps, law enforcement authorities require wider powers to deal with new threats.

Incidents in New Zealand, Norway, France, Germany and other countries must influence governments to take sufficient measures to ensure public protection. The civil society as well as international organisations, such as IPU, too, should be accountable for campaigns they do. They should be mindful of their actions.

The IPU’s right to be concerned over MP Bathiudeen’s detention should be respected. There shouldn’t be any issue over IPU’s response to the Sri Lankan politician’s arrest. Let the IPU closely examine MP Bathiudeen’s case. Perhaps, the IPU should make its position public on the assassination of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and clandestine meeting the Norwegian government had with the LTTE’s British advisor Anton Balasingham in the UK to discuss ways and means of managing the fallout.

Those who want Sri Lanka to adhere to international standards in the formulation of anti-terrorism laws should be reminded how Commonwealth heavyweight India destabilised Sri Lanka. The transformation of Sri Lanka’s ceremonial armed forces to one of the best fighting forces in the world should be studied against the backdrop of Indian intervention. Sri Lanka needed the PTA as part of the overall measures against terrorism. Can anyone honestly declare that clandestine LTTE operations in Colombo and its suburbs could have been thwarted without the PTA.? Sri Lanka had no option but to fight back. The PTA had been part of the overall defence. The PTA should be discussed taking into account high profile terrorist operations in the South that resulted in political assassinations. Perhaps, the PTA hadn’t been enough to neutralise the LTTE. They succeeded in assassinating President Ranasinghe Premadasa on May Day 1993, made an abortive bid to assassinate Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga at the final PA rally ahead of the 1999 presidential election, blew up over 50 people, including UNP presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake in late Oct 1994, suicide attack on the then Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April 2006 and Oct 2009, respectively. All those responsible for the above-mentioned terrorist attacks came to the South as innocent civilians until the moment they transformed themselves into human bombs.

Those who demand that the government treat terrorist suspects with respect did nothing when the LTTE blasted civilians outside the war zone while mingling with ordinary people. Interestingly, years before the ISIS influenced terrorists, the LTTE inspired Norway’s worst ever terrorist attack. The far–right Norwegian terrorist who massacred 77 people, including dozens of children, is on record as having explained how LTTE terrorism directed at Muslims inspired him.

International interventions

The EU’s strong push against Sri Lanka’s current anti-terrorism law should be examined taking into consideration its demand to do away with the death penalty.

The EU-Sri Lanka joint statement issued following the Sept. 21, 2021 meeting also dealt with the death penalty, even though the death penalty had not been carried out in the country since the mid-’70s. The relevant section is as follows: “The EU reiterated its opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances. Welcoming the continued moratorium, the EU encouraged Sri Lanka to take steps towards the formal abolition of capital punishment.”

How is it that the EU is so concerned about Sri Lanka’s dormant death penalty, but didn’t lift a finger to spare the life of Saddam Hussein or the cold blooded killing of Libyan Leader Muammar Gaddafi, both deaths instigated by the West?

The abolition of the PTA or enactment of new anti-terrorism law should be discussed with push for a new Constitution. The successful conclusion of the war over 12 years ago opened up a new front. The Geneva Human Rights Council got involved with the move to draft a new constitution here. Premier Wickremesinghe spearheaded that effort, too, the way he had handled unfinished project to introduce new anti-terrorism law. In fact, co-sponsorship of the 2015 Geneva resolution had been in line with the overall game plan that brought Maithripala Sirisena into power in January 2015. Following the August 2015 general election, Wickremesinghe enjoyed a commanding position in Parliament with which he could have had achieved major political objectives if not for the Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016. That is the undeniable truth.

Having lambasted the UNP, both in and outside Parliament, for planning to do away with the PTA at the behest of Western powers, the SLPP is working with the same lot to either amend or introduce new anti-terrorism laws.

The government seems incapable of at least presenting Sri Lanka’s case before the international community properly. Sri Lanka should discuss application of anti-terrorism laws during the deployment of the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force). Did the world care about what really happened in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern provinces during the IPKF deployment? Having destabilised Sri Lanka, India forced the then government to ‘accept’ the IPKF in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord signed on July 29, 1987.

Those who had been detained by the IPKF on suspicion were not handed over to Sri Lanka police for investigations. Therefore, the PTA didn’t matter. The IPKF hadn’t been accountable at all in respect of operations conducted here and those who want Sri Lanka hauled up before foreign judges over alleged war crimes /accountability issues are conveniently silent on the period India had been responsible for Northern and Eastern districts.

Easter Sunday carnage

If not for the Easter Sunday carnage, the UNHRC and the EU would have definitely demanded the abrogation of the PTA. The Western funded civil society, too, would have pushed for the same. Sri Lanka would have found it extremely difficult to justify the need for continuation of anti-terrorism laws. However, the Easter Sunday massacre proved that a country cannot take security for granted. Sri Lanka’s failure to deal with specific intelligence provided by India pertaining to impending terrorist attack, too, should be dealt in terms of the PTA.

Accusations that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) benefited at the presidential and parliamentary polls, respectively, as a result of the Easter attacks cannot be ignored. No less a person than Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith has repeatedly raised that issue against the backdrop of the incumbent government’s failure to implement recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) that inquired into the Easter attacks.

Interestingly, the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe used the Easter attacks to justify his government’s bid to replace the PTA with a new counter-terrorism law.

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Midweek Review

Modern view of the Island’s ancient past

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Under the guidance and influence of Weliwita Sri Saranankara Thera, King Kirti Sri Raja Singha successfully invited Bhikkus from Siam, led by Upali Thera, to revive the higher ordination of Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka.

Ruminations – II

By Seneka Abeyratne

The Sinhalese refer to themselves as ‘Indo-Aryans’ and to the Tamils as ‘Dravidians’. Implied in this distinction is the notion, conditioned by the ideas of the chauvinists and populists, that ‘Aryan’ blood is somehow superior to ‘Dravidian’ blood. Most historians now agree that the terms ‘Indo-Aryan’ and ‘Dravidian’ refer to a family of ancient languages originating in North India and South India, respectively, and that they have nothing to do with race or its physical attributes, such as complexion, height, build and facial features. Indeed, in terms of physical appearance, it is often difficult to distinguish between a Sinhalese, a Tamil and a South Indian.

When it comes to facial features and complexion, there is as much variety among the Sinhalese as among the Tamils, suggesting that both groups are ethnically far more diverse than is commonly assumed. The same is probably true of the smaller ethnic groups, such as Moslems and Burghers. The traditional view of supposed racial and cultural uniqueness, based on facile one-dimensional theories of migration and pure descent, is no longer considered valid.

It is not implausible to argue that over time the Tamil community, which is mainly of South-Indian origin, absorbed ethnic groups from other parts of India who shared certain cultural affinities with the Tamils, such as religion, caste, food habits, and traditional customs and practices. This may explain why some Ceylon Tamils look more like northern, western or eastern Indians than southern Indians.

The Sinhalese likewise are ethnically diverse. While it may be true that the early settlers came from northwestern or northeastern India, later settlers likely came from other parts of India, including southern India. It is also possible that some synthesis occurred between early settlers and indigenous elements. Since it was common practice for ancient Sinhala kings and noblemen to marry into South Indian dynasties, we could assume that Sri Lanka and South India had close cultural and political ties from a very early age.

Even Vijaya, the purported founder of the Sinhala race, is believed to have married a princess from Madurai. Many of the Sinhala-speaking people in the Vanni region, north of Anuradhapura, are probably descendants of the Vanniyars, who are reputed to have migrated to the island from southern India. The periods 1056-1236 and 1473-1815 correspond to the Polonnaruwa and Kandyan kingdoms, respectively. During the former, there was a significant infusion of Pandyan blood into Sinhala royalty and during the latter, a similar infusion from Madurai.

The last line of kings to rule Kandy was the Tamil-speaking Madurai Nayaks, a Telugu dynasty. Given that Madurai is situated in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, it is difficult to imagine there was no commingling of Sinhalese and Tamil blood during this time. The Cheras, who came during the Portuguese period, injected a large dose of South-Indian blood into the southern littoral of Sri Lanka. The ethnic links between the Sinhalese and the South Indians are probably far more extensive than is commonly assumed.

Though the subcontinent figures prominently in Sri Lanka’s ethnic equation as per the periodic influx of settlers to the island from various parts of India during the Late Protohistoric to Early Historic Period (600 BCE-300 CE), we should not ignore the fact that the Sri Lankan gene is extremely diverse. There is evidence to suggest that in ancient times, people from Malaya and Indonesia migrated as far as Madagascar and the East African coast. It is therefore plausible to argue that while crossing the Indian Ocean, some of the boats carrying these people would have landed on our shores. Similar migrations would have occurred even in historic times. One has only to note the distinct Malay-Indonesian features of many a Sri Lankan to realise there must have been a continual migration of Southeast Asians to the island during historic and prehistoric times.

Melting Pot

A keen observer strolling through Kandy town, having noticed that some Kandyans resemble Malays or Javanese while others resemble Thais or Burmese, may arrive at the conclusion that Sri Lanka is and has always been a melting pot of different cultures. Some Kandyans also resemble the Burghers in respect of complexion and features. Hence one wonders how much ‘white’ blood seeped into the Sri Lankan gene pool during the four and a half centuries of western colonial rule.

It is a curious phenomenon that, despite its proximity to India, the island has more in common with Southeast Asia than with India in respect of climate and vegetation, as well as certain cultural practices. Duriyan, rambutan and mangosteens are found in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka but not elsewhere in South Asia. The food habits of Sri Lanka also demonstrate a strong Southeast Asian influence. Sri Lankans cook curries in coconut milk like the Malays and Indonesians and use lemongrass for flavouring certain dishes, as do the Thais. There is also a similarity in the peasant dress of Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia, especially in respect of females. The Malayo-Polynesian outrigger fishing boat (catamaran) is found in Sri Lanka but nowhere else in South Asia.

The only country practising Theravada Buddhism in South Asia is Sri Lanka but in Southeast Asia, there are many, such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. The Buddhist factor figures prominently in the strong cultural and diplomatic ties that have existed between Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia for centuries.

From 1581 to 1591, Kandy was ruled by the Sitawaka king, Rajasinha I, who had converted to Hinduism. During this period Buddhism almost perished in the Kandyan kingdom due to the machinations of the Buddhist-turned-Hindu monarch. From 1591 to 1604 Kandy was ruled by Vimaladharmasuriya I, also known as Konappu Bandara, who succeeded in ousting Rajasinha I and reviving Buddhism with the assistance of ordained Burmese monks.

For the next hundred years or so, the Kandyan monarchs continued to protect and foster the religion. After the reign of Vimaladharmasuriya II ended (1687 to 1707), Buddhism again went into serious decline but was revived by Kirti Sri Rajasinha, who ruled from 1747 to 1782. This time it was a Thai monk named Upali Thera who came to the rescue. The Theravada monastic order known as Siam Nikaya was founded by him in Kandy in 1753 with the full support of the king. The other two main Theravada monastic orders in the island are the Ramanna Nikaya (Payagala) and the Amarapura Nikaya (Balapitiya). Both were founded by Sri Lankan bhikkhus who had been ordained in Myanmar.

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Midweek Review

These games are dangerous

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By Usvatte-aratchi

The games that the President, his government and the leader of the Opposition play are fraught with grave danger to the wellbeing of our people and to opportunities to change, grow and the preserve this society. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as a presidential candidate held out the prospect of a land in prosperity – saubhagyaye dekma. His advisors in viyath maga, in their wisdom, saw that as a clear path to victory against a hopelessly divided government in office, poorly led and with no viable plan of action. Neither the SLPP nor the SJB wanted to inform the public of the parlous state of the economy and very bleak prospects for another two years or more. True, that is not the kind of story that a winning party would carry to the electorate. However, there was ample ammunition against the incumbent government on other accounts to knock it down with a feather. The SLPP made a serious error in not revealing the black picture and making the government 2015-2019 completely responsible for the dire situation in the country and in not pointing out the difficulties they would experience in bringing prosperity to the people, all thanks to the ineptitude of the yahapalanaya government. Instead, they were cock-a-hoop that they had ample resources and claimed that the alleged impending scarcity of resources was a fig leaf to cover the incompetence of the yahapalanaya government, so badly bared. They did not use the first opportunity in the new parliament to make a statement on the state of the economy and the deprivations that the public may suffer when policies were adopted to bring back stability. Instead, the SLPP government went on in jubilant fashion until a few weeks ago, when both Minister Bandula Gunawardena and Minister Udaya Gammanpila talked openly about the economic and financial difficulties the government faced.

Gotabaya and the SLPP avoided that trope perhaps because there was the strong possibility that SJB would have come back with the dark history of the creation of a debt problem. The spate of infrastructure projects from roads in the Hambantota district to the column by the Beira was financed mainly with loans from China, some of which jumped out of a Pandora’s Box, as it were.

It is hard to believe that planners in China were so naïve as to erroneously estimate the flow of income from the roads in Hambantota from the column near the Beira and from the Nelum Pokuna theatre in Colombo and believe that they must remain white elephants a decade after the investment began. They are likely to remain so for quite some time with the public obliged to pay back the loans. President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his supporters often said that daily a 100 ships passed our shores and we were failing to collect revenue from them because there was no port in Hambantota. More than hundred ships pass by Hambantota now and we have failed to collect revenue from them. One asset has already been leased back to the lender. The Covid epidemic only aggravated the situation which was ab initio bad, and to argue that the Chinese did not foresee this scenario is to insult their manifest ingenuity.

Consequently, the factors that motivated the investment must be sought elsewhere. The full suite of politicians and public officers that advised Mahinda Rajapaksa government to design and approve those projects and their financing are again fully in charge of economic and financial policy with the advantage of a Minister of Finance, who is as short of relevant experience as his sibling the President of state craft. Everyone, beware: the Greeks are coming with gifts.

The leader of the SJB goes around the country, promising the public that when he forms a government, he will give all sorts of benefits (sahanaya) to the public. This is pie in the sky and a poisonous pie at that. There will be no resources to play those games, for at least five years from now and that not without a heavy load of good luck. Take a lesson from present day Greece. The Opposition, as well as the government, for once, must tell the public the truth about the economic situation. (Everyone, especially ministers of government, had better learn that all and any benefits (sahanaya) that a government can give the public must come out of the income of some section of the taxpayers. Governments in this country do not earn more than three percent of their revenue; the rest is from taxes. (Many here confuse themselves and mislead the public by calling government revenue (labeem) with government income (aadayama). Income is what an enterprise earns from revenue after it meets all its expenses. Government income is what it earns by way of interest, profits and dividends. When a government borrows to give you sahanaya, it is asking yet unborn generations to pay for your benefits now. How fair is that? A politician announced on 17 October, in parliament, “We (pointing to himself) will compensate farmers for any crop losses consequent upon the implementation of the new fertiliser policy’. He, in fact, was announcing that his government would be taxing the public more to compensate farmers for crop losses resulting their unwise policies of his government. Nobody would pay to replace its lost output to the nation.

In the crudest form, our society, over the years, more conspicuously in the years 2005 to 2014, used substantially more resources than it earned. (June Robinson remarked in 1958 that we consumed the fruits before the tree had grown.) The way to do that is to borrow from anyone who is willing to lend. It is no different from a man who spends well beyond his earnings and borrows, even from a money lender, no matter the terms of the loans. A time comes when the lenders say, ‘It is time to pay up chum, and if you do not have cash, I will accept your wife’s jewellery and even the furniture and the house you live in’. This society, through its incompetent and corrupt agent, government, can default payment and become a pariah in capital markets or plead with the people that there is an alternative route to credibility. That route requires this society to cut resources use, undergo austerity.

Many made a bogeyman of the IMF presenting a programme of austerity with assistance to support the balance of payments. What we now live in is austerity, with no balance of payments support. The Minister of Finance promises us an austerity budget. There is already a freeze on completing projects. Many employees clamour for and are on strike seeking wage increases. Prices of essential commodities are rising daily. Prices of most commodities, except labour, have risen and will keep on rising. That is another way of imposing austerity. When your daily wage would buy only two cans of dried milk powder today compared to three last month for the same wage, austerity is imposed on you. (There was once the case of Argentina, where employees asked for their wages to be paid in the morning rather than at the end of the day. They bought cigarettes with their wages in the morning and sold them at a higher price in the evening to buy provisions for the home.)

What you go through now is what an austerity programme the IMF would have put you through. Besides, that programme would have been better articulated and more openly discussed. In our circumstances, budgetary support would have been inevitable. And they would have set up a structure to reschedule debt repayment. The IMF is not the only institution that can function in that manner. Any agency that enjoys international credibility and offers balance of payments support and budgetary support can perform those functions. Our government itself can do it except that it lacks the will to do so and does not enjoy international credibility. There is no escape from the requirement that our society must save (refrain from using all that it produces) and with those savings repay international debt. Leaders of neither the government nor the Opposition can hide those compulsions from the public and yet claim legitimacy. What they do now is far too dangerous a game to play.

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