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Colin Powell – The reluctant warrior



by Vijaya Chandrasoma

General Colin Powell died Monday, October 18 of complications caused by Covid 19, at the Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He was undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, a terminal cancer of the white blood cells, and early stages of Parkinson’s disease. His treatment prevented him from getting a third booster vaccination, which he was scheduled to take the previous week. Powell is survived by his wife of almost six decades, Alma.

Powell was born in Harlem and raised in the ethnically diverse section of the South Bronx in New York. His parents, both of Scottish/African lineage, were immigrants from Jamaica. His father, Luther Powell was a shipping clerk, his mother, Maud a seamstress. Their son, Colin, embodied the spirit of the American Dream, that once beckoned all immigrants, “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

The American Dream is becoming increasingly illusory in modern times. National racism against immigrants of different hues, and the cruelty of the scenes at the borders of the Shining City on the Hill, seem to indicate that the flame in the lamp of Lady Liberty may be flickering, the golden door beside it a tad tarnished.

Powell, a self-admitted average scholar, left high school with no career plans. He got his degree in geology from the City College of New York. He also participated in the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) at CCNY, and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the army upon graduation in 1958. Powell described the ROTC program as one of the happiest experiences in his life. “I not only liked it”, he said, “but I was pretty good at it”.

Powell served two active tours in Vietnam. During his second tour in 1968, he survived a helicopter crash, in which he rescued three other soldiers from the burning wreckage. His experience in Vietnam helped define his future military and political strategies. A professional soldier throughout his life, Powell rose to the rank of four-star general, and was Commander of the United States Armed Forces in 1989.

Powell was the first black National Security Adviser to Reagan (1987 to 1989), the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush Senior (1989 to 1993) and the first black Secretary of State in the cabinet of Bush Junior (2001 to 2005). He won numerous US and foreign military and civil awards and decorations, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (twice) and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Powell was the consummate American soldier, whose military record and his national reputation prompted him to consider a run for the presidency in 1995. The Republicans saw him as their only hope of defeating Clinton, the national polls were extremely favourable. He finally decided not to run, on the grounds of a “lack of passion for politics and campaigning”. The real reason, of course, was that his wife, Alma, whom he married in 1962, was against his candidacy, and ordered him not to run. He may have been the celebrated Commander of the US Army, but it was clear who was the general at home.

Powell was always concerned about America’s involvements in military battles, especially in the Middle East. He oversaw Bush Senior’s Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf war against Iraq in 1990-1991. But he also formulated the “Powell Doctrine”, which “limits American military action unless it satisfies criteria regarding American national security interests, overwhelming force and widespread public support”.

A doctrine which he himself spectacularly violated in 2003, during the Bush reign of error.

In his capacity as the US Secretary of State, Powell gave a speech at the United Nations in February 2003, replete with fabrications about the urgent necessity for military action against Iraq. He made the Bush/Cheney/Military Industrial Complex case for military action against Saddam Hussein, on the basis that there was incontrovertible evidence that the Iraqi dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), which he intended to use against his neighbours and his own people. An assertion later proved to be a bald-faced lie, sadly one that Powell himself knew to be so during his address to the United Nations.

Completely out of character, a man who had won international respect, he deceived the world with a pack of lies. He was not just horribly misled or mistaken. He knowingly used fabricated evidence and ignored repeated warnings that what he was going to say was false.

His speech of deception swayed the world, and his lies got the congressional support Bush needed to declare war against Iraq. His words sent thousands of Americans and her allies to kill and die in Iraq. Powell – and Bush/Cheney – have never been held accountable for what were basically war crimes. And they never will be so indicted, for they are Americans.

A lifetime of honour tainted by one act of dishonesty. He voiced public regret for his speech, calling it a “blot on his record” and was fired by Bush in 2005 for expressing such regret. A moderate Republican, he endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency in 2009, despite his decade-long friendship with Republican candidate, John McCain. He condemned the Republican Party for moving unrecognizably to the right under Trump. And he enjoyed the ultimate honour of being denounced by Trump.

None of these may remove the stain from his record of that one mistake he made in 2003. But we mourn his death because he lived and ended his life as a decent and honourable man, and all the good he has done will live after him.

Speaking after Powell’s death, Trump spewed the regular and churlish comments he reserves for the passing of anyone who has dared to criticize him. Making Powell’s death, like everything that happens in the world, all about himself, he called Powell a classic RINO (Republican In Name Only), saying “it was wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media. Hope that happens to me someday”.

Please don’t hold your breath, Mr. Trump. General Powell made just one mistake, out of misguided loyalty to the greed of another Republican villain. A grave mistake he immediately and publicly regretted, showing genuine remorse for which he has received universal forgiveness. He did not continue to commit, like you, crimes against the state and humanity as you have your entire life.

You will suffer the death of a Julius Caesar for all the crimes you have committed. Like Caesar, you will be stabbed by 40 Senators “amid fears that you planned to claim the title of king, overthrow the Senate and rule as a tyrant”.

There will be no lack of Brutuses for you to echo Caesar’s famous last words, “et tu, Brute”. There will be no Marc Antony come to praise you, just Foxes, Cruzes and Hawleys come to bury you. The evil that you have done will live after you. There is no good to be interred with your bones.

These men may have loved you once, for evil cause. When you ceased to be of any use to them in the pursuit of the cause you initiated, the death of democracy, they began to hate you. They are all ambitious white men and you finally got in the way.

There will be no heart in the coffin with you, no beautiful treatment in death by the Fake News Media, when that joyous day finally dawns. Your memory will forever live in hatred and misery.

To err is human, to forgive divine. The one error General Powell made during an honourable and decent life has been forgiven, by man and God. His memory will forever live in honour.

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Should Sri Lanka engage a LNG floating regassification vessel for electric power?



Part 3

What are the Health Safety Security and Environment (HSSE) requirements? What are the key insurance requirements?

What are the legal complexities and the means of resolving disputes?

What are the risks to the Sri Lankan Tax payer?

This Part 3 is largely in response to questions raised via email by readers of Parts 1 and 2.

Nalin Gunasekera

has spent 40 years in the offshore oil and gas industry with Royal Dutch/Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, global leaders in leasing vessels and in the LNG business. His experience has been in Australia, NZ, South East Asia, PRC, West Africa and South America. The writer trained in Engineering in University of Ceylon and was a post graduate Colombo Plan scholar at University College London and is the recipient of Anniversary Technical Excellence Award from Shell for project recognised as a ‘market trend setter’.

What are the Health Safety Security and Environment (HSSE) requirements?

Safety and security are always major concerns to those unfamiliar with such installations.

Offshore installations such as FSRUs are regulated by various authorities who have jurisdiction over them. These are subjected to regulation and standardization by the coastal state GOSL, flag state, class (Classification Society), international and national standardization bodies and maritime regulators such as IMO, MARPOL, SOLAS and their regional directives. In view of the floating nature of the FSRU there are several parties involved, whose relationships should be clearly understood.

A Classification Society

is an independent, impartial, technical organization that establishes and administers standards, known as the Rules, for the design, construction and periodic survey of ships, offshore structures including floating systems and their facilities. Their principal concern is safety of the facilities and its personnel. Classification is the process of verifying compliance to their prescriptive Rules. It is often a prerequisite for obtaining insurance, fulfilling regulatory requirements or may be voluntarily elected as a means of demonstrating due diligence or as a component part of project quality assurance. Classification societies are empowered to act on behalf of national authorities in a number of aspects in most countries. This is because most countries do not have specific rules, design codes and standards specific for such specialised offshore installations. The FSRU will be classed by the likes of Lloyds, DNV-GL, ABS or Bureau Veritas.

It was noted during a presentation by the writer in about 2018 in Colombo that there are no items classified by Class Society that were then in operation in SL (as reported by the then Lloyds Register representative in SL). This reflects the poor adherence to international standards by the agencies of GOSL, by not mandating even basic industry practices.

A Flag State Authority

is the regulatory authority of the government of the state whose flag a vessel is entitled to fly. Flagging of the FSRU is not mandatory should the vessel not be in transit, however most countries that do not have codes and standards for offshore installations register the vessels in a port of registry. Usually, the vessel carrying a flag of convenience offers the vessel as collateral for financing purposes, which is an important factor in securing bids in a tender. The Flag State also prescribes safety measures. The term ‘’ describes the business practice of a in a country other than that of the ship’s owners, and flying that state’s on the ship. Ships may be registered under flags of convenience to reduce operating costs by avoiding regulations, inspection and scrutiny by the owner’s country. Normally the nationality (i.e. flag) of the ship determines the taxing jurisdiction. The Flag State has the and responsibility to enforce regulations over registered under its flag, including those relating to inspection, certification, and issuance of and prevention documents. As a ship operates under the laws of its flag state, these laws are applicable if the ship is involved in an such as maritime and nautical issues and disputes. This should be understood by agencies of GOSL.

Coastal State

is Sri Lanka. The regulatory authorities of GOSL exercise administrative control over the waters and seabed in which the FSRU is operating.

The relationships, requirements, and responsibilities between them are complex and not easily understood. This is because of (a) the number of regulatory authorities that may have jurisdiction on a particular project, (b) differences in scope and content of the regulatory systems in different countries (and to a lesser extent the Flag states) (c) the fact that few regulatory authorities have adopted their requirements to specifically address FSRUs.

In the writer’s experience, the scope and certification the classification society is empowered to perform are different for each flag and coastal state authority involved on a particular project as well as for different types of floating systems. Based on the writer’s experience in a number of countries, it is essential to identify and define, as early in the project as possible, all the relevant regulatory jurisdictions and requirements and to identify any unique technical and jurisdictional issues for early resolution with the Classification Society and the relevant regulatory authorities. The classification societies assist in defining these areas and resolving interpretations of relevant technical requirements, when engaged for this purpose, then report to all parties.

Gas leaks and subsequent explosions are not like oil leaks. Oil leaks pose relatively minor risks. Gas explosions engulf the entire region, when the flammable gas is under pressure. In a few seconds the explosion could destroy the entire infrastructure and the results are catastrophic. If the FSRU is to be located at the entry to the port, this could pose the threat of destruction to the entire ports’ activities. FSRUs are now typically located well away from port activities, and in open water.

The natural gas is to be piped from the FSRU via offshore and land pipelines meeting stringent oil and gas industry practice requirements. Installation of natural gas lines on land in populated areas raises safety issues with natural gas leaks being highly volatile and a high fire and explosion risk. They are usually subject to NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) protests and have led to project cancellations and delays. Now they are subject to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) constraints given the very high risk with gas lines, leading to catastrophic environmental disasters. The existing oil lines in the Colombo Port to Kolonnawa region are known to be poorly maintained, although leaking oil lines are exposed to a much lower level of risk. Proposals to run highly explosive natural gas lines in densely populated areas should expect louder protests than those during the Port City project. An option for GOSL to avoid high levels of risk in densely populated areas is to locate the FSRU in the vicinity of power generating plants in sparsely populated locations.

The fact that NFE would be responsible for the pipeline operation and maintenance (and not the GOSL/CEB) is a consolation given that NFE is concerned with their global reputation with their large operational portfolio where any failures would impact on their current and future broader business opportunities. Such operational records are closely monitored and reported by the industry and any failures will impact on insurance premiums as well, which concerns NFE. Sri Lanka has a poor duty of care record, an example being the emissions from coal-fired power generation which has led to mass protests.

ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security)

is a security measure put in place in response to the 9/11 attacks by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as part of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. With the continuing threat of terrorism, the FSRU is expected to provide ISPS security provisions. In the writer’s experience, measures in excess of the standard provisions may be sought, which are project specific. The residual threats to Sri Lanka from the civil war that ended in 2009 should be noted. Regrettably, the nation continues to face terrorism threats, with the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings being a tragic example.

FSRU will have a high focus on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process which is now mandatory for such projects. EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, considering inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.

An EIA will be carried out for the project as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts prior to decision-making. This project has implications of the vessel being in the ocean in open water with a subsea pipeline as well as the pipeline on land via areas of high population density. Natural gas pipelines on land are always a concern and their operation and maintenance are covered by codes of practice such as by API and others. The EIA will identify the hazards and their mitigation of the complete installation, a risk analysis conducted, and methods of mitigation proposed. Today even the removal of the vessel is covered by EIA, in terms of what items are being left behind such as moorings and offshore structures.

The EIA to be carried out aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape the project to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits are achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoiding post project execution costs and in defining all the statutory consents required. The EIA reviews all hazards and their mitigation, assess and evaluate the impacts of the project and report the EIA including an Environment Management Plan and a non-technical summary for the general audience for public feedback and raise any concerns to be aired and resolved. The EIA should indicate whether the FSRU could provide the emergency response on a ‘stand-alone’ basis or with the support of facilities of SLPA or any other GOSL authority.

Safety systems continue to evolve as oil and gas operations become more challenging and they predominantly operate in a regime where the systems must meet requirements of prescribed standards. However, the legacy standards may not meet the requirements of highly complex industrial or technical systems such as offshore oil and gas installations in highly explosive environments where consequences of an accident can be catastrophic.

Thus, Safety Case is now being mandated by statutory authorities. Given the complexity of these operations most similar installations prescribe a Safety Case for these FSRUs. Major oil companies have mandated a Safety Case for all such installations since about 1995, which emerged from the Piper Alpha incident in 1988 with 167 fatalities. The writer has mandated a Safety Case for all the writer’s installations since about 2005. There have not been any reports of incidents where the facilities operated under a Safety Case regime. It is noteworthy that where major incidents with catastrophic events occurred, the facilities were not operating under a Safety Case regime, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

A safety case is a document produced by the operator of a facility which:

Identifies the hazards and risks

Describes how the risks are managed and controlled

Describes the safety management system in place to ensure that controls are effectively and consistently applied.

Safety cases must be produced by the operator of an installation such as NFE. The principle here is that those who create the risk must manage it. It is the operators’ job to assess their processes, procedures, and systems to identify and evaluate risks and implement the appropriate controls, because the operator has the greatest in-depth knowledge of their installation. The Safety Case must identify the safety critical aspects of the facility, both technical and managerial. Analysis of disasters almost always show a combination of technical and managerial flaws which have led to the event occurring.

This is an excellent opportunity for countries such as Sri Lanka to be exposed to global HSSE practices rather than be lagging behind having no duty of care as evidenced in recent events. The writer’s insistence in mandating a Safety Case in the region has been appreciated long after the writer’s departure having an incident free record in their operations.

Notably an EIA was issued by Sojitz (Sojitz ref project 0443480) based on their proposal for an FSRU dated 21 Aug 2019, for public comment. Extensive comments were issued by the writer to GOSL, having been responsible for similar EIAs in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand. The comments were ignored by GOSL which appears to be a total lack of very basic duty of care to the public at large, which is a serious concern in exposing these high risk complex projects to the oversight of the GOSL representatives today. Such disregard by the government sets a dangerous precedent when GOSL’s agencies such as CEB is clamouring to undertake such complex projects, unaware of even the basics of this industry.

What are the key insurance requirements?

There are a host of insurance requirements, the key items being the following.

The installation will require to procure Protection and Indemnity insurance, more commonly known as P&I insurance, this is a form of mutual maritime insurance provided by a P&I Club. Whereas a company provides “hull and machinery” cover for shipowners, and cargo cover for cargo owners, a P&I Club provides cover for open-ended risks that traditional insurers are reluctant to insure. They are backed by a group of reinsurers who spread the risk. Typical P&I cover includes: a carrier’s third-party risks for damage caused to cargo during carriage; war risks; and risks of environmental damage such as oil spills and pollution and damages by any catastrophic event due to any explosion. P&I insurance for these offshore floating installations are now mandatory, which typically exceed about USD 400 mil. P&I insurance has been a serious omission in the recent CEB tenders. The importance of P&I insurance should be known after the recent X-Press Pearl disaster, a Singapore-flagged container ship that caught fire and sank north of Colombo, causing extensive environmental damage. The P&I insurance will indemnify and include wreck and debris removal and a pollution liability in respect of the FSRU.

The replacement value of the vessel will be covered under marine hull and machinery insurance.

There are occasions when Business Interruption insurance must be procured when (a) the performance of certain items in the facility cannot be guaranteed for the duration of the contract when only warranties apply (b) as a form of relaxing the terms of payment guarantees, and (c) as required by the bankers to guarantee their revenue stream.

Disproportionately high demobilisation and removal costs (often in excess of USD 50 million) are being incurred globally with these moored floating systems . Statutory authorities are planning to introduce trailing liabilities to hold previous owners liable for decommissioning costs if they sold ageing assets to new owners that lacked the financial and technical capacity to decommission the facilities. Such incidents have taken place where the taxpayer has to fund such expenses running into more than USD 100 million. Some form of insurance to cover such eventualities is now being proposed. The best example is in Australia where the removal cost has exceeded USD 200 million paid for by the tax payer in removing the vessel. See Northern Endeavour debacle hits $209M with much more to come

The insurance is procured via brokers to whom the attributes as such as Safety Case will be given credit to lower the premiums, given the lower risk exposure from the extensive analysis and the precautionary measures taken. Naturally the lower insurance premiums would be reflected in lower electricity prices.

The EIA will give an estimate of the above scope for P&I cover and the scope of the emergency response required. The EIA should indicate whether the FSRU could provide the emergency response on a ‘stand-alone’ basis or with the support of facilities of SLPA or any other GOSL authority. Often regional facilities available are considered when determining the emergency response, such as from India. It is hoped that minimum standards of insurance be covered in these projects as practiced elsewhere with the minimum cover stipulated, without burdening the taxpayer. The buck stops with the insurance companies.

What are the legal complexities and the means of resolving disputes?

These vessels operate typically under multiple jurisdictions some of which overlap, which are notoriously complex to understand. It is necessary to check Sri Lanka’s cabotage policy of permitting foreign flagged vessels operating in Sri Lanka’s waters. The FSRU will be foreign flagged as explained under HSSE above and offered as collateral to banks. The cabotage policy governs the operation of vessels between two places along coastal routes in the same country by a transport operator from another country, practised by many nations worldwide including developed nations. For some of these nations, it is so strictly implemented that no foreign-flagged vessels are even allowed to operate within their domestic waters for long periods. Obtaining waiver in some cases have involved seeking parliamentary approval in the host country should there be no precedent. In the writer’s experience the powerful maritime lobbies of host countries prevent foreign flagged vessels from operating in their waters and the employment of expatriate foreign personnel, in the operation of the FSRU. These may cause delays should there be no such precedent; the writer has faced such challenges elsewhere.

The vessel will be under the jurisdiction of the port of registry of a flag of convenience such as Liberia and Panama. Marshall Islands is becoming popular as a flag of convenience as explained under HSSE. As a ship operates under the laws of its flag state, their laws are applicable if the ship is involved in an such as maritime and nautical issues and disputes. Admiralty law or maritime law is a body of that governs nautical issues and private maritime disputes. This should be understood by GOSL, who has limited jurisdiction.

The governing law of the contract for the lease and supply of LNG and export of natural gas would not be based on laws of Sri Lanka. This is because these companies, banks and financiers who participate, do not have the time and resources to scrutinise Sri Lanka’s laws and usually laws of Sri Lanka do not apply to such contracts. Applicable laws familiar to the lawyers from these companies and banks such as the laws of UK, New York or Singapore are common in these transactions which have been proven over the years offering a good balance between the parties involved in transactions.

Usually, the expectation is that these disputes are eventually settled by arbitration outside the host country such as in London, via London Maritime Arbitrators Association. Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is becoming increasingly popular for disputes arising from leased FSRU type vessels. Singapore has well trained lawyers involved in drafting these contracts known to the writer. Several cases have been assigned to SIAC since these vessels are also typically converted in Singapore shipyards and Singapore’s banks are also involved in syndicate financing. A record of present case studies are available to settle disputes. Several banks who provide equity finance and debt finance for these projects in the region are in Singapore and their disputes have been settled via SIAC.

What are the risks to the Sri Lankan Tax payer including the ‘end-of-life-burden’?

One of the great risks from CEB’s tender is in separating the FSRU contractor from the pipeline contractor. Unforeseen delays with pipeline installations are common. Offshore installations rarely run-on schedule, with some being delayed by six months or more being extremely sensitive to weather downtime in Sri Lanka, which is subject to monsoons. Further delays in laying gas pipelines across high density populated areas are extremely likely with land acquisition issues, environmental protests by politicians and the public. Usually, FSRUs are delivered on time, within 22 months, with similar conversions gained over more than 100 conversions in Singapore, where the writer has worked since 1994. FSRU suppliers wish to have their revenue stream early from the date of award of contract and would impose liquidated damages for any delay in pipeline delivery, whilst unable to supply regassified LNG. This could be of the order of USD 150,000 to 200,000/day for six months coming from the taxpayer’s account.

Usually the installation of FSRU and the offshore pipeline would be undertaken by the same contractor, which would not be the case with separate contractors as with CEB’s tender. These mobilisations/demobilisations could be of the order of USD 10 mil, which could have been saved, if performed by the same contactor as proposed by NFE.

The above are the advantages of a single point responsibility as proposed by NFE versus CEB’s attempt to separate the tenders where CEB would be responsible for the interface, with CEB lacking any exposure, inter alia, to any form of offshore oil and gas industry standards, codes, practices, industry norms, risks, Classification Society rules, insurance

requirements, offshore health, safety, security, and environmental practices.

There has been a trend to contract an overall tolling rate where payment is on the basis of LNG regassified and is expressed as $/mmbtu (million BTU). However, the actual rate will be dependent on the terminal utilisation (load factor). The utilisation cannot be determined accurately without carrying out detailed met ocean studies which should be (a) acceptable to a Classification Society and (b) acceptable to by Insurance companies. Usually utilisation could be of the order of 50%, which would double the actual rate. QED Consulting quotes estimated tolling rates (tariffs) in the range $0.60-0.94/mmbtu based on a 50% load factor. The contract with Excelerate for the Puerto Rico FSRU Aguirre terminal states $0.47/mmbtu. The rate for the first Bangladesh terminal is also stated to be $0.47/mmbtu. For the second Bangladesh terminal $0.45 has been stated. Assuming a 50% load factor the actual rates will again be around $1/mmbtu. The above rates are based on studies carried out by Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.

CEB lacking any exposure to highly specialised offshore oil and gas business and taking responsibility for the complex contractual and technical interface between the pipeline and FSRU would be a monumental disaster in the making. NFE poses no such interface risks with a single point responsibility for the whole project.

The removal costs of the FSRU could be of the order of USD 50 million as a minimum, could even well exceed USD 200 million, which is a significant ‘end-of-life-burden’ to the taxpayer. Its mitigation via insurance and relevant contractual obligations are noted above.

FSRUs are generally leased for longer periods than 10 years proposed by CEB for the vessel, examples being Lumpung Indonesia 20 years, Grace Columbia 20 years, Bahrain FSU 20 years, Armada Mediterrana Malta 18 years, Punta-de-Sayag, Uruguay 20 years, Port Qasim-3, Pakistan 20+5+5 years. Amortising the vessel in 10 years incurs a higher lease rate for the vessel depreciated over a shorter term, incurring a higher charge to GOSL. The short lease period exposes a lower period of depreciation of the vessel for amortisation with a higher lease rate, with a higher cost of electricity payable by the taxpayer.

CEB’s tender has omitted both Bureau Veritas who has classed 17 FSRUs worldwide and ABS and included only Lloyds and DNV. Such omission could cost the taxpayer in change of class of a vessel when converting a candidate vessel and reflects preferential treatment in a open tender.

It is questionable whether GOSL/CEB would be in a position to ‘take over’ the FSRU operations, for which a highly specialised skills set is required and a competency audit in the form of due diligence to secure P&I insurance.

Typically, these FSRU projects are leased, operated and removed by the vessel owner, particularly in countries such as Sri Lanka, which is incapable of running even a very basic coal generation plant without interruption. Sri Lanka could well be left with an inoperable facility of negative value such as the Urea Fertiliser Plant which was sold as scrap soon after start up. FSRU is cutting edge technology. GOSL is taking unnecessary risks in placing CEB to undertake this project, unlike NFE taking responsibility for the entire project. NFE has inherited the portfolio of the previous owner GOLAR who pioneered this industry in 2009, it comes with a wealth of experience.

The Urea Fertiliser Project was a multibillion rupee project which was sold as scrap soon after starting. Ronnie de Mel, then Minister of Finance and Planning, said in an address to Parliament on 21 December 1977: “We propose to introduce legislation very soon to make chairmen and directors of corporations personally liable for their actions in those corporations. They will make it a point to study their projects a little more carefully when they know that they will be personally held liable and that they will be charged and surcharged for any losses or lapses on their part.”

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa could have been a very much better President but he chose otherwise or let others choose wrongly for him.

The choice of Gotabaya as candidate and the wrong choices he made as candidate and President were assisted by those in the Yahapalanaya government who adopted wildly unwise policies.

The choice of Gotabaya as candidate was pretty much decided by the Yahapalanaya UNP. The 19th amendment could have been worded differently, to rule out a third CONSECUTIVE term, but it wasn’t. Instead, a third term was simply ruled out. This ruled out the kind of comeback that many leaders have made, from de Gaulle to Bachelet and next year, hopefully, Lula.

Imprudently regarding Mahinda as the main enemy though Gotabaya had revealed his dark side during the second term of MR, the UNP counted on GR failing to renounce his US citizenship and/or the special relationship that the UNP thought it had with Washington DC. (It did not reckon with GR’s own connections with Trump’s America.)

The result was that the far more moderate Mahinda could not run. Insofar as the Rajapaksas, like any other South Asian political clan, would keep it in the family, that meant one of Mahinda’s siblings would be the candidate.


Given that Yahapalanaya had won, not by convincing a majority of the majority Sinhalese, but by basing itself on a majority of the minority voters plus a minority of the majority voters, the Rajapaksas needed to pick someone who could induce sufficient Sinhala swing as to countervail and overwhelm the electoral effect of the combined minority voters. That someone would have to swing the Sinhala vote so massively as to eliminate even the dissident Sinhala vote that went with Maithripala Sirisena.

Though Chamal Rajapaksa was considered by Mahinda, he opted out, and in any case, he was not as suited for the task at hand as was Gotabaya. Thus, the needle always flickered to GR, and eventually stayed there.

There was one last chance that the Gotabaya candidacy could have been headed-off. That was the Maithripala Sirisena-Mahinda Rajapaksa move of late 2018. Had it held, one of several things would have happened: (a) Sirisena could have run again (b) Chamal or Dinesh may have been agreed upon as candidate (c) GR may have run but with MR and MS holding the reins.

With the failure of the MS-MR stopgap, the GR project was the only option, and it was free and clear of MR’s control. Yelling “wolf” about a “52-day coup” when there wasn’t a soldier in sight, the Colombo neoliberals and all of us besides wound up with a regime studded with serving and retired military officers. Worse: a possible Myanmar outcome stares us in the face.

That was the realpolitik of it. The real problem was not so much in the choice of GR, but in the choice GR himself made.

Gota’s Choice

If I may strike a personal note while reflecting on the Gotabaya presidency? About to turn 65 next month, I felt rather proud to read the following paragraph in these pages from the young writer I regard as the successor to columnist Ajith Samaranayake, namely Uditha Devapriya:

“Paradoxically, the yahapalana government made it possible, not merely for a Rajapaksa restoration, but for the election of the former president’s brother. Parallels with Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew notwithstanding, there was little that stood in Mr. Gotabaya’s way. He had a world to win and a country to preside over. In November 2019, then, almost every community, including sections of ethnic minorities, gave him support. Even political commentators who had penned diatribes against him raised the possibility of better days ahead. Very few thought otherwise: among them, Dayan Jayatilleka stood out. This was as it should be: no one wanted to back a dead horse, and Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP, for all its history and heritage, seemed like a relic of some distant, dark past.” (Battling the blues – The Island)

There were two models of the Gotabaya candidacy and presidency. One was Mahinda’s. The other was that of the GR groupies, which involved the owner of the local Fox News, GR’s ex-military buddies, the very rich far-right Sri Lankan expatriate Trumpians in LA where GR lived for over a decade, a few ultra-right Buddhist monks and professionals/academics grouped in Viyath Maga and Eliya.

What happened in Sri Lanka at the time was very similar to what happened in the USA, in the Republican Party in 2008 and 2016. The choice of Sarah Palin was forced on Senator John McCain, by the Tea Party movement which was increasingly influential in the Republican party. Sadly, for McCain and happily for the USA and the world, that sank the Republicans and put Obama over the top.

The Tea Party movement didn’t give up, and hence the Trump candidacy. With the ideal opponent, the neoliberal-interventionist Hillary Clinton, Trump won.

Those who know US politics would know that the rightwing Republicans were strong in the republican party in California—unusual because the state was so liberal. Those who know Gotabaya Rajapaksa would know that this was precisely the ideological grouping that he and his fellow Sri Lankan expatriates (which include the super-rich and the ex-military) existed in and contributed to, in LA.

That was the type of candidacy and presidential project Gotabaya Rajapaksa chose over the Mahinda perspective for a Gotabaya presidency– that of mainstream, moderate-nationalist, center-left populism which had been the staple of the Rajapaksas and the SLFP for decades.

MR envisaged basic continuity with a new technocratic-nationalist edge provided by the Gotabaya ingredient– the SLFP’s Sinhala Only in 1956, but ‘Lite’. By contrast, Gotabaya’s preference was for an Alt-Right profile and project a la Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter a hero of rightwing Republicans and a personal hero of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Gotabaya’s own presidential project was not safely anchored in the moderate-nationalist, center-left Mahinda constituency and camp. GR’s center of gravity was/is not the rural Sinhala heartland with its peasantry. It was/is the military. His home-base is not Medamulana; it is Saliyapura, the headquarters of his old regiment, the Gajaba.

Thus, his policy agenda and the trajectory of his presidency. The existential choice was his. Or rather, he chose to let his Far-Right militarist caucus mold his candidacy and presidency. Which is the same thing.

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A strategy for leftists and nationalists



by Uditha Devapriya

Since at least 1977, nationalists and leftists have constantly been defining themselves against one another. The key years in which this gulf widened would be 1980 (the July strike), 1982 (the presidential election), 1983 (the anti-Tamil pogrom and the proscription of the Left), and 1987 (the Indo-Lanka Accord). What we see in those years is a middle-class abandoning the Left: partly on account of an ideological turnaround, but also, more crucially, on account of the different trajectories such ideologies took following J. R. Jayewardene’s liberalisation of the economy. The result of this was, simply, that a nascent middle-class bourgeoisie, disillusioned with the prospects of Marxism in Sri Lanka, turned away from socialist politics and began to articulate an exclusivist and communalist ideology.

The dangers and limitations of this world-view have been addressed by several intellectuals within the Left. Yet the question can be raised as to how effective such critiques have been in exposing the flaws of an ideology which appeals to an upward aspiring middle-class. Do we then need to come up with an alternative critique, one that reveals the flaws of communalism more effectively? If so – and there’s no doubt that we ought to – what should the objective of such a critique be: the abandonment of Sinhala nationalism in toto, or the abandonment of its more regressive aspects and the fusion of its progressive elements with the radical Left? I, for one, prefer the latter approach. But do Left intellectuals advocate it?

For the most, they do not. One can ask why, but there are far more important questions. How is it that socialism, which once cohered well with nationalism (even Sinhala nationalism) in the country, came to divorce itself from the wellsprings of nationalist thought? How is it that nationalists shed themselves of their earlier commitment to left-wing anti-imperialism? How is it that their world-view shifted from the writings of Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire to the rhetoric of what scholars have labelled as “clerico-fascists”? How is it that progressives in the nationalist camp no longer seem willing to side with the Left?

I suggest that the answers to these questions lie in two matters: the post-1977 trajectory of intellectual formations allied with the Left, and the response of these formations to not just Sinhala nationalism, but the idea of Third World nationalism in general.

The first matter is easy to figure out. In a provocative critique of Edward Said (“Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Cosmopolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said”), Aijaz Ahmad makes an interesting point about Third World intellectuals: that with the retreat of the Left across the world, many of them aligned themselves with a left-wing intellectual formation while spouting an “openly and contemptuously anti-communist” line.

These trends picked up with the onset of the neoliberalisation of Third World societies. They led to two crucial outcomes: the exodus of academics allied with the Left to a donor funded, “postmodern” civil society sphere, and the neglect of such classical Marxist concerns as class in favour of such micro-political “single issues” as ethnic identity.

Before one reads this as a complete abandonment of class in socialist polemics, it must be pointed out that classical Marxists concerns were, in fact, deployed from time to time by the new NGO outfits. Marxism was used extensively in support of Tamil nationalist aspirations, even in support of Tamil secessionism, by a number of intellectuals.

Yet its application was, for the most, selective and arbitrary: as the years passed, people saw it as favouring a minority discourse over, and against, the claims of Sinhala nationalism. I certainly believe Marxist intellectuals erred in advocating the one and criticising the other. But this is not to say that siding with Sinhala nationalists would have been right either; a more correct strategy would have been to shoot down both Tamil and Sinhala claims: the line taken up by Tamil leftists in opposition to the Sinhala Only Act in 1956.

“This is not the time… for despair and anger for the Tamil people, but one for sustained opposition to injustice and sustained effort for the formation of a Government of justice. In no case must Tamil people think in terms of division; instead they must think of building the closest unity with the Sinhalese people… [I]t is very curious but true that there are only two nationalist parties in the country, namely, the LSSP and the Communist Party, and that all other parties have given up their national character, having become sectional political parties.” (P. Kandiah, Debate on the Official Language Act No.33, 1956)

Three points undergird Kandiah’s opposition to the Act: that legislation denying the rights of a community to its own language must be seen as a national and not ethnic issue; that Tamil people must form a broad alliance with their Sinhala counterparts; and that the Left is more eminently nationalist than communalist “sectional” parties.

By the latter, Kandiah includes not just the SLFP , but also the ACTC and the Federal Party, as well as the UNP, whose most prominent voice in parliament, J. R. Jayewardene, fired the first shot in the language debate four years before independence by “proposing” Sinhala Only. Grouping these outfits together, Kandiah then presents them as birds of a feather pandering to different forms of communalist nationalism. Having done so, he comes up with a critique of such nationalism from a class perspective: a perspective that could have been ably projected against the authoritarian neoliberal right in the 1980s.

That such a perspective was abandoned tells us a great deal about the strategies preferred and taken by the Left in later decades. While it would be wrong to conclude that the abandonment of such an approach led from the NGO sector’s co-option of sections of the Marxist Left, it is not wrong to see that process of co-option on a continuum, from the “neoliberalisation” of the economy after 1977 and the infusions of foreign aid which accompanied the “opening up” of the economy. In that scheme class no longer mattered: detached from the realm of production relations, identity politics became the mantra of the New Left.

This turnaround had its roots in the Left’s critique of all forms of Sinhala nationalism. Dayan Jayatilleka’s distinction between the patriotism of Weera Puran Appu and that of Anagarika Dharmapala is not necessarily one I agree with, yet it is far more nuanced than other such critiques. It is at once critical of the tribalist character of such nationalism and welcoming of its more progressive aspects. Yet such analyses are exceptional and rare.

Aijaz Ahmad explains what happened next: “Among critiques that needed to be jettisoned were the Marxist ones, because Marxists had this habit of speaking about classes, even in Asia and Africa. What this new immigration needed were narratives of oppression that would get them preferential treatment, reserved jobs, higher salaries in the social position that they already occupied: namely, as middle class professionals, mostly male.” In other words, these Left intellectuals, having given up class as a frame of reference, embraced other critiques that helped them join the ranks of a civil society salatariat.

Sinhala nationalists contributed to this state of affairs also. The Left’s cooption by NGOs essentially mirrored Sinhala nationalism’s departure from the Left. This is perhaps putting things in too reductive a light, but the point is that it happened, and that by the 1980s, the gulf between the two – nationalism and Marxism – had widened enough to warrant a breach, or a disjuncture, which led both to embrace establishments, institutions, and ideologies outside the political establishment: the Left to a donor funded civil society, and Sinhala nationalism to a communalist, chauvinist fringe. To blame the Left only here is to see the matter in favour of one side: the truth is that by ceding territory to right-wing politics, Sinhala nationalists did not just abscond from a progressive intellectual formation, it also “lost” the most progressive ally it could count on to a “third estate” hostile to both Marxism and nationalism.

What we need is a critique of both these processes – the “NGO-fication” of the Left and the radicalisation of Sinhala nationalism – which does not pit the one against the other. To put it in another way, we need a critique of the New Left that does not demonise Marxism from a nationalist standpoint, and a critique of Sinhala nationalism that does not deny its essentially progressive, anti-imperialist character.

I concede this is a difficult enterprise, but I believe it must be achieved, sooner than later. I say so because a rift between Marxism and nationalism can only speed up the distancing of the one from classical Marxist concerns and of the other from its anti-imperialist heritage. To allow this to happen would be to let both Marxism and nationalism abandon their progressive moorings. To allow that to happen would certainly be a tragedy.

The writer can be reached at

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