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Editorial

Conspiracies redux

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Saturday 6th November, 2021

Tragic as Sri Lanka’s situation is, conspiracy theories that politicians come out with all too often remind us of Shakespeare’s comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, wherein Theseus says thus of the people ruled by unbridled imagination: ‘Or in the night, imagining some fear/How easy is a bush supposed a bear!’ It looks as if the government and the Opposition were vying with each other to concoct conspiracy theories. Hardly a day passes without a politician complaining of a conspiracy. The government would have the public believe that the present unholy mess it has created thanks to its colossal blunders on every front is due to conspiracies. Not to be outdone, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa himself has complained of a conspiracy against him.

Former UNP MP Palitha Range Bandara has, all of a sudden, called for a fresh probe into a claim made during the yahapalana government that there was a conspiracy to kill the then President Maithripala Sirisena, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Sirisena made a real hullabaloo over it; probes were conducted and arrests made, but nothing came of the much-publicised investigations, which have since been relegated to limbo to all intents and purposes. Why does the UNP want the forgotten investigation reopened at this juncture, when the focus of the country should be on serious existential problems and challenges it is faced with, and nothing else? However, the UNP has asked a valid question; why has neither Sirisena nor his successor Rajapaksa cared to have the so-called conspiracy probed?

Time was when Sirisena apparently thought others were without anything important to do and busy plotting full-time to harm him. In October 2018, Sirisena, while being the President, made quite a stir by reportedly claiming at a Cabinet meeting that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was conspiring to kill him. Whether RAW really sought to eliminate him, one may not know, but it must have felt like doing so, after the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, which India allegedly helped form to further its interests, allowed the Port City to be built bigger, and handed over the Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease. Spy agencies sin so much that they are usually more sinned against than sinning, one may say with apologies to Shakespeare.

The UNP itself has complained of many conspiracies. In late 2001, it accused the army intelligence of planning to kill its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who contested the general election in that year as its prime ministerial candidate. Its baseless claim and hostile actions based thereon against the army, and the disastrous consequences thereof stood the LTTE in good stead. One may recall that the UNP, immediately after forming a government in 2001, had a safehouse of army long rangers, at the Millennium City, Athurugiriya, raided and the intelligence operatives operating therefrom arrested, exposing their identities. The LTTE ascertained information about the army’s deep penetration operations following the raid and eliminated the long rangers’ intelligence network in the North and the East and killed several intelligence officers. In January 2015, the UNP claimed that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa had tried to stay in power forcibly despite his defeat in the presidential race, but it did not care to conduct a probe for five years.

Sirisena, who made an issue of the aforesaid conspiracy to kill him and had arrests made, gave a presidential pardon to a former Tiger accused of having tried to assassinate him while he was a minister in the Rajapaksa government. It is claimed in some quarters that the arrest of intelligence officers over the alleged conspiracy disrupted and weakened the state intelligence apparatus much to the benefit of the National Thowheed Jamaath, which carried out the Easter Sunday attacks.

One may not be in a position either to verify or to rubbish the claims that there were conspiracies to eliminate the political leaders including Sirisena, but it is clear that the LTTE was bent on killing them all. Luckily for them, the war was brought to an end in 2009. But about 12 years on, Prabhakaran would turn in his grave, regretting that he ever plotted to kill the current Sri Lankan leaders of all political hues, if he knew their tremendous contribution to the ruination of the country, which is exactly what he strove to achieve for about 25 years without much success.



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Editorial

Beware of virus bomb

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Saturday 4th December, 2021

It never rains but it pours, as they say. A Sri Lankan infected with the Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected. There must be many other infections in the country, and the detection thereof may be only a matter of time. Most nations hastened to impose travel bans on South Africa, etc., in a bid to prevent the spread of the much-dreaded variant, but all their efforts have manifestly gone pear-shaped. The new variant is smarter than it was thought to be; it is believed to have already spread across the globe.

Sri Lankans have now forgotten gas explosions and are talking about the possibility of another explosive spread of the pandemic. They are sure to go on speaking about Omicron instead of doing what needs to be done urgently.

Prof. Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, has urged the public to follow the health guidelines strictly instead of worrying about coronavirus variants. That is the only way to prevent infections, she has said. One cannot but agree with the eminent scientist at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s fight against the elusive virus. If the people do as health experts say, then they do not have to fear any variant of coronavirus because the virus cannot spread without human assistance. As a good doctor once said, the virus cannot walk, vault over parapet walls and creep into houses to infect humans. It is the people who take it home.

Since the reopening of the country following the last lockdown, Sri Lankans have been behaving as if the pandemic were a thing of the past. There are well-attended weddings, and other such events where people do not abide by health regulations, at all. Pubs were reopened even before schools! Buses and trains are overcrowded again; nobody seems to care two hoots about preventive measures other than wearing masks, that too perfunctorily. They seem to believe that double jabbing is the proverbial silver bullet, and the country has already acquired herd immunity. But reality is otherwise, scientists inform us.

The government deserves credit for its successful vaccination programme, but it must not rest on its oars. It must go all out to ensure that the health regulations are strictly enforced. It must not hesitate to reimpose restrictions on gatherings and even travel if the health experts think such measures are necessary to curb the spread of the superfast Omicron variant. The time is now; tomorrow may be too late. It is prudent to opt for restrictions early and avert another lockdown, which will send the economy belly up, and lead to unprecedented socio-economic problems.

It behoves political parties and trade unions to act with restraint, and refrain from holding mass protests, which will make only the virus happy. The government had better stop provoking workers and the Opposition, and put on hold all controversial deals such as the New Fortress agreement, which has led to a power sector ca’canny, which is very likely to develop into a strike unless the government scraps the backdoor power deal at issue. On Thursday, a group of irate CEB engineers gheraoed one of their administrators over disciplinary action taken against a union member allegedly for political reasons.

Yesterday’s countryside power outage can be considered a foretaste of what to come. A large number of institutions have introduced work from home in view of the pandemic, and tens of thousands of workers have become dependent on the national grid to carry out their duties and functions. Many of them had to travel to their workplaces, yesterday, due to the power failure, exposing themselves to the runaway virus.

The number of Covid-19 patients remains very high, and the death toll is also showing signs of increasing. Infections among schoolchildren are on the rise, and these early warnings must be taken seriously if a rise in the pandemic death rate and another lockdown are to be averted.

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Editorial

Ranjan reduced to mere slogan?

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Friday 3rd December, 2021

The Opposition has embarked on a campaign to have former SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake released from prison, we are told. Posters have appeared in some areas, calling him a political prisoner. One may have sympathy for the outspoken former MP although he brought his trouble on himself, but it defies comprehension why he is being called a political prisoner.

Ramanayake cannot be considered a political prisoner by any stretch of the imagination, and those who use this terminological inexactitude are doing a great disservice to the cause of real political prisoners. In this country, politicians or even terrorists or terror backers arrested or sentenced to jail are promptly dubbed political prisoners much to the detriment of the interests of the real prisoners of conscience. On the other hand, a campaign based on an unprovable claim has a foundation of sand.

Politics had nothing to do with what landed Ramanayake in prison. He would not have found himself behind bars if he had cared to exercise control over his restless tongue. However, given the fact that many lawbreakers are moving about freely and carrying out their sordid operations with impunity, one wonders how fair it is to keep Ramanayake in jail. Those who are trying to secure his release may have a better chance of success if they care to be truthful.

Ramanayake did something wrong; he made a derogatory statement in public about judges and it was found to be an affront to the dignity of the judiciary. He should have known better than to make such a sweeping statement and repeat it, thereby presumably causing an erosion of public faith in the judiciary. But the penalty he received—four years of rigorous imprisonment—is unusually severe for the offence of contempt of court.

Convicted criminals of all sorts, ranging from rapists to murderers, have received presidential pardons in this country. Besides, S. B. Dissanayake, who made a derogatory remark about the Supreme Court and was sentenced to RI for two years, benefited from a presidential pardon. Ven. Galabotaaththe Gnanasara Thera serving a jail term for contempt of court also received a presidential pardon. So, the question is why Ramanayake should not be treated likewise. Gnanasara Thera is now in charge of the government’s one-country-one-law project, of all things!

Opposition politicians may go on complaining or protesting until they are blue in the face, but there is absolutely no way they will be able to secure the release of Ramanayake under their own steam. Their efforts are bound to come a cropper, and Ramanayake’s plight will remain a mere political slogan unless they do what needs to be done. Only President Gotabaya Rajapaska is capable of having Ramanayake released from prison. The Opposition should face reality. It is left with no alternative but to request the President to grant a presidential pardon to Ramanayake.

Far be it from us to tell the President who should be given presidential pardons, but we believe Ramanayake deserves one, and he should tender an apology to the judiciary. It is being claimed in some quarters that Ramanayake will emerge a hero if he serves the full jail term and therefore he should not seek a presidential pardon.

It is up to Ramanayaka to ask for a pardon or serve the remainder of his sentence; he will be mistaken if he thinks his prison stay will make him a hero.

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Editorial

Opposition and Sudden Savant syndrome

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Thursday 2nd December, 2021

Why is it that only the Opposition politicians have brainwaves? Exceptional abilities are said to emerge in some ordinary people after brain injury or disease. We reported a few years ago that an American youth who dropped out of college as he was extremely weak in mathematics had become a brilliant mathematician all of a sudden after being hit in the head by a flying bottle in a pub. (Commenting on the incident, we warned the Sri Lankan youth that suffering head injuries in pub brawls was not the way to improve their mathematical skills!) Numerous such incidents have been reported from several parts of the world. This phenomenon has come to be called the Sudden Savant Syndrome. Where Sri Lankan politicians are concerned, epiphany-like moments occur in them only after traumatic electoral shocks. This is why some politicians act sensibly and come out with brilliant ideas when they are in the Opposition. Sri Lankans therefore say, “Mole thiyanakota bale ne bale thiyanakota mole ne, or when politicians have brains, they have no power, and vice versa.”

Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday that the MPs should be allowed to pursue legal or higher studies, given their legislative experience. This is a sensible idea. In the 1970s, there was such a scheme; the MPs could enter the Law College, as Kiriella has pointed out, and some of the present-day political leaders including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa benefited from it. Why it was scrapped is the question. It should be reintroduced for the benefit of the lawmakers.

A person who gains experience as a member of Parliament should be able to gain university or Law College admission, the Chief Opposition Whip said. However, not all MPs could be considered qualified, for many of them do not use the time allocated for them in Parliament productively; some MPs do not make any contribution to parliamentary debates. They only bellow rhetoric and insult others when they are given opportunities to speak. The MPs who make an effort to improve their performance and knowledge should be allowed to pursue legal or higher education while others who exchange blows and trade raw filth in the House should be denied nominations to contest future elections.

Educational opportunities should be made available to everyone, and courses of study designed for this purpose as in other countries. Those who miss opportunities to achieve their educational goals for various reasons when they are young should be able to realise their dreams later in life if they so desire. Education is a right, and must be treated as such.

In 2019, the then MP Ranjan Ramanayake sat the GCE O/L examination at the age of 56 as he wanted to obtain a better grade for the English language. We praised him editorially for his keenness to study, and urged other MPs to emulate him because this is the right attitude that everyone must adopt. Ramanayake said he wanted to study law, but unfortunately, he is now languishing behind bars because he, in his wisdom, caused an affront to the dignity of the judiciary. He should have studied law earlier.

People should be encouraged not to let their age, chronological or biological, stand in the way of their education. Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, who migrated to Canada from Sri Lanka, and earned a master’s degree, last month, has shown the way. If a grandma can do so, why can’t others?

Meanwhile, education alone does not make a good lawmaker. Basically, people’s representatives must be intelligent men and women of integrity with a passion for public service. Kiriella has said the MPs are intelligent because they accomplish the extremely difficult task of getting elected. Yes, there are some intelligent lawmakers, but others are blessed with cunning, which should not be confused with intelligence. Most politicians have achieved success through unscrupulous means, and it is doubtful whether they will mend their ways even if they receive postgraduate degrees. What power politics reflect in this country is the law of the jungle, and political dregs with the wherewithal and right connections go places at the expense of educated, intelligent, decent men and women. The emergence of dynastic politics has worsened the situation. Political leaders and their children have all the luck, and others have to settle for crumbs from their tables.

However, it should be stressed that the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition should give serious thought to devising a scheme to help not only the MPs but also all other elected representatives desirous of receiving a decent education achieve their dream.

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