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Conspiracy Theorists, Political Blackguards and Patience

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by Kumar David

Conspiracy Theories Swarm

As you read this, thankfully, an ogre has been ushered out of the White House and the world heaves a sigh of relief – but it may be short-lived. It has been a season of conspiracy theories and one attracting much attention is QANON, a movement with a large following which broadcasts gibberish that Donald Trump is the leader of a war against Satan-worshipping elitist paedophiles in government, business and media hell bent on destroying the great republic. Sure they are loonies but polls indicate there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who believe such bizarre stories. Traffic on social media sites Facebook, Twitter and YouTube exploded since these movements surfaced in 2017. There are many nutty groups in America and conflict and commotion will be prolonged for long after noon last Wednesday when old Joe and pretty Kamala were sworn-in. Crushing these loonies is not a problem, inevitably it will happen, but the fear is that as we have often seen repression opens the door to unjust repression thereafter.

China says it is fighting “three evil forces” of separatism, terrorism, and extremism in Xinjiang Province, home to 11 million Muslim Uighurs. It says its “training measures” are necessary to combat these evils. Fiction in Chinese politics dates back to Mao Tse Tung’s later years when he lost his marbles, first the grossly idiotic Great Leap forward which pushed China ten years backward followed by the Cultural Revolution which brought the country to a state of collapse from which his successors were able to rescue China thanks to the by then drooling Mao’s demise. But the present fiction, this sinister fabrication to trample on the Muslims of Xinjiang belongs to today’s China! Conspiracy theory is the stuff of political power across the world and across time.

There is an intriguing fact-and-conspiracy-theory laced documentary that I would like you to watch. The video includes a futuristic section about a post-capitalist world heralded by technology to make work redundant and leisure abundant. Marx would have approved of the ramifications of this part of the video because it talks about how soaring technology creates a society of superabundance and plenty in which capitalism, the division of labour and exploitation become redundant.

“When the division of labour comes into being each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity each can be accomplished in any branch while society regulates general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, without ever needing to become hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” (The German Ideology)

Other sections of the video are weird, alleging that global elites and corporations created and orchestrated the Covid pandemic in order to spread panic. Why? Maybe out of greed to enhance profit though this is not made explicit. The point about the video taken as a whole is that it is a mix of fantasy and fact. In a word, hair-raising conspiracy theories cleverly blending fact and fiction. Such theories abound. If you have 50 minute to relax, it will take you on a journey that is both surreal and stimulating; you won’t regret it as it is an “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times” experience.

Sri Lanka has no shortage of conspiracy theories, fantastic, surreal and some partly true. Space permits only one example. Sarath Weerasekara, Nandasena’s State Minister of Provincial Councils, rails as follows: “But after we killed Prabhakaran and defeated the LTTE, the most ruthless in the world, we allowed its proxy, the TNA to continue! Ironically, they are the ones who drafted the country’s constitution to devolve power to the North! It is like, after the Second World War, Churchill inviting the Nazis to come and decide about the foreign policy in UK!” (Sarath Weerasekera; SPUR Oct 2018 and Daily Mirror Online 22 Jan 2021). On July 19, 2018 Sri Lanka Mirror attributed to Weerasekara and Viyathmaga a demand for hanging Human Rights Commissioner Deepika Udugama, a charge that Jayatilleke de Silva repeated in the Daily News of 24 July. Weerasekara’s self-assigned mission as State Minister of PCs is to preside over the abolition of PCs, while government has decided to go ahead with PC elections later this year. Jathika Chinthanaya ideologue Gunadasa Amerasekara, that chap Weerawansa, odd-ball Gerry Peries and odder-ball Nalin de Silva, all identified with a Nandasena standpoint, together with an assortment of monks and prelates call for the abolition of PC. Having killed Prabhakaran the mistake the Sinhala State made, it seems, is not finishing off Sampanthan et al since the Tamils are plotting to destroy Sinhale. This lot inhabits an alternative hate universe in which a Tiger lurks behind ever palmyrah woven cadjan fence. Conspiracy theories galore.

The threat to democracy is more serious in Lanka than the USA because an unhinged President was shooed off before you read these lines. In mother Lanka the conflict is sharpening right now and within the governing party; the knives are out and the draggers are drawn. Percy Mahendra and Cabinet it seems are going ahead with PC election later this year. Though Nanadasena Gotabaya has not made a pronouncement it is plain that there is tension between the Executive and the Government. This tacit power struggle is unlikely to come into the open but one side will certainly have to back-off; the other side will prevail. If the President is compelled to back-off and PC elections go ahead, it would signal unambiguously, that the source of power in Lanka is aiya not malli. It would be better for democracy and for ethnic relations at this time and on this issue if indeed aiya and his parliamentary backers prevail and demonstrate their supremacy over malli and his military cabal and the aforesaid more racist hangers on Weerasekara, G.H. Peries, Gunadasa, Nalin de S etc. In this instance if Mahendra prevails over Nandasena it will good. Political lies, like lies in everyday life breed on the experience that if told often enough the story teller begins to believe it himself, and then when fabrication becomes gospel-truth to the masses it perpetuates and perpetrates great harm on society.

 

Political Blackguards run free, for now

 

Though this point has been festering in my mind what kick-started this para was Shyamon Jayasinghe’s (‘Similarities of Political Culture between Trump and post-war SL’) in Colombo Telegraph, Jan. 20, 2021, Joe-Kamala inauguration day. This is not a reply to SJ; his topic is political morality, mine is somewhat different, but he is to blame for giving me a push. The similarity that I want to reflect upon is that presidents and prime ministers of Lanka since the 1990s-incumbents have mostly if not entirely been crooks. That is, persons involved in monetary fraud and in addition nearly all guilty of other forms of misconduct – violation of the constitution, allegations of murder and torture of political opponents or critics, and gross nepotism. I will not stop to quote examples as my paper will run out and my Editor is not kind enough to double my word-count quota. In any case it’s not necessary; most readers are better informed than I am on these matters. But no president, prime minister, defence secretary or Cabinet Minister has been prosecuted after their gang lost an election – maybe there were one or two Ministers, forgive my ageing memory. Do you recall the blood curdling threats that the 2015 winners about crucifying oodles of thieves and gangsters of the previous regime? Do you remember how the 2019-20 winners swore during the campaign that they would prosecute and crucify yahapalana bond-bandits and a nefarious assortment of yahapalana crooks? Nothing happened! Few rogues who pocketed countless millions has spent one day behind bars. Actually there was one, poor Lalith Weeratunga who played forlorn Sydney Carton to his boss’s Charles Draney.

 

Here’s my punch line. Though Trump is surely a crooked businessman and continued to be so during his presidency, though he violated the constitution and acted in palpable bad faith, I am prepared to offer my usual wager, a litre bottle of single malt, that he will not face criminal prosecution, nor will he be imprisoned for a large platter of crimes though he deserves to be.

 

Patience

 

But time is of the essence in all things. It will determine the outcome in the US. It will decide in Lanka, where Ahimsas and Sandyas and thousands of widows and mothers wait. They knit and wait, and wait and knit. They wait and wait and knit and knit, as did Madame Defarge, for that day which will surely come.



Features

Port City Bill Requires Referendum

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by Dr Jayampathy Wickramaratne,PC

The Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill was presented in Parliament on 08 April 2021, while the country was getting ready to celebrate the traditional New Year. With the intervening weekend and public holidays, citizens had just two working days to retain lawyers, many of whom were on vacation, and file applications challenging the constitutionality of the Bill in the Supreme Court within the one-week period stipulated in the Constitution. One wonders whether the timing was deliberate.

Special economic zones are common. They are created mainly to attract foreign investments. In return, investors are offered various concessions so that their products are competitive in the global market. Several negative effects of such zones have also been highlighted. The sole purpose of this article, however, is a discussion on the constitutionality of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to establish a high-powered Commission entrusted with the administration, regulation and control of all matters connected with businesses and other operations in and from the Colombo Port City. It may lease land situated in the Colombo Port City area and even transfer freehold ownership of condominium parcels. It operates as a Single Window Investment Facilitator for proposed investments into the Port City. It would exercise the powers and functions of any applicable regulatory authority under any written law and obtain the concurrence of the relevant regulatory authority, which shall, as a matter of priority, provide such concurrence to the Commission. The discretion and powers of such other authorities under the various laws shall thus stand removed.

The Commission consists of five members who need not be Sri Lankan citizens, quite unlike the Urban Development Authority, the Board of Management of which must comprise Sri Lankan citizens only. One issue that arises is that the vesting of such powers upon persons with loyalties to other countries, especially superpowers, would undermine the free, sovereign, and independent status of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 1 of our Constitution. It would also impinge on the sovereignty of the People of Sri Lanka guaranteed by Article 3 read with Article 4.

The removal of the discretionary powers of the various regulatory authorities is arbitrary and violative of the right to equal protection of the law guaranteed by Article 12 (1).

Under Clause 25, only persons authorized by the Commission can engage in business in the Port City. Clause 27 requires that all investments be in foreign currency only. What is worse is that even foreign currency deposited in an account in a Sri Lankan bank cannot be used for investment. Thus, Sri Lankans cannot invest in the Port City using Sri Lankan rupees; neither can they use foreign currency that they legally have in Sri Lanka. The above provisions are clearly arbitrary and discriminatory of Sri Lankans and violate equality and non-discrimination guaranteed by Article 12. They also violate the fundamental right to engage in business guaranteed by Article 14 (1) (g).

Under clause 35, any person, whether a resident or a non-resident, may be employed within the Port City and such employee shall be remunerated in a designated foreign currency, other than in Sri Lanka rupees. Such employment income shall be exempt from income tax. Clause 36 provides that Sri Lankan rupees accepted within the Port City can be converted to foreign currency. Under clause 40, Sri Lankans may pay for goods, services, and facilities in Sri Lankan rupees but would be required to pay a levy for goods taken out of the Port City, as if s/he were returning from another country! The mere repetition of phrases such as ‘in the interests of the national economy’ throughout the Bill like a ‘mantra’ does not bring such restrictions within permissible restrictions set out in Article 15.

Clause 62 requires that all disputes involving the Commission be resolved through arbitration. The jurisdiction of Sri Lankan courts is thus ousted.

In any legal proceedings instituted on civil and commercial matters, where the cause of action has arisen within the Port City or in relation to any business carried on in or from the Port City, Clause 63 requires Sri Lankan courts to give such cases priority and hear them speedily on a day-to-day basis to ensure their expeditious disposal.

The inability of an Attorney-at-Law to appear before the court even for personal reasons, such as sickness, shall not be a ground for postponement. These provisions are arbitrary and violate Article 12.

Clause 73 provides that several Sri Lankan laws listed in Schedule III would have no application within the Port City. Such laws include the Urban Development Authority Act, Municipal Councils Ordinance, and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. Under Clauses 52 and 53, exemptions may be granted by the Commission from several laws of Sri Lanka, including the Inland Revenue Act, Betting and Gaming Levy Act, Foreign Exchange Act, and the Customs Ordinance.

The Commission being empowered to grant exemptions from Sri Lankan laws undermines the legislative power of the People and of Parliament and violates Articles 3 and Article 4 (c) of the Constitution.

Several matters dealt with by the Bill come under the Provincial Councils List. They include local government, physical planning, and betting and gaming. Article 154G (3) requires that such a Bill be referred to Provincial Councils for their views. As Provincial Councils are not currently constituted, passage by a two-thirds majority will be necessary in the absence of the consent of the Provincial Councils.

The exclusion of the Municipal Councils Ordinance from the Port City area is not possible under the Constitution. When the Greater Colombo Economic Commission was sought to be established in 1978 under the 1972 Constitution, a similar exclusion was held by the Constitutional Court not to be arbitrary. Since then, under the Thirteenth Amendment under the 1978 Constitution, local government has been given constitutional recognition and included under the Provincial Council List. Under the present constitutional provisions, therefore, the Port City cannot be excluded from laws on local government.

The writer submits that in the above circumstances, the Colombo Port Economic Commission Bill requires to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum. Quite apart from the constitutional issues that arise, such an important piece of proposed legislation needs to be widely discussed. It is best that the Bill is referred to a Parliamentary Committee before which the public, as well as citizens’ organizations and experts in the related fields, could make their submissions.

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Features

Investigative Journalism?

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I usually end up totally exhausted when I finish reading the local newspapers from the Pearl. There are so many burning questions and so much is written about them but there are no conclusions and definitely no answers. For example, we seem to have three burning issues right now and this is not in order of importance.

We have a lengthy report that has been published on the Easter Sunday carnage. Everybody knows what I am talking about. However, no one, be it an editor, a paid journalist or a single one of the many amateurs who write to the papers, has reached a conclusion or even expressed an opinion as to who was responsible. At least not a believable one! Surely there are energetic and committed young people in the field of journalism today who, if asked, or directed properly will go out and find a source that would give them at least a credible hypothesis? Or do conclusions exist and has no one the courage to publish them?

At least interview the authors or should I use the word perpetrators of that report. If they refuse to be interviewed ask them why and publish an item every day asking them why! Once you get a hold of them, cross-examine them, trap them into admissions and have no mercy. It is usually geriatrics who write these reports in the Pearl and surely a bright young journalist can catch them out with a smart question or two, or at least show us that they tried? The future of the country depends on it!

We have allegations of contaminated coconut oil been imported. These are very serious allegations and could lead to much harm to the general populace. Do you really believe that no one can find out who the importers are and what brands they sell their products under? In this the Pearl, where everyone has a price, you mean to say that if a keen young journalist was given the correct ammunition (and I don’t mean 45 calibres) and sent out on a specific message, he or she couldn’t get the information required?

We are told that a massive amount of money has been printed over the last few months. There is only speculation as to the sums involved and even more speculation as to what this means to the people of the Pearl. Surely, there are records, probably guarded by extremely lowly paid government servants. I am not condoning bribery but there is nothing left to condone, is there? There are peons in government ministries who will gladly slip you the details if you are committed enough and if you are sent there to get it by a boss who will stand by you and refuse to disclose his sources.

I put it to you, dear readers, that we do not have enough professional, committed and adequately funded news organisations in the country. We can straightaway discount the government-owned joints. We can also largely discount those being run by magnates for personal gain and on personal agendas. As far as the Internet goes, we can forget about those that specialise in speculative and sensationalist untruths, what are we left with O denizens of the Pearl? Are there enough sources of news that you would consider willing to investigate a matter and risk of life and limb and expose the culprits for the greater good of society? Can they be counted even on the fingers of one hand?

In this era when we have useless political leaders, when law and order are non-existent when the police force is a joke, it is time the fourth estate stepped up to the mark! I am sure we have the personnel; it is the commitment from the top and by this, I mean funding and the willingness to risk life and limb, that we lack. Governments over the last few decades have done their best to intimidate the press and systematically destroy any news outlet that tried to buck the usual sycophantic behaviour that is expected from them by those holding absolute power.

Do you think Richard Nixon would ever have been impeached if not for the Watergate reporting? Donald Trump partially owes his defeat to the unrelenting campaign carried out against him by the “fake news” outlets that he tried to denigrate. Trump took on too much. The fourth estate of America is too strong and too powerful to destroy in a head-to-head battle and even the most powerful man in the world, lost. Let’s not go into the merits and demerits of the victor as this is open to debate.

Now, do we have anything like that in the Pearl? Surely, with 20 million-plus “literate” people, we should? We should have over 70 years of independence built up the Fourth Estate to be proud of. One that would, if it stood strong and didn’t waver and collapse under pressure from the rulers, have ensured a better situation for our land. Here is Aotearoa with just five million people, we have journalists who keep holding the government to account. They are well-funded by newspapers and TV networks with audiences that are only a fraction of what is available in the Pearl. Some of the matters they highlight often bring a smirk of derision to my face for such matters wouldn’t even warrant one single line of newsprint, should they happen in the Pearl.

Talking of intimidation from the rulers, most of us are familiar with the nationalisation of the press, the murder and torture of journalists, the burning of presses to insidious laws been passed to curtail the activities of Journalism. These things have happened in other countries, too, but the people and press have been stronger, and they have prevailed. We are at a watershed, an absolutely crucial time. It is now that our last few credible news sources should lift their game. Give us carefully researched and accurate reports with specific conclusions, not generalisations. Refuse to disclose your sources as is your right, especially now that the myopic eye of the UNHCR is turned in our direction.

All other ways and means of saving our beloved motherland, be it government, religion, sources of law and order and even civil society leadership seems to have lapsed into the realm of theory and rhetoric. Our last chance lies with the Fourth Esate and all it stands for. I call for, nay BEG for, a favourable reaction from those decision-makers in that field, who have enough credibility left in society, DON’T LET US DOWN NOW!

 

 

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Features

The world sees ugly side of our beauty pageants

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Yes, it’s still the talk-of-the-town…not only here, but the world over – the fracas that took place at a recently held beauty pageant, in Colombo.

It’s not surprising that the local beauty scene has hit a new low because, in the past, there have been many unpleasant happenings taking place at these so-called beauty pageants.

On several occasions I have, in my articles, mentioned that the state, or some responsible authority, should step in and monitor these events – lay down rules and guidelines, and make sure that everything is above board.

My suggestions, obviously, have fallen on deaf ears, and this is the end result – our beauty pageants have become the laughing stock the world over; talk show hosts are creating scenes, connected with the recent incidents, to amuse their audience.

Australians had the opportunity of enjoying this scenario, so did folks in Canada – via talk show hosts, discussing our issue, and bringing a lot of fun, and laughter, into their discussions!

Many believe that some of these pageants are put together, by individuals…solely to project their image, or to make money, or to have fun with the participants.

And, there are also pageants, I’m told, where the winner is picked in advance…for various reasons, and the finals are just a camouflage. Yes, and rigging, too, takes place.

I was witnessed to one such incident where I was invited to be a judge for the Talent section of a beauty contest.

There were three judges, including me, and while we were engrossed in what we were assigned to do, I suddenly realised that one of the contestants was known to me…as a good dancer.

But, here’s the catch! Her number didn’t tally with the name on the scoresheet, given to the judges.

When I brought this to the notice of the organiser, her sheepish reply was that these contestants would have switched numbers in the dressing room.

Come on, they are no babes!

On another occasion, an organiser collected money from the mother of a contestant, promising to send her daughter for the finals, in the Philippines.

It never happened and she had lots of excuses not to return the money, until a police entry was made.

Still another episode occurred, at one of these so-called pageants, where the organiser promised to make a certain contestant the winner…for obvious reasons.

The judges smelt something fishy and made certain that their scoresheets were not tampered with, and their choice was crowned the winner.

The contestant, who was promised the crown, went onto a frenzy, with the organiser being manhandled.

I’m also told there are organisers who promise contestants the crown if they could part with a very high fee (Rs.500,000 and above!), and also pay for their air ticket.

Some even ask would-be contestants to check out sponsors, on behalf of the organisers. One wonders what that would entail!

Right now, in spite of the pandemic, that is crippling the whole world, we are going ahead with beauty pageants…for whose benefit!

Are the organisers adhering to the Covid-19 health guidelines? No way. Every rule is disregarded.

The recently-held contest saw the contestants, on the move, for workshops, etc., with no face masks, and no social distancing.

They were even seen in an open double-decker bus, checking out the city of Colombo…with NO FACE MASKS.

Perhaps, the instructions given by Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana, and Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, mean nothing to the organisers of these beauty pageants…in this pandemic setting.

My sincere advice to those who are keen to participate in such events is to check, and double check. Or else, you will end up being deceived…wasting your money, time, and energy.

For the record, when it comes to international beauty pageants for women, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Earth and Miss International are the four titles which reign supreme.

In pageantry, these competitions are referred to as the ‘Big Four.’

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