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Continuing craziness

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By Dr. Upul Wjayawardhana

As a Sinhala Buddhist I should really be overjoyed, as many Buddhist priests are being appointed to positions of eminence, but I am not. I would be delighted if they are appointed to positions that have any relevance to Buddha Sasana but what is happening is just the opposite; they are given positions for political reasons. Close on the heels of appointing a political Bhikku who has a criminal record, with not one but two convictions, to head a Presidential Task Force pertaining to law and order, comes the news that a Bhikku who is, of all things, a trade union leader is to be the Chancellor of Colombo University!

Though I cannot find any justification whatsoever, other than the assumption that the all-powerful President of Sri Lanka can do whatever he wishes, for the appointment of a Bhikkhu with a tainted reputation to head a PTF, the appointment of a Bhikku as the Chancellor of a University can very well be justified; provided there is qualifying academic excellence or record of service to education. Many erudite Bhikkus have held positions of Chancellor and Vice Chancellor of our universities, the responsibilities of these two roles having changed over time due to educational reforms. Bhikkhus and dignitaries of other religions function as Chancellors of our universities today, but they all have excellent academic backgrounds and have made contributions towards education, whereas this appointment seems totally politically motivated.

Some may argue that engaging in politics should not preclude a Bhikkhu from holding such high academic office. After all, Ven. Walpola Rahula, who was Vice Chancellor of Vidyodaya University from 1966 to 1969, was involved in politics in the past and was beaten, allegedly by ‘UNP thugs’, during JR’s election campaign in Kelaniya. However, Ven. Rahula’s politics was very different to the politics of the present generation of Bhikkus, his being not for personal gain. Even if one were to find fault with this, there were enough other factors to justify suitability. Most are unaware of the vital part he played in ensuring the success of Dr. C.W.W. Kannagara’s education reforms. Most political leaders of the day, as well as the Catholic Church, were against the introduction of ‘Free Education’ and if not for the petition signed by over a million, following the ‘Vidyalankara Declaration’, which was presented to the State Council just before the vote by Ven. Rahula, the Kannangara reforms would not have seen the light of day. Further, he was the first Buddhist monk to be made a Professor in a Western University and his writings in English and French, including his seminal work ‘What the Buddha Taught’, contributed greatly towards the spread of Buddhism in the West.

Contrast this with the Bhikku nominated as the new Chancellor of Colombo University, replacing a religious dignitary of another faith, a recognised educationist. True, Mahinda Rajapaksa owes this Bhikku a lot for his rejuvenation following the unexpected and humiliating defeat in 2015, his temple serving as the focal point, notwithstanding the contested ownership. He has no academic achievements of note, his only claim to fame being that he is the leader of a nurse’s trade union.

I was working in Colombo General Hospital when he started this trade union and well remember the rumours at the time. To his credit, he has shown strength by being its leader since 1969 but it is to the discredit of the Maha Nayakas of Siyam Nikaya that a Bhikku is allowed to hold a position totally unbecoming of a ‘Buddha Putra’. Instead of sanctions, the Bhikku has been rewarded with a Nayaka ‘Pattama’: That is the state of ‘Institutionalised Buddhism’ in Sri Lanka. Now, to cap it all, the government in its craziness has appointed him the Chancellor of Colombo University. Yet another square peg in a round hole!

It is a great pity that the government does not realise the danger of insulting academia. Or, is it done purposely on the basis of pseudo-socialism? I remember well, during the time I worked as the Registrar in Prof Ajwad Macan Markar’s Professorial Medical Unit in Kandy, how the many ‘socialist’ teachers in the Medical Faculty treated, with scant respect, a visiting inspection team from the General Medical Council of the UK. They did not want the GMC to accredit the Peradeniya MBBS degree, so that it would be ‘non-marketable’ internationally. That was their pseudo-socialist solution to the brain drain! Fortunately, it did not happen.

Even more important is the consideration of the new Chancellor’s role in the trade union. However unsuitable, once appointed to this high academic position, surely, he should cease to be the leader of a trade union. However, as nothing is said, it looks as if he will continue to lead the trade union whilst being the Chancellor of Colombo University; a world’s first! Nothing seems impossible in our wonderful ‘Land like no other’!

Most of us have admired the behaviour of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church up to now and even that seems to be getting tarnished. When the Head of Intelligence lodged a complaint with the CID that he had been unfairly accused by a high-ranking Catholic priest, he was requested to attend to record a statement. As the allegations made during the TV interview were of a serious nature, one would have expected him to help the CID to investigate these allegations. Instead, he asked for a week’s delay and has gone to courts to obtain an order to prevent is arrest! Is this a sinister attempt to evoke international disgrace?

Fortunately, in this crazy atmosphere there was a voice of reason. Not surprisingly, it was the Prime Minister who spoke his heart out. He is a consummate politician who is in tune with the pulse of the populace. One wonders whether his speech, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the SLPP, was directed mostly at his brothers!

At the helm of our country, we have two Rajapaksa brothers who defeated one of the most ruthless terrorist groups the world has ever seen. Their determination was not shaken by the gloomy predictions of experts who predicted the invincibility of the Tigers. They snubbed the shameless Western politicians who rushed to save the terrorist leader on the cusp of defeat. Considering all this, one wonders why they cannot tame the rice mafia; why they give in to black-marketers and allow the poor to suffer; why they do not establish discipline by being tough with trade unionists who try to exploit the epidemic and others who spread disorder, probably on the instigation of external forces.

The epidemic seems to be subsiding and foreign airlines are starting flights giving hope for tourism. Do hope, am sure they can, the Rajapaksa brothers repeat their past performance, so that the prevailing craziness stops and Sri Lanka starts the journey towards prosperity!



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Opinion

‘Cake, icing and power cuts’ – reply

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You deserve the entire nation’s plaudits for the above-titled editorial, where you have identified the causes of power cuts. Let me elaborate on the causes that have led this country to this predicament. As stated by you, the Sampur Coal Power plant which was to be funded by India was cancelled by the then President Maithripala Sirisena, instead an LNG plant was to be constructed.

The story of this LNG plant is a sordid and corrupt affair to say the least, as the then Minister of Power and Energy interfered with the award of the tender to the lowest tenderer and instead awarded it to a higher bidder, a Chinese construction company. This dragged on for over four years and with the change of government, it was resolved by awarding the tender to the lowest bidder. Had this LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya been completed as scheduled, it could have averted power cuts to a certain extent, I believe. Then there was the interference by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), in the Long Term Least Cost Generation plan where a coal plant was included. This, too, dragged on disrupting the plans of the CEB.

I venture boldly to question as to what the best authority in this country is, to prepare a generation plan other than the expert, knowledgeable and trained engineers of the CEB, taking into consideration local and international requirements.

It should be mentioned here that the former Minister of Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma, made representations to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to remove PUCSL from interfering with the CEB, which was granted. Unfortunately for the CEB, this was overruled by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who was also the Minister for Finance. I do not wish to question the rights and wrongs of this action. The result of this objection, I believe, and I expect it to be wrong, is that Minister Dallas Alahapperuma who pledged to make the CEB a profitable venture, was removed in a Cabinet reshuffle.

Then came the thunder, a bolt from the blues, when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pompously declared the cancellation of the additional Coal Plant at Norochcholai and imposed the CEB to achieve 70 percent of power generation through renewable energy sources by 2030 without consulting the Ministry for Power and Energy or the CEB as to the possibility of achieving this target.

The Ceylon Electricity Board Engineers’ Union (CEBEU) has said that, even with a steady fuel supply, power cuts will be inevitable when hydropower reservoirs dry up drastically during the drought period and solar or wind power generation is affected by unpredictable weather patterns. CEB engineers suggest the construction of the additional Coal Power Plant, which I hope will be granted, unless of course the government resorts to power purchase from private suppliers for reasons left unsaid.

Environmentalists cried foul over my support for the introduction of coal power generation, without really understanding that it would only be until renewable energy sources took over. I also pointed out that other countries which were signatories to the Paris Accord on Climate Change, that added coal generated power to their grid, such as China, India and Bangladesh. Then comes the FNE American firm, awarded a tender for an LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya, without the knowledge of the Ministry for Power and the CEB, with the CEB Chairman confessing to his ignorance of the terms of the agreement, at a press conference.

As icing on the Power and Energy cake comes the appointment of a General Manager, much to the objection of CEB Engineers. The proper procedure of appointing the person next in seniority was not followed, and the matter had to be brought before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who put it to right to the satisfaction of CEB engineers. Otherwise, there would have been a major strike. The person responsible for this irregular and unacceptable action should be severely dealt with.

It is earnestly hoped that the President will honour his pledge made at the inauguration of the current parliamentary session that he would take stern action to steer the country to prosperity within the next three years. I

Neglecting this vital sector along with agriculture is disastrous.

G. A. D. Sirimal

BORALESGAMUWA

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Opinion

‘CEB engineers should be ashamed of power cuts’

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The Secretary, Energy User’s Association, Sanjeewa Dhammika seems to be confused or uninformed as regards his statement that engineers of the CEB should be ashamed of power cuts. He says, ‘They must implement the Long-Term Generation Plan. They too have scuttled the schemes that could have helped to overcome the current situation…’ These accusations should be squarely placed on the government and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL], which torpedoed the Long Term, Least Cost Generation Plan when at first PUCSL objected to the plan for having a coal plant included and it took a long period to settle the issue. Next, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa boastfully announced the cancellation of the additional coal plant at Norochcholai and set a target of 70% renewable sources of energy by 2030 without consulting the CEB as to its capabilities in reaching the target. When I say capabilities, I mean the administrative structure, the available resources and what is needed, etc. On top of that, the then Minister for Power and Energy, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, interfered in awarding the tender by over four years for the construction of the Kerawalapitiya LNG power plant. If that project was approved in time, perhaps the CEB could have averted power cuts. Keep all that aside, the most important factor is the non-availability of US dollars to purchase fuel which caused the shut down of the Biyagama oil refinery and also the refusal of CPC to supply fuel to CEB due to non-payment, running into billions.

My sincere advice to the Secretary to Energy Users Ass. Jeewaka Dhammika is do not mislead consumers without knowing facts.

What I have stated above is what I have gathered from newspaper reports and could be refuted or confirmed by CEBEU or any other.

G. A. D. Sirimal
BORALESGAMUWA

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SL Volunteer Air Force in counter-insurgency ops in 1971

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This article was written by the late Sqn. Ldr. J.T. Rex Fernando (S. L.A.F.Retd.), First Commanding Officer Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force, four years ago.

The contribution made by the Sri Lanka Air Force throughout five and a half decades, to safeguarding the country’s airspace and thereby the territorial integrity, has been given wide coverage in the print and electronic media. Recounting its illustrious history, it can look back with pride and satisfaction at its enviable record of operational successes, its reputation and also its contribution towards the development of the country’s non-military fields.

While recounting the vital role it played in crushing the abortive armed insurrection of 1971, it is only appropriate to recall the supportive role of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force.

Armed insurrection

The armed insurrection of April 1971, to overthrow the lawfully constituted United Front Government, demonstrated clearly the tragic unpreparedness of the Government’s security forces at the time to deal promptly with a major, bloody uprising as the one the insurgents launched. On the one hand, there were not enough arms and ammunition. On the other hand the strength of the security forces was far below that which was required to sustain a major operation. The Air Force in particular had to perform a number of tasks in the first difficult days of the campaign with the Regular Force and found the need to supplement the relatively small Regular Force.

On April 24 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike said, “On the 5th of April we found that we had inadequate weapons, ammunition and aircraft to meet a sustained threat over a long period of time by the terrorist insurgents.” The Prime Minister made this point again in July when she told the parliament that, “The week immediately following the 5th of April was an extremely vital week and the armed forces and the police had to struggle against many odds during this period.” The Air Force had to expand and expand fast. Likewise, other sections of the security forces had to be put in a state of preparedness to deal with any future threat to the country’s security. The need of the hour, when the country was facing a considerable threat from terrorists, was to strengthen the Armed Forces and the Police. It was this pressing need that led to the formation of the Sri Lanka Volunteer Air Force.

Establishment

To Air Vice Marshal Paddy Mendis, the establishment of the volunteer Air Force was the realisation of a cherished dream. For over 20 years, since inauguration of the Volunteer Force had never been given serious consideration. With the pressing requirement to supplement the regular strength, the formation of the Volunteer Air Force was formally authorised by a proclamation by the President on 14 April, 1971.

Appointed the first Commanding Officer, I was directed by A.V.M. Mendis to proceed with the setting up of the infrastructure, recruitment, training and deployment as a matter of utmost priority. The task itself was challenging and unenviable. However, with the guidance of the Commander and the continuous support of the Air Force Board of Management and with the exemplary dedication and admirable commitment of my adjutant Flt. Lt Mani Seneviratne, the task was pursued and successfully accomplished.

Role

The role of the Volunteer Force was essentially to assist the Regular Force in its primary and internal security duties. With more volunteers employed on internal security duties the skilled regular tradesmen were able to concentrate on their specialist technical and other skilled duties.

Organisation

On the basis of their functional role the Volunteer Force was organised broadly into Ground Operational Squadrons, Work Services Squadrons and Air Operational Squadrons. Despite the relatively short period of training and the limited ‘on the job training’ Volunteer personnel contributed considerably to the Air Force tasks. Apart from internal security duties and general operational tasks Volunteer personnel were employed in almost every field of Air Force activity, on flying duties, airfield construction, mechanical transport operations and maintenance, engineering duties, logistics and catering duties and administrative, clerical, medical and other miscellaneous service duties. The Air Field Construction Regiment was organised to undertake major construction projects and maintenance commitments. The Volunteers working side by side with the regulars assimilated the service form and gained confidence. The ‘esprit de corps’, the cordiality and friendship that prevailed contributed greatly to the success it achieved.

Recruitment and training

Recruitment commenced almost immediately. After the promulgation, the first batch of Volunteer Officers and Airmen commenced their initial Ground Combat training at Diyatalawa on April 23, while the Volunteer pilots at the same time commenced flight training at the No. 1 Flying Training School, China Bay. The task of the Instructors was not an unenviable one. They had to train personnel recruited from various walks of life as combatants capable of operating their intricate flying machines and coping with various operational and non combatant duties within a short period. The full, authorised cadre was recruited and training completed by the end of May.

The initial training courses were so designed to mould the trainees into alert, efficient and well disciplined members of the Air Force; proficient in all basic aspects of ground combat and other general responsibilities; capable of working with confidence, side by side with their regular counterparts in a supporting role. All Volunteer trainees, within the short training period, were trained adequately in varied service aspects, among which were drill, weapons training, field-craft and tactics, map reading, jungle training and watermanship, Air Force Law, and afforded an adequate knowledge of the organisation of the Air Force, along with first aid and fire fighting. Special emphasis was placed on physical fitness and the standard of physical fitness gradually raised, training them to take on the role of combatants irrespective of their specialised trades. Subsequent to initial combat training, trainees were afforded ‘on the job training’ on their particular trade duties.

Among the officers, specialists recruited were General Duties Pilots who were required to supplement the meagre number of Regular Pilots who were continuously flying day and night on operational and Air Transportation commitments, since the outbreak of the terrorist offensive. The Volunteer Pilots were intended to provide some relief though it was not possible to immediately employ most of them on operational duties. While very few were experienced pilots, most of the selected pilots had previous experience in light trainee aircraft only. After a rapid training course on the basic Chipmunk, then converting to the Dove and Heron aircraft, they were able to be of assistance to the Regular Pilots.

Spontaneous response

With the formation of the Volunteer Air Force there was an encouraging and unprecedented response from persons of all walks of life to join the Force. Reputed professionals of various disciplines as well as highly skilled and semi killed persons were all driven by a sense of patriotism and yearning to contribute their skills to preserve sovereignty and national integrity. While a great number of professionals volunteered and served with distinction, it is appropriate to mention the names of some in appreciation and expression of gratitude for their service, and also to highlight the multiplicity of disciplines and professions that made up the Volunteer Air Force. Medical professionals, Senior Consultant Late Dr. T.H. Amarasinghe, Consultant Surgeon Dr. S. Maheshwaran, Dental Surgeon Dr. S. Rajapakse, experienced and reputed pilots Susantha Jayasekara and David Peiris, Consultant and Chartered Cost Accountants late Dayalan Tharmaratnam and S. Balakur, Registered Auditor R. Ramachandra and Chartered Management Consultant, Kuda Liyanage, Banker Nimal Gunatunge, Chartered Civil Engineers Mervyn Wijesinghe and Ben Navaratne, Chartered Architect Mano Kumarasingham, Attorney at Law and Human Resources Consultant Tilak Liyanage and Lucky Moonamale, Civil Servant Mervyn Koch, Management Specialist Mahes Goonathilake, Business entrepreneurs late Ed Nathanielz, late Bevis De Silva, Upali Gunesekera and late Harold Pilapiya, reputed entertainer Desmond De Silva and National Cricketers Brian Obeysekera, Tony Opatha and Nihal De Zoysa are a few noteworthy examples.

All these gentlemen with a great number of others served the force with distinction. Most of them did so despite personal inconvenience, disruption of their regular employment, business and domestic life since most of them were stationed in remote and uncongenial locations such as Ridiyagama, Weerawila, Weeraketiya and Hambantota.

Entry of women

The entry of women into the Volunteer Force can be considered a unique feature of the formulation of the Volunteer Force. Armed Services, an exclusive preserve of the men, opened its doors to the women. The four pioneering women on graduating on 4 October, 1972 were engaged in secretarial duties and duties associated with tourist flying.

Continued mobilisation

It must be accepted that when personnel initially enlisted in the Volunteer Force, they did not anticipate to be mobilised for prolonged periods of time. Especially those with permanent employment and holding responsible positions and those in the government sector encountered hardships as a result of continued mobilisation and deployment in remote areas. Some of them were gradually absorbed into the Regular Force, and some left after fulfilling an obligation on cessation of hostilities.

Contribution

In 1973 just two years after the formation of the Volunteer Force, the Commander of the Air Force AVMP. H. Mendis, with a sense of great satisfaction, referring to the Volunteer Force asserted, “As a result of hard work and dedication to duty of the highest order, the Volunteer Force has distinguished itself in combat, security, administrative, operational and constructional duties. Your units are based in many locations within the country and you have carried out your duties exceptionally well.”

Every Volunteer was conscious that he or she had a vital role to play in the defence of the country. The sense of dedication and devotion to duty inculcated by the Regular counterparts was indeed the most encouraging feature of the Volunteer Organisation.

These gentlemen who spontaneously responded to a call to serve the country in her hour of peril, maintained their enthusiasm and displayed remarkable dedication to duty. Their service was of help to the Air Force at a time the country was plunged into bloody chaos. It is only appropriate to recall their contribution and express our appreciation of their services.

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