Connect with us


Coronation of the Rubber-Rice Pact between Sri Lanka and China



Chinese Premier Chou Enlai and Sirimavo Bandaranaike signing the Rubber-Rice Pack deal

By Ashley de Vos

China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations was established in February 7, 1957. The fact that there were sincere personalities with flawless and focussed thinking has been acknowledged by many.

The masterly handling of the Rubber Rice Pact by R.G. Senanayake against all International opposition, speaks volumes of his loyalty and dedication, working for the benefit of his country, as exposed recently in The Island article, even standing tall against some of his own ministers in Parliament, speaks much of the clear vision and the love these worthies had for the country and its people. They acted for the country and its people. Not for their own well being. There is a noteworthy crowning to Rubber-Rice Pact that needs to be elucidated.

In 1964, when Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai) visited Sri Lanka, it recorded the cementing of cordial relations based on mutual friendship and the greatest respect he had for Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world first woman Prime Minister, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. The Chinese Prime Minister informed her that there was a considerable sum of money owing to Sri Lanka from China on the Rubber-Rice Pact. No one in Sri Lanka could remember any money owing. He wanted to know what she wanted done with it. Today, one will not even venture to guess what would have happened, whatever the colour. But we are discussing the honesty of both Sri Lankan and Chinese politicians in the past. This also acknowledges the honesty of the Chinese who took the special trouble to inform Sri Lanka even though decades had passed.

Sri Lanka has opted for Non-Alignment as a guiding force of the country’s foreign policy since the inception of the Movement in 1961. Sri Lanka, then Ceylon in 1961 was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and has since remained as an active and influential member of the NAM, vigorously involved in all its summits. In 1961, Sri Lanka’s newly elected Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike attended the inaugural Summit, stepping on to the world stage as the world’s first woman Prime Minister. After the inaugural meeting held in Belgrade in 1961, the others were in Cairo (1964), Lusaka (1970) and Algiers (1973). Sirimavo Bandaranaike attended every meeting.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike on behalf of Sri Lanka, a staunch supporter of the Non-Alignment Movement was toying with the idea of inviting the Non-Aligned Movement to a conference in Sri Lanka, the first major international conference to be held in Colombo. She informed the Chinese Prime Minister that she needed a venue to host the event. The Chinese agreed, and the Ridgway Golf Course was identified as a suitable location for the project. Architect Pani Tennekoon, Chief Architect PWD, offered the roof shape for the Hall, the auditorium acknowledged as being state of the art, was the first purpose built conference hall in Asia. The Conference Hall was completed and made available three years ahead of time.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was also informed that there was still money left over after the completion of the project, and she needed to advise them on what should be done with the balance funds. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, this honourable and honest lady, informed the Chinese that the money should be placed in a fixed deposit for use when required for the maintenance of the building!

At the Fourth Conference held in Algiers in 1973 Sri Lanka was selected as the venue, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs meticulously planned to hold a Conference, second to none. The Colombo Summit was the first NAM Conference to be held in Asia. Senior career diplomats were picked to handle the key operations with Dr. Vernon Mendis, High Commissioner in London as Secretary-General of the Conference. Manel Abeysekera was in charge of protocol arrangements. Among others who handled the major aspects were Arthur Basnayake, Ben Fonseka and Izzeth Husain. Senior members of the Administrative Service were also co-opted to handle responsible functions. (Ranatunga 2016).

During the year prior to the inauguration of the conference, Sri Lanka was tested many times by world leaders intending to attend the summit. They sent delegations informed or uninformed to visit the island, to examine in detail and report back, to ensure their governments that this small island nation Sri Lanka, was capable and had the capacity to hold such an event and also ensure the complete safety of their leaders. The 5th NAM Conference was held in 1976 in Colombo. It was a great success.

Manel Abeysekera wrote, that “Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s decisive nature and the ability to guide and control affairs became very apparent.” “She appointed a director-general to supervise and direct the officials in their individual areas of responsibility; and later based on the reports submitted to her by each official, personally monitored and guided the decision-making of the entire organising committee” (Ranatunga 2016). The team of security experts proved that they were all up to their assignments and carried out their allotted tasks in the most timely and efficient manner.

On the morning of the inauguration, a meticulously-planned operation was set in motion for the delegates to leave their hotels at specified times to arrive at the BMICH, also at scheduled times. In what Secretary-General, Vernon Mendis was to describe as “a logistical masterpiece, almost inhumanely perfect in timing of the cavalcade of the heads of state and government”, the arrangements went off smoothly. Both Governor-General William Gopallawa and the Prime Minister were present to receive the leaders, following the correct protocol procedure (Ranatunga 2016).

As a result, the 5th NAM Summit, with 92 Heads of State/Government present, was one of the best organised NAM Summits. Included was a big contingent of media persons who turned up to cover the event.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike delivered a lengthy speech tracing the progress of the Movement and paying tribute to the leaders who started it and were no more. She said that the Colombo Summit symbolised the growing maturity of the Movement which having begun the search for a better world order, within a post-colonial context, had grown into a universal movement, solidly anchored in many continents. She instructed the need to introduce a strong dimension to the NAM deliberations. She was most anxious not to confine the NAM Summit exclusively to the consideration of vexed political issues of the day. (Ranatunga 2016)

Stressing that the Non-Aligned Movement does not constitute a new bloc, she described it as one which was founded on a categorical rejection of the system of power blocs. “Perhaps the sole reason for the existence of the Movement and its growing vitality is that it answers some compelling needs of people all over the world for a new outlook on life, for a new set of value based on mutual understanding and social awareness, equity and justice, in place of the old values which enthroned a ruthless and competitive individualism. If anything, Non-Alignment is a creative and constructive philosophy and all the world is, all the better for it,” she declared. (Ranatunga 2016)

She concluded her address saying: “The nations represented in this Assembly are heirs to great and ancient civilisations and cultures, and beneficiaries of teachings of all the major religions of the world, founded on peace, compassion and tolerance.

As I invite you to the consideration of the many important issues on our Agenda, I am reminded of the words of one of the greatest philosophers and religious leaders of the world, the Buddha, who, in the course of his final discourse to the world said: ‘If we can meet together in concord, and rise in concord, and act upon our decisions in concord, so long may we be expected, not to decline, but to prosper.’ “I can do no better than to leave you with this thought for in many ways it sums up the philosophy of Non-Alignment itself with its tenets of peace, justice, goodwill and cooperation. It is also a clear enunciation of the most basic principle that should govern the conduct of human relations” (Ranatunga 2016).

In her inaugural address Sirimavo Bandaranayake proposed that a Third World Commercial and Merchant Bank be established, a proposal that was to be followed by United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). With the change of government in 1977 the proposal was abandoned.

Prof. Bibile’s outstanding work in helping to develop and promote cost-effective drugs policies, particularly in relation to the wider use of generic drugs, had been adopted by Sri Lanka. It was revolutionary and path-breaking in the mid-1970s. Thanks largely to the spade work done by Prof. Bibile at Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s instigation, it was possible for the Summit to adopt a key resolution on pharmaceutical policies in the Third World. “In all, thirty three political resolutions and thirty two economic resolutions were passed at the 1976 Colombo NAM Summit.” (Ranatunga 2016)

Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda proposed the vote of thanks to Bandaranaike. All International Heads of State and other dignitaries who attended the conference were full of praise for the efficient manner and meticulous effort taken by Sri Lanka. Sirimavo Bandaranayake’s charisma and fame rose to new heights in the Non-Aligned world.

As reputed diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala wrote in ‘Sirimavo – Honouring the world’s first woman Prime Minister’, “despite harping criticism by the opposition, the Conference was one of Sri Lanka’s greatest triumph in foreign policy. Detailed planning supervised personally by the Prime Minister, ensured its success,” he added.

Even though the Bandaranayake International Conference Hall located at Bauddhaloka Mawatha was built utilising money owed to Sri Lanka, at times referred to as a gift by the Chinese, it is a tribute to one of Sri Lanka’s great statesmen and a promoter of non-alignment. As a proud Sri Lankan, I do not have problems with that. It will stand tall as a monument to honesty displayed by two nations who had a deep trust and respected in each other as friends. The complex is still being maintained with the money originally allocated for the task.

It is gratifying to note that there was a time when both Sri Lankan and Chinese politicians were honest in their dealings and respected each other. There was no real need for China to even reveal the fact there was money available. It was many decades down the road and all had been forgotten. Sri Lanka did not know and there are many countries then, and even today, including the past colonial countries and even our neighbours who even if they knew, would have never divulged it. But it is a tribute to the respect and honesty that prevailed between friends at the time. Is the China of today the same, or different?

Unfortunately, the China of today is different, heavily imbibed in western competitive economic theory, this new copy cat China is fast losing her Asianness. Culture is engrained in a people, not on cheap carnival displays, but in its ability to think long term. Indulging in a clouded vision of the original Sri Lanka-Chinese relations which was based on mutual respect that goes back 2000 years does not help. Amongst friends, each country has to be treated on its own merit. A single brush paints all does not work, as it will only lead to resentment. Africa is standing up and questioning China’s intentions, soon other countries will.

New China is also losing its ability for sympathetic lateral thinking, an Asian trait. Her present business model has to be rethought, or she will lose all she has gained in the past. The new Chinese conglomerates released on the world are based on a Shylock mould only interested in their pound of flesh, to be collected in the shortest possible time frame, even threatening lasting friendships. If China is a real friend, China should come clean and erase Sri Lanka’s debt, and release Sri Lanka from Chinese territorial hegemony. The loss of a sincere and respected friend leaves a lacunae that could never be repaired nor regained.

The Indian Ocean should remain a zone of peace, say no to nuclear weapons. The ocean around Sri Lanka should be declared a National Sanctuary for all marine life. Most of all, Sri Lanka should remain Non-Aligned, offering respect where respect is due and a haven to a Sri Lanka first policy. In the words of 5th NAM Conference Secretary-General, Dr. Vernon Mendis after Conference, “That was the day when I realised how proud we could be of our organisational resources, what our people, our officers and departments are capable of.” Today the administration requires a special group of people who could stand tall and be counted.

(Ranatunga. D.C., when over 90 leaders ‘invaded’ Colombo, 2016.., NNW Team., Sri Lanka and the Non-Aligned Movement. 2016)


Preventing the Preventable; Preserving healthcare services



Recent address by
Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva
to the Galle Medical Association

It is indeed my privilege and pleasure to be given this opportunity to address the members of the Galle Medical Association (GMA). I am grateful to the President and the Council of the GMA for inviting me as the guest of honour at the inauguration ceremony of your annual academic sessions.

Coming here today is like getting back to my roots again. I was born and bred in Galle and had my entire primary and secondary education at Richmond College. Between 1982 and 1995 I was associated with the GMA in my capacity, first as a senior lecturer in medicine for two years and then for nine years as a Consultant Physician at the Teaching Hospital, Karapitiya.

I was the President of the Galle Medical Association in 1994.My colleague Prof. Ariyananda and I were the first two senior lecturers in the Dept. of Medicine, with Prof. Hettiarachchi as the head. We knew almost every student in the first few batches by name, taking a personal interest in their welfare, to make sure that they did well as doctors.

The academic and non-academic staff took it up as a personal challenge to prove that the Ruhuna Medical Faculty, though rather hastily established, was second to none in the island. Looking back, we can be happy that all did very well, most of them becoming very competent specialists in various fields, later on, and are providing an exemplary service here and abroad.

We started in the dilapidated buildings at Mahamodera and then moved into modern facilities at Karapitiya, which at that time was still a building site. The long-established Galle Clinical Society later merged with the relatively new Galle Medical Association under the presidency of the late Prof. Tommy Wickremanayake, the Dean of the Medical Faculty, at that time. This wonderful auditorium, named after him, is a tribute to the late Professor’s energy and determination to see that we had the best facilities in the Southern Province. He took me round this building site on several occasions, and I once nearly had an accidental fall trying to mount this stage, only half built at that time. Today I feel quite confident standing here on a firm foundation, a podium graced by many medical luminaries over more than 40 glorious years, in the service of medical education.

The Galle Medical Association has done justice to the ideals and aspirations of its founders. As a life member, I receive regular information of your activities. The Association is meeting amply the academic and non-academic needs of its membership. Your lecture series on beyond medicine; religious and sports activities, musical programmes, leisure trips, etc., would provide much relaxation outside the exhausting routine of medical practice. Your annual academic programme is not second to that of many professional Colleges and Associations based in Colombo or elsewhere in the country. This wide array of activities is indicative of an Association keen on providing an all-round service to its members and their families, as well as to the medical students. My congratulations to all concerned.

Your theme this year, “Preventing the Preventable,” is very timely. With the economic crisis we are experiencing, the age old saying “Prevention is better than cure” is more relevant today than ever before. Certainly, true in the case of prevention of diseases, I am concentrating today on other aspects of healthcare the doctors have overlooked and to a great extent failed to prevent their decline.

Preventing the Preventable; Preserving the Healthcare Services is my concern today.

All the remarkable achievements in the fields of communicable and non-communicable diseases, with world acclaimed health indices, are now being nullified by the economic crisis in which the healthcare services appear to be caught unawares. The shortage of drugs and other equipment, costing more and more with every passing day, has made it near impossible to give proper treatment to needy patients. I will not be surprised to hear of deaths due to lack of treatment in the near future. We already hear allegations, though authorities keep refusing to accept their responsibility, of deaths due to poor quality of drugs hastily imported to overcome shortages in a poorly planned system.

This is compounded by poor household incomes, high transport costs and other difficulties the patients experience in seeking medical care.

While most of the blame for this unfortunate situation falls on poor planning and corruption by the rulers, the medical profession, too, has failed in preventing this calamity. They have contributed by their irrational prescription habits, doing unnecessary investigations and the like, leading to a high cost in the delivery of healthcare. Irrational prescriptions contribute in a big way to multidrug resistance to antibiotics, as well. Poorly regulated private practice by doctors needs an overhaul. Exorbitant fees charged by some specialists are the talking point in the society. I need not bore you with details which should be well known to all of you by now.

We as a profession should not allow ourselves to be exploited by the profit-oriented private healthcare services and the pharmaceutical industry. The patients are compelled to pay a heavy price for our shortcomings in this regard. Thus, by our inaction in dealing with such, we have failed to prevent the gradual deterioration of the respect the society has for the profession.

Has the medical profession knowingly or unknowingly colluded with the misdeeds of the politicians? As an example, I wish the institutions, like the drug regulatory authority, NMRA, did more to prevent corruption and irregularities in the procurement of drugs. They have remained mostly silent knowing very well how their decisions regarding the registration of drugs are overruled or circumvented by politicians and administrators with ulterior motives.

Functioning of the Sri Lanka Medical Council is being looked down upon by many in the profession itself. The amendments to the Act governing the SLMC has been proposed over many years to broad base its membership to include non-medical professionals and make it more effective in its primary duties of regularizing medical practice, maintaining discipline in the profession and maintaining good standards of medical education. Politicians have so far failed to enact them. With poor standards of medical education, due to shortages in staff and other facilities in hastily established new medical schools, SLMC has been largely silent on these aspects. At present it appears that the medical trade unions and indirectly the political influence are hampering its proper functioning. As a result the SLMC remains mainly a body for holding the ERPM for foreign medical graduates and registering the medical practitioners. Our professional associations should be more involved in its affairs and add their voice for reforms.

I have been a member of the SLMC for 10 years in the past. But your chief guest as its immediate past president, who was removed from the post in a most unprofessional way by the politicians, with perhaps the connivance of our own colleagues, will be in a better position to address these issues. That action initiated by our own professional colleagues has now established a precedent for the Health Minister to have a bigger say in the SLMC affairs, seriously undermining its autonomy.

In my address to the Colombo Medical Congress a year ago, I stressed how our Professional Colleges and Associations kept a blind eye without getting involved and having their say in the administration of the health service. Even when there was an uprising asking for a system change, the medical profession remained largely silent without adding their voice. This was in stark contrast to the legal profession who stood up with the people asking for justice. By remaining ‘respectable’, confining ourselves to academic activity only, we have allowed our efforts at improving services to the public and training postgraduates to become meaningless. As a result, we are now spending tax payers’ money for training specialists for service abroad. With an unprecedented exodus of locally trained doctors and other healthcare staff, we are helping richer countries to serve their citizens better. The world-acclaimed health indices we have achieved by hard work over the years are becoming irrelevant with rampant malnutrition and other maladies affecting a significant proportion of the people.

Even the few medical men who dared to warn the authorities publicly on impending childhood malnutrition in their area had to face disciplinary action. The services of an alumnus of the Ruhuna medical faculty have been terminated as a result. Unfortunately, there is hardly any protest heard from the trade unions or other medical organizations against such action, at a time when elsewhere numerous unlawful activities and rampant corruption remain unpunished.

As much as the people are asking for all 225 in the Parliament to be thrown out, there are loud whispers in the society that the medical profession, too, is corrupt exploiting the people in various ways. There is no use in our grumbling about any shortcomings of doctors and incidents of medical negligence being highlighted in mass media regularly. Naturally, the good work done by the doctors will not be talked about with praise as that is the minimum the society expects from us.

It is high time our annual conferences and other meetings had a regular session or symposia on various aspects of the doctor in society, discussing our own faults and ways of rectifying them. All Colleges, especially those dealing with clinical disciplines coming into direct contact with the public daily, should communicate regularly with their members on these issues. They should also keep a close watch on the activities of health-related institutions like the SLMC and the NMRA already referred to, and intervene where necessary, without waiting till it is too late.

Thus, prevention in broader terms involves not only prevention of diseases but also prevention of other irregularities in the administration of health and questionable practices of our own colleagues that have a direct bearing on the health of the people. The medical profession, despite its many shortcomings, is still respected and influential. Our strong voice will be heard by the rulers, medical administrators and the general public.With these thoughts let me conclude by wishing you all a very successful and enjoyable annual sessions. I wish you all a very good evening.

Continue Reading


Ambiguity of National Evaluation Policy?



President Ranil Wickremesinghe at the recent inauguration of the National Evaluation Policy.

By Dr Laksiri Fernando

For the second time, Ranil Wickremesinghe has inaugurated a National Evaluation Policy (NEP) for Sri Lanka. The first one was in 2018 and also in September at the Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation (GPFE) held in Colombo. As its website said, “The National Evaluation Policy (NEP) of Sri Lanka, was launched by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at ‘EvalColombo 2018,’ the first ever global conference on evaluation organized by the Global Parliamentarians Forum for Evaluation (GPFE).”

Blocked Website?   

He inaugurated the same or a different one as the President of Sri Lanka on 8 September 2023 at Temple Trees with the participation of some key Ministers, Officials and Foreign Delegates. The Presidential Secretariat’s website quite genuinely titled the posting of the speech as “Sri Lanka’s long-awaited National Evaluation Policy finally commences after seven years.” However, there was no policy document posted on the website. When I searched on the President’s website ( the following was the message I got.

“Sorry, you have been blocked. You are unable to access”

It is still difficult for me to figure out why I have been blocked. Is it a technical error or a political decision? Is the website closed to everyone or only for me? My primary objective was to see the details of what they called ‘National Evaluation Policy Implementation Framework.’ That is what the President mentioned in the Speech.

However, on the website of the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies, (Ministry of Finance – Sri lanka ( there was a pdf titled, the ‘National Evaluation Policy of Sri Lanka.’ It is only a four-page document even without page numbers or a date. Two pages were devoted to a long glossary and references. There were five references all being websites accessed in 2017. This is quite intriguing.

For Good Governance

A National Evaluation Policy (NEP) is part of good governance. In the case of Sri Lanka, such evaluations should particularly address corruption and misuse of funds. Without an NEP, governance accountability to the people and to the international community cannot be achieved. In 2009, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) said, “There is general consensus that evaluating the performance of public policy is an important instrument for good governance. There is, however, a gap between this general agreement and the actual implementation, use and sustainability of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) systems, processes, and tools on the ground.”

This was after an international conference held on the subject in Casablanca (Morocco) in December 2009. Sri Lanka participated at the conference represented by the Director General of the Ministry of Finance and Planning, Velayuthan Sivagnanasothy. He presented a well-prepared paper, titled “Sri Lanka: National Monitoring and Evaluation System: Experiences, Challenges and the Way Forward.”  As Sivagnanasothy assured, there was a national monitoring and evaluation system in Sri Lanka at that time. I also can remember its existence participating at several meetings and conferences as the Director of the National Centre for Advanced Studies (NCAS) and a Director of the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE).

It is possible that the above situation changed when unreliable persons like Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa became controlling the country’s Ministry of Finance. A large number of projects were undertaken with foreign loans without an evaluation of the project plans and the progress of their implementation. When countries like Norway, Canada, Japan, and Australia gave aid, grants, or loans to Sri Lanka, they themselves conducted their independent evaluations. However, there were some other countries and agencies who didn’t want this requirement. This is one reason why and how Sri Lanka became heavily indebted and failed to repay loans.

Avoiding politicisation  

There is no question that national evaluation policies can easily become politicised. The best way to avoid the infection is to develop these policies independently and as part of management science/studies. There can be an independent commission on national evaluation. Project planning, management, monitoring, and evaluation are already subjects taught in universities. There are a good number of Sri Lankan people who are qualified in this field at least at the graduate level. What is needed is to introduce postgraduate degrees and develop the subject to be useful to the country and others.

Various sectors in Sri Lanka should have clear national policy/policies. In 2012 the World Bank published a book titled ‘Building Better Policies’ focusing mainly on monitoring and evaluation. It is fully available online (Building Better Policies – Google Books).  It says in the foreword, “This book is useful to anyone who cares about the quality of public policies and who wants to learn and understand how public policies and programs can be shaped with the objective of improving people’s welfare.”

The report in the Presidential Secretariat’s website on the so-called inauguration says, “The President acknowledged a significant void in Sri Lanka’s governance system – the absence of a national policy.” This is very true as the immediate circumstances categorically revealed the situation.

On the day of ‘inauguration of NEP,’ it was reported “Sri Lanka will be transformed into an education hub in South Asia,” an assertion made by the Minister of State for Education, Dr. Suren Raghavan. People are not unknown to various dreams of ‘hubs’ declared by different politicians from time to time. Raghavan cannot be the same type given his educational and professional background. Yet, he has also stated “the focus of the new education reforms is on creating a system that enables students studying in the arts stream to attain a bachelor’s degree in science.” This is completely intriguing and no further information was given on how it could be done.

Four days later, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe made a similar declaration about educational reforms and said, “vocational institutions to be given the same recognition as universities.” Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe primarily is the Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs and Constitutional Reforms. However, he is also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Special Committee on the Expansion of Higher Education and perhaps he made this statement in that capacity.


What is clear from these statements and declarations is that the present government or politicians in general in the country do not have any idea of expanding the university or higher education system. Renaming vocational institutions like Technical Colleges as universities is not a solution. Quality of higher education and integrity should be preserved. Also, giving the arts students just BSc degrees is not a solution for the problems associated with that stream. Sciences and social sciences should be promoted and developed. Immediate evaluation of the whole educational system is necessary. There can be an independent commission on the subject with capable people. Most important is the promotion of the English medium in higher education without discriminating against anyone who wants to study in the Sinhala or Tamil medium.

Continue Reading


Aviation safety and human element



By Capt. G A Fernando
RCyAF/ SLAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA and SriLankan Airlines.
Former Crew Resource Management (CRM) Facilitator, Singapore Airlines Ltd.
Member, Independent Air Accident Investigation Pool 

(The first part of this article appeared in The Island of 18 Sept., 2023)

In 1982, an Air Florida Boeing 737 crashed into the Potomac River, Washington D.C., after takeoff from Washington National Airport in icing conditions. Erroneous engine thrust readings (higher than actual), and the co-pilot’s lack of assertiveness in communicating his concern and comments about aircraft performance during the take-off run were among the factors cited (NTSB/AAR 82- 08).

Experts say that one needs to be ‘aggressively’ safe. All communications (verbal or written) and standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be proactive, predictive and preventive. Some of the accidents mentioned could have been prevented.

As can be seen in the diagram shown, the SHELL boundaries are not smooth but inherently full of serrations, and much effort is needed to interact efficiently and seamlessly. Some experts stress that it is Communication in the form of SOPs that ‘lubricate’ the system for smooth interaction between elements’ while the captain (team leader) sets the tone. In fact, where air safety is concerned, Capt. Tony Kern, a human factors expert, says in his book Redefining Airmanship that to maintain air safety, it is imperative that the team leader knows himself, knows his team, knows his aircraft and equipment, knows his mission and, above all, evaluates the risks involved with the task at hand.There can be problems with the interaction within the team (Liveware and Liveware). Sometimes the Captain (Leader) has to be an expert in conflict resolution! (See Figure 01)

Threats and Hazards

Almost every situation in life is full of ‘threats’. When it involves one personally, it becomes a ‘hazard’. In the aviation context, if there is a flock of birds in the vicinity of an aircraft, they constitute a ‘threat’. However, if that flock of birds starts crossing the flight path of the aircraft, it becomes a ‘hazard’ and avoidance action needs to be taken. Remember the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’? The engines failed because of bird ingestion.

 Many airports, too, contain manmade threats and hazards which are usually eliminated only after an accident. In fact, pilots say that blood has to be spilt for changes for the better to occur. At many airports high-rise or security-sensitive buildings are built without planning, and no consideration given to air safety, thus violating the law.

The Ratmalana International Airport is a case in point. On the landing approach from the Attidiya side there is the Parliament and Akuregoda Military Headquarters which are prohibited over flying areas. In the vicinity of the Ratmalana International Airport, there is the Kotelawala Defence Academy and Hospital. At the Galle Road end a solid wall creates a hazard for landing and departing aircraft. Elsewhere, at the Puttalam-Palavi airbase a cement factory is in line with the runway, whilst at China Bay-Trincomalee the silos of a flour mill obstruct landing and take-off paths. These hazards at the latter two airports render them useless as ‘alternate’ (alternative) international airports. If sufficient thought had been given to air safety planning, the loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in the Hambantota District would never have been built.

The Swiss Cheese Model

Just as one proverbial swallow doesn’t make a summer, one error alone will not create an incident or an accident. Rather, it will be caused by a chain of unsafe events not picked up by the system. The triviality of one such potentially disastrous cause or lapse is echoed in the words of a poem from the 17th century, later popularised by Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac: (See Figure 02)

Reasons for accident occurrences are similar. In fact, the Toyota Corporation asks ‘why’ at least five times when determining the ‘root cause’ of a problem.Aircrew members are regularly taught to recognise unsafe patterns highlighted in past accident investigations, so as to nip them in the bud if and when identified.

Professor James Reason postulated the ‘Swiss Cheese’ model, which states that in any organisation, the layers of safety and security controls in place should be able to block, or cover, one another, to prevent accidents. But unfortunately, there are random holes of all sizes in these layers, like slices of Swiss cheese. Hence, the possibility that with the presence of latent conditions and active failures, these holes will align and allow a potentially dangerous situation or practice to go through without being trapped, thus creating an accident or incident. (See Figure 03)

As illustrated in Reason’s ‘Swiss Cheese’ diagram, latent failures of the system are those that compromise safety, having existed and been taken for granted for short or long periods of time; active failures are immediate, unsafe human acts. In fact, the crew (human element) is the last line of defence before an accident or incident occurs.

To illustrate these points, I shall revisit the 9-foot/3-meter concrete wall that was erected several years ago at the Galle Road end of the runway at Ratmalana International Airport.

This wall could be regarded as a man-made hazard. The runway is 1,833 metres (6,014 feet) in length, not long enough by worldwide standards for a so-called ‘international airport’. By international law, at a pre calculated critical speed (known as the go/no-go speed) pilots are allowed only two seconds in which to make a critical decision whether to stop or continue the take-off. According to calculations by the Boeing Company, a decision to stop any later than two seconds (called ‘dither time’) will result in an aircraft reaching the end of the runway at a speed of 60 knots (69 mph).

On a rainy day, if pilots of a medium-sized aircraft decide to abort the take-off three seconds late, they are unable to stop within the paved runway, with deployment of maximum braking and other stopping devices such as reverse thrust, and the aircraft will ‘overrun’. Because the grass in the overrun area is wet and slippery, the brakes are rendered ineffective. Consequently, in the case of Ratmalana, the aircraft will definitely impact the wall and perhaps catch fire as fuel tanks are usually full during departure.

So, the delay in making a decision to reject the take-off rather than continue would be an ‘active’ failure by the crew. The presence of a solid wall at Ratmalana is the presence of a ‘latent’ condition caused by the Airports Authorities. Although the wall is an ‘accident waiting to happen’, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), which earns ‘welfare’ money from advertisements on the wall, stubbornly refuses to replace it with a frangible fence, that would break on impact and reduce damage to an over-running aircraft and even vehicular traffic on the Galle Road.

Returning to Reason’s ‘Swiss Cheese’ postulation, air accident investigators usually work backwards from the incident/accident, using the ‘model’ to find the root cause, unsafe acts and any failed defences. The best witnesses are, of course, the crew themselves, although they may not want to voluntarily give information if a punitive attitude is adopted by accident investigators and the authorities. It is a long-held belief that the crew involved are damned if they tell the truth and damned if they don’t. In the recent past in Sri Lanka, the Law and the Police were quick to ‘criminalise’ air accidents. Almost two years ago the accountable manager and chief engineer were arrested and remanded for failure to prevent an accident. That is another story.

The protocol should be for an independent team to do a non-punitive inquiry, and if and only if elements of negligence are highlighted in the final accident report, then the law should take its course under the direction and oversight of the Attorney-General. In short, the authorities in Sri Lanka need to get their act together and conduct themselves in a professional, impartial, fair-minded manner.

Accidents don’t only happen to “other people”, and with threats everywhere we have to learn to mitigate and manage them. While it is human to err, could we eliminate error completely? I think not. But pilots can learn to trap and minimise their ability to make errors by using their team effectively, including pre- and post-flight briefings. A common question that should continue to be asked is: “Could we have (as a team) done things better?”

Will automation of some tasks help? Instructors often repeat the adage, “Fly the aircraft and don’t allow the aircraft to fly you.” Conversely, “The aircraft flies by itself. You assist it to fly”. I believe it is the level of automation that matters, depending on circumstances.Bernard Ziegler, a French pilot and engineer who served in Airbus Industrie as senior vice president for engineering – and was the son of Airbus founder Henri Ziegler – was well known for his evangelical zeal for the application of computerised control systems in Airbus airplanes, commencing with the revolutionary A320 airliner. Bernard Ziegler attempted to design the human out of the flight deck in Airbus’s so-called ‘fly-by-wire’ airplanes, which in their early days were involved in a series of incidents and fatal accidents, due mainly to the mismatch of the man/machine interface. So much so that the A320 was called the ‘Scare-bus’ in jest. Even today many Airbus pilots are heard to ask while flying, in perplexed tones: “What is it doing now?” or “I have never seen this happen before.”

A more recent story is that of the Boeing 737 MAX. When I flew the basic Boeing 737-200 many years ago, our Irish instructor called it the ‘thinking man’s aircraft’, a perfect match between man and machine. Somehow, due to design quirks in the newly designed 737 MAX, an automatic system called MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System) was incorporated. If the aircraft got into an unusual and unsafe nose-up attitude, MCAS would be automatically activated and lower the nose to a safer angle.

Unfortunately, during the somewhat rushed introduction of the 737 MAX onto the market, many airline crews were not sufficiently trained in how to override the system – if MCAS was activated due to false indications from, say, a computer or instrument malfunction. Worse still, some airlines’ pilots were not even told that their new airplanes were fitted with such a system, and therefore unaware of what to do if and when MCAS became activated for no apparent reason. This ignorance, through no fault of the pilots, resulted in two disastrous MAX crashes, in Indonesia and Ethiopia, with a total loss of 346 lives.

As the ‘cold hard facts’ later emerged, it became apparent that although the ‘MAX’ was arguably a totally new type of aircraft, it was designated as a Boeing 737-800 to minimise legal crew-training time on the type. This extra training was seen as an undesirable burden for Boeing’s customer airlines, who would have to withdraw captains and first officers from the line for training, thus incurring loss of productivity and revenue for the airlines.

Boeing’s intent was, therefore, for the training (non-productive) period to be as short as possible. But in practice corners were dangerously cut. The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – in this case the ‘human element’ – went along with the manufacturer’s sales and training programme, which ultimately resulted in incidents, accidents, and loss of life.

In summary, statistics show that although accidents have decreased to a small percentage in terms of flights and hours flown, the number of certified air operators is also increasing, which causes the number of accidents to increase. Difficult as it is to contemplate, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the potential exists for more human factor-based accidents to occur in future.

Continue Reading