Crisscrossing 13A Abolition
By Austin Fernando
I have recently read a speech by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader R Sampanthan, delivered in 2017. This excellent presentation supported the Thirteenth Amendment (13A) to the Constitution. In appreciation of his intelligent arguments, I share his thinking not to canvass for 13A but to broaden the discussion with forgotten overlapping references that need to be factored in.
Status of 13A
Devolution was thrust upon us, consequent to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. Then, certain groups rejected this pact as well as 13A. Their position remains unchanged.
At the outset, we must remind ourselves that devolution was introduced to facilitate conflict resolution. Someone may argue that 13A was legalized at a time when terrorists held sway, and, therefore, the incumbent government need not stick to the beaten track. TNA politicians may argue that the reasons for, and the outcomes of, the conflict remain although terrorism is no more.
The performance of the Provincial Councils (PCs) is barely satisfactory in many respects. Some critics have dubbed them ‘white elephants.’ I do not subscribe to such extreme criticisms because one reason for the weakness of the PCs is the lack of ‘center-periphery cooperation’. Decades ago, Professor GL Peiris emphasized that the PCs needed empowerment for financing, establishment management, and statute making. To date, these matters remain as issues.
Some others who see intrinsic fault lines in devolution oppose PCs based on concept, content, and politics. They contend that devolving police and land powers, the amalgamation of provinces, etc., trespass the sovereignty and endanger national security.
The vehement call for abolishing the 13A has originated from politicians, supported by media personnel, and a section of the Buddhist monks. Another alternative proposition is to withdraw certain functions (e.g. land and police powers) to impede PCs when drafting a new Constitution.
Indians and 13A
Concurrently, there are some predicting that India will take up cudgels if the 13A is tampered with. Arguments are submitted against Indian interventions on devolution.
One reason adduced is that India failed to adhere to the Accord (e.g. disarming the LTTE) and therefore, its demand that we fully implement the devolution of power is unfair.
Secondly, they argue that foreign interference with our constitutional processes is inappropriate. They point out that the Indian Government repealed Article 370 with Article 35A in 2019, affecting Jammu-Kashmiri laws, including citizenship, property ownership, and fundamental rights, and silenced critics by stating it was an “Indian internal affair.” Hence, they argue that Sri Lanka should follow suit if India objects to abolishing the 13A.
Thirdly, they contend that the Indian government changed Jammu Kashmir rules to allow the Union Government to release lands to Indians to attract development/investment and hence India cannot object if we centralize land administration.
Fourthly, they argue that Indians perform asymmetrical administration in Himachal and Uttarkhand States, as against centralized Jammu-Kashmir, and therefore, by amending 13A, we could do similarly in selected Provinces.
India stands for sovereignty, independence, and the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, as repeatedly mentioned by Indian leaders. Additionally, there have been commitments made by Indian and Sri Lankan leaders and internationals to promote equal treatment to minorities.
My attempt is to refer to some such, extracted from the quoted speech, add a few more experiences to demonstrate that abolishing 13A will be considered a negative action in resolving conflict-related issues and there could be other solutions.
Probing Indo-Lanka interactions
Let us turn to TNA Leader’s speech. In November 2006, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivashankar Menon has expressed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa: “India looks forward to an early ‘comprehensive political settlement’ of the ethnic issue. It must take into account the aspirations of all sections, including the Tamils.”
This was nearly twenty years after the Accord and while the conflict was ongoing. Responding, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has detailed the work by the All-Party Representatives Committee (APRC) and the Committee of Experts. But it is well-known that these outputs did not matter to his government. It can be likened to the Indian expectations to implement the 13A during the conflict.
At one stage, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was excessively supportive of ‘power-sharing.’ Addressing the inaugural Meeting of the APRC and the Experts Committee, he said: “The unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of our country must be preserved” and added, “Our objective must be to develop a just settlement within an undivided Sri Lanka.” Great. This is the common aspiration of people, TNA, and India. While identifying the roadblocks, he expected the people in their localities must “take charge of their destiny and control their politico-economic environment.” This is the Principle of Subsidiarity in action.
He said: “Any solution must be seen as one that stretches to the maximum possible devolution, without sacrificing the sovereignty of the country. Given the ground situation, given the background to the conflict, it, therefore, behooves on particularly the majority community to be proactive in striving for peace ….” This must have been an elixir to Indians and TNA!
Next, Minister Basil Rajapaksa went to India (October 2008) and a statement said: “Both sides discussed the need to move towards a peacefully negotiated political settlement on the island including the North …. The Indian side called for the implementation of the 13A and greater devolution of powers to the Provinces. Minister Basil Rajapaksa emphasized that the President of Sri Lanka and his Government were committed to a political process that should lead to a sustainable solution”. Elixir again!
His message to India was that we had passionately committed to a political process. He is expected to be in the Cabinet soon and knowing the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar’s ways personally, I may expect a reminder of his message.
PM Manmohan Singh, after this visit of Minister Basil Rajapaksa, (November 2008), informed President Mahinda Rajapaksa that Colombo must create conditions for meeting “legitimate political aspirations” of the Tamils under the devolution package (13A). Irrespective of domestic politics Indians were consistent in demands; Sri Lankans were consistent in declaring unfulfilled hopes!
Prof. Peiris visited India (May 2011) and mentioned “A devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.” Further, he referred to the work of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which made extremely attractive, pro-peace, and reconciliation-oriented recommendations. No wonder when Foreign Minister Peiris spoke so favourably on the 13A, Indians continuously and without reservations harped on its implementation.
PM Singh (June 2011) said in Lok Sabha: “The decimation of the LTTE was something good. But the Tamil problem does not disappear, with the defeat of the LTTE. The Tamil population has legitimate grievances. They feel they are reduced to second-class citizens. And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan Government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead a life of dignity and self-respect. It is not easy.”
Nevertheless, reverting to 2019, one may question whether the Indian politicians’ minds were responsive to the grievances/inequalities their Muslim brethren complained of when the Citizenship Amendment Act, National Register of Citizens, and National Population Register laws were launched.
Two months after PM Singh’s statement, Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna said in Lok Sabha: “The Government has also articulated its position that the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues relating to minority communities in Sri Lanka, including Tamils. The Joint Press Release of May 17, 2011 states that all such outstanding issues had to be settled in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with a political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation.
The External Affairs Minister of Sri Lanka affirmed his Government’s commitment to ensuring expeditious and concrete progress in the ongoing dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and representatives of Tamil parties and that a devolution package building upon the 13th Amendment would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions for such reconciliation.” Sensibly we may agree.
The Indian Official Spokesman made a statement after the LRRC Report: “In this context, we have been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the TNA, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation.” Thus, Indian expectation rightly settled on an assurance ‘beyond 13A.’
When even the easily implementable LRRC recommendations were not executed by the government that appointed it, whether India could await further contributions to reconciliation was an issue. Indians may comment that every Sri Lankan government has only kindled hopes, but not delivered. The post-LLRC- UNHRC Resolution (2012) demanded the implementation of constructive LLRC recommendations and strengthening devolution, but we failed to do so.
The Indian Minister of External Affairs made a statement (January 2012) in the presence of our Minister of Foreign Affairs, from which I quote: “The government of Sri Lanka has on many occasions conveyed to us its commitment to move towards a political settlement based upon the full implementation of the 13A to the Sri Lankan Constitution and building on it so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers.” The Indian Minister has echoed the stark reality.
Then again, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that India was inclined to vote in favour” of a resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the UNHRC. His inclination was adopted by voting against us. According to PM Singh, its objective was not wanting to infringe our sovereignty, “…. but concerns should be expressed so that Tamil people can get justice and lead a life of dignity.” In almost all Indian statements a few buzz words- ‘equality, dignity, justice, self-respect, political process, peace’ appear.
There could be many more statements by Indian and Sri Lankan politicians and bureaucrats, unknown to us, confirming the need and commitment to implement the 13A to resolve the Tamils’ difficulties. But since our President was not in active politics per se in 2017 like his brothers and other Ministers, some of these statements may be new to him. However, I may remind two recent relevant statements, most probably known to him, worthy of consideration to understand the Indian attitudes on 13A.
PM Narendra Modi during President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s State Visit, like other interlocutors, said: “I am confident that the Government of Sri Lanka will carry forward the process of reconciliation, to fulfill the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, peace, and respect. It also includes the implementation of the 13th amendment.” Note the buzz words. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, without responding directly kept aloof, imaging him “the President of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of ethnicity or religion or voting choices.”
Joint Secretary Amit Narang’s quote on India Sri Lanka Virtual Bilateral Summit – October 26th, 2020- stated that PM Modi has insisted on PM Mahinda Rajapaksa that “Sri Lanka must implement its 13th constitutional amendment to achieve peace and reconciliation…. PM Modi called on the new Government in Sri Lanka to work towards realizing the expectations of Tamils for equality, justice, peace, and dignity.” Buzz words: setting apart political ethics, it is ‘must implement its 13A’ and not ‘may.’ With so many positive quotes stated above I am not surprised of this insistence.
These are ‘oven-fresh’ statements (latter only a fortnight old) and thoughts well embedded in PM Modi’s memory. We should not dupe ourselves into believing that PM Modi forgets easily and will give up demands or forgive when one repeatedly frustrates India! Whether it is Modi or Singh or Krishna or Menon, the buzz words are the same.
Here, PM Modi, like PM Singh (in 2012) expressed his “concerns”. I wish he will refrain from acting like PM Singh as regards the UNCHR 2021. We must remember that irrespective of political divides, for political expediency, Indian politicians capitalize on the Tamil aspirations.
Against this background, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has withdrawn from promoting “national integration and reconciliation” by repealing Article 33(1)(b) under the mandated presidential duties in 19A. If it seriously conveys his unwillingness to undertake these two duties, abolishing 13A will surely lead to an undesirable reaction.
Besides Indians, Sri Lanka has been under the international microscope regarding peacemaking and power-sharing, commencing from Thimpu, extending to Peace Talks, with Ban Ki-Moon, and UNHRC, etc.
A notable event during the Peace Talks was the declaration of the Oslo Communique. Prof. Peiris led the government delegation, and I witnessed his excellent exposition with clarity, resonating factual arguments, and vast knowledge to convince Anton Balasingham, that LTTE should agree to power-sharing, without separation. In a lighter vein, I am reminded how with Professor Peiris’s unmatched academic onslaught (which I adored), Anton Balasingham cut-short the discussion and retreated for external consultations—probably with Prabhakaran.
It was Prof Peiris -the Man of the Day- who pushed for the Oslo Communique. The parties agreed “to explore a solution founded on the principle of internal self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil-speaking people, based on a federal structure within a united Sri Lanka.”
At the media conference, Prof Peiris praised extensive power-sharing within a one-county framework, sans cessation, and added, “Now if we believe in a political solution if we are renouncing war…. there could not be any other rural tribal except power-sharing – except the basis, the character of a federal solution.”
The 13A is less devolutionary and federalist in content than the Oslo Communique that spoke of historical habitation and federal structure. Therefore, Prof. Peiris could now forget Oslo and take the lead in calming down protesters against 13A. Without any disrespect to Minister Ali Sabry, I may say that Prof. GL Peiris is the best bet to deal with 13A with his experience (especially with Indians). Paradoxically, it is also his disqualification, for his past stance is not in line with calls for abolishing 13A!
After defeating the LTTE, President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that his firm resolve was ‘to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as, to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.” After three days, a resolution was submitted at the UNHRC, Geneva confirming his stances with Ban Ki-Moon. It was a commitment to implementing the 13A. For the first time, he made 13A a multilateral commitment.
President Sirisena-PM Wickremesinghe government went a step further by incorporating it in October 2015 UNHRC Cosponsored Resolution. They failed to pass a new Constitution or move-on with 13A. More international attention was drawn to 13A.
Potential political manipulations
In the late 1990s, there were government proposals to create Regional Councils (RCs) – i.e. North-Eastern and South-Eastern RCs and even to create a center-controlled Ampara Electorate, to enable the establishment of the latter RC. Non-contiguous Muslim RC was another concept floated. SLMC Leader Mr. Ashroff was one keen supporter of those proposals.
The abolition of 13A will create a void. Muslim Parliamentarians who supported the 20A may expect Minister Ali Sabry and Romesh de Silva Committee to incorporate the said RCs proposal in the proposed Constitution, sometimes with revisions more favourable to the Muslims. This is a hypothetical situation, but those who call for abolishing 13A should take careful note of. They must be alert to political manipulations because the wrong judgment will cause more trouble than 13A.
In summary, the opponents of 13A, who demand its abolition had better heed the domestic constitutional, political, institutional formations, bilateral agreement with India, many commitments made especially to India and international stakeholders in multilateral agencies. etc. If the decision is not to abolish, the government will be answerable to nationalistic elements who predict political, security, economic, and political organizational risks.
Since the country is faced with a severe economic crisis, the international dimensions thereof are extremely important. As Dr. Jehan Perera writes: “In dealing with international governments, it is equally, if not more, important to keep commitments. The international community of governments is not as gullible as the voting public often is.” This was written during Mahinda Rajapaksa Regime. Now, it is Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime. But irrespective of government changes, the thinking of the international community remains the same as for Sri Lanka’s commitments.
Policies of the political parties that have been in power in India have been consistent as regards 13A and the issues Tamils are faced with. Nevertheless, India’s focus has shifted from devolution to Indo-Pacific, Chinese threats, free trade, investments, etc. and the possibility may exist of settling outstanding issues to mutual benefit (as Minister Krishna has said) “in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with a political vision.”
Abolishing 13A may entail a price payable geopolitically, politically, economically, diplomatically, security-wise, etc. Those who push for abolishing 13A must evaluate the potential balance sheet, weigh alternatives through negotiations and compromises. Forgetting these available options and to be overenthusiastic about their two-thirds majority, which can be used to abolish 13A may not mean happy hunting or a happy ending.
Teach geometry to sharpen mind
By Prof.Kirthi Tennakone
Decades ago, language, classics, science, and mathematics emphasiing geometry stood as the cornerstones of the high school curriculum, shaping students’ minds. These disciplines inculcate learning aptitude, creativity, abstract thinking, and empathy. Many who followed the theme in schools and colleges became professionals excelled in their art, businessmen and intellectually motivated laypeople.
In learning mathematics, geometry stands out as particularly important because the subject invigorates the mind to think deductively and imaginatively in understanding spatial relationships. Unlike in arithmetic and elementary algebra, where the problem-solving strategy proceeds with a set of operations, in geometry the student concentrates deeply looking at a sketch drawn on paper – a different kind of brain stimulating exercise.
The book Elements of Geometry by S Barnard and J M Child, widely used in Britain and our schools since the early 1900s, states geometry is the science of space and deals with shapes, sizes and positions of things. The definition agrees with the more modern view that geometry, though abstract, is essentially a study of the nature of physical space and has cosmological implications.
Virtues of learning geometry
Whatever you plan to do, geometry is invaluably relevant, directly or indirectly. Exposure to the subject influences the mindset beneficially to tackle problems beyond mathematics. So many renowned men and women have commented on the virtues of geometry.
Plato said, “Experience proves anyone who has studied geometry is infinitely quicker at grasping difficult subjects than one who has not. He attached so much importance to geometry, inscribing on the entrance to his academy the phrase “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”.
Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab historian and philosopher, said “Geometry enlightens the mind and sets the mind right. All proofs are very clear and orderly and errors would not enter into geometrical reasoning. Thus, a mind that constantly applies itself to geometry is unlikely to fall into error. In this way, a person who knows geometry acquires intelligence.”
American poetess Rita Dove wrote, “I prove a theorem, house expands”.
The columnist Marlin Savant, once hailed as the world’s smartest woman, having the highest recorded IQ, wrote, “Geometry is beautifully logical, and teaches you how to think and prove things step by step. Proofs are excellent lessons in reasoning. Without logical reasoning, you are dependent on jumping to conclusions – or – worse, having empty opinions”.
The British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dill Faulkes, describes geometry as the surest and clearest way of thinking available to us.
History of Geometry
The history of geometry tells how profoundly the discipline influenced human thinking. Geometrical ideas originated in Egypt and Babylonia as methods of measuring the extents of agricultural land. Perhaps independently in Sri Lanka as well, after initial Indian influence. Our ancient irrigation systems, monuments of rich architecture, and stupas could not be built without a practical knowledge of geometry.
Greeks looked at the subject in the spirit of abstractness, revolutionising the line of human inquiry. If they also continued to adopt geometry in the same way as Egyptians, Babylonians and Sri Lankans did, confining it only to practical uses, there wouldn’t be a modern technology.
Early Greek philosophers indulged in geometry, believing it is divine and inherent. Plato, having noted that perfect geometrical figures cannot be drawn, said they exist in a higher spiritual realm, and a man can retrieve their properties instinctively. In one of his discourses, Plato states, Socrates did an experiment to prove the point by telling an ignorant slave boy to draw a square double in area compared to one he sketched on muddy ground with a stick. The boy did it wrong in the first instance, but with a little help from Socrates, he instinctively recollected the Pythagoras theorem (both Plato and Socrates were followers of Pythagoras who lived earlier) and solved the problem. Plato’s bias to his opinion is obvious, and the experiment he attributes to Socrates may be fictitious. Nevertheless, the story shows how deep were the European philosophers, in their endeavors to fathom abstract fundamentals, paving the way for the West to dominate the world scientifically, technologically, and therefore economically.
The next bold step that enlightened geometry, radically influencing all branches of mathematics and philosophical contemplation, was the work of the Greek geometer and logician Euclid, who lived in Alexandria. He did not attribute geometry to the realm of spirituality or an inherent instinct of humans, but built its theory on the basis of a few axioms written below, taken as self-evident truths.
1. Two points are connectable by a straight line.
2. A straight-line can be extended indefinitely.
3. A circle may be drawn with any radius and an arbitrary center.
4. All right angles are equal.
5. If a straight-line intersect two other straight-lines in such a way the sum of inner angles of on one side is less than two right angles, two lines will inevitably intersect when extended in that direction.
Using the above axioms, Euclid logically deduced important properties of triangles, circles and other geometrical figures as theorems. The fifth axiom, the so-called parallel postulate, remained controversial for more than 2000 years. Mathematicians tried hard to prove it using other axioms. Finally, the impossibility of proving the assertion was understood. Many important theorems in geometry, such as the equality of the sum of three angles in a triangle to two right angles and the Pythagoras theorem, are consequences of the parallel postulate. Mathematicians in India and China knew the property of right-angled triangles attributed to Pythagoras. However, Euclid’s proof of the theorem using the parallel postulate shocked mathematicians of antiquity.
A new chapter in geometry was opened after realizing the independence of the fifth axiom. German mathematicians, Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann showed other consistent geometries exist, corresponding to figures drawn on curved surfaces. And Pythagoras Theorem is not an absolute truth but a consequence of the parallel postulate. These developments motivated Albert Einstein to formulate the general theory of relativity.
Euclid’s art of argument, making few assumptions identified as self-evident truths and logical reasoning based upon them, finds applicability and validity in affairs beyond mathematics and science. Many things you and I do depend on certain assumptions.
Examine assumptions carefully to see whether they are consistent, deduce consequences logically, and then proceed.
Abraham Lincoln, in his speeches, clearly identified assumptions, justified them as natural truths and argued logically to validate a point. After listening to a speech by Abraham Lincoln, a man asked him how he acquired such an amazing oratorical skill in presenting ideas and arguing consistently. Lincoln said, when other lawyers were sleeping and snoring, he lit a candle near the pillow and read six volumes of Euclid.
Mahatma Gandhi frequently made references to geometry in clarifying arguments. In one of his writings, Mahatma says, Euclid’s straight-line exists only in imagination, never capable of being drawn. Nevertheless, it is an important definition in geometry, yielding great results. So may a perfect bramachari exist only in imagination? But if we did not keep him constantly before the mind’s eye, we would be like a rudderless ship. The nearer the approach to the imaginary state, greater the perfection.
Teaching Geometry: Education and Science Policy Reforms
Since the time of Plato, geometry has been an integral part of academic instruction. Before Christian schools were started in the 1800s, geometry was taught only in universities. Later, these institutions demanded higher qualifications in mathematics with geometry for enrollment. Thereafter, the educationists’ world-wide emphasized formal exposure to geometry, an essential prerequisite in completing secondary level education.
Until the Education Department’s curriculum reforms were implemented in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka followed the same concept, teaching geometry as a separate subject in the 8th grade and after – largely a continuation of the school mathematics curriculum introduced by the British in the early 1900s. In those days, the Ordinary Level (OL) Mathematics, students had to sit for a separate geometry paper. Later, the geometry component in our high school mathematics syllabus was reduced, perhaps to accommodate things considered being more important in commerce and technological studies. Today, teachers and students pay less attention to geometry and concentrate on areas more straightforward in learning.
Recently, Sri Lanka, Department of Education reported that in the OL Mathematics Examination, the majority of students do not select geometry questions, and those who attempt them often give erroneous answers. Sometimes teachers advise their students to omit geometry, telling them, questions in the area are hard. Now we have a generation of mathematics teachers who neglected geometry in their school days.
The repercussions of the deficiency in teaching geometry during the past three decades have probably gone beyond OL exam performance and may account for our weaknesses in intellectual pursuits, technological innovations, and the inability to adopt an evidence-based approach in solving problems.
The poor performance in geometry can be rectified by adding more explanatory material to the OL syllabus and devoting more time to teaching. Unless the subject is made compulsory by revising the examination structure, the tendency of the teachers and students to neglect the section will continue. Furthermore, the subject should be made interesting to the students, highlighting its importance and history. Isaac Newton’s assistant has said that he witnessed the great man laugh only once when, someone asked him whether geometry has any use. Why not tell this to the students? The teachers should also tell the students, mastering geometry requires sustained mental concentration. Swami Vivekananda, a vocal advocate of the powers of concentration, said, “Just two or three days before the entrance examination, I found that I hardly knew anything of geometry. So I began to study the subject, keeping awake the whole night, and in twenty-four hours I mastered four chapters in the geometry book”.
At a time when Sri Lanka plans to propose educational reforms, to divert the human resource towards technological innovations and commercial ventures, it is prudent to note what the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, said when he visited the 11th grade mathematics class in a science oriented college in Moscow 2021. Having noted that the students were attempting to answer a problem in business, he asked, “Why do you guys work on business projects in school?” Here you need to gain fundamental knowledge, and gave them a stunning problem in geometry to solve.
The message the Russian Prime Minister conveyed is clear. In schools and universities, students have to be exposed to the fundamentals to sharpen the mind and nurture creativity. With that experience, they are better equipped to specialize and deliver innovations. If fundamentals are omitted to accommodate more technological and business courses, the outcome will be counterproductive. We jump into technological fashions that emerge from time to time – biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and now artificial intelligence – believing they would deliver marketable products immediately. Yet the fruits of these efforts originate elsewhere, mostly in Europe and the United States of America, where schools and universities emphasize fundamental science. Teach geometry to boost the natural intelligence of our children, before embarking on artificial intelligence! For a student to enter the field of artificial intelligence and compete, he or she needs to acquire in-depth knowledge in several branches of mathematics. It is true that just like in information technology, the subject of artificial intelligence can be pursued without extra brilliance and advanced mathematical preparation. However, to make a mark and compete, those qualities are essential.
Shyness to undertake fundamental studies
The neglect of geometry is one example of our shyness to undertake intellectually challenging fundamental areas of inquiry. What the Russian Prime Minister told the mathematics class, giving a problem in geometry, is also a reminder to research institutions devoted to fundamental research. They should pursue the mandated theme without gross deviations, adulteration, or engaging in commercialization trivialities. All major innovations that pushed the West to the forefront had been curiosity driven investigations. Intellectual fantasy and dreaming and working on challenging problems, not necessarily yielding immediate results, is more important than writing papers for the purpose of getting them printed in journals.
We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’.
Educational curricula and science policy reformers should keep in mind that downgrading or elimination of topics engendering qualities of abstract thinking, imagination, and empathy will lead to disastrous consequences, now beginning to be seen above Sri Lanka’s societal horizon. Bringing in reforms to accommodate technologically oriented programs curtailing the fundamentals would be ineffective. We are not competitive in technology and continue to be poor in innovations. We don’t engage in advanced frontier research, once confined to the West, but now pursued eagerly elsewhere in our region. The country doesn’t produce sufficient numbers of original thinkers, productive scientists, entrepreneurs, and knowledgeable administrators. In many situations, myth overtakes rationality, and social values are on the decline.
Our students are clever and talented. Their weakness in geometry and generating innovations is not their fault, but our wrong policies continuing for decades.We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’ and our teachers and researchers to be men and women of the caliber to engage ‘there’ as philosopher mentors.
The author can be reached via email:email@example.com
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis: Finding peaceful, equitable and sustainable way out
By Siri Hettige,
Emeritus Professor of Sociology,
University of Colombo
I wish to begin this article with a very broad assertion, namely, Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis is the result of a series of deliberate and short- sighted policy measures taken by post-liberalisation regimes since 1977. These policy measures led to not only structural changes in the economy but also far reaching changes in many other sectors such as education, health, transport and social welfare. As regards the economic changes, the trends have been quite clear. To understand this, one only has to follow the changes in the macroeconomic indicators over the last four decades.
If we first look at the structural changes brought about by liberalisation policies, it was quite clear that the service sector expanded rapidly, often at the expense of industrial and agricultural sectors leading to a widening trade gap as imports of industrial and even agricultural commodities increased steadily, far exceeding the value of exports. But, instead of addressing the emergent structural distortions of the economy, successive governments promoted export of labor and tourism as a way of earning foreign income to pay for rapidly increasing industrial and other goods Imported to the country.
Increasing availability of foreign exchange from worker remittances and tourism not only helped bridge the otherwise widening trade gap but also pay for all sorts of consumer goods demanded buy the increasingly affluent sections of the population. The expansion of this class was facilitated by low tax regimes maintained by successive governments. Increasing disposable incomes of a sizable segment of the population also increased the demand for private services in health, transport and education. And this led to the opening up of these sectors for private investment resulting in the proliferation of private health care providers, international schools in and around Colombo and Importation of hundreds of thousands of private vehicles.
The above developments contributed to unprecedented inequalities in the areas of health, education and passenger transport, all of which hitherto remained mostly publicly provided services. Inequality became clearly evident in all these sectors but post- liberalisation regimes failed to do anything significant to contain increasingly visible inequalities not only in household income but also the widening gap between urban and rural/estate sectors.
The failure of the post-1977 regimes to contain growing income inequality by implementing a progressive taxation policy led to decreasing state revenue, making it impossible to allocate adequate resources to publicly provided health, education and transport services. Poor quality of these services in turn created highly unequal life chances for lower income groups in society. For instance, poor educational facilities in rural and estate areas forced parents to pay for private tuition that emerged as a thriving business in all parts of the country. Poorly funded and crowded public transport services forced even many low-income people to buy transport equipment like imported motor cycles and three-wheelers to have more convenient modes of local transport, not to mention hundreds of thousands of all sorts of motor cars imported for the use of higher income groups. The same sort of development was also evident in the health sector when private provision of health care became an integral part of the health sector in Sri Lanka.
increasing cost of living as a consequence of the above developments encouraged more and more people including young men and women to migrate overseas for extended periods of employment and this helped many families to earn supplementary incomes not only to cover their day to day consumption but also to save money for children’s education, buy land, build houses, etc. But such economic gains came with considerable social costs such as the neglect of small children, break up of families and even the spread of alcohol abuse by men. Yet, increasing remittances soon became the biggest single foreign exchange earner for the country, often over 7 billion USD per year. On the other hand, increasing outflow of labor from rural and estate areas for overseas employment led to increasing costs of agricultural labor making small scale agriculture unviable, often resulting in the abandonment of many small parcels of agricultural land by farmers resulting in a decline in agriculture production and related livelihoods.
Despite social costs of labour migration, increasing worker remittances became a blessing in disguise for successive governments. In fact, populist governments began to label migrant workers as “Rata Viruwo” (“Oversees heroes”). following the equally adulatory term “Rana Viruwo” used for security service personnel fighting in the war in the north and east of the country. Availability of foreign currency earned by migrant workers enabled the governments and private companies to pay for all sorts of imports demanded by consumers, in particular those who purchased all kinds of motor cars and electrical appliances.
In spite of largely consumption driven economic growth, state revenue continued to remain low as a proportion of the GDP. In fact, state revenue declined from about 20% of GDP in the mid 1970’s to about 8% to 10% of GDP in recent years. Implications of this became so obvious when university academics asked the government to allocate 6% of the GDP for education alone. While this was obviously an impossible proposition, public investment in education had declined to about 1.5% of the GDP. In fact, this was a small fraction of what many countries, even in the Asian region invested in public education in recent decades.
The result of a very low level of public investment in education has had serious consequences for the education sector. Well to do families began to move their children from government schools to international schools that proliferated in urban areas alongside well-equipped private schools. Poorer families had no choice but rely on poorly endowed schools for their children’s education. In short, providing equal opportunities to all children and youth became an impossibility within a highly unequal education system. The situation in the health and transport sectors has not been any better than in education.
As it is evident from what is outlined above, the economic and social conditions that emerged following the implementation of neoliberal policies over the last several decades have not been equitable, just or sustainable. In fact, the conditions became worse over the last two decades when the populist regimes that came to power did not seem to care about the emerging vulnerabilities of the Sri Lankan economy due to its serious structural distortions and weaknesses. Moreover, when the public funds raised through commercial borrowings were diverted into infrastructure projects that often did not have any prospect of generating an economic return, public debts became a very serious issue that needed urgent attention. Yet, what followed was even worse when authorities began to rely on commercial borrowings to raise public funds to support government expenditure and this eventually led to high inflation imposing a heavy burden on lower income groups in the country.
The developments outlined above eventually prepared the ground for the unprecedented economic crisis when the foreign debts accumulated over several decades could no longer be serviced, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy in early 2022.
Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that the path to the present economic crisis was laid by shortsighted policies adopted by successive governments with callous disregard for the serious adverse effects of such policies on a large majority of people. But, what is equally important to note is that there are no political leaders and others to take responsibility for the obvious policy failures. On the other hand, the country cannot move forward, beyond the present crisis, unless a genuine national effort is made to not only agree on what went wrong but also come up with an alternative policy framework to guide desirable policy shifts and necessary institutional reforms at all levels.
Land where ‘boo’ is a crime
On Tuesday March 28, The Island editor as is his way, struck the nail on its damn head and fearlessly made his point. He wrote: “The efficiency of the police is truly amazing,” and then added the damper: “the only problem being that it is selective.” This selectivity seems to be worsening. During the weekend their Brownie points with the government was secured at the expense of a lone person who involuntarily, we are sure, his bitter anger overcoming him, dared boo at the passing Minister Bandula Gunawardana. The many khaki Johnnies escorting the said Minister flashed into action, chased that poor guy and arrested him.
We remember the little girl who, to continue her schooling and save herself from being exposed and taunted as poor, stole three coconuts to sell to get the money she had to take to school; her sensitivity realising her mother was too poor to give her the much-needed amount. She was arrested by the police and remanded in their custody. Fortunately, word got around and the girl was rescued by someone with clout intervening.
This super efficiency in the face of murders being committed under their very noses, who knows with whose help, a harmless sportsman Thajudeen was tortured and then killed; trussed up in the seat adjoining the driver’s seat in his car pushed to crash against a wall and burst into flames, burning him to cinders and all evidence. The fire did not ignite. The case came to the very end of catching the movers and murderers and givers of orders and then poof! The case evaporared as evidence had been made to disappear by, they said, certain police officer/s. Similar with the brutal killing of Lasantha W. In these cases, and many such, the police and armed forces personnel involved are not in the public’s memory; it’s the VVIPs who are suspected of giving orders. This small fry Cassandra with a strong power of remembering may be vapourised, but the People know, remember, and may very well extract retribution since waiting for Fate or Karma to do the job takes too long.
Why on earth take notice of a boo, the tooting of a horn, the throwing of a rotten egg or overripe tomato? Such voice users and missile wielders should be thanked since much worse could be shouted out, or thrown. The patience of the masses is most often limitless; justified searing anger and galling resentment are held in check. Politicians should be thankful for this forbearance of the general public.
Across the Palk Strait
Similar to this is an event that unfolded recently in India. Resembles somewhat what happened to Ranjan Ramanayake.Poor Rahul Gandhi, MP and leader of the Congress Party and perchance a future PM of the subcontinent, has been served a two-year term of imprisonment. His crime, which one would think serious, is merely voicing a single sentence which could be taken as harmless, heard now forgotten the next moment. But no, on orders from above, the sentence he proclaimed in 2019, yes as long ago as that, said at a campaign gathering has come home to roost on orders from high up for sure. However, one wonders whether it is the police who are so perturbed with the target of the insult, unconcerned. Maybe India’s security police are also selectively over- efficient as ours is. Gandhi is accused of saying that those with the name Modi are thieves. Heinous? Not at all! Slanderous? No! Defamatory? Could be but also may not be so classified. But his saying it has brought PM Modi to the picture and over there too, it seems to be a case of pleasing, sycophantic loyalty etc.
Gandhi is given time to appeal and may go free or may, if incarcerated, gain sympathy votes for his party. He will not be able to contest the forthcoming Congress leadership election nor national elections. This last mentioned in an article Cass read means that the Lok Sabha in New Delhi does not allow those accused of crimes to enter its portals. So different over here. How many convicted of serious bribe taking, corruption, stealing, drug dealing and even rape and murder are our MPs in the House by the Diyawanne, and living off the little fat left in the land.
No to interference with justice system
Israel is in spasms of mass uprisings against the judicial reforms proposed by the government of recently re-elected PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The Star of David flag waving protests started on January 7 in Tel Aviv, spread to various locations and are masses now. The newly-appointed Justice Minister proposed judicial reforms and curtailing the power of the Supreme Court and also sought more places for govt. in the committees appointing judges. As BBC reported on Tuesday March 28, Netanyahu and his government are reconsidering the reforms.
The Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, disagreed with the move and made known his opposition. Netanyahu promptly dismissed him which caused resignation of Israeli bigwigs like the ambassador to the US.
Cassandra has a purpose in bringing this piece of world news into her chat this Friday. Netanyahu is not the whitest of politicians, not at all. So grey and even black are many of our leaders, stained with crimes of amassing wealth and also eliminating foes and challengers to them. The Israelis attempted interfering with the judiciary and wanting more say in matters judicial. So similar to over here. Remember Chief Justice Dr, Shirani Bandranaike and how she was demeaned and grossly insulted in the Parliament premises by Rajapaksa stooges who still wield power and pontificate endlessly. Recently, wasn’t there a move to summon SC Judges to Parliament? For questioning? Attorney-at –law Prez Ranil W was the mover of this plan, his hand probably puppet-stringed. It could also very well be that he decided on his own. Attorneys at law have been protesting.
Dissimilarities appear in the matter in Israel and how things pertain in SL. They are thinking twice about the reforms and taking due note of protests. Over here strong-arm tactics and the PTA are used. Seen on TV was containing the Israeli protestors by the police with mild water cannoning and no mass temporary blinding and chocking of people, unlike in this paradise gone rotten by the hand of politicians and their vassals. The tear gas used here is not to just temporarily affect the eyes but to harm eyes and nose, lungs and life itself. And we pride ourselves as such a pacifist, democratic country!
The Island editor on Wednesday March 29 reminded his readership that ex-Prez M Sirisena is still hopeful and awaiting answers to his call for help in paying the 100 m fine imposed on him for negligence in preventing the Easter Sunday bombings and mass loss of life and serious injury. MS aka Aiyo Sirisena sure is presumptuously optimistic, stupid and dull-witted to think any Sri Lankan will contribute to save him from imprisonment. He sure must be having plenty lucre as almost all our dubious politicians have amassed. If he was scrupulously honest and has no money to spare, his brother Dudley can bail him out many times over. People were shocked by his – MS’s – changing sides but they hoot now at his SOS and methinks, wait to see him in the place he deserves to be! Bye for now, says Cassandra!
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