Deafening silence of vociferous diplomatic community
German Ambassador Jorn Rohde accompanied by both local and foreign journalists at the Mannar mass graves site
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Sri Lanka is ‘blessed’ with a very vocal section of the diplomatic community. Those who represent this grouping work overtime on domestic issues. During the conflict, they did their best to throw a lifeline to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) when it was literally gasping for its last breath. They stepped up their efforts in the post-war period.
Sri Lanka lacked a workable strategy to deal with growing external interventions. This grouping worked through some political parties, a section of the civil society groups, and the media. They intervened in a spate of issues, ranging from the disappearance of NGO activist Kathiravel Thayapararajah, in Sept 2009, to safety and security of one-time Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Shani Abeysekera.
The grouping backed any issue that facilitated its overall strategy to tarnish the country for defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit by their own reckoning. The grouping never forgave the Rajapaksas for bringing the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. The UN has been deeply involved in the high profile politically-motivated operation. There cannot be a better example than UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer’s intervention in the simmering issue of cremation of Muslim victims of the raging Covid-19 epidemic.
Singer, in a letter dated Nov 12, 2020, addressed to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, pressed the government to end the cremation of all Covid-19 victims. The controversial letter, also copied to Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Health Minister Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi, challenged the disposal through cremation the bodies of those who died of the Covid-19 infection. Singer backed UN intervention on the basis of a plethora of requests from the Muslim community, as well as others.
Singer faulted Sri Lanka for what she called a discriminatory policy adopted as regards disposal of bodies.
A section of the media received the Colombo-based UN head’s letter hours after it was delivered to Offices of the Prime Minister and Foreign, Justice and Health ministers. Who released Singer’s letter? Did the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office make the letter available to the media? Or did the PM’s Office, or did the ministers, Gunawardena, Sabry or Wanniarachchi release it? Who benefitted from the public getting to know the UN intervention in purely a domestic matter? The story received significant international media coverage. Interested parties felt the issue could be quite useful at the March 2021 sessions at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions to further hammer the country.
The UN Resident Coordinator’s push to end mandatory cremation here received the backing of three members of the Sri Lanka Core Group at Geneva. The Sri Lanka Core Group comprises the UK, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro. Can one imagine a justifiable reason for North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro to be part of the Sri Lanka Core Group except to serve as lackeys of the West? The UK, Canada and Germany backed the moves to end mandatory cremation. They exploited the issue to the hilt. Those who cannot stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism always sought to isolate the country’s wartime leadership. But, they didn’t have an issue with the war-winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka as he had succumbed to political maneuvering that paved the way for the Sinha Regiment veteran to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2010 presidential election, the first major national poll, after the near three-decade old war ended. Fonseka lost by a staggering 1.8mn votes.
So, it’s no wonder that one of the first things that the Iraqi rebellion did after the Western-led invasion of that country was to blow up the whole UN compound in Baghdad for the sordid role the world body played in building up a bogus case against Iraq of there being weapons of mass destruction in that country, on which the US-led invasion there took place.
Core Group worried over Easter
At the behest of diplomatic missions in Colombo, the UK, at the ongoing 47th Geneva sessions, on June 22, 2021, on behalf of Sri Lanka Core Group raised the following issues. The grouping (1)stressed former CID Director Shani Abeysekera’s safety and security (2) plight of human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah (3)continuing restrictions on memorialization (4) declared support for the Bar Association of Sri Lanka as regards the need for an independent and impartial investigation into recent deaths in police custody.
Let me, first of all, appreciate the Sri Lanka Core Group taking a tough stand on deaths in police custody. The government should be embarrassed over continuing deaths in police custody. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka issued strong statements demanding an end to extra judicial killings. The police should be held accountable for such killings and Parliament cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for police ‘executions’. The SLPP government owes an explanation why tangible measures haven’t been taken to end police killings.
The Sri Lanka Core Group statement conveniently refrained from mentioning that Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah had been held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which claimed the lives of 270 men, women and children and caused injuries to 500 other totally innocent folks. Among the dead and the wounded were several dozens of foreigners. The Sri Lanka Core Group also refrained from making any reference to the LTTE when it raised objections to continuing restrictions on memorialization.
The Core Group leader, the UK, and Canada, are home to substantial numbers of Sri Lankan terrorists. One-time British High Commission employee LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham received British citizenship and lived there, in style, until his death in Dec 2006. Adele Balasingham, who once encouraged young girls to join the LTTE terrorists and publicly tied cyanide capsules round the necks of those girls, lives in the UK while the British HC preaches post-war national reconciliation to us.
The much-touted Canadian stand on the accountability issue in Sri Lanka is nothing but a joke now. The discovery of 600 or more remains of children at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997, in the province of Saskatchewan, and last month’s, discovery of some 215 remains, at a similar school in British Columbia, exposed what fake do-gooders they are in a land they plundered from its natives. China raised the issue at the ongoing Geneva sessions. The media exposed the murder of indigenous children in the wake of Canada recognizing genocide in Sri Lanka. Actually, Geneva should call for a comprehensive investigation into Canadian murder of hundreds of native children they had forcefully taken from their families, under a much publicised project to ‘civilise natives’, while Canada is still trying to hoodwink the world with concerns over alleged continuing human rights abuses in some selected countries, like China and Sri Lanka.
Canadian PM has made a foolish bid to divert attention by requesting Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologise for church-run boarding schools where hundreds of unmarked graves have been found.
It would be pertinent to mention what Jiang Duan, Minister of the Chinese mission to the United Nations in Geneva said about Canada violating human rights of its indigenous people. Duan urged the UNHRC to keep following the human rights issues in the North American country. That statement had been made by China on behalf of a group of countries. The writer is glad that Sri Lanka had been among that group. Canada, home to thousands of ex-Sri Lankan terrorists and their families, continue to harass Sri Lanka at every opportunity, for political reasons. The recent passage of Bill 104 in Canada that recognized genocide in Sri Lanka, exposed Canadian strategy meant to appease Tamil Canadians of Sri Lankan origin with an eye on their huge vote bank.
Quoting reports, the top Chinese diplomat said over 150,000 indigenous children had been forcibly taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools during 19th and 20th centuries.
“They were subjected to malnutrition, and many fell victims to abuse and rape. At least 4,000 children died of disease, neglect, accidents or abuse while at schools,” Jiang said, calling for a thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against the indigenous people, especially children, so as to bring those responsible to justice, and offer full remedy to victims.
“We are also deeply concerned over the illegal killings of civilians by Canadian overseas military servicemen and systemic racial discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia within Canada,” Duan noted, adding that Canada has also repeatedly exploited human rights issue as a tool to promote its political agenda.
Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in short supply
As the writer earlier stressed, a section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, in a way functions as a partisan and unashamed political grouping. An influential section of the civil society and the media cooperate with the grouping resulting in various issues being taken up. They aggressively addressed Sri Lanka’s policy of cremating bodies of all Covid-19 victims. Those who had accepted and appreciated external interventions on behalf of the Muslim community must have been quite surprised over their silence against the backdrop of nearly 580,000 people so far deprived of AstraZeneca/Covishield booster shot.
Sri Lanka shouldn’t have expected their intervention if they followed diplomatic norms in other matters. But, having fought for the Muslims’ right to bury their Covid-19 dead and expressed concerns over an Easter Sunday terror suspect and defended attempts to politicize war dead, the UN and its partners shouldn’t have remained silent over Sri Lanka being deprived of Oxford AstraZeneca required for the second dose.
Shouldn’t UN Resident Coordinator Singer have at least taken up the matter with New York as nearly 600,000 Sri Lankans faced an increased threat from the deadly Delta variant? Those missions eternally concerned for the wellbeing of Sri Lanka did nothing to facilitate sufficient stock of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines.
Civil society groups, too, remained silent in spite of reports of Western powers hoarding vaccines while smaller economies struggled to cope up with the situation. Those who expressed concern over the safety and security of interdicted SSP Abeysekera as well as the wellbeing of Hejaaz Hizbullah, remained quiet about nearly 600,000 deprived of AstraZeneca second dose.
People haven’t forgotten how a high profile Swiss operation meant to embarrass President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went awry in Nov-Dec 2019 in the immediate aftermath of the last presidential election. The Swiss Embassy, in Colombo, went to the extent of trying to evacuate its local employee Garnier Banister Francis, formerly Siriyalatha Perera, and her family, after a swift police investigation exposed the Swiss plot. They had been so hard pressed to prevent the exposure of the blatant lie, a ridiculous attempt was made to drive Francis holed up in the diplomatic mission straight to the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and evacuate her and family in an air ambulance that was kept on standby there. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa personally intervened to thwart the Swiss plot. If they succeeded, the so-called case of Swiss Embassy employee abducted and molested by government agents would have been mentioned in the Sri Lanka Core Group statement issued on June 22 as a gospel truth.
The Swiss intervened with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa close on the heels of Francis claiming her being abducted near the Embassy. Interested parties staged the embassy drama in the immediate aftermath of Inspector Nishantha Silva of the CID and his family securing political asylum in Switzerland. The fugitive CID officer, too, would have received space in the Core Group’s statement if the Swiss operation succeeded.
Sarah Newey, GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, in a May 12, 2021 report in The Telegraph, titled ‘UK could share 20 pc of doses worldwide and still vaccinate all adults in July, analysis suggests’ discussed the issue at hand against the backdrop of the release of a report by Unicef and Airfinity. A section of the international media dealt with the crisis caused by wealthy ‘hoarding’ vaccine supplies.
Newey reported that the UK could donate 20 percent of its available coronavirus vaccines and remain on track to vaccinate all adults by the end of July, analysis suggested, amidst rising frustrations that wealthy countries hoarded jabs.
Based on the then supply forecasts, a decision to share a fifth of doses with poorer nations from June would push back Britain’s vaccination timeline by just 10 days, according to analysis by Unicef and the life sciences research facility Airfinity.
The widespread calls to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to resign over the last weekend in the wake of The Sun publishing pictures of Hancock and a colleague, non- executive, director, Department of Health Gina Coladangelo kissing, possibly indicated that he had been too busy to think of sharing a surplus of vaccines.
The Health Secretary was finally forced to quit following The Sun revelation of Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, both married with three children, kissing inside the Department of Health on 6 May.
A bungling administration
The SLPP government, too, should accept responsibility for the crisis caused by its shortfall of AstraZeneca second jab. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), while demanding an orderly inoculation project, took advantage of its position to ensure a second jab for family members, friends and associates. The secret inoculation project carried out by GMOA members at Galle revealed the mismanagement of the whole operation. The police, too, inoculated outsiders, including journalists who sought the intervention of high ranking Cabinet ministers. The government could have avoided the crisis over AstraZeneca second jab if half of the 1,264,000 jabs received from Serum Institute were used as the first jab. Instead, those at the helm of the vaccination drive inoculated as many as 925,242 persons (first jab during late January-early April 2021). The bungling SLPP government never explained why well over half of available AstraZeneca jabs had been used in the first round and the unpardonable nearly one and half month delay in using Sinopharm. In spite of China delivering 600,000 jabs on March 30, the government didn’t use them. State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa is on record as having said that the delay in using Sinopharm caused many deaths and aggravated the situation. Actually, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) should have moved a no-faith motion against the government over Dr. Godahewa’s admission. But SJB too played politics at every turn. With some of its members earlier proclaiming that Lankans would be used as guinea pigs to test Chinese vaccines. Unfortunately, the pathetic main Opposition didn’t even bother to respond to the State Minister’s shocking admission.
Recently, the British Parliament was told how the British High Commission in Colombo based its wartime assessment on Sri Lanka on a range of sources, including media and civil society. Let me reproduce a question raised by Lord Naseby and response provided by Lord Goldsmith to underscore the way the BHC, Colombo, gathered information. Lord Naseby on April 21, 2021 asked Her Majesty’s government what sources were used to ascertain the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war in that country between January 1 and May 18, 2009.
Lord Goldsmith responded on April 29, 2021. The following is the response verbatim: “The UK government’s assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war was informed by a broad range of internal and open source reporting, including from our High Commission in Colombo, international organizations, civil society and media.”
It would be interesting to know whether any Colombo based international organizations, civil society and media informed the BHC, Colombo of the AstraZeneca crisis at least after Sri Lanka detected the deadly Delta variant. Even if BHC had alerted the disgraced Health Secretary Hancock, he was probably too busy with Gina Coladangelo even to consider Sri Lanka’s requirement.
How can we forget the way Western embassies played politics with the recovery of skeletal remains from what was called the largest mass grave in Mannar? They blindly blamed the Sri Lankan military. Acting on assertions made by Colombo-based diplomatic missions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the March 2019 sessions faulted the Sri Lankan military over the Mannar mass graves. Geneva was in such a hurry it didn’t even wait for a report from a carbon dating laboratory in the US that subsequently revealed skeletal remains dated back to around 500 years during the European colonial era (1499 to 1719 period.)
The samples were sent to the laboratory after concerns were raised to ascertain if the skeletal remains were of those who were killed during the war between government troops and Tigers which ended in May 2009.
Following the US lab report, Western embassies, one-time LTTE mouthpiece the Tamil National Alliance, the civil society and the media quietly dropped the Mannar issue. Thanks to a US lab report, Mannar mass graves no longer figure in statements issued by the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group.
Growing foreign dependency and India’s USD 4 bn lifeline
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Japanese embassy and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund, previously known as United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund), on 16 March, 2023, issued a joint statement that dealt with the impact the developing political-economic-social crisis is having on the poor in Sri Lanka.
The statement focused on the suffering of the children and measures taken by UNICEF, in consultation with the Governments of Japan and Sri Lanka, to provide relief to the needy.
However, what really captured public attention was the declaration made by the Japanese Ambassador, in Colombo, Mizukoshi Hideak, that with the latest contribution, amounting to USD 1.8 mn, the total Japanese financial assistance, provided through UNICEF alone, exceeded USD 3.8 mn, since the beginning of last year. That is definitely a significant package provided through a single UN agency, particularly against the backdrop of the unceremonious cancellation of the Japan- funded Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, in late Sept., 2020, by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government.
The directive, in this regard, was issued on 21 Sept., 2020, by Dr. P. B. Jayasundera, in his capacity as Secretary to the President, to the then Transport Secretary, Monti Ranatunga. That move ruined Sri Lanka’s relations with Japan.
Whoever advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to terminate the project, without consulting Japan, as head of the Cabinet-of-Ministers, he couldn’t absolve himself of the responsibility for the ruination of vital relationship with Tokyo. Had it not been the case, Japan, most probably, would have delivered a substantial assistance to Sri Lanka, at the onset of the ongoing unprecedented crisis.
Sri Lanka made a failed bid to secure as much as USD 3.5 bn loan from Japan, during the tenure of Sanjiv Gunasekara as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Tokyo. Gunasekara, a close associate of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, resigned in the wake of the 09 May, 2022, violence, that gave a turbo boost to the campaign against his government.
Unlike Japan, India provided direct aid in various forms to Sri Lanka, struggling to cope up with what became an insurmountable crisis to overcome on our own. India has repeatedly declared that the continuing assistance is in line with Premier Narendra Modi’s much touted ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy. Sri Lanka received concessional credit facility, amounting to USD 1 bn, in March last year. In addition to that, by the second week of March this year, Sri Lanka received other lines of credit, worth over USD 3 bn. Therefore, the total Indian assistance is worth over USD 4 bn, a staggering amount as Sri Lanka’s debt before the Japanese and Indian interventions stood at over USD 53 bn. Indian intervention cannot be compared, under any circumstances, with assistance provided by any other country.
The Indian assistance is of immense importance as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after much deliberation, promised USD 2.9 bn over a period of four years. The delay on the part of China to provide an assurance as regards debt-restructuring support, hindered the finalization of the tripartite agreement involving Sri Lanka, creditors and IMF. Finally, China gave that assurance, in writing, early this month.
The situation was so precarious, Sri Lanka couldn’t have even provided the free text books that have been given, annually, to the student population ,from the time of the JRJ regime. Those who had been at the helm of political power, over the past three decades, to varying degrees, ruined the economy, and, by 2021/2022, Sri Lanka was unable to provide even the basic requirements, like cooking gas, kerosene, petrol, etc., as even remittances from our expatriate workers, which in the past amounted to about seven billion dollars per year, dropped drastically due to the illegal underground banking system, hawala/undiyal, hijacking much of it from the normal banks. The government didn’t have the means to provide school text books for the 2023 academic year. In consultation with India, of the USD 1 bn concessional credit facility, over USD 10 mn was utilized by the State Printing Corporation, and private importers, to procure printing paper and other material from India. India met 45% (four mn students) of the total requirement. Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay visited the SPC, on 09 March, 2023, to dispatch a consignment of textbooks to schools. Education Minister Dr. Susil Premjayantha joined Baglay. The Indian High Commission statement, issued two days later,, was aptly titled ‘India’s support for text books investment in Sri Lanka’s future.’
The government and the Opposition should be ashamed of their failure to provide for the children’s need.
Perhaps, a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to examine the circumstances leading to Sri Lanka’s bankruptcy status. Decades of utterly irresponsible management of the economy, coupled with an explosive mixture of causes – waste, corruption and irregularities – caused the current crisis.
Political parties, represented in Parliament, are responsible for the continuing crisis, to varying degrees.
Controversy over ISBs
The Island discussed some of the issues at hand in last week’s midweek piece, headlined ‘All praise for Lanka’s saviours!
What Dr. Coomaraswamy didn’t say was that as the CB Governor, he was also directly responsible for the Yahapalana government borrowing a record USD 12.5 bn from the international bond market, at high interest rates, from private lenders, primarily in the West. So what did that government achieve with such huge borrowings? All that the Yahapalana regime achieved, with all that money, we cannot see, except to lay the foundation for the current debt crisis?
Our comment on the basis of recent claims that the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Coomaraswamy (2016-2019), only told one side of the truth, attracted responses from several parties, including the Central Bank.
Consequently, the writer discussed the borrowing of USD 12.5 bn, and related matters, and was told the following: First, it is important to point out that the Governor, Central Bank, has no authority to approve or undertake any borrowing on behalf of the government. The borrowing limit, in any given year, is set by Parliament. Therefore, the government cannot borrow beyond the limit set by Parliament. In addition, all external borrowing has to be approved by the Finance Minister, and the Cabinet of Ministers. The Governor and the CBSL only have an advisory role. On ISBs, they have marketing and issuance as additional responsibilities once the Cabinet approved the transaction.
It is also important to recognize that ISBs are only one channel for external commercial borrowings. Others include short-term SWAPs, foreign term loans/syndicated loans and external flows into government rupee securities. The article dealt with only one instrument, having ignored the switching that was undertaken during 2015-19 to increase the maturity and reduce the cost of foreign borrowing.
As regards the USD 10 bn increase in ISBs outstanding during 2015-19, USD 5 bn of this increase can be attributed to switching away from shorter term (one year or less) and more expensive SWAPs and highly volatile foreign portfolio investment (hot money) in Government rupee securities to longer term (5 and 10 years) and less costly ISBs. SWAPs were reduced from approximately USD 2.5 bn to USD 500 mn.
Volatile and foreign investment in government rupee securities was reduced from USD 3.5 bn to USD 600 mn. In addition, during the course of 2019, a second ISB of USD 2 bn was issued to create a stronger buffer of external reserves to address the inevitable increase in uncertainty going into elections due shortly thereafter. (The money required for 2019 had been raised through an ISB, issued in March 2019.)
So about USD 7 bn of the USD 10 bn increase in the stock of ISBs outstanding, during 2015-19 may be attributed to increasing the stability and reducing the cost of the ISBs outstanding by switching instruments and raising the buffer provided by external reserves prior to a period of uncertainty, associated with elections.
The remaining increase of USD 3 bn may be partly attributed to the fact that borrowing incurred earlier had not resulted in a sufficient increase and/or saving of foreign exchange. Hence money had to be borrowed to repay debt incurred earlier. In fact, Verite Research found that 89 percent of external debt, repaid during 2015-19, could be accounted for by liabilities incurred prior to 2015.
The adverse debt dynamics were recognized and the Medium Term Debt Management Strategy was published in April 2019 to chart the way to sustainability. In addition, the Active Liability Management Act (2018) was introduced to expand the tools available to the CBSL for managing external debt sustainably. The CBSL, as the economic adviser to the Government, also advocated that there should be a primary surplus in the budget and that non-debt creating inflows (such as exports, remittances, tourism proceeds, FDI, inflows into the CSE and government securities) should be increased to enhance the capacity to service debt while supporting the level of imports necessary to achieve the growth potential of the economy.
They also pointed out that only one of the ISBs, issued during 2015-19, has been settled to date. This amounted to USD 500mn. They expressed the view that it is not possible to sustain the argument that servicing ISBs, incurred during 2015-19 ,led to the standstill in debt repayments in April 2023.
Treasury bond scams and tax cuts
Sweeping tax concessions to the rich and reduction of VAT, that had been introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to encourage business in 2019/2020, escalated the financial crisis, leading to the declaration of the state of bankruptcy, two years later. No one in the Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s cabinet dared to challenge such far reaching tax concessions and VAT reduction.
How the loss of as much as Rs 600 bn in revenue, as alleged by the Opposition ,due to tax concessions and reduction of VAT, contributed to the current crisis, should be examined, also taking into consideration (1) Treasury bond scams perpetrated in Feb, 2015 and March 2016 at a time the CBSL has been under the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs (2) Enactment of new Foreign Exchange Act in 2017 in the wake of Treasury bond scams. Critics say the repealing of time-tested exchange control law that has been in place for decades paved the way for exporters to ‘park’ export proceeds overseas. Of the 225 MPs, 94 voted for the new law whereas 18 voted against. In spite of Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, taking up this issue, both in and outside Parliament, remedial measures hasn’t been taken, to date. The Finance Ministry owed an explanation as to how it intended to compel the exporters to bring back export proceeds (3) Continuing public-private sector partnership in corrupt practices, particularly mis-invoicing (under invoicing and over invoicing of imports/exports) (4) Pivithuru Hela Urumaya leader Udaya Gammanpila, MP, has moved the Supreme Court against the Central Bank Bill. The Attorney-at-Law alleged that the new law violated Article 3 and 4 of the Constitution hence needing the approval of the people at a referendum. In addition to Gammanpila, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera and Jathika Nidahas Peramuna leader Wimal Weerawansa, too, moved the Supreme Court in terms of the Article 121 against the Bill titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka.’ Former JVP MP Wasantha Samarasinghe, on behalf of the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB), too, moved the Supreme Court in this regard.
A warning from Hanke
The country is in a bind. In spite of the execution of the agreement with the IMF later this month, the situation remains dicey. The absence of economic recovery plan continues to cause further instability.
Therefore, the government and the Opposition should seek a consensus on a national action plan, even if Local Government polls cannot be conducted in late April, regardless of the Supreme Court intervention.
Steve Hanke, Professor of Applied Economics, at Johns Hopkins University, in the USA, recently issued a dire warning to Sri Lanka. Appearing on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box Asia,’ Prof. Hanke declared Sri Lanka needs institutional reforms in order to achieve long-term debt sustainability.
Referring to Sri Lanka and what was described as emerging markets (Argentina and Montenegro), where he played a key role in establishing new currency regime, former economic advisor to US President Ronald Reagan warned “Unless you change the institutions and the rules of the game, governing these countries, they’re always going to remain in the same … situation that they’ve been in for a long time.”
Prof. Hanke added: “In fact, most of the personalities, involved in Sri Lanka ,at the high level, are exactly the same as they’ve been for years. So nothing has changed.”
In other words, those who have ruined Sri Lanka are spearheading the economic recovery process. The American is spot on. Sri Lanka is in a pathetic situation. Those who had systematically brought Sri Lanka to its knees, by pursuing ill-fated policies, emerged as its saviours. That is the bitter truth. The role of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, needs to be examined. Those who have moved the Supreme Court against the Bill, titled ‘Central Bank of Sri Lanka,’ have quite conveniently forgotten how the Yahapalana government, and Central Bank, twice perpetrated Treasury bond scams. What would have Prof. Hanke said if CNBC raised Treasury bonds scams during ‘Squawk Box Asia.’
If not for Deepa Seneviratne, the then head of Public Debt Department, Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s role couldn’t have been proved. Former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe said so at an event organized by the Colombo Municipal Council years ago.
Sri Lanka cannot forget Prof. Hanke’s remark in the CNBC programme. “You have to remember that we have a country that since 1965 has had 16 IMF programmes and they’ve all failed. You get temporary relief in anticipation of a bailout. But in the long run … none of these IMF programmes work.”
It would be pertinent to briefly examine how interested parties brazenly protected perpetrators of the Treasury bond scams.
Having named Mahendran as the Governor, regardless of the opposition from President Maithripala Sirisena, those planning to commit the first daylight robbery of the Central Bank moved Deepa Seneviratne to the Public Debt Department as its head, in spite of her not having had any previous experience in the particular division. It seems they had obviously felt comfortable in having a lady officer there they thought they could manipulate her to suit their need. But Seneviratne turned tables on the bond thieves by putting up a note to register her strong opposition to Mahendran’s move. She should have been rewarded for her fearless stand with at least a national honour if not an international one, even from bodies like the UN, the Transparency International, Amnesty International, etc. But it seems that even these international busy bodies have their own political angles.
It would be of pivotal importance to keep in mind that President Sirisena appointed a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) in January 2017, about 10 months after the second robbery, and two years after the first.
The Commission comprised Justice K.T. Chitrasiri, the late Justice P S Jayawardena and retired Deputy Auditor General V. Kandasamy. Sumathipala Udugamsuriya functioned as its Secretary. CoI issued a devastating report that implicated Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) in the Treasury bond scams.
President Sirisena went to the extent of dissolving Parliament, in June 2015, to prevent the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) tabling its report on the first bond scam. SLFP leader Sirisena owes an explanation. Justice Chitrasiri’s CoI didn’t inquire into that aspect. Sri Lanka’s response to waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement is baffling. Let me end this piece reminding how the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) secured a substantial sponsorship from Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) deeply mired in a bond scam, in 2016, for the Law Asia Conference during the tenure of its then President Geoffrey Alagaratnam, PC. The BASL never explained why it obtained PTL sponsorship even after the exposure of Treasury bond scams. That partnership also escaped the CoI. The rest is history.
Knowing what is now happening to the US economy with a string of bank failures and unprecedented bailouts, especially due to hoodoo economics it introduced in recent decades, like repeated quantitative easing (blindly printing trillions of dollars leading many to say the dollar is now only good as toilet paper) that has been practiced to ensure its world hegemony, the whole world might be hit with bank failures and even by a depression worse than the one that befell with the stock market crash of 1929. Already the contagion has spread to Europe with some leading banks there also requiring help.
Washington’s debt now stands at USD 31 trillion and climbing, but our own debt burden is still under USD 55 billion. So if we can get our exporters, who have stashed export earnings abroad, to bring them back, the picture here will not be as scary as it is made out to be. Even Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse has said that our export proceeds that have been parked overseas is in the region of USD 55 billion.
Soonwe will start receiving the IMF bailout, but our economic whiz kids have not done anything to plug the massive foreign exchange leak that has been freely draining foreign currency from the country, since the nineties, by way of private foreign exchange dealers who have been allowed to sell foreign exchange to any Tom, Dick and Harry, including drug dealers, to take their sales proceeds out of the country!
We would also like to ask the relevant authorities what they have done to recover monies stashed abroad by Lankans illegally that were exposed in great detail by the likes of Panama Papers and Pandora Papers.
A Miscellany of Thought
N. A. de S. Amaratunga (2022)
A Review by G. H. Peiris
I cannot claim to have the scholarly competence to place under critical scrutiny all items in this collection of writings authored by Professor N. A. de S. Amaratunga, and published in The Island from time to time since the early years of the present century. Accordingly, this ‘review’ is no more than an attempt to convey to a wide readership my gratitude for what I have learnt from Professor Amaratunga’s insights on a series of metaphysical and secular issues that have figured prominently during the recent past in the arena of debate and discussion among our intellectual elite, my appreciation of his rational perceptions and his subtle banter in responding to bizarre elements in our public affairs.
As a brief introduction to the author I should state that Professor Amaratunga’s career record is featured by several decades of distinguished and dedicated service to the University of Peradeniya in teaching, research and clinical work. Acquiring advanced skills in the field of ‘Maxillofacial Surgery’, he has provided physical and psychological relief of life-long impact to thousands of patients. He is also credited to have trained several of his junior colleagues in the Faculty of Dental Science, had has served as its Dean. The offer he received from the Peradeniya University of the Prestigious Award of the ‘Degree of Doctor of Science’ is testimony to his eminence in Sri Lanka’s community of scholars and professionals.
What probably enhances Professor Amaratunga’s status among the intellectual elite of Sri Lanka is the fact that his talents, interests, and concerns have not been confined to professional expertise. He has authored several creative writings in Sinhala which the cognoscenti place at par with the best works of that genre. More relevant than all else to the present ‘commentary’ is his capacity for elucidating the essence of certain complex metaphysical issues – especially those of Buddhist philosophy ‒ with the same clarity of thought seen in his contributions to media forums on current affairs.
In his ‘Introduction’ to the volume Professor Amaratunga makes a categorical statement regarding the paradigmatic guidelines of his ‘thoughts’. They are rendered below in abridged form as follows:
(a) The distinctive elements of our island civilisation are derived from Theravada Buddhism and the Sinhala language.
(b) The leadership of Sri Lanka’s mainstream politics since the termination of British rule in the mid-20th century has continued to be impaired by a cultural duality – on one side of the divide, the ‘alienated’ whose behavioural values and norms bear the imprint of subservience to values prescribed by the ‘West’, and, on the other side, those who treasure our civilisational heritage and understand the needs and aspirations of the majority of our people.
(c) His standpoint is that of an ardent ‘nationalist’, in the sense that he is unequivocally committed to safeguarding and promoting Sri Lanka’s national interests.
On literature, Professor Amaratunga adds that he is inclined towards the need for ‘social relevance’ of the fine arts, and believes that the paradigm of ars gratia artis (‘art for art’s sake’) is inappropriate for Sri Lanka, especially in creative writing.
The ‘miscellany’ of this volume is structured to constitute four ‘Sections’ – titled as: 1. ‘Literature and Culture’; 2. ‘Religion’; 3. ‘Economy’; and 4. ‘Health’. The first two of these ‘Sections’, consist respectively of 25 and 19 essays of unequal length. In these ‘Sections’ the reader could pick out from different points of the temporal sequence in which they are arranged items that constitute a mutually cohesive group from the viewpoint of content. For example, in the first ‘Section’, there are six such items, each serving as a contribution to an ongoing media debate, but when considered as a group would be seen as an invaluable enrichment of understanding on a significant feature of the educational system of the country – such as, say, the impact of the nation-wide ‘Fifth-standard Scholarship Examination’ or ‘The general decline of standards in higher education’. Likewise, in the total of 18 articles in ‘Section’ 2, thirteen items could be considered as a mutually cohesive group of thoughts that illuminates certain vitally significant aspect of Buddha Dhamma and Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka.
The forgoing observations do not detract from the intrinsic value of the short contributions referred to. Indeed, in my amateur assessment, in Section 1, the items titled ‘Quality of University Education’, ‘Purpose of the Novel and its Appraisal’, and the twin items titled ‘Darwinian Evolution vs. Intelligent Design’; and in Section 2, ‘Truth in Buddhism and Realism in Literature’, and ‘Mind, Matter and Nirvana in Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism’, are examples of the author’s extraordinary depth of understanding and his skill of disseminating that knowledge in a lucid form.
It is in the 3rd Section of the volume titled ‘Politics’ that the real ‘miscellany’ of Thought is found, consisting of 78 items, and accounting for well over half the total page-length of the volume. Since they have been presented in a chronological order ‒ with the first item published in 2001, and the last in 2021‒ the list of items, at first glance, looks like a total mess which, indeed, is how our politics look. But a closer scrutiny show that all items in this list could be placed in one or another of 6 ‘Sub-Sections’ titled as ‘Ethnic Relations’, ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Electoral Politics’, ‘Development Plans and Projects’, and ‘Constitutional Issues’, with the chronology of the list providing the vicissitudinous background of each contribution which Professor Amaratunga has made, and each discussion or debate in which he has participated.
Once again I should emphasise that foregoing observation does not imply that the ‘Thoughts’ in this section, read individually, are either uninteresting or irrelevant to our present concerns. On the contrary they offer ideal readings both as reminders of the volatile scenarios we have passed though during the past two decades as well as the unshakable faith our politicians appear to have on the widespread dementia among the voter-population and on their own ability to hoodwink the electorate. Professor Amaratunga’s thoughts could re-kindle fading memories, especially on repeated failures to fulfil campaign pledges, the large-scale losses due to financial malpractices, the allegations of ‘war-crimes’ and of ‘violation of human rights’ in the counter-attack by the major powers of the North Atlantic alliance in retaliation to Sri Lanka’s close relations with the People’s Republic of China, the ingredients of success in the US-sponsored ‘regime change’ effort culminating in the establishment in 2015 of a puppet government in Colombo, the betrayal of our national interests by our own self-seeking representatives at the protracted Geneva inquisitions, the constitutional fiasco of August 2018, the euphoric Gotabhaya victory about a year thereafter, and then, the stunning exposure by the pandemic of the fundamental weakness of our dependent economy.
In the 4th Section of the volume titled ‘Health’, most of the items are devoted to diverse experiences witnessed globally and in Sri Lanka during the Covid-19 pandemic, but in an unconventional manner in the sense that they emphasise significant aspects that have not received adequate attention in the analytical writings on the pandemic. In my view the most significant issue highlighted in this section is the need for Sri Lanka to adopt development strategies towards self-reliance, especially in the availability of medicinal drugs and on food-security. Implicit in several items of this section is a forewarning of the risks entailed in the pursuit of development policies that enhance Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic dependence on the major global and regional powers.
Many items in this miscellany of thoughts contain a prominent element of dissent and disagreement with other participants in the media debates and discussion for which The Island has served as a major forum. But that dissent has all along been featured by a laudable sense of “civilised intelligence”. As a professional whose skills have an intense demand, his interests and concerns have not remained confined to his professional expertise – a feature often seen among other ‘specialists’ including those of the university community.
This volume is, first of all, a demonstration of intense and well-informed concern on a wide range of issues of vital importance to Sri Lanka. Had that quality been more widespread it is unlikely that those earning six-figure incomes would threaten collective action to bring the economy to a standstill to express their dissatisfaction on a relatively marginal erosion of monthly emoluments at a time of unprecedented national crisis, attempting to conceal their avarice with a façade of safeguarding democracy, or eliminating public corruption, or on grounds of their capacity to earn higher incomes outside Sri Lanka.
Yet another exemplary feature I discern in this ‘Miscellany of Thoughts’ is that its contents are not angry knee-jerk reactions when provoked by thoughts different to his own. Professor Amaratunga’s dissent is entirely free of the crude clashes often seen in the so-called social media. Nor are his thoughts based on a hurried consumption of internet ‘short-eats’. In his thoughts that extend beyond brief corrective interjections of ‘common sense’, what we see is an extraordinary depth of knowledge acquired through serious reading and a thorough understanding of the issues on which he had focused.
Loneliness of the Bottom Half
By Lynn Ockersz
There you crouch by your hearth,
Seeing your fires sputtering out;
Your hopes of a bubbly pot of rice,
Ending in inflationary smoke spirals,
Leaving you with the painful thought,
That your dignity as mother and wife,
Is gravely harmed and beyond repair,
For, a turn of events not of your making,
Has reduced you and yours to penury,
So much for that Trickle-down Theory,
That Pundits say will end your misery,
But they tell you not to stop dreaming,
Because soon you will be bailed out,
Of your State of longsuffering;
Thanks to Princely tips from ancient Italy.
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