by C.A. Chandraprema
The draft of the 20th Amendment has now been Gazetted. Formulating a completely new constitution instead of making interim amendments to the existing one, is undoubtedly what most prefer. However, there are one or two constitutional issues which cannot wait until a new constitution is drafted and have to be attended to immediately. The first such issue pertains to a matter that has gained very little public attention but was exclusively highlighted in this column in July this year. This has to do with the composition of the all-important Constitutional Council which has the final say in making appointments to high state positions such as that of the Attorney General and Judges of the Supreme Court and independent commissions such as the Elections Commission and the Public Services Commission.
The Constitutional Councils appointed in 2015 and 2018 were aberrations because the yahapalana government made up of the UNP and the SLFP and the yahapalana opposition made up of the TNA and the JVP shared all the positions on the Constitutional Council among themselves. The CC established in 2018 is set to continue till October 2021. If this issue is not addressed immediately, the defeated yahapalana opposition will have complete and total control over the process of making appointments to important state positions and independent commissions until October 2021.
According to the 19th Amendment, the Constitutional Council is made up of the Speaker (Chairman) the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, one Member of Parliament appointed by the President, five persons appointed on the nomination of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition of whom two persons shall be Members of Parliament, and one Member of Parliament nominated by agreement of the majority of the Members of Parliament belonging to political parties, other than the respective political parties to which the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition belong.
Yahapalana Constitutional Council
Accordingly, the present Constitutional Council is composed of the following persons. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardana (Chairman), Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, President’s nominee Mahindananda Aluthgamage, nominees of the PM and the Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan, Thalatha Atukorale, Naganathan Selvakumaran and Javed Yusuf. Two seats are vacant. Bimal Ratnayake who represented the smaller political parties in Parliament was defeated at the Parliamentary election and has not been replaced, and Jayantha Dhanapala who resigned from the CC has not been replaced. If we assume for the moment that the two vacancies will not be filled, we see that of the remaining eight members, no less than five are yahapalanites and only the Speaker, the PM and the President’s nominee represent the ruling SLPP led coalition.
R. Sampanthan, Thalatha Atukorale, Naganathan Selvakumaran and Javed Yusuf are on the CC by virtue of the fact that they were appointed in 2018 by the yahapalana government and yahapalana opposition working in collusion. Sampanthan was appointed to the Constitutional Council in April 2019 as a concession granted to him when Mahinda Rajapaksa became the Opposition Leader. Thalatha Athukorale was appointed to the CC earlier in 2018 as one of the five nominees who are appointed jointly by the PM and the Opposition Leader. Now that they have been re-elected to Parliament, they are serving out the remainder of their three year fixed term which they are entitled to under Article 41A(8) of the Constitution. The CC is not a Committee of Parliament but a body that stands outside it even though it is made up mostly of parliamentarians. Members of the Constitutional Council appointed in 2018 who have fixed terms continue to function even if Parliament is dissolved and a new Parliament is convened and the Members of Parliament who survive the election can serve out the remainder of their terms in the new parliament.
The nominee on the CC representing the President was Mahinda Samarasinghe. He too had a fixed three year term under Article 41A(8) and he has been re-elected to Parliament, but he has been replaced by Mahindananda Aluthgamage. The only way such a change can be made would be on the grounds that the President has changed so the individual representing the President on the CC also has to change. However no provision has been made in the Constitution to make such a change and one has to go by the wording of Article 41A(1)(d) which states that the CC has to have one Member of Parliament appointed by the President. By implication, such an appointee cannot be the person who was appointed by the former President.
But there’s no such luck when it comes to the five members of the CC appointed jointly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, two of whom should be MPs. All these appointees have fixed three year terms under Article 41A(8) and they cease to be members of the CC only if the member resigns or is removed from office on both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition forming an opinion that such member is physically or mentally incapacitated and is unable to function further in office or is convicted by a court of law or if he loses his civic rights. There is no provision for such an appointee to be removed from the CC when the PM and the Opposition Leader changes. Thus Thalatha Athukorale and Sampanthan continue to sit on the CC. The majority of MPs belonging to the smaller political parties in Parliament to which neither the PM nor the Leader of the Opposition belong are yahapalanites and if they nominate a replacement for Bimal Ratnayake, that nominee will be another yahapalanite.
The replacement for Jayantha Dahanapala, since it will have to be made jointly by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, may be a neutral person but it will not help to correct the imbalance in the CC. There will be just three SLPP members and one neutral person as against six yahapalanites. There is the danger that the yahapalanites on the CC will stuff the so called independent commissions full of yahapalanites as they did in 2015 and 2018, thus subverting the people’s mandate of 2019 and 2020. Under Article 41B (4), if the President does not appoint the members of the independent commissions recommended by the Constitutional Council within 14 days, they will be deemed to have been appointed automatically at the end of that period. It takes little imagination to see the immediate danger posed by these provisions.
The Elections Commission will have to be reappointed in November this year, and it’s imperative that the present Constitutional Council be abolished by then. The 20th Amendment seeks to replace the present Constitutional Council with a five member Parliamentary Council made up of the Prime Minister, the Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, a nominee of the Prime Minister, who shall be a Member of Parliament, and a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition, who shall be a Member of Parliament.
The President’s defence responsibilities
Another situation that should not be allowed to persist until a new constitution is drafted is the question whether the President can hold the defence portfolio or not. The drafting of a new constitution may take at least a year given some of the contentious issues like electoral reform that will have to be negotiated. There is no express prohibition in the 19th Amendment on the President holding portfolios. The supposed prohibition is by implication. Before the 19th Amendment, there used to be Article 44(2) in the Constitution which stated that the President may assign to himself any subject or function and shall remain in charge of any subject or function not assigned to any Minister. That provision was dropped when the 19th Amendment repealed and replaced Chapter Eight of the Constitution. There was also a transitional provision in the form of Section 51 of the 19th Amendment Act which stated that Maithripala Sirisena, so long as he held office as President, may assign to himself the subjects and functions of Defence, Mahaweli Development and Environment.
The disappearance of old Article 44(2) and Section 51 of the 19th Amendment Act taken together are supposed to imply that the Presidents coming after Maithripala Sirisena cannot hold any portfolio – not even the defence portfolio. Yet as the Constitution stands even after the 19th Amendment, the President is the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive, Head of the Government and Head of the Cabinet of Ministers in a situation where Article 4(b) states that the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President. We see that Article 46 of the 1946 Constitution named certain ministries that had to be established such as the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs. Our present Constitution does not name any ministries that have to be established.
According to our Constitution, the executive is made up of the President and the Cabinet and the President appoints the secretaries to all ministries. So long as the President and Cabinet are of one mind, it may be possible to have a defence ministry run by its Secretary without a Gazetted Defence Minister as such. In such an instance, the defence secretary will be acting under the instructions of the President and the Cabinet. The only hitch will be when the defence minister is required by legislation to sign certain documents in his capacity as the minister of defence or the minister in charge of a certain function. But such areas can be assigned to the State Minister of Defence and theoretically, a patchwork arrangement of that sort can be continued until a new constitution is passed.
But it’s a moot question as to whether it is advisable to carry on in such a manner for an extended period of time especially with regard to a matter as important as defence. The SLPP won the presidential and parliamentary elections on a public security and law and order ticket. Minister of Education Prof. G.L.Peiris has been addressing public gatherings arguing for the immediate rectification of this situation which has cast doubts on the President’s ability to hold the defence portfolio. This together with the Constitutional Council issue highlighted earlier can be named as the two issues that cannot wait until a new Constitution is drafted and needs to be resolved as soon as possible. The draft 20th Amendment has sought to resolve the defence ministry issue by restoring the old (pre-19th Amendment) Article 44(2) which stated that the President may assign to himself any subject or function and shall remain in charge of any subject or function not assigned to any Minister.
Issues that can wait
In the medium to long term, the most dangerous aspect of the 19th Amendment is the total prohibition on the dissolution of Parliament until the lapse of four and a half years unless a resolution to that effect is passed by Parliament with a two thirds majority. Before the introduction of the 19th Amendment, the old Article 70(1) of the Constitution stated that the President could dissolve Parliament at his discretion, and the only restriction on this power was if the last parliamentary election had been held as a consequence of the President having dissolved Parliament at his discretion, he could not dissolve the next Parliament until the lapse of one year from the date of that Parliamentary election. Moreover, under the old Article 70(1), Parliament could dissolve itself by a resolution passed by a simple majority and if the government cannot get the budget passed after two attempts, the President was mandatorily required to dissolve parliament.
But now, we have a Parliament that cannot be dissolved for four and a half years regardless of anything that may happen within Parliament, even if the government suffers repeated defeats at no confidence motions, if their budgets or statements of government policy are repeatedly defeated, there is no provision to dissolve Parliament to hold fresh elections unless a motion is passed by a two thirds majority in Parliament requesting dissolution. This can lead to a paralysis of the entire government. However, since the present government has an overwhelming majority in Parliament, rectification of this issue can wait till the new constitution is drafted, but since the rectification of this needs only the simple measure of repealing the yahapalana Article 70(1) and restoring the old article 70(1), there is perhaps no harm in doing that through the interim amendment.
One of the provisions in the 19th Amendment that had a serious impact on the yahapalana government was the diarchy that it created by Article 43 which said that the President could at his discretion determine the number of Cabinet Ministers and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers, but was required to mandatorily consult the Prime Minister when appointing MPs to those ministerial positions. Thus the Prime Minister became the effective appointing authority of Ministers. Wimal Weerawansa described this as a situation where the President was wearing the shirt and the Prime Minister the trousers with neither of them having a full set of clothes!
For any political party other than the SLPP, this provision would have had serious consequences. But the SLPP will not have any issues so long as the Rajapaksa brothers hold those two positions. The recification of this issue could have waited till the new constitution was drafted, but the 20th Amendment seeks to rectify this by restoring the old Article 44(1) as it stood before the 19th Amendment – which will give the President the power to determine the number of Cabinet Ministers and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers and to appoint MPs to those positions after consulting the PM if he deems such consultation to be necessary.
There are other issues too that could have been put off till the new constitution is drafted, such as lifting the yahapalana ban on dual citizens contesting elections, and reducing the age limit for contesting presidential elections. Provision also has been made in the 20th Amendment to restore the urgent Bills procedure whereby if the Cabinet of Ministers certifies a Bill as urgent, the need to gazette the Bill 14 days before it is presented in Parliament can be dispensed with and the President can write to the Chief Justice, requesting a special determination of the Supreme Court as to whether the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution and the Supreme Court is required to deliver their determination within 24 hours or a period not exceeding three days as specified by the President.
One area where the new Article 122 differs from the old (pre-19th Amendment) Article 122 is the inclusion of a new sub-Article 122(3) which specifies that Bills to amend the Constitution cannot be deemed to be urgent Bills. Another significant change to be made by the 20th Amendment is the dropping of the limit of 30 cabinet ministers and 40 non-cabinet ministers and deputy ministers introduced by the 19th Amendment. We see from the foregoing that what the 20th Amendment aims at is restoring the status quo ante, as things stood before the 17th, 18th and 19th Amendments. Some of these obviously can wait until the new constitution is drafted, but the first two issues mentioned in this column obviously need immediate attention. Going by the public pronouncements of members of the Cabinet Sub-committee on constitutional reform, such as Prof. G.L.Peiris, they too have prioritized certain areas such as the defence ministry issue which has wide ramifications for public security, the urgent Bills issue, and the Constitutional Council issue.
On nation(s), nationalist(s) and nationalism(s)
by Malinda Seneviratne
Around 20 years ago, a young politician with nationalist pretensions made an interesting observation (in Sinhala), the gist of which is as follows: ‘There is no such thing as a “Sinhala Race” but people think there is — we should exploit the perception.”
Interestingly, he was at the time in a political party that was contesting an election on a Sinhala card, so to speak. Now if there’s nothing called ‘Sinhala Race’ then there cannot be subjective identification with that term. Why then should anyone who speaks Sinhala vote for such a party, is a question he may not have considered.
The party didn’t do well in that election, returning just one candidate to Parliament and this too on the national list courtesy of predetermined ratios. Perhaps some ‘Sinhalese’ did consider ‘race’ as a subjective identifier; some as in a tiny minority. Barely three years later, a shift from Sinhala to Buddhist in political rhetoric yielded far better results and yet the overall vote was just a fraction of the population that spoke Sinhala.
Perhaps Sinhala or Sinahla Race aren’t that important when it comes to elections. Perhaps other factors have more compelling weight in the calculations of a voter. Perhaps, as he said, there’s no such thing as a ‘Sinhala Race;’ one might argue, never mind that nothing in this country has been as vilified as Sinhala Nationalism, real or imagined, and never mind that the vilifiers play deaf and dumb over act and word from other communities (real or imagined) that would, in terms of equivalencing, qualify for the ‘nationalist’ tag and, let us not forget, again by virtue of similarity warrant similar vilification.
Twenty years ago, turning to a random page in a copy of the Majjima Nikaya, I came across the Payasi Rajaagna Sutra which gave an insight into this issue of identity. Here’s the gist:
The sutra is essentially a conversation between Kumara Kashyapa Thero and an argumentative merchant who took issue with the doctrine of the Buddha and expressed doubt by posing unanswerable questions such as the following: ‘what is nirvana like?’ By way of response, the Thero related an anecdote about a fire-worshipping Jatila.
This Jatila had an apprentice of sorts. One day the master had to go on a journey and he had instructed the boy to make sure that the fire would not go out. The boy was careless. The fire went out. The boy didn’t know how to make a fire. He split the firewood to tiny slivers, he searched among the ashes for the fire that had gone missing. The Jatila, returning after a couple of days, duly reprimanded the disciple and lit the fire.
And so, the Thero expounded: just as he who does not know how to make fire will not make fire, those who without wisdom look for nirvana will not find it.
The application: he/she who looks for race without knowing what it is or rather what it is constituted of or is not empowered with techniques of identification, will not find it. My comment from 20 years ago went on the following lines: it is a good thing that identification is hard for if that was not the case that which was looked for would be destroyed or purchased.
And so, for reasons of political convenience Sinhalaness (or for that matter Tamilness or any other ‘ness’) misidentified is observed in the persona of the enemy of the moment. That enemy, admittedly, might even wear the identity-garb, sometimes with conviction that the cloth covers the real thing but more typically because it is also convenient. And so we have battles among the convenient for reasons of convenience.
Identity is an interesting thing. Prof Arjuna Parakrama, speaking on the subject at a Commonwealth Literature confab in Peradeniya University around 16-17 years ago, told the story of a ‘Sinhala’ individual somewhere in the North Central Province (if memory serves right) who, when asked who he was, had lots to say with ‘Sinhalese’ or ‘Sinhala-speaking’ either not being mentioned or mentioned as one among many self-identifiers. Parakrama was asked how he, Parakrama, would identify himself. His response was ‘good question.’ He did not answer.
And yet, nationalism is an often used word. Nationalists there are. Of all kinds. Rata, jathiya and aagama (nation, race and religion) are easy words that are used frequently in power politics. They are ferociously affirmed and equally ferociously vilified. It’s like a set of clowns or thugs averse to acknowledging silliness and belligerence respectively and therefore talk about the clothes they and their political others wear.
Of course the self-labeled nationalists (of all hues) are in-your-face visible. The more extreme the position or the more intractable in terms of political project(s) the more visible they are. And that’s where one finds the nationalist discourse. The label-wearers are the stars/villains. The parties they identify with have star/villain value. Whether their amalgam constitutes THE NATION is of course a moot point. They are part of it, obviously. They do shape/disfigure the political edifice. What they do and do not do, what they say and do not say, have a bearing on nation, nationalists, nationalism that have little truck with them.
It’s easy. Too easy, even. Profitable though in many ways for many people. Somewhere where those lacking wisdom cannot see nation, somewhere outside of the universe they traverse in nation-garb, there is probably a nation and a people who identify with it in ways that don’t make it to even the footnotes of the nationalist discourse.
That’s a good thing, for after all the shouting is done, the buildings brought down and upon those ruins other mansions or hovels (as the case may be), the blood letting is done and the wounds dressed, foundation and heart will remain. That’s how civilizations survive and reincarnate themselves.
Meanwhile, however, politics we will have. The young politician mentioned at the beginning still spouts nationalism. Less frequently of course and without any chest-beating whatsoever. He has reinvented himself several times and is quite conversant in the doctrine of strange bedfellows. He’s not done too badly, all things considered. He’s not done with nation, though. It is a convenience, after all, and a useful political tool.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]
Sinharaja – The island’s priceless treasure
THE WORLD HERITAGE SITES OF SRI LANKA
For both foreign and local tourists Sinharaja Forest is certainly not a hot spot like Yala or Wilpattu. It elicits neither excitement nor thrills. Traveling inside requires no jeeps nor four wheel drive SUVs – just your two legs! Yet adventure is there. In plenty. To be experienced, by seeing, listening and feeling as Nature embraces you in its sound of silence. Sinharaja may it be emphasized, is the most valuable and unique environmental treasure in Sri Lanka. Located in the South- Western part of Sri Lanka it is the island’s last viable area of primary rainforest.
So, what is a rain forest? It is a forest which consists of tall, mostly evergreen trees, on which there is a very high amount of rainfall. These forests are earth’s oldest living ecosystems, with some surviving in their present form for at least 70 million years. According to experts it is likely that Sinharaja was formed during the Jurassic era. This means that Sinharaja is between 145 million to 200 million years old. Hence its uniqueness. Hence its value. To put this incredible fact in its proper perspective geologists have claimed that most of Sri Lanka’s surface lies in the Precambrian strata some of it dating back to 2 billion years. It belongs to the earliest part of Earth’s history.
According to folklore ‘Sinharaja’ derived its name from the lion king that dwelt in and protected this rain forest. It will interest readers to know that the three largest rainforests in the world are the Amazon in South America (also called ‘Amazonia’) which is 2,482,636 sq. miles in extent; next is the Congo rainforest . in Africa which is 1,108,113 sq miles. (Those who are literary minded may recollect that Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was centered on this forest through which runs the Congo river; then there is the Valdivan rain forest on the West coast of South America bordering Chile and Argentina. It is 95,753 sq miles.
Just for comparison of their vastness and extent, Sri Lanka is 25,332 sq. miles in extent. So the Amazonia is 98 times the size of Sri Lanka! Sinharaja is 3,422 sq. miles in extent. But its smaller size compared to the largest rain forests just mentioned in no way detracts from its unique endemic fauna and flora. It makes Sinharaja truly incomparable. Sinharaja borders on three districts – Galle, Matara and Ratnapura. Its elevation ranges from 300 to 1,170 meters. The average annual rainfall over the past 60 years has ranged between 3,614 mm to 5,005 mm which is attributed to the South West Monsoon ( May to July ) and the North East Monsoon ( November to January ).
There are three points from which one could enter Sinharaja. One is from Kudawa which is the most frequently used. It is from Colombo to Kalawana to Kudawa. Next is the Pitadeniya entrance. From Colombo to Galle/Matara to Deniyaya to Pitadeniya. The third and least used, is from Colombo to Galle/Matara to Morning Side Estate in Suriyakanda. Whichever way one desires to go it is always advisable to get a licensed tracker. Otherwise there is a danger of getting lost and more importantly a tracker who can unfold the wonders within. Hiking is the only way to go..
And now let’s get inside this marvelous, mystical, mysterious, forest.
Inside Sinharaja, because of the green canopy of trees, through which only about 5 % to 15 % of sunshine falls through, it is dark, eerie and foreboding. And yet it is fascinating. You will be, as Thomas Gray said ‘ far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,’ hearing only the orchestra of the forest – the chirping of birds, the chirruping of insects, the occasional ‘coot, coot’ of monkeys and the soft tread of your own feet, as you walk through this cathedral like sanctuary of trees.
Many of the trees reach a height of around 40 meters ( 131 feet ). More than 60 % of these trees are endemic and what is more, many are rare species. Some of the trees, the timber of which is used in house building, are ‘Hora,’ ‘ Bu Hora’ and ‘ Balau’ which is a type of Mahogany. The vegetation density is around 240,00 plants per hectare ( 11,960 sq. yards ) which makes Sinharaja the most dense rainforest in Asia.
The wild life is exotic and enchanting. However unlike in Yala the wild life is not easily seen. The thick dense vegetation hides many of Sinharaja’s mysteries. It has been claimed that there may be a few elephants and leopards but the most common large mammal is the purple faced langur which is endemic. Langurs are long tailed monkeys which have a characteristic loud call. Some have described this species as ‘old world’ monkeys found mainly in India. There can also be found the Brown Mongoose, the Golden Palm Civet, the Small Flying Squirrel and with plenty of luck one may sight the Red Slender Loris, which sleeps by day and ever so stealthily is active at night.
The bird life is varied and colorful. There have been 147 species of birds recorded, whose habitat is within Sinharaja. Of the 26 endemic birds 20 can be found in Sinharaja. Amongst the birds are, the Red Faced Malkoka; the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie’; the Ashy Headed Babbler whose head is grey while its body is ochre/brown, its leg are pinkish while the beak is grey above and pink below; the White Headed Starling with its white head and breast and yellow legs and beak; the Sri Lanka Spotwing Thrush which is light brown in colour with white spots on its body and has a black beak; the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon which is similar to a dove since both species belong to the same family, (columbidae); the Dusky Blue Fly Catcher which is blue grey in colour with a bright blue forehead. It darts from branch to branch catching tiny insects while in flight. And the Green Billed Coucal which is a type of cuckoo with black plumage and a greenish beak. It is supposed to be the rarest of Sri Lanka birds.
Butterflies of kaleidoscopic colors and sizes flit and flutter amongst the greenery. Here can be found the Sri Lanka Tree Nymph, with a wing span of 15.5 centimeters or 6. 1 inches it is the largest butterfly in the country. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Blue Banded Peacock whose iridescence is unmatched by any other butterfly. The rarest of butterflies is the Sri Lanka Five Bar Swordtail which makes its timid appearance from January to end March.
Reptiles are ever present. The very venomous cobra. The equally venomous Russel’s viper and its cousins, the green pit viper and hump nosed viper. There is also the equally poisonous, krait. Living in peaceful co-existence is the quite docile but frightful to see, the rat snake ( ‘Garendiya’), not to be confused with the poisonous rattle snake, which is not found in Sri Lanka. Finally the very largest and longest of all snakes in
Sri Lanka. It is around 23 feet long weighs about 200 pounds and has a girth as large as a telephone pole. It’s the python. It is non-poisonous. But with its sharp backward forming teeth it grasps a prey – anything from rodents to monkeys to deer, wraps several coils around it and constricts it to death prior to swallowing it.
Hence the reason why this species is also called boa-constrictors After a very delicious meal (from the python’s point of view) it coils itself and lies in deep slumber. There are also the scary, but harmless tree frogs which will spring on to you as you move through the heavy undergrowth. Within the damp surface leeches abound. Hence it’s best to wear slacks with the bottom tucked into knee high socks and the shoes liberally doused in salt water. Leeches can bleed you until you faint from blood loss.
There are eight waterfalls cascading down the rocky slopes near the Pitadeniya entrance. One in particular called the Duwili Falls because its three step downward cascade is like a dusty spray, has two large bathing spots at the bottom of the falls. The water is chillingly cold. But if you are brave enough to take a dip you will after the initial shiver find it most invigorating. There are three sparkling, gurgling, streams of cool, clear water which criss-cross through this forest. These streams wind their way and lead on to the North to the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga. In the South and South West to the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga. To the West the Kalukandawe Ela and Kudawa Ganga.
In 1978 Sinharaja was declared by the UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and in 1988 was declared as a World Heritage Site.
We now need to turn to a threat – deforestation. It is one of the most serious issues facing our motherland. In the 1920s the forest coverage was 49%. By 2021 it had dropped to just 17%! and alas! Sinharaja, this million year old ecosystem of a treasure gifted by Nature to Sri Lanka did become a victim of partial deforestation. It happened during the 1970 – 1977 tenure of Srimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. Whether it was her own decision, a Cabinet decision or a Minister’s decision, only history can reveal. But yes, by the early 1970s selective logging had commenced. Canadian contractors had with the full authority of the Government entered the forest reserve and begun felling. A 12 meter roadway was cut and trucks, bulldozers and back hoes moved freely carrying the felled trees. The purpose was to feed a massive plywood factory in Salawa, Kosgoda.
There is a saying ‘ Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’. That man was Thilo Hoffman. During the time of this near calamity to Sinharaja he was Managing Director of A. Baur & Company. He was also President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS ). He did not wear the mantle of the latter position lightly. He was an active, dedicated and professionally qualified (holding a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science) protector and conservator of wildlife.
On being informed about the deforestation of Sinharaja, the WNPS headed by Hoffman initiated a fact finding mission. Hoffmann the indefatigable worker, traversed the length and breadth of Sinharaja and published a report explaining in detail the magnitude of the destruction of fauna and flora in Sinharaja. The WNPS published a booklet written by Hoffmann and freely circulated the English and Sinhala translations. This created a major public outcry against the further damage to Sinharaja. The Government could not ignore the issue, and was compelled to take notice.
A Ministerial Sub- Committee headed by George Rajapakse was appointed. Apparently the plywood was for the manufacture of tea chests. In 1977 Srimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government was defeated getting a mere six seats in Parliament. It was at that election that J.R.Jayewardene’s UNP won a landslide victory. Thilo Hoffmann met the new Prime Minister who, it may be recalled, became President one year later, and explained the gravity of the situation in Sinharaja. Jayewardene immediately banned any further logging. Perhaps at this point it is most relevant to request the Governmental Authorities to have some sort of memorial built out of stone at the entrance to Sinharaja, mentioning the name of Thilo Hoffmann – The Saviour of Sinharaja. May he be remembered for generations to come.
There is presently a controversy that a hotel is about to be built within Sinharaja. However in a statement reported in the press on April 8, 2021 the Dept. of Forest Conservation has completely refuted this allegation. The hotel is being built five km away from UNESCO’s World Heritage Site demarcation of the boundary of Sinharaja. It is on a private land adjacent to the Pothupitiya – Rakwana road.
But Sinharaja is too tempting to be allowed to continue its millions of years old existence. Either through colossal ignorance or supreme indifference there will threats to ravish Sinharaja. We know. We are confident. President Gotabaya Rajapakse would never permit this. After all was it not he, who as the one time Secretary Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Authority, pursue the Colombo Beautification Project? Remember how the old Grand Stand at the Race Course was transformed? How the International Rugger Grounds opposite it was created? How the Walking/ Running/ Cycling tracks near Independence Hall were made? His love for our motherland is deep seated and genuine. He saved Sri Lanka once from the cruel clutches of the LTTE. Yes, Sinharaja – this incredible treasure trove of biodiversity will be safe in his care.
The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves
The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come. In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.
by Malinda Seneviratne
The United Kingdom, it is reported, has rejected Sri Lanka’s request for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka had made the request during the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva a few weeks ago.
The dispatches from the then British Defence Advisor, Lt Col Anthony Gash were never referred to in any of the many ‘studies’ on Sri Lanka’s bloody struggle against terrorism. Indeed no one would have known of them or what they contained if not for Lord Naseby invoking the UK’s right to information laws to obtain them.
Gash’s dispatches clearly prove that there were no war crimes committed by Sri Lankan security forces, certainly not the kind that the terrorist lobby (strangely or perhaps not so strangely bed-fellowing with rogue states such as the UK and USA) and indeed these bed-fellows claim have been perpetrated.
British authorities pretended for years that there was no such information available. Now they can’t deny these dispatches exist. And therefore they’ve come up with an interesting disclaimer. The UK now faults Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Key word: ‘now.’ This was NOT the position originally taken by the FCO.
Alright, let’s take the CURRENT position at face value. Couldn’t the UK table the dispatches in all relevant forums with such caveats/disclaimers? That’s just one issue. There’s another. Yes, the business of ‘independent confirmation.’ What’s independent and what’s confirmation?
The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come.
In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.
It seems to me that the authorities in the UK don’t know whether they are coming or going. Well, maybe they do know that they are severely challenged in logic, in intellect, in moral standing etc., but believe that the world someone does not notice. A third possibility: they just don’t care.
The United Kingdom, with respect to the UNHRC resolution and all matters relevant to it, then, hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory, but what of that considering that shamelessness is the blood-stained batch on its coat of arms, so to speak?
Let’s humor them, though. There’s a lady called Sarah Hulton. Let’s assume she knows English. Let’s assume she has some skills in language comprehension. Let’s not assume she values truth, justice and being honorable for we shouldn’t kid ourselves too much. Nevertheless, we can ask some questions.What’s the value of hearsay? Do we discard ‘word’ and if so which words? If we pick some words and junk others, what criteria should we employ? The Darusman Report, for example, is ALL ABOUT HEARSAY. We have to assume that until we know who said what, for only then can we talk of reliability of source.
We have reports that toss out random numbers without a shred of substantiation. Is that OK, Ms Hulton? If Gash is unreliable, how can any report based on some other report that is based on hearsay be okay?
Let’s not kid ourselves. This is not about truth and reconciliation. The United Kingdom values lie over truth, injustice over justice, violation of all basic tenets of humanity over their protection, theft over property rights, plunder over protection. The British are yet to reconcile themselves regarding the many crimes against humanity they have perpetrated or, at least, benefited from. Seeking justice and truth from such people is silly. Seeking honor from the dishonorable is silly.
And yet, in Geneva and in other places where bucks and bombs count more than truth and justice, countries like the United Kingdom will prevail. For now. For now, we must add, for we know that nothing is permanent. For now, the reports of idiots and/or the politically compromised will be valued over those of impartial, dispassionate individuals such as Gash.
Let’s get this right. The British are not just bullies. They are cowards. Intellect is not their strong point or even if they are sophomoric at best, they are bullish enough to push aside the truth. It’s about ‘by any means necessary’ but obviously not in an emancipatory sense of that phrase, as used by Malcolm X. So when they talk of truth and justice, reconciliation and peace and other such lovely things, let’s keep in mind that it’s all balderdash. When they talk of ‘victims’ it is nonsense because without ‘wrongdoing’ that’s established, there can be no ‘victims’. Mr Hulton is not sleeping ladies and gentlemen. The United Kingdom is not sleeping. The Foreign and Commenwealth Office in that country is not sleeping. They are pretend-sleepers. They cannot be woken up.
One is reminded of a song from ‘My fair lady,’ the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’. Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? That’s the title of the song. When the English learn English — now that would be the day! Right now they speak some garbled language devoid of any logic or reason. It works for them.
Colonial-speak is a possible name for that language. It is an excellent communications device in all things antithetical to the high ideals, the furtherance of which was the reason for the establishment of the UNHRC. Indeed that has become the lingua franca of Geneva. The British know this French, pardon the irony! Ms Hulton knows it, as do her bosses in London as did their ancestors whose crimes against humanity are left out from the history books.
We are not talking of the past though. It’s the present. It’s ugly. As ugly as the past, only it’s come wearing other clothes. Nice ones. Not everyone is fooled though.
[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]
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