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DS pilots ship of state, unlucky 13 at Senate refreshment room on Mar. 20, 1952

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(Excerpted from the Memoirs of a Cabinet Secretary by BP Peiris)

It is time to get back to D.S. It was early 1950. The Prime Minister was firm that the de facto communist Government in China should be recognized. Some of his colleagues disagreed, but in the end gave way to the Prime Minister’s wish.

There then arose the controversy over the moving of a section of the Supreme Court out of Hultsdorp because of the congestion there. The Minister of Justice informed the Cabinet that he had consulted the Chief Justice, Sir John Howard, the General Council of Advocates and the Law Society. Only the Chief Justice had been helpful. The Minister had personally inspected many sites and had decided on a site at Bambalapitiya. A majority of the Judges of the Supreme Court were in favour of this site.

He had accordingly ordered that steps be taken for the acquisition of the land. Acquisition proceedings had, however, to be stopped when the General Council of Advocates and the Law Society made certain representations. The Council of Advocates had asked for an interview with the Prime Minister and, at this interview, had put forward a rebuilding scheme which the Public Works Department had described as an architectural monstrosity.

Apart from this, the scheme could not be carried out as the building operations would disturb the work of the courts. No alternative accommodation for the court building was available. As a compromise and a gesture of goodwill, he was prepared to retain in Hultsdorp the Assize Courts as well as the Election Courts in addition to the District Courts, and remove to the new site only the Supreme Court in its Appellate jurisdiction. In the end, the proposal was abandoned and the site used for the erection of flats to ease the housing problem.

In February 1950, Jayah, Minister of Labour and Social Services, left the Cabinet to take up the appointment as High Commissioner for Ceylon in Pakistan. He was succeeded by M. D. Banda.

There was much agitation at this time that education should be free, and the Cabinet was compelled to consider the problem and decide on the policy to be adopted. They came to several important decisions after many days of deliberation.

It was agreed that no tuition fees should be levied in Government Primary, Post Primary and Training Schools, in Government Vocational Schools, Training Colleges and in the University, In Primary Schools, the medium of instruction was directed to be the mother tongue, but English should be taught throughout the primary course as a second language. In Post Primary Classes of Sinhalese and Tamil Schools, as regards the medium of instruction, there was to be no change; but where it was not possible to teach certain necessary subjects through their existing medium, English might be used for these subjects.

In standards VI, VII, and VIII of English Schools, Sinhalese and Tamil, for pupils whose parents are Sinhalese speaking and Tamil speaking, should be introduced subject by subject, if necessary, as the media of instruction, in three successive years, as soon as the Government was satisfied that there was a sufficiency of teachers and books for carrying on the work adequately. Children were to be compelled to attend school from the age of five to 14, subject to exemption by the Minister in suitable cases after the age 12, and the exemptions were to be as few as possible.

Schools were divided into two grades – primary and secondary. Children assigned to post primary practical classes and those assigned to vocational schools were permitted to continue their academic education on payment of fees, if their parents wished, but were not provided for in the Government Schools. Scholarships and bursaries were to be provided in the University and other Government institutions for higher education.

The next important matter that the Government had to consider was the Report of Dr Cumpston on the Medical and Public Health Organization. Vital decisions were reached which gave rise to much agitation and controversy many years afterwards and had to be reconsidered by later Cabinets. One of the most controversial decisions was that all private practice by departmental doctors should cease and that all services given to the public by government salaried and pensionable doctors should be free.

This decision could not be implemented immediately. The Minister was therefore requested to formulate a scheme which would lead ultimately to the complete abolition of private practice for government doctors. At the date of writing, a half-hearted and unsatisfactory scheme of channeling a doctor’s practice is in force.

In August 1950, the Cabinet approved the National Flag. A Committee had been appointed to consider and report on this matter over which there were divergent views. Some sections did not approve of the predominance given to the Lion Flag. Hindus and Muslims wanted themselves represented in the flag In the end, to please all sections, different colours were added, as stripes alongside the Lion Flag to represent the different communities in the country.

In spite of the efforts of the Cost of Living Committee the cost of living was rising further, and the Government was compelled to increase the dearness allowance, and to subsidize rice to the extent of five cents a measure from December 1, 1950.

D.S., as I said before, was an amazing man. He was a hard worker and had no fixed hours of work. He forgot that the Government offices closed on Saturdays at 1 p.m. He did not know that a particular day was a Public Holiday. On such a day, he would arrive at his office to find it closed and would inquire, after getting back to Temple Trees, why the office was not open.

One incident, in which I was involved, is typical of the man. It was a Saturday, and I went to the Senate Refreshment Room for an aperitif. There were three others there – Senator Colonel T. Y. Wright, Senator Sarath Wijesinghe, my classmate at the Royal College, and my friend E. V. R. Samarawickreme, Clerk to the Senate.

I was making my way to another table when Col. Wright said, “Come and join us, young man”. I had a few drinks with my eye on the time. Even when one o’clock came along, I did not feel too easy because I knew that D.S. was working in his office. At a quarter past two (Saturday afternoon) we were still in the Senate when the Prime Minister’s peon walked in and said that I was wanted.

The Prime Minister had a problem and wanted my advice. In the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Order in Council, reference had been made to ‘British subject’. The Prime Minister desired to have this altered to ‘Ceylon citizen’ as regards the Election Order in Council, and wanted to know whether, if the amendment was made in that Order, a corresponding amendment would have to be made in the Constitution Order.

His purpose was to restrict the Indian estate labour vote. His difficulty was that an amendment of the Constitution required a two-thirds majority in parliament, and he had not the requisite majority. I answered “Yes, Sir” without reference to either of the two Orders in Council. He called for somebody’s opinion, which his secretary Atukorale brought in, and proceeded to read it out to me. The opinion was to the effect that the Elections Order could be amended without a corresponding amendment having to be made in the Constitution Order.

I said bluntly that the opinion was wrong. He said that I had given an opinion without reference to any books, and that what he had just read was the opinion of a King’s Counsel who had wanted a week’s time to give it.

I told him that, with all respect to the learned King’s Counsel, I was still of the view that the opinion was incorrect. He asked me for my reasons, and I said, still without reference to the Order in Council, that it was because of three words in section so and so in the Constitution Order (I remember using the words “umbilical cord”) which connected the two Orders, the significance of which the learned King’s Counsel had probably missed.

I also advised that if he was proceeding with the amendments, the Constitution amendment should be introduced first because it required a two-thirds majority to become law. “What do I do when you lawyers disagree?” asked the Prime Minister, and I replied that the question ought to be referred to the Law Officers of the Crown. Later, that was done; and the Law Officers agreed with me.

At that time however, the Prime Minister did not accept my advice. He introduced the amendment to the Elections Order first and got it through. He then introduced the amendment to the Constitution Order and failed to get the required majority. The result – the Elections Order today refers to ‘Ceylon citizen’ and the Constitution Order to ‘British subject’.

On another day, I went to the Senate Refreshment Room with Alexis Roberts to find a long lunch table laid for about 60 persons, and on inquiry, was told that it was the Judicial Officer’s lunch, that the Prime Minister was Chief Guest, and that he was due at 12.50 p.m. We drew two chairs and ordered drinks. The time was about 12 noon. The Judges were in conference upstairs. The Prime Minister had mistaken the time and arrived in the Refreshment Room at twelve-thirty.

There was no other guest present and we saw him approaching our table; he joined us and I introduced my friend. The Prime Minister inquired whether he was any relation of the late Dr Emmanuel Roberts, a general medical practitioner whose name is still respected and revered throughout the Island. When he heard that Alexis was the doctor’s youngest son, he was very happy because he had known the doctor well.

They talked of old times. We finished our drink but could not leave, as it would have been discourteous to leave the Prime Minister alone. I therefore asked him whether he could give me permission to order another drink (during office hours) and he said “Certainly, certainly, don’t mind me.” We took leave of him when we saw the Judges coming down the stairs to the lunch room and he thanked us for having kept him company all that time.

D.S. could be firm at times, but he was always polite. I once heard him tell a Permanent Secretary “If you can’t do your job, get out.” His telephone rang one day when I was doing some work with him and someone wanted to speak to one of his clerks, but, by a mistake, had dialed the Prime Minister’s direct number. Patiently, he put his work aside, turned up the directory and gave the caller the correct number. Can you imagine the Office Assistant to the Petrol Controller, referred to earlier, behaving in this dignified manner?

The Government had now to take some positive steps to deal with the problem of the rising cost of living. Several measures were considered. As a first step, it was decided to take over the control and distribution of essential foodstuffs like rice, flour and sugar. This was, I believe, the beginning of what later turned out to be virtual monopoly vested in the Co-operative Wholesale Establishment over the import and distribution of the Island’s principal essential commodities.

Came 1952. On February 6, I was attending a funeral at Kanatte when I heard someone, whom I did not know, say that the King was dead. The news had been announced from Radio Ceylon. The Prime Minister was a patient in the Merchant’s Ward of the General Hospital. I left the funeral and hurried back home as I knew that there would have to be an emergency meeting of the Cabinet. I called on the Prime Minister at the hospital and was directed to summon the Ministers to meet in his hospital room at nine o’clock the next morning.

There is no fixed place of meeting for the Cabinet. It has, apart from the Cabinet Room, met in the Prime Minister’s bedroom at Temple Trees, at Kandawela, at the Senate, in the Prime Minister’s room at the House of Representatives, and the Lodge at Nuwara Eliya.

Next morning, all the Ministers were present at the General Hospital. In attendance, there were Basnayake, Attorney-General, Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs, Sir Ivor Jennings, Vice-Chancellor of the University, and the Clerks to the Senate and the House of Representatives.

On behalf of his colleagues and on his own behalf, the Prime Minister placed on record their sense of the sad loss suffered by the death of His Majesty George VI. He had already dispatched a message of sympathy from the Government of Ceylon. The Cabinet recognized the succession to the Throne and agreed that the following Proclamation should be issued:

Whereas by the decease of our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth, the Crown is by our laws solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary; We, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Crown in Ceylon do now hereby, with one voice and consent of tongue and heart, publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now by the death of our late Sovereign of happy memory, become our Sovereign Queen by the name and style of Elizabeth the Second, to whom her lieges do acknowledge all faith and constant obedience with hearty and humble affection.

On previous occasions, the Proclamation acknowledging a new Sovereign had been signed by the Governor and ‘Other gentlemen of Quality’. On this occasion, it was decided that it should be signed only by the members of the Cabinet. The Governor-General, Lord Soulbury exercised his right to head the proclamation with his signature.

The Proclamation was read from the steps of the House of Representatives on February 8. In recording the minutes of the meeting held at the hospital, I marked the attendance of the lawyer Ministers as being Queen’s Counsel, instead of King’s Counsel which they were the previous day, and asked Sir Ivor whether I was correct. He said, “Yes. See the Demise of the Crown Act.”

March 20, 1952, was Mr D.S. Senanayake’s last Cabinet meeting. On that day, after the meeting, he entertained the Ministers and the Secretaries to lunch in the Senate Refreshment Room. Some Ministers were absent and I pointed out that 13 were sitting to table. I was sent out to bring somebody, some extra person, to make the number 14, but everyone I met appeared to have had his lunch. And so, 13 of us sat down to lunch. Minister Nugawela did not like it at all and said so.

Next morning, while on horseback, the Prime Minister fell off his horse although he was a good horseman. He had apparently had a stroke. He passed away the next day. Her Majesty the Queen was one of the first persons to send a message of sympathy.

Ceylon had lost the Father of the Nation. His wise leadership gave us peace and prosperity. There were no communal differences and controversies in his time. He had Muslims and Hindus in his Cabinet. He was not out for cheap notoriety. There was nothing mean or common in his nature, and his qualities of sincerity, good faith, and love of his native land have generally been accepted by the country. I have attempted to draw a vignette. Some future historian or research worker must give us his biography.

J. L. F.’ writing in the Ceylon Observer of March 23, 1952, said:

“Mr Senanayake was not merely a Prime Minister of a country: he was a leader of men. It was this quality both inborn and matured by experience which gave our country stability when he piloted the ship of state. His was not the leadership buttressed by bayonets and concentration camps in a country’s hinterland. The people followed him, and even his political critics admired him because he was known to be just. And a country of different communities, different religions and different castes needs at the helm someone whom they can all trust as a just man.”

Sir Alan Rose, Acting Governor-General, said:

“During my seven years in this country I have had the opportunity and happiness of seeing Mr Senanayake at very close quarters and from a variety of aspects. Quite apart from his many personal kindnesses, his inflexible courage, his power of mind and his breadth of outlook have combined to create an impression of greatness which I shall always remember.”



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What’s in a Suit? That which is substantive can be delivered in a Bush Shirt!

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Anura Kumara Dissanayake meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jaishankar in New Delhi. (File Photo)

by Rajan Philips

Never mind what Anura Kumara Dissanayake wore in Delhi. Never mind what Ranil Wickremesinghe wears daily. What the people want is not the word salads of sartorial politics by Sunday pundits, but the proffering of substantive politics by contenders for political office. As the pre-election dust takes its own time to settle, two figures are emerging as the primary contenders.

On the right, where he has always been, is Ranil Wickremesinghe. On the left, where he seems inspired to be, is Anura Kumara Dissanayake. If there was any chance of someone racing up the middle, that chance and the politics of that candidate are fast withering. The political house of Sajith Premadasa is a house divided according to insiders and outsiders. Mr. Premadasa will have to put his own house in order before he can be a serious contender for public office.

The impending contest between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be a very different one when compared to past presidential elections. First to be noted is the organizational disarray of the mainstream political parties and their electorally opportunistic alliances. The disarray is obvious and needs no elaboration.

It also explains why President Wickremesinghe, the nearly 50-year veteran of a 77 year old party, is still looking for a political launcher for his presidential candidacy. Officially, he will be a UNP candidate with the elephant symbol, but he is looking to be acclaimed as the candidate of a grand alliance. Media columnists are writing about such an alliance, but there are no signs yet of any alliance, let alone a grand one.

The support for President Wickremesinghe is mainly based on his successful stabilization of the economy from where his predecessor left and ran away. Those who are genuinely and perhaps exclusively concerned about the economy do think that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be elected as President to continue managing the economy. But this premise has at least two limitations.

A tentative candidate

One, while it is fair to give Mr. Wickremesinghe credit for what he has done, it would be a stretch to claim that what he has done is something miraculous and that he should contest and be elected President for a new term to continue performing economic miracles. The economy cannot be restored by magic or miracles, and no one should lose sight of the fact that the current stability is primarily due to the moratorium on debt payment. What happens when debt repayment is restarted?

The second limitation to the Wickremesinghe candidacy is that the support for Mr. Wickremesinghe is neither broad nor deep. Otherwise, he should be the one who is topping opinion polls and creating the buzz that Ranil is the man to beat. Mr. Wickremesinghe himself is quite coy about his candidacy. Either he is keeping everyone guessing, or he is guessing himself.

It may be that the President is looking for a broad appeal imploring him to contest the presidential election to keep saving the economy. Similar to the circumstance in which he acceded to the desperate request of Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a helping hand. But there is nothing like that happening now. No appeal by any credible alliance for Ranil to be a candidate. The whole tentativeness of the situation is a symptom of the disarray of the political establishment.

That brings me to the second unique aspect of the upcoming presidential election. That is the emergence of the JVP/NPP as real contender for winning power democratically, and whose unity of purpose and organizational discipline stand in stirring contrast to the opportunism and disarray of the mainstream parties. The JVP’s emergence as a viable contender is as much due to its own maturity as it is due to resonating objective conditions.

The aragalaya that drove Gota away may have turned the tide for the JVP. But it goes beyond that, and it shows the people’s real hunger for an alternative political leadership. And it shows that the people are not warming up to Ranil Wickremesinghe in spite of all the learned views about his capabilities as an economic manager.

AKD’s leadership

The consolidation of the JVP and the emergence of the NPP as its electoral front also owe a great deal to the seemingly collegial leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayake. He is unique in Sri Lankan politics as the one political leader who has filtered up through the social layers among the Sinhalese without being part of a mainstream political party – the UNP, the SLFP, and later the SLPP. The devolution of political leadership in Sri Lanka – i.e., the transitioning of political leadership from the decadent upper strata of society to the emerging generations – could be a study in itself.

The fact of the matter is that such a transitioning has not been as common in Sri Lanka as it has been in India. There is a long trace of leadership transitioning in India – from the rise of K. Kamaraj as Chief Minister of Madras State (now Tamil Nadu) in 1954, to the ascent of Narendra Modi first as Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the soon to be ‘threepeat’ Prime Minister of India. There is nothing common about their politics, but they represent the shifting of leadership from the upper echelons to the lower strata of India’s hugely stratified society. The example of President Premadasa could be cited as an exception, but it was an exception that could not become a trend.

The JVP and the LTTE interventions could be seen as violent and misplaced efforts to force a transitioning of leadership. Both efforts ended in failure, but the reality now is that even the traditional leadership formations have now imploded. There was a much touted recent transitioning in Tamil political leadership, but that seems to have got mired in legal battles in district courts.

The saving grace here is in the recourse to court battles instead of gun battles. There have been shifts in leadership among the Muslims and estate Tamils, but even the new organizations representing the two communities have become mere appendages to mainstream alliances. They too are suffering from the organizational disarray of their mainstream principals.

In this scheme of unfolding disarray, it is fair to acknowledge the leadership and organizational achievements of Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP and the NPP. This is not to say that they are going to win the upcoming elections and that they are going to provide a pathbreaking new government for Sri Lanka. Those proofs will come in whatever puddings they make.

For now, as a point of political observation, what AKD has done so far needs to be acknowledged. India seems to have done that, and it is irrelevant to the current argument why India may have chosen to do that. More to the point, there has been no Indian invitation yet, not even a hint of it, to the newly elected leader of the ITAK.

The gripe over AKD’s Indian visit is really a symptom of the uneasiness in political circles that are unable to come to grips with the disarray among the mainstream political parties and their alliances. Not to mention that for a host of good and bad reasons, the arrival of the JVP/NPP as a palpable parliamentary force is not palatable to many in the commentating business. It is again a symptom of the mainstream disarray that criticisms of JVP/NPP are emanating almost exclusively outside of parliament and from outside formal political organizations. Conversely, it is this vacuum that the JVP/NPP is filling up much to the irritation of its socio-genital opponents.

Their politics and ours

The task for Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP/NPP is to respond to the sartorial politics of their critics with substantive politics of their own. “Their Politics and Ours,” the title of an old pamphlet that Dr. Colvin R de Silva wrote in the early 1950s, takes a different meaning in the new context in which the JVP/NPP is emerging as a real parliamentary contender.

Dr Colvin was intervening in the perennial debates within the left movement in the heady days of the Old Left. That was then. Now, Anura Kumara Dissanayake does not have to get into polemic battles with anyone on the Left. He is in fact the only one on the Left, electorally speaking. He has to differentiate his politics from that of his media critics.

There is another difference between the heady days of the Old Left and Sri Lanka’s desperate times after the Rajapaksa yugaya. The challenge today is not to advance the cause of socialism but to salvage the economy from the pits that it has fallen into. Sri Lanka’s economic irony cannot be any stalker, in that Sri Lanka and Pakistan are two economic laggards in South Asia that is now seen as the principal growth region for an unevenly sputtering world economy.

India is virtually the sole economic engine of the South Asian region, and the challenge facing Sri Lanka is to get in stride with ongoing regional growth instead of lagging behind it.

The challenge facing JVP/NPP is to generate confidence about its abilities for managing the economy the same way it is demonstrating its abilities for political mobilization. As a political organization it does not have to rely on its leaders to read economic textbooks the way Che Guvera read them after the Cuban revolution.

There are enough economists and economic thinktanks in Sri Lanka and the JVP/NPP should not feel shy about tapping them for ideas and as resources. There should be reaching out to professional resources in a very public way to enhance public confidence at the national level, the same way retired military and police officers are reportedly being enlisted at the electoral district levels.

Besides the economy, the JVP/NPP leadership will have to deal with the question of constitutional reform and clarify its position on what could still be called the island’s national question. On the question of abolishing the executive presidency, Mr. Dissanayake has provided a convincing response: there is no time to do it before the presidential election.

President Wickremesinghe has said the same thing, but the difference between the two is that while Mr. Dissanayake is committed to abolishing the presidency, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not. That is a big difference, and one on which Mr. Dissanayake could and should publicly challenge the interim President.

 

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Leading Restoration: WNPS at the Forefront of Conserving Mangrove Ecosystems

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Awareness creating among school children at a mangrove restoration site

One of Sri Lanka’s six RAMSAR wetlands, the Anawilundawa sanctuary is surrounded by a colorful coastline, enhanced by the lush mangroves that shield it, and supported by freshwater sources that are essential to life. Numerous plant and animal species can be found within the confines of this sanctuary, in addition to neighbouring communities whose survival depends on the health of this ecosystem for their survival.

The intricate root systems of mangrove forests bridge both land and sea, serving as a powerful ecosystem that supports life and growth. Mangroves are vital towards building the resilience of a nation, by safeguarding our coasts from natural disasters, while enabling livelihoods and empowering communities. Their ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide in greater quantities than other non-coastal ecosystems position them as an important source of blue carbon that is crucial to the fight against climate change.

Unfortunately, unsustainable shrimp farming and other human activities had taken a toll on the environment. This now-abandoned landscape was altered by the use of dangerous chemicals, and until 2019, about 45 hectares of what was once a lush forest were dead and bare. Restoration was the need of the hour, yet many challenges lay in store.

Firstly, no formal mechanism for mangrove restoration had been established. Accordingly, the Department of Wildlife, the Forest Department, and the Ministry of Environment partnered with the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka as its principal science partner. With more than 129 years of experience advancing conservation and research throughout the island, the WNPS was ideally positioned capitalize on the strength of teamwork, the rigor of science, and the tireless dedication of its people and partners to develop a sustainable solution.

“The WNPS has long established science as the core foundation of all of its work. The Society also served as the catalyst to bring together diverse stakeholders under the mantle of restoration by bringing in government entities, NGOs, academia, the private sector, surrounding communities and the youth to actively participate in these efforts. In doing so, they ensured that the right science is implemented in this restoration site, while demonstrating the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration to achieve lasting, viable results,” said Professor Sevvandi Jayakody, Science Lead of the Project.

A veritable force of diverse people and organizations transformed a once deserted habitat into a hive of research and activity. Under the direction of the technical team, on-site nurseries were established, experiments were carried out, and natural processes were replicated. A topographical map of the area was created with the help of the Sri Lanka Navy to construct canals that would channel water effectively into arid land. Research labs were constructed on the premises and modern equipment was procured with the collective support of the public sector, business community, and non-governmental organizations. Community members and leaders were mobilized to strengthen these efforts further.

“An intriguing feature of this project is that research is not merely being applied to regenerate these mangrove forests. The science also flows into sustainably enhancing and uplifting the neighbouring community’s livelihoods, while nurturing future youth restoration leaders, with the goal of maintaining these vulnerable environments in the long run,” stated Graham Marshall, Chair of the WNPS Marine Subcommittee

Soil core sampling below ground biomass

The WNPS was further instrumental in shifting from traditional one-time interventions towards long-term partnerships, particularly with respect to obtaining essential private sector funding.

To date, a diverse and growing team of partners have joined hands with WNPS in the journey to restore this vital ecosystem, comprising the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), the Department of Forests, the Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, the Hydrography Unit of the Sri Lanka Navy, Lanka Environment Fund, Hayleys Advantis, CEFAS (UK), CSIRO (Aus), Hemas Consumer Brands, Biodiversity Sri Lanka, Star Garments, US Forest Service, and CMA CGM Shipping. Thanks to this coalition for conservation, a previously desolate region has begun to demonstrate signs of life once more. Studies on specific species are yielding encouraging results, and habitats are being progressively restored.

The WNPS and its partners are heartened to note that its trailblazing approach towards the restoration of mangrove ecosystems have contributed towards Sri Lanka being awarded as a UN World Restoration Flagship in 2024, and look forward to advancing the future of sustainable ecosystem restoration in the years to come.

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THE BILLIONAIRE SHOE SALESMAN

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by Vijaya Chandrasoma

February is Black History month, celebrated for over a century to focus attention on the history of the origins, the cruelty, the travails, the sacrifices, and achievements of the enslaved people brought from Africa to the Land of the Free White Supremacists in the early 17th century.

However, February has brought nothing but grief to The Donald. Trump was ranked, on February 20, by 154 scholars connected to the distinguished American Political Science Association, as the “45th and rock bottom” of US presidents in history. Even more humiliating was President Biden’s ranking at no. 14, with his most important achievement listed that he “rescued the presidency from Trump”!

The month of February also saw the courts shattering Trump’s dreams of presidential immunity, that he was above the law and therefore immune from the 91 felonies committed during his presidency.

Trump has already been hit with penalties from two civil trials in New York – $83 million for the rape and defamation of E. Jean Carroll and $355 million for inflating the value of his assets and defrauding the US government. Of course he will appeal these judgments. The problem is that any such appeals have to be accompanied by full or at least a substantial percentage of the damages awarded, in cash or bond. Unfortunately, no issuer of bonds will trust Trump with any such transaction.

Many may think that Trump had hit rock bottom when he was, at a campaign rally last week, making a fevered pitch to sell “beautiful” gold painted pairs of sneakers at a “bargain” price of $399 a pop, presumably to help raise the money due as damages on the above judgments.

The price of a high-end pair of Nike sneakers runs at around $100; but, according to Trump, his brand name increases the price of any commodity exponentially. Like the many properties he has illegally overvalued, which is the reason this former president and billionaire has been reduced in status to a Footlocker shoe salesman. A comparison which will likely be resented by those salesmen.

No doubt he’ll raise the necessary funds from his Russian and Saudi Arabian buddies who will be happy to pay millions of dollars for some of the top-secret documents he still has stashed away in one of his Mar a Lago toilets.

I will never forget a statement Trump made in one of his pre-2016 campaign rallies:

“I am really rich. I will be using my own money. I won’t need any contributions from anyone for my campaign or any other reason. I built a very small loan into a company that’s worth many billions of dollars, with some of the greatest assets in the world”.

Only Trump can squeeze in so many lies into a few sentences. The “very small loan” referred to was an inheritance of over $300 million from his father in the late 1990s. His election campaigns have been funded almost entirely by donations from his supporters. After his electoral defeat in 2020, he has been milking his supporters every time he was indicted on felonies, with lies that the crooked Biden administration was persecuting him, on a perennial witch hunt. With all the evidence of his criminal, even treasonous, behavior staring them in the face, members of his cult, even so-called moderate Republicans, continue to humor and fund him.

Trump has long been threatening, if he wins re-election, that the USA will resign from NATO, the most durable and powerful military alliance since World War II. He alleges that fellow NATO members were not paying the minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for their common defense. In fact, last week he said that he would encourage Russia to “to do whatever the hell they want”, even invade any NATO allies who were delinquent in the payment of their dues.

Trump’s love affairs with the despots of the world, right-wing dictators like Russia’s Putin and Hungary’s Viktor Orban have been an open secret, his admiration and envy of these murderers boundless.

When the tragic news of the death of Putin’s nemesis, Alexei Navalny, was announced last week by the authorities of an Arctic penal colony, the leaders of the United States and most nations of the world condemned Putin for the murder of the leader of the largest anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Biden called Putin a “crazy son of a bitch, a killer, a butcher and a war criminal”, and promised to impose stringent sanctions on Russia as a result of this murder.

In spite of demands from his family that his body be released for humane and private burial, Russian authorities refuse to do so, probably awaiting the disappearance of traces of the poison used to kill him.

And Trump? He was speechless for a week, reluctant to criticize his mentor. When he finally found his tongue, he mentioned not a word against Putin, but predictably made a statement short on grief and sympathy, and long about himself and his mythical grievances. He described himself, with not an ounce of irony, as “the Navalny of the United States”, the victim of oppression, battling the persecution of the ruthless dictatorship of Crooked Joe! Hardly surprising, this is the narcissistic maniac who had previously compared himself to Nelson Mandela, and most famously, to Jesus Christ.

Actually, the analogy couldn’t be more antithetical. Alexei Navalny was prepared to sacrifice his life for democracy. Trump, on the other hand, was prepared to sacrifice the life of his Vice-President Mike Pence to destroy democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me that a felon already convicted of rape and fraud, indicted in four jurisdictions and on conditional bail for a world record of 91 felonies, has the gall to call Joe Biden CROOKED, as he described “Crooked Joe” in a tweet after Navalny’s murder. It’s like the Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial murderer who made a delicious meal of his victims, describing a vegetarian as a monster!

February also brought a confession by Alexander Smirnov, former FBI informant, on whose information Republicans based their allegations for impeachment of President Biden and his son, Hunter. Smirnov had previously stated that the Bidens had received millions of dirty dollars from the Ukrainian company, Burisma. He has now confessed to the FBI that his story about the Bidens was a complete fabrication, an invention of Putin’s Russian intelligence. He has since been exposed by the FBI as a “Disinformation Agent” of this Russian spy machine.

Many prominent Republican Congressmen still shamelessly lie that they have complete confidence in Smirnov’s credibility, in spite of the fact that FBI Director, Christopher Wray had warned them two years ago that Smirnov’s credentials were highly suspect. Smirnov is now under indictment for lying and providing falsified documents to the FBI. His testimony has completely undercut the Republicans’ case, and their desperate attempts to impeach President Biden have finally blown up in their faces.

There is no doubt that Hunter Biden was a flawed human being, who acted unethically in accepting money from an Ukrainian company, taking advantage of his father’s position as the Vice-President. Hunter has also admitted there was a period in his life when he was guilty of substance abuse and tax evasion, crimes for which he is in the process of paying his debt to society.

There is absolutely no evidence that President Biden was involved in any way with the activities of his son, a private citizen, during his two terms as Vice-President.

Interestingly, Republicans turned a blind eye when Trump’s children were defrauding the government for billions of dollars, when his daughter, Ivanka and husband, Jared Kushner, were senior employees in the Trump administration.

This complicity of Russian intelligence with Trump’s Republican cult leads to the terrifying conclusion that the Russians are, yet again, attempting to interfere in American elections. The stakes for Putin could not be higher. The re-election of Trump, his lap-dog, to the US presidency in November will open the doors to his ultimate dream of the re-emergence of the Superpower glory of the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). And Trump will attain his dreams of dictatorial power, and use that power to rival Putin as the richest man in the world.

Alexei Navalny’s simple message to his supporters, as shown in the 2022 Oscar-winning documentary, was as ominous as it was inspirational.

“You are not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to use this power”. He ended his message with a maxim often attributed to Edmund Burke, widely known as the philosophical founder of British conservatism: “All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing”. A message that has guided Navalny’s life, and may prove to be even more powerful in his death, if it inspires the good people in Russia to continue the struggle against Putin’s evil regime and build a better future for Russia.

The good people of Germany ignored the evils of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1930s. They did nothing although they saw – and smelled – the smoke of burning human flesh billowing from the ovens of Germany’s many concentration camps. This gruesome evil was finally vanquished, though with international, including American, intervention. But not before the extermination of six million Jews.

Today, the good people of the world, even in Israel, are watching in horror but doing nothing as Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu and his right-wing cabinet intent on a one-state solution in Israel, are continuing to wreak vengeance on innocent Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza (29,000 killed as of date, and counting) for that one day on October 7, 2023. A day when Hamas, a terrorist organization, tortured and killed 1,200 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, kidnapping 140 hostages of various nationalities.

Revenge in the form of indiscriminate air and ground onslaughts by the Israeli Defense Force are beginning to metaphorically smell awfully like the noisome smoke that emanated from the ovens of Auschwitz. And who knows? Netanyahu might succeed in his ambition to wipe out all the Palestinians where Hitler failed in his ambition to exterminate all the Jews. A genocidal parallel, brimming with irony, that will not be lost in the history books of the future.

The tragedy is that this very same scenario exists in the greatest democracy in the world today. The good people of the United States of America are looking on in apathy, doing nothing, as Trump and the American equivalent of the Nazi Brownshirts harass, threaten and attack, not only Jews, but all brown skinned immigrants from “shithole countries”. They listen with enthusiastic anticipation to Trump listing all the Hitler-like measures he will implement to “preserve the pure white blood” of European Americans when he wins re-election.

These domestic terrorists will not surrender the white privileges they have enjoyed for centuries without using every means, domestic and Russian, politically deceptive and criminally violent, to perpetuate their illusion of white superiority.

The good people of America have eight months to wake up to what could well mean the end of their democracy and the position of their leadership of the free nations of the world. And the sad fact is that most people who read this will think I am being alarmingly fear-mongering and hyperbolic. Let me assure you, I am not. Trump’s “movement” presents the greatest danger the United States has faced since the Civil War, basically, for the same reason – preservation of the dominance of White Supremacy. This time around, however, the modern version of the soldiers of the Confederacy will be armed not with muskets but with military style killing machines. And led by an ignorant psychopath.

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