The 20A almost failed to get passed through because President Gotabaya wanted the ban on dual citizens holding the highest offices binned. A worry that was not there before the 19A has now become a passionate concern.
Interestingly, the very people who opposed the 20A (from the Government side) were the very ones who wanted Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka’s President. When he was persuaded to run for presidency he was a dual citizen. Throughout the presidential campaign he was a dual citizen. He only renounced his US citizenship just a few months before the elections.
Yet, his dual citizenship was not a concern to any who supported his ascent to presidency. His opposition – the Yahapalana Government, certainly tried their level best to use Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s dual citizenship against him. This was laughable and only served to discredit them further.
Hypocrisy and Vindictive Politics
After all, having appointed a foreigner as the Central Bank Governor, their worry over a dual citizen cannot be taken seriously. The Yahapalana Government on blind faith co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution against Sri Lanka. After thus caving into US pressure so treacherously, to anticipate such a move from Gotabaya Rajapaksa was hypocritical. The Mahinda Rajapaksa Administration risked antagonizing our neighbour by politely sitting on the ECTA. The Yahapalana Government, on the other hand, signed with flourish an FTA with Singapore that spelt doom for our trade, industries and manpower.
Clearly, the Yahapalana Government’s concerns over dual citizenship were not genuine. The sole objective was to prevent two of the Rajapaksa brothers from contesting at the presidential elections. This is the point that President Gotabaya directed the attention of his MPs and clergy. He noted that the clause on dual citizenship stemmed from vindictiveness. Therefore, the principle on which this is based on is unacceptable and on that basis the clause needs to be rejected.
However, he assured, at the ongoing exercise of making the new constitution, genuine concerns over dual citizenship can be revisited and the ban can be re-imposed. Clearly, no one in the Government could reject this irrefutable logic and so supported the 20A.
Now that the Government MPs have supported the 20A with the intention of repelling this clause from the new constitution, they have an important task ahead of them. That is, to genuinely analyze the real reason to oppose dual citizens in high offices. The clause was removed because the principle in which it was introduced was corrupt. Then, they cannot re-introduce it on a corrupt principle of their own. That is, their decision cannot be influenced by the effect this would have on Basil Rajapaksa.
Pros and Cons of Dual Citizens
Many unfairly equate dual citizens to the Tamil Diaspora. While some of the Tamil Diaspora may be dual citizens, not all dual citizens are part of the Tamil Diaspora. Therefore, to take a decision on a whole group based on the reservations against some in that group is wrong.
On the whole, one million Sri Lankan expatriates (in which group a subset are dual citizens) remit USD 7 billion annually. As was pointed out by an FB post, when we travel overseas, Sri Lankan expatriates (who may hold dual citizenship) host and save us from food and lodging expenses. Sometimes they even chauffeur us around, saving us from our transport expenses. They send us fancy goods or essential items not available in Sri Lanka. They also fight in our stead with their host governments.
Furthermore, the Yahapalana era attests to the frightening aspect that the physical presence of the Tamil Diaspora is not needed to carry out its separatist agenda in Sri Lanka. Therefore, simply banning dual citizens from becoming leaders or decision-makers alone is not enough. We need to include the matter of foreign funding and influence into this debate.
In the US, it is not enough to be a citizen to hold a high office like the presidency. One must be born in that country as well. However, our best brains are draining out of SL to end up in the US. So, naturally the US can be picky where as it is not clear if SL can afford the same luxury.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a case in point. Certainly he became the Defense Secretary because his big brother was the then President. However, nepotism may secure the job but keeping the job is up to the individual. Gotabaya Rajapaksa not only justified the appointment by defeating the LTTE, but also proved himself as an administrator with a vision with his urban development projects. Today he is the President of SL all on his own merit.
The bottom line is, as a Colonel Gotabaya Rajapaksa outperformed the Generals in the same Army he served. The Generals before Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Administration too received political support to defeat the LTTE. Gotabaya Rajapaksa as Defense Secretary managed to convince President Mahinda that Sri Lanka was on the winning path. Had he failed, then the political will of that administration too would have waned.
In the 10 years in the US, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was in an environment where he met intellectuals and academics from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds on a daily basis. Coupled with the Sri Lankan Army’s “nothing is impossible” motto, he had developed an attitude to think “outside the box” (a phrase he uses frequently).
It is clear that an outstanding officer had returned home as an exceptional human being. He is however not an isolated case. Many Sri Lankans returning home have undergone this transformation.
At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that as dual citizens these individuals have pledged their allegiance to another country. Interestingly, as natives we have never pledged a similar allegiance to our own country. This natural bond one forms with his birth country that defines him and his loyalty to his adopted country that caters to his comforts would be a very difficult one to gauge.
Loyalty is one that can only be proven with action and time and can be fickle at the most unexpected moment. This makes the question of loyalty so serious and significant that it pales all pros of a dual citizen. Decisions of leaders affect the whole nation. Therefore, we must be without a reasonable doubt on the integrity of prospective candidates – whether they be dual citizens or not. In the question of dual citizenship, however, it is important that our leaders and decision makers should not have an escape route from the effects of their own decisions.
It is thus hoped that our own lawmakers, intellectuals, academics and other analysts and opinion-makers would initiate this debate in earnest. It would of course help the country that if this debate was engaged with an open mind. If the participants enter the debate with a preconceived opinion, and interpret facts from that perspective then this would become a lost cause.
Buddhism and all beings’ right to life
A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”
Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”
The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”
The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”
When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.
According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.
I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.
The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?
Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.
The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.
The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.
The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.
For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.
There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!
Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way
China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.
“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.
A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.
:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}
The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.
Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.
China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.
While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.
Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.
President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.
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