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End monkey business now and get serious!

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by ROHANA R. WASALA

(Continuation of ‘Don’t forget people who elected you, Mr President!’/02 November, 2021)

My gut feeling is that the Presidential Task Force, if it is what I think it is, i.e., a brilliantly thought out ploy with an ulterior motive, is meant to abort the new constitution making project. It was probably designed to divide Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils, also create suspicion between the former and Christians, while pacifying radicalized Muslims. This will help

The PTF has been established, according to the gazette notification, “focusing on the fact that administration of justice, its implementation and protection under the law should be fair by all as set out in the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Whereas, it is indicated under fundamental rights therein that no citizen should be discriminated against in the eye of law or meted out special treatment on ground of nationality, religion, caste or any other grounds; And whereas, the implementation of the concept; one country, one law within Sri Lanka is reflected as a methodology of ensuring nationally and internationally recognized humanitarian values; And whereas, the fact that all citizens are treated alike in the eye of the law should be further ensured, ….” This provides an idea of the brief that the PTF received.

In implicit response to the mostly negative reception of the news of its establishment among the people, Ven. Gnanasara has repeatedly tried to rationalize the One Country One Law concept; but that is unnecessary, for there is no quarrel about the cogent reasons that led to the call for the One Country One Law idea; the need for a single legal system has been correctly identified by the majority of the general public, with the negligible exception of a few religious extremists, whose established traditions come into conflict with the country’s secular laws. The question is about the rationale of the establishment of the PTF.

Through the extraordinary gazette notification, the president authorizes the task force to “make such inquiries and issue such instructions as are required for the purpose of executing the tasks so entrusted”.  The President appoints, as secretary to the PTF, his Senior Assistant Secretary Ms Jeevanthie Senanayake.  He further requires and directs “all public officers and other persons to whom the said Task Force may issue instructions or from whom assistance for provision of services may be requested, to comply with all such instructions, render all such assistance and furnish all such information as may be properly complied with, rendered and furnished on that behalf”.

The President demands that the PTF report to him “all instances where any Government employee or an officer in any ministry, government department, state corporation or any such institution who delay the performance of duties and fulfilment of responsibilities or fail to perform such duties and responsibilities to be entrusted by the said Task Force”. He directs the members to “submit reports to me at least once a month and submit the final report on or before 28th February, 2022”

Getting a Buddhist monk involved in governance matters (in the form of virtual nationalistic legal framing) is the last thing I would have expected from a president, who the people hoped, would bring about a systemic change in the mode of government. In Sri Lanka’s long history, the kings maintained a close relationship with the monks, only as religious advisers, not as partners in making laws or ruling. As a whistle-blower, Ven. Gnanasara Thera, exposed the existence of burgeoning religious extremism years ago, but his exposures did not get enough recognition by the authorities for some reason. Instead, he was unfairly condemned as an irresponsible rabble-rouser, intent on troublemaking for some political advantage. Ven. Gnanasara is trying to provide the initiative that only politicians and the Mahanayakes could and should provide, in resolving the single issue that has caused him to deviate from his religious vows and engage in the rough and tumble of mundane agitational activism. But he is not equipped to play that role in any way. His berserk behaviour finally landed him in jail for contempt of court. Had he been more disciplined in his protests, he wouldn’t have been thus treated, in spite of his intentions having been genuinely benign as well as patriotic. His personality defect has damaged not only his personal reputation and his cause, but also his credibility as a defender of the Buddha Sasanaya, the people and the country.

The Thera has been led astray by the cynical opportunism of politicians, who exploit the sensitive perennial issue of the threat posed to the country’s age-old Buddha Sasanaya/the Buddhist religious-cultural establishment, and to its historic archaeological heritage in the form of ruins scattered, particularly, in the north and east. The threat comes from the local representatives of forms of the religious fundamentalism that is sweeping across the whole world; especially by different sects of potentially violent Islamic/Íslamist extremists, sponsored by moneyed foreign agents. Treasure hunters cause probably more damage to this heritage. Behind the religious extremists seems to stand the Western imperialist juggernaut that uses religious fundamentalism and other forms of extremism to destabilise nation states it wants to control, to achieve varied geopolitical ends at the latter’s expense.

What the monks are demanding is protection for the Buddhist establishment from this threat. Theirs is not a political struggle; they are not fighting for political ends. What they say is: Stop unfair proselytisation of poverty-stricken Buddhists and Hindus, who are equally subject to subversion by numerous foreign funded, politicized fundamentalist Christian and Islamic sects. The problem can be easily sorted out if the politicians have the political will to do so, and if the politicians in power at any time, get the government servants working in the vulnerable areas to implement the available archaeological conservation and protection laws, without abandoning their responsibilities for illicit monetary gains. The indifference and inaction of the traditional Mahanayakes (their culpable innocence and ignorance is inexcusable) are the other strong factor that betrays Buddhist interests.

My criticism of the establishment of a Presidential Task Force for the implementation of the One Country One Law headed by a Buddhist monk does not mean a rejection of that important objective. It must be achieved during the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. For that, a proper strategy must be adopted. However, as the Bar Council of Sri Lanka, has pointed out, the PTF has no role to play in implementing the stated concept, because the functions assigned to it are already being performed by the available constitutionally established institutions, including the Parliament and the Ministry of Justice (The Island/November 3); so, it is a redundant body. The only ‘benefit’ that has accrued from the controversial move is that it has given the opportunistic minority politicians who hide behind extremists, without supporting them openly, extra ammunition for their blasts of criticism against the nationalist government.

Incidentally, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), created by Basil Rajapaksa and led by Mahinda Rajapaksa (the current Finance Minister, and Prime Minister, respectively) held its 5th National Convention at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre, Colombo on November 2, 2021. Minister Rajapaksa emphasized the importance of MR’s leadership. President Gotabaya congratulated the party, in a message, on its great success within a short time of its inauguration, reflected in its winning of a near two thirds of parliamentary seats (in August 2020).

PM Mahinda Rajapaksa said, among other things, that the teacher strike and the farmer agitations would not have dragged on so long if they had maintained more political engagement with them. He also made special mention of the young people who voluntarily beautified towns and cities across the country with beautiful wall paintings (when the new government came into being in 2019 with the election of the current president, whose advent generated in them the new spirit of hope that inspired them to engage in that voluntary exercise without any expectation of a reward); those youths, the PM remembered, by doing that, indicated their wish that politicians should not spoil the street walls with their ugly political posters. Where are those young people now? He asked, and provided his own answer: “If they have joined the queue of passport applicants (who want to acquire a passport with the intention of leaving the country looking for greener pastures abroad), we should engage in the kind of politics that will encourage them to return”. If the PM is genuine about what he is saying here, we may expect him to stop monkeying around with monks, and to change his attitude to patriotic young politicians of all parties and communities, vis a vis his own son.

The PM must have meant what he said. If he really did, he will not relapse into the 73-year long monkey business of taking the monks for rides or flights. It is disgraceful how political monks are conducting themselves at this critical time, especially that sneaky Ratana Thera, who is causing embarrassment to Gotabaya and the government, through his hasty application (for expected personal political reputation) of the organic fertilizer initiative. Ven. Gnanasara said, talking about the PTF, that in the future the youth of the country must come forward to save the nation. The country is not short of young men and women who are capable of providing a sound modern leadership to the country, if only their way is not obstructed by ambitious oldies whose ‘Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself, And falls on the other… ‘ (i.e., excess ambition lands them somewhere else than where they want to reach, lands them in trouble, as happened to Macbeth in the Shakespeare play).

It should be hoped that this occasion (the 5th anniversary of the SLPP) be utilised as an opportune moment to reflect on past errors, and resolve not to repeat them, and introduce a course correction, starting with rethinking a new approach to the implementation of the One Country One Law idea, that ensures the participation of all Sri Lankans; especially the young from all the communities, something that can be done through the existing agencies.

Conclusion

My gut feeling is that the Presidential Task Force, if it is what I think it is, i.e., a brilliantly thought out ploy with an ulterior motive, is meant to abort the new constitution making project. (I have no idea of whose brainchild this could be.) It was probably designed to divide Sinhala Buddhists and Hindu Tamils, also create suspicion between the former and Christians, while pacifying radicalized Muslims for some unspecified reason. This might help revive the defeated separatist project, and breathe new life into secretly growing Islamism, and together help foreign designs on Sri Lanka; provoked purely by big power geopolitics due to its strategically important location in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.

Pitting guilless Islamist critic Gnanasara Thera against an Ulama Council maulavi by putting them in the same panel of advisors, is like putting a dove and a cat in the same cage; for when it comes to religion, a believing Muslim will not compromise their religious principles to accommodate human reason.

The government’s failure to achieve its key objective of introducing a new constitution will delight the still operative forces, which were behind the 2015 regime change (they may even have acquired new allies by now). It is good to remember that Mahinda Rajapaksa was betrayed by his lieutenant three times in a row between 2015 and 2019, which does not reflect well on his sense of judgement; it could be a different traitor this time.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is probably the most ethically and morally honest person ever to hold that post. The frustrated regime changers are now propagating the faint fictitious notion that he benefited from the April 2019 Easter Sunday Islamist bombings, and that the intelligence services that had reached the highest professional efficiency levels under him as Defence Secretary during MR’s time had some connection with them. The charge that the government is deliberately slow in meting out justice to those responsible for the Easter bombings is, I think, 100% false. All peace- and justice-loving Sri Lankans, including me, want to see the Easter attacks perpetrators receive condign punishment at the earliest possible; the highest involved (be it president Sirisena, prime minister Ranil, during whose watch the suicide bomb attacks happened or any other individuals) shouldn’t be spared. I, for one, believe that President Gotabaya, PM Mahinda, and others in the government will be satisfied with no less.

However, even the Cardinal seems to have accepted that false allegation, in spite of repeated assurances given him by the President to the contrary. Two reasons for the Cardinal’s misgivings that occur to me are: potentially guilty former president Sirisena seems to be looking for refuge under his erstwhile boss that he betrayed three times, now PM; the other reason could be Gnanasara Thera’s arrogant, totally frivolous and uncalled for remarks about the Cardinal’s activism regarding the Muthurajawela environmental issue. Gnanasara Thera was reported as having said about the Cardinal in this connection: “I warn the Cardinal that he should not overstep his boundaries!” That alone should have disqualified the monk for the post that he has been appointed. I personally believe that the President, as a convinced Buddhist, can receive much more constructive advice from the Cardinal than from Gnanasara Thera.

The paragraph quoted below is about one of the academics that I find mentioned as a panel member of the PTF. It happens to be the concluding paragraph of an article of mine that was carried in the Lankaweb online journal on May 1, 2020 (Interested readers may look it up there: http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2020/05/01/academic-adolescents-against-the-nationalist-cause/):

“It is strange that this academic was not informed enough about the existing local realities (not exclusively those uncovered with evidence by the BBS – Bodu Bala Sena) relating to the problem of the menace posed to Sri Lankans of all races and religions and worldviews, especially to Sinhala Buddhists and Tamil Hindus who together form over 80% of the population,  from Abrahamic religious fundamentalists (not from the mainstream adherents of those religions), when he wrote to that international journal. These monks do ‘deliberate on their views and stances before involving the public…’; there is nothing wrong with their actions, but what can they do if they are misreported to the world by indifferent media, and immature ill-informed academics? (A personal opinion)”

Finally, when the disciplined voters of the country (unfortunately, they don’t have enough disciplined politicians to serve them) voted for a new president and a new parliament about two years ago, they never expected a yahapalanaya type of government to come to power again, whatever happens later. Apparently, the country hasn’t still emerged from its afterglow. Gotabaya Rajapaksa started off with the purest intentions. Buddhists believe in the principle “dhammo have rakkhati dhammacari” the dhamma protects the follower of the dhamma”. He need not fear. But whatever he is intent on doing, he should first win the agreement and support of the people before trying it.

Anyone with an average familiarity with the recent political history of the world, knows that patriotic leaders of independent countries who don’t serve the interests of more powerful nations, at the expense of the welfare and wellbeing of their own people, are not safe. Their safety depends on the people’s goodwill, provided democracy is allowed to rule. But as we know today, countries find themselves ruled from outside. That is an unpleasant reality, we can hardly overcome. In Sri Lanka, the two traditional parties or alliances have two different attitudes to this predicament. One favours it, the other opposes it. The second has a problem managing foreign interference. Nationalists support forces that protect the country’s democracy, independence, and sovereignty. Gotabaya is a nationalist leader. Nationalists need not be demoralised when they are falsely attacked as ethno-nationalist extremists by NGO mercenaries.

If Gotabaya Rajapaksa is able to bring in a new constitution as a non-party product that is fashioned according to the common consensus of all parliamentarians (including essentially all young ones, that is, those under 40, for example) who do not have to vote for it under duress; let that be the greatest achievement he will be remembered for.

Such a constitution should be one that does not divide the nation on language, religion, or race bases. It will eliminate the influence of extremists, and definitely incorporate the One Country One Law principle. Giving anything a special place or special protection, as experience shows, invariably turns out to be counter-productive. So, this has to be avoided. This is a controversial suggestion, but it will be achievable, if the gerontocrats give way for the brilliant youth of the country to take centre stage in the political arena.



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Opinion

Building trust, a better investment

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The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.

However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.

However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!

Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.

The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.

As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.

Susantha Hewa

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Opinion

Don’t harass whistle-blower

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Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.

The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.

It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.

Mahinda Gunasekera

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Opinion

Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe

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A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT

Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.

I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.

Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.

Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!

Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.

His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.

When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.

He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.

My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.

We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.

May he find peace in Nibbana!

Harindra Dunuwille

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