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First Five years of Right to Information regime in Sri Lanka: In retrospect

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Mahinda Gammampila

Former Chairman Right to Information Commission

The Right to Information Commission completed its first five year term on Sept. 30, 2021. This article attempts to summarize some of the key achievements of the Commission during this period, in its contribution towards the realization of the goals and aspirations of the legislators of the Right to Information Act No. of 2016.

A Culture of Transparency and Accountability

By introducing the primary law on RTI, the Parliament of Sri Lanka demonstrated its aspirations to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public authorities by giving effect to the right of access to information and thereby promoting a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be able to more fully participate in public life through combating corruption and promoting accountability and good governance. The RTI Commission which has been established under the RTI Act with the power to hear and determine appeals made by citizens on their right to information requests among other matters. The Commission can declare rules and regulations relating to the process; recommend disciplinary action against those who violate these provisions and to take legal action against persons violating the Act.

Guidelines and Performance Monitoring

All government and government related agencies have been identified as Public Authorities for the purposes of the RTI Law. The RTI Commission is basically responsible to provide guidelines to public authorities in the course of implementation of the RTI law, while monitoring their permanence.

RTI Commission, on its part has been instrumental in the formulation and publication of a set of Rules that specifies the procedures to be followed in the implementation of the law, along with the Fee Schedules relating to the services provided by the public authorizes.

On the other hand, the Right to Information Commission, being the oversight body in the implementation of the RTI law, is responsible for monitoring the performance of public authorities and ensuring the due compliance by them of the duties cast on them by the Act. The Act empowers the Commission to inquire into the appeals made by the citizens who are aggrieved by the decisions of the Information Officers and Designated Officers of public authorities. The citizens who are not satisfied with the determinations of the Commission have the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Hearing of Appeals (Adjudication)

The hearing of appeals is the core function of the Commission. Hearing of appeals however faced many challenges due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed to prevent COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission had to resort to documentary proceedings, in the absence of the physical presence of the parties. Where it was extremely necessary to hear views of the parties, the Commission used telephone or online meetings/inquiries through Zoom technology. Commission also attempted to resolve cases through consultation with public authorities in accordance with the policy of maximum disclosure of information.

As the workload of the Commission increased and its functions expanded, the Commission had to face huge administrative issues and challenges in managing its day-to-day affairs with limited human and physical resources. In the absence of competent staff to support the appeal hearing process and drafting of orders, it had to continue its practice of employing newly passed-out law graduates on temporary and assignment basis, till recently.

For the five year period from October 2016 to August 2021, the Commission received around 3,000 appeals from citizens and more than 70% of them were concluded. This is a remarkable achievement for any Administrative Appeal body where all cases are disposed of following due process of law and procedure and the principles of natural justice, particularly granting the appellant (citizen) and the public authority equal opportunity to defend themselves. The above assertion is further confirmed by the fact that a very few appeals have been made to the Court of Appeal against the orders of the Commission.

In the process of adjudication, a citizen-friendly procedure was adapted to the extent possible which is characterized by less formalities enabling the lay appellants to present the case without being pressurized. However, this principle could not be maintained when parties were represented by lawyers resembling court procedures

Public Awareness and Training for Officials

It is often observed that the citizens from all walk of life and all corners of the county who have not been satisfied with the responses of the respective Information Officers and Designated Officers of relevant public authorities have come to the Commission seeking redress. Once a sarong-clad bare bodied member of the Vedda community appeared before the Commission with the traditional axe hanging from his shoulder along with a group of citizens in the adjoining village on an issue of public interest in their area of living. However it may be noted that this example does not suggest that the RTI message has penetrated into all parts of the country equitably. There are many areas yet to be reached.

The Commission has been able to overcome the problems of human and physical resources that it faced due to financial constraints since its inception, to a great extent with the continuous support of the development agencies such as the World Bank, UNDP, USAID/SDGAP and the Embassy of Switzerland. Their technical and financial support was instrumental in obtaining services of competent persons and undertaking outreach programmes. As such, the Commission was able to continue its programmes for the enhancement of public awareness from 2017 to 2021 at District and Divisional levels.

The Commission has made substantial efforts towards increasing public awareness among Civil Society Organisations, Community based Organisations and public officials on right to information. With the support of the Embassy of Switzerland, the Commission held advocacy workshops in Panama (Ampara), Ambagamuwa (Nuwara Eliya), Sooriyawewa (Hambantota), Kilinochchi. Jaffna, Karuwalagaswewa (Puttalam), Mahiyangana (Badulla), Kantale (Triancomalee), Nawalapitiya (Kandy), Nuwara Eliya and Matara

The participation of civil society activists at these workshops was encouraging. At the Mahiyangana workshop, the ‘Varige Nayaka” (chief) of ‘Vedda’ community Uruwarige Wannila Eththo addressed the gathering consisting of civil society representatives as well as the senior government officials, placing several valuable \suggestions for the expansion of the RTI movement. At Nawalapitiya Workshop many representatives from the workers in the plantation sector and the executives of the plantation companies attended

Uruwarige Wannila Eththo, the Chief of the Vedda community took part at the Mahinyangana workshop and a member of that Community attending an appeal inquiry at the Commission in Colombo.

Proactive Disclosure of Information and Record Management Guidelines

Promotion of Proactive Disclosure of Information policy and the provision of Record Management Guidelines to public authorities are two other important tasks entrusted to the Commission by the RTI Act.

A total of 2,280 public officials belonging to 15 state institutes working at the head offices in Colombo and the outstations were given a training on implementation of Proactive Disclosure Policy and Record Management Guidelines in terms of RTI Act. There was a great demand for a comprehensive training from the senior management. The participants themselves found both the record management and proactive disclosure, under the RTI Act were challenging tasks. Of the trained 2,280, a third was from head offices in Colombo and two thirds from all nine provinces participated in these training programs.

In both these areas a survey was carried out by the RTI Commission, with the technical support of the UNDP. Its thematic focus was the involvement of the RTIC with public authorities of the state sector, organized into different types such as ministries, departments, authorities, boards, district secretariats etc. to promote implementation of proactive disclosure policy and the record management guidelines within 15 public institutions. The Commission formulated sixteen (16) broad areas of information that should, at minimum be disclosed pro-actively by public authorities.

RTI Act directs to catalogue and index all records to facilitate the access of information to citizen while directing public authorities to keep all new records for 12 years and records that existed on February 3, 2017 for 10 years. With the assistance of the UNDP, a set of Guidelines for Record Management in public authorities was developed. These Guidelines also facilitate disclosure of information proactively by public authorities. This set of guidelines can be considered a major outcome of the consultancy project.

Research Publications

With the support of the Swiss Government two publications were released in all three languages. These are (i) Reflections on Sri Lankas RTI Act and RTI Regime, a collection of academic analyses on RTI by eminent writers and (ii) Selected Orders of the RTI Commission on decided cases by the Commission which could be used as a reference guide by practitioners of RTI.

Research Collaborations

With the collaboration of the Swiss Government two programs were held with the University of Colombo and the University of Kelaniya for the encouragement of legal and social research on RTI among postgraduate students and academic staff.

Measuring Contribution of RTI Orders to Development in terms of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS)

An independent Research was undertaken on the performance of the RTI functions, under the Swiss project, where appeals received by the RTI Commission were categorised according to UN Sustainable Development Goals. Findings included the impact of Commission interventions among various segments in the socio-economic profile. The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to achieve a better and sustainable development by all by the year 2030.

The pies-chart below indicates that a very significant 38% of appeals belong to areas falling under SDG No 16, i.e. just, peaceful, and inclusive society and institutional transparency goal; 15% of appeals belong to areas falling under Goal No 15 i.e. Agriculture and Land and while 13% of appeals belong to areas falling under Goal No 9 i.e. Infrastructure & construction.

Support of Non-Governmental Organization (NGOS), Community Based Organizations (CBOS) and Mass Media.

In the course of the preceding five years, the support provided by various NGOs and CBOs has been of immense use for the fulfillment of the responsibilities of the Commission. The cooperation extended by such organizations and representations made by them include (a) awareness creation among the citizens of the legitimate of right the citizens possess to ask for information (b) providing advice and assistance to individual citizen in making formal information requests or related appeals to the respective authorities, and (c) even appearing at times on behalf of the citizens before public authorities and the commission in support of such representations. In addition, the findings of some of the independent surreys carried out at the field level by several organizations have been very useful.

Similarly, the role-played by media personnel, not only at the national level, but also in the provinces in the promoting of the RTI movement in numerous ways needs to be highlighted.

The cooperation extended to the Commission by media in general, and the media organizations such as the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the Editors Guild and others in particular, has been a source of strength.

International Relations

The Commission throughout the period has been closely following the trends and developments taking place in the global arena of Right to Information, and also working in cooperation with the regional and international organizations for the enhancement of the needs of our county.

In this respect, it is worth noting here that Sri Lanka has been ranked fourth among 123 countries by having earned 131 points (out of 150) in the global right to information rating (RTI Rating) in consideration of Sri Lanka’s legislative framework in relation to transparency and access to information, among other things.

A Framework for Future Strategies

Though there are still delays at the stage of information release, we are confident that the culture of information denial that has long been prevalent in Sri Lanka, is changing positively. We are inspired by the vigour with which the RTI Act has been used, from information release on infrastructure, better health facilities and environment protection to matters of state accountability at the highest levels of the Government.

This shows that the Right to Information is vital to the democratic system and that enforcing the transparency of state and non-state actors directly impact in reducing corruption. Citizen have become part of the governance process and themselves proactively monitor the management of affairs of state. The Commission’s mandate is the realization of principles enshrined in the preamble to the RTI Act i.e ‘to promote a society in which the people of Sri Lanka would be more fully able to participate in public life.’

As an independent Commission acting in the public interest, in which confidence is reposed by both information seekers and the Public Authorities, the Commission has endeavored to carry out that task to the best of its ability. Sri Lanka demonstrates the enormous value of an RTI law working for the benefit of the public when the public itself is given a role to play in that process.

As we advance in the Right to Information process, it is of the highest importance that the information empowerment of the citizenry through the RTI regime, consisting of the constitutional Right to Information (Article 14A), the RTI Act and an independent RTI Commission as guaranteed by law, continue for the sake of democratic values of society.



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Beyond the fiction of Alborada

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By Sarath Chandrajeewa

“No matter how much a work of art is sweet, if it hides the truth and disregards humanity it can only be equalled to a beautiful but empty shell that attracts us.” (L.E. Kerbel – Russian Sculptor)

‘Alborada’ is the Spanish word for ‘the dawn’. In 1984, a music group was born in Peru, South America by the same name and they gained immense popularity. Their music mainly spread among people in North and South America. Their music’s foundation was the traditional music of Native Americans who lived in the Andes mountain range (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTD2VDcxvNc). Likewise, in 2005 a soap opera by the same name was broadcast in Mexico, North America, which became very popular. This story was based on a series of events that took place during the historical period when Panama and Mexico were on the verge of gaining freedom from Spain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iM5s_d1vls).

In 2021 Asoka Handagama made a film in Sri Lanka by the same name, Alborada. The protagonist of this film is Pablo Neruda (1904 – 1973), the Chilean Consul in Ceylon for two years, from 1929 to 1931. He was very young, only 25, when he was appointed to this post. Ceylon was a colony at the time and he was lodged at No. 56, 42nd street, Wellawatte, Colombo 6, a place close to the sea. He had written down his reminiscences, in his own language, in book form. Later it was translated into English and published under the title ‘Memoirs’. According to this book, he had referred to his house as ‘My solitary bungalow’. It is said that the name Alborada was proposed by Pablo Neruda for the house of his friend, Lionel Wendt (1900 – 1944), who had lived at Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7.

Wendt too was fluent in several languages including English, Spanish and some other European languages. It is apparent, from documents and events that took place at that time, that his house, Alborada, had not been a lonely or tranquil place. It is clear that house Alborada was always full of people, such as painters, dancers, actors, photographers as well as pianists and those who enjoyed music. It was more like a cultural centre where discussions, art critiques and debates took place. (L.C. Van Geyzel, et al. [2000]. ‘Lionel Wendt: A Centennial tribute’. Lionel Wendt memorial fund; Sampath Bandara. [2017]. Lionel Wendt Kalava Saha Jeevithaya, Sarasavi Publication. [Sinhala]).

Though Handagama’s film was titled Alborada, the actual location, where incidents mentioned took place, was the Solitary Bungalow, the Chilean Consul’s official residence (Jamie James. [2019]. ‘Pablo Neruda’s life as a struggling Poet in Sri Lanka: A young poet’s Adventures in the Foreign Service’. Retrieved from https://lithub.com/pablo-nerudas-life-as-a-struggling-poet-in-sri-lanka/). In the 20th Century Sri Lankan context, Alborada was a distinguished active cultural centre. As a Sri Lankan cultural symbol, it directly connects with the character of Lionel Wendt. The creator of a work of art has the total freedom to create his work as he pleases and also to choose whatever name for the particular work. Handagama’s Alborada is similar to a poem, set to inspiring music. It includes a series of artistic figure compositions and features a number of skilled performing artistes. The trailer of Handagama’s film gave me some ideas.

When creating a work of art based on historical events, rather than myth and imaginary incidents, its trustworthiness depends on the people who faced the incident, the actual incidents, exact places, time period and the political and cultural background. Consequently, thorough research is necessary to identify accurate works based on historical incidents. It is difficult to rectify myths or false assumptions ingrained in society by unreliable books, documents, magazines or films. People will always embrace falsity, deception and myth, over the truth. Our culture as well as other cultures are replete with many such examples.

Alborada

‘Alborada’ is the name of Lionel Wendt’s house. It is important as it is the house of a great Sri Lankan cultural icon of the last century. It is also important as Alborada was the name given to the renowned cultural centre of modern history, in Sri Lanka. It is from this place that art activities in our country were taken to the international arena. Alborada was situated at No. 18 old Guildford Crescent. Today this street is called Premasiri Kemadasa Mawatha. Six years after his demise, in 1950 his friend Harold Peiris (1905-1981) demolished his old house, Alborada, and built a gallery and a performing arts centre (Lionel Wendt Art Gallery and Theatre) to commemorate him. It was designed by painter Geoffrey Beling (1907 – 1992), Principal Art Inspector, Department of Education, and Bernard G. Thornley (Manel Fonseka. [1994]. ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt, Lionel Wendt Photographs’. Deutsche Bank Colombo and Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund).

When Lionel Wendt was alive, renowned upcountry master dancers, Amunugama Suramba and Nittawela Ukkuwa used to lodge at Alborada with their troupes, when they visited Colombo (Dancer Dr. Vaidyavathi Rajapakse, daughter of Master Dancer Suramba, Personal communication, 2017).

A documentary movie ‘Song of Ceylon’, directed by Basil Wright in 1934, was placed first at the Brussels International film festival in 1935. The creative segments of the movie were organized at Alborada. Manel Fonseka reported in an article, ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt’ in 1994, that in an interview with Julia Margaret Cameron, Basil Wright had said this about Lionel Wendt; “I think he was one of the greatest still photographers that ever lived. I should place him among the six best I’ve come across”.

As a result of discussions held at Alborada, master dancers Nittawela Ukkuwa and Amunugama Suramba were taken to England for a recording of drum beats, for the movie ‘Song of Ceylon’. This trip was sponsored by painter Harry Peiris (1904-1988). A dance school was established to develop up-country dance, in Gunnepana, Sirimalwatte, Kandy in the 1920s for Master Suramba, as a result of discussions held among a group led by Wendt and George Keyt (1901-1993). This troupe, which included the group of up-country dancers, Ukkuwa, Nittawela Gunaya, Punchi Gura and Sri Jayana Rajapakse, was later upgraded as the ‘Dance Ensemble of Central Lanka’. Jayana’s coming of age ceremony, inclusive of his ‘Ves ceremony’, held at the Degaldoruwa Rajamaha Viharaya, Kandy, in 1939, and Jayana’s dance training in India later, were all sponsored by Wendt (Dr. Vaidyavathi Rajapakse, Personal communication, 2017).

The first art inspector appointed to Sri Lanka, during the colonial era, was Charles Freegrove Winzer (1886-1940), an Englishman. He became close friends with Wendt, during his tenure in Sri Lanka. In the early years, Winzer and Wendt both wrote reviews on exhibitions of George Keyt, Justin Peiris Deraniyagala (1903-1967) and Geoffrey Beling. Wendt also translated Neruda’s art reviews from Spanish to English and published them (Manel Fonseka.

[1994]. ‘Rediscovering Lionel Wendt, Lionel Wendt Photographs’. Deutsche Bank Colombo and Lionel Wendt Memorial Fund).

The first avant-garde art movement in Sri Lanka, the ’43 Group’, was born under the leadership of Winzer and Wendt. The 43 Group consisted of Wendt (Chief Organizer), painters Harry Peiris (Chief Secretary), George Keyt, J.W.G Beling, Richard Gabriel (1924-2016), Ivan Peiris (1921-1988), Justin Pieris Deraniyagala, George Claessen (1909-1999), Aubrey Collette (1920-1992) and L.T.P Manjusri (1902-1982). The meetings of the 43 group were held at Alborada until Wendt’s death.

Afterwards the meetings were held at the house of Harry Peiris, Sapumal Foundation, Barnes Place (Sarath Chandrajeewa. [2010]. ‘Modern Art in Sri Lanka and its socio-political environment’, Artful resistance: contemporary Art from Sri Lanka, ZKF publishers. Germany).

As mentioned above, Pablo Neruda was only 25 when he was in Sri Lanka as the Chilean Ambassador (1929-1931). At 29, Wendt was four years older. In his book ‘Memoirs’, translated from Spanish into English by Hardie St. Martin, published by Penguin, Neruda had written thus about Wendt, on page 93.

“Little by little the impenetrable crust began to crack open and I struck up a few good friendships. At the same time, I discovered the younger generation, steeped in colonialist culture, who talked only about books just out in England. I found out that the pianist, photographer, critic and cinematographer Lionel Wendt was the central figure of a cultural life torn between the death rattles of the Empire and a human appraisal of the untapped values of Ceylon.

Lionel Wendt, who owned an extensive library and received all the latest books from England, got into the extravagant and generous habit of every week sending to my house, which was a good distance from the city, a cyclist loaded down with a sack of books. Thus, for some time, I read kilometers of English novels, among them the first edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published privately in Florence” (Memoirs by Pablo Neruda, translated from Spanish by Hardie St. Martin [1997]. Penguin Books).

To be continued

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Politics at its most primitive

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By Uditha Devapriya

Review of Shaveen Bandaranayake’s Groundswell

Sarasavi Publications, 2021, 118 pages, Rs. 300

Half-way into Shaveen Bandaranayake’s novel, the Minister at the heart of the story tells us that the wealth he earned was people, not money. This is what politicians usually say. In the very least, it is what people who dislike politicians imagine they say.

Come to think of it, both amount to the same thing: we’ve turned politicians into objects of hate so much that we’ve come to love them for being who we think they are. Since we can’t control them in real life, we want to dominate them in popular fiction. The number of plays and films that poke fun at Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Ministers testify to how badly we want to be, not like them, but above them.

I am deeply suspicious of satire of that sort. In his excellent review of Pusswedilla, Hafeel Farisz tells us why political parody ends up serving the people and objects being parodied. This is not rocket science. At its best, political satire can move us to anger, disenchantment, and rebellion. At its worst, it can lull us into a sense of complacency with things as they are and as they seem. Farisz seemed to think that Pusswedilla epitomised the latter, reinforcing cultural stereotypes while offering no proper critique of the political establishment and the ruling class. I suppose you can say the same thing of Vijaya Nandasiri’s comedies: at his best, he makes us aware of the corruption of the political class; at his worst, he turns the corrupt into objects of love-hate, full of tropes and clichés but nothing substantive.

Shaveen Bandaranayake’s Groundswell reads as a political satire, though I have my doubts. Interweaving different stories and unfolding like a film, it goes back and forth. I won’t call its ending funny, but then how can any novel involving politics end on a funny note?

What Bandaranayake does in his story, short as it is, is to tell us that nothing good can come out of a system mired as much in corruption as in patronage. Since these people are tied to each other through politics, politics can prove to be their undoing. The way he forays into this theme and explores it, without regurgitating the usual political clichés, puts the novel at a notch or two above what you come across at, say, the Lionel Wendt. Without conforming to crude stereotypes, he attempts to humanise his characters, showing us why connections matter in politics, and why they don’t always work out.

The plot is simple enough. A woman comes across a corpse of a man at the foot of a hill one fine morning. She informs the police. By the looks of it, he seems to have lost his grip and fallen to his death. The story then rewinds to a political rally at that most obtrusive site of political rallies, a temple, where we are introduced to Sarath Aluwihare, a Minister trying to win his next election. We are also introduced to Sunil, a young man endeavouring to land a job. Events will unfold in a way that will bring the two of them together.

We are told that Sarath hails from a family of politicians, and that this family has been in politics for over two generations. The surname tells us as much. Sunil, on the other hand, is so unobtrusive that Shaveen doesn’t grant him the privilege of a surname, which, after all, is the preserve of those who matter. Like other village youths lacking employment and in dire search of a patron from the ruling class, Sunil clearly is not important; even when he finds a job as Aluwihare’s driver, his status rises, but not so much as to protect him from the novel’s ending. He is as destined to his place in life as Aluwihare is to his.

There are other characters though, and they have surnames. There is the head priest of the temple, for instance, an unabashed admirer of Aluwihare who uses him to achieve his not so religious purposes. Then there is Dileepa Jayanetti, who rises “from rags to riches” and ends up becoming the owner of the country’s biggest media house. Dileepa finds his way up by befriending the daughter of another prominent politician, who introduces him to Aluwihare, who in turn becomes his biggest benefactor. You sense the pattern here.

Halfway through the story, Dileepa hires Lasantha Muthukumarana, a journalist who tries to stick to the tenets of his trade. Dileepa does this because he thinks that by hiring the honest, he can keep them from being honest. For someone who is so bright and manipulative, this is far from the most brilliant decision he could have taken: a few pages later, Muthukumarana is investigating a hit-and-run incident which may be connected to Aluwihare.

In Bandaranayake’s world, everyone seems to know everyone else. That is why it comes to no surprise that the man run down by a vehicle in the middle of the night should have been married to a woman Aluwihare just happened to hire at his Ministry, and that she should be rumoured to have formed the object of Aluwihare’s affections. That Lasantha thought for a moment that a news report linking all this to a prominent Minister would make it in a paper linked to and blessed by that Minister is, of course, intriguing. But he tries to get it published it anyway. When the predictable opprobrium follows and he finds he can’t get it in, the story moves to its inevitable and in many ways unsurprising conclusion.

In saying all this, I am by no means revealing the plot. In fact, surprising as it may seem, the plot is what least interests me about Bandaranayake’s novel. This is a narrative I have come across many times, in many forms. Bandaranayake takes great pains to make it all relevant to the immediate political situation, i.e. the one we are in, now. Those who manage to draw links between his characters and their “real-life counterparts” should, therefore, be forgiven for thinking that he has attempted political critique masquerading as satire. My interest in it, then, has less to do with the novel than the genre it belongs to.

If Groundswell can be called a satire, it is satirical only to the extent that his characters are caricatures. Yet, as I implied earlier, it is not a satire in the way that a work like Pusswedilla is. The characters fit into preconceived and familiar patterns, but that doesn’t make them the clichéd tropes they turn into elsewhere. These characters are more rounded, certainly more complex. Sarath Aluwihare, for instance, does not possess the overstuffed tummy his counterparts from countless parodies do, while Sunil doesn’t become a Renfield type figure hell bent on catering to his “Master.” Even though Bandaranayake can be facetious, and is pugnacious, he refuses to dabble in the kind of satirical humour which could have turned his story into a Vijaya Nandasiri style parody of politics in Sri Lanka.

Depending on how you view it, this may be the strongest point or the biggest weakness in Bandaranayake’s novel. Groundswell makes several important points, and they should be considered pertinent whether they be couched the language of satire or of serious political critique. The medium is hardly the message, contrary to what people might say, and the way you communicate your ideas should not really impact the importance of those ideas.

And yet, there are one or two episodes which reveal Bandaranayake’s funny side. It is here that the disjuncture between the satirical undertones and the ponderous overtones of the narrative, and the author’s voice, proves fatal to the development of the story.

Bandaranayake is at his best when he is setting up situations, and these situations are, all things considered, effective in setting up the plot. He tries to create atmosphere, and does a good job of laying the context. But when each and every point is prefaced by laboriously long explanations of social phenomena, such as the separation between temple and State in Sri Lanka, or the wretched fate encountered by a million or so menial workers in West Asia, you struggle to distinguish between the narrative and the commentary.

For local readers, these explanations will at best be passé. I suspect they will be for foreign readers as well. Groundswell is a novel, or more correctly a novella, which could have been shorter, tighter, and more effective without them. Not surprisingly, the story gains strength when Bandaranayake cuts to the chase, and loses track when he does not.

I have read this kind of story many times before. What makes this one interesting is that it is Bandaranayake’s first attempt at fiction, and that, for a first attempt, it’s damn good. Even within its limits, he has come up with something enjoyable. That I enjoyed the book, and of course the brilliant illustrations that more than just decorate it*, is why I wish it were leaner, shorter, and tighter. Less can be more. More often than not, it is.

* With one exception: the eighth drawing depicts a scene that, if you think about it carefully, is at odds with the text on the opposite page.

The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Thirty two little ballerinas win awards at TBSC’s 2021 prize giving

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Text and pictures by
PRIYAN DE SILVA

Thirty two little ballerinas were presented with certificates of achievements and awards at the 2021 prize giving of The Ballet school of Colombo (TBSC) held recently.

Directors of TBSC Tara Cooke and Romina Gyi said that they were extremely proud of the achievements of their charges and thanked the students and parents for their dedication in attending classes diligently despite the trying conditions.

Certificates of achievement were awarded in the baby ballet, junior ballet and intermediate ballet categories to students who excelled in pre-classical and pre-jazz ballet.

Debbie McRitchie, International Director of the Commonwealth Society of Teachers of Dancing (to which TBSC is affiliated), in her congratulatory message thanked the parents for investing in their childrens dance education and the teachers of TBSC for preparing the candidates. She said that dance is like life and is a journey but not a destination and encouraged all stakeholders to work harder.

The prize giving was a proud moment for both students and parents as it was a parent who presented the certificates of achievement to their child. Five-year-old Shenaya de Alwis Samarasinghe was the youngest candidate at the prize giving, passing with honours in pre-classical ballet.

The Ballet School of Colombo was the former ‘Oosha Garten Sschool of Ballet’ pioneered by the late Kalasuri Oosha Saravanamuttu-Wijesinghe and was instituted as the ‘The Ballet School of Colombo’ in 2016.

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