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Fonseka’s call to arms!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

It looks as if there is a new leader of the Aragalaya, self-appointed perhaps! Judging by the fiery speech of SJB MP Sarath Fonseka, made during the debate on the declaration of the current emergency, there is no doubt that he was offering himself to be the leader of the revolution. It was addressed more to the general populace than his colleagues and it was pretty obvious that he is trying to fill the supposed vacuum of the lack of a proper leadership for the revolution. Though some commentators opine that this is the reason for the lack of full fruition of the revolution, perhaps, there are other reasons too. Obviously, the most important is that it had been a negative revolution, so far, dictating who should go with no hint of replacements! There are hardly any solutions offered to solve the deepening economic crisis. In fact, one may argue that if not for the “Aragalaya”, the elected politicians, however bad they are, may have made things better by now, as they would have had the time to concentrate their efforts on rebuilding the economy. If not for the political instability, an agreement with IMF would have been in place now.

At one time it looked as if the leader of the FSP was heading the revolution. Though his nominee got only 8,219 votes, meagre 0.06% of the votes cast at the last presidential election, he behaved as if he had a massive mandate!

Then it looked as if the JVP leader was running the show. He cast himself before his parliamentary colleagues to be elected president and got his votes plus that of the proposer and seconder. A cynic commented that his 3% became 3 out of 225! As they have faded off, Fonseka is now dreaming of leading the revolution in the hope that bizarre circumstances may catapult him to be president, just like Ranil did, provided of course, he displaces Ranil; the man who induced him to politics and the taste of political power!

Fonseka’s call to arms would have been more appropriate at a political rally than in the parliament and he made some sweeping statements which warrant verification. He stated that, maybe as the chairman of SJB, he and his party will join in the final battle to remove corrupt rulers from power on August 9, 2022. Perhaps, he conveniently forgot that his party too is full of corrupt politicians and that his reputation too is not without blemish. The episode of the sizeable amount of foreign currency found with his daughter’s mother-in-law, shortly after his defeat at the presidential election, comes to mind. Interestingly, the very next day, one of the vociferous SJB MP’s declared that no such decision had been taken by the party. It looks as if the chairmen of the SJB and the SLPP are in similar predicaments!

He said: “The President should know that more than 95% of the security forces and the police are with the protesting masses. Security forces and the police also should not follow orders and attack the protesters.” The former army commander is instructing forces to disobey! If 95% of armed forces are not with the government, are we heading for a coup?

He went on to say: “It will only be possible to form a new government by bringing a new front comprising non corrupted persons in the opposition and in the government. I don’t mean that the new government after the struggle would be an SJB-led one.” Funny, for the chairman to admit the ineptness of his own party! Or, is it that he does not want the leader of his party to lead the new government? Perhaps, he wants to lead the new government!

He further said: “One has to understand that collateral damage takes place during an uprising. It should also be understood that the youth who took over state-owned buildings did so on behalf of the people. They wanted the give people something more. Therefore, one should not shout about damaging state-owned buildings” and added that he does not condone the arrest of a protester inside an aircraft! A person who invaded Rupavahini was attempting to escape, evading a warrant issued by the Court for a previous charge, having shaved the revolutionary beard and trimmed the hair locks to change appearance, when the police quite rightly, executed the warrant. He made a scene shouting that his neck was being squeezed whereas it was obvious from the videos that no such thing was happening! Is Fonseka defending the indefensible to curry favour? Is this the law and order that will prevail in the unlikely event he becomes the leader?

Fonseka has been undermining Sajith. If he wishes to do so he should follow the example of Champika and leave the SJB. In sharp contrast, SJB convert Dayan Jayatilleke in his article “Aragalaya” arrested or “Aragalaya” unfinished?” (The Island, 30 July), though he seems in agreement with Fonseka by stating “That is why “RANIL RESIGN!” must resonate and resound in the final phase of the great national liberation struggle for freedom and democracy in our lifetimes: the “Aragalaya!“, demonstrates unwavering support for Sajith and elucidates a new form of democracy to make Sajit president. He states:

“The economic recovery is deadlocked not only by the obvious problems of the chicken-and-the egg, IMF and the creditors conundrum. It is deadlocked even tighter now, by President Ranil’s choices and actions. He should have stepped down and made way for a political leader with some mass base, who could have made a fresh start and had a better shot at managing the crisis. Since Sajith Premadasa bravely ran against Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in November 2019, and lost by only 10%, missing the magic 50% mark by only 8%, he would have been the logical first option.” Perhaps, 21A or 22A, whatever it is called, should include a new clause that the presidential replacement should be the runner-up provided he misses the magic 50% mark by less than 10%!

He forgets that Sajith has amply demonstrated that he shies away from responsibility in spite of talking big. After the loss at the presidential election, Sajith disappeared vowing to look after Yala leopards henceforth! On the resignation of Mahinda, when Gota offered him premiership, Sajith refused giving flimsy excuses. At a crucial juncture in our history, when all politicians should have united to save the economy, shedding petty differences, Sajith dodged out. It was one of his own MPs who said he likes but scared: Aasai namuth bayai! He withdrew from the presidential election in parliament fearing defeat! Under Sajith SJB has become AJB; Asamagi Jana Balavegaya! The actions of the chairman are proof enough!! Dayan also overlooks the fact that Sajith is unlikely to be accepted by the “Aragalaya”: for when Sajith visited the Galle Face green to pledge solidarity with the Aragalists, they beat him!



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Opinion

Need for best relations with China

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(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)

I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.

Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.

I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.

Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.

It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.

It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.

A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.

These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future

ANANDA MEEGAMA

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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Opinion

Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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