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Gazette Bill in blatant conflict with Constitution



The Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill had been gazetted on March 24 after Cabinet approval, and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. Normally, before placing a Bill on the order paper of the Parliament, it goes through the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet of Ministers.

According to a news item that appeared in the Daily News, on April 27, the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. But the same Attorney General has advanced the submissions and amendments in court, during the hearing of 18 petitions filed by members of civil society alleging the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has found more than one third of its clauses are conflicting with the Constitution – the supreme law of Sri Lanka. Thus, it has been proved the Gazette Bill was in blatant conflict with the Constitution.

High officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsman who are supposed to have been involved in the drafting of this Bill are professionals of recognized capability. They are committed to follow the best practices of their professions and should adhere to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics. They are bound by the oath taken by them in line with the Constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold. They also would have been supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet.

Citizens are confused as to how on earth such a Bill, in blatant conflict with the Constitution, could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. 149 Members of Parliament have voted to amend 26 clauses of 75 clauses of the Legal Draftsman’s Bill. This is tantamount to a No Confidence Motion on the Legal Draftsman.


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MPs can show their colours



I refer to this article, ‘Covid bonanza for….’ by Shamnidra Ferdinando.

It was obvious that the LC could not easily be cancelled. It will be interesting to know when the LC was actually opened; before or after Cabinet approval? The answer will be revealing.

Now that the vehicles will come in, come hell or high water with burning ships, there is a simple solution.

If the government is sincere in its intentions to reverse this totally unnecessary expenditure, which the country cannot afford,  scraping the bottom of the vangediya as it is, then the vehicles can be sold in the open market, in a transparent manner and at a profit, too, and the wasted  funds reimbursed to the Treasury. Personally, I know this will not happen, seeing what we are helplessly seeing being enacted in the country yesterday, today and alarmingly, tomorrow, too.

The next best option is for those MPs who oppose this criminal waste of public funds, to work out a method by which they can sell the vehicles presented to them by the starving masses, in a transparent manner and utilise the proceeds again in a transparent manner to uplift the lives of the millions of poor citizens in their electorates.

ACabinet given opportunity for Members of Parliament to show their true, even if highly faded and smudged, colours!



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Probe into expressway construction and floods



The news item appearing in your issue of 10th June, regarding the Expressway Construction and Floods, is of interest to me, as I had handled Road Projects when attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD] and later the Ministry for Highways.

It’s stated that Minister Johnston Fernando had instructed his Ministry Secretary to investigate immediately, whether there was any truth in the claim that some areas in Gampaha were inundated owing to the construction work, in the first phase of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama; and continues to say ‘Yahapalana adjustments to the construction master plan may have lead to the present situation’, which could be insinuated as placing the blame on the previous Yahapalana government. This is the usual blame-game adopted by bankrupt politicians. It will not be surprising if the present government will be blamed when a new government is formed, for mismanagement of projects carried out now.

As far as I know, while construction is on, there comes up certain problems, which may necessitate altering or deviating from the original design. Hence the responsibility lies entirely on the Engineer, and not on any politician or government in power. Here the integrity of the Engineer counts. Sad to say, there have been accusations where professionals have given way to political pressure and projects have become failures. I would like to quote Moeller’s theory “One of the major reasons for a country to be subjected to bad governance is when its professionals do not speak out, but worst still, these professionals actually gang up with those committing anarchy for their own benefit. What the professionals do not realize is that in the long term, they too would be subjected to the worst treatment by these despotic dictators whom they were keen to protect. Moeller’s theory being proved time and again consorting with an autocratic regime is a worst act of treason against one’s own country and its people”

To the credit of Minister Johnston Fernando, he also mentions the likelihood of this flooding by saying “We must keep in mind that the highest rainfall in the known history was reported from this area”. Whatever, the findings of the investigations be, the accusation should be taken as fault finding of Engineers, and they should now come forward to protect their prestigious profession and give reasons, which lay, incompetent politicians, do not have the capacity to understand. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers will expose the viles of politicians to steer this country in the correct direction. This goes for other professions as well.



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An appreciation: Rajeewa Jayaweera: A Void Hard to fill



By Dr D.Chandraratna

On 11 June, 2020, when we heard the distressing news of Rajeewa Jayaweera’s untimely death, I wrote an appreciation from afar that he was a public intellectual who had contributed immensely to public debate, mostly on our relations with India and to a lesser extent with the Western countries. Coming from a fortunate background, and immersed in the diplomatic life of his father he took a scholarly interest in foreign affairs. Few in Sri Lanka has contributed so much to the subject recently as much as Rajeewa, to bring into public discussion our relations with the world community. His accounts were ‘learned and incisive appraisal of events’ particularly during the turbulent times of the threat posed by separatism. In this article on the first death anniversary I wish to justify my assertion about Rajeewa by way of an appreciation with a difference.

Rajeewa can be described as a member of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia who contributed to matters of public interest through hundreds of essays to the few available journals over many years. The Sri Lankan intellectuals who form this group are drawn from practically all layers of society and in a democratic society like ours there is great heterogeneity. The universities absorb and reshape the sons and daughters of bourgeoisie and proletarians alike, from towns and villages, drawing members of all communities and religions. Hence to begin with there is great heterogeneity but this heterogeneity wanes and homogeneity waxes in because education and knowledge of world matters bind them in a striking way. Philosophers such as Karl Mannheim claimed that the intelligentsia are a privileged group who are capable of acquiring a ‘total perspective, with an unattached mind, which can grasp a phenomenon from all sides. The education and upbringing help overcome any blind attachment and one-sidedness; inter stimulation among the intellectuals cultivate the many positives of tolerance, elasticity and universal understanding and in Karl Manheim’s words become capable of the fullest synthesis of the tendencies of that era. A good education is able to remove crude prejudices by widening the values and horizons. Rajeewa in my estimation was a semi-contemplative, less deeply immersed in the world of action. He has shown to be less clearly identified with those closely active with the economic or political process. As an intellectual he did not choose to remain locked up in a private world but wanted his voice heard outside the narrow circle of his sphere of technical scholarship. He was at the centre of issues of foreign affairs and was no hack writer for any class or interest group. Wrote like an arbiter, or an umpire above the hurly burly of politics. Never sold himself to a party but remained steadfastly to the role of uncommitted observer. To his last day he remained in his own terrain, a tertium quid, a class of its own, the class of intellectuals.

My observations and deductions are clearly seen in the writings of Rajeewa to which I shall now turn. Given the space limitations of the column I shall only present a few of his views on Indian involvement in Sri Lankan affairs.

Apart from his interest in Sri Lankan airlines he also wrote on Sri Lankan relations with the West that I shall hold for another date. Like his own father Stanley Jayaweera who functioned for a short time as an advisor to President Premadasa, on India-Sri Lanka relations, Rajeewa too had a solid grasp of Indian involvement in Sri Lankan politics.


Indian Sri Lankan Relations

On the National Question issue, like a true diplomat, conscious of presenting a balanced but objective view he says that, ‘India’s involvement spans over three decades and cannot be wished away. Therefore, they should be co-opted into the process. But he is forthright in condemning ‘the utterly useless Provincial Council system which we must decide either to be retained for the sake of one community. Or else, should it be replaced with another mechanism that will address the issue of power devolution to the satisfaction of all communities’

Regarding the wavering stance of India at the UNHRC deliberations he said, ‘Considering the bleeding-­heart justifications, of successive Indian governments and its leaders for their support to Tamil terrorists in Sri Lanka, India’s moral bankruptcy stands exposed for the manner in which it treats with its own citizens in Jammu & Kashmir who are armed with stones and petrol bombs and not sophisticated communications equipment, automatic weapons, artillery and a naval squadron as were the LTTE. Kashmiris are yet to start the use of suicide vests and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Kashmir, Delhi or elsewhere, as was the case with LTTE’.

The scholarly interest he had about our truculent relationship with India was sharp. Rajeewa’s knowledge was as good as any state diplomat engaged officially with India. He said on many occasions that ‘It need to be stated, Sri Lanka has only one major foreign policy issue. That is India. The need to maintain close and friendly relations with India is a given fact. The need to act at all times, with due consideration to Indian concerns for the security of its southern seaboard at all times too is a given imperative. This needs to be handled with the utmost care by professionals’. However, it cannot be a one-way street either, he said unequivocally. Reciprocity and mutual respect is the apotheosis and corner stone for close and friendly relations.


Protocol and Conventions

When it was to do with protocol and Vienna Conventions Rajeewa was at his best. His personal life must have given him enough ammunition to go full blast at the failings of the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry. About a certain episode in Jaffna Indian Consul General’s office regarding the visit of a military officer, he said, ‘Heads of State, Governments, Ministers and senior officials visiting foreign missions and residences is an absolute breach of protocol. Exceptions should be to attend National Day Receptions or to sign a condolence book. Diplomats are meant to be summoned. If not, they initiate contact that must be necessarily held in the offices of the local official. About the deafening silence of the Foreign Ministry he wrote, ‘What role does the Indian Consul General play in the Civil-Military Coordination and Reconciliation in Jaffna? Has he assumed the role of de-facto Chief Minister?

About the behaviour of the diplomatic corps since the regime change in 2015, Rajeewa pointed out that, ‘we have witnessed over leaders kowtowing before foreigners and conducting themselves in a most servile manner. Not correcting the US Secretary of State John Kerry who welcomed our Foreign Minister “after 30 years of war with the Tamils” was one such instance. The Geneva sell-out was another, with SOFA being the latest. The disease seems to be infectious.

About the skirmishes at Geneva he wrote, ‘Now it would appear to be the turn of our soldiers. Forgotten are the heroes who led the several divisions in the Vanni region between January and May 2009. They are now in retirement unable to travel to many countries on trumped-up ‘war crimes’ allegations.

He articulated the voice of the people. ‘Notwithstanding the cordial relations at the state level, a serious trust deficit prevails among ordinary Sri Lankans, especially among the 70% majority community. Local sentiments are not a phobia, which is irrational, but fear and resentment based on recent Indian interventions and attitudes, considered hegemonistic, is the perspective of ordinary Sri Lankans. It is both rational and understandable. Most have no idea of India’s military adventures or its covert operations in neighbouring countries. But they are conscious of the role played by India in Sri Lanka since the late 1970s. Even assistance given at the tail end of the conflict to combat LTTE terrorism was largely negated by India repeatedly voting against Sri Lanka at UNHRC a few years ago.

I would like to conclude this tribute to Rajeewa by reference to the visit of that eminent scholar, historian diplomat Sashi Tharoor to Colombo. Jayaweera in a previous essay had written how most Indian statesmen, politicians, intellectuals and many others justify Indian involvement in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, based on reasons of kinship between the 1.2 million Tamil community in Sri Lanka and 70 million Tamils in the politically volatile Tamil Nadu. Sashi Tharoor too sang from the same copy book. He justified India’s continued engagement with Sri Lanka. When Tharoor commented “This is not a case of New Delhi interfering gratuitously in the internal affairs of its southern neighbour. India cannot help but be involved, both because it is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour geographically and because its own Tamil population – some 70 million people in the politically important southern state of Tamil Nadu—remains greatly concerned about the wellbeing of their ethnic cousins across the Palk Straits”.

However, Rajeewa wrote back immediately in The Island that ‘India does not apply the same theory to the wellbeing of 4.8 million Indian Muslims in Indian occupied Kashmir and the concern for their wellbeing of 3.6 million Muslims in Assad Kashmir and 181 million Muslims in Pakistan across borders. Suffice to state, India need to manage its 70 million Tamil population in the same manner Pakistan manage its 181 million Muslims, when Kashmir is in turmoil. His demise has silenced that voice.


Imagining a future

Let us imagine what contribution he would have made in the difficult times that we live today. In the October issue of Foreign Affairs, (the Journal of the U.S.A Council of Foreign Relations) its long time editor Gideon Rose declared forthrightly that after President Trump the world needs a fundamental rebalancing of institutions that underpin a viable global order in 2021 and beyond. There are many who believe that China will displace USA as the number one economic and military power in the world. Given our strategic placement, sandwiched between India and China, we have no longer a realistic choice other than understand and work with this inevitable change. We also need to contend with multiple powers that Sri Lanka has to deal with from Vietnam, Japan Indonesia to India. The region is undergoing immense and roiling transformations and we certainly miss bright intellectuals like Rajeewa Jayaweera who could enrich our minds ‘with cleverness as his creed and smartness as the manner of his mind.’ He has left a void hard to fill.

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