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Generic system failure or inherent deficiencies in corporate ethics?

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SLIIT controversy in the context of establishing private sector higher education institutions in Sri Lanka

By Prof Susirith Mendis
(susmend2610@gmail.com)

Having been a regular contributor to ‘The Island’, I have ventured again into expressing my opinion in public spaces after an extended period of silence, as I felt compelled to, after I read the excellently argued piece by Prof R.P. Gunawardane titled ‘SLIIT should remain non-state and non-profit institution’ in The Island of November 23.

Prof. Gunawardane explains why Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) should remain non-state and non-profit. He also discusses dispassionately the ‘issues and concerns’ that have come up in recent times about the unsavoury circumstances under which SLIIT ended up completely under private ownership divesting itself from what they might have seen as ‘the restraining clutches’ of the Mahapola Trust Fund (MTF). Prof Gunawardane’s recommendations finally, as well, are mostly acceptable and valuable.

But there are a few places where I beg to disagree and also wish to extend comment on the two topics he has touched upon.

Leaving the comments about the restraints of the University Grants Commission (UGC) on the state universities for later, let me first take issues about SLIIT.

SLIIT and MTF

Things have ‘hit the fan’ since the COPE report on SLIIT became public. Minister Bandula Gunawardane has assured at a meeting chaired by the President, that in his capacity as Minister of Trade, “action would be taken to take over SLIIT divested through fraudulent means”. The Minister used the words “fraudulent means”. The Island of August 10, 2021 headlined its story on the COPE revelations on SLIIT, ‘COPE tells govt. to undo SLIIT swindle’. So, it has been named fraudulent and a swindle.

The Second Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises tabled in Parliament on April 6, 2021, was a Special Report on SLIIT. The report prepared on the basis of an investigation by the Auditor General’s Department has recommended that “the SLIIT be recognised as a non-governmental institution and that the decision taken by the Cabinet of Ministers on 24.05.2017 not to include the said institution under any purview of the Ministry be reconsidered.” It also recommends that “the institution be taken over by the Mahapola Fund.”

Furthermore, the COPE recommended that action be taken under the Public Property Act against ‘all parties involved’ (my emphasis) in the action taken to deprive the government of its ownership of SLIIT and its control by an agreement signed on May 12, 2015 without any formal authority.

Therein lies the crux of this issue, that Prof Gunawardane failed to emphasise. But Prof Gunawardane rightly questions the bona fides of SLIIT in not responding to the summons of COPE to appear before it, using a technicality and informing, through their law firm, that it is ‘not legally obligated’ to do so. If all the actions of SLIIT in the process of the MTF divesting itself of SLIIT were above board, and there was nothing to hide, this would have been the best opportunity that the management of SLIIT had of publicly declaring that it had clean hands. Their refusal to do so is suspicious to say the least. A subsequent full-page advertisement (for which they must have spent a few cool millions) in The Daily Mirror of October 29, 2021, titled ‘The True Story of SLIIT’ was a varnished narrative signed, sealed and delivered to a gullible public. What was curiously revealing was, therein, they relate in passing, “the great risks and sacrifices made by the pioneers of SLIIT,” in particular those of Prof Lalith Gamage. It is a good advertisement. As good an advertisement as all advertisements are and expected to be, where critical information is suppressed, and high-points are emphasised and overblown. Like advertisements for milk foods or table margarines, for instance.

The refusal of SLIIT to appear before COPE may have prompted Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe to move the Supreme Court in terms of article 126 and Article 17 of the Constitution of Sri Lanka to request the cancellation of agreements between the MTF and SLIIT. The former Minister of Justice as well as Minister of Higher Education under the Yahapalana government, has named Cabinet of ministers including the Prime Minister, Members of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the IGP, Attorney General, members of SLIIT and the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund as respondents, and asked for issuing of notices to them and most importantly an order directing the Attorney-General to charge and indict Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Dr. Wickrama Weerasooriya (deceased), Anil Rajakaruna, Prof Lalith R. Gamage and Prof Luxman Rathnayaka, among others.

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe alleged that though he made a complaint to the CIABOC on February 25, 2019 that the loss caused to SLIIT as a result of the corrupt transaction at that time was about Rs. 23,000,000,000. (Rs. 23 billion), the outfit did nothing except recording statements from him twice.

As the Minister of Justice and of Higher Education, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe was privy to all the sordid details of what happened at a particular MTF Board of Governors meeting when the Board was coerced into consenting to the divesting of SLIIT from the MTF.

Now, it is in the hands of the Supreme Court. We shall wait with bated breath. But in the meantime, a debate in Parliament is on the offing, which may bring to the public domain what is still not fully revealed.

Considering all of the above, I cannot but disagree with Prof. Gunawardane that the Vice-Chancellor/CEO of SLIIT should be retained in that position. He has apparently compromised himself, having started splendidly well in bringing SLIIT initially up to what it became later. Here was a golden opportunity for MTF and SLIIT to jointly set up a model for public-private partnership in the provision of higher education to an ‘education-hungry’ generation of Sri Lankan youth. But unfortunately, SLIIT has not conducted itself to be above reproach. Greed has, perhaps, taken over the early ideals of treading new paths in establishing a new kind of higher educational institution, as often as it happens in the conduct of most human affairs. In the end, it seems to have gone the same way as did North Colombo Medical College (NCMC) and South Asian Institute of Technology and Management/Medicine (SAITM) – manipulated by vested interests, for different ends, under different circumstances and different political regimes. Hence, my question in the title. Is it a system failure or corporate greed that creates an environment that attempts at private higher education, as in the three cases mentioned above, have failed our expectations? Failed to show that education, even in the hands of the private sector, is not wholly a ‘tradable commodity, but it is also a public good’.

We, the public also would wish, if it is at all possible, to know the answers to the following:

(i) Why has SLIIT not named the ‘company’ to which the SLIIT Board of Directors transferred the assets of SLIIT in 2015?

(ii) Who owns SLIIT now?

(iii) Why is there deliberate secrecy about ‘company’ that owns SLIIT?

(iv) Who are the shareholders of the above ‘company’?

(v) Does the Chancellor or the Vice-Chancellor/CEO or any other member of the Board of Management of SLIIT have any financial interest or any ownership or shareholding of the said unnamed ‘company’?

Until these questions have unambiguous answers, the truth about SLIIT will not be known.

I believe that a Presidential Commission has to be appointed to probe the allegations of a ‘fraudulent’ ‘swindle’ sullied by corruption at the highest levels of the SLIIT management.

State universities and the UGC

Prof R. P. Gunawardane argues that ‘UGC interference’ in State universities has retarded or restrained their growth and development as universities. I fully agree.

He quotes as examples Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and all ‘Ivy League’ universities in the US and to a lesser extent the British universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, that are free from the fetters of government control. I believe that we need to look at their origins and the context in which they were established. Oxbridge were established as religious institutions of learning. The origins of Oxford are lost in the mists of time and legend, but the influence of the Christian Church in these two institutions is well-known. Harvard was founded to train clergy as a ‘church in the wilderness’. Hence, we cannot compare our state universities with the hoary traditions and culture that are behind those institutions that have developed through millennia and centuries. As a result, neither their governance structures nor their ethos can be replicated to our contexts.

Having said that, I agree that we need to strive for higher goals and greater futures for our universities. But, having been in the system for four decades, I have many misgivings about the self-governance of our universities. We have not shown that we have the distinct capabilities of ensuring quality and standards of higher education without state overview. I wish it were otherwise. To illustrate this absence of educational as well as fiduciary or financial responsibility and accountability within our universities, let me quote these two examples.

(1) External Degree Programmes: Several state universities conducted external degree programmes. Sri Jayewardenepura, Kelaniya, Peradeniya and Ruhuna universities were prominent amongst them. As I estimate, 15,000 to 35,000 students were registered annually by each of them. Almost all of them, if not all, were degrees in the Arts and Humanities. The monitoring of quality and standards was poor, and often non-existent. Many academic staff of these universities were external lecturers at mushrooming tutories countrywide, that conducted classes. Though they were expected to make a declaration to their respective universities about their involvement as external teaching staff, to avoid conflict of interest when examiners were appointed, this was practised more in the breach. Corruption became rampant. Examiners were correcting over 5,000 answer scripts. I was not surprised that the Minister of Higher Education, S.B. Dissanayake said publicly that ‘examiners throw answer scripts in the air and give marks according to when and where they fall’. He must have had some inside information. One of them told me that he built his three-storey house from the external degree examination payments he received. The Director of the External Examinations Branch was a much sought-after position. And once in, few left willingly. No control was possible due to pressures of vested interests within universities until the UGC stepped in and limited numbers that could be registered for external degrees by a special circular.

(2) Master’s degree, postgraduate diploma and certificate programmes: Though Bachelor’s degrees are non-fee levying, all other programmes conducted by state universities are fee-levying. Such programmes began to mushroom in all state universities. Academic staff delivering lectures and examining answer scripts were paid handsomely. Therefore, such courses began to proliferate. Master’s programmes were the most lucrative. Some professors and senior staff in universities neglected their undergraduate lectures and concentrated on postgraduate lectures. Examinations were delayed and results were not released for months, if not years. Having paid large sums of money, postgraduate students languished without being awarded their degrees. Some newly established universities with a severe dearth of academic staff even to effectively conduct their undergraduate bachelor’s programmes, were commencing and conducting Master’s programmes. Some even commenced such programmes in Colombo in rented premises with minimal involvement of their academics in the teaching programmes. The quality of these Master’s programmes was much in question. Since the situation was going out of control, the UGC had to bring in stricter criteria for universities to establish postgraduate courses. This had to be done by the UGC because the powerful vested interests within the universities overwhelmed any attempt at internal reform. But, even now, the proliferation of Master’s degree programmes in our state universities are a matter of much concern and debate.

The above are just two examples of the lack of educational and fiduciary or financial governance of the state university system in Sri Lanka.

After all, we are currently debating the deficiencies of governance at the highest levels of government. It is my considered view that neither systems nor persons of adequate integrity are in place for us to entrust self-governance to our universities at present. Corruption will become rampant from student selection to awarding of degrees. This is despite a myriad of UGC circulars. What would the playing fields be, without such an independent referee, and if none of those restraints by circulars (rules) were in existence? I may be a pessimist. But I fear to envisage such a scenario.



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South’s development debacle compounded by SAARC’s inner paralysis

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From a development point of view, it’s ‘the worst of times’ for the global South. The view of some of the most renowned development organizations is that the woes brought upon the hemisphere by the Covid-19 pandemic have probably stalled its development by decades. The inference is inescapable that the South would need to start from scratch as it were in its efforts to ease its material burdens, once the present health crisis shows signs of lifting.

A recent Jakarta Post/ANN news feature published in this newspaper on January 14th, detailing some of the dire economic fallout from the pandemic on the South said: ‘Between March and December 2020, the equivalent of 147 million full time jobs were lost in the Asia Pacific region. In 2020, the World Bank estimated that between 140 million people in Asia were pushed into poverty and in 2021 another 8 million became poor…..Vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities and migrant workers were worst affected. Across Asia, informal and migrant workers suffered an estimated 21.6 percent fall in their income in the first four months of the pandemic.’

Needless to say, being one of the least developed regions of the South and its most populous one, it is South Asia that is likely to be worst affected in the current global crunch. A phenomenon that should not go unnoticed in this connection, is the rising number of the ‘new poor’ in the South. This refers in the main to those sections of the middle class that are sliding into the lower middle class and the ranks of the poverty-stricken as a result of the ill-effects of the present crisis. Job loss and decreasing income are some of the causes behind this rising tide of pauperization.

Referring to this and connected processes the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka states in its ‘Sri Lanka State of the Economy 2021’report: ‘Estimates at the USD 3.20 poverty line are forecasted to be at least 228 million, with a larger share of the population emerging from South Asia yet again. Initial projections for 2021 estimate the number of individuals in extreme poverty to be between 143 and 163 million.’ The stark and widespread poverty emerging in Afghanistan since mid-August 2021, ought to push up these figures quite a bit.

Considering that the South is way behind the North in developmental terms, the unfolding global economic crisis could be expected to widen the chasm in material wellbeing between the hemispheres in the days ahead. However, ‘the overwhelming question’ for the South would be how it could fend for itself in the absence of those Southern-centred organizations that could take up its cause in the forums of the world and bring the region together in an effort to work towards its collective wellbeing. The importance of this question is strongly underscored by the fact that SAARC is more or less dysfunctional or paralyzed at present.

The immense magnitude of the poverty question is yet to be realized by the ruling elites of the South. It is as if the chimerical growth spurt in some sections of the South over the past 30 or so years has rendered them numb and insensitive to poverty-related issues, including the ever-yawning gulf within their countries between the obscenely wealthy and the desperately poor. As is known, while the so-called ordinary people of the South have been wilting in dire want over the past two years, the hemisphere has been producing billionaires in disconcertingly high numbers. This could be true of Sri Lanka as well and the Pandora Papers gave us the cue a few months back.

By burying their heads in the sands as it were in this manner, Southern political elites could very well be setting the stage for bloody upheavals within their states. The need for substantial ‘bread’ has always been a driver of socio-political change over the centuries. They are bound to find their problems compounded by the accentuation of ethnicity and religion related questions, considering that such issues are taking a turn for the worse amid the current economic debacle. Vulnerable groups would need to be cared for and looked after by rulers and these include women and ethnic minorities. An aggravation of their lot could compound the worries of Southern rulers.

The phenomenal increase of billionaires ought to be researched more intently and thoroughly by Southern think tanks, R and D organizations and the like. Among other things, does not this disquieting emergence of billionaires prove that classical economics was wrong in assuming that wealth would easily ‘trickle-down’ to the masses from wealth creators, such as businessmen and other owners of capital? After all, we now have clear evidence that mountainous wealth could exist amid vast wastes of poverty and powerlessness.

However, the view of some commentators that ‘neoliberal policies of privatization’ and connected issues should now be reassessed and even eschewed ought to strike the observer as worthy of consideration. These policies that enthrone free market economics should be viewed as badly in need of revision and correction in view of the inherently unstable economic systems that they have given rise to over the past three decades. Their serious flaws are thrown into strong relief by the present Southern economic crisis which has resulted in some isolated, formidable towers of wealth and opulence sprouting in a sea of hardship and economic want.

Hopefully, we would see a renewed wide-ranging discussion on development models from now on. Ideally, growth needs to go hand-in-hand with equity if development is to be achieved to a degree. There is no getting away from the need for central planning to some extent in our efforts to reach these ends. Capital and Labour would need to come together in a meeting of minds in these endeavours. Development thrusts would need to be launched on pragmatic considerations as well.

However, a regional approach to resolving these issues facing South Asia needs to be renewed and persisted with as well. As long as SAARC remains paralyzed such efforts are unlikely to bear full fruit. Accordingly, India and Pakistan, the regional heavyweights, need to negotiate an end to their differences and help rejuvenate SAARC; South Asia’s key collective body that could usher in a measure of regional development.

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History of St. Sebastian’s Shrine, Kandana

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By Godfrey Cooray

Ambassador of Sri Lanka to Norway, Finland and Iceland

According to legend, St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne in Gaul. He became a soldier in Rome and encouraged Marcellian and Marcus who were sentenced to death to remain firm in their faith. St. Sebastian made several converts; among them were master of the rolls Nicostratus, who was in charge of prisoners and his wife, Zoe, a deaf mute whom he cured.

Sebastian was named captain in the Roman Army by Emperor Diocletian, as Emperor Maximian went to the east. Neither knew that Sebastian was a Christian. When it was discovered that Sebastian was indeed a Christian, he was ordered to be executed. He was shot with arrows and left to die but when the widow of St. Castulas went to recover his body, she found out that he was still alive and nursed him back to health. Soon after his recovery, St. Sebastian intercepted the Emperor; denounced him for his cruelty to Christians and was beaten to death on the Emperor’s order.

St. Sebastian was venerated in Milan as early as the time of St. Ambrose. St. Sebastian is the patron of archers, athletes, soldiers, the Saint of the youths and is appealed to protection against the plagues. St. Ambrose reveals that the parents young Sebastian were living in Milan as a noble family. St. Ambrose further says that Sebastian along with his three friends, Pankasi, Pulvius and Thorvinus completed his education successfully with the blessing of his mother, Luciana. Rev. Fr. Dishnef guided him through his spiritual life. From his childhood, Sebastian wanted to join the Roman Army and with the help of King Karnus, young Sebastian became a soldier. Within as short span of time he was appointed as the Commander of the Army of king Karnus. Emperor Diocletian declared Christians the enemy of the Roman Empire and instructed judges to punish Christians who have embraced the Catholic Church. Young Sebastian as one of the servants of Christ converted thousands of other believers into Christians. When Emperor Diocletian revealed that Sebastian had become a Catholic, the angery Emperor ordered for Sebastian to be shot to death with arrows. After being shot, one of Sebastian supporters, Irane, treated him and cured him. When Sebastian was cured, he came to Emperor Diocletian and professed his faith for the second time disclosing that he is a servant of Christ. Astounded by the fact that Sebastian is a Christian, Emperor Diocletian ordered the Roman Army to kill Sebastian with club blows.

In the liturgical calendar of the Church, the feast of the St. Sebastian is celebrated on 20th of January. This day is, indeed, a mini Christmas to the people of Kandana, irrespective of their religion. The feast commences with the hoisting of the flag staff on the 11th of January at 4 p.m. at the Kandana junction, along the Colombo- Negombo road. There is a long history attached to the flag staff. The first flag staff which was an ariecanut tree, 25 feet tall was hoisted by the Aththidiya family of Kandana and today their descendants continue hoisting of the flag staff as a tradition. This year’s flag staff too was hoisted by the Raymond Aththidiya family. Several processions originating from different directions carrying flags meet at this flag staff junction. The pouring of milk on the flag staff has been a tradition in existence for a long time. The Nagasalan band was introduced by a well-known Jaffna businessman that had engaged in business in Kandana in the 1950s. The famous Kandaiyan Pille’s Nagasalan group takes the lead even today in the procession. Kiribath Dane in the Kandana town had been a tradition from the time immemorial.

According to the available history from the Catholic archives and volume III of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, the British period of vicariates of Colombo written by Rev. Ft. Vito Perniola SJ in 1806 states that the British government granted the freedom of conscious and religion to the Catholics in Ceylon and abolished all the anti-Catholic legislation enacted by the Dutch. The proclamation was declared and issued on the 3rd of August 1796 by Colonel James Stuart, the officer commanding the British forces of Ceylon stated “freedom granted to Catholics” (Sri Lanka national archives 20/5).

Before the Europeans, the missioners were all Goans from South India. In the year 1834, on the 3rd of December, XVI Gregory the Pope, issued a document Ex Muwere pastoralis ministeric, after which the Ceylon Catholic Church was made under the South Indian Cochin diocese. Very Rev. Fr. Vincent Rosario, the Apostolic VicarGeneral, was appointed along with 18 Goan priests (The Oratorion Mission in Sri Lanka being a history of the Catholic Chruch 1796-1874 by Arthur C Dep Chapter 11 pg 12) Rev Fr. Joachim Alberto arrived in Sri Lanka as missionary on the 6th of March 1830 when he was 31 years old and he was appointed to look after Catholics in Aluthkuru Korale consisting Kandana, Mabole, Nagodaa and Ragama. There have been one church built in 1810 in Wewala about three miles away from Kandana. Wewala Chruch was situated bordering Muthurajawela which rose to fame for its granary. History reveals that the entire area was under paddy cultivation of which most of them were either farmers or toddy tappers. History further reveals that there have been an old canal built by King Weera Parakrama Bahu. Later it was built to flow through the Kelani River and Muthurajawela up to Negombo which was named as the Dutch Canal (RL Brohier historian).

During the British time this canal was named as Hamilton Canal and was used to transport toddy, spices, paddy and tree planks of which tree planks were stored in Kandana. Therefore, Kandana name derives from “Kandan Aana”.

Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto purchased a small piece of land called Haamuduruwange watte at Nadurupititya in Kandana and put up a small cadjan chapel and placed a picture of St. Sebastian for the benefit of his small congregation. In 1837 with the help of the devotees, he dug a small well of which water was used for drinking and bathing and today this well is still operative. He bought several acres of land including the present cemetery premises. Moreover, he had put up the church at Kalaeliya in honour of his patron St. Joachim where his body has been laid to rest according to his wish of the Last will attested by Weerasinghe Arachchige Brasianu Thilakaratne. Notary public dated 19th of July 1855. Present Church was built on the property bought on the 13th of August 1875 on deed no. 146 attested by Graciano Fernando. Notary public of the land Gorakagahawatta Aluthkuru Korale Ragam Pattu in Kandana within the extend ¼ acre from and out of the 16 acres. According to the old plan number 374 made by P.A. H. Philipia, Licensed surveyor on the 31st of January 195, 9 acres and 25 perches belonged to St. Sebastian church. However, today only 3 acres, 3 roods and 16.5 perches are left according to plan number 397surveyed by the same surveyor while the rest had been sold to the villagers. According to the survey conducted by Orithorian priest on the 12th of February 1844 there were only 18 school-going Catholic students in AluthKuru Korale and only one Antonio was the teacher for all classes. In 1844 there was no school at Kandana (APF SCG India Volume 9829).

According to Sri Lanka National Archives (The Ceylon Almanac page 185) in the year 1852 there were 982 Catholics – Male 265, female 290, children 365 with a total of 922. According to the census reports in 2014 prepared by Rev. Ft. Sumeda Dissanayake TOR, the director Franciscan Preaching group, Kadirana Negombo a survey revealed that there are 13,498 Catholics in Kandana.

According to the appointment of the Missionaries in the year 1866-1867 by Bishop Hillarien Sillani, Rev. Fr. Clement Pagnani OSB was sent to look after the missions in Negoda, Ragama, Batagama, Tudella, Kandana, Kala Eliya and Mabole. On the 18th of April 1866, the building of the new church commenced with a written agreement by and between Rec. Fr. Clement Pagnani and the then leaders of Kandana Catholic Village Committee. This committee consisted of Kanugalawattage Savial Perera Samarasinghe Welwidane, Amarathunga Arachchige Issak Perera Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Arachchige Don Isthewan Appuhamy, Jayasuriya Appuhamylage Elaris Perera Muhuppu, Padukkage Andiris Perera Opisara, Kanugalawattage Peduru Perera Annavi and Mallawa Arachchige Don Peduru Appujamy. The said agreement stated that they will give written undertaking that their labour and money will be utilised to build the new church of St. Sebastian and if they failed to do so they were ready to bear any punishment which will be imposed by the Catholic Church.

Rev. Fr. Bede Bercatta’s book “A History of the Vicariate of Colombo page 359” says that Rev. Fr. Stanislaus Tabarani had problems of finding rock stones to lay the foundation. He was greatly worried over this and placed his due trust in divine providence. He prayed for days to St. Sebastian for his intercession. One morning after mass, he was informed by some people that they had seen a small patch of granite at a place in Rilaulla, close to the church premises although such stones were never seen there earlier and requested him to inspect the place. The parish priest visited the location and was greatly delighted as his prayers has been answered. This small granite rock provided enough granite blocks for the full foundation of the present church. This place still known as “Rilaulla galwala”. The work on the building proceeded under successive parish priests but Rev. Fr. Stouter was responsible for much of it. The façade of the church was built so high that it crashed on the 2nf of April of 1893. The present façade was then built and completed in the year 1905. The statue of St. Sebastian which is behind the altar had been carved off a “Madan tree”. It was done by Paravara man named Costa Mama, who was staying with a resident named Miguel Baas a Ridualle, Kandana. This statue was made at the request of Pavistina Perera Amaratunge, mother of former Member of Parliament gate muadliyer D. Panthi Jayasuriya. The church was completed during the time of Rev. Fr. Keegar and was blessed by then Archbishop of Colombo Dr. Anthony Courdert OMI on the 20th of January 1912. In 1926, Rev. Fr. Romauld Fernando was appointed as the parish priest to Kandana Church. He was an educationalist and a social worker. Without any hesitation he can be called as the father of education in Kandana. He was the pioneer to build three schools to Kandana: Kandana St. Sebastian Boys School, Kandana St. Sebastian English Girls School and, the Mazenod College Kandana. Later he was appointed as the principal of the St. Sebastian Boys English School. He bought a property at Kandana close to Ganemulla road and started De Mazenod College. Later, it was given officially to Christian Brothers of Sri Lanka, by then Archbishop of Colombo, Peter Mark. In 1931, there were three hundred students (history of De Lasalle brothers by Rev. Fr. Bro Michael Robert). Today, there are over three thousand five hundred students and is one of the leading catholic schools in Sri Lanka. In 1924, one Karolis Jayasuriya Widanage donated two acres to build De Mazenod College for its extension.

First priest from Kandana to be ordained was Rev. Fr. William Perera in 1904. With the help of Rev. Fr. Marcelline Jayakody, he composed the famous hymn “the Vikshopa Geethaya”, the hymn of our Lady of Sorrow.

The Life story of St. Sebastian was portrayed through a stage play called “Wasappauwa” and the world famous German passion play Obar Amargave wchi was a sensation was initiated by Rev. Fr. Nicholas Perera. Legend reveals that in the year 1845, a South Indian catholic on his way to meet his relatives in Colombo had brought down a wooden statue of St. Sebastian, one and half feet tail to be sold in Sri Lanka. When he reached Kalpitiya he had unexpectedly contracted malaria. He had made a vow at St. Anne’s church. Thalawila expecting a full recovery. In route to Colombo he had come to know about the church in Kandana and dedicated to St. Sebastian. In the absence of the then parish priest Rev. Fr. Joachim Alberto, the Muhuppu of the Church with the help of the others had agreed to buy the statue for 75 pathagas (one pahtaga was 75 cent). Even though the seller had left the money in the hands of the “Muhuppu” to be collected in the meantime he never returned.

On the 19th of January 2006, Archbishop Oswald Gomis declared St. Sebastian Church as “St. Sebastian Shrine” by way of special notification and handed over the declaration to Rev. Fr. Susith Perera, the parish priest of Kandana.

On the 12th of January 2014, Catholics in Sri Lanka celebrated the reception of a reliquary containing a fragment of the arm of St. Sebastian. The reliquary was gifted from the administrator of the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua and was brought to Sri Lanka by Monsignor Neville Perera. His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit, Archbishop of Colombo accompanied by priests and a large gathering received the relic at the Katunayake International Airport, brought to Kandana lead by a procession and was enthroned at the St. Sebastian Shrine.

Rev. Fr. Lalith Expeditus the present administrator of the shrine and other two assistant priests Rev. Fr. Sunath Udara and Fr. Sumeda Perea have finalized all arrangements to conduct the feast of St. Sebastian in grand scale. The vespers service will be officiated by his Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit and the festival high mass will be solemnized by most Rev. his Lordship J.D. Anthony, Auxiliary Bishop of Colombo.

The latest book written by Senior Lawyer Godfrey Cooray named “Santha Sebastian Puranaya Saha Kandana”. (The history of St. Sebastian and Kandana) was launched at De La Salle Auditorium De Mazenod College, Kandana.

The Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and former Chief Justice Priyasath Dep were the guests at the event.

The book discusses about the buried history of Muthurajawela and Aluth Kuru Korale civilization, the history of Kandana and St. Sebastian. The author discusses the historical and archaeological values and culture.

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His musical exploits has touched millions of fans

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Tribute to entertainer-singer par excellence – Desmond de Silva

By Trevine Rodrigo

(Melbourne, Australia)

The great Desmond De Silva, who departed from this world, on Sunday, January 9th, had been in hibernation for several months, due to the devastating outbreak of Covid, which shut down many parts of Australia.

After border closures were lifted, he embarked on a 31st night dinner dance, at the Sri Lounge in the Docklands, in Melbourne, where he delivered his last fully energised performance.

Widely regarded as Sri Lanka’s best singer/entertainer by far, over five decades, Desmond has covered every spectrum of music, in Sri Lanka, and later, in England and Australia, while wowing millions of adoring fans around the globe.

His achievements in music cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs but his fans will readily testify to the indelible mark he has made as a wonderful performer. He was to Sri Lankans what Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra was to the world, showcasing a rare and extraordinary talent that even extended to Motown.

He has travelled through numerous countries as a band member, mainly Europe and Asia, and has teamed up with hundreds of musicians along the way who have marvelled at his unique presence on stage.

After years of globe-trotting as a performer, with the Jetliners and later the Spitfires, he then continued his work as a leader of his own band, Desmond and the Clan, and this setup was very popular in Europe and Scandinavia.

After years of adventure, on the road, he then settled on a solo career, singing as a guest singer and his popularity soared when he ventured into the Sinhala music scene, as well.

Before long, he commanded the respect of the nation by being proclaimed the King of Baila which skyrocketed his fame in an era that gave fame but no massive financial gain, as he rose to an iconic status.

Ironically, Desmond always harboured his love for Western music and quite naturally chose not to be categorised, or pigeonholed, as one dimensional. He has produced many CDs, videos and commands thousands of followers on YouTube, and other related music channels.

His impressive versatility and ability to own the stage made him a standout among music lovers, immaterial of their ethnicity, and, sadly, he is another of the Sri Lankan icons who have departed this world, alongside Sunil Perera (of the Gypsies) and Ronnie Leitch, in recent times.

His musical exploits has touched millions of fans through several generations and will continue to do so, such is the impact he has cemented as a once-in-a-lifetime performer. He has nurtured several musicians, along the way, giving them pointers which have helped them launch their own careers in music to great heights. He maintained a high degree of professionalism and would not compromise his standards for anything less.

Never the arrogant performer, Des had an uncanny ability to interact with his fans, on and off stage, and this trait would see him draw invitations from all over the world.

I for one was amazed at his stamina and durability…to be in England one day, then on to Toronto and other cities in Canada, on to Sri Lanka, and several other countries, until, unfortunately, the pandemic curtailed his foreign assignments.

In our own interaction with him, my wife, Anne, and I, shared a special love for the man who slipped into our lifestyle, seamlessly, with wife, Phyllis.

He was a caring and wonderful friend and would call us at least once a week, from Sydney, to check how we were going or to share a joke. Our lives will never be the same without Desmond De Silva, a gentleman and wonderful friend.

Yes, the brilliant musician and singer/ entertainer Desmond De Silva was tragically snatched away from our midst in cruel circumstances when he suffered cardiac arrest, in his sleep, while in Melbourne. He was 77.

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