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Harsh realities of Non-Alignment and Foreign aid



Our leaders say we are non-aligned and certainly do their best to stay that way, though the reality may be somewhat different. We are being forced to part with whatever little we have to one or the other of the world powers, in the name of development. It seems as if we have to give something to everybody to appear to be non-aligned. To make matters worse, our economy is in dire straits and our strength to resist these almost hostile takeovers, at this moment, is not very good. Our foreign debt component is huge and we are dependent on foreign assistance, either in the form of loans or debt/equity swaps, to settle these debts and stay afloat. And this assistance comes from countries which are interested in getting hold of pieces of our “valuable real estate”.

Third world countries, whether they call themselves non-aligned or not, are heavily dependent on rich countries for development. Unless they maintain a growth rate above 5%, creation of employment opportunities and essential infrastructure development is not possible. This, for most of the poor countries, is not possible without foreign aid. In the case of Sri Lanka, which had a GDP less than 5% during the period 2015 to 2020, and has to pay about Rs.3 billion per year to service its loans, it is a gigantic task to recover; and unless a rich country comes to its aid, it may slide down further and be more vulnerable to external interference and encroachment into its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, there is nothing called a free lunch and Sri Lanka will have to carefully manage its policy on foreign aid. The often quoted epithet “beggars can’t be choosers” may not be applicable, as we may be capable of making correct choices.

One option is the IMF and the World Bank, but their aid is not without unfavourable conditions, which are designed to help the neo-liberal policies of the Western powers who seem to have those institutions under their thumb. Joseph Stiglitz, one time Chief Economist of the World Bank, had written about the ugly face of these Bretton Woods Twins (2000). Sri Lanka may not want to get too much into the IMF debt and expose its weak economy to the international market forces. Neoliberal policies include free-market policy, less government involvement, privatisation, austerity, low public expenditure, less welfarism, and commodification . These policies help the rich to accumulate wealth, while the incomes of the poor stagnate, or decline.

Then there are the big aid donors, but some of them would want their pound of flesh. These donors are in two rival camps, and are vying for “favours,” from little Sri Lanka, in return for whatever aid they may give. Surely Sri Lanka cannot afford to please everybody, like the good hearted lady who is always pregnant. If little Sri Lanka tries to please everybody, nothing will be left of the land and its natural resources for its inhabitants. Moreover, the interested parties are ganged up into two camps and are engaged in cold war rhetoric and there is no love lost among them. This would mean if one party receives favours the other party would be hurt and angry, unless they are also given something. However, one group resorts to arm twisting while the other refrains from interfering too much in our internal affairs. Shamelessly, the Western powers resort to fabricated allegations like human rights violations, to force Sri Lanka to yield on matters like MCC, ACSA, etc. They sponsor resolutions at the UNHRC in order to get a grip on Sri Lanka and force it to obey their dictate. China on the other hand, who is our major aid giver, does not resort to such unfriendly tactics; it has not forced Sri Lanka to join their Road and Belt Initiative.

We need foreign aid to get over this economic crisis which is complicated by Covid. We have to see who could give us aid with the least strings. We know that the US and Europe did not give much during the “Yahapalana” days, though the government was pro-West. In this regard it will be interesting to look at some of the research done on aid given by the US and China in the past, and the implications for the recipients.

It is often claimed that Chinese aid is “rogue aid” guided by selfish interests with the aim of entrapping the recipient country to “cough out” its assets. One cited example is the Hambantota harbour, and several such projects in Africa and Asia are also mentioned. However, Dreher and Fuchs (2015) empirically tested to what extent self interests shape Chinese aid allocation, based on the data in Chinese project aid, food aid, and medical staff and total aid money to developing countries from 1956 to 2006. The evidence suggested China’s aid allocation does not depend on the recipient’s endowment with natural resources. Therefore, it is unjustified to condemn Chinese aid as “rogue aid” . These findings are also supported by other researchers (Brautigam, 2009).

Further evidence could be found in a two-volume publication titled “China’s Foreign Aid and Investment Diplomacy” by John F Copper (2016). These research findings show that though China has geopolitical ambitions it does not interfere in the internal affairs of recipient countries. Instead it wins over countries to its side by giving aid for mutually beneficial projects, in terms of bilateral trade and soft diplomacy. In contrast, the US aid is linked to a more aggressive foreign policy and expectations of loyalty in regard to US hegemonic agendas. For instance US would expect recipients of its aid to fall in line and lend support at the UN on controversial issues favourable to the US. Sri Lanka has been at the receiving end in the recent past at the UNHRC, on account of this attitude of the US and other Western powers. A true friend like China would not have done such treachery.

The other important consideration is who would have the ability to give aid, the US and Europe has a ruined economy due to mismanagement of the Covid pandemic, which has devastated their societies in an unprecedented manner. They may not be able to give aid for a long time to come. Remember they did not give any aid to their friend the “Yahapalana” government either. Instead they did their utmost to erode our independence and sovereignty. It would be futile to expect anything from them. Japan, Australia, Scandinavia, South Korea and India, which are in the US camp may be able to help a bit, but their domestic needs would be greater on account of Covid. China, on the other hand, has recovered from the pandemic, and according to the IMF their economy has already overtaken that of the US. China has the potential to dominate the economy of the post-Covid world. China is a true friend of Sri Lanka, and may be relied upon to come to the assistance of Sri Lanka if the latter plays its cards correctly.

It may be alright for our leaders to say in public that Sri Lanka is non-aligned, but in reality, in the present context of a global power game, we are not allowed to be non-aligned. We have to be pragmatic and choose the lesser evil if we need aid in these difficult times. S. AMARATUNGA

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A drive of great memories



Pic.  – THE CAR: “We bought this car in London mid-1974. A few days later, four of us set out to drive for nearly six months to Sri Lanka.  This photo was provided by the present owner, whom I tracked down in 2019.”

Some errors had crept into this letter (published yesterday) in the process of being typeset. This is the correct version.


Sanjeewa Jayaweera’s recent recollections (The Island 25/2) of advantages of coming from Ceylon/SL – or rather ‘benefits’ accruing from Mrs B’s permitting Pakistan to use Ceylon/SL airspace in 1971 -– when he was living in Pakistan, remind me of similar experiences in 1974.

 Four of us drove overland (well, only one of us could drive then) in a Beetle from London to Sri Lanka, taking nearly six months.  At the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, neither side checked our heavily laden car. 

 We had got used to cooking for ourselves in many countries, and camping up to Turkey, so always carried basic food stuffs. In Pakistan, however, many things were rationed and towards the end of our stay we needed to stock up. 

 Just before leaving Lahore to head for India we went in search of rice and sugar (rationed).  One chap we happened to ask, got into the car (with four already in it) and said he would get us what we needed. He insisted on giving it free –– “You are my brothers!” Very strange – it was only later that we discovered the reason for this.  

 He jumped out near a shop and disappeared, presumably to queue somewhere. Returning with about 8 lbs of rice and 3 lbs of sugar, he absolutely refused to accept any money.  Instead, he insisted that we visit the Shalimar Gardens and wouldn’t let us pay there either.  We took a photograph with him which we promised to send him.  He was an Assistant Store-keeper at Pakistan Oxygen. 

 However, things were slightly different at the border. The Pakistan side wouldn’t let S, our Ugandan-Asian friend, cross.  No Hindu from any part of the world was allowed to cross into India.  Fortunately, our group was pretty mixed (with a Sri Lankan Buddhist, Sri Lankan Muslim and an Anglo-Asian atheist! – though fortunately, that wasn’t on the passport).  S’s “companion” insisted she’d become a Muslim by marriage, and signed a declaration form to that effect.  Problem solved! But a moment of anxiety at Indian customs when a cursory search was made of the car.  Officials were offended by the fact that we’d brought rice with us –– “We have rice in India!”

 Manel Fonseka

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Muir Woods in San Francisco and deforestation in SL



Pic:Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at a recent media briefing on protecting the Muthurajawela wetlands from a multi-use development project.

“Any fool can destroy trees. They can run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or dollar could be got out of their hides. branching horns, or magnificent bole back backbones. Few that fell trees plant them, nor would planting avail much toward getting back anything like the novel primeval forests. It took more than 3000 years to make some of the trees in the woods –  trees that are standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing …. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries since Christ’s time – and long before that – God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease avalanches, tempests, and floods; but he cannot save them from fools – only Uncle Sam can do that.

John Muir, letter to William Kent , 1909

Muir Woods is a forest reservation in San Francisco – California named after John Muir as John of the mountains or father of the national parks. He was a Scottish American April 1838 to December 24th 1924.

William Kent was a member of the US House of Representatives representing California 

The Island of (2/3/2021 ) has several articles on deforestation being carried out for agriculture and commercial projects such as commercial cultivation of Aloe Vera or building of hotels. The government’s initial popularity is gradually on the decline and permitting deforestation is one reason. I wrote to The Island on 11 January this year, pointing out that it was not necessary to clear forests to increase agriculture output. Increasing productivity by modern methods is the way out.

Muir Woods is a National monument, which protects the only large, intact stand of ancient redwoods in San Francisco Bay area which, I and my wife were fortunate to visit, thanks to my daughter and son-in-law. All elements of old-growth forests are there: mature redwoods, young seedlings, standing snags, logs and a diverse community of animals and understory plants. The magnificent red – barked trees, California coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). A few hundred years ago over two million acres of redwood grew in California. Today, 150,000 acres of old growth redwoods remain, only about half of which are protected in national and state parks.

Redwood creek applies a spectrum of watery habitats fish need their life cycle. If you spot a fish in Redwood Creek, it’s a coho salmon or steelhead trout. Both are anadromous; born in fresh water homes, as juveniles they migrate to the ocean, and then return to their freshwater homes as adults to spawn. Spawning fish can be seen in the creek between mid December and March, and young fish populate quiet pools during summer months.

On the contrary, in Sri Lanka, deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate and the forest cover is likely to disappear completely in a few decades. In 1990, the total forest cover was 2990 ha and in the year 2020 it decreased to 1946 ha. The forest cover has been reduced by 1044 ha.

A tree called Sri Lanka legume was discovered in 1868. Eventually it was declared extinct 2012.

It was discovered in 2019 that only one Sri Lankan legume tree, eight meters high, was found in the north of Colombo  near Gampaha  

 This rare species tree that was in danger of felling was put on an orange cloth by Buddhist priests. That courageous forest officer Devanee Jayatillake also rose to the occasion again objecting to the removal of the legume tee. There were arguments that that there are similar trees planted in Gampaha Botanical gardens and also that the tree could be translocated safely. Ultimately sanity prevailed and the expressway will be diverted to save the tree. One should realise the tree would have survived thousand years or more, no one knows, but it’s certain that the tree is one of oldest trees. America’s redwood trees it is said, had taken more than 3000 years to make.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith expressed his displeasure at the government’s failure to protect the Muthurajawela wetland.

He said in a statement that the Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera, State Minister for Wildlife Wimalaweera Dissanayake and the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority Siripala Amarasinghe had promised not to carry out any project or destructive activities in Muthurajawela during the discussion held at the Archbishop’s residence on January 21st.

However, it has been officially announced that Muthurajawela and the surrounding villages will be taken over by the Urban Development Authority. Therefore, the Cardinal has requested the government to remove the signs stating that the area is already owned by a private company and rename it as a Wildlife Conservation Zone in Muthurajawela National Park. The Cardinal has now court intervention on this matter.

The Diyawanna wetland close to which I live is being developed. It is not Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte which is said to be the administrative capital. it’s the reclaimed wetlands of Battaramulla. The land on which Sethsiripaya stands was a marsh.


 Upali Cooray 


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Where are the Maha Nayakes?



Coincidentally, February 26th was Navam Full Moon day, when after 20 years of attaining enlightenment, the Buddha preached the “Vinaya Pitakaya” or the code of conduct for Buddhist monks. It is sad that that the majority of them hardly heed the principles laid down there.

I was anyway, contemplating writing a piece on the conduct of Malcom Cardinal Ranjith on national issues when Dr Upul Wijayawardhana beat me to it with an excellent piece in today’s (26.02.21) The Island!

The Cardinal has been very discreetly and without undue emotions addressing the national issues at stake with substance and authority, and the appropriate actions the government should take. By contrast our Buddhist priests often deviate on political riffraff, praising the political leadership or criticizing it, rather than confining themselves to the matters at stake! Often their utterances over electronic media are disdainful, full of emotion and very unbecoming of monkhood! They are unaware that the moment one becomes emotional, one loses self-control and make a mess of things! They should take a ‘leaf from the ‘Cardinal’s Bible’, as it were!

There is no argument that priests, Buddhist or otherwise should take evidence-based stands on national issues and endeavour to move the political authority in the right direction. They should not go to praise the President or other politicians unduly, but confine themselves to facts of the matter as the Cardinal always does.

What is most disdainful is the manner in which Buddhist monks conduct themselves in protest rallies, often shouting slogans, forcefully breaking through security defenses, and even climbing windows! Very often the leaders of mass demonstrations, especially of universities, are priests. Of course, they do so, knowing that the police will handle them gently, with dignity and respect!

It is noteworthy that other religious leaders hardly participate in protest demonstrations. Even if they do so it is done in a peaceful manner. Our Buddhist priests should follow suit.

The question is where the leading monks who should discipline the juniors are. Many of them are, sadly, the culprits themselves! Have they at least read the “Vinayapitakaya”? Moreover, I am not aware of any instances of Mahanayakas endeavouring to discipline monks. Should they not at least ensure their conduct is on the key principles of “Vinaya Pitakaya”? It is time the Mahanayakas and other leading Buddhist monks addressed this vital issue of discipline of monks as matter of highest priority.


Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

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