House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, MP, at the inauguration of a three-day capacity building programme for the Staff of Secy Gen of Parliament, at CITRUS Hotel, Waskaduwa, in early March 2016. The USAID funded the programme meant to promote much touted good governance. Training of parliament staff was part of an overall project worth Rs 1.92 bn.
Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is in deepening turmoil. Political parties are in disarray, with the country’s two major political parties – the United National Party (UNP) reduced to just one (National List) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) 14 (one National List/13 on the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket), respectively. Leaderships of those parties have caused so much damage to their parliamentary groups, over the years, that both are unlikely to recover for a long time.
Unfortunately, the SLFP’s offshoot the SLPP, and the breakaway UNP faction the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), too, are struggling to cope up with the deteriorating political environment. Overall, the country is in disorder with political parties, beset by internal conflicts, pulling in different directions, whereas the status of the Parliament remains questionable.
Lawmaker Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s assertion that Parliament is the most corrupt institution in the country cannot be dismissed. The declaration made by President’s Counsel Rajapakse, in response to a query by the writer, at a media briefing, called by him, at the Sri Lanka Foundation (SLF), in June 2019, highlighted the unprecedented crisis. Having made that declaration, as a UNP lawmaker, Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s own political future, as a member of the ruling SLPP, is uncertain today against the backdrop of him moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill – whatever the court ruling may be. In a way, one-time BASL (Bar Association of Sri Lanka) President Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s plight reflected the growing instability and insecurity, in general, mainly brought on by the unprecedented pandemic, in living memory, but amplified by the unabated immoral political shenanigans.
The whole political setup seems to be in a dilemma. The House couldn’t have picked a better time to launch the second volume of an academic journal, titled ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’, to discuss a range of topics which dealt with parliamentary matters. The themes are (1) Constitution and Amendments to the Constitution (2) Representative Democracy and the Committee System (3) Legislative Functions of Parliament (4) Parliament and the Endowment of its Citizens (5) Standing Orders, Members’ Conduct and Parliamentary Procedures (6) Electoral System, the Parliament and Public Outreach (7) Parliamentary Reporting and Mass Communications (8) Sustainable Development Goals and the Parliamentary System (9) New Trends in Sri Lankan Women Politics and finally (10) The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People.
The Communications Department of the Parliament called for submission of articles, in all three languages (3,000 to 5,000 words each), to: email@example.com by, or before, May 21, 2021, after having informed the relevant officer, handling the project, on weekdays, on 0112 777328, of their desire to furnish articles.
The writer feels the entire gamut of issues, at hand, can be addressed by dealing with only the final topic: ‘The Role of an MP and aspirations of the People.’ The Communications Department assured those interested in submitting articles that their work would be reviewed by a panel of experts.
Sri Lanka’s parliamentary democracy is at a crossroads, with the SLPP bent on further consolidating executive powers, whereas the other political parties sought to dilute the powers enjoyed by the President. The Role of an MP and aspirations of the people, or any other relevant topic, cannot be discussed unless all stakeholders acknowledge the failure on the part of Parliament to fulfill its two primary obligations. There is no point in denying the fact that Parliament pathetically failed to ensure financial discipline as well as enactment of required laws to combat it. If Parliament achieved its objectives, or at least, made a genuine effort over the years, there wouldn’t have been a need for projects such as ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’ Would the expert panel accept the brutal truth?
Timely setting up of Communication Department
Can Parliament, as the supreme law-making institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for the deterioration of every sector, through sheer negligence? Thanks to the setting up of a proper Communication Department, the public, to a large extent, gets to know what is going on. The Communication Department, so far, has dealt quite professionally with proceedings of the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and the Public Finance Committee (PFC) thereby giving the public a clear idea as to what is really going on. The coverage of COPE, COPA and PFC proceedings disclosed a pathetic state of affairs. Waste, corruption irregularities and negligence seem to be the order of the day.
Let me briefly discuss the shocking revelation made by COPE proceedings on Feb 12, 2021, just to underscore the public dilemma. COPE examination of the Education Ministry reveals that the National Child Protection Policy is yet to be implemented though the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has been in existence since 1998. COPA Chairman Prof. Charitha Ratwatte, serving his first term as a National List lawmaker of the SLPP, stressed the need to implement it without further delay.
According to a statement issued by former journalist Shan Wijetunga, Director, Communications Department, COPE directed Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera to expedite the process. During the proceedings, the revelation of the failure on the part of the NCPA to furnish its 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 annual reports to Parliament, is also a grave embarrassment. The Education Ministry owed an explanation how NCPA, an institution under its care, brazenly neglected its responsibility. Would you believe the NCPA’s Legal Section comprised just two employees and just one to handle complaints? The COPE placed the number of complaints that hadn’t been addressed, by January 1, 2021, at a staggering 40,668.
Perhaps ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ should include an additional topic to address the plight of the hapless children for want of a responsible Parliament. Can Parliament explain how it failed to take remedial measures in respect of NCPA? Let me stress, The Island dealt with the Feb 12 COPE proceedings only. If one examined the entire lot, the public would curse those who had served successive governments over the years. The NCPA/Education Ministry’s failure seems relatively light when compared with the shoddy handling of almost all other key ministries.
Against the backdrop of such poor performances by Parliament, the House itself should examine a high-profile costly project, implemented by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), during previous administration. The USAID was launched in late Nov 2016 with a Rs. 1.92 billion (USD$13 million) partnership with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to strengthen accountability and democratic governance in Sri Lanka.
According to the American aid agency, the three-year Strengthening Democratic Governance and Accountability Project (SDGAP) was meant to improve strategic planning and communication within the government and Parliament, enhance public outreach, develop more effective policy reform and implementation processes, and increase political participation of women, and underrepresented groups, in Parliament, and at local levels.
Nearly two years after the conclusion of the project, wouldn’t it be necessary to examine whether the USAID project did any good? Did the USAID project make a tangible change? If not, who benefited from the Rs 1.92 bn project? These questions need answers. Perhaps, the issue can be dealt by some of those who will contribute to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha.’
Why not examine the Rs 1.92 bn
Karu Jayasuriya, who accepted the USAID project, in his capacity as the Speaker, at that time, (with the consent of the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP), owed an explanation as regards how US funding benefited the country. Interestingly, KJ today heads the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), the brainchild of the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha, who spearheaded a political campaign that brought the Mahinda Rajapaksa government down. Prof. Sarath Wijesuriya took over the NMSJ, in the wake of Ven Sobitha’s demise, in early Nov 2015, before giving up the post to pave the way for KJ. The civil society organization NMSJ accommodated KJ in the wake of the former Speaker quitting active politics. But the irony is, it must be noted that NMSJ, too, is involved in anti-government politics to its neck.
‘The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People,’ the last topic offered by Parliament to those interested in contributing to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha,’ would be an ideal opportunity to discuss how the political party system mercilessly failed the country. While the vast majority of people struggled to make ends meet, the political class, and their crowd, enjoyed life at the expense of the national economy. Political parties plundered the country with impunity, regardless of the consequences.
The deterioration of parliamentary standards today cannot be compared with any particular post-independence period. That is the undeniable truth. It would be pertinent to mention that lawmakers should be held accountable for massive waste, corruption, irregularities as well as negligence revealed by COPE, COPA, and PFC. Examine how the mega sugar duty scam, perpetrated by the incumbent administration, cost the Treasury dearly. Can the Finance Ministry absolve itself of responsibility, whoever ordered it do so?
Serving Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, recently commented on the role of the judiciary, vis-a-vis the Executive and the Legislature. Both the Executive and the Legislature should take note of the President’s Counsel’s assertion. The courts had quite justly come to be regarded as the sentinel over the powers of the legislature and the executive in Sri Lanka in order to safeguard the rights of the citizen, under the law and the Constitution, the Attorney General Dappula de Livera has said on March 23, at the ceremonial sitting of the Court of Appeal.
The ceremonial sitting was held to welcome, His Lordship Justice Arjuna Obeysekere as the President of the Court of Appeal, Her Ladyship Justice Menaka Wijesundera, their Lordships Justice Nihal Samarakoon, Justice Prasantha de Silva, Justice Mohamed Laffar, Justice Pradeep Kirthisinghe, Justice Sampath Abayakoon and Justice Sampath Wijeratne as Judges of the Court of Appeal.
Just a week after the AG’s extraordinary declaration, at a ceremonial sitting many an eyebrow was raised when he had to intervene in respect of a Colombo High Court ruling, pertaining to two narcotics cases.
The PC moved the Court of Appeal in revision of two bail orders of the Colombo High Court 04 as regards detection of 65 grams and 485 grams of heroin.
Following the AG’s intervention, the Court of Appeal stayed bail being granted to the suspects. The AG intervened after a State Counsel assigned to Court No 04 challenged the granting of bail.
Of the seven High Courts in Colombo, two Courts, namely No 04 and 05, have been assigned the additional task of dealing with bail applications.
Newly appointed Court of Appeal judge Menaka Wijeyasundera issued the stay order pending further investigations. The Attorney General’s Department examined the cases pertaining to bail applications handled by both Colombo High Courts before the intervention was made.
Democracy cannot thrive unless the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary work for a common agenda. The much-touted ‘One Country, One Law’ concept would never be a reality if the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary pulled in different directions, whoever wielded political power. In the absence of a common objective to lift the living standards of the public, in a stable environment, whoever exercised political power, the country will remain in simmering turmoil.
If one genuinely examines the topics acceptable to ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ he or she will quickly realize the entire parliamentary system is in a mess. In spite of introducing 20 Amendments to the President JRJ’s dictatorial Constitution enacted in 1978, the very basis of the law is mired in controversy. And in some cases, the role of lawmakers has been questioned.
Ranjan’s removal et al
SJB lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake losing his Gampaha district parliamentary seat, over contempt of court charges, the arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen for allegedly aiding and abetting, Easter Sunday bombers, the CID investigation into a complaint as regards SJB National List lawmaker Diana Gamage’s nationality, controversy over SLPP lawmaker Premalal Jayasekera, sentenced to death over 2015 killing, taking oaths, dismissal of murder charges against Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, MP Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan as well as termination of proceedings by the Attorney General and CIABOC in respect of several other lawmakers highlighted the crisis the country is in.
The fact that the incumbent government enacted the 20th Amendment to the Constitution with the backing of the ACMC, as well as the SLMC, whose leader and Attorney-at-Law Rauff Hakeem has been pictured with Easter Sunday carnage mastermind Zahran Hashim’s brother, Mohammed Rilvan, recuperating in a hospital from injuries he suffered while testing a bomb in 2018, painted a bleak picture. High profile accusations and still unanswered questions raised by SJB lawmakers, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando pertaining to alleged involvement of some members of the intelligence services in the Easter Sunday carnage, shocked the community. Such accusations should be examined. Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for turning a blind eye to the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) recognizing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil (LTTE) as the sole representative of their community. Parliament never bothered to raise this issue with TNA. How come a recognized, political grouping recognized proscribed organization as sole representative of their community. Perhaps, the now banned National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) tried similar tactics, in 2015, when it sought to infiltrate Parliament. The NTJ secured an electoral alliance with the UNP-led political alliance, ahead of the 2015 general election, and was cunning enough to secure a National List place for one of Sri Lanka’s richest traders, Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, whose sons, lham and Insath carried out the bombings of the Shangri-La and Cinnamon Grand hotels.
The Parliament, as the lawmaking institution, should undertake a genuine examination of its shortcomings. The House should discuss ‘ The Role of an MP and Aspirations of the People’ the last topic offered by ‘Parlimenthu Sara Sanhitha’ as part of the overall efforts to streamline the parliamentary process.
The political process, adopted in respect of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, revealed that such politically motivated strategies wouldn’t work. Those seeking to enact a new Constitution should realize that the passage of a new Law, only on the basis of a two-thirds parliamentary majority, wouldn’t ensure the much desired political stability, especially in the face of the daunting Covid-19 challenge. All four above mentioned Amendments were introduced as part of a political strategy, pursued by those in power at the time of the enactment.
Some of those who voted in early 2015 for the 19th Amendment, depicted as the panacea for Sri Lanka’s ills in 2020 backed the 20th brought in at the expense of the previously enacted Amendment. Beleaguered former President and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena excused himself from voting for the 20th Amendment last Oct, whereas his MPs did. The SLPP has no qualms in securing the passage of the 20th Amendment with the backing of the SLMC and the ACMC, having lambasted them in the run up to the 2019 presidential and 2020 general election.
Those exercising parliamentary powers and privileges should realize that real power can be achieved through genuine consensus. Political tools, such as urgent bills, will only serve limited purposes and even if succeeded in depriving the Opposition, the civil society and the media from playing their classic role, there cannot be certainty in the final outcome. Parliament should take note of the BASL statement, dated April 15, issued by BASL Secretary, Rajeev Amarasuriya, in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission. Let me produce the relevant section verbatim. It stated: “On the 8th of April 2021, just fifteen (15) calendar days after the publication of the Bill in the Gazette, the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament. In terms of the Constitution, a citizen intending to challenge the constitutionality of a Bill has to do so within one week from the Bill being placed on the Order Paper of Parliament.
The Executive Committee of the BASL is extremely concerned about the limited time given for scrutiny and discussion of this important Bill, as well as the timing of placing the Bill on the Order Paper of Parliament, which was after the suspension of sittings of the Supreme Court, a time when many members of the legal profession are unavailable. Furthermore, the period of one (1) week within which such a Bill could be challenged before the Supreme Court to determine its constitutionality, included not only the weekend but also three public holidays. Thus, the members of the public have been deprived of a meaningful opportunity to scrutinize the Bill and to discuss its merits.”
The way Parliament handled the 2015 and 2016 Treasury bond scams and the shocking revelation that some lawmakers, on both sides, received donations from the disgraced Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL) tarnished the image of the House beyond salvation. Having funded a high profile good governance project, the USAID totally turned a blind eye to the Treasury bond scams! So, we will end this with the warning written by Virgil more than 2000 years ago; “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.
Govt. responds in kind to Thuyacontha’s salvo
At the behest of the then late President Ranasinghe Premadasa way back in 1989, the then Election Commission recognised the PFLT (People’s Front of Liberation Tigers) as the political arm of the LTTE. The late Gopalswamy Mahendraraja aka Mahattaya, the LTTE Deputy Leader was its founding leader (He was executed in Dec 1994 on the orders of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran after being in captivity for 16 months). The then government was ready to give the LTTE an opportunity to contest elections.
By then all other Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorist groups had entered mainstream politics. Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda (EPDP leader) is just one of them.
The UNP brought him to politics. In fact, the UNP brought several other ex-Tamil terrorist groups, including the PLOTE into mainstream politics. The PLOTE received international attention when it mounted an abortive bid to seize control of the Maldives in early Nov 1988. It too, is represented in parliament today.
The parliament during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure had no qualms in accepting LTTE battlefield commander Karuna Amman responsible for the deaths of thousands of soldiers. Karuna also received a top position in the SLFP while his associate another ex-terrorist Pilleyan serves as a Deputy Minister now.
The JVP itself was allowed to re-enter mainstream politics regardless of its murderous past. Therefore, why consider a retired AVM a threat to national security?
The issue at hand is that those who governed this country in the past three decades had caused so much destruction, they fear the emergence of a political power other than them.
That is the crux of the matter.
By Shamindra Ferdinando
On behalf of the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government, State Defence Minister Premitha Bandara Tennakoon last Friday (24) reacted to accusations over the blacklisting of retired Air Vice Marshal Sampath Thuyacontha.
The Matale District MP declared that Air Force headquarters had no other option but to resort to legitimate counter measures against the threat posed by AVM Thuyacontha.
The officer concerned also served as Sri Lanka’s Defence Attaché in Islamabad after the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009, retired in Nov 2021. His retirement took place a few months before public protests erupted against the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over disruption of essential supplies consequent to an unprecedented debt and balance of payment crises.
The former Lieutenant Col. Rajapaksa was caught up in the crisis that had been caused by mismanagement of the economy over the years and especially during the tenures of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (1994-2005) and she left office leaving a negative growth rate, Mahinda Rajapaksa (2005-2015) and Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). However, during the Yahapalana administration the finances were under the UNP control.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa contributed to the calamity by slashing taxes, including VAT with the idea of encouraging growth, but at the worst possible time in the aftermath of debilitating suicide attacks by terrorists on Easter Sunday 2019 and the onset of the COVID pandemic, stubbornly failing to seek IMF help with clear signs of economic trouble and ruination of the agriculture sector by his hasty decision to ban the import of chemical fertiliser and other agro chemicals. The 2019 Easter Sunday carnage debilitated the vital tourism sector and covid-19 pandemic caused further deterioration. However, to be fair to President Mahinda Rajapaksa he achieved much during his tenure. In addition to winning the 30-year war, which many pundits said was something our security forces were incapable of achieving, he successfully embarked on a series of massive development projects with Chinese assistance, including building expressways as never before, an international airport, etc., while fighting the costly war to a finish.
Tennakoon, the youngest ever to serve as the State Defence Minister found fault with the SLAF veteran for causing dissent among the SLAF. The State Defence Minister is an SLPP Matale District MP and one-time minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon’s son.
Premitha Bandara Tennakoon received ministerial appointment from President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sept. 08, 2022.
The bone of contention is a fiery speech the AVM delivered on March 05 in Gampaha. Referring to the debarred SLAF officer’s previous speeches, the State Minister declared the Gampaha speech was not acceptable at all.
The State Minister discussed how the retired officer’s actions were in line with the overall JVP-led Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) political strategy that could cause further turmoil in the country by inciting hatred on the government.
MP Tennakoon dealt with the issue at hand against the backdrop of the overthrowing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa following unprecedented mob violence, which were painted as peaceful protests by interested parties.
The State Minister in particular pointed to the culpability on the part of the JVP in inciting the public against the then government and security forces. The State Minister was responding to JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who raised the issue at hand. Let me leave the JVPer’s rhetoric and just concentrate on the primary issue. The Colombo District MP essentially asked whether ex-military personnel could engage in politics only if they aligned with the incumbent government or those acceptable to the regime.
The JVPer also questioned restrictions imposed on Maj. Gen. Aruna Jayasekera, who led the group of ex-military personnel affiliated to the JJB.
Lawmaker Dissanayake challenged the government over the degrading treatment of a retired senior officer while comparing the latest development with the high profile role played by Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election and war winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s role.
Obviously that is the bone of contention. A decorated pilot, who commanded the celebrated No 09 Attack Helicopter Squadron, Thuyacontha is the senior most retired SLAF officer to declare his support directly to the JVP. The move may have caused alarm among the top government leadership as well as the intelligence community in light of the fact the JVP had been responsible for two abortive violent rebellions in the country and both of which had to be crushed by the elected governments then in power after much bloodletting. That is an undeniable fact. Directorate of Provost, SLAF, in a confidential missive, dated March 10, 2023, addressed to all stations blacklisted four personnel (three retired, including Thuyacontha and one discharged). In addition to the renowned pilot, the other blacklisted were Warrant Officer R.H.A. Indika, Sergeant H.A.U.A. Premaratne and Corporal W.A.P.C. Perera. The JJB has vowed to move the Supreme Court against the government move.
Unfortunately, the issue erupted during a UN inspection of the Sri Lankan Army’s capacity to enhance its deployment in Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa.
Restrictions imposed on war winning Sri Lankan military leadership by the UN as well as individual countries such as travel ban on General Shavendra Silva should be examined alongside the other contentious matters. Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, is on record as having said (in response to a query raised by the writer at a Foreign Ministry media briefing) that entire fighting divisions had been targeted by the international community, meaning the Western camp led by the US.
Nalin Siriwardhana formerly of the Navy in a Facebook post strongly backed measures taken against AVM Thuyacontha on the basis that those serving and retired officers engaged in politics for their personal benefit.
Australia-based dual citizen Siriwardhana without hesitation declared that the likes of AVM Thuyacontha should engage in politics without wasting time in a bid to deceive the public. One-time Sri Lanka Telecom employee emphasised that the officer concerned couldn’t have been unaware that such disciplinary measures were routine in the case of those retirees who engage in politics.
Siriwardhana stressed that as there couldn’t be any exceptions, the AVM shouldn’t expect special treatment under any circumstances. The Commander-in-Chief, in this instance, President Ranil Wickremesinghe who also holds defence portfolio enjoys the right to appropriately respond to such unacceptable conduct on the part of retired officers and men.
Retired Lieutenant Siriwardhana figured in a previous Midweek piece (A forgotten episode: Black Sea Tiger raid on Colombo port, published on Oct 12, 2022 /https://island.lk/a-forgotten-episode-black-sea-tiger-raid-on-colombo-port/).
The former Navy officer’s stand should be carefully examined taking into consideration the duplicitous response of successive governments to military men dabbling in politics. That was the issue raised by the JVP leader in Parliament. Before that let me briefly discuss Thuyacontha’s contribution to defeat the LTTE.
A daring pilot
The Aerial Tribute: The Role of Air Power in Defeating Terrorism in Sri Lanka authored by Dr. Nirosha Mendis at the request of Air Marshal H.D. Abeywickrama
(Feb 27, 2011-Feb 27, 2014). Without doubt, Dr. Mendis’s work is the only available complete account of SLAF’s role in the war with excellent analysis of the role played by different formations and units. The author skillfully dealt with the No 09 Attack Helicopter Squadron and the overall impact the daring unit had on the war.
One of the most thought-provoking brief episodes mentioned therein is serious battle damage suffered by Mi-24 helicopter gunship piloted by the then Wing Commander Thuyacontha, the daring Commanding Officer of the No 09 Squadron, headquartered at Hingurakgoda. This was during Close-Air-Support (CAS) mission over the LTTE stronghold of Mulliyaweli, Mullaitivu during the final phase of the offensive action.
Thuyacontha’s fighting machine was hit 32 times during that battle, one of the fiercest during the Eelam War IV. On the paqrticular day the daredevil CO of the No 09 Squadron flew on the mission from China Bay, Trincomalee and found it difficult to return to the base due to heavy battle damage. Thuyacontha told The Island: “We were short of rockets, therefore Mi-24s couldn’t engage targets from somewhat a safe distance but move closer to engage targets with guns.”
Having received the command of the elite Squadron in 2005, the year before the Eelam War IV erupted with simultaneous LTTE offensives in the North and East, Thuyacontha relinquished command in Sept 2009.
Ex-military role in GR’s strategy
During yahapalana dispensation (2015-2019), ex-military officers openly campaigned for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Initially, the wartime Defence Secretary didn’t have the anticipated support from some sections of his own family as well as the SLPP but gradually he turned around the situation. Retired officers played a significant role in the overall campaign, but to varying degrees. The writer wouldn’t under any circumstances deny backing the high profile campaign from the very beginning. The yahapalana government never tried to dissuade ex-military personnel from campaigning for Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri and Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrema went a step further by launching a book titled ‘Conflict and Stability’ in support of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The book launch organised by Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brainchild Viyathmaga was held in Nov 2016. One-time Northern Province Governor Chandrasiri received the appointment as Chairman, Airport and Aviation Services on Dec 18, 2019. Among those present on that occasion were Vice Admiral Mohan
Wijewickrema, Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonetileke and Anura Fernando (Later received appointment as Sri Lanka’s Counsel General in Shanghai, China).
Wijewickrema assumed duties on June 12, 2020 as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Pakistan whereas Roshan Gunatileke received appointment as Governor, Western Province on March 24, 2020.
Retired Maj. Gen. Kamal Gunaratne, who made a valuable contribution to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s campaign, received appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Defence on Nov 19, 2019.
The author of Road to Nanthikadal spearheaded the propaganda campaign with appearances on television as well. Gunaratne, the former General Officer
Commanding (GoC) of 53 Division was re-appointed Defence Secretary by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Former Army Chief of Staff Nanda Mallawarachchi, too, received an appointment from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa while ex-Army Chief Daya Ratnayake was appointed Chairman Ports Authority (SLPA). Post-war commander Ratnayake was unceremoniously removed from that post in June 2021.
Former Navy Commander Admiral Jayanath Colombage received appointment as Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in August 2020. Currently, the post-war Navy Commander is Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Indonesia, while retired SLAF Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias serves as Sri Lanka’s top envoy in Malaysia.
It wouldn’t be realistic to list all ex-military personnel who received government appointments both here and overseas.
After Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism in May 2009, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa government opened the doors for more-ex military personnel to enter politics. The government brazenly exploited the situation to its advantage. The UNP-led Opposition, too, likewise, brought in the then General Fonseka into the political ring in late 2009. Fonseka received the backing of a coalition that included both the JVP and the TNA, despite it having recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of Tamil speaking people way back in 2001 and then having blamed Fonseka and his war winning army of committing war crimes after the crushing defeat of the Tigers.
The UNP led move received the blessings of the US. Thanks to revelations made by the Wikileaks, the direct US involvement in the project that brought forward Fonseka as the common presidential candidate cannot be denied.
The US intervened on behalf of Fonseka after he was incarcerated. Sustained US pressure contributed to Fonseka’s subsequent release but he couldn’t come to terms with the UNP subsequently though he received their support at the 2010 presidential poll.
Washington well-known for playing Dr. Jakyl and Mr. Hyde roles world over to maintain its world hegemony, it would be interesting to know the US reaction to the Thuyacontha affair, particularly against the backdrop of perceived US readiness to work with the JVP too. US Ambassador Julie Chung paid a rather unusual courtesy call on JVP leader Dissanayake, MP, and Vijitha Herath, MP, at their Bataramulla headquarters on May 14, 2022. That visit was made at a time when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was struggling to regain control of the rapidly deteriorating situation. The US Ambassador had no qualms in meeting JVP leaders in spite of accusations the party influenced the campaign directed against the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the military and the ruling party.
State Defence Minister Tennakoon didn’t mince his words when he questioned the JVP’s role in May’s gory violence in the aftermath of a SLPP goon attack launched from Temple Trees on protesters outside it and at Galle Face.
Recent declaration made by Tourism Minister Harin Fernando in Badulla that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe spearheaded the campaign at the Presidential Secretariat (old parliament), too, cannot be ignored.
President Wickremesinghe has lambasted Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) for being responsible for violence, a charge vehemently denied by the breakaway JVP faction.
Wickremesinghe went to the extent of naming FSP General Secretary Kumar Gunaratnam as the mastermind in the violent political project.
JJB makes headway
AVM Thuyacontha’s unexpected move received quite a significant public response. The government and the main Opposition still appeared to have failed to comprehend why the public appears to be increasingly appreciative of the JJB. Actually, the JJB with just three MPs including one National List MP in the current parliament is politically insignificant in terms of parliamentary strength. Having ruined the economy over the past several decades leading to declaration of bankruptcy early last year, the major political parties should accept responsibility for creating a perfect environment for the JJB. The JVP/JJB had never been attractive to the military or ex-military though perhaps just an insignificant number of officers and men may have sympathized with their cause.
AVM Thuyacontha or Maj. Gen. Jayasekera wouldn’t probably at least considered voting for the JVP/JJB if not for the ruination caused by major political parties.
Instead of taking remedial measures, at least now, the government has decided to confront the perceived threat from the growing opposition.
The composition of parliament possibly doesn’t reflect the present public sentiment at all. The unceremonious exit of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in last July may have proved that the electorate no longer respected the two mandates received by the ruling SLPP at Nov 2019 presidential and August 2020 parliamentary elections. But the question is whether the entire ouster was instigated and executed from scratch by the West with the help of local quislings as has happened in so many other countries where they have successfully instigated regime changes or attempted them from Chile to Bolivia, Iran, Libya, Syria etc, etc. And they have the audacity to threaten regime change even in Russia!
In spite of incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe being legitimately elected by parliament in last July, discontent among the electorate is growing as claimed by the opposition. A major propaganda effort to depict the finalisation of the USD 2.9 bn and the immediate availability of USD 333 mn as a massive victory for the government went awry when State Finance Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya admitted that within 24 hours USD 121 mn was paid to India. The government seems to be trapped in its own propaganda and being silly.
Those who are rattled by the JVP/JJB drawing support of the ex-military should pressure the government and the main Opposition to address issues at hand. The only way to thwart the JVP/JJB is to take tangible measures to drastically curb waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement. If they bother to peruse proceedings of
Parliamentary watchdog committees, COPE, COPA and COPF, action could be initiated to reverse the situation. Unfortunately, the government and the main Opposition seemed to be driving more people to the JVP/JJB by giving corruption a free hand.
Connectivism and higher education
By Panduka Karunanayake
Connectivism is the term used to denote a new way of human learning in contemporary digital society that appears to be rapidly replacing older ways of learning. It is an emergent property of the Digital Age. It has emerged on a background of three global trends, viz., the new nature of knowledge, the wide availability of information & communication technology (ICT), and the new nature of employment. These three global trends owe their existence to the digital revolution and globalisation, which are inextricably intertwined. Wherever in the global village these trends may permeate, we can expect connectivism to follow.
While the phenomenon must have gradually emerged in the last several decades, the term itself is still relatively new. It was first used by psychologist George Siemens less than 20 years ago, and it is still not widely used – nor the phenomenon widely appreciated – even in higher education circles. But its importance is enormous, because of its wide reach and the significant changes it engenders. It has affected several fields already, including learning theories, the structure of organisations, and pedagogical practices in higher education – all of which are crucial for universities.
However, it is important to keep in mind that this is only how things are – not necessarily how things should be. The question of whether connectivism is good or bad is a different issue, and that is still quite open.
But whether or not connectivism is desirable, it cannot be ignored. We need to understand and make appropriate responses to it, in accordance with our own societal values and goals – much like with regard to globalisation itself. Just because we ignore connectivism, it will not simply disappear; instead, our own practices would merely become ineffective and irrelevant with time, our own goals would remain unfulfilled in the end, and our own values would be lost. To some extent, this is already happening.
The purpose of this article is to provide an introduction to connectivism and explain its importance within higher education, with a view to creating awareness and encouraging appropriate responses in the academia and even among intellectuals in general.
Underlying global trends
The three underlying global trends of the Digital Age that have formed the background for the emergence of connectivism are the new nature of knowledge, the wide availability of ICT, and the new nature of employment in contemporary knowledge society.
Knowledge has always played a pivotal role in all human societies – not just in the so-called knowledge societies. That is because one of the important causative or contributory factors to human social behaviour is that society’s culture, and culture is driven by human knowledge. Knowledge has always had an ephemeral and tentative quality, although the general human tendency has been to deny this and give it an artificial air of permanence – as evident in terms like ‘gospel truth’, ‘truths written in stone’, ‘scientific facts’, ‘proven’ or ‘evidence-based’ practices, and so on.
The new nature of knowledge has unceremoniously kicked out this unconscious denial – not by design but by accident. The ephemeral nature of knowledge is now quite obvious – and intensified and even justified. Today, knowledge doubles approximately every 72 days, and the ‘half-life’ of knowledge (i.e., the time after which it is outdated and incorrect, even if it is not discarded) has shrunk. We are compelled to keep chasing after more knowledge, both because new knowledge emerges and also because pre-existing knowledge quickly loses its currency (i.e., its validity and uptodateness). If we don’t join this ‘chase’, we would quickly because irrelevant and ineffective.
As the Red Queen says in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
This new nature of knowledge is closely entwined with the widespread availability of new ICT – indeed, it is hard to decide which is the cause and which is the effect. We have a plethora of ICT-related methods of acquiring new knowledge, starting with Wikipedia a few decades ago, through to a multitude of online sources of information and platforms of learning, both formal and informal. Crucial to higher education in this regard has been the advent of massive open and online courses (MOOCs), which occurred during the first decade of this century. But of course, not all of these sources are reliable (or more precisely, they are not equally reliable).
Particularly important in this regard is the arrival of Web 2.0: when Internet users became both its consumers (by downloading content) and producers (by uploading content, such as text, images, videos and so on). As a result, both consumption and production of knowledge have become ‘democratised’, enormously diversified, and hugely variable with regard to reliability and usefulness. Standardisation of knowledge, which was once unreservedly given over to ‘experts’, has now become almost unattainable and, in a post-modern world, even questionable.
The new nature of employment of today is the result of the globalisation of capital and production as well as the new nature of knowledge, which has made obtaining knowledge with currency a never-ending chase. In today’s workplace, employees change their jobs frequently. They also seek new types of employment in unpredictable fields (i.e., not strictly in line with their previous training, subject of graduation, etc.) and often go and fit very well into fields that are unrelated to their previous employment or even qualifications. Transferable skills have become the only set of truly necessary skills – because everything else can be readily acquired, has a shrunken half-life, or can be easily hired. The only essential learning one must possess is ‘learning to learn’.
As a result of all this, there is a general tendency to overlook or ignore ‘expertise’ in knowledge and instead value ‘currency’ of knowledge. Whether or not knowledge is considered effective for a specified purpose is given more value than whether or not it is inherently correct in the bigger picture.
What is actually ‘new’ in connectivism?
It is important to understand exactly what is ‘new’ about connectivism. After all, we already do seek new knowledge and use ICT in our work, extend beyond our original disciplinary ‘comfort zone’ through various multi-disciplinary programmes of work (‘combinatorial creativity’), and teach using online platforms such as Zoom. So, isn’t this also ‘connectivism’? What is the qualitative difference between our current practice and connectivism?
The simplest way to understand this difference is by beginning with the participants. The participants (or more precisely, the terms of participation) in the two systems are different. Let me name the participants in our current higher education system as a Group, and those in connectivism as a Network. According to the terms of participation, the same person may belong to different Groups and Networks at the same time.
A Group is made up of members who have fulfilled predetermined criteria for membership and recruitment (such as educational qualifications and admission criteria), are bound by practices of standardisation (such as disciplinary standards, subject benchmarks and professional codes), and are therefore sharing a ‘sameness’. The knowledge they receive or give may be new, but it is controlled by standards, academic practices and so on; in other words, it is standardised and ‘revealed’ to newcomers, who ‘accumulate it’ by transfer, while new knowledge is ‘additive’ in the sense that it is built on exisiting knowledge in a systematic and predictable fashion (except during Kuhn’s paradigm shifts). This is epitomised even in the concept of the curriculum, which is based on the assumption that knowledge is some sort of ‘certain’ entity, that it can be gradually ‘revealed’ to newcomers, that those who fulfill criteria of acquisition can be ‘certified’ as knowledgeable, and that the possession of the degree certificate can ‘vouch’ for this.
On the other hand, a Network is made up of a wide diversity of people: educated as well as uneducated, qualified and unqualified, knowledgeable and not, novice and expert, traditional and iconoclastic, conservative and maverick, and so on. They not only seek knowledge but also add to it. New knowledge is not additive but unpredictable and ‘emergent’ in this complex, chaotic scenario. Those who seek as well as create knowledge are autonomous and not bound by rules of training, recruitment or standardisation. It is this unrestricted, ungovernable ‘openness’ and the resulting diversity that make connectivism qualitatively totally different to what we ourselves are doing with technology at the moment.
This is also the reason why, in recent times, ‘expertise’ has taken a back seat and has been replaced by ‘currency’. Currency in this sense is highly specific to the task at hand and is a neverending chase – what has currency today (or for one task) could easily lose it tomorrow (or be useless in another task).
Implications for learning
What are the implications of connectivism for learning?
First, it highlights the importance of lifelong learning. In the nineteenth century, persons who left school or university could reasonably expect to complete their full working life with the set of knowledge that they possessed at the start of their career – a person who ‘completes’ education back then could have been considered ‘a finished product’. Today, persons leaving schools and universities should expect to keep learning, so much so that what they know would become entirely overhauled in about twenty years.
Secondly, learning and working are inseparable; both are but one process. We can no longer recruit employees because they ‘know things’, but because they can ‘learn and do things’. As a result, the instrumental value of knowledge far outstrips any intrinsic value it may possess. The single most valued quality of knowledge is its currency – which, importantly, also happens to have a short half-life.
Thirdly, the process of learning becomes more important than the content of learning, because we are aware that the currency of the current content of knowledge will soon be lost. The ability to see connections between fields, ideas and concepts becomes a core skill, because it gives us access to new knowledge, including innovating. The capacity to know more is more important than what is known. Maintaining and nurturing connectedness become crucial.
Fourthly, while current technology merely facilitates learning (e.g., databases, online learning), in connectivism it will also shape our learning. It will ‘off-load’ much of the learning – from our minds onto devices, databases, etc. Learning will begin to reside in non-human appliances. An evocative, mundane example is the rise of the calculator (which is now part of even our mobile phones) and the simultaneous redundancy of basic mathematics skills in the general population. Today, not even a cashier in a shop can make a simple addition, even with pen and paper – he too needs a calculator to ‘do the math’! Some people who are used to digital clocks cannot tell the time by looking at the traditional clock face, because the latter requires knowing the multiplication table for 5. In both these examples, learning has shifted from our minds to appliances. With artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics, this will become even more commonplace and crucial.
Fifthly, the organisation must become a learning organism. It must pay attention to needs such as knowledge management. The need for trust, collaboration and accountability among its employees becomes crucial – without this, not only would the organisation be static and unsuccessful, but even the employees would become outdated, unskilled and unemployable. It is no longer the case that one knowledgeable person ‘knows’, but that an organisation as a whole learns and knows.
Sixthly, new sciences like complexity science, chaos theory, network science and studying uncertainty will become extremely important – they will be the new ‘basic sciences’ of the workplace. A university that does not have these subjects will likely become obsolete or, at best, a repository of ‘old knowledge’.
Seventhly, there are major implications of connectivism to older learning theories (which were mostly derived from Psychology and Anthropology). Knowledge is no longer ‘brain-based’, because it may reside in devices, databases, etc. The human mind may therefore have to leave its basic rules of operation, like simplicity, parsimony and regularity; instead, it will need to learn how to deal with complexity and uncertainty.
Implications for higher education
Higher education must learn about connectivism, for two reasons. First, we must learn and adjust to this, to stay in the knowledge field (i.e., to be effective scholars). We must also carefully study its implications to our teaching practices and take care to impart relevant skills to our students (i.e., to be effective teachers).
Secondly, it is crucial to remember that this is only an account of how things are – not necessarily how things should be. As academics, one of our most crucial roles is in this latter aspect: analysing situations, imagining alternatives, evaluating choices, and justifying judgements. In particular, connectivism is closely entwined with the march of globalisation, the rise of neoliberal economics, the changing nature of industries, the new nature of knowledge, and the evolving demands made on the workforce. It is therefore directly originating from, and serves the agenda of, the power-wielding segments of global industry and has the potential to reproduce and intensify the inequities at the global level. As academics, we have a crucial role to understand and critically evaluate these ‘umbilical cord connections’ of connectivism. What is more, in the wake of climate change that is driven by these global trends, this becomes a huge responsibility that we owe to our future generations.
In short, we must simultaneously understand and adopt connectivism where we must, as well as critique and shape it for the benefit of the wider society and future generations.
The purpose of this article was to create an awareness of connectivism, so that we can collectively explore these implications, especially to the field of higher education. We need to be prepared to face a future with connectivism, including connectivist learning theories, and help the wider society to reap the benefits and navigate the minefield thereof, as well as speak up for the future generations. Ignoring connectivism is not an option.
(The writer teaches Medicine in the University of Colombo.)
The TRC Float
By Lynn Ockersz
In the fatally-fractured Isle,
The top-dog class is back,
Trudging the TRC beaten track,
Blissfully unaware it seems,
That nothing works in this field,
Without brotherly love,
And forgiveness for past crimes…
Both sides owning to faults,
If not, it would be like putting,
The cart before the horse;
Another house being built on sand,
A populist ploy destined to fall apart,
Besides, Truth and Reconciliation,
Are already in the Dhamma books.
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