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How did the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ miss the bus?

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by Air Vice Marshal [retired] A B Sosa VSV, psc

It is said in several fora that when we were given Independence on a platter by the British in 1948, our economy was only second to that of Japan in Asia. In this context it is relevant that Japan which was ravaged in the Second World War in 1945 had recovered to the extent of being a top ranked economy within three years. The “Jewel in the British Crown”, India which had of course been sapped dry by their colonial masters and other Asian countries were at this stage economically struggling with a sizable proportion of their citizens in abject poverty and virtually starving as they could only have one meal a day. Of course, quite a number starved to death.

Our ancestors and their progeny did not face this tragedy. On being granted Independence with not one bullet fired in anger the tragic slide of our economy commenced. Within a couple of years most of the other Asian countries which were referred to as “Tigers” [not to be confused with the LTTE] made rapid progress. I was the only Executive Director of a multi national Korean company for a period of 12 years after my retirement from the SLAF. At informal get-togethers with my Korean colleagues they asked me “what went wrong”? My considered reply was that “we ate what we had and frittered what we earned”.

They joked with me that on our being gifted our Independence, we opted for “democracy” whilst they who had got over the ravages of war had opted for “development”. We had got our wires crossed and were belatedly trying to emulate them whilst they were on the path of democracy only after they had reached an acceptable level of development. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Any Sri Lankan visiting an “Asian Tiger” land will only stand and stare in awe and weep for our motherland.

In retrospect I have pondered on the tragedy that has befallen us in the period from 1948 to date. My personal conclusion is that we, with our sense of democracy, elected self seekers from the time of our much bandied universal suffrage. My thoughts on this subject are briefly as follows. The rightful person who should have been at the helm in leading the then Ceylon was the incomparable philanthropist Sir Don Baron Jayatilleke. He gifted his prized possession “Thurban House” on Bauddhaloka Mawatha to be utilized to house the Department of the Public Trustee. To date, this magnificient edifice houses this department. He also gifted his coconut estate viz “Pitakanda Estate” located at Maduragoda in the Kurunegala District. All proceeds from the estate were to be utilized for the maintenance of the “Thurban House” and any unutilized funds were willed to be distributed for educational, charitable and social work as decided by the Public Trustee.

This Oxford University educated gentleman was not a typical “Lord of the Manor”. In 1924 he stood for election to the Legislative Council. He was so hugely popular to the extent that no one dared to contest him. Thus, having been elected uncontested his deputy was Mr. D S Senanayake. The latter realized that the colonial rulers will quit Ceylon in the foreseeable future and the first Prime Minister will be Sir D B Jayatilleke. He hence, activated an internal conspiracy to oust Sir DBJ and maneuvered for him to be posted to India as our High Commissioner there. This honorable gentleman agreed without realizing that he was committing “political hara kiri”. It was several years later that he realized that his throat was slit by some of his political colleagues. He died in India a heart broken person.

When Mr. D S Senanayake became Prime Minister his deputy was the suave Oxford Educated luminary Mr. S W R D Bandaranaike. DS who was a master of nepotism made political life difficult for his deputy as he desired to make his son Dudley his successor. The illusion has been created that D S Senanayake was the “Father of the Nation”. When he fell off a horse and died it was open sesame for Dudley to step into the prime minister’s office. Bandaranaike by then had struck out on his own and the rest is history.

Whilst the father and son duo were at the helm there were rumblings that the populace was experiencing difficulties in making ends meet. Hence, they decided to give massive subsidies in food and other essentials. This largess could not be sustained for long. As a result, a couple of years later the disgruntled masses came out in an uprising which is referred to as a “hartal”. Dudley could not stomach this situation and handed over the reins to his colleague, Sir John Kotelawala, “a man of the world”.

This Prime Minister was trounced at the subsequent polls by Mr. Bandaranaike who had marshalled the support of the “Pancha Maha Bala Vegaya” – the sangha, teachers, ayurvedic physicians, farmers and the working class. Of course, he too had promised more than what was possible inclusive of Sinhala being made the official language within 24 hours. The rest is history.

Among the crucial factors that accelerated our downward slide were unscrupulous politicos who got involved in trade union activities. They urged the so-called “buddhimath janatawa” to demand unreasonable increases of wages and to desist from diligent work. They indoctrinated that the “capitalist class” inclusive of the government were exploiting the “sweat and tears” of the proletariat. As a result of this, productivity suffered and thus the cost of production of goods kept increasing which resulted in them not being competitive in the international market. I have personal experience in that the work force of almost 4,000 in my company was being constantly misled by the union leaders that the expatriate owners were exploiting them and making profits off their “blood, sweat and tears” [dadiya, kandulu sura kanawa ]. This phenomenon was common to most industries particularly those owned by foreigners.

To make matters worse, these politicos when in the opposition kept instilling in the masses the concept that the Government in power must succumb to their demands. Hence, the public were demanding concessions and subsidies across the board which the Government, even though it could ill afford to do so, was compelled to concede if it was to retain power at a subsequent national poll. Thus, funds that should have been utilized for the development of the country were frittered away to appease the misguided.

This unfortunate phenomenon was an occurrence irrespective of who was in power. My contention is borne out recently when some tremors were felt in the Digana area people living there were virtually demanding that the Government must step in to sort out the threat of a major earth quake! When such a regrettable national mentality prevails, is it a surprise that due to the initial nepotism of the leaders who selfishly clung to their positions from the time of Independence on a platter until now, maneuvered themselves into office and made all possible efforts to retain it? Can we expect complete accountability similar to that prevailing in South Korea where its former President is now serving a prison sentence for her corrupt practices whilst in office?

The slide down the slope continues with only darkness pervading in the “tunnel with not even a distant light in sight”. In this context I quote the words of Justice Khanna of the Indian Supreme Court “experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. The greatest danger lies in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but lacking in due deference to the rule of Law”. Hence, we can only ponder on the machinations of the selfish persons who monopolized the seats of power for the past 72 years. We can only dream of an “oyster making that mythical pearl” in the years ahead.



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Rise of Dual Power amidst Covid 

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We had so many kings in our Sinhala Balaya of many centuries. There were many questionable deals on succession by members of this royalty, and others who came to those realms. But we have yet to hear of any brother of a ruling monarch rushing abroad in the midst of what may have been a national crisis, moving to a disaster.This is the stuff of Sinhala Power in the 21st Century. It is a show of the Raja Keliya – the power game, where dual citizenship is the dominant factor. The Sri Lanka, Mawbima home, is of lesser importance than the Videsha mawbima, especially if one’s health has to be handled by foreign medical sources; even if the Videsha Mawbima is the biggest affected by the Covid pandemic.

The appointment of Task Forces to deal with important issues facing the country and the people is the substance of the current Saubhagyaye Dekma – Vision of Prosperity and Splendour. Appointing a brother to head task forces of key importance is the show of dominant family power that prevails in this country today. But brotherly feelings are certainly not important when a dual citizen thinks of the greater importance of the Videsha Mawbima. The tasks of Economic Growth, Eradicating Poverty and Assuring Food Supply, as well as the more recent Green Socio-Economy must all be pushed aside, when the call of the Videsha Mawbima for healthcare is the stuff that matters.

This is the brotherly Vision of Prosperity and Splendour, or the Sahodara Saubhabyaye Dekma.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought much contradictory thinking, especially in the government, on how the health of the people in this country, non-dual citizens, could be assured. Minister Udaya Gammanpila, a Cabinet spokesman too, is certain that mixed vaccinations of different brands and qualities, is the means to protect the people. 

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister on the subject, thinks differently, on the lines of the WHO specialists, who have stressed there is no evidence so far to authorize mixed vaccinations. The other minister of health and vaccination issues is somewhat silent on this confusion in official thinking. Is a new pandemic syrup to be promoted by the power handlers?

Thank heavens that the Cabinet Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, is so far silent on this matter. She could come up with a new Sri Lankan Deshamanya scientific solution, such as throwing some of the Sinopharm and Sputnik (Chinese and Russian) into the nearby river, and using the mixed and river blended vaccine for people of the related province. She is sure to obtain the support of Ministers Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranatunga for such a crafty thinking of science, just as they shared her belief in the Charmed Pot Game or Mantara Kala Keliya to fight the Covid-19.

  We are now in the midst of what is known as a Lockdown. It is not a “Vasaa thabeema” in Sinhala, but a limit on travel – a ‘Sancharana Seemava’. The Police are very clear that anyone who breaks the lockdown rules will be arrested and brought to justice. We have seen the great joy that policemen showed in carrying non-mask wearers and other violaters of Covid safety guidelines, to be shoved into buses. How much more of such delights would follow when Covid increases its hold on Sri Lanka? What was the related Task Force, and its ceremonial uniformed head doing, when Indians were brought to Sri Lankan hotels for quarantine before travel to some Middle Easter countries? What foreigner from the Covid battered India was carried or courteously conducted to a place where lawbreakers are detained?

As we keep wearing our masks and distancing ourselves from others, there is much cause for concern, even beyond the Covid pandemic, on how persons arrested and detained by the police are killed by or in the presence of the  police. Two suspected and arrested persons have been killed while in police custody this week.  They are Melon Mabula or ‘Uru Juva’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera or ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ These are persons with records of major crimes, possibly with much strong evidence, but not presented in court and any punishment order through the judicial process.

The police spokesperson, a person with a legal background, too, tells the people the details of all the terrible crimes these persons are supposed to be guilty of. It is a contemptible move to get public support for the killings. The Bar Association has raised concerns about these departures from justice. There must be much more protests, even with the Covid dangers.

One gets the impression that the prevailing dangerous situation due to Covid, is being used to carry out increasing violations of the law and the judicial process. This is certainly a major step back to the earlier years of Rajapaksa Power, when many such suspects were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, showing off police escape power. It also brings back memories of the killing and attacks on journalists by similar police and official forces of crooked power.

Are we moving to a new sense of Dual Power — where the judiciary is ignored and official power is the Rule of the Day? Is the power of Dual Citizenry to be the dominant force once Covid puts down the people’s power?

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Should ASEAN Free Trade Area be considered model for SAFTA?

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Economic integration is more important today than it has ever been for South Asia’s development. When comparing the impact of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)s South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in promoting trade amongst its member states, AFTA has been more effective in integrating the economies of its member states. SAFTA , on the other hand, has yet to make significant contributions to the integration of the economies of SAARC member states. The Success of ASEAN’s economic integration can be attributed to the willingness of Southeast Asian countries to embrace the tenets of regional integration. In contrast, SAARC’s model has failed to create a secure regional environment that is conducive for economic growth since its formation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) member states signed the AFTA agreement on 28 January 1992. After the establishment of AFTA, the member states of ASEAN succeeded in signing trading protocols within the organization. The ASEAN model succeeded in creating one of the most successful free trade areas in Asia as well as globally. The establishment of AFTA has been an important milestone in Southeast Asia as a factor that facilitated the economic integration of ASEAN member states.

In the case of the SAARC, the signing of free trade protocols under the SAFTA agreement has been faced with several tariff and non-tariff barriers. Although both SASRC and ASEAN member states face unique challenges that affect trading within these organizations, it can be said that, unlike the SAARC, the ASEAN economic integration model has been far successful in promoting trade amongst its member states. For the SAARC, the liberalization of the economies of SAFTA signatories has been a crucial challenge. On the other hand, ASEAN has made notable progress with regards to trade liberalization, policy alignments, and intra-regional trade among Southeast Asian nations.

The specific trade liberalization challenges faced by the SAARC member states include concerns over SAFTA revenue allocation from member states, restrictive rules of origin, and negative sensitive lists. The sensitive lists adopted by SAARC member states have proven to be a significant hurdle to exportation amongst SAARC member states. This has particularly made it difficult for exports from small member states of the SAARC to enter into large markets such as India and Pakistan. Having failed to grant the application of  most favored nation (MFN) status that would have seen a significant reduction in the sensitive lists maintained by both countries, trade between these two regional powers has been problematic over the years. Notably, the trading commodities that are in the sensitive lists of a majority of the SAFTA member states have high export potential. Despite the various commitments made by SAFTA member states, countries continue to maintain long sensitive lists hence the dismal performance of SAFTA. 

In the case of ASEAN, the establishment of the AFTA agreement has provided ASEAN member states with a platform to exploit their export potential. The AFTA agreement has boosted the economies of ASEAN countries through its trade liberalization policies. AFTA has also entered into several free trade agreements with regional powers such as Australia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. The ASEAN countries are now focused on creating an Economic Community for their member states. Notably, several countries have shown interest in being a part of the proposed ASEAN Economic Community.

It should however be noted that the massive success achieved by ASEAN’S AFTA as opposed to SAARC’s SAFTA is not flawless. For example, although ASEAN has made significant steps in eliminating tariff barriers amongst AFTA member states, Non-tariff barriers are still a key challenge to the AFTA agreement. However, when analyzing the progress made by ASEAN’s AFTA since its formation, the achievements and evolution are undeniable. ASEAN was formed in an era when interstate relations amongst Southeast Asian countries were characterized by political mistrust and strained interstate relations. Years later, the organization has succeeded in unifying its member states for a common course, an aspect that the SAARC still struggles with. 

Way Forward

If SAFTA is to become more effective and emulate AFTA’s success, the myriad of issues mentioned above needs to be addressed. First, downsizing the sensitive lists of countries in a time-bound manner will be necessary. Secondly, the issue of para tariffs needs to be squarely addressed. A starting point could be to reduce and accelerate the elimination of para tariffs on items not on sensitive lists and include para tariffs in SAFTA negotiations. Also, the non-tariff barriers to trade facing SAFTA member states need to be equally addressed like the tariff barriers. Finally, strengthening economic relations can be used to reinforce improving political relations in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan. To an extent, the success of ASEAN in achieving effective economic integration and its experience can be used as an external driver of SAARC and its SAFTA agreement.

About the author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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