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IAF aerobatics display over Port City of Colombo

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A grave being dug in Batticaloa for the burial of a Muslim Covid-19 victim

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Two F 7 GS multi-role jet fighters brought the SLAF’s flypast at the Galle Face Green on Wednesday (3) to an end. The flypast conducted to mark the 70th anniversary of the SLAF was definitely the largest ever such show held either during the conflict or in the post-war period. Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

The conclusion of the flypast, featuring Bell 212, Bell 412 helicopters, Mi-17 helicopters, Cessna 150 aircraft, B200 Beech King aircraft, MA-60 aircraft, followed by a pair of F 7 GS jets, paved the way for a superlative IAF aerobatics display

The Tejas (fighter aircraft), the Sarang (advanced light helicopter) and Surya Kiran (Hawks) teams displayed their flying prowess to a large gathering at the Galle Face, in spite of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic. Wednesday’s show was brought to an end with one F 7 fighter jet aircraft making a daring low pass. The Indian deployment included Dornier Maritime Patrol Aircraft of its Navy and totalled 23 aircraft of their Air Force and the Navy. All Indian aircraft operated from Katunayake.

The Indian High Commission stressed on the deployment of indigenously built aircraft for the Colombo ‘mission.’

Among the spectators were President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, first lady Ioma, and 18th Commander of the SLAF Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and he is the sixth Commander of the SLAF since the conclusion of the war. Since the end of the war in May 2009 others who commanded the SLAF have been H.D. Abeywickrama (Feb 27, 2011-Feb 27, 2014, K.A. Gunatilleke (Feb 27, 2014-June 15, 2015), Gagan Bulathsinghala (June 15, 2015-Sept 12, 2016), Kapila Jayampathy (Sept 13, 2016-May 29, 2019 and Sumangala Dias (May 30, 2019-Nov 2-2020). All of them received the rank of Air Chief Marshal following their retirement. The then Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke (June 11, 2006-Feb 27, 2011) had been at the helm during the Eelam War IV and was present at the fly past and acrobatics display in his capacity as the Governor of the Western Province. Goonetileke holds the rank of Marshal of the Air Force.

The F7s on display were among the four Chinese jets acquired in the wake of the first LTTE attack on the SLAF base, Katunayake, in March 2007. The raid stunned the first Rajapaksa administration, at that time fighting the LTTE in the Eastern Province. The LTTE remained strong in both the northern and eastern theatres. The Army, deployed in the Jaffna peninsula, remained trapped, unable to break through the Muhamalai frontline, extending from Kilali to Nargarkovil, in the Vadamarachchi east coast.

The SLAF badly felt the need for an aircraft with dedicated capabilities of a jet interceptor. The top SLAF leadership was in a quandary with the country being offered the opportunity to buy F7s or much more advanced MiG 29s from Ukraine. It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka grappled with the two offers and finally decided to go for the Chinese jets.

The three day-day fly past and acrobatic display came to an end on Friday (5) with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa awarding Presidential Colours to No 05 jet squadron and No 06 transport helicopter squadron. With this, altogether 13 SLAF units have received Presidential Colours. The ceremony was held at SLAF Katunayake. The March 5 visit to Katunayake was President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first since the last presidential election. He previously visited Katunayake in his capacity as the Defence Secretary on June 11, 2009 to participate in an event to mark the conclusion of air operations against the LTTE. The writer had an opportunity to cover the Defence Secretary’s visit to Katunayake where he declared that it was the man at the controls of whatever the armaments at the SLAF’s disposal who made a difference in the battlefield. To mark the conclusion of air operations, nine aircraft from No 10, No 12 and No 05 flew in formation over the airbase (Gota: what matters is the man at the controls of armamentsThe Island, June 12, 2009)

Sri Lanka should be eternally grateful for the crucial support provided by Pakistan to bring the scourge of terrorism to an end. Pakistan provided crucial support, especially providing jet flying training to SLAF pilots at a time even China was somewhat reluctant to do so.

Acquisition of F7 GS

H.D. Abeywickrama told the writer how a three-member team selected the F 7 GS over MiG 29s. The then Group Captain Sudarshana Pathirana had been a member of that team and subsequently flew the freshly acquired Chinese jets. The SLAF deployed F 7 GS in January 2008. The three member expert team asserted that the SLAF should acquire Chinese jets immediately and explore the possibility of acquiring MiG 29s for a long term solution. The F 7 GS were the jets acquired by the SLAF last.

At the height of the war, the SLAF had three fighter squadrons, namely No 10 (Israeli Kfirs), No 12 (Ukrainian MiG 27s) and No 05 (Chinese F 7s). All squadrons were based at the SLAF base, Katunayake, adjoining the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) under constant LTTE threat. In July 2001, the LTTE infiltrated the BIA. The commando-style raid caused massive losses.

During Eelam War IV, the SLAF deployed nearly two dozen jets. Incumbent SLAF Chief had the rare opportunity to command No 12 and No 05 squadrons on an acting capacity while being Commanding Officer of the No 10 squadron. Pathirana flew both Kfirs and F 7s and was one of the most experienced pilots in jet operations.

Wouldn’t it have been better if Kfirs and MiG 27s, too, were in the fly past as the SLAF celebrated its 70th anniversary? Today both squadrons are not operational. The No 09 squadron comprising Mi 24s helicopter gunships now flies Mi-17s as Mi 24s are no longer operational. Sri Lanka acquired Mi 24 s in 1995, Kfirs in 1996, MiG 27s in 2000. The SLAF’s decision to acquire Mi 24s in the wake of the enemy employing shoulder-fired heat seeking missiles in late April 1995 was influenced by the IPKF having Mi 24s during its deployment here. It wouldn’t be economically viable to maintain peace-time three jet squadrons as well as an attack helicopter squadron. However, the SLAF should be also mindful of the danger in losing much valued experience acquired in jet and Mi 24 operations. Political leadership, too, should be attentive to the armed forces’ needs. Now that the MiG 27s have been retired, and Mi 24 unlikely to fly again, the SLAF is considering the feasibility of overhauling the Kfirs.

As the SLAF celebrated its 70th anniversary with the IAF’s participation being the highlight, the country should seriously examine post-war realities against the backdrop of the growing rivalry between China and the US. Last week’s fly past and aerobatics display took place over an area encompassing the flagship China-funded ‘Port City Colombo.’ Situated next to the Galle Face Green, the project, developed by CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd., with an initial investment of USD 1.4 bn, covers 269 ha of land reclaimed from the sea. The reclamation was completed in January 2019 before the second humiliating polls trouncing of the yahapalana government 10 months later.

The SLAF suffered in the wake of the January 2015 change of government. The UNP-SLFP government found fault with the acquisition of Ukrainian MiG 27 by the first Rajapaksa administration. The Yahapalana administration flayed the Rajapaksa administration over what it called a corrupt MiG deal. Retired SLAF Commander, the then Air Marshal Goonetilike, was among those summoned by the FCID (Financial Crimes Investigation Division) probing acquisition of MiGs.

SLAF re-acquires jet capability

In the immediate aftermath of the 1971 insurgency, the SLAF took delivery of MiG 15s and MiG 17s from the then Soviet Union. The Soviet aircraft were phased out in 1981. The SLAF felt the urgent need for jet capability in the wake of the LTTE resuming war in June 1990 following a 14-month long ‘honeymoon’ with the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa. China was the only country willing to supply jets to the SLAF as India continued to oppose weapons sales to Colombo. By then, India had terminated its so called peace keeping mission (July 1987-March 1990) as a result of President Premadasa entering into direct negotiations with the LTTE. Chinese built F 7s were deployed in 1991 after acquiring FT 5 and FT 7 (twin-seater supersonic jet trainer) in the previous year. The Kfirs were added to the SLAF arsenal in 1996 and the MiGs in 2000.

Both Kfirs and MiG 27s were acquired during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumararatunga’s presidency. But, the SLAF gradually developed the jet capability that finally involved a range of other air assets, including UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Beechcraft in mounting coordinated attacks. The targeted killing of Thamilselvam, the international face of the LTTE terrorism as its head of the political wing on Nov 2, 2007, just 12 days after the devastating LTTE raid on Anuradhapura airbase, is something the entire armed forces can be quite rightly proud of. The writer still remembers, Air Marshal Goonetileke sharing the successful attack carried out by a pair of aircraft, a Kfir and MiG 27 on Thamilselvam’s hideout south of Kilinochchi with this writer.

At the time the SLAF celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2001, the country boasted of 12 Kfirs – a formidable weapons platform. Altogether SLAF acquired as many as 15 Kfirs. But, the SLAF experienced delays in obtaining engine spares as each and every delivery required US State Department approval as the engine happened to be of US origin. It would be pertinent to mention the SLAF examined the possibility of acquiring MiG 29 or MiG 27 before deciding on the latter. The deployment of MiG 27s in 2000 gave the SLAF capability to carry a heavy payload in low flying attacks. The acquisition of Kfirs and MiG 27 should be examined against the backdrop of the LTTE securing shoulder fired missiles. F 7 BS found it difficult to cope up with the situation hence the decision to acquire Kfirs. Four years later, the SLAF added MiGs to its arsenal. The SLAF acquired seven MiG 27s in 2000. However, in spite of having immense airpower, it was never used as part of the overall military strategy meant to annihilate the LTTE. That situation changed in 2006.

By the time Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidency in Nov 2005, of the seven MiGs, four had been destroyed. One was caused by Ukrainian Captain L Valeric on August 18, 2001 when he flew a jet on the Ukrainian Aviation Day. The low flying aircraft hit a telephone wire and smashed into a house by the Negombo lagoon, situated about a km away from the writer’s home. The remaining three MiG 27s and the MiG trainer were grounded. Faced with an unprecedented LTTE threat, the SLAF pushed for immediate overhauling of the grounded aircraft, in addition to four extra aircraft. Initially an attempt was made to procure MiGs 27s from India as the IAF at that time was believed to have approximately 200 MiGs. India turned down the request. Sri Lanka sought Ukrainian help and was able to secure the required aircraft. The transaction was made on a government to government basis though the yahapalana administration found fault with the transaction. The whole thing was called a corrupt transaction. During Eelam War IV (August 2006-May 2009), No 12 squadron comprising MiG 27s, carried out hundreds of sorties /missions.

Those who furiously attacked the MiG 27 transaction during the Rajapaksa administration and the most obnoxious way they addressed the issue may have convinced the reader perhaps MiGs weren’t acquired after all in spite of payments made. For the disgraceful yahapalana strategists, the No 12 squadron didn’t exist.

Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force receiving a memento from Tejas fighter pilot Wing Commander Karthikeya Singh at the Galle Face Green. Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana looks on

‘Rolling Thunder’

Let me discuss the largest airstrike carried out by the SLAF during the entire conflict. The operation, code-named ‘Rolling Thunder’, carried out on June 10, 2008, involved 10 aircraft, four MiG 27 and F 7GS and a pair of Kfirs. There hadn’t been any other instance of the SLAF deploying almost half of all available jets for the assault on the Muhamalai frontline. The Army couldn’t breach the Muhamalai LTTE defence though many costly attempts were made over the years. In fact, the Jaffna-based Divisions couldn’t breach the Muhamalai line until the then Brigadier Shavendra Silva’s celebrated Task Force 1/58 Division moved against the LTTE from the direction of Paranthan in early January 2009.

Throughout the war, the Katunayake-based jet squadrons played a pivotal role in carrying out specific operations in support of the advancing Army and independent operations meant to dismantle the LTTE’s conventional fighting capability. The SLAF (fighter squadrons) developed the capacity to launch night time operations. The No 12 squadron engaged in low level bombing operations.

The SLAF experienced severe difficulties caused by no fault of theirs. The SLAF’s attempts to establish an anti-aircraft defence was delayed due to New Delhi’s strong objections to installation of Chinese 3D radar. India felt threatened by the installation of Chinese radar here whereas Sri Lanka remained exposed to the LTTE air threat. Finally, the SLAF acquired both Indian (2 D Indra MK ii) and Chinese radar (JY 11), the latter being 3 D, in the wake of the first LTTE air attack carried out on March 27, 2007. The LTTE used Zlin 143 light aircraft for night time attacks.

Big powers jostle for power

Today, India is a key member of the US-led Quad opposed to China rapidly expanding its influence globally. Its other members are Australia and Japan. Sri Lanka has been compelled to walk a diplomatic tightrope having handed over the strategic Hambantota port to China in 2017 on a 99-year-lease under controversial circumstances. Interestingly, the UNP-led yahapalana government, having come to power vowing to do away with China-funded projects, ended up handing over the Hambantota port to China much to the dismay of its overseas benefactors.

Sri Lanka’s decision to seek Indian and Japanese investment for the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) instead of going ahead with the the 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on the much sought after East Container Terminal (ECT) should be examined, taking into account both China and the US seeking to consolidate their position in Colombo. In addition to the Hambantota port, secured on a 99-year lease in 2017, China operates a terminal at the Colombo harbour. Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT) is a joint venture involving China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (85 per cent) and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA/15 per cent) under a 35 year Build Operate and Transfer deal. Many an eyebrow was raised when India set the record straight regarding Sri Lanka’s recent statement on the proposed agreement with India’s Adani Group on the ECT. India declared that Sri Lanka had sought consensus with Adani on the WCT instead of going through the Indian High Commission.

Recent US declaration that Sri Lanka wouldn’t be considered for Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact shouldn’t be considered under any circumstances as a case of the US losing interest. The US, as well as its allies, India, Japan and Australia, as part of their individual/joint overall strategy meant to counter China, are engaged with Sri Lanka. At that time India threw its weight behind terrorism here, it had been firmly in the then Soviet Camp. India’s dependence on Soviet Union for its defence needs was so much, New Delhi had no option but to keep quiet when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. But today, the Indian foreign policy has turned a full circle. India is now firmly in the US camp with their relationship encompassing an entire gamut of factors, including nuclear cooperation. The US simply cannot do without India in Asia. That is the reality and the undeniable truth.

But India should keep in mind the Churchilian adage that there are no permanent friends and permanent enemies, but only permanent interests. I

The recent Indian High Commission response to Energy Minister and Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila’s declaration in respect of the Trincomalee oil tank farm underscored New Delhi’s determination to hold onto the foothold in the strategic Trincomalee region. One cannot find fault with the Indian High Commission for immediately setting the record straight. The Indian response to Minister Gammanpila can be compared with a furious Chinese Embassy reaction to the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake over the latter’s criticism of Chinese loans. A spate of Chinese Embassy statements issued here in response to US criticism of China at the time of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit last December emphasized the state of play. IAF’s dazzling performance over the Colombo skies is certainly a significant factor as important as New Delhi’s stand on the latest accountability resolution at the UNHRC on Sri Lanka.

Let me end this piece by recalling what retired Army Commander Gen. Gerry de Silva told the writer several years ago. Responding to a query, Silva said that for him the IAF violating Sri Lanka’s airspace in 1987 was the most humiliating moment. The IAF violation compelled Sri Lanka to call off Operation Liberation, the first ever Brigade-size ground operation to bring back the Jaffna peninsula under its control. Had Sri Lanka enjoyed the freedom to deal with terrorism, Operation Liberation probably would have changed the course of history.

The fly past and aerobatic display coincided with an air observer training exercise conducted by the Indian Navy. Sri Lanka Navy partnered with the Indian Navy and the SLAF took part in an air observer training exercise on a Dornier aircraft of the Indian Navy conducted in the southern coast from 02nd to 05th March 2021. Taking the wings from the Air Force base, Katunayake, a total of four training sorties were carried out covering the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the southern coast during the training deployment.

Finally, let me pay tribute to those who made SLAF overseas deployment along with six Mi 17s possible under UN command in the Central African Republic and South Sudan successful. Perhaps deployment under UN command is the pinnacle of the SLAF’s development over the past 70 years. The political and SLAF leaderships should keep in mind those seeking to humiliate Sri Lanka at the UNHRC want the UN to terminate overseas Sri Lankan military deployment.



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Midweek Review

India’s role in re-moulding the SAARC

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Making sense of regional integration in South Asia:

 

By Dr Srimal Fernando

Regional integration and cooperation have proven to be vital in dealing with political and economic challenges that cannot otherwise be dealt with effectively

In a national context, India’s unique positioning in the South Asian region has influenced the responses of the other South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) member states regarding regional cooperation. Hence, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC’s strength and effectiveness are reliant not only on the organization’s institutional capabilities but also on the stableness of the member states that are less powerful and the security issues that appear at both the regional and extra-regional levels. For the South Asian region to attain successful regionalism, the less powerful countries in the region will need to espouse India’s power. Given that the South Asian nations share close cultural, historical and social ties, it becomes almost impossible to isolate them. In South Asia, India controls a greater proportion of the trade surplus and informal trade with other nations in the region. It can be debated that India’s policies on regional cooperation and SAARC has been symbolic of a worldwide approach in addressing the problems in a region.

India’s strategic location could provide the impetus required for promoting meaningful regional cooperation. Hence, India should renew its interest in promoting the agenda for regional cooperation and also engage in developing greater ties with other SAARC member states. Given India’s power, it can cause significant implications for SAARC’s political and economic structure. Hence, it is vital that India proactively advances both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of the region. A close evaluation of SAARC’s context indicates that there is insufficient commitment amongst its member states in pushing forward the regional integration agenda.

 

India and the South Asian Regionalism agenda

In South Asia, India is seen as a major player in the sphere of promoting initiatives for regional cooperation. Interestingly, the concept of establishing a regional identity in South Asia to boost intra-regional cooperation can be traced back to the endeavours of pre-independent India. India’s foreign policy had been progressively shaped by the Non-Alignment principles from the time of the Afro-Asian movement in achieving its objectives. Subsequently, this Nehruvian approach to regionalism has been succeeded by new regionalism in South Asia, which has seen a redirection in India’s approach towards this concept. India was also part of the Bandung Conference of 1955, which predominantly is considered to have paved the way for regional cooperation in Asia and South Asia. Subsequently, over the years, India has taken an active role in the SAARC initiatives.

Consequently, India recognized the proposal made by President Ziaur Rahman of Bangladesh for the creation of a regional platform which identified numerous areas of cooperation. The establishment of SAARC came to be seen by India as a remedy to the strained political posture in South Asia, and since then, India has emerged as an influential member state of the organization. Nevertheless, finally India was convinced about the potential economic advantages that cooperation could bring about by merging most of the South Asian economies at that time. Although the areas of cooperation were limited to a few spheres such as technical cooperation during the initial years of forming SAARC, India subsequently came to fully accept and support the proposal for founding SAARC.

Eventually, given India’s strategic importance in the region, it became crucial for the country to actively participate in the joint initiatives for cooperation in the region. A striking feature of the region’s political and economic dynamics has been India’s political and economic dominance in contrast to the unequal levels of development among the other SAARC member nations.

 

India and Regional Economic Integration in South Asia

India’s economic dominance over the rest of the SAARC member states can be crucial in unifying the rest of the South Asian nations under a single umbrella. Given India’s role in promoting trade and attracting foreign direct investment, it can be said that regional integration has been an essential part of its foreign policy. This is notably significant to India, given that the dynamics of globalization and cross-border value chains are crucial for a state’s economy.

India’s magnitude as well as its economy, which is the largest in the region, provides the country an advantage over the other member states of SAARC. India has a Gross National Product (GNP) which is almost three times the total national product of the other SAARC member states. Being a vital player in the region in advancing regional prosperity and in reviving SAARC, these elements have vested India with high prospects. Subsequently, this has led India to be actively engaged in fostering regional cooperation through numerous endeavours to promote growth and development in the region. This has been further assisted by India’s strategic positioning which makes it possible for the nation to trade with its neighbours. Notably, India accounts for 80 percent of all intra-regional trade in South Asia.

In spite of these developments, the disproportionate distribution of trade advantages, that frequently favours India owing to its economic supremacy, has caused inequalities among the SAARC nations. Consequently, the prospects of India playing a leading role in fostering regional growth and development have been riddled with suspicion and fear of India’s dominance over the smaller and weaker economies of SAARC. Moreover, there exists immense prospects for improving political and economic ties amongst SAARC member states and the rest of the world. Accordingly, one of the critical developments in regional politics in the past three decades can be considered to be the emergence of regional cooperation institutions such as SAARC. Hence, nearly all of the South Asian countries have been encouraged by this development to embraced regionalism. However, the extent to which India and the SAARC nations can remain committed towards implementing regional initiatives under the SAARC framework is yet to be seen, given the rapid proliferation of regional arrangements and manifold memberships between India and the rest of the SAARC nations within such arrangements.

 

New Regionalism in South Asia

A close evaluation of SAARC indicates that there is insufficient commitment among its member states towards pushing forward the regional integration agenda. However, despite many challenges, SAARC’S continued existence for over three decades since its formation provides new prospects for improving the organization. Hence, it is vital that India takes on an active role in advancing initiatives in the region as a mode of reaching high GDP rates and trade growth.

In addition, given that the South Asian region is considered to be one of the least integrated regions of the globe, it is crucial that India is robust in promoting both inter-regional as well as intra-regional integration in the economies of South Asia.

About the Author

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in 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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Midweek Review

House seeks public views on ‘the role of an MP and aspirations of the people’

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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.

By Shamindra
Ferdinando

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: journal.slparliament@gmail.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

USAID project?

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”.

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Midweek Review

CAS for our secondary school students   

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by Anton Peiris
B.Sc. (Ceylon), PGCE (Kenya), M.Sc. (London ), DAES (York). Emeritus Coordinator, International

Baccalaureate, Switzerland.

 (Reduce O/L STRESS (continued): The package of 7 subjects plus computer skills plus CAS is designed to impart an all-round education.)

CAS was introduced to 10 schools in Europe, the UK and North America by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in 1970.  By 2010 it had spread to more than 5,000 Secondary and High schools worldwide. Now it is Sri Lanka’s turn to introduce it. CAS should be compulsory for all Senior Secondary students (i. e. Grades 10 – 12).

It is something that is done outside school hours.

 

C = CREATIVITY : 

That is, learning to play a musical instrument or taking lessons in oriental dancing or Art or Music or taking part in a theatre production or singing in a choir or doing Painting or Sculpture or pursuing a Hobby like stamp collection or carpentry or metal work or motor mechanism or photography or aeromodelling or playing chess or bridge or poker, etc.

 

A = ACTIVITY: 

Playing cricket or football or basketball or badminton or tennis or netball or volleyball or hockey or swimming or athletics or any other sporting activity.

 

S = SERVICE  : 

For example, giving Tuition in English or Mathematics to a weak student from a poor family or to a handicapped child for free ( no fees charged ) for 45 minutes during a weekend or baking a cake to sell the cake slices at a fundraising event for a worthy cause or visiting an orphanage occasionally and playing a musical instrument to entertain the poor orphans or taking a handicapped person (in a wheelchair) to the cinema, or visiting a handicapped or old or retired  person or couple living alone and reading a short story to them or informing them of the local / international news items once a month, etc. That is, to undertake a project that often involves community service. 

It is not necessary to do a Service activity every week. The aim should be to do it at least three times during the year.

The students playing for the school cricket team or any other sports team have already fulfilled their Activity component of CAS. Similarly, the students who are members of the school band or dramatic society have already fulfilled their Creativity component. If a group of students take part in a particular community service project, then all the members of the group have fulfilled their Service component. 

Some students take part in Service projects in their Temple or Church. These also count as Service activities for CAS.  

It is the duty of the teachers to provide the students with some guidance on the choice of suitable Service projects. CAS should be an enjoyable experience for the students.

CAS should be monitored by the school for each student. Each school should appoint at least one CAS Coordinator, i.e. a competent teacher. He/she should not be a full-time teacher because it is a post of responsibility requiring many hours of work per week both inside and outside the school hours. A CAS Coordinator should be paid a salary equivalent to that of a Deputy School Principal. 

The CAS Coordinator must ensure that, at the end of Grade 11, every student has worked on Creativity, Activity and Service for at least one year.

There is a school in Sri Lanka that has a strong CAS programme for A / L (IB) students: The Overseas School of Colombo in Battaramulla. The senior officers of the Ministry of Education should visit this school and meet the CAS Coordinator.   

About 35 years ago, a teacher in the Overseas School of Colombo discovered that a village school, a few kilometres away from Battaramulla, had only a well and no tap water and there was no pipe borne water nearby. A CAS project was organised to provide the school with a water pump, a water tower and tank. To raise the required money, the students organised bake sales, staged a theatre production, donated part of their pocket money and solicited donations from parents and their employers.

A parent who was a civil engineer drafted the plans and a group of Advanced Level (IB) students spent a few hours during their weekends mixing cement, bricklaying, etc., (all under expert supervision ). Senior students in the village school also took part in the manual work. The project was completed and the school had tap water in the school premises. The grateful village headmaster brought the OSC students and their CAS Coordinator in Perahara with drummers and Kandyan dancers for the opening ceremony. 

Those OSC students (most of them foreigners) not only fulfilled the Creativity and Service components of their CAS requirement but also acquired an ‘awareness of a common humanity and social responsibility ‘.

CAS will provide our students with the joys of childhood and school life that they have missed and also equip them with qualities like empathy and love of neighbour. 

Long live CAS! 

 

(To be continued.

Next instalment: A solution to the problem of extra heavy School Bags. The writer has taught O/L, A/L and IB mathematics and physics for 45 years in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Switzerland.) 

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