Connect with us

Politics

Ill-fated 19A to be laid to rest

Published

on

by C.A.Chandraprema 

It has now been officially announced by the government that parts of the 19th Amendment are to be repealed even before a new Constitution is introduced. Our present Constitution has been amended on 18 occasions and not on 19 occasions as the numbering system may lead us to believe. The 12th Amendment is a dud entry and there is no such Amendment in the Constitution. Among the 18 actual amendments that we have had, some are useless like the 6th Amendment which was supposed to stamp out separatism, but has proved to be abysmally ineffective when compared to the piece of legislation it was supposed to modeled on – the 16th Amendment to the Indian Constitution. Some like the 15th Amendment which facilitated the fragmenting of political parties on ethnic and religious lines were counter-productive. Some like the 17th Amendment were ill conceived, confused and even comically tautological, being designed to take powers over high state appointments out of the hands of the politicians and give it to unelected individuals nominated by the political parties in Parliament. But by far the least well thought out Amendment of all was the 19th Amendment. 

Ironically, at this moment when its repeal has been placed on the agenda, the biggest problem in the 19th Amendment which had a serious impact on the day to day governance of the country during yahapalana rule, has become largely irrelevant under the Rajapaksas. The problem most often mentioned with regard to the 19th Amendment was the creation of dual centers of power with the Prime Minister also having a share of executive power. During the five years of yahapalana rule, the effect of these provisions of the 19th Amendment were amplified by the fact that  the President and Prime Minister were leading their own political parties and working to their own agendas. The way the 19th Amendment bifurcated executive power was by article 43 where the President was to have the power to determine at his discretion the number of Cabinet Ministers and the Ministries and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers, but in the appointment of individual MPs to those ministerial positions the President was mandatorily required to act on the advice of the Prime Minister.  

Thus the Prime Minister’s hold on power depended on his role as the effective appointing authority of Ministers. This was all that remained of the attempt made in the original 19th Amendment Bill which had sought to make the Prime Minister the head of the Cabinet of Ministers and to give the Prime Minister the power to determine the number of Cabinet Ministers and the assignment of subjects and functions to them. Such provisions were struck down by the SC on the grounds that they will require a referendum in addition to the two thirds majority in Parliament. All that remained standing was Article 43(2) which said that the President has to act on the advice of the Prime Minister in appointing MPs as Ministers. 

At this moment, because two Rajapaksa brothers hold the positions of President and Prime Minister, and there always has been a fairly well-defined division of labour between them, the country does not feel the effects of this provision. Nobody else other than the Rajapaksa family can run the country effectively while such a bifurcation exists. If the Rajapaksas are defeated at a future election and a different political party captures power, the new President and Prime Minister would be at loggerheads from day one. Ironically the fact that Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe were leading two different political parties may have in fact have introduced an element of restraint into the conflict between them because the nomination of MPs as ministers would take place on the basis of formal negotiations between two well defined political parties. However, if the President and Prime Minister were from the same political party, such decisions would be made in a backdrop of intrigue, infighting, and factionalism. Conflict between the number one and number two in the party would not only impact on day to day governance, it could also have serious consequences for the unity of the party concerned as well. What the 19th Amendment did was to make the number one subordinate to the wishes of number two in appointing ministers.

 

A President without portfolio 

Another problem in the 19th Amendment which did not affect Maithripala Sirisena but has dogged President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa from the very beginning is the apparent inability of the President to hold any portfolio under the 19th Amendment. We use the term apparent here because there is no express prohibition in the 19th Amendment on the President holding portfolios. The supposed prohibition is by implication. Before the 19th Amendment, there used to be Article 44(2) in the Constitution which stated that the President may assign to himself any subject or function and shall remain in charge of any subject or function not assigned to any Minister. That provision was dropped when the 19th Amendment repealed and replaced Chapter Eight of the Constitution. There was also a transitional provision in the form of Section 51 of the 19th Amendment Act which stated that notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the Constitution, the person holding office as President on the date of commencement of this Act, so long as he holds the office of President may assign to himself the subjects and functions of Defence, Mahaweli Development and Environment.

The disappearance of the old Article 44(2)  and Section 51 of the 19th amendment Act together are taken to imply that the President now cannot hold any portfolio. If someone poses the question, was the intention of the framers of the 19th Amendment the prevention of Presidents after Maithripala Sirisena from holding cabinet portfolios, the answer will be yes. Then the question that arises is, why was that point not specifically spelt out in the 19th Amendment? One would think that if some party wanted to amend the powers of the President they would do it boldly and up front and not try to do it circuitously and by implication. The reason why a prohibition on the President holding portfolios was not expressly included in the 19th Amendment is probably because the Supreme Court would have struck it down just as they struck down so many other explicit provisions which were meant to reduce the powers of the President.

The SC stated in their Determination on the 19th Amendment that “the transfer, relinquishment.or removal of a power attributed to one organ of government to another organ or body would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution. Though Article 4 provides the form and manner of exercise of the sovereignty of the people, the ultimate act or decision of his executive functions must be retained by the President. So long as the President remains the Head of the Executive, the exercise of his powers remain supreme or sovereign in the executive field and others to whom to such power is given must derive the authority from the President or exercise the Executive power vested in the President as a delegate of the President.”

Thus this provision to the effect that the President cannot hold a portfolio has been brought in through the back door by implication by arranging for certain provisions to be silently dropped and inserting transitional clauses which suggest that the President succeeding Maithripala Sirisena cannot hold any portfolio, not even the defence portfolio. Nobody knows how this supposed restriction on the President’s ability to hold protfolios would have fared if challenged in the Supreme Court. There is no dispute about the fact that the framers of the 19th Amendment wanted to ensure that no President after Sirisena should hold any portfolio, but is that intention consistent with the Constitution even as it stands after the 19th Amendment?

Even after the 19 A, the Constitution says in article 30(1) that the President is the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive and head of the Government and Article 42(3) states that the President shall be a member of the Cabinet of Ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers. Furthermore, Article 4(b) states that the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President. This leaves many questions hanging in the air. If the President is the head of the Cabinet and a member of the Cabinet, what is his portfolio? The Constitution does not expressly forbid him from holding a portfolio nor does it specify that he has to be a minister without portfolio. If the President is supposed to exercise power over the defence of Sri Lanka, as Article 4 states, can he do it without holding the defence portfolio?

Under the 1946 Constitution it was specifically stated that the head of the government (the PM) would hold the defence portfolio. Since then every head of government up to 2019 has in fact held the defence portfolio. Some speculate that if this issue of the defence portfolio and the Presidency is raised in the Supreme Court, the likelihood is that the SC would hold in favour of the President being empowered to hold the defence portfolio firstly because there is no express provision against the president holding a portfolio and secondly because Article 4 specifically states that the president is to exercise the power of the defence of Sri Lanka.

 

Undissolvable Parliament

 

The most dangerous aspect of the 19th Amendment is the total prohibition on the dissolution of Parliament until the lapse of four and a half years unless a resolution to that effect is passed by Parliament with a two thirds majority – which unlike the issue of whether the President is entitled to hold portfolios, has been explicitly stated in the 19th Amendment. Before the introduction of the 19th Amendment, Article 70 of the Constitution stated that the President could dissolve Parliament at his discretion. The only restriction on this power was if the last parliamentary election had been held as a consequence of the President having dissolved Parliament at his discretion, he could not dissolve the next Parliament until the lapse of one year from the date of that Parliamentary election. This was obviously a safeguard against the repeated dissolution of Parliament by a President. Under the old Article 70, Parliament could dissolve itself by a resolution passed by a simple majority. If the budget is defated the President may dissolve Parliament but it was not mandatory. However if the Budget was defeated for the second time, the president was mandatorily required to dissolve parliament. 

All that has been changed by the new Article 70 which was introduced by the 19th Amendment. Now, under the new Article 70 the President cannot dissolve Parliament until the expiration of a period of not less than four years and six months from the date appointed for its first meeting, unless Parliament requests the President to do so by a resolution passed by not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members (including those not present). This is undoubtedly the most dangerous provision in the 19th Amendment. What will happen to this country if the President is unable to dissolve parliament or to maintain a majority in Parliament? In 2001, President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament when she knew she was losing her parliamentary majority due to defections. A Parliamentary election was held and a UNP government came into power thus ensuring that the country was not left rudderless. After President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was elected in November 2019, he had to wait only three and a half months before he was able to dissolve Parliament. If he had been forced to wait longer, we would have had a situation where the President of the country did not have a majority in Parliament to govern the country in accordance with the mandate he received.  

Unless the present Article 70 is changed, there will be the looming threat of anarchy hanging over this country like the proverbial sword of Damocles. If some say that the President should not have the discretionary power to dissolve Parliament at any time he wishes as was the case under the 1978 Constitution, then at the very least Parliament should have the ability to dissolve itself with a simple majority the same way it passes most laws in the country. Most importantly, there has to be room for Parliament to be dissolved in the event a no confidence motion is lost by a government in power or a government in power loses the budget thus displaying its inability to govern. To have an explicit provision in the Constitution which makes it impossible for Parliament to be dissolved even in such circumstances, is to court disaster. Even if the President is vested with the discretionary power to dissolve Parliament, no President will take such a decision lightly. 

During the entire duration of the 1978 Constitution, the President’s power to dissolve parliament was misused in an obvious way only when President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament in 2004. That single instance of abuse was the reason why this prohibition on the dissolution of Parliament was brought in. Firstly, you cannot formulate constitutions on the basis of knee-jerk-reactions. Secondly, even if the President’s powers over the dissolution of Parliament are restricted, the constitution has to be flexible enough to allow the dissolution of Parliament on the basis of events taking place within Parliament such as when governments lose no-confidence motions or are unable to get budgets or statements of government policy passed.

 

Questionable Constitutional Council 

The Constitutional Council is a centerpiece of the 19th Amendment. In fact the Constitutional Council and the so called independent commissions that went with it was the main feature of the 17th Amendment that was passed in 2001. For two decades, the foreign funded NGOs in Sri Lanka have been obsessed with the idea of taking power away from the elected representatives of the people and appropriating it for themselves. The prevailing view being that the elected representatives on both sides of the political divide could not be expected to do the right thing when it came to making important state appointments. When the 19th Amendment was passed, stiff resistance by the UPFA managed to keep the number of non-Parliamentarians on the ten member Constitutional Council at three instead of the originally intended five. Even though the number of outsiders was kept at three, due to the manner in which the yahapalana government and yahapalana opposition colluded with one another in stuffing the CC full of yahapalanites, all the independent commissions and other positions with some rare exceptions were filled with pro-yahapalana appointees and a considerable number of them were from the foreign funded NGO community. 

The whole thing was a disaster from the beginning with some of the officials appointed by the Constitutional Council such as the former IGP proving completely unsuited to hold that position. Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole who was appointed to the Elections Commission would certainly have been suited for some other high office but not that of a member of the Elections Commission. The biggest failure of the Constitutional Councils appointed under yahapalana rule in 2015 and 2018 was that they failed to convince the public that they were politically impartial. The whole purpose of the Constitutional Council should be revisited. Above all else the three non-parliamentarians on the CC should be got rid of. A body made up of MPs from both sides of the divide in Parliament headed by the Speaker so as to bring some collegiality into the process of making high appointments, would be a less objectionable arrangement.   

The purpose of having so called independent commissions for some purposes should be reconsidered. The Police Commission for example, was set up so that the appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of police officers other than the Inspector-General of Police, would be vested in the Commission. However, the Commission was mandatorily required to exercise its powers of promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal in consultation with the Inspector-General of Police. Was this just a case of making more complicated a function that was best left to the head of the institution – the IGP – in a straightforward manner? The police have a function to perform as a collective entity and can they afford to be hamstrung by an external bureaucracy imposed upon the institution?  

There is a constitutional requirement that one member of the Elections Commission has to be a retired senior member of the Elections Department. There is a dire need to ensure that the other two members of the Elections Commission are selected only from among senior members of the public service with over 25 years of experience of serving under various governments. Such individuals would be much less inclined to politicize the Elections Commission the way Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole did, at enormous cost to the credibility of the commission he served on. Some sections of the 19A are to be dropped while others are to be retained according to the announcements made by members of the government. Actually, there’s more that needs to be dropped than retained!

 



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Politics

On nation(s), nationalist(s) and nationalism(s)

Published

on

by Malinda Seneviratne

Around 20 years ago, a young politician with nationalist pretensions made an interesting observation (in Sinhala), the gist of which is as follows: ‘There is no such thing as a “Sinhala Race” but people think there is — we should exploit the perception.”

Interestingly, he was at the time in a political party that was contesting an election on a Sinhala card, so to speak. Now if there’s nothing called ‘Sinhala Race’ then there cannot be subjective identification with that term. Why then should anyone who speaks Sinhala vote for such a party, is a question he may not have considered.

The party didn’t do well in that election, returning just one candidate to Parliament and this too on the national list courtesy of predetermined ratios. Perhaps some ‘Sinhalese’ did consider ‘race’ as a subjective identifier; some as in a tiny minority. Barely three years later, a shift from Sinhala to Buddhist in political rhetoric yielded far better results and yet the overall vote was just a fraction of the population that spoke Sinhala.

Perhaps Sinhala or Sinahla Race aren’t that important when it comes to elections. Perhaps other factors have more compelling weight in the calculations of a voter. Perhaps, as he said, there’s no such thing as a ‘Sinhala Race;’ one might argue, never mind that nothing in this country has been as vilified as Sinhala Nationalism, real or imagined, and never mind that the vilifiers play deaf and dumb over act and word from other communities (real or imagined) that would, in terms of equivalencing, qualify for the ‘nationalist’ tag and, let us not forget, again by virtue of similarity warrant similar vilification.

Twenty years ago, turning to a random page in a copy of the Majjima Nikaya, I came across the Payasi Rajaagna Sutra which gave an insight into this issue of identity. Here’s the gist:

The sutra is essentially a conversation between Kumara Kashyapa Thero and an argumentative merchant who took issue with the doctrine of the Buddha and expressed doubt by posing unanswerable questions such as the following: ‘what is nirvana like?’ By way of response, the Thero related an anecdote about a fire-worshipping Jatila.

This Jatila had an apprentice of sorts. One day the master had to go on a journey and he had instructed the boy to make sure that the fire would not go out. The boy was careless. The fire went out. The boy didn’t know how to make a fire. He split the firewood to tiny slivers, he searched among the ashes for the fire that had gone missing. The Jatila, returning after a couple of days, duly reprimanded the disciple and lit the fire.

And so, the Thero expounded: just as he who does not know how to make fire will not make fire, those who without wisdom look for nirvana will not find it.

The application: he/she who looks for race without knowing what it is or rather what it is constituted of or is not empowered with techniques of identification, will not find it. My comment from 20 years ago went on the following lines: it is a good thing that identification is hard for if that was not the case that which was looked for would be destroyed or purchased.

And so, for reasons of political convenience Sinhalaness (or for that matter Tamilness or any other ‘ness’) misidentified is observed in the persona of the enemy of the moment. That enemy, admittedly, might even wear the identity-garb, sometimes with conviction that the cloth covers the real thing but more typically because it is also convenient. And so we have battles among the convenient for reasons of convenience.

Identity is an interesting thing. Prof Arjuna Parakrama, speaking on the subject at a Commonwealth Literature confab in Peradeniya University around 16-17 years ago, told the story of a ‘Sinhala’ individual somewhere in the North Central Province (if memory serves right) who, when asked who he was, had lots to say with ‘Sinhalese’ or ‘Sinhala-speaking’ either not being mentioned or mentioned as one among many self-identifiers. Parakrama was asked how he, Parakrama, would identify himself. His response was ‘good question.’ He did not answer.

And yet, nationalism is an often used word. Nationalists there are. Of all kinds. Rata, jathiya and aagama (nation, race and religion) are easy words that are used frequently in power politics. They are ferociously affirmed and equally ferociously vilified. It’s like a set of clowns or thugs averse to acknowledging silliness and belligerence respectively and therefore talk about the clothes they and their political others wear.

Of course the self-labeled nationalists (of all hues) are in-your-face visible. The more extreme the position or the more intractable in terms of political project(s) the more visible they are. And that’s where one finds the nationalist discourse. The label-wearers are the stars/villains. The parties they identify with have star/villain value. Whether their amalgam constitutes THE NATION is of course a moot point. They are part of it, obviously. They do shape/disfigure the political edifice. What they do and do not do, what they say and do not say, have a bearing on nation, nationalists, nationalism that have little truck with them.

It’s easy. Too easy, even. Profitable though in many ways for many people. Somewhere where those lacking wisdom cannot see nation, somewhere outside of the universe they traverse in nation-garb, there is probably a nation and a people who identify with it in ways that don’t make it to even the footnotes of the nationalist discourse.

That’s a good thing, for after all the shouting is done, the buildings brought down and upon those ruins other mansions or hovels (as the case may be), the blood letting is done and the wounds dressed, foundation and heart will remain. That’s how civilizations survive and reincarnate themselves.

Meanwhile, however, politics we will have. The young politician mentioned at the beginning still spouts nationalism. Less frequently of course and without any chest-beating whatsoever. He has reinvented himself several times and is quite conversant in the doctrine of strange bedfellows. He’s not done too badly, all things considered. He’s not done with nation, though. It is a convenience, after all, and a useful political tool.

 

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views]

 

 

Continue Reading

Politics

Sinharaja – The island’s priceless treasure

Published

on

THE WORLD HERITAGE SITES OF SRI LANKA

By EVERYMAN

For both foreign and local tourists Sinharaja Forest is certainly not a hot spot like Yala or Wilpattu. It elicits neither excitement nor thrills. Traveling inside requires no jeeps nor four wheel drive SUVs – just your two legs! Yet adventure is there. In plenty. To be experienced, by seeing, listening and feeling as Nature embraces you in its sound of silence. Sinharaja may it be emphasized, is the most valuable and unique environmental treasure in Sri Lanka. Located in the South- Western part of Sri Lanka it is the island’s last viable area of primary rainforest.

So, what is a rain forest? It is a forest which consists of tall, mostly evergreen trees, on which there is a very high amount of rainfall. These forests are earth’s oldest living ecosystems, with some surviving in their present form for at least 70 million years. According to experts it is likely that Sinharaja was formed during the Jurassic era. This means that Sinharaja is between 145 million to 200 million years old. Hence its uniqueness. Hence its value. To put this incredible fact in its proper perspective geologists have claimed that most of Sri Lanka’s surface lies in the Precambrian strata some of it dating back to 2 billion years. It belongs to the earliest part of Earth’s history.

According to folklore ‘Sinharaja’ derived its name from the lion king that dwelt in and protected this rain forest. It will interest readers to know that the three largest rainforests in the world are the Amazon in South America (also called ‘Amazonia’) which is 2,482,636 sq. miles in extent; next is the Congo rainforest . in Africa which is 1,108,113 sq miles. (Those who are literary minded may recollect that Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was centered on this forest through which runs the Congo river; then there is the Valdivan rain forest on the West coast of South America bordering Chile and Argentina. It is 95,753 sq miles.

Just for comparison of their vastness and extent, Sri Lanka is 25,332 sq. miles in extent. So the Amazonia is 98 times the size of Sri Lanka! Sinharaja is 3,422 sq. miles in extent. But its smaller size compared to the largest rain forests just mentioned in no way detracts from its unique endemic fauna and flora. It makes Sinharaja truly incomparable. Sinharaja borders on three districts – Galle, Matara and Ratnapura. Its elevation ranges from 300 to 1,170 meters. The average annual rainfall over the past 60 years has ranged between 3,614 mm to 5,005 mm which is attributed to the South West Monsoon ( May to July ) and the North East Monsoon ( November to January ).

There are three points from which one could enter Sinharaja. One is from Kudawa which is the most frequently used. It is from Colombo to Kalawana to Kudawa. Next is the Pitadeniya entrance. From Colombo to Galle/Matara to Deniyaya to Pitadeniya. The third and least used, is from Colombo to Galle/Matara to Morning Side Estate in Suriyakanda. Whichever way one desires to go it is always advisable to get a licensed tracker. Otherwise there is a danger of getting lost and more importantly a tracker who can unfold the wonders within. Hiking is the only way to go..

And now let’s get inside this marvelous, mystical, mysterious, forest.

Inside Sinharaja, because of the green canopy of trees, through which only about 5 % to 15 % of sunshine falls through, it is dark, eerie and foreboding. And yet it is fascinating. You will be, as Thomas Gray said ‘ far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,’ hearing only the orchestra of the forest – the chirping of birds, the chirruping of insects, the occasional ‘coot, coot’ of monkeys and the soft tread of your own feet, as you walk through this cathedral like sanctuary of trees.

Many of the trees reach a height of around 40 meters ( 131 feet ). More than 60 % of these trees are endemic and what is more, many are rare species. Some of the trees, the timber of which is used in house building, are ‘Hora,’ ‘ Bu Hora’ and ‘ Balau’ which is a type of Mahogany. The vegetation density is around 240,00 plants per hectare ( 11,960 sq. yards ) which makes Sinharaja the most dense rainforest in Asia.

The wild life is exotic and enchanting. However unlike in Yala the wild life is not easily seen. The thick dense vegetation hides many of Sinharaja’s mysteries. It has been claimed that there may be a few elephants and leopards but the most common large mammal is the purple faced langur which is endemic. Langurs are long tailed monkeys which have a characteristic loud call. Some have described this species as ‘old world’ monkeys found mainly in India. There can also be found the Brown Mongoose, the Golden Palm Civet, the Small Flying Squirrel and with plenty of luck one may sight the Red Slender Loris, which sleeps by day and ever so stealthily is active at night.

The bird life is varied and colorful. There have been 147 species of birds recorded, whose habitat is within Sinharaja. Of the 26 endemic birds 20 can be found in Sinharaja. Amongst the birds are, the Red Faced Malkoka; the Sri Lanka Blue Magpie’; the Ashy Headed Babbler whose head is grey while its body is ochre/brown, its leg are pinkish while the beak is grey above and pink below; the White Headed Starling with its white head and breast and yellow legs and beak; the Sri Lanka Spotwing Thrush which is light brown in colour with white spots on its body and has a black beak; the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon which is similar to a dove since both species belong to the same family, (columbidae); the Dusky Blue Fly Catcher which is blue grey in colour with a bright blue forehead. It darts from branch to branch catching tiny insects while in flight. And the Green Billed Coucal which is a type of cuckoo with black plumage and a greenish beak. It is supposed to be the rarest of Sri Lanka birds.

Butterflies of kaleidoscopic colors and sizes flit and flutter amongst the greenery. Here can be found the Sri Lanka Tree Nymph, with a wing span of 15.5 centimeters or 6. 1 inches it is the largest butterfly in the country. Perhaps the most beautiful is the Blue Banded Peacock whose iridescence is unmatched by any other butterfly. The rarest of butterflies is the Sri Lanka Five Bar Swordtail which makes its timid appearance from January to end March.

Reptiles are ever present. The very venomous cobra. The equally venomous Russel’s viper and its cousins, the green pit viper and hump nosed viper. There is also the equally poisonous, krait. Living in peaceful co-existence is the quite docile but frightful to see, the rat snake ( ‘Garendiya’), not to be confused with the poisonous rattle snake, which is not found in Sri Lanka. Finally the very largest and longest of all snakes in

 

Sri Lanka. It is around 23 feet long weighs about 200 pounds and has a girth as large as a telephone pole. It’s the python. It is non-poisonous. But with its sharp backward forming teeth it grasps a prey – anything from rodents to monkeys to deer, wraps several coils around it and constricts it to death prior to swallowing it.

Hence the reason why this species is also called boa-constrictors After a very delicious meal (from the python’s point of view) it coils itself and lies in deep slumber. There are also the scary, but harmless tree frogs which will spring on to you as you move through the heavy undergrowth. Within the damp surface leeches abound. Hence it’s best to wear slacks with the bottom tucked into knee high socks and the shoes liberally doused in salt water. Leeches can bleed you until you faint from blood loss.

There are eight waterfalls cascading down the rocky slopes near the Pitadeniya entrance. One in particular called the Duwili Falls because its three step downward cascade is like a dusty spray, has two large bathing spots at the bottom of the falls. The water is chillingly cold. But if you are brave enough to take a dip you will after the initial shiver find it most invigorating. There are three sparkling, gurgling, streams of cool, clear water which criss-cross through this forest. These streams wind their way and lead on to the North to the Napola Dola and Koskulana Ganga. In the South and South West to the Maha Dola and Gin Ganga. To the West the Kalukandawe Ela and Kudawa Ganga.

In 1978 Sinharaja was declared by the UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and in 1988 was declared as a World Heritage Site.

We now need to turn to a threat – deforestation. It is one of the most serious issues facing our motherland. In the 1920s the forest coverage was 49%. By 2021 it had dropped to just 17%! and alas! Sinharaja, this million year old ecosystem of a treasure gifted by Nature to Sri Lanka did become a victim of partial deforestation. It happened during the 1970 – 1977 tenure of Srimavo Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. Whether it was her own decision, a Cabinet decision or a Minister’s decision, only history can reveal. But yes, by the early 1970s selective logging had commenced. Canadian contractors had with the full authority of the Government entered the forest reserve and begun felling. A 12 meter roadway was cut and trucks, bulldozers and back hoes moved freely carrying the felled trees. The purpose was to feed a massive plywood factory in Salawa, Kosgoda.

There is a saying ‘ Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man’. That man was Thilo Hoffman. During the time of this near calamity to Sinharaja he was Managing Director of A. Baur & Company. He was also President of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS ). He did not wear the mantle of the latter position lightly. He was an active, dedicated and professionally qualified (holding a Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science) protector and conservator of wildlife.

On being informed about the deforestation of Sinharaja, the WNPS headed by Hoffman initiated a fact finding mission. Hoffmann the indefatigable worker, traversed the length and breadth of Sinharaja and published a report explaining in detail the magnitude of the destruction of fauna and flora in Sinharaja. The WNPS published a booklet written by Hoffmann and freely circulated the English and Sinhala translations. This created a major public outcry against the further damage to Sinharaja. The Government could not ignore the issue, and was compelled to take notice.

A Ministerial Sub- Committee headed by George Rajapakse was appointed. Apparently the plywood was for the manufacture of tea chests. In 1977 Srimavo Bandaranaike’s United Front Government was defeated getting a mere six seats in Parliament. It was at that election that J.R.Jayewardene’s UNP won a landslide victory. Thilo Hoffmann met the new Prime Minister who, it may be recalled, became President one year later, and explained the gravity of the situation in Sinharaja. Jayewardene immediately banned any further logging. Perhaps at this point it is most relevant to request the Governmental Authorities to have some sort of memorial built out of stone at the entrance to Sinharaja, mentioning the name of Thilo Hoffmann – The Saviour of Sinharaja. May he be remembered for generations to come.

There is presently a controversy that a hotel is about to be built within Sinharaja. However in a statement reported in the press on April 8, 2021 the Dept. of Forest Conservation has completely refuted this allegation. The hotel is being built five km away from UNESCO’s World Heritage Site demarcation of the boundary of Sinharaja. It is on a private land adjacent to the Pothupitiya – Rakwana road.

But Sinharaja is too tempting to be allowed to continue its millions of years old existence. Either through colossal ignorance or supreme indifference there will threats to ravish Sinharaja. We know. We are confident. President Gotabaya Rajapakse would never permit this. After all was it not he, who as the one time Secretary Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Authority, pursue the Colombo Beautification Project? Remember how the old Grand Stand at the Race Course was transformed? How the International Rugger Grounds opposite it was created? How the Walking/ Running/ Cycling tracks near Independence Hall were made? His love for our motherland is deep seated and genuine. He saved Sri Lanka once from the cruel clutches of the LTTE. Yes, Sinharaja – this incredible treasure trove of biodiversity will be safe in his care.

Continue Reading

Politics

The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves

Published

on

The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come. In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.

by Malinda Seneviratne

The United Kingdom, it is reported, has rejected Sri Lanka’s request for the disclosure of wartime dispatches from its High Commission in Colombo. Sri Lanka had made the request during the 46th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva a few weeks ago.

The dispatches from the then British Defence Advisor, Lt Col Anthony Gash were never referred to in any of the many ‘studies’ on Sri Lanka’s bloody struggle against terrorism. Indeed no one would have known of them or what they contained if not for Lord Naseby invoking the UK’s right to information laws to obtain them.

Gash’s dispatches clearly prove that there were no war crimes committed by Sri Lankan security forces, certainly not the kind that the terrorist lobby (strangely or perhaps not so strangely bed-fellowing with rogue states such as the UK and USA) and indeed these bed-fellows claim have been perpetrated.

British authorities pretended for years that there was no such information available. Now they can’t deny these dispatches exist. And therefore they’ve come up with an interesting disclaimer. The UK now faults Gash for not obtaining independent confirmation of reports he had sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Key word: ‘now.’ This was NOT the position originally taken by the FCO.

Alright, let’s take the CURRENT position at face value. Couldn’t the UK table the dispatches in all relevant forums with such caveats/disclaimers? That’s just one issue. There’s another. Yes, the business of ‘independent confirmation.’ What’s independent and what’s confirmation?

The UK and others hell-bent on censuring Sri Lanka for imagined war crimes frequently refer to documents that are based on a report issued by a ‘panel of experts’ appointed by Ban Ki-moon. The Darusman Report is what it is called. There are lots of claims in that document but no one can claim that any of it was ‘independently confirmed.’ The sources will remain a mystery for years to come.

In the United Kingdom, they’ve not heard of the word ‘contradiction’ it seems. Certain things that are partisan and come unconfirmed are permissible whereas other stuff that’s independent (unless the UK actually sided with the Sri Lankan security forces in the last days of the war on terrorism) are out of order.

It seems to me that the authorities in the UK don’t know whether they are coming or going. Well, maybe they do know that they are severely challenged in logic, in intellect, in moral standing etc., but believe that the world someone does not notice. A third possibility: they just don’t care.

The United Kingdom, with respect to the UNHRC resolution and all matters relevant to it, then, hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory, but what of that considering that shamelessness is the blood-stained batch on its coat of arms, so to speak?

Let’s humor them, though. There’s a lady called Sarah Hulton. Let’s assume she knows English. Let’s assume she has some skills in language comprehension. Let’s not assume she values truth, justice and being honorable for we shouldn’t kid ourselves too much. Nevertheless, we can ask some questions.What’s the value of hearsay? Do we discard ‘word’ and if so which words? If we pick some words and junk others, what criteria should we employ? The Darusman Report, for example, is ALL ABOUT HEARSAY. We have to assume that until we know who said what, for only then can we talk of reliability of source.

We have reports that toss out random numbers without a shred of substantiation. Is that OK, Ms Hulton? If Gash is unreliable, how can any report based on some other report that is based on hearsay be okay?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is not about truth and reconciliation. The United Kingdom values lie over truth, injustice over justice, violation of all basic tenets of humanity over their protection, theft over property rights, plunder over protection. The British are yet to reconcile themselves regarding the many crimes against humanity they have perpetrated or, at least, benefited from. Seeking justice and truth from such people is silly. Seeking honor from the dishonorable is silly.

And yet, in Geneva and in other places where bucks and bombs count more than truth and justice, countries like the United Kingdom will prevail. For now. For now, we must add, for we know that nothing is permanent. For now, the reports of idiots and/or the politically compromised will be valued over those of impartial, dispassionate individuals such as Gash.

Let’s get this right. The British are not just bullies. They are cowards. Intellect is not their strong point or even if they are sophomoric at best, they are bullish enough to push aside the truth. It’s about ‘by any means necessary’ but obviously not in an emancipatory sense of that phrase, as used by Malcolm X. So when they talk of truth and justice, reconciliation and peace and other such lovely things, let’s keep in mind that it’s all balderdash. When they talk of ‘victims’ it is nonsense because without ‘wrongdoing’ that’s established, there can be no ‘victims’. Mr Hulton is not sleeping ladies and gentlemen. The United Kingdom is not sleeping. The Foreign and Commenwealth Office in that country is not sleeping. They are pretend-sleepers. They cannot be woken up.

One is reminded of a song from ‘My fair lady,’ the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’. Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? That’s the title of the song. When the English learn English — now that would be the day! Right now they speak some garbled language devoid of any logic or reason. It works for them.

Colonial-speak is a possible name for that language. It is an excellent communications device in all things antithetical to the high ideals, the furtherance of which was the reason for the establishment of the UNHRC. Indeed that has become the lingua franca of Geneva. The British know this French, pardon the irony! Ms Hulton knows it, as do her bosses in London as did their ancestors whose crimes against humanity are left out from the history books.

We are not talking of the past though. It’s the present. It’s ugly. As ugly as the past, only it’s come wearing other clothes. Nice ones. Not everyone is fooled though.

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views.]

Continue Reading

Trending