Moral Depravity in Politics on Display
By DR. SIRI GALHENAGE
It is a measure of Shakespeare’s stature that he explores the complexities in human nature, so skilfully. For him, the ‘political theatre’, where humans compete with each other for power, provides a fertile ground for such exploration.
Vying for power in affairs of the state, exercised inappropriately, is a favourite theme of Shakespeare. Drawing from history, he gives dramatic expression to such a scenario in his popular play, ‘The Tragedy of Julius Caesar’, in which the nature of politics and those who participate in it, and their motivations, seep into every aspect of the drama.
The plot depicts the assassination of Julius Caesar as the pivotal event of the play, preceded by the rationalization of the action by the conspirators, and the political consequences thereof. The propensity to manipulate the truth in political machinations is the prominent mode of the play – one of the most rhetorical in all Shakespeare. “Men may construe things after their fashion/ Clean from the purpose of things themselves” [Cicero: Act1- 1.3.34 – 5]. It brings forth the moral depravity in politics, making the main characters and their patterns of behaviour, the focus for interpretation – the purpose of this essay.
The Republicans had governed the city of Rome and its territories for over four centuries. The Roman Republic was founded by the inhabitants of the city who drove away the hereditary kings and took over power by electing their own to the Senate. The Senate was initially controlled by the patricians, the city’s aristocratic class, but in time, the plebeians, the common folk, campaigned for and achieved a greater say in the assembly by appointing their own representatives [tribunes] to safeguard their interests. Yet, the common folk remained a hapless lot, poor and disgruntled, and averse to any ruler gaining too much power.
The aristocrats continued to dominate the Senate, but with time their quality and integrity declined due to their extravagant life style and corrupt practices. Two of the generals who prevailed and formed the First Triumvirate – a cabal of three rulers – were Pompey and Julius Caesar, along with Crassus. Pompey was a defender of the Republic and statesman, and Caesar, a military expansionist. The alliance was put to the test as Caesar gained power following his successful campaigns in Europe, expanding the Territories of the Roman Republic. He became Governor of the vast region of Gaul [north-central Europe] where he commanded a large army. The contention for leadership of the Roman state, in its entirety, between Caesar and Pompey led to a bitter civil war. Following the defeat of Pompey and his progeny, Caesar emerged as the formidable leader of the Roman territories.
Shakespeare’s play begins at this point with Caesar’s triumphal return to Rome accompanied by his followers, including the military and political figures – Brutus, Cassius and Antony – to be welcomed by scores of cheering Romans.
Caesar dominates the drama from the start and his spirit lives on even after his departure in Act 3, justifying the title of the play. He was a man with a paradoxical mixture of characteristics: arrogance and towering authority on the one hand and a blemished physique on the other, with partial deafness and prone to attacks of epilepsy. ‘He fell down in the market-place, and foamed at mouth, and was speechless’. [Casca: Act 1. Scene 2.]
While the plebeians celebrate the arrival of their new leader from his military expeditions, bringing ‘many captives home to Rome….whose ransoms, did the general coffers fill’, there is growing concern among some of Caesar’s close associates that their leader may use his supreme power to override the Republican form of governance to establish a new monarchy. The two senior Generals – Cassius and Brutus – who too had leadership ambitions, were particularly concerned about Caesar’s rise to power: whether he will ‘soar above the view of men’, as the tribunes grudgingly described.
Cassius and Brutus fought with Pompey against Caesar in the civil war. Caesar, in his magnanimity, was merciful towards his defeated opponents, but was insightful about Cassius. Astute in his judgement of character, Caesar once remarked: ‘Cassius has a lean and hungry look/ He thinks too much: such men are dangerous’.
Cassius harbours a personal resentment towards Caesar: ‘So vile a thing as Caesar…he doth bear me hard’, at the same time being envious of his might: ‘Bestride the narrow world’ like a ‘Colossus’. He instigates a plan to remove Caesar from power and hatches a plot to draw Brutus and others into the conspiracy. He believes that his liaison with Brutus is beneficial, in order to avoid any accusations of self-interest and to lend respectability to the project, as Brutus is held in high regard by the populace.
Cassius is malcontent and conniving, reminiscent of Iago in Othello. Alerting his fellow conspirators to the danger of Caesar returning Rome to monarchical rule, also questions his fitness to govern in view of his infirmities. He tries to win over an ambivalent Brutus by planting forged letters of public discontent about Caesar in his house knowing that Brutus is receptive to the voice of the populace.
Brutus is faced with having to balance his personal friendship with Caesar against the general good of the Republic. Mark Antony, a strong ally of Caesar, wishes the new leader to be crowned. But, if crowned, broods Brutus, will he change his current nature and turn dangerous? How could it be stopped?
‘It must be by his death’. And for my part/ I know no personal cause to spurn at him,/ But for the general. He would be crowned./ How that might change his nature, there’s the question./ It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,/ And that craves vary walking, Crown him: that!’ [Brutus: Act 2. Scene 1]
Brutus’s dissonance of thought crystallises into a sense of resolve. At a meeting of the conspirators, a decision is made to assassinate Caesar. Brutus takes control of the plot. ‘Let not our looks put on our purposes/ But bear it as our Roman actors do/ With untir’d spirits and formal constancy’.
‘Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully/ Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods’ [Brutus: Act 2. Scene 1]
THE IDES of MARCH
Caesar, on his arrival at the Senate on ‘the ides [or 15th] of March’, which celebrated the first full moon of the New Year with festivities and sacrifice, is stabbed to death by the conspirators, one after the other. Before his last gasp, Caesar turns to Brutus, the last to attack, and utters his last words: ‘et tu Brute?’, [even you Brutus?], in bewilderment of his friend’s act of betrayal. The assassins bathe their hands with the blood of Caesar, an act suggestive of taking responsibility for bringing down a potential dictator, which they anticipate would be perceived by the masses as a deed of heroism.
In a funeral oration at the Forum that followed, Brutus explains to the masses his reasoning behind Caesar’s assassination: that despite his love for Caesar, he loves Rome more, and that Caesar’s ambition posed a danger to the Liberty of the nation. The speech pacifies the agitated crowd.
Mark Antony grieves the death of Caesar. A loyalist of Caesar, Antony, while harbouring the thought of avenging Caesar’s death, skilfully negotiates an opportunity for a funeral oration by engaging with Brutus by shaking his bloodied hands in a gesture of amity. Brutus grants him permission to speak despite the reservations of Cassius. Antony outdoes Brutus in a rhetorical speech with an energising opening triad: ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ [Act 3. Scene 2], the memory of which lives on as captivating lines. In his speech replete with irony, Antony repeatedly referring to Brutus as ‘an honourable man’ refutes the latter’s claim that Caesar acted out of ambition and self-interest. He declares that Caesar brought much wealth and glory to Rome and that he, on three occasions, turned down the offer of the crown [perhaps a theatrical demonstration of humility!]. Coming down from the pulpit, Antony exposes Caesar’s wounded body to the public and reads [after an initial reluctance] the dead leader’s deed bequeathing his [plundered!] wealth to the masses.
Following the stirring funeral oration by Antony, Cassius and Brutus are driven away by an enraged crowd, calling them traitors.
In exile, the two assassins raise an army to combat a newly formed alliance of Antony, Lepidus and Octavius, the latter, the adopted son and appointed successor to Caesar. Cassius and Brutus regroup after an initial dispute over funding, and Brutus is grief-stricken by the news that his wife, Portia, has committed suicide in his absence. Undeterred, Brutus is ready to march on to combat the enemy at Philippi:
‘There is a tide in the affairs of men,/ Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;/ Omitted all the voyage of their life,/ Is bound in shallows, and in miseries…’ [Act4. Scene2]
But the tide did not lead to plain sailing. Cassius and Brutus witness the poor performance of their men at the Battle of Philippi. Cassius misconstrues an event in the battlefield as signalling defeat and falling into the shallows of despair gets one of his men to kill him with his own sword.
‘Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything’ [Titinius: Act 5 – Scene 5]
Brutus, learning about the death of Cassius, and facing defeat, commits suicide by running through a sword held by a colleague. He ended his life to avoid further dishonour.
ANTONY and OCTAVIUS
Antony and Octavius celebrate their victory. Antony speaks over Brutus’s body in a powerful closing speech eulogising the defeated Brutus as ‘the noblest Roman of them all’ [5.5.68], who acted ‘not in envy of great Caesar’ but ‘in honest thought/ And common good to all’. ‘This was a man!’. Octavius orders an honourable burial for Brutus.
The power sharing alliance by the three victors – Octavius, Antony and Lepidus, appear shaky. Octavius and Antony discuss how to eliminate Lepidus, and the struggle for supremacy between the first two continues. At the end, Octavius, exercises his authority by calling it a day: ‘So call the field to rest, and let’s away/ To part the glories of this happy day’ [5.5.80 -1].
‘The play’s thing’ in Shakespeare, as Prince Hamlet showed us in his play within the play. Through the portrayal of characters, and the situations they create, the playwright endeavours to alert our senses and raise our conscience about humanity, with all its strengths and weaknesses. He does not take sides, but prompts us to look into the patterns of behaviour that lie beneath the ebb and flow of history and politics that are deeply rooted in our collective psyche.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare goes back to ancient Rome to discover a story with underlying themes that capture the imagination of his contemporary audiences at the end of the sixteenth century. He brings to life the so called heroes, the traitors, the conspirators, the betrayers, the assailants and the opportunists, who appear to cluster on the political stage; not to mention the gullible masses that constantly get carried away with the tide of rhetoric. The themes that emerge include: anticipatory anxiety about authoritarianism and militarism; fact and fiction in political rhetoric; personal interest against common good in the quest for power; war as a continuation of politics, as Clausewitz aphorises; and the lack of permanent friends or enemies in the affairs of the state. Shakespeare is, as always, our contemporary! Isn’t he?
And also, in Julius Caesar, the play, he conveys a few eternal truths about humanity: that beneath the bravado of a hero is a flawed man; that men of intellect who ought to show the way may be lacking in wisdom; that passion to save a nation may turn to hatred; and the so called honourables are prone to fall from grace. And, as the curtain comes down, one may recall [with apologies to Prospero in Tempest], ‘These our actors‘… ‘are such stuff as dreams are made on, and their little life is rounded with a sleep’.
Gin-Nilwala rip-off and culpability of Parliament
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The Presidential Media Division (PMD) on the afternoon of Oct. 06, 2021 released a letter (PS/LAD/1/9/2021(iii)) Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera, Director General (Legal) President’s Office has sent to Attorney-at-Law W.K.D. Wijeratne, Director General, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).
The letter requested the CIABOC to submit a report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa within a month as regards the revelations made by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) pertaining to Sri Lankans engaged in controversial offshore transactions. Rohanadeera’s letter didn’t name anyone though by then the media all over the world, on the basis of ICIJ investigations, named former parliamentarian Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband Thirukumar Nadesan as operators of offshore accounts.
Instructions issued to the CIABOC should be examined against the backdrop of Nadesan’s plea to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he preferred a retired judge of the Court of Appeal to inquire into the ‘Pandora Papers’ revelations.
The following is the text of Nadesan’s letter dated Oct 06: “My name and that of my wife have been referred to as having various accounts/assets offshore. These references are in what is referred to as the Pandora Papers.
“It is commonly believed that all persons whose names have been so divulged are in some way guilty of wrongdoing. Several world leaders, including His Excellency Imran Khan have publicly announced that they will investigate anyone whose names appear in Pandora Papers.
“I assure your Excellency that my wife and I are totally innocent and are guilty of no wrong doings. In the circumstances, I humbly request Your Excellency to appoint an independent investigator, preferably a retired appeal court judge, without delay, to investigate this matter so that my name and that of my wife would be cleared.
“I am making this request to Your Excellency because my wife and I have suffered heartache and pain of mind. We have been presumed guilty, the presumption of innocence is reversed. It is in these circumstances that I make this humble request to your Excellency.
“Please forgive me for intruding on your time.”
The one page letter has been sent from Nadesan’s Horton Place residence ‘Montrose’, No 95.
Is the CIABOC capable of investigating Pandora Papers revelations? The CIABOC comprising retired Supreme Court justice Eva Wanasundera, retired Appeals Court justice Deepali Wijesundara and former head of State Intelligence Service (SIS) retired DIG Chandra Nimal Wakista, faces a daunting task in producing a report within a month.
The ICIJ declared: *”In the U.S., lawmakers said they will respond to the Pandora Papers with new legislation targeting financial professionals and other businesses that move dirty money for corrupt clients;
*The European Commission’s head of taxation said the commission will push to crack down on tax avoidance and expand information exchange between countries; and
*Enforcement agencies or leaders in India, Spain, Ireland, Mexico, Germany, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Panama and more have vowed to act on the Pandora Papers revelations, as new stories continue to be published and the global response to the investigation continues to grow and evolve.”
The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in Oct 2020, deprived the CIABOC the power to initiate action. The much-touted move hailed by the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) as a measure to restore political stability, obviously weakened the outfit. However, the CIABOC’s performance, even before the enactment of the 20 A, has been questionable though it engaged in some high profile exercises during the yahapalana administration. Its passage with a 2/3 majority in Parliament was followed by the CIABOC giving up on investigations initiated during the yahapalana administration.
The Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), the first to demand a thorough domestic investigation into the Pandora Papers has, subsequently lodged a complaint with the CIABOC seeking an investigation. Executive Director TISL Attorney-at-Law Nadishani Perera says the CIABOC has very clear powers and laws to deal with complaints though technically it cannot act on its own as a result of the 20th Amendment.
Having lodged the complaint on Oct 7, the day after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intervention, TISL asserted that the transactions revealed could amount to offences under Section 23A of the Bribery Act hence the need to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Mrs. Nirupama Rajapaksa relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament. TISL also points out that CIABOC is empowered to take relevant action on acquisitions through unknown sources of wealth or income, under Section 4(1) of the CIABOC Act under the provisions of the Bribery Act or the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. The anti-corruption outfit suggested that investigations could be pursued under Section 70 of the Bribery Act, to investigate whether public funds had been embezzled and laundered through these foreign safe havens.
The contentious issue is whether serving or former parliamentarians or their relatives can be properly investigated without political interference. The CIABOC has conducted successful investigations even on the basis of anonymous complaints. Let me give an example to prove how a successful prosecution has been achieved in the case of a person failing to make an asset declaration.
The Colombo High Court of No.6, Judge Patabendige on June 12, 2020, convicted a Supply Assistant of Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) attached to the Ratnapura Branch, Wijekoon Mudiyanselage Sumanasekera, in a case prosecuted by the CIABOC based on an assets investigation conducted on an anonymous complaint received by the Commission.
The accused, residing at the Millennium City Housing Scheme, No 14, Aturugiriya, has been accused of accumulating Rs.6 mn assets through bribes exceeding his actual income. HC judge Patabendige imposed a five year rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 5,000/-. In default of fine, further three months simple imprisonment was imposed.
The judge further ordered the official under section 26(b) of the Bribery Act to pay Rs.11,960,093/98 which was twice the amount earned by bribes. In default of payment, the accused was subjected to a term of a further two year rigorous imprisonment.
Judge Patabendige also issued an open warrant on the accused and ordered to inform the Department of Immigration and Emigration in that regard.
Deputy Director General of CIABOC Mrs. Ranjani Senewiratne prosecuted. Investigation was conducted by the OIC of the Assets Investigations Division.
However, the CIABOC will have to work closely with the Central Bank, the Inland Revenue and even the Foreign Ministry in addition to the ICIJ in conducting investigations into the Nadesan affair. Parliament, too, will have to monitor what can be easily declared as the biggest case undertaken by the CIABOC. The issue at hand is whether the assets under the name of Nirupama Rajapaksa and Thirukumar Nadesan had been declared to the relevant authorities.
Regardless of attempts to depict the questionable transactions as dealings that had taken place during the 1990-2000 period, the Pandora Papers disclosure placed the SLPP in an extremely embarrassing position. There is no point in denying the fact that she represented the SLFP in the PA and UPFA parliamentary groups for a period of 16 years. Most of all she is a blood relative of the Rajapaksas in power. That is the undeniable truth. The revelations couldn’t have happened at a worse time for the government as it struggles to cope up with the deepening economic crisis, primarily brought on by the global pandemic.
Conduct of parliamentarians
Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala on July 30, 2021 acquitted one-time Deputy Minister Sarana Gunawardena of all bribery cases filed against him.
Assistant Director General of the CIABOC Asitha Anthony told the court that the case had been filed against the former Deputy Minister without the approval of the three commissioners. Attorney-at-Law Niroshan Siriwardena, appearing on behalf of Gunawardena requested that the charges against his client be dropped.
CIABOC had filed eight cases against Gunawardena, accusing him of causing losses to the State by leasing vehicles to the Development Lotteries Board (DLB) during his tenure as its Chairman in 2007.
While serving as the Chairman of DLB, Gunawardena was alleged to have influenced the officers of the DLB to rent three vehicles from his wife by paying Rs 960,000 per each vehicle where the true value per vehicle was only Rs. 635,000.
Gunawardena was convicted for all three charges that were presented against him. The rejected politician was sentenced to a prison sentence of one year on each charge cumulating a prison sentence of three years. Gunawardena was also ordered to pay a fine of Rs 100,000 for each vehicle totaling to a fine of Rs 300,000. In case Gunawardena failed to pay the fine, he was to be subjected to an additional prison sentence of six months for each offence. The prosecution was handled by Assistant Director General Mr. Asitha Athony.
The dismissal of Gunawardena’s proceedings is certainly not an isolated case. When JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake raised the shocking disclosure made by ICIJ in Parliament, Leader of the House and Education Minister Dinesh Gunawardena pointed out that the case was now before court.
Lawmaker Dissanayake was addressing Parliament on Oct 8, the day the CIABOC recorded Nadesan’s statement. Minister Gunawardena was referring to the controversial case pertaining to Malwana house.
SLPP National List MP Jayantha Weerasinghe, PC, challenged Dissanayake’s comments. Declaring that he appeared for Thirukumar Nadesan in court, Weerasinghe emphasised that no one in Parliament represented the businessman’s interests. Weerasinghe said that Nadesan was an accused in that case.
Dissanayake also raised the controversial Gin-Nilwala project and the transfer of funds to Nadesan’s account by a Chinese company that received a staggering Rs 4,012 mn in two separate transactions from the then Sri Lankan government around the time of the 2015 presidential election. The SLPP repeatedly interrupted MP Dissanayake. A smiling JVPer said that though the SLPP claimed no one in Parliament represented the interests of Thirukumar Nadesan, many spoke on his behalf.
Matara District Communist Party member Weerasumana Weerasinghe was in the chair.
The reference to money received by Nadesan from the Chinese company given the Gin-Nilwala project amounted to USD 5.9 mn. Dissanayake told The Island that the account that had received USD 5.9 mn was a Hong Kong account.
TISL, in its website tweeted that particular section of MP Dissanayake’s parliamentary speech. The social media coverage of Pandora Papers underscored the seriousness of the crisis faced by Sri Lanka.
A dismal track record
Civil society activist Gamini Viyangoda in April this year sought an explanation from the CIABOC and the Attorney General’s Department as regards termination of several high profile cases. Viyangoda questioned the rationale in dropping all charges against former lawmaker and Foreign Ministry Monitoring MP Sajin Vass Gunawardena pertaining to the Mihin Lanka case. That particular case dealt with misappropriation of public funds amounting to Rs 883 mn, Viyangoda declared while referring to recent dismissal of cases involving one-time Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pilleyan (now an MP backing the SLPP), Johnston Fernando, Rohitha Abeygunawardena, Basil Rajapaksa, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon and former Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. The former CJ received appointment as Sri Lanka’s top representative in New York.
Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, who served as the AG during the Yahapalana administration is the incumbent Chief Justice.
What really happened to the money laundering case (HC case No 4648/2009) involving the then parliamentarian Ravi Karunanayake, who subsequently received the appointment as the Minister of Finance during the previous administration. The money had been received from Raj Rajaratnam, given an 11-year prison sentence for insider trading in the US.
The case that had been initially taken up at the HC No 01 was subsequently (May 2015) transferred to High Court No 4 before HC Judge Iranganee Perera who was about to be retired. On the basis of what was called a defective indictment Judge Perera discharged Karunanayake while making specific legal right of the Attorney General to serve an indictment afresh to the accused Ravi Karunanayake. Obviously, that was conveniently ignored. Yuvanjana Wijayatilake served as the AG at that time.
Attorney-at-Law and public interest litigation Activist Nagananda Kodituwakku in an affidavit submitted to the CIABOC in March 2017 sought an investigation in respect of the failure on the part of the AG’s Department to act on the advice given by HC judge Perera. Kodituwakku asserted that the alleged offence committed could have been dealt with under Section 70 of the Bribery Act.
A monument for ICIJ
A no-holds-barred investigation is required to examine high profile corruption allegations. So far, the CIABOC hasn’t been able to bring at least one of the cases involving politicians to a successful conclusion. It would be pertinent to mention incumbent Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena’s response to waste, corruption and irregularities.
Speaker Abeywardena said contentious matters pertaining to financial responsibility on the part of Parliament should be dealt with only by the enactment of a new Constitution.
The SLPP MP said so in response to Prof. Charitha Herath, Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) alleging serious hindrance of parliamentary supervision by a section of state enterprises. Prof. Herath explained the daunting challenges faced by COPE at the time he tabled the first COPE report at the outfit’s ninth session.
Proceedings of parliamentary watchdog committees, COPE, COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) depict a frightening picture.
Unfortunately, Parliament has conveniently failed to take tangible measures though the three watchdog committees reported rampant criminal waste of public funds, corruption, irregularities involving the revenue collection mechanism and negligence at every level of successive administrations.
Have those responsible for ensuring financial discipline forgotten the primary responsibilities of Parliament. The two major responsibilities are financial discipline and enactment of laws. Let people judge whether our political parties have lived up to their much repeated pledges to restore financial discipline. Examination of proceedings of the watchdog committees revealed how the public and private sectors exploited the national economy. Fighting corruption appears to be a just a political slogan propagated by both those in power and the Opposition.
The Joint Opposition (JO registered themselves as SLPP) in the run up to 2019 presidential election conducted a major campaign against what it called ‘Top 10 Kamba Horu.’ Incumbent Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage spearheaded the project. The JO printed a 750-page book that dealt with 10 major corrupt deals that took place between January 8, 2015 and Dec 31, 2015. The JO alleged that the CIABOC never initiated investigations into complaints lodged by the JO. The SLPP owed an explanation regarding the current status of the complaints lodged by them because the party returned to power, nearly two years ago.
According to the JO publication, in the public domain, complaints were lodged against Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, pertaining to the Treasury bond scams, on Oct 29, 2016 (Rs 26 bn fraud/complainant Vasudeva Nanayakkara, MP), ex-MP Ravi Karunanayake pertaining to importation of vehicles, on Nov 09, 2016 (Rs 10 bn fraud/complainant Dr. Romesh Pathirana, MP), ex-MP Malik Samarawickrema pertaining to Mahapola Fund, on Nov 22, 2016 (Rs 1 bn fraud/complainant Sisira Jayakody, MP), Thalatha Atukorala, MP, pertaining to fraud in an insurance scheme for those working in the Middle East, on Dec 07, 2016 (Rs 1.5 bn fraud/complainant ex-MP Niroshan Premaratne), Ranil Wickremesinghe pertaining to 99-year-lease on Hanbantota port, on January 4, 2017 (Rs 15 bn/complainant Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, MP, Speaker), Kabir Hashim, MP, pertaining to cancellation of aircraft ordered by SriLankan Airlines, on January 18, 2017 (Rs 54 bn fraud/complainant Kanaka Herath, MP), P. Harrison pertaining to releasing of paddy to a selected group of companies, on Feb 01, 2017 (Rs 10 bn fraud/complainant Jayantha Samaraweera), ex-MP Ravi Karunanayake pertaining to vehicle racket, on Feb 15, 2017 (Rs 15 bn fraud/complainant Udaya Gammanpila, MP), Dr. Rajitha Senaratne MP pertaining to leasing of Modera fisheries harbour and issuance of licenses to eight vessels for fishing in Sri Lankan waters, on Feb 28, 2017 (Rs 1 bn fraud/complainant the late MP Ranjith de Zoysa) , Dr. Rajitha Senaratne pertaining to irregularities in the purchase of medicines, on Feb 28, 2017 (Rs 1.5 bn fraud/complainant the late Ranjith de Zoysa) and Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP pertaining to procurement of coal for the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant, on March 16, 2017 (Rs 5 bn fraud/complainant Vidura Wickremanayake, MP).
The JO declared the above mentioned frauds cost the country a staggering Rs 131.5 bn.
Parliament, as an institution, at least now should respond to corruption. In the wake of Pandora Papers disclosures, social media posted a speech made by SLPP Polonnaruwa District MP Maihripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the President. Sirisena dealt with the Gin-Nilwala project. What Sirisena, who contested the last general election in Aug 2015 on the SLPP ticket, said was astonishing. The government transferred Rs 1,000 mn to a Chinese company in 2012 for the implementation of the Gin-Nilwala project and another Rs 3,012 mn on January 7, 2015 to thereby bringing the total amount paid to Rs 4,012 mn. Sirisena questioned how such a transfer could have taken place on the day before the presidential election? Who authorised such a transfer and why absolutely no work was done regardless of the payments. Lawmaker Sirisena owed an explanation during his five-year tenure as President what he did to investigate the Gin-Nilwala project. Perhaps, the Gin-Nilwala link disclosed by Pandora Papers, if properly investigated, can cause such devastation to the current political setup, the public can consider putting up a monument to ICIJ.
City University and utilisation of existing higher education institutions
By Sunil Dahanayake and Samanthi Senaratne
The launch ceremony of the City University took place at the President’s Office and it was followed by a discussion, on TV Derana, among high-ranking officials of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Thereafter, we googled the words ‘City University of Sri Lanka’ and noted the following utopian phrases provided on the City University website.
“COME. DREAM. DO.
There is a beginning to every story, and it is now more vital than ever, to ensure that you have the right start. City University is your platform to launch your dreams into the world.”
This is a catchy phrase used to lure prospective students to these new City Universities planned by the government. Is this a reality or a fantasy? Are Sri Lankan General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level (A/L) qualified students deceived by such a university project? In this review, we critically analyse these questions and explain the current situation of university and technical education in Sri Lanka. We also provide an alternative proposal for the City University, on how to utilise the existing higher education institutions to improve university education in Sri Lanka.
The dialogue on school and higher education in Sri Lanka was initiated by the President’s policy statement, ‘Soubagye Dakma’ or ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ in November 2019. The presidential policy statement and his verbal presentations emphasised three major areas in higher education reforms to (a) decrease the time gap between the release of GCE A/L results and the university enrolment date; (b) increase the number of students for university enrolments and (c) produce employable graduates. The President has appointed one Cabinet minister for education with four state ministers and among them; two state ministers are responsible for higher education reforms. They are State Minister of Education Reforms, Open Universities and Distance Learning Promotion, and State Minister of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovations. This article focuses on the City University concept initiated by the State Minister for Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research, and Innovation (SMSDVERI). The relevant state ministry plans to operate the City University under the Gazette Extraordinary No.2209/14, dated January 4, 2021, as indicated on its website.
Many students who pass the GCE A/L examination fail to gain admission to state universities in Sri Lanka. As per the statistical handbook published by the UGC, the number of students admitted to state universities in 2019/2020 was 41,641 (23 percent) compared to students qualified for admission, which was 181,206. This means that 77 percent of students could not gain admission to state universities in 2019/2020. These students, who are unable to get university admissions, explore various other avenues such as overseas universities, private non-state higher education institutes, professional examinations, the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL), and technical colleges to continue their education. The President has emphasised the need to fulfil the aspirations of these GCE A/L qualified students by increasing the enrolment numbers of the state university system of Sri Lanka, with degree programmes that produce employable graduates. The City University project was initiated as a solution to address these concerns.
What is this City University? On the website of City University, it is described as “the first and only tertiary education institution in the country, that will establish a highly industry-centric focus on all the programmes offered.” As mentioned on the website, the focus of the degree programmes offered by the City University is the employability of graduates. Also, the students who are enrolled in its degree programmes will be given practical experience in different disciplines. Thus, the objectives of these City University campuses are human resource development, stakeholder collaboration, development of regional areas and facilitating technology transfer. The City University’s website provides the following information.
“The State Ministry of Skills Development, Vocational Education, Research and Innovation has been vested with the task of establishing City Universities. It has been planned to open a City University in every district. After a feasibility study, five locations were selected to start with. The first CU will be opened in Wagolla, Rambukkana, in the Kegalle District.”
The City University campuses plan to offer bachelor’s degree programmes in Applied Information Technology, Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality Management, Post-Harvest Management and Value Addition.
We appreciate the praiseworthy objective of this City University concept. It can increase the student enrolment numbers in the state university system. Since this project is backed by the government, there is also a possibility of securing some funds from the treasury or donor agencies such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. However, there are many weaknesses, which could doom the City University project in the long run, when considering the issues faced by the existing state universities and technical colleges in the country. Hence, we argue that the SMSDVERI ought to evaluate the needs of prospective students and should optimally utilise the available higher education institutions and resources for this purpose.
We are not pessimistic about the intentions of the Ministry of Education and the UGC, but we review this project pragmatically under the concept of ‘Marketing Myopia’ by Theodore Levitt. Levitt (Harvard Business Review, 1960) argues “that most of the dead and dying industries have shown the self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” Similarly, the designers of the City University concept seem to operate with the perception that thousands of students will enrol in this university without information on academic accreditation, programme details and standard of the academic staff. The City University website does not provide sufficient details on faculty structure, programmes and course descriptions, and the academic staff involved in these programmes. The lack of such information raises the question whether this City University and its degree programmes are properly planned. It seems that the designers of this project have adopted a production-oriented approach rather than a market-oriented approach. Thus, they should not work with the assumption that the GCE A/L qualified students are a vulnerable group who would enrol in any programme offered under a label of a university. They should realise that there are many local and international higher educational institutes operating in Sri Lanka other than state universities. As such, prospective students compare information available on this City University with that of other higher educational institutions in making their enrolment decisions. Further, the best universities in the world are not merely teaching-focused; rather they are vibrant institutions, which focus on all three functions of a university, teaching, research and community service. However, it is questionable whether this proposed City University has been designed to meet all these purposes.
There are 14 state universities, including the OUSL, operating under the UGC, apart from specific purpose universities such as Bhikku Universities and Visual and Performing Arts University. Further, the Sri Lanka Institute of Advanced Technological Education (SLIATE) and its 20 technical colleges also enrol GCE A/L qualified students in their diploma programmes. These existing universities and technical colleges are under-resourced and exhibit many hallmarks of underdevelopment. These include the lack of state-of-the-art lecture halls, the absence of well-developed informational technology (IT) platforms, largely manual administration and finance systems, inadequate funds for research and staff development, and inadequate student accommodation and other facilities. State universities in Sri Lanka except for the two oldest universities, Colombo and Peradeniya, are not among the top universities in the world as per world university rankings due to the above-mentioned limitations in the university system. Most Sri Lankan state universities are mainly teaching-focused instead of both teaching and research-focused, as research funds are inadequate. Under such a resource strained environment, the UGC and SMSDVERI plan to establish 25 City Universities throughout Sri Lanka in addition to the existing 14 main universities making a total of 49 state universities in the country.
We question the rationale behind the government’s plan to spend capital and operational outlay for these City Universities without effectively utilising the resources of existing universities and other higher educational institutions. Therefore, we provide an alternative to utilise the available infrastructure facilities of SLIATE and its technical colleges, OUSL, and Colleges of Education (Teacher Training Colleges) to increase the student enrolment numbers to state universities. We argue that the breeding of new universities does not resolve higher education problems in Sri Lanka unless the existing universities and technical college education system in the country is streamlined.
Missing link between university and technical education
One of the major flaws in our university and technical education system is that these two organisational structures are not connected for the students to enrol in the relevant degree programmes of universities after completing the diploma programmes from technical colleges. Therefore, we suggest combining university and technical college education systems under this City University concept and developing one centralised university with regional university colleges, after absorbing the technical colleges. This combined approach of higher education is similar to the system that exists in developed countries like Australia. For example, Australia has three major levels of education; schools, Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institutes and Universities. Students who are unable to get direct admission to the universities can enrol in a TAFE College and complete a diploma programme after completing the year 12 examination. Subsequently, these students can enter a university and complete a degree programme. The TAFE Colleges in Australia also provide education options for adult learners and school dropouts to improve their careers. Therefore, the UGC and SMSDVERI can develop a similar scheme to link universities and technical colleges to increase the number of students admitted to state universities.
Technical colleges are administered by SLIATE and come under the purview of SMSDVERI. These technical colleges offer diploma level and certificate level programmes under various subjects such as business studies, accounting and engineering. Diploma qualifications of technical college students are not currently considered sufficiently in enrolling students in undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes in the state universities despite the provisions for such, in the Sri Lanka Qualification Framework (SLQF). Examples are the Higher National Diploma in Accountancy (HNDA) and Higher National Diploma in Commerce (HNDC) conducted by the technical colleges under the SLIATE. These two diplomas are considered inferior to the degrees in Accounting and Commerce conducted by the state universities. Hence, the students of technical colleges are at a disadvantage when finding jobs and pursuing university education in Sri Lanka. This missing link between university and technical college education does not support the young and adult learners, who have missed direct entry to the university system through GCE A/L results. Therefore, we suggest combining and streamlining the higher education programmes of state universities and technical colleges under the concept of City University.
Utilising organisational structure of SLIATE and Technical Colleges
The SMSDVERI can reorganise and streamline the SLIATE and its 20 technical colleges into one centralised university with affiliated university colleges, instead of constructing 25 new universities under the City University Concept. The current 20 technical colleges can operate as affiliated university colleges, under the umbrella of the proposed centralised university. The proposed centralised university can be established in the Maradana or Dehiwala Technical College utilising the available resources and facilities. This proposal may require amendments to the SLIATE and University Acts, evaluation of the diploma programmes conducted by the technical colleges and upgrading some of them as degree programmes under various faculties. Finally, this process of reorganisation should be followed by launching a marketing campaign to attract students, parents, and other stakeholders. We believe that reorganising and streamlining the SLIATE and its technical colleges will result in an increase in university student enrolment, as expected by the City University concept.
It is also necessary to evaluate skilled occupation areas identified by developed countries during reorganisation of higher education systems. We examined the Australian skilled migration occupation categories as provided in the web link of the Australian Department of Home Affairs. Accordingly, skilled employment areas with the highest demand are Medicine, Engineering, Architecture, Accounting, Auditing and Finance, Information Technology, Allied Health Sciences and Nursing and Hospitality and Tourism Management. The demand is also high for technically proficient personnel such as Motor Mechanics, Bricklayers, Welders and Electricians. Hence, we are of the view that the UGC and higher education authorities should assess the local and global employment needs when developing university education programmes instead of haphazard development of City University campuses in every district.
The proposed centralised university and its affiliated university colleges can establish schools or faculties for the subject streams based on employer demands as highlighted above. Accordingly, Engineering, Accounting and Business Administration, Information Technology, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Allied Health Sciences and Nursing can be considered as priority subject areas. Further, a Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences should be established to cater to students’ languages and social sciences knowledge and skills improvement. Diplomas that are currently offered by SLIATE through its technical colleges should be revised under the above subject categories. The duration of the basic diploma or associate degrees should be limited to a two-year period or four semesters. Diploma holders or associate degree holders, who want to continue their studies, should enroll in university level degree programmes offered by these affiliated university colleges of the centralised university.
In this proposed centralised university and affiliated university college system, students should be allowed to complete double major diploma or degree programmes such as Engineering and Business Administration, Business Administration and English Language and Tourism and Hospitality Management and Accounting. Hence, students who want to launch their own enterprises are facilitated as they are equipped with the necessary subject knowledge and technical skills in entrepreneurship. For example, a student who wants to open a hotel can opt for a joint diploma or degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management, and Business Administration. These proposed diplomas or associate degree programmes should be incorporated with internships, in addition to the theoretical knowledge. Thereby, these students can find local and foreign jobs as soon as they complete the diploma or degree programmes. We noted that the proposed City University has given due consideration to the provision of practical training, which is commendable.
Combining with OUSL and Colleges of Education
The proposed centralised university and affiliated university college system can also be combined with the existing academic programmes of OUSL, and Colleges of Education. The OUSL with its main campus in Nawala, nine regional centres and 19 study centres operate distance mode degree programmes under six academic faculties. Consequently, this City University can introduce inter-university enrolments with OUSL. The OUSL requires classrooms that are compatible with state-of-the-art teaching technologies in the Nawala campus, which can support both in-house and distance mode education programmes to increase student enrolment numbers. The academic coordination for each subject unit can be done by a senior lecturer at the main campus with the support of a few assistant lecturers in regional centres. Therefore, opportunities and resources are available to execute this proposed university system with the support of the OUSL.
There are also several Colleges of Education in Sri Lanka such as Nilwala National College of Education, Ruwanpura National College of Education, and Sri Pada College of Education. A few of these Colleges of Education can be upgraded to universities and combined with this proposed centralised university and its affiliated university colleges. These upgraded Colleges of Education can commence degree programmes in other subject streams in addition to the diploma programmes in education. The diploma in education programmes can be upgraded into a BA degree in education. We also noted a news item in the Daily Mirror, dated September 2, 2021, which reported that Jeevan Thondaman, State Minister for Estate Housing and Community Infrastructure, was in discussion with the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on getting assistance to establish a university for upcountry Tamil students. As such, what we have suggested in this article on upgrading the Colleges of Education meets the demands of the social and political system. Thus, Sri Pada College of Education can be upgraded to a university to offer degree programmes in education and other subject streams. We noted that the ministerial sub-committee appointed to propose solutions for the salary anomalies of school teachers has also proposed the upgrade of these Colleges of Education into universities.
In summary, the proposed city university can be operated using the SLIATE and its technical colleges as a new centralised university with affiliated university colleges. Further, it can be linked with the OUSL and upgraded Colleges of Education as universities. In our opinion, this is a more pragmatic solution than establishing new city universities in every district, which is unrealistic when considering the fragile economic state of the country.
We have discussed the proposed City University concept and alternative solutions for the development of higher education institutions in Sri Lanka. In this analysis, we raise the question why the government is not utilising the available resources of the SLIATE and its technical college campuses, OUSL and Colleges of Education to increase the student enrolment numbers at universities and re-vitalising these organisations. We noted that the Ministry of Education focuses on constructing new universities without considering the effective utilisation of these existing resources. Hence, we argue that the City University concept is a utopian fantasy rather than a pragmatic project when considering the current economic and socio-political environment of Sri Lanka.
Universities and higher education institutions fulfil three main functions; teaching, research, and community services. However, universities and technical colleges in Sri Lanka do not have adequate resources to carry out these tasks effectively. For example, lecture halls and information technology systems are outdated and cannot compete with universities in the developed world. The administration and financial management systems are outdated and are largely manually operated. The academics are not provided with adequate research funds. State universities in Sri Lanka mostly focus on teaching and not on research as reflected in the world university rankings. State universities in Sri Lanka have received poor ratings in the world university ranking indexes such as Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Times Higher Education rankings due to the lack of quality research publications. The University of Colombo and the University of Peradeniya have been ranked between 1,000 and 1,200 best universities in the world by QS ranking whereas Times Higher Education ranked University of Peradeniya between 401 nad 500 and University of Colombo between 801 and 1,000. The other 12 state universities have not been included in these rankings. The City University, with the above indicated deficiencies, can lower the bar of accreditation of degrees awarded by state universities in Sri Lanka in the international arena. This would negatively impact skilled employment and higher education opportunities for Sri Lankan university graduates in developed countries.
What Sri Lanka needs is the streamlining and reorganising of existing universities, technical colleges, and colleges of education under the UGC for mutual recognition of degree and diploma programmes offered by these institutions. Hence, we have provided an alternative solution to increase the student enrolment of the existing universities, technical colleges, and colleges of education under this City University project using the available resources. The SLIATE maintains about 20 technical college campuses scattered around Sri Lanka and offers 14 diploma programmes. Therefore, it is apparent that the SLIATE and its technical colleges have the required organisational structure, staff, and academic programmes. Hence, what is required is the reorganisation or streamlining of SLIATE and its technical colleges into one centralised university with affiliated university colleges under the concept ‘City University’. A new centralised university campus can be set up either at Maradana or Dehiwala technical college.
The OUSL and its regional centres can also be used to offer degree programmes under the proposed system, which will enable an inter-university enrolment system. The OUSL can offer degree programmes for students of these affiliated university colleges. Further, a few Colleges of Education scattered around Sri Lanka can be upgraded into universities and the current diploma in education programmes can be restructured as a BA degree in Education, under its faculty of education. Further, these Colleges of Education, which are upgraded into universities, can commence degree programmes in other subject streams such as Management, Information Technology, Hospitality and Tourism Management, Engineering and Health Sciences.
We emphasise that the existing capacity of universities should be effectively utilised while focusing on obtaining international accreditation for state universities through expansion of research activities. Further, the Sri Lankan university system should be made flexible by abandoning the archaic systems of student enrolments, embracing inter-university and inter-faculty enrolments, and introducing double major degree programmes. These changes would enhance the quality of university education. We reiterate the fact that the Ministry of Education, two State Ministries for Higher Education, UGC, SLIATE, OUSL, other state universities, National Institute of Education (NIE) and Colleges of Education need to act together to optimally use the existing organisations and their resources to achieve long-term objectives of higher education in Sri Lanka.
Promoters of the City University concept have crafted an image of a utopian university, which reminds us of Thomas More’s concept of ‘utopia’ (1516) , John Henry Newman’s ‘Idea of a University’ (1873) and Robert Maynard Hutchins’ ‘The University of Utopia’ (1953). Hutchins, who served as the President of the University of Chicago, argued that the function of a university is to develop learned responsible citizens, instead of producing mere technicians. Hence, the proposed City University falls short of those philosophical concepts and will add another expenditure line item to the national budget.
Sunil Dahanayake, PhD, FCA is a Chartered Accountant and Samanthi Senaratne, PhD is Senior Professor in Accounting, Department of Accounting, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. She can be reached via email at email@example.com)
All Yours Mr.Taxman!
By Lynn Ockersz
This is no Pandora’s Box of perplexities,
O Mr. Taxman of this unique Isle of the South;
All you have to do in these tragi-comic times,
Is to wipe the dust off your not-so-high Returns files,
And find out if the big, local, scandal-scarred names,
Against whom there is an offshore black money charge,
Have placed on record the wealth they have amassed;
If they have not, Mr. Taxman, be of courageous heart,
And hold them strictly accountable for their evasive act;
For, by keeping taxable income under multiple wraps,
They have snatched nutrition from children’s mouths,
Robbed the Treasury of dwindling development funds,
And cruelly stamped out sputtering fires in humble hearths.
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