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Is Mahinda bluffing again about 13A?

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By Rohana R. Wasala

Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless …

The Most Venerable Mahanayake theras of the Three Nikayas (Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna) wrote to president Ranil Wickremasinghe admonishing him not to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two weeks ago, on February 2, as reported in The Island Mahanayakes tell President not to implement 13A’/February 3, 2023). The Buddhist prelates reminded the president that his predecessors did not implement 13A fully because of the devastating consequences this would have on the country, and that the executive presidency was established to safeguard the people’s sovereignty. The Mahanayake theras warned him of public anger rising against him if he carried out activities that tend to weaken the central government. It is evident that the senior monks are aware of the current economic crisis that the country is going through. They understand that Sri Lanka needs the assistance of global powers to overcome these difficulties. However, they correctly point out that proposals that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be rejected. According to The Island report, the Mahanayakes also told the president that the country as a whole.. ….” faced many difficulties during the war. The government must do more to develop the North and East and uplift the livelihood of people who faced the most damage. Politicians who come from those parts hold Cabinet posts and can do a lot to develop these areas. At such a time, fully implementing the 13th amendment will create confusion….”

Is this dabbling in politics on the part of the Mahanayakes? Absolutely not. They are just attending to the hallowed duty assigned to the bhikkhus of our country by a tradition that began 2260 years ago with the official introduction of Buddhism: to come forward/usually to offer advice to the ruler when the country, the people and the Buddha Sasana are in jeopardy. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country. Countries that possess such a long unbroken history of the same spiritual culture are extremely rare. Doesn’t that imply something about the dominant cultural background of the country and the people’s beliefs and ideas about the living of life, worldly happiness, social obligations, spiritual fulfillment, and so on?  As the spiritual guides of at least 70% of the Sri Lankan population, they have a historic responsibility to advise the ruler when they realise that the interests of the people of the country (including non-Buddhists) are threatened as understood at present by a large majority of the population.

The Maha Sangha are arguably the most democratic community of clerical men and women on earth. They are averse to totalitarian control of any kind (something hinted at by the president in the Buddha’s admonition to his followers “Be a lamp unto yourself” with which pithy quote he ended his policy statement, though its appositeness in that context may be in question).

In their missive, the Buddhist prelates express their sincere concern about the need to address the current economic issues with special attention to the livelihood problems of the people of the North and the East who faced the brunt of the civil conflict. At the same, they urge the president not to carry out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. (Though the Venerables didn’t mention it, the 13th Amendment was forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka grossly violating her sovereignty in 1987 in less than ideal, less than democratic circumstances as the older generation of Sri Lankans knew at first hand.)

While presidents, prime ministers, and governments come and go from time to time, changing their powers and policies as appropriate or otherwise, the Mahanayakes who are symbols of wisdom and compassion remain more permanent, like the sovereign state itself. However, hardly ever do they usurp a ruler’s role. The intrinsic secular nature of Article 9 (relating to Buddhism) of Sri Lanka’s existent republican constitution is something that Western observers, and even our own politicians including the nationalists among them do not or do not want to understand; the latter seem to be abysmally ignorant of the term ‘secularism’, and play havoc with it.

Contrary to what people expected, in his ceremonial policy statement from the Speaker’s chair in parliament on February 8, President Wickremasinghe did not seem to respond to the Mahanayakes’ earnest advice conveyed to him nearly a week previously, but he did so by implication, towards the end of his speech. Some of his utterances, probably, increased their apprehensions. He talked about having to take unpopular decisions. “I am not here to be popular!”, he said. Ranil Wickremasinghe can well say that since it was not because he was popular that he became executive president.

He, as a would-be technocrat, can take unpopular decisions, as he thinks fit, in dealing with purely economic issues. But if his economic policies are based on wrong political decisions, it’s a different issue, where his personal moral values get tested (in spite of his indispensability at this juncture).

The president devoted the first half of his speech to dealing with strictly economic matters: Rebuilding the nation, foreign reserves, IMF negotiations, revival of tourism, economic reforms, etc. To properly handle these, it will be helpful for him to keep in mind the concerns raised by the monks. For example, one of the worries of these leading monks, though not mentioned in the letter, relates to the preservation of the Buddhist archaeological heritage of the northern and eastern areas. The archaeological treasures connected with the history of Sinhalese habitation in the northern, north central and eastern parts of the island have been under threat for decades; some of them have been deliberately destroyed, reburied, built over or falsely claimed by non-Buddhists.  There is history written on rock in the form of rock inscriptions right across the country from north to south and from east to west that bear witness to the presence of the Sinhalese throughout the island. Archaeological remains and sites are great tourist attractions, which means their preservation is economically very important, too.

Most of the other half is about establishing communal harmony.  President Wickremasinghe takes great pains to convince the Tamil and Muslim minorities about his determination to solve their problems.

He had discussed with R. Sampandan MP in 1977 (i.e., 45 years ago) about how to resolve the Tamil ethnic issue. The time has come at long last for them to achieve their goal. Ranil had been made aware of problems of the Muslims by minister A.C.S. Hameed, presumably in the latter 1980s, i.e., 35 years ago. All sensible Sri Lankans appreciate Ranil Wickremasinghe’s desire to resolve minority problems, but he should remember that no politician has a moral right to disregard the human rights interests of the majority community.

While listening to the policy statement streamed live on February 8th, I felt that the president displayed less enthusiasm in talking about the problems that the majority community suffer from. It looked as though he thought those problems were less substantive than the ones that the minorities faced. His single apathetic utterance in this regard was: “The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination”. This is tantamount to associating the caste issue with the Sinhalese instead of the Tamils, particularly those in the North, who are persecuted by religion sanctioned casteism. The caste problem among the Sinhalese – historically borrowed from Tamil Hindu culture – is very mild, confined perhaps to party politics and matrimonial occasions, and is fast disappearing. Tamil civil society activist Arun Siddharthan often mentions this problem among Tamils. Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera MP said in Parliament recently stated that blood needed for blood transfusion in Jaffna hospitals was in short supply due to (Hindu religion based) caste discrimination and had to be donated by Sinhalese soldiers. Of course, how seriously the particular form of social injustice affects the Tamil society can’t have escaped the president’s attention.

Paradoxically, though, in stark contradiction with basic Buddhist teachings, caste distinctions are still observed by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, who have divided themselves into caste-based nikayas, something initiated by the Siyam nikaya in unalterable historical circumstances in the 18th century. It’s an evil that the Mahanayakes could have corrected, at least decades before, had they been less worldly, and more devoted to the Dhamma, and more dedicated to the welfare of the Buddhist laity, and the society in general. At least now, they must bury these undue divisions among themselves, and unite as a single body and realize and demonstrate to the world what the power of the Maha Sangha is. This is urgent for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.

President Wickremasinghe expressed his determination for bringing in maximum devolution of power within a unitary Sri Lanka (not united Sri Lanka as he used to say in the past). How he can secure this is yet to be disclosed. The people must be wary, for the devil is in the details. He says quite correctly that reconciliation alone will not bring about economic development: people’s attitudes must change. (Of course, this should apply not only to the majority, but also to the minorities.) This is perhaps a reference to his decision to get Tamil diaspora entrepreneurs involved in the development of the war-damaged North, for which he will create a separate department. We remember that, even months before, diaspora representatives indicated their readiness to bring in foreign funds to ease Sri Lanka’s dollar crunch, but that was with the proviso that those funds will be utilized exclusively for the economic development of the North.

During his closing words, president Wickremasinghe said:

“,,,,,,,We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.

“We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country..”.

That is a kind of assurance given that the sovereign Sri Lankan state will remain whole; there will be no division of the country. Governments will be changed democratically through elections. This means that the sort of annihilationist anarchy that the chaotic medley of leaderless directionless political and religious desperados of the foreign funded, anti-national, conspiratorial ‘Aragalaya’ will not be allowed. The president promised that his proposals will be implemented through the National Assembly of the Parliament. What better guarantee can be given than this that the kind of undemocratic coercion that forced the 13th Amendment on a hapless Sri Lanka in 1987 under a dictatorial president who had succumbed to undue Indian pressure will not be applied in the present situation?

If the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full, let it be implemented in that democratic way. But we know that the present parliament doesn’t have a legitimate mandate to achieve that end. The SLPP was returned to power with a near two thirds majority, having fought elections on the platform of ‘One country, One law’. It is still an SLPP government. So they do not have the moral right to pass legislation that is entirely opposed to the original rallying cry that brought it to power. To cut a long story short, it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa MP who can persuade the unelected, president by default, Ranil Wickremasinghe from using the sitting parliament to enact 13A in its entirety without consulting the public regarding it through a referendum or a general election. Of course, in the past, Mahinda Rajapaksa used to repeat that he’d offer a 13A+. But I thought he was just bluffing then. Now Ranil seems to have called his bluff. Almost all members of parliament including Mahinda Rajapaksa, except a small splinter group who have left the SLPP alliance, have expressed agreement to the president’s decision to execute the full implementation of 13A. So, legally, there is no obstacle to his plan. But it is undemocratic and immoral.

It is the conscientious assertion of a nation’s dominant moral values by the three branches of government in a democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – in their activities that saves that nation from collapse and disaster. In the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and prime minister, despite his, perhaps, unmatchable past achievements, is responsible for the present unprecedented crisis, especially, the ruinous political chaos. Only he can put an end to it by putting the country before himself, if possible. He used to say that his  Priority Number One, Number Two, and Number Three was the same: the Motherland/the Nation. Let him redeem his lost honour and popularity, and also win back the love of the people he tried to serve.

Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you Reverends, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless. Please remind him that he was a former prime minister, president, and a minister for Buddha Sasana.



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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Opinion

Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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Opinion

Dispelling Misconceptions: Visionary Future of an NPP-led Sri Lanka

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NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake taking part in a protest (file photo)

by Shantha Jayarathne, PhD

In recent discussions, concerns have emerged about the National People’s Power (NPP) in Sri Lanka, with some fearing a return to outdated communist traditions if the party ascends to power. These apprehensions, often fueled by political agendas, particularly target those with limited political literacy. This article aims to dispel these misconceptions and shed light on the NPP’s forward-looking vision for a progressive and prosperous Sri Lanka.

Coalition of Visionaries

Contrary to the narrative peddled by certain factions, it’s essential to recognise that the NPP represents a diverse coalition of 22 parties and civil society organisations, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as its main partner. Importantly, both the NPP and JVP members boast of a commendable track record, free from accusations of corruption, nepotism, or cronyism. Nominations are filed for any election from the NPP under the “Compass” symbol, and contestants with high repute and integrity will be drawn from all 22 constituent parties in the broad coalition.

A Clear Development Roadmap

The NPP has consistently articulated a comprehensive roadmap for the development of Sri Lanka. Emphasising the importance of a thriving Agriculture, Industry, and Service sectors, the party is committed to eliminating barriers hindering investments. Corruption, favouritism, and covert dealings of officials and people with vested interests will be totally eliminated under an NPP government. Furthermore, the NPP pledges to introduce efficient systems, ensuring minimal delays and promoting a business-friendly environment that attracts both local and foreign investors.

Government’s Primary Obligations

Addressing fears of property takeover, the NPP asserts that its government will not engage in business activities but will focus on essential public utility services, education, health, social security, and defence to ensure the well-being and security of the nation. NPP will not only encourage local investments but also it will take all possible measures to attract foreign direct investments. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) facing financial challenges will undergo restructuring with utmost transparency, fostering efficiency and accountability.

Business Friendly Environment

The NPP is dedicated to creating a level playing field for businesses by implementing regulations inspired by the most developed economies. Consistent antitrust laws, investment protection laws, and laws that are inconsistent and complex will be amended or new laws will be enacted to ensure fair competition and safeguard business interests. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and competition, the NPP aims to boost economic growth and prosperity. NPP plans to streamline the systems and process to facilitate investments within the shortest possible timeframe whereby it aims to take Sri Lanka in the Ease of Doing Business Index from 99th position today to a position within the first 50. The Cooperative system will be strengthened in an NPP government and they will be regulated to deliver an effective and efficient service to the periphery.

Transparent Tax Policy

Simplifying Sri Lanka’s tax policy is a priority for the NPP, aiming to create a transparent and tax-friendly environment. NPP will ensure a stable and consistent progressive tax policy in the country, and all regressive taxes will be eliminated. Citizens will be provided with clear information at the end of the Tax Year on how their tax contributions are utilised for public services, promoting accountability and citizen engagement. This transparency is crucial for building trust between the government and its citizens.

Learning from Developed Countries

Taking lessons from successful models of governance in developed countries, an NPP government will strive to implement best practices in public administration. Emphasising the importance of accountable institutions, streamlined bureaucracy, and effective public service delivery, the party is committed to ensuring transparency and efficiency in governance. There will be a minimum number of cabinet ministries for key areas, and their roles and functions will be clearly defined while making the officials accountable to their respective assigned functions. Zero tolerance for corruption and the law of the land will be applied to everyone alike.

Economic Adjustments and IMF Negotiations

Acknowledging the need for economic stability, the NPP plans to initiate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This strategic move aims to strike a balance between economic adjustments and safeguarding the livelihoods of the people in the country. The NPP is dedicated to ensuring that any economic reforms are implemented with a people-centric approach, minimising adverse effects on the general population and the industry.

Nonaligned Foreign Policy

The NPP upholds a nonaligned foreign policy, reflecting a commitment to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. While fostering international relations, the party is resolute in not allowing foreign nations to utilise Sri Lanka’s soil for military purposes. This stance ensures that the country remains neutral and independent in its dealings with other nations, safeguarding national interests and security.

Repositioning Sri Lanka in the World Order

A central tenet of the NPP’s vision is the repositioning of Sri Lanka in the global context. The party is dedicated to identifying and leveraging the country’s potentials, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and managing threats, both internal and external. This strategic approach aims to elevate Sri Lanka’s standing on the world stage, fostering positive engagement with the international community.

Quality of Life Improvement

A key focus of the NPP government is enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. The party recognises the importance of social welfare, healthcare, education, and infrastructure development in elevating living standards. By prioritising these aspects, the NPP aims to create a society where every citizen can enjoy a higher quality of life, emphasising the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Addressing False Propaganda

Amidst the misconceptions surrounding the NPP, it is crucial to address the motivations behind certain groups disseminating false propaganda. The fearmongering tactics employed by those with vested interests seek to perpetuate a status quo that has allowed for ill-gotten wealth and alleged illegal transactions. These groups, resistant to change, attempt to sway public opinion by sowing seeds of doubt about the NPP’s commitment to a fair and just governance model.

However, when one closely examines the NPP’s dedication to transparency, efficient governance, and inclusive development, it becomes evident that these accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to the shadows of a fading era. The party’s emphasis on tackling corruption, restructuring inefficient State-Owned Enterprises, and simplifying the tax policy directly challenges the interests of those who have thrived in an environment of opacity and undue influence.

As citizens, it is paramount to discern the true intentions behind such narratives and recognize the NPP as a force poised to break free from the shackles of corruption and vested interests. By supporting the NPP’s vision, Sri Lankans have the opportunity to usher in a new era – one marked by ethical governance, economic prosperity, and a society that prioritises the well-being of its people over the interests of a privileged few.

In conclusion, the NPP stands not only as a political entity but as a beacon of hope, calling on the people to embrace change, reject false narratives, and collectively forge a path towards a brighter and more equitable future.

(The Writer, a UK resident, is a former Senior Consultant at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA). He is a member of the NPP-Policy Development Team, and he can be reached through email: shantha323@gmail.com)

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