By Austin Fernando
(Former High Commissioner of Sri Lanka in India)
(Continuied from yesterday)
Development and relationships
Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and his Indian counterpart Dr. S. Jaishankar considered developing mutual relationships concerning existing projects, e. g. the East Container Terminal (ECT) and the Trincomalee Petroleum Tanks.
The Indians have observed increasing involvement of the Chinese in the Colombo and Hambantota ports; in Colombo through the Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd – (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Ltd., and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). The main stakeholders of South Asia Gateway Terminal – (SAGT) are A.P. Moller Group and John Keells Holdings PLC. The CICT Transshipment business has been there since 2013 with the Chinese owning 85% of its shares; the SAGT has been operational with 10 partners since 1999, with 85% ownership. Therefore, it is only natural that the Indians seek the same terms as China and the private sector.
Transshipment and ‘Sale’ of ECT
India accounts for 66% of Colombo’s transshipment; it is projected to become the world’s fifth-biggest economy. Hence, Sri Lanka’s transshipment business may heavily depend on India. The argument being peddled in some quarters that a possible Indian policy decision to avoid Colombo could deal a crippling blow to Sri Lanka’s transshipment business has been rejected by the protesting trade unions, which insist that vital decisions in this regard are taken by shipping companies, and not governments. I believe the unions are right to a considerable extent on this score.
The transshipment business involves a complex integrated network of industrialists, shippers, ports, and a market that demands fast, timely, secured goods transfer at competitive prices, and, most of all, sustainability. For these reasons, reputed foreign shipping companies engaging with the SLPA, is welcome. As it happens elsewhere, it could be a joint venture (JV). The ‘sale’ of any physical assets is out of the question because the term ‘sale’ triggers protests.
Perhaps, the fact that Adani is an Indian venture might have ignited protests. The Indians may be questioning why such protests were absent when the CICT (with 85% shares against the proposed 51% for Adani) and the SAGT similarly partnered with the SLPA. Of course, the term ‘sale’ was not used then. Secondly, the Indians may be wondering why there was no hostile reaction to questionable actions benefitting the Chinese, e.g., the alienation of extremely valuable land for the Chinese, and permission for Chinese submarines to be berthed at the CICT, allegedly at a risk to the country’s sovereignty. Thirdly, due to other geopolitical contradictions, India may be suspecting that anti-Indian competitive business interests find expression through protesters, despite claims to the contrary. Fourthly, the Indians are concerned about not an only port-related business but also politics, defence, security, and self-respect.
Sri Lanka must strive to strengthen economic ties with India, whose economy is expanding fast. Therefore, transshipment networking should be re-evaluated in that context. Transshipment competitors such as Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Oman, Abu Dhabi, etc. have gone into overdrive in developing their ports. If Sri Lanka does not do likewise to remain competitive by developing its ports, it will lose.
As for the importance of upgrading ports, one can look at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port. It handled around 2.5 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo in 2018 and expects to increase the volume to 8 million-plus TEUs by 2023, by the addition of more ship-to-shore cranes and deeper berths. The investment of $ 1.1 billion comes from the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). Another example is the Port of Salalah benefitting from over USD 800 million in investment expecting to handle over 5 million TEUs. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government must look for lessons on suitable partner/s.
Terminal operations are complex even in India. Although most Indian ports are state-owned, individual terminals are operated by large private companies such as DP World, AP Moller Terminals, and PSA International. Sri Lankans are demanding that ports be managed by the state when competitors are opening doors to foreign and local private partners. Given the generally poor performance of our state-owned ventures, the demand for state involvement in operating in a highly competitive environment must be gladdening the hearts of private competitors elsewhere and even here.
To understand the advantages of integrated terminal management I quote Rohan Masakorala. Having explained how shipping partners negotiate and undertake sharing assets, he has said:
“Therefore, it is proven beyond doubt that irrespective of the country’s wealth and the size of the shipping line, they do partner with competing lines for logical reasons as networks, provide better business models and solutions than working in isolation.”
We are not a large goods producer or shipowner. We must depend on ‘partnering with competing lines for logical reasons,’ utilizing favorable logistics networks, providing “better business models and solutions than working in isolation.” Thus, the challenge before Dr. Jaishankar may be to find a mutually agreeable business model. Probably, the managerial structures may be of some help, but They should have been transparently negotiated with all stakeholders.
Protesting India or JV concept?
Are the ongoing protests against India, or the proposed ECT deal? Or are they due to domestic political frustration or an attempt by the mainstream/social media to embarrass the government? Or are they to finally withdraw and show the hierarchy was reasonable? Is it to force withdrawal and antagonize India to make China to be the saviour from other economic problems? So many complications! Whatever, the protests are huge even to change stances.
Some of those who protested then are now ministers who have realized the need to address realities of development, geopolitics, diplomacy, neighbourly relations, other anticipated economic and political favours, etc; they support President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the ECT issue. Similarly, some of those who were in the Yahapalana administration supporting the ECT deal is now in the Opposition, protesting the Indian involvement. They have forgotten that their government initiated this project with the Indians. The protesters need to take cognizance of the un-explained truth of mutuality as mentioned by Dr. Jaishankar.
Facing issues for solving
For decisions, clarity is needed on issues. There are six major issues”.
The first is the conceptual agreement of developing the terminals with foreign involvement. The Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa governments by establishing the SAGT and the CICT respectively accepted it. The incumbent President has realized this, but the circumstances have changed.
Chronologically, the Yahapalana government had only a terminal in mind when the MOU-2017 was signed. In 2018, President Sirisena insisted that the ECT be developed by the SLPA as currently demanded by Unions. He was for foreign participation in developing the West Container Terminal (WCT). In 2019, a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) was signed after President Sirisena’s discussions with PMs Modi and Abe for ECT development by an Indian and Japanese operational JV. About a fortnight back President Gotabaya Rajapaksa preferred developing WCT by the SLPA and ECT by Indians. The latest is the Unions accepting external investment in WCT, and the government developing the ECT. (The Island February 1st, 2021). Note the sea changes the wavering state policy on this issue has undergone during the last years and even within a fortnight.
The WCT was on offer in 2018 and the Indians refused. Will they change their stance now? It is too early for the Indians to respond to the latter. If they have stronger bargaining chips, they will remain tight-lipped with a view to winning finally. Anyhow, in inter-state business, if such a change happens, parties discuss and agree before making public statements. In a way, Sri Lanka, which withdrawn from the UNHRC resolution as publicised, withdrawal from a MOC will be no issue. It will depend on the chip in Indian hands.
Still do do not be surprised if the Indians strictly demand implementing the MoC.
The second is the operational mechanism. The CICT is operated by a Chinese company. At the SAGT, the mechanism involves international and local private operators. Therefore, according to the precedent, the agreed mechanism is foreign private operators with the SLPA. But now, is it Adani Group or a different company or other like above Abu Dhabi ports? Or is it an SLPA-Private Sector Project? Could it be Adani’s allied domestic private sector? Many equations are possible.
The third is the selection process. Adani Group is the nominee of India. How Gautham Adani’s company was selected is unknown. If the CITC or the SAGT partners were selected by established procurement procedures, the precedent must be followed. One may recall that Minister Arjuna Ranatunga informed the Cabinet before 2017- MSC that the ‘new operator should be selected following the established Procurement Guidelines.’ Recently, Minister Namal Rajapaksa has also spoken of procedures. These must be discussed across the table because there could be exceptions to procedures.
The fourth is the ownership of the ECT project. The Presidential Media Unit (PMU) Statement and PM Rajapaksa’s statement in Parliament said: “No selling, no leasing of ECT’. But the PMU statement signified an “investment project that has 51% ownership by the government” and the remainder by Adani and other stakeholders. The term ‘51% ownership’ unfortunately but logically makes Adani and others the ‘owner of 49%.”
However, in the aforesaid MOC these percentages are for a “Terminal Operations Company,” meant for the “explicit purpose of providing the equipment and systems necessary for the development of the ECT and managing the ECT.” This difference between ‘ownership’ and the operational company’s objectives clear doubts, but this fact has not been highlighted, fertilizing suspicions.
Ownership is the legal relationship between a person and an object. Therefore, the protestors harp against giving ‘part-ownership’ to Adani, because SLPA owns the whole ECT now. The protestors understand “ownership” as an outcome of a ‘selling’ process. As damage controlling, the President repeated about a JV, with SLPA participation with Adani’s, and others as stakeholders. It is the reality matching the MOC. But the explanation came one week after the PMU statement. By then protestors have socially marketed ‘selling ECT.’
The fifth issue is the influencers/motivators. How views against the President’s wishes are being expressed smack of a move to keep the Indians away. Clearing such doubts is difficult when efforts are organized concertedly.
Sixthly, the happenings unrelated to the ECT could muddy the waters. The destruction of the Jaffna University memorial, Indian fishermen’s deaths, and the Cabinet decision to establish Hybrid Renewable Energy Systems in Nainathivu, Delft, and Analathivu islands through a Chinese contractor (upon international competitive bidding) are three such issues. The last is an extremely security-sensitive issue for India although it was presumably not a favor done to the Chinese by Sri Lanka. The Indians have previously vehemently protested the berthing of Chinese submarines in Colombo and the Chinese housing projects in the North. The Indian protests will be diplomatic and subtle. Nevertheless, their repercussions could override the ECT issues and may influence other bilateral and multilateral matters.
Way forward amidst contradictions
The need is to develop the ECT. Sri Lankan governments are known for policy changes and contradictions; Indians are different. Just see the aforesaid policy contradictions. Even the ECT protesters have double standards. When the CICT with ‘85% foreign ownership’ was established, there were no grudges. When the government announced its decision to form a JV with Adani and others, having 49% shares, therein to run the ECT all hell broke loose!
It is necessary to stop bickering if it is development that we seek. The country must prioritize the economy, neighborhood relations, private sector involvement, foreign investment promotion, diplomacy, security, financing, other personal and political issues.
Although decisions on the Sri Lankan ports must be economic, in this complex world, they are invariably influenced by other factors. I hope the government will strike a balance and select the best option. Sri Lankan must not enslave itself to other countries. It must negotiate for the best profitable and sustainable solutions, be it with China, India, or the US or with large shipping companies undertaking port development. The government must maintain transparency in negotiating the terms of port development. A move to sell a state asset or any move that can be construed as such is sure to lead to negative responses. Concurrently, let the protesters engage with the government and work toward developing the Colombo Port.
As it is, DR Jaishankar’s victory has not yet come about completely. There are roadblocks on his path. The Indian silence is deceptive. However, the Indian responses may not be restricted to shipping. When responses deceptively happen, the consequences could be hurting. Dr. Jaishankar knows Kautilyan deception and would have learned from Sun Tzu when he was the Indian Ambassador in China. Hence the need for Sri Lanka to tread cautiously.
Reciprocation of relationships
Nevertheless, the professional diplomat that he is, Minister Jaishankar highlighted the grand mutual relationship with Sri Lanka, the “trust, interest, respect, and sensitivity.” Perhaps, Indian critics could question this mutuality having seen the protests.
During the Yahapalana regime, mutuality on the part of India was diminishing, although India does not publicly admit it. This for example was reflected in the budgetary allocations for the neighborhood in Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget, where only INR 250 crore was provided for Sri Lanka out of INR 8,415 crore total, while countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Mauritius, the Maldives received much more. The reason may be the security considerations of India. India further expanded a package for the Maldives (August 13th, 2020), that included a $100 million grant and a $400 million new line of credit, for the Greater Malé Connectivity Project, expressing extra neighborly attachment.
Concurrently, requests for a $ 1 billion financial lifeline swap and nearly $ 1 billion debt moratorium made by President and PM Rajapaksas from PM Modi are delayed for months, irrespectively of the much-flaunted mutuality. Sri Lanka should read these signs carefully and understand the message.
Minister Gunawardena (understandably) did not mention competition that may arise from the seaport Projects at Vizhinjam in Kerala, and Nicobar, owned by Indians. Both did not bother about PM Modi’s declaration: “There is a proposal to build a transshipment port at Great Nicobar at a cost of about Rs. 10,000 crores. Large ships can dock once this port is ready” (The Times of India -Business- of August 10th, 2020). Mark the words, “transshipment port!” These ports will invariably compete with Colombo’s ETC in the future, and India may through Nicobar aim to become the transshipment hub, being in proximity to the busy east-west shipping routes. This points to the need for developing the ECT fast and making it competitive.
For sustainability and safety in this competitive business, it will be necessary to be cautious if joint ventures are to be formed, especially by reaching an agreement on time frames, exit clauses, investment programming, senior managerial positioning, arbitration in Sri Lanka, etc. For these the active participation of the SLPA, which has expertise is mandatory. Unfortunately, nothing is heard about such moves. One hears only the voice of the protesting Unions.
Security aspects of relationships
Dr. Jaishankar mentioned maritime security and safety but did not make specific mention of Quad or Indo-Pacific interventions or China. What we must understand about the Indian attitude towards security is that India expects us to be India-centric as could be seen from the following statement by Shri Avatar Singh Bhasin on Indian security relationships:
“There could be no running away from the fact that small states in the region fell in India’s security perimeter and therefore must not follow policies that would impinge on her security concerns in the area. They should not seek to invite outside power(s). If any one of them needed any assistance it should look to India. India’s attitude and relationship with her immediate neighbors depended on their appreciation of India’s regional security concerns; they would serve as buffer states in the event of an extra-regional threat and not proxies of the outside powers…”
The proxy need not be only China; even if it is the US, India will be perturbed, if lines are crossed. Therefore, Minister Jaishankar’s security concerns must be viewed concerning the aforesaid criteria. Dr. Jaishankar subscribes to these. About his visit, the Indian Television had this to say: “An important focus of his visit will be the Chinese presence in the Hambantota harbor on a 99-year lease. It is an understanding between China and Sri Lanka that they will not undertake any military venture there. So, India will take the help of Sri Lanka to ensure that Chinese military or Chinese hegemony don’t come to this region.” This is the Indian attitude.
India’s position always remains the same: “Do not be a proxy of the Chinese, be a buffer state! Do not allow the Indian Ocean to be the Chinese Ocean!” However, considering the proximity, long relations, the possibility for political displacements, regional economics, etc. Sri Lanka will think of the advantage of being with the Indians, of course, without being a buffer. To what extent other motivations—financial, economic development, diplomatic, security, etc.—would work is also important especially when Sri Lanka is haunted by international interventions like the one at the UNHRC. It is not easy to gain the required balance.
Indo-Lanka relations were highlighted by both Ministers. The impending global situations after COVID 19 and the complexities arising due to geopolitics and developments will compel Sri Lanka to work with the world powers. In that respect, even if the past is forgotten the present and future will make it imperative that we maintain friendly relations with everyone, especially with India and China, latter expected to be the future number one economy. This is the reason why Sri Lanka should pay attention to the purpose of Dr. Jaishankar’s recent visit and maintain balance.
Overall, the Indian Foreign Minister visited Sri Lankan not to lose, but to prove that he was ‘Jai Shankar.’ Whether he departed on January 7th, 2021 with expected goodies, officially satisfied to celebrate his 66th birthday the following day, are secrets and will be known in days to come.
Finally, it will be mutually beneficial for both Sri Lanka and India to make compromises and strengthen their relations instead of being obdurate.
President picks up the gauntlet
by Jehan Perera
By proroguing parliament President Ranil Wickremesinghe has given the parliamentarians, and the country at large, a reminder of the power of the presidency. There was no evident reason for the president to suddenly decide to prorogue parliament. More than 40 parliamentary committees, including important ones concerning public finances, enterprises and accounts have ceased to function. The president’s office has said that when parliament reconvenes on February 8, after the celebration of the country’s 75th Independence Day on February 4, the president will announce new policies and laws, which will be implemented until the centenary celebrations of Sri Lanka’s independence in 2048. Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew transformed Singapore from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into one of the world’s most developed countries in the same 25 years that the president has set for Sri Lanka.
President Wickremesinghe has been getting increasingly assertive regarding his position on issues. Recently he attended a large gathering of Muslim clerics, where he was firm in saying that society needs to modernise, and so do religious practices. He has also held fast to his positions on reviving the economy and resolving the economy. There have been widespread protests against the tax hikes being implemented which have eroded the purchasing power of taxpayers. First they had to absorb the impact of inflation that rose to a rate of 80 percent at the time the country reneged on its foreign debt repayments and declared bankruptcy. Now they find their much diminished real incomes being further reduced by a tax rate that reaches 36 percent.
But the government is not relenting. President Wickremesinghe, who holds the finance minister’s portfolio, is going against popular sentiment in being unyielding on the matter of taxes. He appears determined to force the country away from decades of government policies that took the easy route of offering subsidies rather than imposing taxes to use for government expenses and development purposes. In Sri Lanka, the government’s tax revenue is less than 8 percent, whereas in comparable countries the tax revenue is around 20 to 25 percent. The long term cost of living off foreign borrowings rather than generating resources domestically through taxation has been evident for a long while in the slow growth of the economy even prior to the economic collapse.
Another area in which the president appears to have taken the decision to stand firm is the issue of finding a solution to the ethnic conflict. This problem has proven to be unresolvable by governments and political leaders who give deference to ethnic nationalism. Being an ethnic nationalist in the context of Sri Lanka’s ethnic and religious divisions has been a sure way of gaining votes and securing election victories. No leader in Sri Lanka has to date been able to implement the compromise solutions that they periodically arrived at, the last being the 13th Amendment. Earlier ones included the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1957 and the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact of 1965 which could not even be started to be implemented.
At the All Party meeting that he summoned to discuss the ethnic conflict and national reconciliation, President Wickremesinghe took the bull by the horns. He exchanged words with ethnic nationalist parliamentarians who sought to challenge his legitimacy to be making changes. He said, “It is my responsibility as the Executive to carry out the current law. For approximately 37 years, the 13th Amendment has been a part of the constitution. I must implement or someone has to abolish it by way of a 22nd amendment to the constitution by moving a private member’s bill. If the bill was voted against by the majority in the House, then the 13th amendment would have to be implemented. We can’t remain in a middle position saying that either we don’t implement the 13th amendment or abolish it.”
The 13th Amendment has not been fully implemented since it was passed by parliament with a 2/3 majority in 1987. Successive governments, including ones the president has been a member of variously as a minister or prime minister, have failed to implement it in a significant manner, especially as regards the devolution of police and land powers. When parliament reconvenes on February 8 after prorogation, President Wickremesinghe will be provided the opportunity to address both the parliament and the country on the way forward. Having demonstrated the power of the presidency to prorogue parliament at his discretion, he will be able to set forth his vision of the solution to the ethnic conflict and the roadmap that needs to be followed to get to national reconciliation.
It is significant that on February 20, the president will also acquire the power to dissolve parliament at his discretion. By proroguing parliament, the president has sent a message to both parliamentarians and the larger society that he will soon have the power to dissolve parliament with the same suddenness that he prorogued parliament. On February 20, the parliament would have been in existence for two and a half years. The 21st Amendment empowers the president to dissolve parliament after two and a half years. Most of the parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party are no longer in a position to go to their electorates let alone canvass for votes among the people. Under these fraught circumstances, they would not wish to challenge the president or his commitment to implementing the 13th Amendment in full.
On the other hand, the taming of parliament by the president does not guarantee the success of an accommodation on the ethnic conflict and a sustainable political solution. The ethnic conflict evokes the primordial sentiments of the different ethnic and religious communities. Political parties and politicians are often portrayed as the villains who led the country to decades of ethnic conflict and to war. However, the conflict in the country predates the political parties. In 1928, in response to demands from community leaders in Ceylon as it was then known, the British colonial rulers sent a commission to the country to ascertain whether it was ready for self-rule. The assessment was negative—the Donoughmore commission wrote that the representatives of the biggest community held to the position that their interest was the national interest. All the representatives of the smaller communities who were divided one against the other were united against the biggest.
An important role therefore devolves upon civil society not to fall prey to the divisions that come down the years. There is a need for enlightened leaders of civil society to work with commitment to explain to the people the need for a political solution and inter-ethnic power sharing that the 13th Amendment makes possible. There were signs of this during the height of the Aragalaya when the youth leading the protests called publicly for equal citizenship and non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion and caste. They pledged not to be divided by ethnic nationalist politicians for their narrow electoral purposes. It is ironic that the government led by President Wickremesinghe has made these enlightened youth leaders the target of a campaign of persecution instead of making them a part of the solution by constructively engaging with them and issuing a general amnesty.
Privatisation of education and demonising of students of Lanka
by Anushka Kahandagamage
Sri Lanka is trapped in debt due to decades of corruption and short-sighted economic policies. To come out of the trap or, I would say, escape the moment, the government is seeking loans from the IMF, or anybody else who is willing to lend, no matter the conditions. To this end, under the IMF’s tutelage, the government is seeking to privatise education, aware that it will face the wrath of the people. In this setting, to suppress the protests, the government has adopted a strategy of demonising students, in the public education system.
School children as “drug addicts”
A media empire, which has strong ties with the current Lankan regime, recently sent shockwaves through schools, and their communities, by reporting cases of school children hooked on harmful narcotics. Following these reports, there were many write ups, social media content and stories published on the menace of drug addiction, among Sri Lankan students. That media network even released a video, interviewing two schoolgirls who claimed to be addicted to harmful substances. In the midst of the media frenzy, the police carried out surprise checks in schools, searching students’ bags. The state humiliated and terrified school children by using the police to conduct surprise checks in the schools and peek into the students’ backpacks, instead of investigating the avenues through which dangerous drugs enter the country. After a week, the Minister of Education claimed he was unaware that the police were conducting surprise checks in schools, with sniffer dogs, adding that there was no need to deploy the police force for this purpose. If the Minister was not aware that the police raided schools, it is not surprising that the state would also turn a blind eye to how narcotics enter the country. While there is a risk of students addicting to dangerous drugs, the state cannot place all the blame on students. Instead of taking responsibility for the state of affairs, and acting to keep harmful substances off the island, the state places the burden on schoolchildren and simply refers to them as “drug addicts.”
Bhikku students as “alcoholics”
The next example is from the Buddhist and Pali University, in Homagama. Similar to the first story, the same media network reported some irregularities occurring in the University. Those irregularities included the student monks forcing incoming students, also monks, to consume weed, liquor and party. Following this news report, some investigations were conducted in the University and empty liquor bottles were found in an abandoned well. Then we witnessed several press conferences where University authorities questioned the student monk leaders. While one cannot and should not disregard students’ violence upon another student, it is interesting to note the way the government is taking up the particular incident, at this particular point of time. There was a massive social media campaign to show that the student-monks are immoral and unworthy of education. It cannot be a coincidence that the student monks, at this University, were actively involved in the Aragalaya. In other words, the government was trying to defame the University, and the students, by labelling them as oppressors and alcoholics.
The Rajapaksa regime continuously used Buddhist monks, in their political operations, especially to incite conflict and win elections. The state has frequently deployed Buddhist monks to further its nationalist agendas. When the state used monks for their agendas, including to instigate violence, the monks were not framed as ‘immoral.’ The higher Buddhist authorities did not take action against groups, like Bodu Bala Sena, or Ravana Balaya, or their violent activities. It is ironic that the Government seems to be concerned about the ‘morality’ or ‘discipline’ of Bhikkus at this moment when many student Bhikkus have joined hands with the people to protest against the state.
University students as “terrorists”
The last example is the most pressing at this moment. On 18th of August, 2022, the police arrested Wasantha Mudalige, the Convenor of the Inter-University Students Federation, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Along with him, the authorities detained Hashan Jeewantha and the convener of the Inter University Bhikku Federation (IUBF), Galwewa Siridhamma Thera. The state labelled the politically active university students as “terrorists”. Again, this cannot have happened by chance; we all know the Aragalaya against the Rajapaksa dictatorship was heavily influenced by the Inter-University Students Federation and the Inter University Bhikku Federation. The student unions were the muscle of the people’s protests against the oppressive and corrupt regime. The Ranil-Rajapaksa regime labelled the student leaders’ terrorists and started arresting them.
The state’s stamping of University students as terrorists is a folly. If the state labels its own youth as “terrorists,” it means that the state has failed miserably because it is its own actions that have pushed them toward what is labelled as “terrorism.” The state should take a step back and reconsider its decisions.
Privatization of Education
The government and the government-validating media demonize students, labelling them as drug addicts, alcoholics and terrorists. The government undermines and defames the country’s student body. By doing so, the government is strategically isolating the students from the larger society and eroding public faith in them. Ironically, drug addicts, alcoholics, and terrorists are all confined to the public school and state university system, not private educational institutions. The media propagates the idea that students enrolled in the state education system are ‘immoral’ and ‘disobedient’. Meanwhile, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the puppet President of the Rajapaksa allies, proposes a new economic system which he thinks will counter the current balance of payment crisis. The proposal includes establishing an educational hub in Sri Lanka, which promises to privatise higher education in the long-term.
The state agenda of privatizing education is not a recent one, but it has been reenergized by the Ranil-Rajapaksa government in the context of crisis. Well before demonising the students, in the public education system, in June 2022 the government, national education commission, came up with an education policy framework.
Biased towards Rajapaksa ideologies, the national education commission that developed the policy, proposed to expand the privatization of higher education. In their report, the committee presents a table demonstrating how Sri Lanka allocates less money on higher education compared with the other middle-income countries. The next section outlines the way Sri Lanka relies more on government grants for higher education than other middle-income countries, which is confusing and contradictory, perhaps reflecting the grossly inadequate overall investment in higher education in the country. Then the report goes on to analyse how the poor school education system creates an unskillful student who is unable to think critically. It finally recommends promoting private participation in higher education, not only through funding but also by matching the curricula to fit the market and increase the “employability” of students. While on the one hand government pushes for privatising higher education, on the other, it demonizes the students in the public educational system. The State has seized the problem by its tail. The government is unable to perceive its own flaws in short-sighted policymaking, law enforcement, and corruption, and instead accuses and defames students, to distract them from its concerted effort to privatise education.
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
(Anushka Kahandagamage is reading for her PhD in the School of Social Sciences, University of Otago)
Janaka…Keeping the Elvis scene alive
For the past three years, local performers have certainly felt the heat, where work is concerned, beginning with the Easter Sunday tragedy, followed by Covid-19 restrictions, and then the political situation
Right now, there seems to be a glimmer of light, at the end of the tunnel, and musicians are hoping that, finally, the scene would brighten up for the entertainment industry.
Janaka Palapathwala, whose singing style, and repertoire, is reminiscent of the late Elvis Presley, says he was so sad and disappointed that he could not reach out to his fans, around the world, because of the situation that cropped up in the country.
However, he did the next best thing possible – a Virtual Concert, early last year, and had this to say about it:
“The concert was witnessed by so many people around the world, in 12 different countries, and I take this opportunity to thank all those who showed a great interest, around the world, to make the show a mighty success. Lasantha Fernando of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in the USA, went out of the way to pull a huge crowd, in the States, to make the concert a massive success. Lasantha, by the way, has done many shows, in Minnesota, including a concert of mine, four years ago.”
Toward the end of 2022, the showbiz scene started to look good, with musicians having work coming their way – shows, sing-alongs, events, overseas tours, recordings, etc.
Janaka added that the Gold FM ’70s show was back after six years, and that the music industry is grateful to Gold FM for supporting musicians with such an awesome event.
“Also, the unity and the togetherness of the Sri Lankan western musicians, scattered around the globe, were brought together, once again, by the guidance of Melantha Perera.
“The song ‘Baby Jesus Is Fast Asleep’, written, composed and directed by Melantha, was a true Christmas gift to people around the world.”
Referring to his career, Janaka said that these days he is involved in a mega video production project.
“I intend to do a road show for a total Dinner Dance Promotion package, titled ‘Janaka with Melantha and the Sign’.
“Phase One of the project is already completed, and we are now heading for the second phase, where we plan to get Sohan Weerasinghe, Clifford Richards and Stephanie Siriwardane involved in the cast”.
Janaka also spoke excitedly about his forthcoming trip to the USA.
“I’m so excited to tour the USA, after three years. The ‘Spring Tour USA 2023′ is going to be different.
“I’ve done formal concerts, in the States, but this Spring Tour will be a series of Dinner Dances where I would be seen in action, along with the top ranked DJ of Washington D.C., Shawn Groove, and some of the best domestic bands in the States, and I can assure all my friends, and fans, in the US, that this new venture is going to be doubly exciting.”
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