We Sri Lankans not only boast of our cultural and religious heritage but also brag about it to the rest of the world. Most leaders want to make this resplendent island the home of Sinhalese Buddhists, forgetting that there are other ethnic communitieswhose members have done much more than most of Sinahlese, Buddhists or otherwise, to bring this country to a respectable standard, being only second to Japan in Asia during the early part of the last century.
But, unfortunately this beautiful island has been transformed into a sort of a beggars’ land, lacking foreign exchange to import even the essential items for day to day living, and Ministers have to go begging to other countries in Asia which were way behind us earlier. This has been due to the mismanagement of affairs of governance and corruption which has become the trade mark of Sri Lanka.
In addition to corruption, the other trade mark of Sri Lankans is jealousy. This trait prevails right across the board whatever the social standing of the persons concerned. There have been murders committed because of rivalry and professional jealousy. This trait of jealousy is more prevalent amongst the Sinhalese than other ethnic communities. The Burgher community was one that never had jealousy amongst them and, unfortunately, all the Burghers who could have done a lot towards the development of this island left to seek greener pastures outside due to the language policy of the then government, and all of us who knew them felt the loss.
It is strange how this dirty trait has engulfed such a large number of people during the period from the early twentieth century to date and it is prevalent from schoolchildren to elders which we, of the earlier generation, never thought of. During our school days when a classmate, or schoolmate of ours, did well, we were very happy and never envious or jealous of such a person. We would go for practices of the sports that we liked and when the team was chosen those of us who were not selected were not jealous of the ones who had been selected as we knew the master-in-charge(we did not have paid coaches as it is the fashion in schools now) would have done the selection on merit and not favouritism. At present there are some parents who influence the coaches to get their offspring into the teams. And, sad to say, this happens in well- known big schools.
Even with regard to the academic work, the teachers had no favourites and all were treated equally. The best students would do well in the term tests and win class prizes, with the others having no jealousy towards them. Now it is an entirely different story with the teachers, too,, having their favourites and they try to see how they could be favoured. In the selection of positions, like the school prefects and captains of sports, there was absolutely no favouritism and the best and deserving students were selected. Now even in the so called big schools, positions, such as the Senior Prefect of the school may be a student who does not deserve to hold that position but has got it by doing things to please the Principal and some of the teachers. A student who resorts to this type of practices is always supported by the parents who have been currying favour with class teachers to see their offspring is favoured.
There are instances where students, or their parents, could influence the Principal and teachers to get prizes where the teachers have a say. They could influence the Principal to get a student to share a prize which has been quite distinctly won by another student purely on merit. These two are examples, I am aware of, which happened in a leading boys’ school.
In Sri Lanka when a child does well in anything there will be those who will envy and be jealous. Achievers are usually the targets of such traits. When a child gets all distinction passes in the General Ordinary Level and Advance Level examinations, such child will be the target of jealousy and envy. This will be very much so with relatives and neighbours. But not so with real friends who will be very happy of this type of achievement and they would openly indicate their happiness. As a result of these jealous and envious traits of people, most parents do not divulge results and achievements of their offspring to others. They keep these achievements a secret until an appropriate time comes to divulge at which point all those who come to know the achievements are surprised that a boy or girl had achieved so much.
Jealousy amongst professionals in Sri Lanka is rampant. There have been instances of doctors getting other doctors killed as a result of private practice. There have been instances of DMOs who have not treated the young doctors who come to their hospital because of jealousy as the young doctors are more competent in IT and English. This trait prevails among the members of other professions as well. Lawyers, musicians, teachers, businessmen and politicians, too, fall into this category. We find that jealousy amongst some personnel in the armed forces and the police too. Sometimes people resort to methods like huniams, manthras and smashing of coconuts against people they feel are doing well.
Come election time, and one sees the jealousy and envy amongst the politicians, both before and after such election. Jealousy moves from the political arena to the underworld, too, where the gang leaders kill each other to have the whole share of the lucre from drug trafficking, etc.
Most unbelievable and strange thing is that jealousy prevails amongst the persons who should do their best to get rid of this bad trait, namely the Buddhist priests. Some of them have gone to the extreme of getting their rivals eliminated. There have been instances of Buddhist priests resorting to unscrupulous things against other priests because of political positions.
This jealousy amongst Sri Lankans is a very bad and sad trait. I wonder when all citizens of Sri Lanka can live without jealousy and envy. Most of us will not be amongst the living to enjoy such a day if it happens at all.
HM Nissanka Warakaulle
The lasting curse of Janasathu
Let me begin with two anecdotes.
In the 1960s, my father would pull into the local Shell petrol shed and a smiling pump attendant, smartly attired in a uniform (khaki shirt and shorts) would come up to the driver’s side and inquire what was needed. While petrol was being pumped, the attendant would wipe the windscreen and check the engine oil. The toilet was clean. The air pump worked. To my delight, large, colourful road maps were given out, for free. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? All this for about Rs. 1 (one) for a gallon of petrol!
The next anecdote. In 1978, I visited Brian Howie, a former classmate, at Kataboola Estate in Nawalapitiya. Brian was an SD – assistant superintendent – and his bungalow was in a remote corner of the estate, so remote that it had its own mini hydroelectric plant. Mrs. B’s government, which had nationalised the estate, had recently fallen and the estate was now under new management.
The bungalow was sparsely furnished, and I noticed that a corner of the living room was blackened. Brian told me that the previous occupant, a former bus conductor turned “SD”, had not known how to use the kitchen stove, so he put some bricks together and had created a lipa in the living room to do his cooking. Meanwhile, every appliance and item of furniture in the bungalow had been stolen by the same man.
Janasathu has a false ring, meaning “owned by the people”. But, as everyone knows, the term instead means a nest of thieves, running up millions in losses at the cost of the people. A place where friends and political supporters are given employment, showered with generous perks, and given a free run to plunder. Government owned corporations, companies, and “other institutions” run into the hundreds, and perhaps a handful make a profit. The rest are leeches, sucking the blood of the nation.
Do we need a corporation/board for salt, ceramics, timber, cashew, lotteries, fisheries, films, ayurvedic drugs, handicrafts? For a publisher of newspapers? They are so swollen with employees that their raison d’être appears to be employment, perks and plunder that I mentioned above.
I recently read that Sri Lankan Airlines, the CTB, the Petroleum Corporation, and the Ceylon Electricity Board are the biggest loss makers. The Godzillas among them appear to be Sri Lankan Airlines, which reportedly lost Rs. 248 billion in the first four months of this year, and the Petroleum Corporation, which lost Rs. 628 billion in the same period. (The Petroleum Corporations is owed billions of rupees by both Sri Lankan Airlines and the Ceylon Electricity Board.) The Ceylon Electricity Board appears to be a mafia, subverting efforts to promote renewable energy, while promoting commission-earning fossil fuels. While the poorest among our population are starving, the crooks that run these organisations continue to deal and steal.
In Hong Kong, where I lived for 20 years, no airline, bank, petroleum company, telephone service, LPG or electricity supplier is owned by the government. The buses belong to the private sector. In Japan, where I live now, in addition to the list from Hong Kong, even the railways and the post offices are privatised and provide a courteous, efficient service. In Japan, the service at petrol stations is reminiscent of Ceylon’s in the 1960s that I described above.
At least in one instance, Mrs. B attempted to correct her folly in nationalising plantations. The de Mel family owned thriving coconut estates in Melsiripura. After nationalisation, the estates declined to such a sorry state that Mrs. B personally invited the de Mels to take them back. Today, the estates are thriving under efficient management.
As a nation, we need to admit that janasathu has failed, and take steps to remedy the situation ASAP.
Road to Nandikadal: Twists of Kamal and Ranil actions
I am re-reading retired Major General Kamal Gunaratne’s book “Road to Nandikadal ” these days. This is his first hand experience of the battle against LTTE, and his journey in the Sri Lankan army from Thirunelveli in 1983 to Nandikadal in 2009, where the final battle took place. Thirteen years have passed since the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 under the political leadership of former president Mahinda Rajapakse and the then secretary of defence Gotabaya Rajapakse. As we all know, Gotabaya became the president of Sri Lanka in 2019, and resigned last July, due to public pressure, and is currently travelling from country to country without a set destination.
In his book, Kamal has written an interesting chapter titled “A final chance for peace” and detailed the peace process followed by the then government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the prime minister. This is Kamal’s narrative about the memorandum of understanding (MOU), brokered by the Norwegian government and signed by the then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in 2002. “According to the MoU, members of the LTTE political wing were allowed to enter government controlled areas to commence their political activities. The first group of such LTTE political wing members entered the government controlled area from Muhamalai, singing and cheering, as if they had won the war. They insulted and jeered at the soldiers manning the checkpoint with impunity whilst the poor soldiers, under strict instructions not to react, helplessly looked on. The Navy, which arrested a group of terrorists, was immediately instructed to release them. Upon release, the terrorists threatened the sailors and lifted their sarongs, baring their genitalia at the stunned sailors, who could do nothing but simply look down in shame. Such developments intensified the apprehension we held of things yet to come and prepared ourselves to face untold humiliation in the name of the Motherland”.
Kamal further writes, “At the time of drafting the MoU, experienced officers like myself, knew it was premature to enter into peace negotiations. On the one hand, LTTE could not be trusted to keep their word, as past experience had taught us bitterly, and on the other hand, negotiations should be ideally undertaken from a position of strength”. He continues, “The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was very confident of the peace process and strongly believed there would never be a war again. They did not have any confidence in the Army, which spurred this belief and therefore pursued peace at any cost”.
Kamal’s criticism of the Wickremesinghe administration continues: “The step motherly treatment the Army received during this period was terrible. Strict instructions were given to cut costs and the ever obedient army reduced many of our facilities and benefits. The army even stopped the annual issue of face towels to soldiers, given as a benefit for decades. It felt like they wanted us to live like ‘Veddhas’ without a bit of comfort”
Now the same Ranil Wickremesinghe is the President and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and Kamal Gunaratne, who was highly critical of the Wickremesinghe administration, is the trusted Defence Secretary of the president. Is it a twist of fate or twist of faith!
Need for best relations with China
(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)
I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.
Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.
I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.
Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.
It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.
It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.
A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.
These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future
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