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Judicial intervention helped safeguard Sri Lanka’s sovereignty

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By Justin Keppetiyagama

jdkgama02@gmail.com

On May 20, 149 MPs of a 225-member Parliament voted in favour of Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill incorporating all the 26 amendments given by the Supreme Court to set up a China-backed special economic zone in Sri Lanka.

Port City investor company, CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd which has invested USD 1.4 million for this project has welcomed the government’s move and expects this initiative will bring more foreign direct investments to Sri Lanka.

China built the port city on reclaimed sea adjoining the port of Colombo with a USD 1.4 billion investment.

Last month, Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe — the second high-ranking Chinese official visited Sri Lanka after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — called on Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister and discussed ways to further cement bilateral ties, including defense cooperation and post-pandemic economic recovery.

The Chinese Defense Minister’s visit assumed significance in the backdrop of a public diplomacy campaign launched by the Chinese embassy on the Chinese-built Port City in Colombo.

The Colombo Port City project, expected to play a key role in China’s ambitious ‘Maritime Silk Road’ project in India’s backyard, is said to be the single largest private sector development.

Sri Lanka in recent years carried out various infrastructure development projects with estimated USD 8 billion loans from China.

The huge Chinese loans sparked concerns globally after Sri Lanka handed over the Hambantota port to China in 2017 as debt swap amounting to USD 1.2 billion for a 99 years’ lease.

According to Supreme Court ruling the bill presented to parliament had undermined the sovereignty of the country and the constitution was violated to such an extent that it required referenda on 9 instances and a two thirds majority 17 times to pass it.

The Supreme Court in April had heard some 18 petitions filed against the bill by the Opposition parties and civil society groups who had sought a national referendum and the passage of it in Parliament by two-thirds majority. The apex court concluded its examination of the bill on April 23.

Original bill exempting from a series of Sri Lanka Laws and conferring power to make rules, codes, directions or guidelines and appoint foreigners to the Board without Parliamentary control and to establish the Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) undermining the sovereignty of the country has been gazette on March 24 after Cabinet approval and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. No one in the government has been able to explain why the bill for which the Supreme Court has proposed 26 amendments was presented in its original form.How come a bill that needed so many amendments could have approved by theCabinet of Ministers to become law, and would have become law without any amendment were it not for its objectors and the Courts intervention.

In its original form the bill stood for weakening Sri Lanka’s economic interests and enhancing foreign investors’ profit-making interests by withdrawing oversight across the board and offering incentives with no one to oversee.

People need an explanation from the government why this bill for which the Supreme Court proposed 26 amendments was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers.

 



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Opinion

Role of Buddhism in cultivating inter-communal peace and harmony

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Buddhism is one religion which has never in its history anywhere in the world engaged in warfare to spread the Dhamma. Its scriptures do not preach violence as a means of conversion of people to Buddhism. World history does not record crusades undertaken for that purpose by Buddhism. This is not to denigrate other religions which have resorted to such means, for one needs to consider the context in which such things had happened before rushing into judgment, but to view everything in the right perspective at the beginning of this discussion.

Buddhism in Sri Lanka is in a position to protect all other religions and whatever cultures those religions may have developed in Sri Lanka, not only because it is the religion of the majority, but also due to its virtues such as religious tolerance, its pervasive compassion, respect for different views and particularly its denunciation of fundamentalism. Buddha in the Brahmajala Sutta (Diga Nikaya) had advised his disciples not to be displeased or generate rancour against anybody who speaks in disparaging language about the Buddha, Dhamma, Sanga.

More important is the Buddha’s opinion on religious fundamentalism. He had preached that one should not have dogmatic attachment to views and ideologies whether they are true or false. Such attachment could lead to the development of an attitude that states; “this view alone is true, all else is falls”. This type of attitude is defined by the Buddha as exclusivism (vide; Dhammasangani) which in religion could lead to religious fundamentalism. Buddha in his famous discourse on the Parable of the Raft says that his Dhamma is not for grasping but for crossing the river of samsara and the raft thereafter must be abandoned (Alagaddupama Sutta in Majjhima Nikaya). Buddha had discouraged religious fundamentalism amongst his disciples for it could lead to conflict and even war. Terrorist violence we experienced recently could have been due to religious fundamentalism.

Buddhism could be the protective religion for other religions not because Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhala Buddhists only. Indeed, it does not. Catholic, Hindu, Muslim religious leaders, have said that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country. To briefly clarify the matter, what one means when one says Sri Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist country is that it was Sinhala Buddhists who had built and protected the Sri Lankan civilisation which constitutes a nation. When Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith was questioned on this matter he said when one travels by helicopter one could see the ‘Stupa’ and the tanks together, the ‘Weva-dagaba’ concept, everywhere which is the symbol of Buddhist culture side by side. To identify Sri Lanka as Sinhala Buddhist is to make reference and give due recognition to this phenomenon. The good Cardinal had said that everybody in Sri Lanka had grown under the protective culture of Buddhism.

Buddhism could be the catalyst to bring to the surface all the goodness that resides in other religions and discourage evil if any. The Islamic fundamentalists who set off bombs in Catholic and Christian churches may have perhaps referred their scriptures, and disregarding context, focused on the content that recommends violence, and were motivated by it. Buddhist clergy and laity could by word and deed show that non-violence could be a very effective force. They must by their demeanour and action show how emotions could be controlled, and how non-violence work.

Instead if there is violence against fundamentalism as happened in Kalutara and Digana, the fundamentalists will never learn the wretchedness of violence, depravity of killing others and oneself and the importance of living in a Sinhala Buddhist country. They must see and feel the difference in Buddhism and life in a Sinhala Buddhist country. This cannot be achieved by attacking mosques and churches or harassing the minorities. They must feel they belong to Sri Lanka. They must feel that the famous singer late Mohideen Baig was right when he told his son that he will never go hungry as long as he lived among the Sinhalese. They must be made to feel that they belong to Sri Lanka. This is in the hands of the Buddhist clergy and laity.

Other religions on their part must appreciate the benign nature of Buddhism, its precept of non-violence, its ability to foster their religions and allow them to work in peace and harmony. Other religions must make use of these virtues of Buddhism and not abuse them. They must not make unfair and unethical advances, claims, and try to subvert the Buddhist culture that pervades the entire country. Instead it may be prudent to try and subject the cultural aspect of their religions to a process of localization or domestication, for instance in the areas of music, ritual, symbols and architecture. We see this happening in Catholic areas in the Western coast but seldom in the East coast’s Muslim areas. In fact, what we see there is a process of ‘Arabisation’. When we visit Kattankudy we feel as if we have come to the Middle East. This was apparently the experience of MP Prof. Marasinghe recently.

This kind of activity may hurt Buddhist sensitivity. After all Muslims happen to be in the East due to a kind gesture of a Kandyan king. Perhaps this kind of adaptation may be easier for Sinhala Christians as their culture is Sinhala Buddhist for their ancestors belonged to that culture before they were converted, which was often by unethical means and not conviction. Sinhala culture is inherent and visible particularly in the rural Christian folk if not in the urban westernised.

If religious harmony is to prevail unethical proselytizing, conversion without conviction for material benefits, has to be recognized as an evil for everybody. No genuine religious priest would attempt this kind of conversion. Only those who are tools in the hands of a global political power would engage in such unethical work. Stopping unethical conversions would go a long way in achieving religious peace and harmony. Paying lip service to peace while turning a blind eye to these happenings is to court disaster and to strengthen the hands of the extremists and pave the way for violent reaction which has the potential to trigger foreign interference in our internal affairs.

Buddhism seems to be slowly but surely gaining in strength internationally in providing a solution to the problems concerning peace of mind and harmony and control of greed. These changes are happening mainly in Europe and the US. In the US for instance, believers in Buddhism rose by 170 percent during the period from 1900 to 2000. This happened while successive generations moved away from belief in God and associated rituals. The majority comprising 53 percent of believers in Buddhism were white middle class highly educated young Americans and they had converted by conviction, 67 percent of American Buddhists had been raised in a religion other than Buddhism (Pew Foundation Survey, 2015; Russel Heimlich, 2008).

On the other hand the attraction of these groups to Islam and Hinduism is much less. This change had happened despite a concerted effort to prevent it. The main attraction of Buddhism has been its above-mentioned virtues and their final goal of peace achievable via its method of meditation. All this proves the point that Buddhism could play a role in uniting the people under one umbrella. In Sri Lanka it should be done by the priests and laity by word and deed. Whether politics would allow them is a moot point.

N.A. de S. Amaratunga

 

 

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Opinion

Collie Smith – the other ‘Sobers’ that West Indies lost

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When I read the article, “Cricket’s greatest is 85 today” by veteran cricket journalist, Rex Clementine of this newspaper on 28th July, I thought of writing the following article about a ‘Great loss’, incurred to Jamaica, West Indies and the world cricket.

The name Collie Smith would be familiar to the majority of cricket fans, fascinated by the history of international cricket of yester years. His full name was O’Neil Gordon “Collie” Smith who was born on 5th May 1935 in Kingston, Jamaica, before he met with an untimely accident and died on 9th September, 1959, in Staffordshire in England.

Following is an account of the accident extracted from the internet.

On September 6, 1959, Collie Smith, Garfield Sobers and Jamaican medium-fast bowler Tom Dewdney, met after their respective Lancashire League games ,and were all set to travel through the night to London to take part in a charity match, the following day. But, fate had different plans. At around 4.45 that morning, Sobers was in the driver’s seat, and it so happened that he was confronted with two dazzling headlights, coming straight towards him, leaving him no time to react. That was all, Sobers says, he could remember about the collision that followed. It was later learnt that the car they were travelling in had run head-on into a 10-ton cattle truck. Once out of the daze, Sobers immediately went to check on Collie, but the latter responded by saying “I’m all right, Maan. Go look after the big boy (Tom).”

Three days later, on September 9, 1959, Collie was declared dead due to a severe damage to his spinal cord. He had lapsed into unconsciousness after the horrific accident, and one of Jamaica’s favourite sons was no more. He was already an accomplished player by then, having scripted terrific centuries against formidable sides, like England and Australia. Sobers, in his autobiography, reckons that Collie would have been among the top players in the world had he not been taken away by that fatal accident. But on that day, the dreams of the Jamaican people and that of Collie’s had indeed come to an abrupt end. 

Following is what Sobers had written about the accident and Collie.

“There should have been four of us making the journey south on that fateful night. We were waiting for Roy Gilchrist, but after an hour or more we gave up and decided to make our way to London without him. Such is the fickle finger of fate. Had we left on time or had we waited for a little longer, who knows what might have happened. But there is no turning the clock back,”

“He was three years older than me and already a very fine cricketer who seemed destined to become even better. He was more than just an accomplished batsman, having scored big 100s against England and Australia. He was also developing into a very good off-spin bowler. I am serious when I say that he had the potential to be a top class all-rounder, probably one of the world’s best.” 

A crowd of 60,000 is believed to have attended Collie’s funeral in Jamaica. That speaks volumes of how popular he was back then. The people believed in his ability. 

His tombstone, in Jamaica’s May Pen cemetery, is engraved with “Keen Cricketer, Unselfish Friend, Worthy Hero, Loyal Disciple and Happy Warrior. A road in Collie’s birthplace is named ‘Collie Smith Drive’ in his memory.

Sobers was found guilty for careless driving and was fined although he pleaded not guilty claiming that he was dazzled by the oncoming headlights.

The following comments found in the internet, are truly interesting.

After the three ‘Ws’ –  Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott – had graced the stage for West Indian cricket, it was perceived that another trio in the form of Sobers, (Joe) Solomon and (Collie) Smith would take the cricketing world by storm. Sadly, the dream was short-lived.

Lalith Fernando

Panadura

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Opinion

Ministers at the Olympics “Fiddling while Rome burns”

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Olympics opening ceremony in Japan

Thank you for the editorial of 29 July, aptly headlined – “It’s MPs’ Code of Conduct, stupid”! We could also add, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Media Minister and government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella’s remarks that several Parliamentarians (including himself!) had visited the Olympics where they enjoyed ‘fun and games” with sponsorship from private sector companies, warrants an inquiry by COPE. Such “sponsorship” of Joy Rides by Ministers would be illegal in many countries and is unethical under any circumstances.

Your hard-hitting editorial is summed up in the opening line- “What on earth are our politicians doing at the Tokyo Olympics?” Is the Sports Minister’s presence so essential at the Olympics? And if so why can’t all ministers self-fund this type of visit rather than expecting me and other taxpayers to pay? After all, no Minister is short of cash.

As compared to other countries our Vaccination program has been relatively very good. People in both Indonesia and Thailand are on a waiting list of several months before they can expect even the first Jab! As for the Phillipines,its even worse. This explains why the Sports Minister seems to be claiming kudos , by, as you call it, “monitoring the progress of the Vaccination drive”.

The function of the Sports Ministers of the recent past has not been particularly great- and include as you point out, Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe, – the “poor lass who had to sprint so fast to escape the randy minister pursuing her.”

Sports Ministers frolicking at the Olympics, in Japan, during both an Economic crisis and Health pandemic at home, reflect their scant regard for the hardships of the public .

 

JAYMAN

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