by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph.D.
Recent concerns expressed in diverse fora and media indicate that Sri Lanka is facing serious economic woes. This article examines the fundamentals of why this is so.
How do we achieve economic development? To do this we need answers to the WHY, WHAT, WHO and HOW.
The WHY is understanding the objective of economic development. The WHAT is the course of action taken to achieve the WHY. The WHO is the leadership to do the WHAT. The HOW is the means through which the WHO can implement the WHAT.
Many people often discuss the WHY and the WHAT. I believe the WHY is to protect and use our scarce resources to improve daily lives today and for future generations. For that, we need to improve goods, services, employment and leisure activities. The WHAT are the priorities and targets, with relevant policies and plans, to achieve this ultimate objective. Given this WHY and WHAT, this article will focus on the less discussed WHO and HOW in Sri Lanka.
WHO requires able leadership supported by competent teams of professionals to address the WHY and the WHAT, then implement, monitor, evaluate and take further action on the same. Thus, economic development cannot be separated from leadership capacity.
Able leaders make tough choices. They also convince citizens to face hardships to gain future benefits. They choose professional advisors with acumen and integrity. They welcome constructive criticism. They study their briefs. They take informed decisions. They strengthen implementation systems. They implement and evaluate. They act on evaluation outcomes.
With this in mind, let’s evaluate the leadership Sri Lanka has today with some examples.
Ignorance and Irresponsibility:
Since 2015, under two different governments, I experienced meetings of parliamentary oversight committees. Most members were absent. Others present were completely ignorant of the subject. Knowledgeable members were outnumbered. The meetings made a mockery of the relevant Act.
Poor Judgement on Advisors
: We have many excellent public officers. But I have experienced senior public officials preying on the ignorance of their political leaders. They retained beneficial positions at tremendous cost to the country. Yet, our leaders choose loyalty in senior officials above integrity and competence.
Lack of Priorities and Plans:
When this government came to power, they soon passed the 20th Amendment. This gave them all necessary powers to act. However, we see no priorities identified nor any plan to meet our economic challenges. For example:
Tax: counter-productive tax policies they introduced (e.g. removal of PAYE and WHT), which citizens did not even ask for, were never reversed. Government revenues crashed.
Health: A military man leads the Covid programme, not experienced Public Health officials. We face rising cases and deaths and ad hoc vaccinations with no vaccination plan.
Crisis Management: Despite local expertise in mitigating maritime disasters, a burning ship is spewing toxic chemicals in our seas.
Trade: Random business ideas, however bizarre, from an inner circle having the ear of the leadership, are immediately acted upon. Palm oil and chemical fertilizer imports were banned, causing havoc.
Environment: Against any environmental sensitivity, ad hoc approvals are given to build high rises and hotels in resort areas – Sigiriya, South Coast, Nuwara Eliya . A massive pharmaceutical project for Hambantota which, our own environmental authorities state, has potential to destroy our land environment, on par or worse than the burning ship.
Communication: Official communiques today, are revised tomorrow; we notice delays, omissions and inconsistencies in official statistics.
Self Interest: This leadership clearly knows to achieve their personal ends and that of their inner circle. Soon after they came to power, several court cases were dismissed or withdrawn. Convictions and charges were dropped or placed under review. Our debt is skyrocketing and revenues have crashed, but they prioritised expensive new SUVs. Budget 2021 was a farce, but private businesses lauded it, either through fear of retribution or expectation of favours. Thus, while adept at achieving their selfish personal ends, they have no capacity to address national priorities.
Lack of a Focussed Opposition: Clearly, there is nobody in the wings either. Food and vaccination distributions are in a mess and people have neither food nor jabs; our marine and coastal environment is being destroyed; but the opposition is prioritising a no confidence vote against the minister who announced the fuel price hike! What about the opposition’s confidence in ministers in charge of Health, Food Distribution, Disaster Management and Ports?
In short, Sri Lanka’s increasingly ignorant and incompetent leadership is incapable of meeting economic development challenges to improve the lives of our people. Instead they create further challenges. They are out of their depth and drowning, with no one at the helm.
The HOW is establishing and using effective systems to administer the country, deliver goods and services to the people, monitor outcomes and take action to further improve them. But citizens’ needs are very low priority for our elected representatives.
Over 50% of our labour force are informal sector workers. In today’s circumstances, they are facing untold challenges. For example, Our 22 year-old neighbourhood weekly gardener and his grandfather are the breadwinners for a household of seven. In unstructured curfew, they cannot earn to feed the household and, in monsoon rains, their leaking roof needed repairs. Last week, he walked miles on small by-roads to collect some money and whatever provisions we gave him. My local vegetable vendor, a respectable small businessman, is now destitute.
During this will-they-won’t-they-lift-it-curfew, they were permitted Monday each week to purchase vegetables wholesale and deliver to clients. One Monday, unbeknownst to them, all wholesale markets remained closed. They were told to purchase on Tuesday (4am). They did so and brought produce to the pola to package for delivery. The police arrived suddenly and shut the pola stalls down, saying a random order had come from above. These vendors had to take all their purchases home. Random decisions shove these daily workers from pillar to post. There is no system in place to protect them from whims. Who can they turn to? Their Grama Niladhari (GN) or their elected representative?
The system of elected representation no longer serves the needs of the people. As a member of Independent Delimitation Commission (DC) from 2015 to 2020, I also served on the 2017 Delimitation Committee for Provincial Councils Elections that was mandated to delimit electorates for first-past-the post elected representatives accountable to a specific constituency. I was proud to work with such a committed, competent team and sign my name to our report. Our Report looked to ensure representation of all the people in smaller constituencies. We have not heard a single material criticism of the Report. But it was defeated in Parliament by ALL parties. Someone remarked that the Report must have been so unbiased that, seeing no advantage to themselves, all political parties voted against it! Those are our elected representatives.
Administration and Service Delivery:
These systems need rationalisation. We each know our own Grama Niladhari Division (GND). GNDs and other state officials have varying responsibilities in urban and rural GNDs. They handle the administrative, security, health and education needs of their populations, as well as environmental issues such as flooding, poaching, water pollution, illegal logging and deforestation. There are 14,000 GNDs in Sri Lanka. So, on average, 5km2 and 1,500 people (about 300-400 families) are assigned to one GND. But in practice, there are single GNDs with up to 28,000 people and 500 km2 land area, an impossible responsibility for a single public officer.
So, the Delimitation Commission worked on a detailed methodology and implementation plan to rationalise and improve the system, based on population numbers, geographical size and terrain. If implemented, it would provide better service delivery in all GNDs. In fact, if that system was in place, and all other service delivery systems, such as health, education, police and disaster management, were linked to it, the above daily wage earners would have been in their GND radar and received emergency welfare. The DC sent this methodology and plan to relevant authorities at the highest levels in two successive governments. I do not think any one of them even read it.
The public sector currently boasts 1,200 major institutions in over 30,000 smaller units employing about 1.2 million (15%) of our work force. Currently we have 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 State Ministers. There is so much overlap of responsibility. The left hand does not know what the right hand does. Leadership has to be bold and cull duplication at ministry and institution level.
How can leadership meet economic challenges without understanding the importance of the HOW, and prioritising these electoral and service delivery systems?
We first need to clean the Augean stables. We need efficient, effective systems led by experienced, competent professionals to implement, monitor and evaluate policy-led reforms.
My idealistic wish list is that ALL senior official positions are based on meritocracy and delegated responsibility. With the required checks and balances, professionalism and accountability will return to the entire public sector.
Unless the Executive and all parties in Parliament show more able leadership and commit to work together to improve their fallen image and do right by their citizens, nothing will change. ALL parliamentarians, if they value accountability to their people, need to be more responsible and must take Parliamentary consultative and oversight committees more seriously.
If the government and opposition are willing to listen to constructive criticism, there are many capable professionals in each area to lead and rebuild institutions and systems necessary for Sri Lanka’s economic development. It is not too late. Else, there is no way forward, only continued bungling, as we see now, till Sri Lanka finally implodes.
The author is a former Assistant Governor and Director of Statistics of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. She served on the Delimitation Commission of Sri Lanka from 2015 to 2020.
Amusement ride brought to life on big screen Jungle Cruise
By Tharishi Hewavithanagamage
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from screenplay written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, and Michael Green, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is loosely based on Walt Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. After success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, it comes as no surprise that Disney wanted to create another ride-based movie, this time featuring one of its first rides. The riverboat amusement ride was the only attraction to exist in the Adventureland themed section on Disneyland’s opening day in 1955. The live-action riverboat adventure stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.
The film is set in 1916, and follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) in a fervent search for a mystical tree whose petals known as Tears of the Moon, are said to have healing properties. Her strong belief that she could bring about medical breakthroughs and save numerous lives, prompts her to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, deep into the Amazon rainforest.
With a map in hand, Lily along with her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of skipper and swindler Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to help navigate the vast waters of the rainforest. Coveting the mystical petals for their own goals are Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and a team of 400-year old cursed conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez). In a race against time, the bad guys and the jungle, Lily must place her trust in Frank if she is to ever reach the tree, but it’s easier said than done.
The latest Disney movie is definitely fun to watch. It’s a classic, and far too predictable, adventure, where a small group of protagonists venture into the unknown. The movie obviously borrows heavily from big screen hits like ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘The Mummy’ franchise, ‘Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid’ and even the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. This film is a patch-work of tropes.
The two-hour movie also packs a lot, which is precisely why the plot gets murkier as the audiences and protagonists cruise through. The big picture is brimming with smaller side stories which include characters that aren’t essential to the plot and in the end remain forgettable, like Paul Giamatti’s crusty harbormaster Nilo, who unfortunately falls into the margins of the movie. And scenes such as Prince Joachim talking to bees, makes the film utterly nonsensical. However, the strongest points of the movie are seen in the strengthening relationships and character development, which receive just about enough screen time to hold the story together. And while there is no overarching theme for this tale, it handles themes like women empowerment and exoticism.
‘Jungle Cruise’ offers audiences an imaginative look at deeper areas of the Amazon. The titular jungle, Frank’s beloved boat and adorable pet Jaguar Proxima are CGI highlights, whereas most other effects, notably the ragtag supernatural conquistadors, who look like they hung out with Davy Jones for too long, fall flat.
The film also delivers meticulously choreographed action sequences that showcase each individual character’s physical prowess. Everyone gets a chance to throw a punch with good form, not just The Rock. The film also draws in ideas and references from the actual ride. The humor, a courtesy of Frank’s pun-laden jokes is an actual reference to the theme-park attraction. The ride is known for its corny jokes, all delivered by skippers who narrate the adventure to visitors. Everything comes together to make the film a fun-filled experience. It falls short of a strong plot but is driven forward by the performance of the two leads.
An unlikely pair, both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt showcase their stellar acting skills. Blunt brings a strong charisma as an intrepid scholar and adventurer, breaking barriers in ‘a man’s world’ through her role as Dr. Lily Houghton. Blunt expertly navigates the character’s inner nerd and heroine in doing amazing stunts and even takes on Johnson’s muscular self. Johnson pours his heart and soul into his character Frank. At first glance Frank comes across as a rogue character with no depth and mainly supplies humor to the tale, but as the story unfolds Johnson taps into deeper aspects of the character. The Blunt-Johnson pairing oddly makes their banter fun, but the sense of awkwardness can be overwhelmingly uncomfortable in some scenes.
Jack Whitehall’s role as Lily’s not-so-adventurous brother McGregor, is Disney’s latest attempt to introduce a gay character, but fails to leave a deep impression. It also seems like it’s never a good adventure without the nefarious Germans trying to kill everyone, but Jesse Plemons brings more comedic relief than menace to his role as Prince Joachim. The conquistador villain Aguirre played by Edgar Ramírez, remains sidelined and underused.
At the end of the day, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a fun summer adventure that everyone can enjoy. Although the film doesn’t meet the standards set by their cooler counterpart ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ brings its own unique quirkiness that saves it from drowning completely.
Astrologers suggested he be ordained
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera
Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera was an eminent scholar monk in the nineteenth century. He was the founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena.
He was born in the village of Hettigoda in Hikkaduwa on 20-01-1827.
As was the Sinhala custom, his horoscope was cast by an eminent astrologer who predicted that the child was under the evil influence of the planets and that he will have a life of misfortune, with a suggestion that he be ordained. The parents then consulted several other eminent astrologers who too, made similar predictions.
(As later events proved, the predictions happened to be from those who had not properly mastered the science of astrology, or due to the inaccurate time of birth recorded).
As per the predictions, his parents then decided to ordain him. With that in view, he was given only a temple-oriented education, with no formal schooling.
When he was about 14 years old, preparations were made to ordain him at an auspicious time. But, as the auspicious time was fast approaching, he was found missing.
After he was found, he told his father not to ordain him and bring the Buddha Sasana into disrepute, as his astrological predictions were adverse.
However, he was ordained later as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, of his own volition.
Nobody ever thought, at the time, that he would one day be a scholar of great repute.
The following year, he sojourned at the Mapalagama Temple, in the Galle District during the Vas Season (rainy season) with his preceptor Mobotuwana Revatha Thera and several other monks.
This young Sumangala Samanera (novice) endeared himself to the devotees, with his disciplined demeanour and with his sermons, based on the Jathaka stories (stories of the former lives of the Buddha). One such devotee – John Cornelis Abeywardena, an English scholar (an ancestor of the present day Galle politician Vajira Abeywardena) volunteered to teach English to this young inspiring preacher.
It was a time when some bhikkhus were engaged in native medical treatment. And Sumangala Thera, then still a novice, was to answer this question as to whether the bhikkhus could engage in such a practice.
He construed that it was harmless to treat the hapless, destitute patients, friends or relations, provided it was not for any material gain and that it was not a serious violation of the Vinaya rules.
While travelling by train, one day, this Samanera met a group of pilgrims from Siam (now Thailand), coming down south, after a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura.
The pilgrims knew only their Siam language and the Pali language, resulting in they being cut off from the local populace.
One of them, half-heartedly spoke to this Samanera in the Pali lanugage. It was then that he realised that he was spaking to a Pali scholar. This resulted in exchange of views between the two of them.
Later he continued with his higher learning under several reputed venerable preceptors and also authored several valuable books.
During the Vas Season, in that year 1858, he sojourned at the Bogahawatta Temple, in Galle, and commenced publishing a newspaper for Buddhists named “Lanka Loka”.
He was a close friend of Col. Henry Steele Olcott, who arrived in Ceylon in the year 1880.
During those colonial days, the first class compartments in trains were more or less reserved for the white masters. Quite often, these compartments were seen going empty, except for one or two of them, while the second and third classes were crammed. Though some Sri Lankans had the means to travel first class, they didn’t have the courage to do so. There were others who did not care a damn for the white skins and unhestatingly travelled first class.
One day Sumangala Nayaka Thera was travelling to Kandy and entered a first class compartment, occupied by two high- spirited Englishmen.
With characteristic arrogance they subjected the Nayaka Thera to a barrage of vulger comments and rude insults.
“This old fellow has, by mistake, got into this compartment” one of them said.
“No, this is not a mistake. He is purposely, fraudulently, travelling first class with a third class ticket.”
“Shall we hand him over to the Railway Authorities?” asked the other.
The Thera gazed at them silently with a benign smile on his face.
At Polgahawela, the train was shunted into a siding, for the train carrying Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, who was returning to Colombo, after a holiday, was due at any moment.
The train arrived and the Governor’s special compartment drew up right alongside the one occupied by the venerable monk. Glancing out of the window, the Governor saw Sumangala Thera and a smile of pure pleasure shone on the Governor’s face. For he and the learned monk were close friends. Scholars both, they visited each other quite often and spent many hours in erudite discussion.
“My dear High Priest! Fancy meeting you like this!” said Sir Gordon, opening the door of his compartment and walking into the one occupied by the Thera. They were engaged in a lively conversation, in English, and the train was 11 minutes late.
With the Governor’s departure, the two louts now crestfallen and repentant at their boorish behaviour, profusely apologised to the Thera.
With a smile on his face, the Thera, accepted their apologies with a brief exhortation. Thereafter they were engaged in a lovely conservation till the journey’s end.
Once there was a clash between some Buddhists who went in a procession and some Catholics at Maggona, resulting in the death of a Catholic.
As a sequel, a Buddhist named Seeman Fernando was sentenced to death. On representations made by the Nayaka Thera to the Governor, Seeman Fernando was released.
One day, a group of pilgrims that also included some members of the Cambodian Royal Family, went to Kandy with the Nayaka Thera for an exposition of the Tooth Relic.
It was a non-event as no prior intimation had been made to the Dalada Maligawa authorities in time.
The next morning, the Thera was walking leisurely along the Nuwara Wewa, when Governor Gordon, who was going in a horse drawn chariot saw the Nayaka Thera and after greeting him indulged in a lively conversation. When he told him about the non-event of the exposition of the tooth relic the previous day, the Governor took immediate steps for a special exposition, directing the Government Agent to make the necessary arrangements.
In the year 1873, he founded the Vidyodaya Pirivena – a seat of Buddhist higher learning. It was his greatest service to Buddhism.
When the permit to have a perahera was first introduced at the turn of this centry, the Nayaka Thera, as Head of Vidyodaya, sought permission to hold the annual perahera of the Pirivena. Permission was at first refused, but mysteriously granted a few days later.
Despite the refusal, the Nayaka Thera had gone ahead with the arrangements to hold the perahera, and when a senior police officer on horseback brought the permit personally to the High Priest, he contemptuously rejected it and sent the officer away.
This incident was reported to the I.G.P. who, in turn, reported it to the Governor of the colony of Ceylon.
The Governor, a close friend and admirer of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, sent his Maha Mudliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, as his personal emissary, to respectfully request the learned scholar monk to come to Queen’s House to discuss the matter, as His Excellency feared that the act of the Nayaka Thera would be an undersirable precedent.
“I refused to accept the police permit for this reason,” the Nayaka Thera, told the Governor. “When I first asked for permission to hold the perahera, permission was refused. A few days later, permission was granted. This indicates that permits are given, not according to any law, but at the whims and fancies of police personnel, which is all wrong. That is why I refused the permit that was given on second thoughts. The freedom to practise the Buddhist religion and its rites have been guaranteed in the Kandyan Convention, and I shall be grateful if you and your minions will kindly remember that.”
The chastened Governor was profuse in his apologies to the outspoken scholar monk.
The Nayaka Thera was taken ill on the 21st April 1911 and passed away on the 29th (about 110 years ago).
Perhaps he would never have envisaged, that his much cherished Vidyodaya Pirivena would be no more on a tidal wave, in the years to come.
Talented and versatile
Shareefa Thahir is not only popular, as a radio personality, but she also has a big following on social media. Each time she uploads a new photo, or an event where she is in the spotlight, the ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ keep soaring. Shareefa does the scene at the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Sri Lanka – 97.4 and 97.6) as an English announcer, and news reader, and she is also a freelance TV presenter, and news anchor, on Rupavahini.
Had a chat with this talented, and versatile, young lady, and this is how it all went…
1. How would you describe yourself?
In just a few words, I would say a simple, easy-going person. And, my friends would certainly endorse that.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I love myself, and I accept whatever laws I may have. So, obviously, there’s nothing that I would want to change in myself.
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Absolutely nothing because they are amazing…just the way they are (and that hit by Bruno Mars ‘Just The way You Are’ came to mind when you asked me this question!)
Melbourne International, and Gateway College. I was the captain of my house and participated in athletics – track events, etc.
5. Happiest moment?
Oh, I will never forget the day I won the Raigam Award for my work on television.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Accept yourself and enjoy the tiny things in life.
7. Are you religious?
I believe in God, but I don’t think you should go about announcing it. I stay true to my heart.
8. Are you superstitious?
A little …..stitious! Hahaha! Just kidding – not at all!
9. Your ideal guy?
Someone who accepts me for who I am, and who is supportive in my journey…like I would be in his.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
I would say Jennifer Lopez, for the simple reason that she is still very energetic, and active, for her age (52), keeps herself in good shape, and still has a huge fan base.
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
Yes, I would say my talent.
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
My best friend as I would certainly need someone to chat with! Hahaha!
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
Saying ‘good morning’ to viewers on an evening live show!
14. Done anything daring?
Not yet. I wonder when I would get that opportunity to do something…real daring, like, let’s say, climbing Mount Everest!
15. Your ideal vacation?
A life without social media, in Greece, enjoying the beauty of nature.
16. What kind of music are you into?
Oh, I can go on and on about this; it depends on my mood. I love alternate rock, mostly, but I enjoy reggae, and pop, too.
17. Favourite radio station?
SLBC’s Radio Sri Lanka.
18. Favourite TV station?
Channel Eye (for obvious reasons).
19 What would you like to be born as in your next life?
20. Any major plans for the future?
I’m hoping to start a new venture. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, as right now the scene is pretty dicey, with this virus being so unpredictable.
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