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Messes within; hope outside for Earth

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From mess to mess we stagger on. Strikes are still on between pedagogues and farmers. They, particularly the massed principals and teachers, bunch themselves up, masked they may be but the force of their vituperation would surely send germs, viruses, even COVID-19 fat coated protein filtering out of their masks and infecting the entire area. So, we stay-at-home-obeyers of health restrictions too are in danger. To add fuel to the fire of Sri Lankan worker unrest, the news on Wednesday, November 10 was that 50,000 health workers were on a token strike for 24 hours demanding settlement of long-standing grievances. Are these demands that descend in deluges timed before the 2022 budget? Useless now as all of it must already be down in black and white, only to be released by the Minister of Finance who was hailed as the Saviour of the Nation, when he arrived in the country from the US and permitted entry to Parliament as a foreign passport holder. Let us see how he saves us and our almost moribund economy.

Pensioners to be money providers

Calls poured into pensioners’ telephones, ‘have you written to the DG Pensions saying no to the cut off?’ Bewildered were those who do not have access to WhatsApp. These backward guys and dolls were told by the smart-phone savvies that a notice was posted that Rs 600 would be deducted from monthly pensioners of 70 years and above and Rs 400 from the younger ones. Those who get their news and government notices from newspapers and TV channels were left floundering. If you did not want this cut from your pension, you had to express ‘nay’ to the DG Pensions. He would surely have been snowed under by the deluge of letters hurriedly posted to beat the deadline date of 14 November.

To Cass this seems the worst type of money earning: Begging or rather stealing from beggars. Pensioners get such paltry payments that they are perpetually on the brink of starvation and homelessness, unless children and relatives help them financially. She also feels that the pensioners were an easy target for money grabbing. They would not protest, could not march along streets shouting slogans. So off with a part of their pensions. In contrast, what a helluva lot foreign governments do for their elder citizens: Free transport in the UK, old age monetary benefits, homes to be cared for in, and much more.

Every pensioner and even his dog pronounce that a much more effective way of filling the now almost empty Treasury coffers is to get back what has been stolen by politicians mostly and to a lesser degree bureaucrats. Rumours floated around that this Big Wig got this amount from that deal. Not even denied, so sure they were of themselves. But the Pandora Papers have proved beyond doubt that the rich and powerful have stashed away a king’s ransom, mostly acquired through foul, rotten means. If a fraction of this hidden away money is brought back, it will not only replenish the government’s rupee kitty but also help pay dollar debts. So far two names are out; many more may be cited in the Papers.

The Yahapalana government came in beating the drum of no corruption and clean government and the threat that previous rogues will be chased, caught and punished. Nothing was done to keep this election promise, that which Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera was insistent upon. Not only did corruption continue but previous rogues were shielded, mostly on an ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ understanding. Maybe one such back scratcher was not making money to fill his personal coffers but he wanted power and so had to butter up likely future leaders.

Bright spot

When matters turn hopelessly hopeless as they have now, there always shyly glistens a ray of hope. On Wednesday, November 10, The Island reported: “SJB plans major campaign over dismissal of cases by AG and CIABOC: Rahuman alleges manipulation at the highest levels.” Right next to letting rogues get away with corruption including stealing state money, was the unprecedented and all-encompassing dismissal of cases of corruption. Everyone seemed helpless, including law groups and activists. When pending cases against this one and that, from Johnston Fernando to a Rajapaksa Brother, were brushed aside, even a mutt like Cass was surprised. But no comment as it’s a court of law matter.

Brighter spot in Glasgow

Sick and tired of the situation here: Some instances deplorable, some desperate, some even causing malicious delight when farmers tortured and set fire to effigies, Cass spent time watching BBC, more so its programmes on COP26.

Most striking and welcome was the Earthshot Prize awarded by the Duke of Cambridge Royal Foundation. It was inaugurated by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, in 2020. One million pounds sterling is the prize offered to each of the five most innovative projects, devices or mechanisms that would reduce global warming and pollution in all its variety; in short, for their contributions to environmentalism. The prize is planned to run till 2030.

Many countries made it to the final fifteen, including Costa Rica – protect nature; Congo – alleviate poverty; China – clean air; India – Vidyat Mohan, dealing with toxic gases, and Vinisha Umashankar – solar power; Australia – Living sea wall; The Bahamas – Coral vita; Milan – disposal of food waste; and Bangladesh.

The most newsworthy and for me, the most popular, is 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, born in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, in 2007. She was introduced to the audience on the day dedicated to the Prize, by Prince William and he joined heartily in the applause she received and also helped her greet the audience. Her short address was fine, delivered with sincerity and simplicity. She said; “I will not speak about the future because I AM the future. I am not just a girl from India; I am a girl of the Earth.” She blamed world leaders for not doing enough to combat climate change which surely will devastate the earth if not controlled soon. She said we need to move together in this, meaning all countries to cooperate; to build a new world. Her innovation was a mobile iron board which she rides around, ironing people’s clothes. This is a business in large Indian cities, but normally charcoal is used to heat the smoothing iron. Vinisha substituted it with solar power, a non-polluting energy source.

Note about the Brit Royal Family’s involvement

It was Prince Philip who initiated the royal interest in nature and his son Charles took it upon himself to challenge city buildings in London and work for the protection of fauna and flora worldwide. His interest in gardening and scientific farming were even ridiculed but he persisted. And now his elder son follows in his footsteps and inaugurated the Earthshot Prize as an incentive for innovators to protect nature and the earth from the several dangers it faced. The Queen was indisposed about two weeks ago and was advised home rest. She was very keen to attend COP26 but was medically advised against it. She sent an electronic message for the opening ceremony. Her son and heir, Prince Charles, was present and made a fine address with sincerity and knew what he was talking about. Both Prince William and wife Catherine were present throughout and played major roles at the ceremony, presenting awards to the Earthshot winners. The Duchess introduced some winners and as written before, the Duke of Cambridge was almost the mentor and guide to Vinisha Umashankar, obviously showing genuine concern.

Seeing them and their active participation, Cass’ thoughts zoomed homewards. We of course do not have a royal family but there are pretenders uplifted to that level by sycophants. We even hear the expression ‘Heir to the throne’, which sobriquet we believe is cast upon Namal Rajapaksa, who is Minister of Youth as well. He has been introducing ‘things’ like sand-dune bugging and wanted to introduce exercise centres fully equipped with expensive fixtures to every town and hamlet. His latest proposal which was to be presented to the Cabinet, and would surely have been accepted by nods of sycophantic heads, was a Formula One racing track in Hambantota. You can judge who stood taller, the Brit Heir or ours, and did more for the good of the people and, most importantly, for the environment and changed from fossil fuel use to renewable resources. Cass leaves you with that to mull over until we meet again next Friday.



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Features

UK support for govt.’s pragmatic reconciliation process

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Lord Ahmad with GL

By Jehan Perera

The government would be relieved by the non-critical assessment by visiting UK Minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Ahmad of his visit to Sri Lanka. He has commended the progress Sri Lanka had made in human rights and in other areas as well, such as environmental protection. He has pledged UK support to the country. According to the President’s Media Division “Lord Tariq Ahmad further stated that Sri Lanka will be able to resolve all issues pertaining to human rights by moving forward with a pragmatic approach.” The Minister, who had visited the north and east of the country and met with war-affected persons tweeted that he “emphasised the need for GoSL to make progress on human rights, reconciliation, and justice and accountability.”

Prior to the Minister’s visit, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had announced in Parliament that his government had not violated nor would support “any form of human rights violations.” This was clearly an aspirational statement as the evidence on the ground belies the words. Significantly he also added that “We reject racism. The present government wants to safeguard the dignity and rights of every citizen in this country in a uniform manner. Therefore I urge those politicians who continue to incite people against each other for narrow political gains to stop doing so.” This would be welcome given the past history especially at election time.

The timing of Lord Ahmad’s visit and the statements made regarding human rights suggest that the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, commencing on February 28, loomed large in the background. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be presenting a written report on that occasion. A plethora of issues will up for review, including progress on accountability for crimes, missing persons, bringing the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards, protecting civil society space and treating all people and religions without discrimination.

The UK government has consistently taken a strong position on human rights issues especially in relation to the ethnic conflict and the war which led to large scale human rights violations. The UK has a large Tamil Diaspora who are active in lobbying politicians in that country. As a result some of the UK parliamentarians have taken very critical positions on Sri Lanka. Lord Ahmad’s approach, however, appears to be more on the lines of supporting the government to do the needful with regard to human rights, rather than to condemn it. This would be gratifying to the architects of the government’s international relations and reconciliation process, led by Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris.

REACHING OUT

In the coming week the government will be launching a series of events in the North of the country with a plethora of institutions that broadly correspond to the plethora of issues that the UNHRC resolution has identified. War victims and those adversely affected by the post war conditions in the North and livelihood issues that arise from the under-developed conditions in those areas will be provided with an opportunity to access government services through on-the-spot services through mobile clinics. The programme coordinated by the Ministry of Justice called “Adhikaranabhimani” is meant to provide “ameliorated access to justice for people of the Northern Province.”

Beginning with Kilinochchi and Jaffna there will be two-day mobile clinics in which the participating government institutions will be the Legal Aid Commission, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Office for Reparations, Office on Missing Persons, Department of Debt Conciliation Board and the Vocational Training Authority to mention some of them. Whether it is by revising 60 laws simultaneously and setting up participatory committees of lawyers and state officials or in now launching the “Adhikaranabhimani” Justice Minister Ali Sabry has shown skill at large scale mobilisation that needs to be sustained. It is to be hoped that rather than treating them as passive recipients, the governmental service providers will make efforts to fulfill their need for justice, which means that the needs of victims and their expectations are heard and acknowledged.

It will also be important for the government to ensure that these activities continue in the longer term. They need to take place not only before the Geneva sessions in March but also continue after them. The conducting of two-day mobile clinics, although it will send a message of responsiveness, will only be able to reach a few of the needy population. The need is for infusing an ethic of responsiveness into the entirety of the government’s administrative machinery in dealing with those problems that reaches all levels, encompassing villages, divisions, districts and provinces, not to mention the heart of government at the central level.

The government’s activities now planned at the local level will draw on civil society and NGO participation which is already happening. Government officials are permitting their subordinate officials to participate in inter-ethnic and inter religious initiatives. It is in their interest to do so as they would not wish to have inter-community conflicts escalate in their areas which, in the past, have led to destruction of property and life. They also have an interest in strengthening their own capacities to understand the underlying issues and developing the capacity to handle tensions that may arise through non-coercive methods.

BUILDING PEACE

Many of the institutions that the government has on display and which are going to the North to provide mobile services were established during the period of the previous government. However, they were not operationalized in the manner envisaged due to political opposition. Given the potency of nationalism in the country, especially where it concerns the ethnic conflict, it will be necessary for the government to seek to develop a wide consensus on the reconciliation process. The new constitution that is being developed may deal with these issues and heed the aspirations of the minorities, but till that time the provincial council system needs to be reactivated through elections.

Sooner rather than later, the government needs to deal with the core issue of inter-ethnic power sharing. The war arose because Sinhalese politicians and administrators took decisions that led to disadvantaging of minorities on the ground. There will be no getting away from the need to reestablish the elected provincial council system in which the elected representatives of the people in each province are provided with the necessary powers to take decisions regarding the province. In particular, the provincial administrations of the Northern and Eastern provinces, where the ethnic and religious minorities form provincial majorities, need to be reflective of those populations.

At the present time, the elected provincial councils are not operational and so the provincial administration is headed by central appointees who are less likely to be representative of the sentiments and priorities of the people of those provinces. In the east for instance, when Sinhalese encroach on state land the authorities show a blind eye, but when Tamils or Muslims do it they are arrested or evicted from the land. This has caused a lot of bitterness in the east, which appears to have evaded the attention of the visiting UK minister as he made no mention of such causes for concern in his public utterances. His emphasis on pragmatism may stem from the observation that words need to be converted to deeds.

A video put out by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirms a positive approach with regard to engaging with the Sri Lankan government. In it Lord Ahmad says “the last three days illustrated to me that we can come together and we can build a constructive relationship beyond what are today with Sri Lanka. We can discuss the issues of difference and challenge in a candid but constructive fashion.” Lord Ahmad’s aspiration for UK-Sri Lankan relations needs to be replicated nationally in government-opposition relations, including the minority parties, which is the missing dimension at the present time.

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Yohani…teaming up with Rajiv and The Clan

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I know many of you, on reading this headline, would say ‘What?’

Relax. Yohani, of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ fame, is very much a part of the group Lunu.

But…in February, she will be doing things, differently, and that is where Rajiv and the Clan come into the scene.

Rajiv and his band will be embarking on a foreign assignment that will take them to Dubai and Oman, and Yohani, as well as Falan, will be a part of the setup – as guest artistes.

The Dubai scene is not new to Yohani – she has performed twice before, in that part of the world, with her band Lunu – but this would be her first trip, to Oman, as a performer.

However, it will be the very first time that Yohani will be doing her thing with Rajiv and The Clan – live on stage.

In the not too distant past, Rajiv worked on a track for Yohani that also became a big hit. Remember ‘Haal Massa?’

“She has never been a part of our scene, performing as a guest artiste, so we are all looking forward to doing, it in a special way, during our three-gig, two-country tour,” says Rajiv.

Their first stop will be Dubai, on February 5th, for a private party, open-air gig, followed by another two open-air, private party gigs, in Oman – on February 10th and 11th.

Another attraction, I’m told, will be Satheeshan, the original rapper of ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

He will also be a part of this tour (his first overseas outing) and that certainly would create a lot of excitement, and add that extra sparkle, especially when he comes into the scene for ‘Manike Mage Hithe.’

Yohani and her band, Lunu, last performed in Dubai, a couple of months back, and Satheeshan, they say, was the missing link when she did her mega internet hit song – live, on stage.

There was a crowd to catch her in action but it wasn’t a mind-blowing experience – according to reports coming our way.

A live performance, on stage, is a totally different setup to what one sees on social media, YouTube, etc.

I guess music lovers, here, would also welcome a truly live performance by Yohani de Silva.

In the meanwhile, I’m also told that Rajiv Sebastian plans to release some songs of the late Desmond de Silva which he and Desmond have worked on, over the years.

According to Rajiv, at this point in time, there is material for four albums!

He also mentioned that he and his band have quite a few interesting overseas assignments, lined up, over the next few months, but they have got to keep their fingers crossed…hoping that the Omicron virus wouldn’t spike further.

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Multi-talented, indeed…

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Thamesha Herath (back row – centre) and her disciples (students)

We all know Trishelle as the female vocalist of Sohan & The X-Periments, so, obviously it came to me as a surprise when it was mentioned that she is a highly qualified Bharatanatyam dancer, as well.

What’s more, she has been learning the skills of Bharatanatyam, since her kid days!

And, to prove that she is no novice, where this highly technical dance form is concerned, Trishelle, and the disciples (students) of State Dance Award winning Bhartanatyam Guru, Nritya Visharad Bhashini, Thamesha Herath, will be seen in action, on January 29th, at 4.00 pm, at the Ave Maria Auditorium, Negombo.

Said to be the biggest event in Bharatanatyam, this Arangethram Kalaeli concert will bring into the spotlight Avindu, Sithija, Mishaami, Nakshani, Venushi, Veenadi, Amanda, Sakuni, Kawisha, Tishaani, Thrishala (Trishelle), Sarithya, Hewani, Senuri, Deanne and Wasana.

In addition to her singing, and dancing skills, Trishelle has two other qualifications – Bachelor in Biomedical Science, and Master in Counselling Psychology.

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