(Excerpted from the Memoirs of Chandra Wickremasinghe, Retd. Additional Secretary to the President)
In the National Housing Authority where I worked after returning from Canberra, I received the complete support of my friend Dunstan Jayawardena who was Chairman of the Authority, to effect an organizational restructuring of the Authority, recruit new technical personnel and revise the existing salary structure. The reorganization enabled officers who had come on secondment to the Authority from the Housing Dept., to exercise the option of staying on in the Authority as permanent employees of that organization. They benefited substantially by being placed at higher levels in the organizational hierarchy as well as receiving much higher salaries. With time, I was happy to note many of these officers, coming to occupy the highest management positions including those of Chairman, General Manager and Deputy General Manager.
The Authority was indeed a hive of activity with Minister Mr. Premadasa in his characteristic manner, pushing the implementation of the numerous housing projects he commenced throughout the island. He worked with incredible energy and commitment, virtually driving all officials to follow suit. However, following certain differences I had with the Secretary to the Ministry over the appointment of Managers to the Authority, I thought it best to leave the set up. Fortunately for me, Mr. Premadasa happened to be out of the island at the time which facilitated my exit without much fuss.
There were two positions available to me to move into viz. Deputy Commissioner of Food and Director /Corporations in the Ministry of Industries. I opted for the latter position where I had to work with Minister Mr. Cyril Mathew.
The Ministry of Industries, Science and Technology
The Ministry had at the time, 47 Corporations and Statutory Boards coming under its purview. These included, certain giant Corporations such as Petroleum, Steel, Ceramics, Paper, Salt, Fertilizer, Tyre etc. I got down to work straight away and got involved in the nitty gritty of things. Mr. Mathew who had a sharp mind, had the not too uncommon weakness of surrounding himself with party loyalists, the more qualified of whom were selected fortunately, as Chairmen of the many Corporations coming under the Ministry while the brawny types who had their own uses, were given the post conveniently designated ‘Working Director’. This latter category had confabulations with the Minister when certain disruptive activities had to be planned and carried out like breaking up rival party rallies, street marches etc.
I must however say that Mr. Mathew never interfered with the work assigned to me. Through the grape vine he may have learnt perhaps, that I was attending to my work conscientiously. Within one year he promoted me as Additional Secretary in the Ministry much to the chagrin of certain senior colleagues in the Service, some of whom, I learnt later, had even taken the matter up with Mr. DBIPS Siriwardhana, Secy. Public Aministration at the time. Mr. Siriwardhana, I was told, had made it clear to them that the appointment of Additional Secretaries was a matter for the Minister concerned.
Chairing Tender Boards
I found the work in the new Ministry quite challenging, having to Chair Tender Boards of about 15 Corporations on an on –going basis. Additionally, I was appointed to Chair the standing Tender Board in Agro-Chemicals of the Petroleum Corporation which work alone, was quite a handful. I must say that the Minister had complete faith and trust in my integrity and aptitude in handling all these Tender Boards. I must also reiterate here for the record that Minister Cyril Mathew never interfered with any of my ‘tender’ work. I must however, further state here with much regret, that certain friends of mine (outside the Ministry) did try to influence me on tender matters, going to the extent of asking me to remain silent during certain Tender Board meetings. This I vehemently declined to do, stating categorically that as Chairman of a Tender Board, it was clearly my duty to ensure that a poor country like ours, should get the best supplies on offer and also ensure that we get our money’s worth. Happily for me, word spread around quickly and I was never bothered thereafter with such unfortunate requests. What I would like to stress here is that once people realize that you cannot be bought over, you are seldom approached by these wheeler –dealer types with their sly requests.
As a Director of the Central Environmental Authority, I had the benefit of attending a Seminar at D.S.E. Berlin in June-July 1982, on Industrial Pollution and Abatement. The CEA also sponsored my participation at a seminar on the pollution of lakes and reservoirs in Tokyo, Japan in September 1984.
Most of the 47 Corporations and Statutory Bodies coming under the Ministry had professionals as their Chairmen who for the most part, discharged their duties with due diligence and competence. However, there were a few Heads of Corporations who abused their positions and tried to make a fast buck. The Minister who had his own unofficial grapevine in this regard, was kept well informed by his many informants, of any irregularities in the numerous Depts. and Corporations coming within his purview.
I recall the Minister summoning me to his room one day to say that he was not at all happy with some of the untoward goings on in the Ceramic Corporation as he had received many complaints from customers about commodes and bathroom fittings cracking up within an year or so of their purchase. He instructed me to visit the Ceramic Factory in Piliyandala with Deputy Chief Accountant Sivaguru and check on the procedures followed and report to him. Siva and I accordingly, decided to visit the factory the following day. Interestingly, on the morning of our scheduled visit to the factory, I received an anonymous telephone call enquiring from me whether I was going to inspect the factory that day. On my replying in the affirmative, the caller who refused to identify himself, said in a matter of fact tone ‘We are having the kiln ready for you and the Accountant when you visit us’.
I replied that we were coming in any case, as it was our duty to inspect the factory and report to the Minister. Siva and I had our suspicions as to who the anonymous caller was as we had been forewarned that there was a supervisor with political backing who was ruling the roost there. We were not going to be cowed down by any threats and just laughed the whole thing off saying that ‘we would face things as they come’! We were also told that this unsavoury character was in the habit of even assaulting employees who did not do his bidding and was virtually terrorizing the entire place. When we visited the Piliyandala Factory as scheduled, we were met by the General Manger who though a nice person, looked a rather docile individual. We were thereafter, taken round the factory and shown the different stages of the entire production process.
At this stage, I requested specifically that we be taken to the kiln and the supervisor concerned promptly led us there. Siva and I deliberately got close to the kiln and peered into it’s blazing interior. Siva, who was a qualified Chartered Accountant, questioned the supervisor closely on the duration of time assigned for each stage of the production process etc. Having collected all the required detailed information both from the GM and the Supervisor concerned ,we retired to the GM’S office and obtained whatever further information we deemed necessary for our investigation and left the factory.
On our return to the Ministry, Siva and I pored over the notes and the relevant information we had taken down on our visit. It became clear to us that the problem of breakages lay in the deliberate acceleration of the production process particularly at the stage of firing of the ceramic ware in the kiln. By such deliberate acceleration, the culprits had ensured an output higher than what was reflected in the production statistics, enabling them to divert the created excess clandestinely, out of the factory to be sold to shops outside.
The following day we gave our report to the Minister explaining in detail what we had discovered. The Minister told us that his suspicions about the people behind the racket, had been confirmed by our findings. Late that evening, the Minister telephoned me and said that he had shown our report to a certain gentleman who was he said, with him at the time. I was aware that this gentleman was an influential person in the political set up at the time. The Minister then said that the particular gentleman would like to speak to me regarding the concerned subject. I recall clearly overhearing certain audible protests made by the gentleman concerned at the other end. Eventually, this gentleman came on line and spoke to me apologetically saying that although he had had suspicions about this particular supervisor, he had not till the time the irregularities had been revealed by our inspection, been able to confirm his suspicions. He further assured me that he would initiate an inquiry against him and see that he was disciplinarily dealt with. He further said that he had assured the Minister that he would guarantee that no irregularities would be permitted to occur in the factory in the future. The Minister came on line again and thanked me and Siva for giving him the report while apologizing, in his characteristically gentlemanly manner, for having disturbed me at that late hour.
Poverty the biggest polluter in developing countries
This was also the time when developed countries were obsessed with the spectre of a rapidly depleting ozone layer and were frantically adopting sophisticated pollution prevention measures in their industrial production processes. This was the run up to the Kyoto Protocols. They were equally anxious to impose these high standards in the running of ‘struggling’ industries in developing countries which were trying desperately to break free of the poverty trap. While having a conversation with the Minister on the subject, I casually expressed the view that it was grossly unfair of developed countries to badger developing countries to conform to these high standards of pollution prevention, as these highly industrialized, affluent countries had built up their economic and material prosperity on decades of indiscriminate abuse of the environment and on the worst forms of exploitation of women and children.
Developing countries on the other hand, which suffered from widespread poverty and were struggling to industrialize, could not possibly think of maintaining pristine environments by investing in costly additional facilities to minimize environmental pollution, which meant burdening the end product by the additional cost that had to be incurred thereby, which clearly meant eroding the competitive edge our exports enjoyed. Furthermore, I said that China, was the least concerned, despite the pressures brought to bear on them by the West, about maintaining pollution standards, in their determined drive towards rapid industrialization, which was accorded the highest priority in their single minded endeavour to reduce mass poverty in that country. I also said that our major concern should be the alleviation of poverty through a sustained developmental thrust ,as poverty was our biggest polluter.
The Minister who had listened carefully to what I said, wanted me to prepare a brief note incorporating these points and hand it over to Sarath Perera who was the Additional Secretary handling the subject. This was accordingly done by me. To my surprise a major headline carried in the following day’s newspapers read – ” The Ministry of Industries takes the view that the strict industrial pollution standards followed in the developed Western countries need not be adopted here.” It should be remembered that these decisions were taken more than 30 years ago when more than 60% of the population of this country was living at subsistence level, occupying substandard housing with no proper facilities for sewage and waste disposal.
Poverty alleviation was hence, a major policy imperative we had to pursue relentlessly. There was no gainsaying that there was widespread environmental pollution stemming from widespread poverty. But the hard logic that had to be underscored was that, poverty was indeed, irrefutably, the biggest polluter in poor developing countries. This was why they were according the highest priority to poverty alleviation and were trying frantically to break loose of what seemed an inexorable poverty cycle, through rapid industrilisation.
I also benefitted by attending a workshop on “Modern Management Techniques” at the D.S.E. Berlin in June – July 1983. I had to leave the Ministry of Industries under somewhat distressing circumstances. Mahinda Bandusena who was Senior Asst. Secy. of the Ministry at the time, and I were entrusted by the Minister the rather unenviable task of handling disciplinary inquiries against certain errant Heads of Corporations coming under the Ministry. It was a painful task given to us as some of the Corporation Heads were our close friends. But the Minister did not seem to be affected by these sensitivities and insisted that we carry on with these Inquiries.
I remember one particular case where I conducted an inquiry against a Chairman of a Corporation who had defalcated a substantial amount of money. There was enough evidence to conclude that the said Chairman had defrauded the Corporation and my report was submitted to the Minister along with my findings. The Minister summoned me the next morning and I found the Chairman seated before the Minister with his head bowed. The Minister at that stage gave me the file containing my report asking me to read the section on my findings. At the end of it, the Minister asked the Chairman what he had to say. As the Chairman remained silent, the Minister berated him saying that he was being badly let down by the Chairman and wanted the latter to pay back the full amount of money he had misappropriated immediately. The said Chairman I was told, had post haste paid back the full amount of money and had thereafter got himself warded, purportedly seeking treatment for high blood pressure. He had remained in hospital for a week and on his return to office, had been given another severe tongue lashing by the Minister who I was told, had felt sorry for him and accommodated him in another Statutory Board in the Ministry.
I still recall vividly an incident which happened when the Ministry Votes were being debated in Parliament with myself, Bandu and other Ministry official looking on from the Officials’
Box. We were embarrassed no end when Mr. Jeyaraj Fernandopulle who was at the time in the Opposition, pointed to us and said in Sinhala –”There you can see the Minister’s Supreme Court, Mr. Chandra Wickramasinghe and Mr. Mahinda Bandusena. They are the two who sit in judgment over Chairmen of Corporations”. (Recorded in Hansard.)
All this was in addition to the normal duties I was saddled with. Mahinda Bandusena too was similarly burdened with this additional workload. The Minister who was however, impatient to have these inquiries finalized in double quick time (which would have been most unfair by the accused persons most of whom happened to be our friends), summoned the two of us to his office at Flower Road and berated us for ‘delaying’ these inquiries. We both thought that the Minister was being unfair by us and tried to explain to him why we could not possibly accelerate these inquiries. However, the Minister was in no mood to hear us out. As we left the Minister’s office I told Bandu that I was leaving the Ministry and would look for a suitable place immediately.
I telephoned Mr. DBIPS Siriwardhana that afternoon and conveyed my intention of leaving the Ministry. I remember distinctly his cynical laugh while asking me “Do you take these characters seriously? They are just birds of passage and you should not get emotionally affected by what they say”. However, as I was insistent on leaving, he asked for two days for him to try and do something. However, within half an hour, he rang back and asked me whether I was interested in the post of Additional Secy. in the new Ministry of National Security where he had just been appointed Secretary. I promptly said that I would be privileged to serve under him but at the same time expressed certain doubts about my being able to secure my release from the Industries Ministry. Mr. Siriwardhana laughed and said that Minister Mathew should be happy to see me leave, having given me a blackguarding!
The next morning Mr. Mathew called me to the Ministry and was very sweet to me. I was with him for a good two hours and in between consultations he had with officials, he asked me what I thought about some new projects that came up for discussion and also sought my opinion about certain officers who visited him that morning. I however, was discreetly reticent particularly in expressing my personal views on certain officers most of whom were known to me well. When he was about to leave office I thought it was time for me to inform him that I would be leaving the Ministry. From the manner he reacted, it was clear that it came as a shock to him.
He asked me where I was going and the Minister in charge of the Ministry concerned. When I informed him that it was the new Ministry of National Security which had been created by the President, he realized that he would not be able to block my release. He then asked me who would succeed me and when I suggested a few names he did not seem happy with them and said that he would find a suitable successor. I liked Mr. Mathew despite the reputation he had for using strong arm tactics. Apart from the last episode which he obviously regretted, going by the manner he treated me the following day, I must say that he was extremely good to me during my stay of four years in that Ministry.
However, when I was leaving the Ministry to take up the appointment as Additional Secy. in the newly created Ministry of National Security, I was somewhat amused when a member who regularly served on these Tender Boards, told me that he was happy to see me leave, as I did not make money for myself nor did I allow others to do so! Although I was momentarily taken aback by what the person said, I knew again that it was indeed, a grudging compliment paid to me.
The Gem and Jewel of Pohottuva governance
What a gem of a minister he is!
Who else, State Minister Lohan Ratwatte, the gem and jewel of today.
He resigned from his Prison Portfolio, not having done anything wrong, as he says it. He has gone beyond the stuff of any politician. He truly deserves to be given the highest regard by the Saubhagya Strategists. Just think of any politician of today, especially from the Pohottuva Team, who will resign from a portfolio for not having done anything wrong, when those who have done so many blatant wrongs, keep glued to their portfolios?
What do you think should follow?
Surely, it is so simple. Get promoted to the Cabinet. Take the “State” off his ministerial title and swear him in as the Minister of Prison Reforms, etc,, and Gem and Jewellery Industry.
Do you think that is the strategy of the Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour of the Gotabaya Politics?
Why not? Promotion, elevation or unearned freedom is the very stuff of today’s Rajapaksa governance. We don’t forget the pardoning of former Staff Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake, convicted with death sentence, for the murder of eight Tamil civilians inlcuding three children, affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Come on. That is just one Saubhagya move.
OK. The next Saubhagya move was the pardoning and release of Duminda Silva, sentenced to death along with four others, over the murder of a rival politician and three others. He has also been appointed the Chairman, National Housing Development Authority.
Keeping with that trend of Saubhagya-Rajapaksa politics and governance, is it wrong to soon promote Lohan Ratwatte as a Cabinet Minister, giving him back the power over all prisons and prisoners, and the gem and jewellery industries, too.
But what about all these complaints about this Lohan man? Flying to the Anuradhapura Prison by helicopter, getting Tamil prisoners held there to kneel before him, holding this revolver against two of them ….
He says he has done nothing like that. He has visited the prison as the minister in charge, and never even touched a Tamil prisoner … Shouldn’t we believe such Ratwatte words? Should we not forget that the first public report on this came from a Tamil MP, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam. Should we forget how the Ponnambalams have opposed the Sinhala Only politics of Sri Lankan progress?
Then what about all this talk of this Lohan minister’s visit to the Welikada Prison?
C’mon, why must you believe such gallery nonsense, when there is no report from the Prison authorities?
It is not gallery nonsense, but the Stuff of the Gallows, with a beauty queen or cosmetics queen in his company.
Just remember that he went there too as the Minister of Prisons. As he says, he could go there at any time. That is the power of even a State Minister. The man who stopped the prison from burning, as he says it!
But, what about the gallows, of wanting to show it to his beauty/cosmetics queen?
I’m sure that Lohan R would have seen the opportunity to use the Welikada Gallows as a new tourist attraction.
What tourist attraction?
We are now in the process of reviving tourism, especially from Ukraine and Russia. They may like to see real gallows, and how it functions too. He may have been thinking of adding the Welikada Gallows as a special tourist attraction – where persons sentenced to death could be really hanged. There are many who applied to be hangmen when President Sirisena wanted the gallows to function again. They remain unemployed. Shouldn’t the gallows be revived to give more employment to future hangmen?
Just see the Saubhagya opportunity if the Welikada Gallows is promoted as a tourist attraction. How much would a ticket cost in dollars? Think how this would help Ajith Nivard Cabraal in his new plans to bring in more foreign exchange. This surely is the stuff of Lohan Ratwatte, apart from his continued interest in gems and jewellery.
But, surely didn’t he know that the UNHRC is now in session in Geneva. Has he not known anything about Michelle Bachelet, who is raising questions about Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka?
Now, now, don’t move into unwanted terrain. Human Rights and the Prevention of Terrorism Act are all being handled by Foreign Minister GL Peiris, with punditry of increasing question. You mustn’t try to put Lohan Ratwatte to the same rank of political and diplomatic punditry.
Just remember that Lohan Ratwatte is an elected SLPP – Pohottuva – politician. He is certainly one who likes both Gems and Jewellery. He was ready and fast in giving up Prisons and Prison Reforms, with no charges framed against him. There were only allegations about him, made by a Tamil and other Opposition MPs and such persons. Our system of governance and justice is far removed from what is known as the Rule of Law. It is the Rule of Power.
Let’s forget detainees in prisons (for many years), the so-called reports of a drunken minister with friends and beauty/cosmetic queen, just think of the Rule of Power – just now it is the Power of Lohan and Gotabaya.
When the President received Lohan’s letter of resignation from the Prison Sector, he was not asked to leave the Gem and Jewellery Sector too. He could look after and promote Gems and Jewellery, and remain the stuff of Pohottuva.
This is the Gem and Jewellery line of Rajapaksa Governance. Lohan Ratwatte has displayed his love for gems and jewellery. With his promotion to Cabinet status, will he be known as the “Muthu-menik Lohan Amathi, Sir”? The true Gem of Pohottuva Politics and Governance!
The wonder of youth
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
The wonder of youth was best on display in the evening of 11 Sept., when two hugely talented teenagers, both unseeded, gave an amazing display of tennis in vying for the US Open title. Of course, I wanted Emma Raducanu, who represented GB, to win but had lingering doubts as her opponent, Leylah Fernandez was more experienced and had defeated players ranked 3, 16, 5 and 2, to reach the final. This was only the second Grand Slam Emma has played in, having to withdraw during the fourth-round match in Wimbledon due to breathing difficulties which made some wonder whether she had the mental grit to stand the rigours of tough competitions. She proved them wrong in a spectacular manner, reaching the final in an unprecedented way. She had to win three rounds to get into the tournament as a qualifier, and won the next six rounds, reaching the finals without dropping a set in any of the matches. By then, she had missed the return flight to the UK which she had booked as she never expected to be in the competition so long!
Sports are so commercialised that many Brits without Amazon Prime subscription were going to miss seeing the first British woman to play in a Grand Slam final after 44 years. Fortunately, in one of its rare good deeds, Channel 4 paid for screening rights and we could join over 9 million Brits on the edge of their seats for two hours. It was well worth it, as Emma won the final again in straight sets, creating yet another record by being the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam! In another rare gesture, Amazon had agreed to donate the fee for advancement of tennis for girls.
Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win was witnessed by Virginia Wade, the first winner of the US Women’s title in the open era in 1968, Arthur Ashe winning the Men’s. She was also the last British woman before Emma to win a Grand Slam; Wimbledon in 1977. Fortunately, Sir Andy Murray was able to break the even longer drought in Male Tennis by winning the US Open in 2012, 76 years after Fred Perry’s 1936 Wimbledon win.
It was very sad that Emma’s parents could not be there in person at the proudest moment of their lives due to quarantine regulations. Whilst shedding a tear of joy for Emma Raducanu’s ‘impossible’ victory, I was saddened to think of the wasted youth in Sri Lanka. How things changed for the worse in my lifetime continues to puzzle me.
We belong to a fortunate generation. We had excellent free education which we made full use of. We had good teachers, not ‘private tuition masters’! We could plan our future as we knew we could get a place for higher education as long as we got the required grades. Our progress in universities was not hampered by student’s unions controlled by unscrupulous politicians with warped thinking. I started my practice of medicine a few months after I turned 23 and was a fully qualified specialist by the time I turned 30. I was not one for sports but did writing and broadcasting. Therefore, I can look back at my youth with a sense of satisfaction.
Unfortunately, we lacked a political class with a vision. Perhaps, this happened because most of the politicians except those at the time of independence took to politics by exclusion than by choice. Lucky politicians got ministries, not because of competence or education, but on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc. There were no shadow ministers in the Opposition and with the change of government another set of misfits became ministers. For some time, the status quo was maintained by senior administrators who were trained for the job after being selected following a highly competitive examination.
Anti-elite campaigners succeeded. Permanent Secretaries became secretaries and Ministers became permanent as long as they did not upset their bosses! No proper planning was done and the slippery slope started. Then came the terrorists; the JVP destroyed a generation of Sinhala youth and the LTTE destroyed a generation of Tamil youth. Now, there is a greater danger affecting some youth the world over––Islamic extremism.
When I started training postgraduate trainees from Sri Lanka in Grantham Hospital, the first thing I noted was their age and started diplomatically finding out why it had taken them so long to get into PG training. I was shocked at the unwarranted delays they faced which were not due to any fault of theirs. All of them were brilliant but the system had failed them. We need to reinstall discipline so that we have schools and universities functioning properly, ensuring valuable years in life are not wasted.
Perhaps, we need to get out of our insular attitudes. There may be some lessons to learn from studying the background of these two talented players. Leyla Fernandez, born in September 2002 in Quebec, Canada has an Ecuadorian father and a Filipino mother. Emma Raducanu was born in November 2002 in Toronto, Canada but moved to the UK when she was two years, with her Romanian father and Chinese mother. Three months before winning the US Open, she got an A star in Mathematics and A in Economics, in the A level examination whilst attending a state school.
These two teenagers, 23 years old Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother is Japanese and 25-years-old Ashleigh Barty, whose father is of indigenous Australian descent and mother is of English descent, joined to form a ‘fab-four in women’s tennis, dawning a new era in tennis as the era dominated by the fab-four; Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic of the men’s game is drawing to an end. Considering their dexterity, women’s tennis may become more popular than men’s. Who knows!
It is well known that mixing of genes has an enhancing effect. It is also well established that inbreeding leads to many genetic defects. Perhaps, this is another reason why we should get rid of artificial divisions like caste. Although one would have expected that we would have a more enlightened attitude, the matrimonial columns of any newspaper give enough evidence that archaic institutions are still strong.
It is high time we stopped protecting archaic systems and moved forward. This will give an opportunity for the talents of our youth to be displayed and it is our duty to harness the wonder of youth for the advancement of the country.
A neutral foreign policy in current context
By Neville Ladduwahetty
During a recent TV interview, the Host asked the Guest whether Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is in “shambles”. The reason for the question was perhaps because of the lack of consistency between the statement made by the President and the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry relating to Foreign Policy. For instance, the first clear and unambiguous statement made by the newly elected President during his acceptance speech delivered in Sinhala in the holy city of Anuradhapura in which the only comment in English was that his Foreign Policy would be Neutral. This was followed during his address to Parliament titled: The Policy statement made by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the Fourth Session of the 8th Parliament of Sri Lanka on January 3, 2020, in which he stated: “We follow a neutral foreign policy”.
However, the Secretary to the Foreign Ministry has on different occasions stated that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy is “Neutral and Non-Aligned”. Perhaps, his view may have been influenced by the President’s Manifesto, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, that stated that out of 10 key policies the second was “Friendly, Non-Aligned, Foreign Policy”
The question that needs to be addressed is whether both Neutrality and Non-Alignment could realistically coexist as policies to guide Sri Lanka in the conduct of its relations with other Nation-States. Since neutrality is a defined policy that has a legal basis and has a history that precedes Non-Alignment, there is a need for the Neutral State to conduct its relations with other States according to recognised codified norms with reciprocity. On the other hand, Non-Alignment was essentially a commitment to a set of principles by a group of countries that had emerged from colonial rule and wanted to protect their newly won independence and sovereignty in the context of a bi-polar world. The policy of Non-Alignment therefore, should apply ONLY to the members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Thus, Non-Alignment, being only a set of principles adopted by a group of like-minded sovereign States to protect and preserve their common self-interests, its conduct in respect of States outside the Non-Aligned Movement becomes unstated and therefore undefined. Neutrality instead is a clear policy that defines how a neutral country such as Sri Lanka conducts its relations with other countries, and how other countries relate with Sri Lanka primarily in respect of the inviolability of its territory.
NON-ALIGNED and the NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT
A statement dated August 22, 2012 by the External Affairs Ministry of the Government of India on the historical evolution of the Non-Alignment Movement states:
“The principles that would govern relations among large and small nations, known as the “Ten Principles of Bandung”, were proclaimed at that Conference (1955). Such principles were adopted later as the main goals and objectives of the policy of non-alignment. The fulfillment of those principles became the essential criterion for Non-Aligned Movement membership; it is what was known as “quintessence of the Movement until early 1990s” (Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, “History and Evolution of Non-Aligned Movement, August 22, 2012).
“Thus, the primary objectives of the non-aligned countries focused on the support of self-determination, national independence and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States; opposition to apartheid; non-adherence to multilateral military pacts and the independence of non-aligned countries from great power or block influences and rivalries; the struggle against imperialism in all its forms and manifestations; the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, foreign occupation and domination; disarmament; non-interference into the internal affairs of States and peaceful coexistence among all nations; rejection of the use or threat of use of force in international relations; the strengthening of the United Nations; the democratization of international relations; socioeconomic development and the restructuring of the international economic system; as well as international cooperation on an equal footing” (Ibid).
These commitments did not deter countries such as India from violating the very principles India committed to in Bandung. To start with, India undermined the security of Sri Lanka by nurturing and supporting the training of non-state actors in late 1970s. Having made Sri Lanka vulnerable, India proceeded to coerce Sri Lanka to accept the Indo-Lanka Accord under which India was committed to disarm the militants. Having failed much to its shame, India violated the principle of the right of self-determination when it compelled Sri Lanka to devolve power to a merged North-East Province. All these actions amounted to a complete disregard and the mockery of the lofty principles of NAM undertaken to protect India’s self-interest. What is clear from India’s actions with regard to Sri Lanka is that when push comes to shove, self-interest overrides multi-lateral commitments.
In a similar vein Sri Lanka too, driven by self-interest, voted in support of UK’s intervention in the Falklands because of the debt owed by Sri Lanka to the UK for the outright grant given to construct the Victoria Hydro Power Scheme, although conscious of the fact that by doing so Sri Lanka was discrediting itself for not supporting the resolution initiated by NAM to oppose UK’s actions. These instances demonstrate that Non-Alignment as a Foreign Policy is subservient to self-interest thereby underscoring the fact that it cannot be a clear policy to guide how a State conducts itself in relation to other States.
Commenting on the issues of limitations imposed by being a Member of NAM Shelton E. Kodikara states: “For Sri Lanka as indeed for many of the smaller states among the non-aligned community, membership of the Non-Aligned Movement and commitment to its consensual decisions implied a widening of the institutional area of foreign policy decision-making, and collective decision-making also implied a limitation of the area of choice among foreign policy options…” (Foreign Policy of Sri Lanka, 1982, p. 151).
Therefore, arrangements with common interests such as those by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or any other group of countries with common interests, are mechanisms whose support and solidarity could be sought when needed to advance causes, as for instance when Sri Lanka advanced the concept of making the Indian Ocean a Zone of Peace, and later in 2009 did so in Geneva. Notwithstanding such advantages, the hard reality is that Non-Alignment does not represent a clear statement as to how a State conducts its relations with Nation-States outside the Non-Aligned Movement. Therefore, it follows that Non-Alignment cannot be considered a statement of Foreign Policy by a State.
THE CURRENT CONTEXT
The statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of India cited above that the “quintessence” of the principles of the Non-Alignment lasted until early 1990s, was because the bi-polar world that was the cause for the formation of NAM had ceased to exist with the territorial break-up of one of the power blocks – the USSR. Consequently, the USSR lost its influence as a global power. In this vacuum what exists currently is one recognized global power with other powers aspiring to be part of a multi polar world. In the absence of recognized power blocks the need to align or not to align does not arise because Nation-States are free to evolve their own arrangements as to how they conduct their relations with each other. Consequently, the concept of Non-Alignment individually or collectively is a matter of choice depending on the particularity of circumstance, but not as a general Foreign Policy to address current challenges.
With China attempting to regain its lost territory and glory as a civilizational State following its century of shame, the geopolitical matrix has changed dramatically. The economic gains of China the likes of which are unprecedented alarmed the Western world to the point that the US deemed it necessary to adopt a policy of Pivot to Asia thereby making the Indian and Pacific Oceans the focus for great power engagement. This shift of focus has caused new strategic security alliances such as the Quad to emerge to contain the growing influence of China among the States in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. With the Maldives joining India as the latest members of Quad, Sri Lanka has become isolated; a development that has brought Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean into sharp focus as being of pivotal strategic interest to great and emerging powers.
It is in this newly formed geopolitical context that Sri Lanka has to formulate its Foreign Policy that necessarily must be fresh if Sri Lanka is to equip itself to meet the new challenges created by a coalition of States to contain the rise of China. One option is to join the Quad. This could mean Sri Lanka distancing itself from engaging with China. The other option is to engage with China to the exclusion of the Quad. Either of these options would cause Sri Lanka to lose its independence and the freedom to protect its core values and interests. Therefore, the choice is not to settle for either option.
These unprecedented circumstances and challenges cannot be countered by harking back to the glory days of Non-Alignment, because major influences of the movement (NAM) such as India, have recently abandoned the original principles it subscribed to when it became a part of Quad. Therefore, although NAM still represents a body of likeminded interests with the ability to influence causes limited only to resolutions that further the interests of its members, it is not in a position to ensure the inviolability of the territory and the freedom of a State to make its
own hard choices. It is only if a Nation-State proclaims that its relations with other Nation-States is Neutral that provisions codified under the Hague Conventions of 1907 that would entitle Sri Lanka to use the inviolability of its territory to underpin its relations with other Nation-States. Therefore, the Foreign Policy statement as made by the President to Parliament should guide Sri Lanka in its relations with States because it is relevant and appropriate in the geopolitical context that currently exists.
The Foreign Policy of a State is greatly influenced by its History and Geography. Historically Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy has been one of Non-Alignment. Furthermore, Sri Lanka participated in the Conference in Bandung in 1955; a date recognized as the beginning of the Non-Aligned Movement. Thus, although the geographic location of a State is well defined, the significance of its location could dramatically be transformed by geopolitical developments. The staggering economic revival of China from early seventies under the leadership of President Deng Xiaoping whose philosophy was to hide capacity, bide time and never claim leadership, was perhaps the reason for China’s tremendous transformations both economic and social, to proceed relatively unnoticed.
It was only with the announcement of President Xi Jinping’s policy of the Belt and Road Initiative announced in 2013, that the world came to realize that the power and influence of China was unstoppable. This policy resulted in China establishing its footprint in strategically located countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans by funding and constructing infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka happened to be one such country. The need for the U.S along with India, Australia and Japan to form a security alliance to contain the growing power and influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans was inevitable.
India’s alliance with the US has shifted the balance in Asia causing China to be the stand alone great power in Asia. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned this new dynamic compels Sri Lanka to make one of four choices. One is to align and develop relations with the US and its allies. Second is to align and develop relations with China. The third is be Non-Aligned with either. The fourth and preferred option is to be Neutral not only with the Quad and China, but also with all other States, and develop friendly relations individually with all States.
The policy of Non-Alignment by a State is an external declaration of intent that a nation would not align itself with either a collective or individual center of power such as the Quad or China, in the conduct of its relations. Neutrality by a State, instead, means not only a statement that it would be Neutral when conducting relations with collective or individual centers of power and other States, but also how such a State expects all States to respect its Neutrality; a policy that would be in keeping with Sri Lanka’s unique strategic location in South Asia. Thus, while the former works outwards the latter works both ways. More importantly, how Neutrality works is governed by internationally codified laws that are in place to guide reciprocal relations.
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