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Midweek Review

Mother of all challenges faced by SLPP!

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Yugadanavi legal wrangle:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government faces an overwhelming challenge from within, at the beginning of the New Year. The continuing dispute between the SLPP and a section of its constituent parties is threatening to overwhelm the ruling coalition over the backdoor offer by the New York-based US Company to purchase a 40 percent stake in Yugadanavi Power Plant, along with an almost monopoly status to supply LNG.

The SLPP appeared to have been caught off guard by three ministers, Vasudeva Nanayakkara (General Secretary, Democratic Left Front), Wimal Weerawansa (Leader, the National Freedom Front) and Attorney-at-Law Udaya Gammanpila (Leader, the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya), throwing their weight behind petitions against the deal. The three constituents have eight lawmakers in Parliament.

The Supreme Court will resume hearing the Fundamental Rights petitions challenging the Yugadanavi-related deals in the second week of January. A fuller bench of the SC heard those petitions on Dec 16 and 17, 2021. The next hearing is set for January 10, 2022, before a five-judge-bench consisting of Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, Justice Buwaneka Aluwihare, Justice Priyantha Jayawardena, Justice Vijith Malalgoda and Justice L.T.B. Dehideniya.

The Yugadanavi hearing will resume a week before Parliament meets again, following the much-debated prorogation. The President resorted to a tactical move in the wake of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake tabling the hither to secret Yugadanavi agreement. The JVPer delivered a knockout blow a few hours before the vote on the 2022 Budget on Dec 10 evening.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa prorogued Parliament immediately after the House approved the 2022 Budget. The Parliament is scheduled to meet again on January 18. Whatever the outcome of the Yugadanavi case, it’ll deliver a debilitating setback to the ruling coalition, struggling on several fronts. However, the relations between the two groups, in the coalition, have deteriorated so much, the SLPP and the rebellious partners may not be in a position to resolve their differences, out of Court. And if the differences are irreconcilable within the SLPP, the breakup of the coalition may become inevitable, especially with other dissenters in its own ranks, smarting from the fact they did not get any Cabinet portfolios to use the opportunity to teach the ruling clique a lesson. But they may very well end up cutting their proverbial nose to spite the face. But since the rebels took a principled and not a spiteful stand on the issue, both the President and PM will likely treat the partner rebellion as a storm in a tea cup. Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa has already stated in public that the rebel coalition partners have a right to dissent.

The declaration that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, wouldn’t appear for the three ministers supporting the challenge, however, underscored the crisis within the government. They have retained private Counsel.

In addition to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Cabinet of Ministers, New Fortress Energy Inc., West Coast Power (Private) Limited, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the AG is a respondent in this case.

The case is heard in terms of Article 132(3) of the Constitution. The petitioners are Samagi Jana Balavegaya General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara, former JVP Parliamentarians Sunil

Hadunneththi and Wasantha Samarasinghe, Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera and Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya have moved the Supreme Court against the agreements between the government and New Fortress Energy Inc., in relation to the sale of 40% of the shares of Yugadanavi Power Plant, located at Kerawalapitiya.

The petitioners said on 7th of July 2021, the framework agreement was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and New Fortress Energy Inc., for the disposal of 40% of the total shares held by West Coast Power (Private) Limited in the Yugadanavi (Pvt) Ltd for USD 250 million. Critics have repeatedly pointed out that there was nothing wrong in selling the 40 percent stake for that amount, the problem lay in the fact that New Fortress was also getting a monopoly status to supply LNG, ostensibly for five years, at the beginning, but who knows what would happen later on once they get themselves entrenched here with the corrupt bureaucracy and politicians.

Earlier both the CEB and Telecom were wrangled in so many corrupt deals, especially involving certain French multi-nationals, but many of them were undone especially during the tenure of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in the 1990s. Such deals were a drain on the private sector-friendly UNP government. So finally Western lenders themselves told the French enough was enough. It was a case of French selling us outdated equipment and charging us premium prices to keep them going. For example in those days after each heavy downpour many telephone lines in the country would go dead, but luckily for us all that was corrected with the privatisation of Telecom by Minister Mangala Samaraweera and clipping of the wings of the then all-powerful trade union UPTO. It was a classic case of trapping them using their greed.

The petitioners said agreements had been further entered for the execution of the Terminal Project which includes Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU), Mooring system and the Pipelines, and the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd.

They state that to the best of their knowledge, the Share Sales and Purchase Agreement (SSPA) pertaining for the sale of 40% of the shares in West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd., and the Gas Supply Agreements have not been placed before the Cabinet of Ministers to date.

Bundling the contracts for the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal, construction of pipelines and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) supply in a single unsolicited proposal and awarding them to a foreign-based company, without following a transparent procedure, poses a serious threat to the national energy security of the country, they point out.

They said the proposal to purchase 40% of the shares in the West Coast Power (Private) Limited is contrary to the National Energy Policy and Strategies.

Manohara and Romesh on
opposing sides

Perhaps, the top SLPP leadership believed the trio wouldn’t go the whole hog though they opposed the deal. However, following consultations among the rebel group, the DLF, NFF and PHU decided to challenge the Cabinet of ministers in the Supreme Court even at the risk of losing their ministerial portfolios. Their relationship with the dominant partner has been damaged severely. In fact, irreparable damage may have been caused.

When the writer sought an explanation from Minister Gammanpila, one-time heavyweight of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the lawmaker didn’t mince his words. “Whatever happens, we cannot remain committed to the so called collective responsibility of the Cabinet at the expense of national interest.

Dismissing the Attorney General’s stand vis-a-vis the defiant ministerial group, lawmaker Gammanpila declared that either those (three ministers) or the Attorney General had lied to the Supreme Court in respect of the Yugadanavi deal. Underscoring the fact that both represented the government, lawyer Gammanpila pointed out that in case the Supreme Court ruled one party furnished falsehood in an affidavit that party faced a three-year prison term.

The five-judge bench dismissed the Attorney General’s assertion that as the fundamental rights cases hadn’t been filed within the stipulated period, they should be dismissed. Having proposed to conduct proceedings on Dec 21 and 22 following hearings on Dec 16 and 17, judges put off the proceedings to January 10, 2022, on a request by the Attorney General. If not for the Attorney General’s plea, a lot more would have been in the public domain now.

Two of the country’s top lawyers, Manohara de Silva, PC and Romesh de Silva, PC, appeared for the opposing sides. Manohara, who openly campaigned against the yahapalana lot, appeared for petitioner Lanka Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya whereas Romesh represented respondent the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB). The case has taken an unexpected turn with the disclosure of CEB Chairman M.C. Ferdinando’s controversial role in the whole process, particularly his endorsement of the agreement as an Advisor to the Finance Ministry. Ferdinando is the seventh among 73 respondents named in a petition filed by 12 persons represented by Manohara de Silva, PC. Interestingly, three Commissioners of the CIABOC (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption) are among the respondents.

What really made the submissions made by Manohara and Romesh interesting was their role in the new Constitution making process. The nine member expert team tasked with producing a draft constitution consists of Romesh de Silva (Chairperson), Gamini Marapana PC, Manohara de Silva PC, Sanjeewa Jayawardena PC, Prof. Naseema Kamurdeen, Dr. A. Sarveshwaran, Samantha Ratwatte PC, Prof. Wasantha Seneviratne and Prof. G.H. Peiris.

They haven’t been able to bring the process to a successful conclusion so far though the government repeatedly assured both in and out of Parliament, the draft Constitution would be presented by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa before completing two years in office. That failure cannot be blamed on the Covid-19 global epidemic. Silly efforts to blame everything on Covid-19 reached a new level when Provincial Council and Local Government State Minister Roshan Ranasinghe asserted that Local Government polls scheduled to take place before the third week of March 2022 was unlikely due to the threat posed by the new COVID variant Omicron.

Before examination of submissions made before the Supreme Court, it would be pertinent to mention that the Attorney General conceded before the five-judge bench the agreement on energy didn’t come within the laid down procurement process. The Attorney General, however, took up the stand that there is no basis for the case. Uditha Igalahewa, PC, appeared for the ministers.

Manohara issues dire warning

The Counsel for Lanka Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya has asserted in court that the Yugadanavi deal posed quite a threat to the sovereignty of the country as well as its national security. In response to Manohara’s warning, Attorney General Sanjaya Rajaratnam asked for the dismissal of cases without hearing them. The request was made on the basis the agreement being challenged outside the time allocated in terms of the Constitution. Manohara alleged that the then US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz interfered by lobbying on behalf of the US-based New Fortress Energy. Teplitiz, who recently completed her term in Colombo, had made representations on June 22, 2020, on behalf of the US Company to the Presidential Secretariat. The latter, in turn, has sent the US proposal to the Power and Energy Secretary along with a letter dated Jun 24, 2020. The letters signed by Telpitz and Dr. P.B. Jayasundera, respectively, for the US Embassy and the Presidential Secretariat have been presented to the Court. Manohara brought to the notice of the Court how the proposal made outside the laid down process undermined stability.

Accusing the US of interference in domestic affairs, Manohara explained how the US Ambassador sought to achieve their objectives with the help of corrupt Sri Lankan officials. This deal would create a US monopoly in the supply of LNG to Sri Lanka, Manohara predicted, asserting that the project created a dangerous situation. Alleging that the agreement betrayed national interests, the legal luminary painted a bleak picture of Sri Lanka’s future in case the deal materialised. Manohara questioned how the government entered into the agreement at the behest of the US even before the Chief Government Valuer provided his assessment pertaining to the Yugadanavi Power Plant. Romesh de Silva responded asserting that a proper valuation had been done before the signing of the agreement took place.

 

Those who were represented by Manohara in their petition stated that the Ceylon Electricity Board informed the Secretary to the Ministry of Power by letter dated 07.07.2021 that competitive open international tendering for the supply of Liquefied Natural Gas to Sri Lanka had already commenced and that to entertain an arbitrary proposal presented by an independent party who is not a party to the procurement process would adversely affect the transparency and fairness of the procurement process. In spite of that, Treasury Secretary S.R. Attygalle signed the Framework Agreement on July 07, 2021, to pave the way the sale of 40 percent shares of the power station owned by the government.

The share structure of the power station comprises; the government 50%, Employees’ Provident Fund 27%, Lanka Electricity Company 18% and LTL Holdings 5%.

SLFP takes questionable stand

In spite of backing the rebel ministers’ cause against the Sri Lanka-US deal, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) conveniently skipped an opportunity to join the Supreme Court action. The SLFP parliamentary group consists of 14 members. The second biggest constituent in the 145-member government Parliamentary Group, the SLFP owed an explanation why at least one of its ministers, out of the two, namely Nimal Siripala de Silva or Mahinda Amaraweera failed to join the rebellious colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila, in their principled stand against the controversial deal. General Secretary of the SLFP Dayasiri Jayasekera, however, flayed Yugadanavi agreement at the launch of a high profile campaign, on Oct 29, at Solis Hall, Pitakotte.

In an interview with political weekly Anidda in its Dec 26, 2021 edition, lawmaker Jayasekera, having challenged the legality of the Yugadanavi deal, vowed not to allow the implementation of the energy project, under any circumstances. The SLFPer strongly rejected the stand taken by Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando as regards the Yugadanavi agreement.

If the SLFP is sincere of its position vis-a-vis the US energy deal, former President Maithripala Sirisena, MP, should have given his party the go ahead to join the challenge in the Supreme Court. The SLFP’s participation in legal action would have certainly strengthened the case against the Cabinet of ministers. Anidda interviewer should have sought an explanation from lawmaker Jayasekera over the SLFP not being part of the real opposition to the Yugadanavi deal.

Veteran politician Vasudeva Nanayakkara recently referred to those who backed Yugadanavi, opposed it and then took a sort of neutral stand. Was he referring to the SLFP? In addition to the DLF, the NFF and the PHU that have challenged the Cabinet of ministers over the Yugadanavi deal, SLFP, Communist Party, LSSP, Yuthukama civil society and National List MP Tiran Alles have declared opposition to the same. Of the 225 lawmakers, approximately 25 elected and appointed on the SLPP National List are believed to be opposed in line with the decision taken by their respective parties. In addition to them, Ven. Athureliye Rathana, National List MP of Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya backs the campaign.

A govt. in turmoil

The Yugadanavi crisis is just one among a spate of issues gravely troubling the government. The cash-strapped regime sought to project the Yugadanavi deal as a success primarily on the basis it would please the ever antagonistic Washington and the US firm paying USD 250 mn in two installments. Those who support the project propagate the line or lie that the deal would make available electricity at a much cheaper rate. There had never been a previous agreement that ended up having a section of Cabinet ministers who represent the legislature moving Court against their colleagues. The issue should be examined taking into consideration that the President is the head of the Cabinet. Where does the President stand? Did the appearance of CEB Chairman M.C. Ferdinando at a special media briefing arranged by the Presidential Media Division (PMD) signifies the President’s stand? In case the Supreme Court ruling pertaining to Yugadanavi petitions goes against the government, what will it do? Is there a fallback position? What will become of the SLPP’s relationship with those who opposed the project?

The much-debated ‘One Country, One Law’ concept has caused controversy primarily due to the appointment of Ven. Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera, the recipient of presidential pardon from previous President Sirisena, after his ruffian behaviour even in a court of law, as the head of the relevant Presidential Task Force. The handling of State Minister Ratwatte’s inexcusable behaviour at the Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons badly exposed the government.

The government will have to address a series of other issues with the daunting challenge in servicing foreign and local debt as well as ruination of the Maha crop as a result of the hasty ban on agro-chemicals. The sacking of Agriculture Secretary Senior Prof. Udith J. Jayasinghe has prompted the angry official to fire a broadside at the government. The government appeared to have been sort of surprised by Prof. Jasasinghe’s response. The SJB has lambasted Prof. Jayasinghe and held him and the SLPP political leadership responsible for the crisis whereas the former now portrayed himself as the one who represented the interests of the public.

The government cannot depend on its overwhelming parliamentary majority to overcome the crises. Actually, the near 2/3 majority does not mean a thing as the government continues to weaken itself by utterly misplaced strategies. The SLPP is in such a desperate situation, the situation cannot be overcome or public attention diverted by propaganda on mainstream or social media.



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Midweek Review

Post-war foreign relations: A diplomatic quagmire for Lanka

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flanked by PM Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang Yi launch Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong seems quite confident of Sri Lanka’s capacity to overcome the current economic turmoil the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is experiencing.

 The top Chinese envoy, at an informal meeting with a selected group of print media journalists on Sunday (09), soon after the departure of Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, asserted that the crisis was temporary.  Ambassador Qi Zhenhong declared that as Sri Lanka had overcome far bigger challenges the country wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the current challenge in debt servicing. The meet took place at the King Emperor Suite of the Galle Face Hotel

 Wang departed following high level political talks with the Sri Lankan leadership. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese FM Wang inaugurated the Sri Lanka-China Sailing Cup 2022 at the Port City to celebrate the 65th anniversary of China and Sri Lanka diplomatic relations and the 70th anniversary of the Rubber-Rice pact. Interestingly, former Premier and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, MP, was among the invitees. Wickremesinghe, whose government delayed the Port City project by about one and half years, sat next to Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, who returned from an official visit to Seoul the previous day.

 Is Ambassador Qi Zhenhong right in his assessment? Had there been far bigger crises in the recent past that threatened to overwhelm Sri Lanka? Perhaps Ambassador Qi Zhenhong is right in his appraisal. Maybe, he is not. Having joined the Chinese Foreign Service in 1988, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong took over the Chinese diplomatic mission in Colombo about a year ago at the height of Covid-19 eruption.

 Amidst a simmering row with the Sri Lankan government over the rejection of an allegedly contaminated Chinese carbonic fertiliser consignment, Ambassador Qi Zhenhong undertook a three-day visit (Dec 15-17, 2021) to the Jaffna peninsula.

Colombo-based The Hindu correspondent, Meera Srinivasan, in a story dated Dec 26, 2021, headlined ‘Chinese Ambassador’s visit to Jaffna sparks concern, commentary in Sri Lanka’, described the visit as an intensification of geopolitical contest between India and China. Qi Zhenhong underscored China’s right to engage people in any part of Sri Lanka. Responding to media at the Emperor’s Suite, Qi Zhenhong pointed out: “Jaffna is in the northern part of Sri Lanka, not south of any other country.”

 Ambassador Qi visited the Jaffna public library and the Adam’s Bridge, a row of limestone shoals across the narrow Palk Strait between Mannar and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

The Ambassador visited a seafood factory in Mannar district, built with Chinese investment, and a sea cucumber farm in Jaffna.

The Chinese entry into Sri Lanka and the gradual expansion of its role here should be examined against the backdrop of Indian-funded terrorism project that destabilised the entire country. The Sri Lanka Army couldn’t have withstood the terrorist firepower if not for military assistance provided by China, Pakistan, Russia and Israel during the early stages of the conflict. Having paid a heavy price for destabilising its smaller neighbour, India allowed the annihilation of separatist Tamil conventional military capability in 2009. The eradication of terrorism has paved the way for geopolitical contest between the two Asian nuclear powers here. Both China and India seemed confident in pursuing their agendas as the cash-strapped SLPP government struggled on multiple fronts. The deterioration of Sri Lanka’s economy as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic delivering a devastating blow to its once vibrant tourism industry and expatriate worker remittances, (both raked in huge amounts of foreign exchange), as well as waste, corruption and mismanagement at every level appeared to have facilitated anti-Sri Lanka foreign projects much to the dismay of the vast majority of people. Sri Lanka seems to be at the mercy of foreign powers.

Superpower politics

 Chinese and Indian investments as well as relations with political parties here cannot be discussed leaving out the ongoing battle between China and the US-led grouping. India is part of the latter. South Korea is also in that group though it has so far refrained from joining the four-nation ‘Quad’ comprising the US, India, Japan and Australia. Post-war Sri Lanka is in a dicey situation. In spite of overcoming terrorism 12 years ago, Sri Lanka is under tremendous pressure from both parties as each seeks investment opportunities advantageous to them.

 Recently, Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda expressed concerns over China and India seeking to invest in the Point Pedro fisheries harbour. Devananda, the leader of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), one of the smaller terrorist groups, that took to the democratic path long before the LTTE terror mechanism was annihilated and primarily active in the Northern region vowed not to allow China to exploit the Northern population. Obviously Devananda is playing politics. The Fisheries Minister cannot take a view contrary to that of the Rajapaksas.

Pathfinder, an organisation founded by Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, Milinda Moragoda, in its latest report titled ‘Sri Lanka has no room to maneuver’ carried in the January 10 edition of The Island warns of a catastrophe unless the government adopts remedial measures, immediately. While appreciating the arrangement Sri Lanka has reached with India to meet immediate challenges, Pathfinder recommended (i) restructuring of external debt (ii) an arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (iii) mobilisation of ‘bridging finance’ to meet the external financing gap up to June 2022.

Recent US and Indian investments in the energy sector should be viewed against the backdrop of much economically weakened Sri Lanka. The controversial energy deals with US-based New Fortress Energy, and Indian Oil Corporation Limited finalised on Sept 17, 2021 and January 5, 2022, respectively, generated much public interest. The latter was finalised just days before the Chinese Foreign Minister’s visit. Both agreements have been challenged in the Supreme Court. The SC is in the process of hearing several petitions against the US energy deal whereas Ven. Wakmulle Uditha Thera of Nayigala Raja Mahaviharaya, Agrahara, Weeraketiya, filed a fundamental rights petition against the agreement on Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. The Ven. Thera is believed to be acting on behalf of the JVP, the only party to move court against both the US and Indian investments.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila, who along with Cabinet colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa moved SC against US energy deal that came through the backdoor, in a booklet titled ‘Regaining Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm’ declared that he gave the ‘strategic leadership’ to the project. In spite of accusations of a sellout and betrayal by many quarters, including the Federation of National Organisations, led by Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera, which demanded a thorough investigation. Attorney-at-law Gammanpila defended the latest agreement. The booklet released by the Energy Ministry contained a letter dated July 29, 1987 signed by the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that dealt with the Trincomalee oil tank farm, President JRJ’s response, an agreement finalised on Feb 7, 2003, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on economic projects signed in 2017 also during Wickremesinghe’s premiership. What really surprised the public was that though the Energy Ministry compared the 2017 MoU with the recently finalised agreement, the ministry quite conveniently left the January 5 agreement out of the booklet. The ministry may claim that the agreement couldn’t be included as at the time of the releasing of the booklet, it hadn’t been signed. Perhaps, the printing of the booklet should have been delayed till the finalisation of the agreement.

Declaring the project received political guidance from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Energy Ministry revealed the identities of the two negotiating teams. Accordingly, the Sri Lankan delegation comprised Lalith Vidanagamage, Advisor, Energy Ministry, Buddhika Madihahewa, Managing Director, CPC, Mrs. Hasitha Paragahagoda, Legal Officer, Energy Ministry and Nalin Beligaswatta, Research Officer, Energy Ministry.

The Energy Ministry also named the Indian negotiating team. Deputy High Commissioner Vinod K. Jacob has led the Indian delegation that included Dr. Rakesh Pandey, Head of Commerce, Indian HC, Ms Irina Thakur, First Secretary, Commerce and Cultural Affairs and Manoj Gupta, Managing Director, LIOC.

The Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm comprised two sections (i) Lower Tank Farm and (ii) Upper Tank Farm spread over 827 acres of land.

One cannot forget the circumstances India forced the Indo-Lanka Accord on the latter. That agreement finalised at the height of the US-Soviet cold war encompassed the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm. Today, US-India relations have reached zenith whereas at the time of the Indo-Lanka Accord India was seen as being much closer to the Soviet Union and constantly feared the US using Sri Lanka as a platform to destabilise the country. The letters exchanged between Rajiv Gandhi and JRJ agreed on the restoration and operation of the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm as a joint venture. With the latest agreement, India has consolidated its position in the strategic port city of Trincomalee close on the heels of politically influential Adani Group’s investment at the Colombo port. Gujarat-headquartered company signed a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) agreement with Sri Lanka’s largest listed company John Keells Holdings and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) to jointly develop the Colombo West International Container Terminal (CWICT) at the Colombo Port, situated amidst one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. China has secured a terminal of its own during the previous Rajapaksa administration as the war was raging with hardly any other investor showing interest and during the Yahapalana administration won a 99-year lease on the Hambantota port. Controversy surrounds the Hambantota port deal, too. Arjuna Ranatunga, who had served as the Ports and Shipping Minister at that time had to give up the portfolio as he didn’t agree with the terms. The then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe brought in SLFPer Mahinda Samarasinghe as the Ports and Shipping Minister to put the finishing touches to it. Having finalised the agreement in 2017, Samarasinghe switched his allegiance to the SLFP in the run-up to the last parliamentary election in August 2020. The one-time UNPer recently gave up his Kalutara District parliamentary seat to receive appointment as Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington.

Former PM Wickremesinghe, FM Prof. Peiris, Minister Namal Rajapaksa and Chinese Ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong at the launch of Sri Lanka China Friendship Sailing Cup at the Port City last Sunday (pics courtesy PM Media)

Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note

 In spite of China and Sri Lanka enjoying excellent relations and the latter regularly referring to China as an all-weather friend, there had been a number of contentious issues. The Island had an opportunity to raise some of them with Ambassador Qi Zhenhong during last Sunday’s meeting. Reference was made to accusations made by the then Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake as regards China taking advantage of Sri Lanka, dispute over contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment that had to be settled by paying USD 6.7 mn to the Chinese firm concerned and SLPP lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s fiery letter to the Chinese President Xi Jinping. There hadn’t been a previous instance of a lawmaker writing to the Chinese leader through its Ambassador in Colombo. Ambassador Qi Zhenhong dismissed Rajapakse’s concerns over China changing its strategy vis-a-vis Sri Lanka in the wake of the high profile ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) project meant to improving connectivity and cooperation among multiple countries spread across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. One-time Justice Minister and former President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) accused China of following an agenda intended to destroy Sri Lanka’s relations with the US, the UK, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and in time to come Russia.

Lawmaker Rajapakse’s stand cannot be examined without taking his call during the previous administration to rescind the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port through the intervention of the Parliament. That call was made in his capacity as a UNP Member of Parliament, whereas he wrote the January 3 dated letter as an SLPP lawmaker.

MP Rajapakse accused China of ruining Sri Lanka’s economy to facilitate their project. The former Justice Minister seemed to have no issue with Quad members, the UK and Korea. Quad members never stood by Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas Western powers brazenly pursued a policy detriment to Sri Lanka. They either voted against Sri Lanka or skipped the vote as in the case of Japan regardless of the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015. Obviously, Japan lacked the political will to go against the US wishes at the Geneva HRC, whereas Seoul voted against Colombo. On the basis of the Geneva process, the Sri Lankan military is being targeted by the US and some of her allies as part of the overall campaign directed at Sri Lanka.

Regardless of Sri Lanka’s close relations with China, the accusations made by MP Rajapakse cannot be dismissed lightly. The MP issued a warning over possible Chinese investments under the ‘Selendiva’ project, having questioned the investments on the Colombo Port, South Terminal, Coal-fired power plant complex at Norochcholai, International Airport at Mattala, Lotus Tower (Nelum Kuluna) in Colombo, Lotus Theatre (Nelum Pokuna) in Colombo, International Cricket Stadium at Suriyawewa and International Conference Hall in Hambantota. Alleging China created a debt trap, lawmaker Rajapakse said that he lost his portfolio during the Yahapalana administration as he opposed the Hambantota port deal. The copies of MP Rajapakse’s explosive letter have been sent to the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, Most Venerable High Prelates, the Archbishop Colombo, Foreign Minister, Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Colombo-based High Commissioners and the Ambassadors of the other countries.

Can the SLPP government afford to ignore Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s actions, particularly against the backdrop of stripping Susil Premjayantha of his portfolio over criticism of the government? Similarly, can Ministers Vasudeva, Wimal and Udaya get away after having challenged their Cabinet colleagues over the US energy deal? The government needs to address these issues as the ruling coalition as well as other political parties represented in Parliament struggle to come to terms with a rapidly changing situation. Avoiding Chinese as well as Western moves and that of India seem a herculean task for Sri Lanka, trying to walk the diplomatic tightrope.

During the Yahapalana administration, the US pushed for three agreements, namely ACSA (Access and Cross Servicing Agreement), SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact. On the approval of President Sirisena, the government signed ACSA in August 2017 though the remaining agreements couldn’t be finalised. No one can forget how Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe authorised one-sided CFA (Ceasefire Agreement) or the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo allowed the Singapore Sri Lanka Free Trade Pact. If those in power and the Opposition are genuinely interested in protecting national assets, they’ll agree on a political mechanism to reach consensus on agreements with external powers/foreign parties.

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Midweek Review

What is so luring about John Steinbeck’s The Pearl: A translator’s view

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Book: Dimuthuwa (A translation of The Pearl)
Translator: K. A. I Kalyanaratne
Publisher: Sarasavi

By K. A. I Kalyanaratne

Having studied Sinhala and English since my early schooling, I thought of rendering into Sinhala an English masterpiece. I knew that such an exercise would help not only test my comprehension in that contextual setting but also measure my capacity to reproduce the ideas in idiomatic Sinhala so that the reader would feel that the rendering was not foreign to him or her.

I did not want to estrange the local reader.

Translator’s responsibilities

I began my search for a read-worthy book for that purpose. I came across a book, not so voluminous, I had attempted several times to render into Sinhala, without much success. I had given up all my previous attempts halfway upon realisation that the time was not opportune for me to undertake such a responsible task, for any writer has a responsibility by the society to uplift it to the best of one’s ability, and retain the ingenuity of the original writer. I was also concerned about the sanctity of the language, the most sacred tool of its users. It means that any writer should be mindful of the correct idiomatic expressions of that language.

‘THE PEARL’

Finally, I selected ‘THE PEARL’ by the American novelist and Nobel prize-winner John Steinbeck. Having read it a couple of times, I was familiar with its content. Considering the number of characters and the span of time involving the narration, many a writer treats The Pearl as a ‘novella’ or a ‘novelette’. As the story is full of dramatic episodes, it is also referred to as a ‘chilling-novella’. As Steibeck has himself expressed in his epigraph to the Pearl, he has re-told a Mexican folktale which relates a series of tragic events that unraveled with a scorpion biting Kino’s son Coyotito.

In his inimitable style Steinbeck says

“In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found, and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind. And, as with all retold tales that are in people’s hearts, there are only good and bad things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-between anywhere.

If the story is a parable, perhaps everyone reads his or her own life into it. In any case, they say in the town that…”

 

” මෙ වෙසෙයි දිමුතුව ලද සැටිත්, ඒ යළි නැති වුණු සැටිත් පිළිබඳ පවත ඒ නියැරියෝ පවසති. එ මෙන් ම, ධීවර කීනෝත්, ඔහු ගේ බිරිය ජුවානාත්, ඔවුන් ගේ පුත් කොයෝතිතෝත් පිළිබඳ ව ඔවුහු පවසති. තව ද, මෙ පවත නෙ වර පවසනු ලැබ ඇති හෙයින්, ඒ සෑම අයකු ගේ ම සිත්හි මුල් බැස ගෙන ඇත. මිනිස් සිත්හි එල්බ ගත්, එ මෙන් ම, යළි යළිත් පැවැසුණු පවත්හි රඳා පවතිනුයේ යහඅයහ දේ පමණි. ක`ථ-සුදු දේ පමණි. සිරි-දුසිරි දේ පමණි. මෙ අතරැ වූ කිසිවක් කවර තැනෙක හෝ තිබෙනු නො හැකි යි.

මෙ පවත උපමා කතාවක් සේ සැලැකෙන්නේ නම්, සෑම අයකු ම ඔහුට සීමා වූ අරුතක් ඉන් උකහා ගනු ඇත. තමන් ගේ ම දිවි පෙවෙත ඊට කාවද්දනු ඇත. මෙ කවර අයුරු වුව ද එ නුවර වැසියෝ මෙ සේ පවසත්”

Dramatic End of The Pearl

The Kino’s pearl of the world, incomparable in its beauty, radiance and size, around which Steinbeck spins the whole story with a few characters who in their peculiar contexts behave in self-centred ambitions and aspirations, ultimately meets its own playground, the big blue sea, in whose womb it was born. At last, when Kino realises that the pearl is evil, he throws it back to the sea. The humour, sarcasm and pathos, which Steinbeck aims to generate, is the last of such incidents he narrates when he writes:

“And Kino drew back his arm and flung the pearl with all his might. Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

“And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped towards the bottom.

The waving branches of the algae called to it and beckoned to it. The lights on its surface were green and lovely. It settled down to the sand bottom among the fern-like plants. Above, the surface of water was a green mirror. And the pearl lay on the floor of the sea. A crab scampering over the bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

යළි තමා වෙත ඇදගත් අතින්, කිනෝ මු`ථ වැර යොදා, දිමුතුව මුහුදට විසි කෙළේ ය. අවරට යන හිරු ගේ හෙළියෙන් දිලෙමින් ද බැබැළෙමින් ද, එය ඈතට විසි වී යන අයුරු කිනෝ ද, ජුවානා ද හොඳින් බලා සිටියහ. එ ඈතින් දියට වැටී හට ගත් දිය කැළැඹුම දෙස ද බලා සිටි ඔවුහු, දිගු වේලාවක් එහි රැඳී සිටියහ.

දිමුතුව ද, ප‍්‍රසන්න නිල් පැහැති මුහුදුු දියෙහි තැන්පත් ව, මුහුදු පතුළට කිඳා බැස්සේ ය. එ විට මුහුදු පතුළෙහි වූ මුහුදු පැළෑටිවල
සසල වූ අතු පත් අත් වනමින් දිමුතුව කඳවා ගෙන ගියා සේ යි. මතු පිටට පතිත වූ ආලෝකයෙන් ඒ කොළ පැහැ ගැන් වී, ප‍්‍රසන්න වී තිබිණි. මීවන වන් පැළෑටි අතරින් ගොස්, පතුළේ වූ වැලි මත එය තැන්පත් විය. එ මත්තෙහි වූ මතුපිට දිය කඳ කොළ පැහැති කැටපතක් බඳු විය. එ දිමුතුව දැන් මුහුදු පතුළෙහි රැුඳී ඇත. එ පතුළෙහි ම, දුව පැන යමින් සිටි කකු`ථවකු නිසා කුඩා වැලි වළාවෙකින් නැ`ගුණු වැලි යළි තැන්පත් වත් ම, එ දිමුතුව දැක්මෙන් ඔබ්බට ගොස් තිබිණි.

එ අනුයමින් ම, දිමුතුවේ සංගීතය අවසනැ හුදු මිමිනීමක් පමණක් බවට පත් ව අතුරුදන් විය

Here, one remembers a line from T. S. Elliot’s Little Gidding: “Dust in the air suspended, Marks the place where a story ended”.

“Language is the Dress of Thought.” — Samuel Johnson

The language of The Pearl is one of the enticing aspects which lured me to undertake this exercise to render it into Sinhala. I questioned myself on several occasions whether my Sinhala diction was rich enough to express, with the same efficacy, the nuances of human feelings and sentiments that Steinbeck conveys in The Pearl.

In his retelling of a Mexican folktale, Steinbeck relates the tale of Kino, fisherman, who finds the pearl of the world during one of his dives. Showing how money is the root of all evil, Steinbeck delivers a poignant tale. Fish and pearls are usually the common source of the livelihood of fisherfolk. However, the story tells how each member of the village desires part of Kino’s newfound wealth. Hence, rather than being pleased with and sharing the happiness of this prized discovery, each villager offers his/her unique suggestion as to how Kino should spend his winnings. Steinbeck thus not only exposes human nature but also through a few characters like the doctor who later came in to treat Coyotito, Kino’s son, the priest, and the pearl brokers who attempt to swindle Kino, tells how greed erodes the cherished values, and how people who come upon sudden wealth are affected. This story also teaches us how disastrous it is to take on its face-value and acts mindlessly. The Pearl is, thus, a tale of greed, exposing how people would act and react, if pitted against the circumstances as revealed in the story. In short, The Pearl is a true representation of the secrets of man’s nature, irrespective of time or clime, and the ‘darkest depths of evil”.

An Attempt to Add Depth to the Translation of ‘The Pearl’

I strove to make ‘Dimuthuwa’ go beyond a mere translation of Steinbeck’s novelette and presume that the reader should know the background of the story as well if he or she is to enjoy the translation to the fullest. Hence, the following additional pages have been added to the translation:

i. Background – which provides the geographical setting and the novelist’s objective of turning out a folktale to a novel.

ii. The historical setting revealing the discrimination and injustice that prevailed in society, which became the crux of the story.

iii. Specialty in John Steinbeck’s style of writing and his use of the figurative language especially in describing incidents and the surroundings.

iv. The Pearl Quotes – The products of famous writers contain sayings that will live have their value beyond times and climes. They become eternal truths, and therefore, they become universal truth that are of eternal value. Some describe these sayings as ‘Distilled Wisdom’. One such quote by Steinbeck is appended below:

“For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have.”

All these quotes have been rendered into Sinhala in this special section.

John Steinbeck’ background

The Pearl is a novella, a seemingly simple book, woven around a story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale. John Steinbeck was an American writer. He was the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, published in 1939 and the novella ‘Of Mice and Men’, published in 1937. He wrote 25 books, including sixteen novels,6 non-fiction books and several collections of short stories. In 1962, Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It so happened that after I completed translating ‘The Pearl’, I was presented a voluminous publication by a friend of mine, which contained five of his novels written before The Pearl, running to over 950 pages. Published in the UK by Octopus Books Limited, its introduction ends with a quote of H. G. Wells: “Steinbeck’s robustness was always mirrored by delicacy of feelings; his pride was always matched by modesty, humility even. He saw himself as a craftsman.” But his readers concur H. G. Wells on his assessment of Steinbeck – ‘THAT TREMENDOUS GENIUS’.

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Midweek Review

The Mod-Con Tea Party

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By Lynn Ockersz

They sure are ‘talking’,

But tongue-tied all the same,

And though at the same table,

Flushed with the thrill of partying,

There’s no mind-to-mind bonhomie,

And the only sounds to be heard,

Are the endless thumping of cell phones,

And the ritualistic rendering of courtesies;

A pantomime of voiceless souls it seems,

But let not this be seen as an ICT Age freak,

For, the land groans under a rash of pains,

With depression emerging a chief dread,

And the need for quality talk is dire;

But the crisis is not beyond repair,

For, a defrosting of hearts and tongues,

And the sensible use of mod cons,

Could some of this longsuffering help end.

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