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New Fortress deal conflicts with policy on renewables

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President speaking at the Glasgow summit

By Neville Ladduwahetty

A report in The Washington Post of 03 Nov. states: “More than 100 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge, which requires a 30 percent cut in methane emissions by 2030, one of the Biden administration’s priorities for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. The pledge’s signatories now represent nearly half of human-caused methane emissions …. the Biden administration also unveiled a sweeping set of domestic policies to cut emissions of methane from oil and gas operations across the United States”. Furthermore, the announcement that the US and EU are global partners in this venture signifies the seriousness of the situation, as well as the pledge.

Conveying Sri Lanka’s contribution towards this global effort, a report in the Daily News (Sri Lanka) also of 03 Nov. 2021, citing the comments made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at COP26, states: “…the President added, Sri Lanka is deeply aware of the impacts of climate change. Our rich philosophical heritage, shaped by the Buddha’s teachings, places great value on environmental integrity. Therefore, the President said sustainability is at the heart of the national policy framework. ‘Sri Lanka’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions’ aims to reduce emissions towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2050”. During his speech he referred to increasing Renewable Energy to 70% by 2030 and specifically “no new coal power”.

What is attempted herein is to ascertain the current status of power generation capacities in respect of renewable and non-renewable sources, in order to establish the scope of what needs to be done to achieve the goals stated at the COP26 in Glasgow. The information presented herein is based on a Report titled “SRI LANKA Energy Sector Assessment, Strategy and Road Map”, dated December 2019, of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a Report of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).

POLICY vs. DEMAND

The conclusions are based on data presented in the reports referred to above in respect of what proportion of power is currently produced by Renewables, such as hydro, solar and wind, and by non-renewables, such as fossil fuels and products of Petroleum.

According to the Executive Summary of the above report, “The peak demand is forecasted to cross 3,000 MW by 2020 and 4,800 MW by 2030”.

According to the CEB report, titled “Least Cost Long Term Generation Expansion Plan 2018 – 2037, submitted in May 2017, “off-peak demand to grow from the 1,100 (current level) to about 1,700 MW by 2037…”. Furthermore, table 3.3 states that by 2030 the Peak Demand is projected to be 4726 MW; a projection that closely agrees with the projection of 4800 MW in the ADB Report.

Given below are capacities of renewables and non-renewables that currently exist and in stages of development.

RENEWABLES:

HYDRO:

Large plants 1390 MW; Small plants 350 MW; Stages of Development 250 MW; SOLAR- Roof top target by 2020 is 200 MW; WIND-Developed 130 MW and under Development 130 MW (ADB Report).

TOTAL FROM RENEWABLES AS OF 2020 = 2450 MW.

NON-RENEWABLES:

COAL – NOROCHCHOLAI 900 MW; FOSSIL FUELS – KELANITISSA- 120 MW installed in 1980 &1981, 115 MW installed in 1997 and 165 MW in 2000; and KERAWALAPITIYA 310 MW.

TOTAL FROM NON – RENEWABLES, AS OF 2020 =1610 MW.

IF 120 MW IS RETIRED, BALANCE NON-RENEWABLES IN 2020 =1490 MW

ACHIEVING 2030 GOALS

If the goal to be achieved in 2030 is 70% renewables, it must follow that non-tenewables would be 30% of the demand. Thus, the demand projected for 2030 is 4800 MW, and target for tenewables would be 70% of 4800 MW, which is 3360 MW and for Non-Renewables the target would be 30% of 4800 MW which is 1440 MW.

The information presented above makes it clear that Sri Lanka already has the capacity to produce a minimum of 1490 MW of electricity from non-renewable sources. Thus, there no reason to expand existing capabilities, at least up to 2030. This means that expanding capacities at Kerawalapitiya from its present level of 310 MW by a further 700 MW is in conflict with the 30 % goal intended for non-renewables.

Another factor that needs to be recognised and appreciated is that since the current capacity of non-renewables is a minimum of 1490 MW, and if its contribution is to be 30% of the existing capabilities, the non-renewables are currently in a position to meet a demand of 1490/30%, which is 4966 MW; a capacity of 196 MW in excess of the projected demand of 4800 MW.

If the policy is for renewables to be 70% of the projected demand of 4800 MW by 2030, which is 3360 MW and the present capacity is only 2450 MW, there remains a need to meet the shortfall of 910 MW over a period of nine years. A significant portion of this shortfall could be met by doubling the hydro power capacity of Victoria, and the balance could be met by solar and wind over the next nine years.

In summary, a review of existing capacities for renewables is that there is a shortfall between projected demand and existing capacities. On the other hand, with regard to non-renewables, the current capacities of a minimum of 1490 MW are already in excess of the 30% of the projected demand of 4800 MW. Under the circumstances, expanding capacities at Kerawalapitiya by the addition of 700 MW to the existing 310 MW comes into conflict with the goals the President committed to in Glasgow at the COP26 summit on climate change.

EXPANDING NON-RENEWABLE CAPACITY

at KERAWALAPITIYA

In the context of the material presented above, there is absolutely no justification for the CEB to expand the capacities of non-renewables at Kerawalapitiya, and call for international bids to install a 350 MW plant, based on LNG. This is what prompted New Fortress Energy (NFE) to submit an unsolicited proposal to expand the existing capacity of 310 MW at Kerawalapitiya, by 700 MW, and convert all operations amounting to 1010 MW to LNG, together with a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU). Following the offer by NFE, a framework agreement was signed between NFE and the Government that has the backing of the US government. This Agreement requires Sri Lanka to sell 40% stake in the state owned West Coast Power as part of the deal.

The moment the news was out, there was a storm of protests. Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court against the sale of the 40% stake in a national asset. Others, have objected to the deal, with NFE, on the grounds that the terms of sale of LNG binds Sri Lanka to commitments that are unacceptable. A report in The Morning of 04 Nov, quotes the Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka Janaka Ratnayake as having said that the “Yugadanavi is deal beneficial despite shady signing”. The deal is shady because the terms of the agreement prevent it from being disclosed without the consent of both parties, according to the Chairman of the CEB. Furthermore, the CEB has conveyed that it does not have grounds for objecting to the terms and the manner in which the deal was executed (The Morning, 04 Nov. 2021).

The fundamental issue is not whether the deal with NFE is “shady”, or its terms conflict with Sri Lanka’s national interests. The fundamental issue is that the deal is in conflict with the Policy of the Government to convert power generation to 70% Renewables by 2030. This Policy cannot coexist with the attempt to expand Non-Renewable power generation.

Furthermore, existing capacities meet the projected demand for Non-Renewable until 2030. Therefore, the deal to expand capacities of Non-Renewables, by whatever means, comes at the cost to the Policy of conversion to 70% Renewables by 2030; a commitment announced at the COP26 in Glasgow by the President. What is evident from the foregoing is that the decision to expand the capacities of Non-Renewables was taken without first ascertaining whether Sri Lanka needs to expand Non-Renewables, before rushing to do so by those responsible for power generation. This is, indeed, disappointing, to say the least.

CONCLUSION

The Policy of the Sri Lankan Government, as stated by the President at the COP26 climate change summit, in Glasgow, was to increase Renewable energy production to 70% by 2030 and no more coal. It must then follow that the Policy in respect of Non-Renewables should be limited to 30% of demand by 2030. According to the ADB Report cited above “The peak demand is forecasted to cross 3,000 MW by 2020 and 4,800 MW by 2030”. At 70% Renewables this translates into 3360 MW and 1440 MW of Non-Renewables.

Per the material presented above, the present capacity of Renewables is 2450 MW. This is short of the goal by 910 MW that should be reached by 2030. On the other hand, the above facts demonstrate that existing capacities of Non-Renewable, 1440 MW, have already reached the threshold of 30% required by Policy, because even if 120 MW at Kelanitissa are retired due to age, Sri Lanka would still be left with 1490 MW of power from Norochchalai (900 MW), Kerawalapitiya (310 MW) and Kelanitissa (280 MW).

Under the circumstances, the question arises as to how the CEB together with all the others associated with it, justified a call for international bids to set up a 350 MW LNG plant, at Kerawalapitiya, when absolutely no grounds existed, and at the cost of defeating the Policy Government Policy for 70% Renewables and ipso-facto 30% Non-Renewables by 2030. This action tempted New Fortress Energy to step in with an unsolicited offer to increase Non-Renewable production, at Kerawalapitiya, by an additional 700 MW to operate on LNG and to sweeten the pot, convert the existing 310 MW plant also into LNG along with a Floating Storage Regasification Unit to transfer the LNG all for a 40% stake in West Coast Power for $250 million.

This offer has precipitated serious objections from various quarters that range from Supreme Court petitions to dissent within the Cabinet and others threatening trade union action – all for nothing because under no circumstances could the New Fortress deal be justified since existing capacities in respect of Non-Renewables do not warrant expansion particularly because such an expansion would be in conflict with the objectives of the current Policy of 70% Renewables. The entire fiasco associated with the New Fortress deal could have been avoided had those responsible for power generation critically examined the fundamental question as to whether or not Sri Lanka should expand Non-Renewables at this time.

Since the fundamental question has not yet been posed, it is imperative even at this late stage for the President to ask this fundamental question – IF SRI LANKA’S COMMITMENT AT THE COP26 IS TO BE HONOURED, SHOULD SRI LANKA EXPAND NON-RENEWABLE CAPACITIES OR RENEWABLE CAPACITIES BETWEEN NOW AND 2030? If the answer to the question is that expansion should ONLY be limited to Renewables, it follows that the New Fortress deal is clearly NOT in Sri Lanka’s interest.



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Decolonising education and critical thinking

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IN BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS (1952), FRANTZ FANON, the political philosopher from the French colony of Martinique, showed the importance of native language for the colonised to gain independence, decolonise knowledge and come out of their subordination.

By Darshi Thoradeniya

I would like to throw out some ideas on the importance of critical thinking in higher education especially in relation to history teaching by expanding the profound thoughts on decolonising education, expressed by Harshana Rambukwella, earlier in this column.

Just as educational institutions served to colonise subjects in colonial settings, the decolonising project also started through education. In the discipline of history, for instance, we constantly attempt to decolonise knowledge that has been created about the past and create new knowledge about the past through critical inquiry. In other words, critical inquiry is the tool that is used to decolonise knowledge. Thus, these two elements – decolonising knowledge and critical thinking – need to be linked in our discussions of higher education in post-colonial settings like Sri Lanka.

As Louis Althusser (1918-1990) argued, educational institutions are ideological state apparatuses used to promote and reinforce the ideology of the dominant classes. Through the national curriculum, government and private schools, in Sri Lanka, carry out this task meticulously. However, universities do not have a national curriculum; instead they have a subject benchmark statement that needs to be conceded to. Humanities and social sciences curricula are designed to generate critical engagement with key concepts, theories, texts and events. Thus, the school curriculum is unlearnt and critical thinking learnt at the university.

Critical thinking can take different forms according to the field of inquiry, but being able to question existing taken for granted knowledge is a crucial aspect of critical thinking. It is when knowledge is problematised by asking questions, such as who produced the knowledge, for whom it was produced, and by analyzing what sources were drawn upon to create the knowledge, do we become aware of the colonial mindset that we have developed and nurtured over the years through the school curriculum.

This is best illustrated through the way we teach and learn history in schools and perhaps even in some universities. Within the school curriculum, history is taught with an overwhelming emphasis on Sinhala Buddhist culture as if it is a pure, untainted culture sustained over 2500 years. This ideology is put forward mainly through uncritical engagement with sources. Mahawamsa (the great chronicle) is a key primary source that has shaped the history of Sri Lanka. At school level, we are not taught to question the intentions of the author, the sources analysed nor the audience for which the Mahawamsa was written. Sinhalese Buddhist culture became the dominant ideology with the involvement of colonial administrators, such as Alexander Johnston – the Chief Justice of Ceylon from 1811 to 1819 – who played an influential role in the translation of the Mahawamsa to English in the early 1800s. By neglecting these questions, we overlook the fact that this island has been situated in the trade route between the West and the East since the 12th century, and the possibilities of other narratives of ethnicity that could emerge by virtue of its location. Such possibilities are unfortunately not explored in schools because of lacking critical engagement on the historiography of Sri Lanka.

History writing in the colonies was essentially a production of colonial masters, hence a production of colonial knowledge. These histories were written by European travellers, missionaries, officials and administrators of trading companies, such as the Dutch East India Company or the British East India Company. Renowned Indian historian Romila Thapar charts how 19th century utilitarian and nationalist ideas in Europe influenced the Scottish economist and political theorist James Mill making him interpret Indian civilisation as static, leading him to divide Indian history into three sections – Hindu civilisation, Muslim civilisation and the British period – in his work History of British India (1817). The static character of Indian society with its despotic rulers became accepted as “truth” in Indian history as British colonial administrators were mandated to read the text before taking up duties in colonial India. The idea of oriental despotism would also justify the introduction of the British legal and administrative system to India. This colonial historiography remained unchallenged until decolonisation of knowledge took place in mid-20th century India.

When looking at the historiography of Ceylon, we can see many parallels with Indian historiography. Colonial administrators, such as Emerson Tennant and Codrington wrote a somewhat linear, continuous history of Ceylon emphasizing a Sinhalese Buddhist narrative centered on the kingdoms of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola and Kotte. By the 1970s, a group of Marxist historians started applying critical inquiry to the discipline of history and actively decolonising historical knowledge.

In Black Skin, White Masks (1952), Frantz Fanon, the political philosopher from the French colony of Martinique, showed the importance of native language for the colonised to gain independence, decolonise knowledge and come out of their subordination. He believed that human imagination could only be truly expressed through native language and could never be accomplished through the language of the colonial master. Taking this language argument further, Palestinian American public intellectual Edward Said showed in his seminal work Orientalism (1978), how Eurocentric prejudices shaped peoples’ imagination of the Orient (i.e., the Middle East and Asia) as barbaric, backward and traditional, and how such understandings were ultimately bestowed the status of scientific knowledge.

Similar decolonising experiences and projects can be traced in Latin American and African settings. Latin American cultural anthropologist Walter Mignolo believes that formal educational institutions established by the colonisers must be dismantled in order to decolonise the mindset of the people. Otherwise, people’s imaginations are trapped within the knowledge that is produced by these institutions. If people are to freely imagine and experience epistemic knowledge, they should be free from formal boundaries.

The faculties of humanities and social sciences in state universities have a gigantic task in hand. How should we further the project of decolonisation? A first step might be to start teaching Sinhala, Tamil and English languages to all humanities and social sciences undergraduates to facilitate understanding the indigenous cultures in which a specific knowledge is produced. At present, history writing mainly takes place within bilingual settings, and very rarely in trilingual settings, because very few historians are trilingual in Sri Lanka. The inability to comprehend the third language (i.e., Sinhala or Tamil) limits the historian from understanding the mentality of the so called ‘other’.

If we do not know the ‘other’ colonial subject, how are we to write a history of Sri Lanka? Not knowing the other’s language means we can only produce knowledge about one particular segment of society. Historians conversant in Sinhala and English end up servicing the hegemonic discourse (i.e., Sinhala Buddhist ideology), while historians conversant in Tamil and English end up creating an alternative narrative that is very unlikely to reach main stream historiography. There lies a fundamental problem that we need to address in decolonising university education. One suggestion in this regard would be to initiate exchange programmes between departments of national universities so that undergraduates as well as staff will be able to engage with the decolonising project in a holistic manner.

(Darshi Thoradeniya is a Senior Lecturer attached to the Department of History at the University of Colombo.)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Australian antics and Djokovic’s disgrace!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

It was a drama like no other! It is rarely that one and all involved in a saga ends up being a loser and that is exactly what happened with the ‘Australian Open’ fiasco. Novak Djokovic, his family, Tennis Australia, The Government of Victoria, Federal Government of Australia, the Serbian President and even the media have exposed chinks in their armour! Perhaps, the only people delighted would be our politicians who could now claim, justifiably, that incompetence is a trait shared by their ilk in the developing world, too!

Many, especially youngsters, would look up to sports stars for inspiration. Though many sports are no longer what they used to be, having undergone an unholy metamorphosis to be businesses, still a greater degree of honesty is expected of sports stars than from politicians. After all, sportsmanship is a term often used to express fair and generous behaviour. Considering all this, perhaps, the bulk of the blame should go to Novak Djokovic, the number one male tennis player who could have created history, had he won the Australian Open by being the Male Tennis player with the most ‘Grand Slams’. Perhaps, in his overenthusiasm to achieve this, he attempted to find ways to compete without being vaccinated for Covid. But it failed, and the 11-day drama was finally over when he was deported on Sunday evening.

In a way, it is very unfortunate that Djokovic had to make that sacrifice for the sake of a strong-held belief of his. Though he has not been directly involved in any anti-vaccination campaigns, his refusal to have the Covid-19 vaccine had been made use of by anti-vaxxers on social media. At the very beginning of the epidemic, he got into trouble by organising a tournament in Serbia, where a number of players, including himself, got infected. Though there were rumours that he was not taking vaccines due to medical contraindications, it is very likely the actual reason is his going by the opinion expressed by some specialists that infection gives better immunity than vaccination.

Though Djokovic’s vaccination status had been shrouded in secrecy for a long time, what transpired during this fiasco confirmed that he was not vaccinated and that there were no medical contraindications for vaccination. Whatever your beliefs or however important you are, one is still bound by rules and regulations. Australia is among the countries that imposed the strictest controls during the pandemic. In fact, many Australian citizens were stuck in many countries unable to return home, some for over a year. Even now, only dual vaccinated are allowed entry. If Djokovic had wished to stick to his principles, he should have done the honourable thing by staying out of the tournament, which is what some other players did.

It is surprising that Djokovic was given a medical exemption to enter Australia by two different independent health panels––one commissioned by Tennis Australia, the other by the state government of Victoria––after testing positive for coronavirus in mid-December, given that the rules are otherwise. Perhaps, they were more concerned about the success of the Australian Open tournament and were willing to bend rules! It is even more surprising that the Federal Government did not question this as immigration is not a function devolved to state governments. The moment Djokovic announced on Twitter that he would be attending, there was a hostile public reaction which may be the reason why Djokovic was detained on arrival but what followed could easily have been avoided had the Immigration Minister taken pre-emptive action. Whether the state government and the federal government being run by two different parties had any bearing on these actions is a moot point.

Djokovic made a false declaration that he had not been to any other country recently in spite of clear evidence to the contrary but later blamed his team for making the error. Surely, he should know that the responsibility is his, once he signs any form! When he had the infection in mid-December, rather than isolating himself, which even anti-vaxxers would do, he attended a number of indoor public events. And his explanation; he did not want to inconvenience the French TV team there to interview him. Serbian President overlooked all this, to blame Australia!

The state judge reversed his visa cancellation citing procedural issues. A BBC report exaggerated this by stating that the judge had allowed him to play in the Australian Open! Although the Immigration Minister could have taken immediate action, he chose not to do so, taking a number of days to cancel the visa on ‘Health and good order grounds. To hear Djokovic’s appeal the federal high court sat on a Sunday, just like our courts being kept open to grant bail to MPs! The three judges unanimously rejected his appeal, the Chief Justice stating that the court ruling was based on the legality of the Minister’s decision, not on whether it was the right decision to make. Interestingly, BBC implied that Djokovic’s efforts would reach fruition!

Perhaps, the federal government was forced to act by the injudicious press conference held, after the success of the first appeal, by Djokovic’s family in Belgrade, wherein they attempted to portray him as a poster-boy for choice. It had a disastrous ending by the family terminating the press conference when journalists questioned why Djokovic had attended functions soon after testing positive! After the deportation, Djokovic’s father has called it an assassination, of all things, failing to realise that he was hampering the chances of reversal of the three-year entry ban to Australia, Djokovic was facing! Serbian political leaders hitting out hard, calling it scandalous treatment was not very diplomatic, and did not help Djokovic.

The lesson we can learn, except that politicians play politics wherever they are, is that federated states have their own problems, as illustrated by this sad, winnerless episode.

There were varying shades of reactions to this saga. Perhaps, the words of wisdom came from Rafael Nada, who said, “He made his own decisions, and everybody is free to take their own decisions, but then there are some consequences”

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Historic task—a non-racist and human security ideology

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By Jehan Perera

The media has reported that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be announcing a new policy on national reconciliation in his address to Parliament at this inaugural session following prorogation last month. Apart from bringing peace of mind and comfort to those bereaved by the three decades long war, the central issue of national reconciliation is to find an equitable solution to the ethnic and religious conflicts that have plagued the country since the dawn of independence more than seven decades ago.   The focus now needs to be on the development of the country and its economy rather than to support any parochial or ethnic cause and continue with the divisive politics of the past. It is only by this that the country can get back on its feet, and as many countries which had done so following traumatic events.  President Rajapaksa was elected by a large majority with this hope in mind.

Indeed, it is unlikely that any other President could have faced the multiple crises the present government has got the country into and remained with its 2/3 majority intact, as it has done so far.  The recent announcement of the SLFP, headed by former President Maithripala Sirisena, that it would remain within the government alliance, while criticising it from within, is an indicator of the government’s stability.  This follows the similar declaration by the three leading cabinet ministers from the 11 party alliance of small parties within the government, who have filed cases in the courts against the government.  They too have said they would remain within the government and continue to challenge its decisions that they deem to be incorrect.

There are two key reasons why the government has a measure of stability despite the deteriorating economic situation that is impacting severely on the wellbeing of the majority of people.  The first is the pragmatic calculation of the government leadership that it is better to have its critics within the government than out of it.  It seemed possible that the sacking of Minister Susil Premjayantha for being overly critical of the government would be the start of a purge of internal critics of the government that could cause an unravelling.  But so far it is only Minister Premjayantha, who has had to pay the price for his independence.  This has been explained by the fact that the former minister was a member of the ruling party itself, unlike the other critics who belong to other parties.

SECOND STRENGTH

Due to the multiple perspectives within the government, and which represent the diversity of the government alliance, it has been able to reach out to the widest possible swathe of society.  At the same time, it is able to woo diverse sections of the international community, including the three big international formations that hold the key to the country’s economic progress.  These are China, India and the Western countries. China is continuing to provide economic resources on a large scale along with India.  Both of these big powers seek to improve their position of influence on Sri Lanka and ensure a physical presence in the country which is being granted. Dealing with China has been the easiest, as it only seeks to gain more economic and physical assets within the country to ensure its permanent presence.

Dealing with India and the Western countries is more challenging as they require political concessions as well. In the case of India it is a political solution to the ethnic conflict which involved power-sharing with the minority Tamil community.  In the case of the Western countries it is progress in terms of protecting human rights.  With Sri Lanka being a country of interest to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, this means that its human rights record is scrutinised every three months.  The forthcoming session in late February, which continues through March, will be especially important.  The Sri Lankan government is expected to present a written report on its progress in terms of issues of accountability, truth seeking, reparations and institutional reform.  The response of the majority of countries at the UNHRC can have a significant impact as it would influence the European Union’s pending decision on whether or not to suspend its GSP Plus tariff privilege which is a source of support to the Sri Lankan economy.

In this regard, it will be necessary for the government to rein in its champions of ethnic nationalism and national security that give emphasis to the perspective of the ethnic majority community alone.  This is going to be the great challenge as the second strength of the government is its ideology of ethnic majority nationalism and national security which it invokes at frequent intervals, and especially when it faces challenges.  These help to keep the ethnic majority’s loyalty to the government. But they alienate the minorities and also those sections of the international community who are concerned with human rights. The country remains deeply traumatised by three decades of internal war, in which acts of terrorism could strike anywhere, a separate Tamil state led by the LTTE was a short distance away and the centre itself was at risk of being taken over violently by the JVP.  These crises led to extreme measures that have left indelible scars and memories on the people that are easy to reinvoke.

BOTCHED ATTEMPTS

The botched attempt to explode a bomb in All Saints Church in Colombo and the botched police investigation into it have given the impression of a created event that has been questioned by the Catholic Church.  The bomb discovery, in which the Catholic priests did more to uncover evidence than the police, served to divert attention from the 1,000, day commemoration by the church of the 2019 Easter bombings, which killed over 280 persons, set the stage for conflict between Catholics and Muslims and reinforced the need for national security, and racists, to take the centre stage of national politics. On that occasion, as on this, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, the Archbishop of Colombo, played a crucial role in preventing an escalation of the crisis and in calling for the truth behind the bombings to be known. Like the prophets in the biblical tradition, he is increasingly powerful in speaking truth to the rulers, even truths they do not wish to hear.

Events such as the Easter bombing, and now this latest incident, give the impression of security failure that is detrimental to the country’s internal communal harmony and to the international image of the country as a peaceful and secure one for both investment and tourism. Sri Lanka is yet to emerge from the thrall of nationalist politics, and its falsehoods and violence, where political leaders make deliberate and purposeful use of communal differences to win votes and come to power.  They have succeeded time and again in this dastardly practice, but with it the country has failed to reach its full potential time and again.  The costs have been unbearable, whether in terms of lives lost, properties destroyed and economic growth stymied.  Sri Lanka has one of the largest standing armies in the world, with the number of its military personnel being five times larger than that of Australia, though the populations of both countries are about the same.  This means economic resources being taken away from development purposes.

The historic task for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the government is to make a shift away from a mindset that emphasises the interests of the ethnic majority and national security being the preserve of the security forces to a new mindset that includes the ethnic minority and sees human security and wellbeing as the country’s need. The Sri Lankan state needs to consider all its people as citizens with equal rights, and not as ethnic majorities and ethnic minorities to be treated differently.  And it needs to give priority to human security and wellbeing where gas cylinders do not explode and people have food and education at affordable prices. Both religious leaders and political leaders need to come up with an ideology of the wellbeing of all in which solutions that are beneficial to all are found, where basic needs of all are met, and there is no divide and rule, which is a recipe for long term failure.

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