By Rohana R. Wasala
A few Buddhist monks who have long been vocal protestors against the activities of a large number of foreign-funded fundamentalist religious groups and a hitherto unheard of, relatively obscure monk by the name of Wedinigama Wimalatissa are embroiled in a violent controversy over the single national list seat won by the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya (AJBP) at the recent parliamentary election. (AJBP did not belong to the monks until a few days before nominations for the election closed. They arranged, apparently, on an ad hoc basis, through some commercial transaction, to contest under this previously registered party.) Wimalatissa Thera is a resident of the Asgiri Vihara monastery in Kandy, involved, as can be guessed from information available in the social media, in some proprietary dispute with the hierarchy there; he is not known to have had any relationship in the past with the aforementioned agitating monks. The visage of the monk that first came out in the media was that of a bearded bounder.
At the time of writing, Wimalatissa is reported to have disappeared amidst the controversy, either gone into hiding, or held hostage by a rival group in some unknown place. But a YouTube journalist tracked him down and interviewed him a couple of days ago. Wimalatissa Thera was/is said to be the Secretary of the AJBP. It is also claimed that he has been replaced by the party’s working committee. He told the journalist that he nominated himself for the seat in order to prevent a clash between two senior monks of the party over it; he claimed he wanted to go to parliament and after a short time relinquish his MP post and handed it over to one of the two senior monks who he thought was more suitable to occupy the seat. Earlier on in the interview, he mentioned the name of the particular monk he had in mind; but he forgot about it towards the end of the interview, where he said he would make way for the other monk who, he said, was more knowledgeable and experienced as he had already been an MP previously.
The two senior monks alluded to here are respectively the well known Gnanasara and Ratana Theras. There appears to be something more than meets the eye here. It is claimed by a prominent lay activist who apparently was among the founders of the AJBP that a Sri Lankan he named who is based in France is directing Wimalatissa to throw the allocation of AJBP’s national seat into crisis as an attack on the monks’ legitimate nationalist cause (of countering the threat posed by certain religious fundamentalist sects, protecting the historical Buddhist archaeological and cultural heritage of the country, and ensuring the survival of the majority Sinhalese in their hallowed homeland of many millennia). Another version is that this is all Ratana Thera’s doing. He is even alleged to have abducted Wimalatissa Thera. Ratana has been in parliament for 15 years (through the previous UPFA and Yahapalana administrations of 2005-19), but he has little to show for it, except his substantial contribution to the ouster of the war winning MR government and thus helped in inflicting the Yahapalana misrule on the just liberated country). In any case the monkeyish buffoonery is a wheels within wheels affair that is bound to reflect very negatively on the whole Maha Sangha, who have historically been required to always face the brunt of enemy attacks on the Buddhist nation. But these squabbling monks (a mixture of good and bad ones) are only a handful out of the total 36,000 who, unfortunately, do not have the united leadership and guidance they can’t do without in these trying times.
The unseemly struggle of a few monks over a parliamentary seat has already left a bad taste in many a mouth among the voting public who have delivered a two-thirds majority victory to the nationalist SLPP alliance led Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa under the overall leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the purpose of implementing their ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ program of economic development as spelt out in the SLPP election manifesto. No better guarantor of the protection of the Buddhist archaeological and cultural heritage of the country and of equitably distributed economic development without any discrimination towards the minorities, than this duo can be imagined at present. But these monks could prove an impediment to the realization of the nation’s dreams.
The fact that only one monk has been elected to the parliament in a country where over 70% of the population are Buddhists shows that they don’t approve of monks doing parliamentary politics. The new government must introduce legislation to ban MP monks. It is respectfully submitted here that the Venerable Maha Nayakes ensure that this is included in the new Constitution.
It is the conviction of the monks and the people led by them that only a strong Sinhala Buddhist leader is capable of providing good governance for all Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities and religious persuasions without discrimination, something explained by Arun Janardhanan of The Indian Express newspaper/August 16, 2020 in these words:
‘A top leader close to the ruling dispensation said poll results means nothing but the fact that Sri Lankan people wanted a strong Sinhala Buddhist leader. “MR (Mahinda) is the most popular, Gota (Gotabaya) is the most powerful (now). They are not racists. Gota knows that development-focused policies alone will save our country, not a racist-ethnic politics. He was working towards that, to improve the economy, he will continue to do that,” the leader said’.
That legitimate hope has just begun to be realised with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President in November last year and the swearing in of the new parliament overwhelmingly supportive of his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is time the monks left them alone to do the needful.
Sunil, your slip is showing!
It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.
To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.
This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.
What a world!
Lydia Rasamani , one among four girls, was the daughter of Sabapathipillai and Rathinamma, of Alaveddy. She was educated in Jaffna, entered into the teaching profession, and qualified as a trained teacher at the Teachers’ Training College, at Palaly. She taught in schools wherever she was appointed, later followed suit at stations where her husband was ministering with the churches.
one among seven siblings, was the son of Maruthappu Thampoe and Rose Nagamma of Sanguvely, in Uduvil, born on 30th August, 1925. Sam was educated at St John’s College, Jaffna, took to teaching as a career at his alma mater. In response to God’s call to ministry, he pursued his theological studies at Serampore College, in Calcutta, and joined the ministry of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, in the year 1955, and was ordained Deacon in 1957.
Lydia Rasamani Sabapathipillai
and Rev Sam Thampoe were joined in Holy Matrimony at Alaveddy Church, in the year, 1957, solemnised by the late Rt Rev Dr Sabapathy Kulandran, bishop in Jaffna. They were blessed with three children- Joyce Suganthy, Daniel Rohan and Noel Suresh, all of whom were born at the Green Memorial Hospital, Manipay, while the parents were serving in Alaveddy, Pungudutivu and Earlalai respectively.
· Alaveddy (1955-1959)
· Pungudutivu (1959-1963)
· Earlalai North and South (1963-1967)
· Delft (1967-1971)
· Navaly (1971-1975)
· Atchuvely (1975-1979)
· Manipay (1979-1983)
· Pandateruppu (and Vaddukoddai) / (1983-1987)
· Chavakachcheri (1987- 1988)
Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe
faithfully served in the above-mentioned parishes of the JDCSI. Lydia played a great role in the ministry of Rev Thampoe in the areas of Pastoral Care, Singing and playing eastern instruments during worship services, Pastoral Visitation to homes of members of the church and communities, leading Church women’s groups in evangelism, ministry and mission, and been a tower of strength as a Pastor’s wife. Lydia, even after the passing of her beloved husband on the 12th September, 1988, while serving the parish of Chavakachcheri, continued to discharge her duties as a mother (and father) towards her children’s progress in life. She migrated to Canada to be with her daughter and family. A few years later, she moved to an Aged Care facility for a long term high care due to her health condition, where she received her ‘Home Call.’
eldest child of Lydia studied at Uduvil Girls College and later joined the academic staff of Uduvil Girls College, proceeded to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at Bharathiyar University in Trichirapalli, India, continued in teaching at UGC while completed her Diploma in Education. She was the Vice-Principal at Uduvil Girls College and upheld the high standard of the school in various aspects. Joyce attended a Summer School at the Institute of Bossey in Switzerland in 1988. She migrated to Canada and married Pastor Ravi Kandiah, and were blessed with four children Priscilla, Jessica, Johnathan and David. Both Ravi and Joyce are actively engaged in Church ministry with a congregation and the four children active in the Church with their parents.
, son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and later worked for a while in the Maldives and later emigrated to Germany. After a few years of waiting, he married Bhamini, the love of his life, in Melbourne, Australia. They are blessed with two sons in Jayden and Shayan. They, in addition to their regular work, are actively supporting the local and Tamil churches in ministry.
the youngest son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and graduated with a first degree at Madras Christian College, obtained his Master’s degree in public administration in the same University. He joined the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI as the Director of Projects, in which he cheerfully served the Church’s Social ministry, managing number of Day Care Centres, Children Homes and Vocational Training Programmes with the paid Staff of these projects, coordinating with Pastors-in Residence. He married Padmini, the love of his life, and is blessed with a daughter Shobi and a son Joshua. In the meantime, he was sent on a scholarship to the University of Birmingham to pursue on Mission and Development studies over a year. His contribution to JDCSI was very much appreciated by everyone in Sri Lanka.
The Pastoral Ministry of the Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe has been well received by the communities wherever they served in their own vocations, well supported by each other. Her children and their spouses have also devoted their lives in God’s vineyard. In the new settings, they continue to witness to Christ in variety of ways.
As the Psalmist prayed:
“Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!”
Another version says:
“You have been our refuge in every generation.”
Yes! It is true in every sense of the word for the “Thampoe Family”. We thank God for them, in particular, for Lydia Rasamani Thampoe, whom God in His time received at the eternal Home.
Joyce: 00111 647 213 1257 (Canada)
Rohan: 61-400 547 120 (Australia)
Suresh: 61-400 131 982 (Australia)
Rev T S Premarajah
Former colleague in ministry in the JDCSI, now in Melbourne, Australia
22 Camira Street
The National Airline: A financial catastrophe in the making!
Delusion appears to be a national affliction in Sri Lanka. When confronted with stark realities, the state consistently refuses to take proactive measures to avert dire consequences. It refers to national liabilities, like the national airline, as national assets. Despite regular doses of life-saving intravenous injections in the form of hard cash by the Treasury, bleeding of the state-owned enterprises continues. The senior management of the national Airline, which has been in deep red for nearly a decade and a half, its employees and trade unions collectively fail to appreciate that the general public cannot continue to pay for its existence.
Recently, a local daily revealed that the national Airline made Rs. 71.8 billion profit for the first four months of 2022 and suffered a loss of Rs. 320.3 billion, including a one-time exchange loss of Rs. 145 billion, during the same period. It added, “as at the end of April 2022, UL had Rs.618.7 bn worth liabilities, including a sovereign guaranteed US$ 175mn international bond.” The irony is that according to the former Minister of Aviation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, SriLankan Airlines had posted Rs. 171 billion (USD 476 million loss in the financial year ending March 2021, while the accumulated losses had reached Rs. 542 billion (USD 1.5 billion). The total liabilities of the Airline were estimated at Rs. 618 billion (USD1.7 billion).
Amid the country’s economic woes, Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan obligations to international lenders in May. With that, SriLankan Airlines too followed suit, which might result in legal action against SriLankan Airlines by aircraft leasing companies, as was Sri Lanka’s recent experience with Aeroflot, the Russian Airline. However, on July 26, the airline reported that it had serviced the interest relating to USD175 million Treasury guaranteed bond due in 2024.
The predicament of SriLankan Airlines is not entirely new. The national Airline has been gasping for breath since its takeover from the Emirates in 2008 and all attempts made to divest the Airline five years ago ended without a positive result. Considering the loss-making behemoth was an asset, the government attempted to identify an investor who would take over the Airline while reserving its right to retain 51 per cent shares of the venture. Several international firms sniffed around but understandably failed to take a bite.
SriLankan Airlines can continue its wayward behaviour as long as the Treasury coughs up millions in foreign currency as it used to do over the years. However, this time around, Treasury itself is in deep trouble and will not be able to come to the rescue of the national airline yet again. That means operations of SriLankan Airlines will grind to a halt soon, which might happen within a few months, not in years.
The national airline will soon be gone as the dodo unless the Finance Ministry, the senior management and the trade unions recognise the dire situation and decide to take proactive action to avoid a financial catastrophe, which Sri Lanka cannot afford.
The danger is that not only SriLankan Airlines would fail but also all operations at the BIA, as ground handling facilities provided to all other airlines are part and parcel of SriLankan Airlines’ operations. With ground handling services coming to a standstill and the computer systems leased by the national Airline ceasing to operate, the airport will not be able to service even other airlines that still fly to Sri Lanka.
Since SriLankan Catering is an independent entity, it may survive the crash. Still, it will not be able to function due to foreign airlines deciding against flying into the country due to a lack of airport facilities and aviation fuel. That will put the last nail on the coffin of the already ailing tourism industry, which brought as much as 4.3 billion US dollars as recent as 2018.
SriLankan Airlines is not the only Airline that has faced similar financial predicaments. Air India, which operated a fleet of over 153 owned and leased aircraft, was also in the red for many years. The Indian government tried various stratagems to sell off the Airline. All those attempts failed, and eventually, it settled all debts amounting to INR 61,000 crore and sold the Airline to the Tata Group for nearly US$ 2.4 billion. It was sweet revenge for Tatas, as it was their Airline, which the government took over in 1953 and eventually returned to them in early 2022, unable to shoulder the mounting burden of losses. In that sense, SriLankan Airlines is an orphan with no home to return to!
Clearly, the Sri Lankan government cannot follow the Indian example, as it does not have the resources to settle Srilankan Airline’s debts before trying to divest the Airline. All it could try to do in the current circumstances is to avoid an uncontrolled nosedive, which would isolate Sri Lanka with a non-functioning international airport, even for a short period.
However, all is not lost, and the government could still take decisive steps to address the situation. However, it has limited time to succeed.
First, it should arrange an urgent study to assess how many weeks or months the national Airline could operate with current finances. By doing so, the government will not repeat its mistake of delaying an intervention by the IMF to save the national economy.
The second measure is, while that study is being carried out, it should put a team consisting of representatives of the national Airline, the Finance Ministry and the AG’s Department to unbundle ground-handling operations from SriLankan Airlines and make it an independent entity like SriLankan Catering Services.
The third measure is to decide how to dissect the national airline so that interested parties could take over operations of its revenue-generating routes.
It is abundantly clear that Sri Lanka will not be able to repeat the performance of India by settling its national airlines’ debt, which is said to be in the region of USD1.7 billion. The newly elected President is fully aware of the ground situation. The question is, will he be allowed to take crucial but unpopular hard decisions in the interest of the national economy?
An economic tsunami affecting the island’s tourism potential is at close range. Already foreign airlines are curtailing their flights to Sri Lanka due to the non-availability of fuel, and SriLankan Airlines is forced to seek the precious commodity outside the country. Should the government wait until the inevitable calamity occurs or prepare in advance to manage the looming disaster? It is time to take hard decisions.
This is a PATHFINDER ALERT of the Pathfinder Foundation. Readers’ comments are welcome at www.pathfinderfoundation.org
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