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Midweek Review

Oslo pullout, new Geneva resolution and origins of terrorism (part 1)

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Norwegian Ambassador in Colombo Trine Jøranli Eskedal

” Norway will never forget how LTTE influenced the worst ever act of terrorism on its soil. Far right Norwegian Andres Breivik, 32, responsible for the July 22, 2011 massacre of 77 persons, mostly teenagers in two successive attacks in Norway was inspired by the LTTE. A few hours before, Breivik went on the rampage, he made reference to the LTTE’s eviction of the Muslim community from the Northern Province in Oct/Nov 1990, in his so-called manifesto released online. The following are the references (1) Pro-Sri Lanka (supports the deportation of all Muslims from Sri Lanka) (Page 1235) and (2) Fourth Generation War is normally characterized by a ‘stateless’ entity fighting a state or regime (the EUSSR). Fighting can be physically such as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to use a modern example. (Page 1479). Perhaps, Sri Lanka should ask for an international inquiry. One of Sri Lanka’s foremost diplomats Jayantha Dhanapala appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2010 stressed the accountability on the part of foreign governments. The then Mahinda Rajapaksa government probably blinded by unfathomable victory was not bothered. It only sought political advantage of the developments even at the expense of Sri Lanka.”

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Norway on Sept 09 announced that its diplomatic mission in Colombo will be closed at the end of July 2023. The Norwegian Embassy in Colombo declared that this would be among five diplomatic missions to be closed as part of the planned structural reforms in its network of diplomatic missions. The Embassy didn’t mention the other diplomatic missions facing closure.

Norway established a diplomatic mission here in 1996 during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s presidency. The setting up of that mission was primarily to facilitate negotiations between Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The establishment of the Colombo mission took place in the wake of the military consolidating its position in the Jaffna peninsula. Jaffna town was brought under government control in early Dec 1995.

The signing of the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in Feb 2002 can be considered the highpoint of the Norwegian intervention here that allowed the LTTE to expand its sphere of influence. Who really drafted the CFA? Did the then top Norwegian negotiator Erik Solheim draft it as he claimed in an interview with the late Kumar Rupesinghe? Whatever the circumstances, the CFA certainly didn’t take into consideration concerns of the military.

However, the Norwegian Embassy made available the Norwegian Foreign Ministry press release that dealt with the proposed closure of some diplomatic missions. Accordingly, the diplomatic missions in Slovakia, Kosovo and Sri Lanka and the Embassy office in Madagascar and the Consulate General in Houston, Texas, are to be closed. It would be pertinent to mention that Norway established a diplomatic mission in Slovakia in Sept. 2004, just a year after Slovakia moved out of the Czechoslovakian Federation and in Kosovo four years later. NATO member Norway participated in large scale air offensive to drive out Serbian forces from Kosovo-Norway set up Embassy office in Madagascar in 2004 and the Houston ‘mission’ back in 1977.

The closure of the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo should be also examined against the backdrop of cash- strapped Sri Lanka closing down our missions in Norway and Iraq and the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia, early this year.

Norway has thrown its weight behind a new six-page draft resolution before the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, (UNHRC) handed in by the UK. The UK leads Sri Lanka Core Chairs and the resolution is widely regarded as the strongest since the successful conclusion of the war against the LTTE in May 2009.

A vote on this new resolution is due before the sessions end on October 7. Sessions commenced on Sept 12.

The resolution is co-sponsored by the United States, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the latest resolution is irrelevant. Therefore, another heavy defeat at the UNHRC is quite possible. But, Sri Lanka conveniently failed so far to set the record straight in Geneva and at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Successive governments allowed Geneva to dictate terms by failing to present Sri Lanka’s case. The incumbent government is no exception.

Oslo has announced the termination of its mission here over a decade after the eradication of the LTTE’s conventional military capability. Had the Western sinister project succeeded, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. The CFA allowed the LTTE freedom to operate in the Northern and Eastern Province as it did away with restrictions placed on Tiger armed cadres entering government-held areas. The Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that was empowered to oversee the Ceasefire Agreement, continued to mollycoddle the LTTE in spite of a spate of blatant CFA violations by the Tigers.

In the wake of the then treacherous UNP government exposing the covert intelligence operation carried out by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) behind enemy lines, the LTTE went after its operatives with a vengeance. The Norwegians went to the extent of providing funding to the LTTE and its front organizations, much to the dismay of those who really believed in a genuine effort to bring peace.

The Norwegian funding continued even after the LTTE quit the negotiating table in late April 2003. There had never been a proper examination of the Norwegian intervention here though Norway funded the costly joint study undertaken by Gunnar Sorbo of the Chr. Michelsens Institute (CMI) and Jonathan Goodhand of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Their report titled Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, released in September 2011 made specific reference to the SLMM, having accessibility to best possible intelligence.

High profile Oslo project

According to the report, the SLMM received intelligence from both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and India’s premier intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Thanks to NATO and India, those running the peace process couldn’t have been unaware of the LTTE’s rapid preparations for war. Norway received NATO support as a member of the military alliance (Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka 1997-2009, page 100).

The Norwegian study quoted the then SLMM head as having said that RAW only reached them through informal channels, therefore they couldn’t be fully trusted. “They weren’t giving it to us to be nice. We would always ask ourselves why they want us to know this. Intelligence provided by NATO only confirmed what they already knew”, the SLMM chief was quoted as having said.

The RAW destabilized Sri Lanka to such an extent, beginning with the election of J.R. Jayewardene, because of his overt tilt to the West, Sri Lanka was compelled to transform its ceremonial army into a lethal fighting force.

But, those who had been pursuing hostile agenda against us in Geneva quite conveniently forget how major powers ruined Sri Lanka by sponsoring, particularly the LTTE terrorism, and also giving them a free hand. Can the so-called leader of the Core Group, the UK, absolve itself of the responsibility for promoting terrorism here? The UK allowed LTTE’s International Secretariat to propagate the war against a Commonwealth country from London, granted citizenship to the late Anton Balasingham who advised Prabhakaran on terror project and even allowed secret talks therein between the LTTE theoretician and top Norwegian diplomats in the wake of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar’s assassination by the Tigers. The UK has also given refuge to his wife Adele despite her having nourished Tamil young girls to take up violence. She was photographed donning cyanide capsules around the necks of such girls as they passed out after training.

The LTTE assassinated Kadirgamar on Aug 12, 2005, while the CFA, supervised by Scandinavian countries, was in operation. On April 25, 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the Army headquarters. On Oct 01, 2006, the LTTE made an abortive bid to assassinate Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa near Piththala junction, Kollupitiya. The Norwegians and Peace Co-Chairs comprising the US, Japan and the EU remained inactive. The LTTE continued to advance its project. The CFA didn’t prevent the LTTE from unloading ship loads of armaments or carrying out high profile assassinations.

The Norwegian role should be examined taking into consideration the Japanese involvement in the peace initiative.

Dr. John Gooneratne, who had been with the government Peace Secretariat from its inception in January 2002 to May 2006, explained serious shortcomings in the CFA over a year after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Appearing before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on September 15, 2010, Dr. Gooneratne revealed that four key matters proposed by the government weren’t included in the CFA. (A) There had been no reference to the requirement to use the CFA to pave the way for talks to find a negotiated settlement. (B) Specific reference to the prohibition of unlawful importation of arms, ammunition and equipment was not included. (C) Although the LTTE was allowed to engage in ‘political work’ in government controlled areas, other political parties weren’t given access to areas under the LTTE control (D) Forcible conscription of personnel to the LTTE’s fighting cadre, too, was not added to the list of prohibited activities.

Dr. Gooneratne, a veteran career diplomat, faulted the then UNP government as well as the Norwegians for being hasty in their approach. Dr. Gooneratne said: “What lessons can we learn from this experience? Firstly, negotiating on such security and military matters should have been a more inclusive format than by just the party in power. Secondly, in negotiating documents, such as the CFA, thoroughness should be the standard, and not just the speed.”

The CFA created an environment that allowed the LTTE to exploit the situation. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in his book ‘Road to Nanthikadal’ launched in 2016 dealt with the CFA and how the LTTE abused and misused it. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative in Geneva, former The Island columnist and prolific writer C.A. Chandraprema, in his book ‘Gota’s War’, too, dealt with the Norwegian role here. But, those who really desired to know about the Norwegian project should definitely peruse ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lankan Peace Process.’

Career diplomat Dr. Chanaka Thalpahewa had dared to go the whole hog and lucidly explain the Oslo initiative harmful to Sri Lanka.

The Norwegians had been careless, extremely reckless. There cannot be a better example than importing radio equipment in agreement with the then government that bent backwards to appease the LTTE. The then Norwegian Ambassador Jon Westborg earned the wrath of some Opposition political parties as well as Sinhala nationalist groups for directly playing a role. The political leadership tried to underscore the importation of state-of-the-art radio equipment by the Norwegian Embassy in agreement with the Peace Secretariat though all knew it was a political decision. CFA time Defence Secretary and one of those who negotiated with the LTTE Austin Fernando’s ‘My Belly is White’ launched in January 2008 at the height of the war, too, is a must read.

UNHRC, GTF silent on India’s accountability

The Island in its Sept 19, 2022 edition (both print and online) carried a statement issued by the UK-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF). The TNA’s partner called for a strong new resolution on Sri Lanka that reflected the recommendations of the High Commissioner’s Report. Having demanded punitive action against Sri Lanka, the GTF thanked India for backing their cause at the UNHRC. The GTF and the UNHRC owed an explanation whether they wanted to leave India out of the proposed investigations.

Can accountability pertaining to the Sri Lanka conflict be examined by turning a blind eye to Indian intervention here, ranging from sponsoring of terrorist groups, atrocities perpetrated by the Indian Army that prompted the LTTE to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi and the sea borne raid on the Maldives carried out by Indian trained PLOTE terrorists and the killing of TULF’s Jaffna MPs by TELO at the behest of RAW?

The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report called on Sri Lanka to ‘re-launch a comprehensive, victim-centred strategy on Transitional Justice and accountability, to establish credible truth seeking mechanism and ad hoc special court’. Obviously, UNHRC and GTF are in a dilemma. India lost well over 1,000 officers and men here while approximately 3,000 others received injuries, some maimed for life.

Instead of opposing Geneva led investigations, Sri Lanka should request for a wider probe to establish how foreign support allowed the LTTE to wage war for nearly three decades and to ascertain the origins of terrorism.

The incumbent government should publicly ask those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part to explain why the predominantly Tamil speaking northern and eastern electorates overwhelmingly voted for General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential poll after repeatedly accusing he and his Army of committing war crimes and how the TNA should be dealt with for recognizing the LTTE in late 2001 as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people. Those who are skeptical about alleged TNA-LTTE links should peruse the European Union Election Observation Mission report on the April 2004 general election. The EU explained how the TNA secured 22 seats at that poll with the direct help from the LTTE by stuffing ballot boxes in areas controlled by it. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka never bothered to raise these issues thereby allowed those pursuing extremely hostile agenda to humiliate the country.

Should the TNA be accountable for atrocities committed by the LTTE after their recognition of the organization as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people? Perhaps, the TNA and the very vociferous Tamil Diaspora should be asked to prove that they at least requested the LTTE not to take cover behind civilians and hold them as a human shield after the combined armed forces pushed the LTTE fighting forces across the A9 to the Mullaitivu coast by April- May 2009.

The role of the Sri Lankan Church, too, should be probed. There cannot be any justification in leaving the Church out if Geneva wants to establish the truth.

Can the proposed Truth Seeking Mechanism refrain from inquiring into the deaths of Sri Lankan Tamils in the hands of Indian law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination? How many died? What were their identities? Do they still remain in the missing persons lists? Perhaps, the female LTTE cadre who committed suicide in the process of blowing up Gandhi may still be categorized as a missing person. Would it be possible to identify those PLOTE cadres killed by the Indian Navy on the high seas as they fled the Maldives in early Nov 1989 following the abortive bid to assassinate the then President of that island nation?

However, the writer has no dispute with the GTF’s call for thorough investigation into corruption accusations and action against all those responsible regardless of their standing in society.

Foreign passport holders

For want of Western governments’ support, thousands of people, categorized as dead/missing, live abroad under assumed identities. Sri Lanka never succeeded in securing their cooperation as they hid the real identities of thousands of Sri Lankans issued with new passports. How many Sri Lankans have received foreign passports over the past 30 years, particularly since 2009? The missing persons issue must be examined taking into consideration the rapid expansion of the Tamil Diaspora and their capacity to influence major political parties in Western countries, where they now reside.

Take the case of newly elected Norwegian lawmaker of Sri Lankan origin Khamshajiny (Kamzy) Gunaratnam, who reached Norway in 1991. Her family fled Sri Lanka in the wake of the Indian Army withdrawal and was lucky to end up in Norway. India ended itse military mission in March 1990 with then President Ranasinghe Premadasa showing them the door. The LTTE assassinated Gandhi just over a year later. Another high profile case is the ex-LTTE terrorist Antonythasan Jesuthasan receiving an opportunity to play the lead role in notable French Director Jacques Audiard’s award-winning Dheepan (2015). Jesuthasan, too, may be on some missing persons list.

The much-touted Geneva investigation should ascertain the actual number of Sri Lankans living abroad under assumed names. No less a person than Ranil Wickremesinghe when he served as the Premier of a previous government denied the state holding any Tamils in any secret location other than those held officially in jails.



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Midweek Review

Schoolchildren gather at a House on fire with shocking revelations

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Primary students visiting Parliament on Dec 01 (pics courtesy Parliament)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Narendra Fernando, Sergeant-at-Arms of the crisis-ridden Parliament, has declared that the largest number of students, in the post-independence era, visited the House on Thursday (Dec. 01).

Director, Legislative Services, Janakantha Silva, who is also the Acting Director of Communication, quoted Fernando as having said that approximately 5,000 students, from 32 schools, received permission to visit Parliament on that day. The top official was further quoted as having said that was a world record.

According to the statement, issued by Parliament, last Thursday, since the re-opening of Parliament for students on Sept, 19, 2022, the House received over 25,000 schoolchildren. Declaring that schoolchildren have been allowed, as per a decision taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, the Parliament appreciated the support extended by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance Minister, for the initiative taken by the House.

President Wickremesinghe has also assured funds required to provide a free glass of milk for each school child, visiting Parliament from next month. The House declared that this move received the blessings of both the government and the Opposition.

The government and Opposition owed an explanation as to what they really expected to achieve by allowing schoolchildren to observe parliamentary and at times unparliamentary debates. The conduct of members of Parliament has deteriorated, over the years, to such an extent, the media, on several occasions, questioned why schoolchildren were exposed to the utterly disgraceful conduct of the people’s uncouth elected members.

The day after the statement, issued by the Serjeant-at-Arms, a clash between Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and State Wildlife Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake proved again that the Parliament is certainly not suitable for schoolchildren. The exchange, triggered by the war-winning Army Commander’s disparaging comment on the Digamadulla District lawmaker, over the controversial digging of trenches, underscored the appalling status.

The Gampaha District Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP earned the wrath of Wimalaweera Dissanayake for being harshly critical of digging trenches at the latter’s behest to thwart marauding wild elephants causing havoc in peasant homesteads. Fonseka’s declaration that the State Minister’s strategy was foolish enraged the State Minister who called the five- star General Kalawedda (pole cat), Vel Vidane (a somewhat demeaning and distorted translation with not even a hint of military prowess of the term Field Marshal), etc.

How many schoolchildren had been in the gallery when the war-winning General was abused in such a manner because of his own provocation of a self-made man? Wimalaweera Dissanayake has even earned a university degree, through sheer personal perseverance, amidst much adversity. The insinuation by the Field Marshal that the digging of trenches is a ruse to carry out sand mining at an unprecedented scale cannot be ignored. Though in this particular instance cited, it may not have been the case, knowing Dissanayake’s true character. But the crux of the matter is that in a ‘land like no other’ whether anything can be done without the powers that be making money in such usual instances. How many schoolchildren witnessed the exchange between lawmakers Fonseka and Wimalaweera Dissanayake?

Safi Nagar affair

Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena at the launch of Punchi Dupathe Kurulu Kathandaraya. Chief of Staff and Deputy Secretary General of the Parliament, Mrs. Kushani Rohanadeera, is next to the Speaker

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s attack on Environment Minister Nazeer Ahamed, also on Friday, over Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) authorization of a massive sand mining racket in Safi Nagar, in the East, exposed corruption from the highest level to the lowest rung in this vital government institution. The accusations were justified on the basis of a letter Secretary, Environment Ministry, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, has written to Director General, GSMB, Sajjana de Silva, late last month, demanding an explanation, within 14 days, regarding the issuance of an illegal permit for sand mining in Safi Nagar, in the Muttur electorate.

Those schoolchildren, visiting Parliament, must have got a firsthand opportunity to hear how politicians and officials abused their authority. The scale of corruption must have shocked them. Parliament should be ashamed of what is continuing to happen in this bankrupt country.

Environment Minister Nazeer Ahamed never disputed the shocking revelation that GSMB Chairman Dr. Senarath Hewage Prasad Manjula, as the head of a private mining company, called Uptown Ventures, had received a mining license. Manjula has received the appointment, as GSMB Chairman, in Feb. 2022, after the sacking of Prof. Anura Walpola under controversial circumstances.

Before further discussing the happenings, in Parliament, on Friday, let me recall what Manjula’s predecessor, Prof. Walpola, told Pamodi Waravita of ‘The Morning’, in an exclusive interview carried in its online edition, on March 02, 2022. The story, headlined ‘Removed GSMB Chair levels allegations against GSMB DG’, the writer dealt with the circumstances leading to Sajjana de Silva’s appointment as Director General of GSMB. Accordingly, Sajjana de Silva has received the appointment as DG during the Covid-19 lockdown, on the basis of his seniority.

Prof. Walpola has explained that the GSMB board made the appointment, on a temporary basis, as it couldn’t physically meet, due to the Covid-19 lockdown. Sajjana de Silva filled the vacancy created with the retirement of the person who served in that position. The new appointment took effect in March 2020. Walpola is on record as having said that when the GSMB board physically met in June 2020, Sajjana de Silva’s appointment was rejected. However, the DG produced a letter he had received from then Environment Minister S.M. Chandrasena that confirmed his appointment.

Prof. Walpola, who received appointment as Chairman, GSMB, in Dec. 2019, claimed that at the time Sajjana de Silva obtained confirmation he was under investigation by the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID).

In spite of a spate of complaints against the new DG, the Ministry refrained from taking action against him. Prof. Walpola was quoted as having alleged that the DG had the backing of six GSMB personnel, under investigation.

Perhaps, the most interesting disclosure, made by Prof. Walpola, was the issuance of a license to his successor, Prasad Manjula, by DG Sajjana de Silva, contrary to the Mines and Mineral Act. Obviously, the then Environment Minister, the incumbent Minister as well as successive Ministry Secretaries, chose to turn a blind eye.

It would be pertinent to stress that Prof. Walpola lost the chairmanship, of this vital state enterprise, less than two weeks before the GSMB board was to appear before the parliamentary watchdog committee.

Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) lawmaker Shanakiyan Rasamanickam first raised the issue at hand at a COPE meeting, on February 23, 2020. The Batticaloa District MP questioned the rationale behind accommodating the proprietor of a mining company as the Chairman of GSMB. Obviously, the COPE lacked the power to intervene. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration not only allowed the illegal transaction but also protected the wrongdoers.

Friday’s attacks on the government, over the Safi Nagar affair, should be examined against the backdrop of a despicable project that placed the GSMB in the hands of a person who had been engaged in large scale sand mining.

Those who allowed schoolchildren to observe parliamentary proceedings should be aware the Parliament has nothing to offer except educate them on unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement.

 Joint attack on Nazeer

Statements made by JVP leader Dissanayake, TNA MP Rasamanickam, and SJB MP Ajith Mannapperuma, as regards the Safi Nagar, bared an unbelievable state of affairs. The Parliament dealt with the matter, during the committee stage debate with the JVP, TNA and SJB, demanding why Minister Ahamed protected the culprits. The JVPer largely based his criticism on Dr. Jasinghe’s no nonsense letter, that demanded a plausible explanation, within 14 days.

Having contested the last general election, on the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) ticket, in August 2020, Deputy Leader of that party Ahamed, an engineer by profession, at the onset of the unprecedented political turmoil, switched his allegiance, in April 2022, to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Ahamed simply ignored party leader Rauf Hakeem warning of disciplinary action for what he called breach of party discipline.

With the advent of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, as the President, in July, the Batticaloa District MP received the environment portfolio. Ahamed seems to have so far stood by the GSMB operation. However, Dr. Jasinghe’s missive to DG, GSMB suggested that the Environment Ministry finally responded to continuing criticism over the Safi Nagar affair.

Both print, electronic, including social media, continuously attacked the government over the inordinate delay in taking action against both the DG and Chairman of GSMB. ‘Hiru’ spearheaded the media campaign with aggressive coverage of the developments continuously, until the damaging disclosure in Parliament on Friday.

Lawmaker Dissanayake asked why Uptown Ventures was granted a license to engage in sand mining, in state land, in a clear case of conflict of interest and regardless of a proposal made by another party. The MP has taken up the issue against the backdrop of Dr. Jasinghe’s allegation that DG, GSMB, discredited and abused his position.

MP Rasamanickam declared in Parliament that GSMB Chairman was the person who secured the license to remove 100,000 cubes of sand from Safi Nagar. The MP questioned how an official, who is supposed to ensure transparency and legality in sand mining, received a license for the same? The TNA representative declared his readiness to face any legal challenge. Declaring he had the required evidence to prove his accusations, MP Rasamanickam alleged the DG, GSMB, is responsible for all corrupt activities therein.

The Batticaloa District MP said that if necessary he would call an international press briefing regarding Minister Ahamed’s failure to act on the letter issued by Dr. Jasinghe, to DG, at the centre of the whole sordid deal. The TNA representative demanded the immediate interdiction of the official while warning of consequences in case his demand was not met.

At the onset of his statement, lawmaker Dissanayake asked Minister Ahamed to clarify Sajjana de Silva’s status. Responding to the JVPer’s query, Minister Ahmed said that though being appointed in an acting capacity, Sajjana De Silva has been confirmed in his position.

MP Dissanayake said: Sajjana de Silva received the appointment during S.M. Chandrasena’s tenure as the Environment Minister. The appointment didn’t have the required approval from the management committee of GSMB.

Minister S.M. Chandrasena: At the time, Sajjana de Silva was granted an acting appointment, he headed the seniority list.

MP Dissanayake: At the very beginning, I clarified this matter. I sought and obtained the status of the GSMB official. Though you said Sajjana de Silva was granted an acting appointment, your letter of appointment didn’t say so.

The Parliament was told how a license obtained by Uptown Ventures for the cultivation of chilies, in 3,000 acres of land, permitted the enterprise to engage in large scale sand mining. The project received government sanction for mining of 5,000 cubes of sand, on a monthly basis. The House was asked how the proprietor of Uptown Ventures ended up as Chairman of GSMB. The JVPer pointed out the absurdity in the GSMB Chairman’s defence that he was no longer the head of that venture. But, at the time the illegal sand mining took place, at Safi Nagar, Senarath Hewage Prasad Manjula-led Uptown Ventures, the JVPer declared, reiterating accusations pertaining to the Safi Nagar project.

Pointing out that Dr. Jasinghe’s report identified the GSMB Chairman as one of the persons involved in the corrupt transaction, MP Dissanayake declared the direct involvement of the political leadership in the Safi Nagar operation. Those responsible had been exposed and were now naked before the public. SJB MP Ajith Mannapperuma chided Minister Ahamed for remaining silent. Urging the Minister to come clean, the Gampaha District MP asked why he remained silent when such serious accusations were made against the two top officials of the GSMB. The former UNP MP asked whether Minister Ahamed lacked the backbone to set the record straight.

Minister Ahamed said that as regards DG, GSMB, the Ministry had already issued a charge sheet and that action was in progress. “Likewise, the Chairman’s issue with regard to Safi Nagar, complaint has been lodged with the CID, and the Auditor General Department is evaluating the whole thing. The report will be submitted. Once that is done, necessary action will be taken as per the advice given by all those institutions”, the Minister said.

Dissident SLPP MP Weerasumana Weerasinghe said that there was no need to await the Attorney General’s opinion to take action in respect of repeated disclosure made by ‘Hiru.’ The outspoken Communist Party representative said that Environment Secretary Dr. Jasinghe’s missive to the DG, GSMB, was more than sufficient to take punitive action against the culprits.

Having asked whether Secretary to the President, Saman Ekanayake, was present in Parliament, lawmaker Weerasinghe said there was no point in making grandiose statements at COP27 if the government could not take punitive measures against errant officials. The MP was referring to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, more commonly referred to as COP27, held in Egypt last month. Weerasinghe asked Ahamed whether he chose to safeguard the ministerial portfolio or would handle the issue without fear or favour.

NDI funds House project

Amidst continuing political-economic-social crisis caused by failure on the part of the executive, legislature and judiciary to address issues at hand, the Parliament has launched a new project to educate primary school students. With the financial backing of the National Democratic Institute, the Parliament has launched ‘Punchi Dupathe Kurulu Kathandaraya,’ in Sinhala, Tamil and English to educate those who have even reached their teens of what the Parliament hadn’t called representative democracy.

The book launch took place at the children’s section of the Colombo Public Library with the participation of Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena. What really Parliament and NDI hoped to achieve by educating primary students is not clear. Likewise, ongoing efforts to set up ‘parliaments’ at schools, introduce electronic voting et al at a time Parliament failed in its mandatory responsibilities, such as public finance and enactment of laws, may not help restore public confidence in the political party system. Those struggling to make ends meet, as a result of the economic ruination, may be flabbergasted if they hear of silly projects undertaken by Parliament, using meagre resources at a time of unprecedented economic turmoil. May be that money could be better utilized to improve nutritional level of our schoolchildren.

Washington headquartered NDI operates in many countries through its partners and the operation here is no exception. Funded by the US taxpayer as well as other international sources propagating Western values, the NDI project should be examined against the backdrop of a range of US initiatives here. The controversial US role at the 2010 presidential election is a case in point. The US backing for war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, at that election, is not a secret, thanks to Wikileaks revelations.

Remember, the USAID funded USD 13 mn (Rs 1.92 bn) project to enhance democracy, transparency and accountability in 2016. That three-year project was launched in the wake of the Central Bank bond scams, perpetrated in Feb. 2015 and March 2016. Did that high profile initiative produce desired results? Seven years after that US initiative and scores of other projects undertaken by successive governments and NGOs, Sri Lanka has ‘achieved’ bankruptcy status.

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Midweek Review

Why social science viewpoints are necessary for addressing multistranded crisis in Sri Lanka

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by Kalinga Tudor Silva

The current crisis in Sri Lanka is multi-faceted with economic, political, and social aspects impinging on one another. The economic and political crises are the ones that are more visible as reflected in queues, scarcities, and mass mobilisations against the ruling establishments, issues that demand urgent attention and action. Underlying these seemingly fire-fighting emergencies are the need for understanding the root causes of the multi-stranded maladies, the need for preventive action based on sound policies and socially sensitive and well-informed crisis intervention strategies that are driven by objectively assessed actual needs of affected people and the resources available to tackle them rather than political motivations driven by short-term gains of one kind or another for the decision makers at the top and the need to accommodate those in the inner ring as against the competent personnel who may be more capable of addressing the actual needs on the ground by virtue of their skills and training. Social Sciences inclusive of Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Psychology, Education, Demography, Geography, Management, Law, and Social Work must be utilized in full and appropriate transdisciplinary blends in identifying and implementing required preventive action and immediate crisis responses in order to make sure that we will see the end of the crises at hand, do not remain entangled in them forever and better prepared when the next crisis hits us.

If there is any lesson to be learnt from the ongoing stalemate, it is that decision making at the level of policy formulation in matters such as development, public finance, local or foreign investments, technology transfers, governance, environmental conservation and economic recovery, must involve not only the elected leaders and the designated officials who may be largely guided by common sense understanding of issues and exigencies within the systems in which they operate, including demands by diverse stakeholders such as those with vested interests, but also experts in relevant fields with a proven track record, analytical skills, intellectual integrity, autonomy and a capacity to stay above the competing pressures from diverse stakeholders in order to pursue common good and the needs of future generations (e.g. climate justice, need to safeguard the commons) as against the urgent needs of those currently preoccupied with accessing the scarce resources available. Social Sciences have the knowledge base required to sort out matters and guide crisis responses and policy directives and also a capacity to generate suitable new knowledge where the existing body of knowledge is inadequate.

Economics and related disciplines including Business Studies and Management must be deployed to understand and respond to the escalating debt crisis, rebuilding of foreign currency reserves, overcoming commodity scarcities and more careful and rational administration of public funds. Rebuilding legitimacy of the state, cleaning up the political process, enhancing public accountability and broadening parameters of democratic participation to include youth, women, professional groups and disadvantaged social groups require critical inputs from Political Science, History, Sociology, Demography and Public Administration. Responding to the unfolding social crisis inclusive of unemployment, indebtedness, bankruptcies, overseas labour migration, social tension, malnutrition, depression, suicide attempts, substance use and crime calls for variety of expertise from a range of disciplines such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Law and Public Health. While none of these disciplines will have ready made quick fixes to the complex problems the country is facing at present, we must realise that the problems at hand cannot be tackled by handpicked ‘yes’ men with no sound understanding of the issues involved.

Mechanisms for Harnessing Social Sciences

Different countries follow different modalities to harness Social Sciences for national development. For instance, publicly funded state institutions such as the Social Science Research Councils consisting of leading scholars in each field are used in countries like USA, UK, India, and the Philippines to support independent social research by eminent scholars on priority global/national issues and help establish a valid evidence base to be used in scientific as well as public discourses. Social Science think tanks are also set up and mobilised by the universities, foundations, civil society organisations or even political parties for advocacy and decision-making purposes. For instance, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is one such think tank committed to global peace and sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation in the US. Similarly, the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation in Germany is linked to the Christian Democratic Union (centre-right), and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation is affiliated with the Social Democratic Party (centre-left). In these instances, the respective social science think tanks may be influenced by ideologies, and particular political agendas, but there is a clear recognition of the perspectives and positions from which they make a case one way or the other and this may influence the application of the relevant ideas by the specific actors. It must be mentioned here that the relevant think tanks serve to not just reiterate and justify the actions of the respective political parties, but also change and reorient them in line with available evidence about the changing circumstances.

The absence of any credible mechanism to support and utilise Social Sciences in socially relevant ways exploring their full potential must be identified as an important factor contributing to the larger social crisis currently unfolding in Sri Lanka. Against this background, there are vastly different rhetorical and largely unsubstantiated claims about vital issues such as incidence of poverty and malnutrition, educational disruption, suicides and the patterns and the extent of substance abuse in the country with neither the state nor civil society seeking to establish valid and reliable data bases that help monitor the relevant outcomes as against the policies and interventions pursued. Instead of recognizing and addressing social issues, injustices of one kind or another and social grievances fueled by unemployment, hopelessness and sense of disadvantage to be countered deploying appropriate social policies, the overwhelming tendency has been to resort to arbitrary action, violence, state repression and outright manipulation in response to episodic waves of social resistance by avalanches of disaffected people in the north and the south. This has not resulted in long-term peace and stability or lasting development in the country as we know very well at this point in time. This is why required Social Science inputs are absolutely necessary for identifying and addressing the bottlenecks and real issues in society.

Towards Socially Responsible and Publicly Accountable Research and Public Action

In Sri Lanka the expanding Social Science community should strive towards addressing issues of vital public interest in their research, advocacy, and dissemination of study results in whatever fora available. The policy failures we have repeatedly seen in Sri Lanka are largely due to the failure of the people in power to recognise potential contributions from sciences in general, including Social Sciences and the failure of the scientists to come forward and exert their due influence through advocacy and public debates in mass media and social media. Many of the social issues swelling up from the ground level go undetected or under detected until they explode after reaching a crisis level as there are no trained social workers, counsellors or other actors providing care and guidance in establishments such as universities, schools, workplaces or even institutions like prisons, drug rehabilitation centres, elderly homes, or services catering to international migrant workers.

Absence of any public institutions that systematically collect, disseminate, and analyse social data and conduct public opinion polls have added to the volatility of the situation. Traditional support mechanisms through family and kinship alliances, neighbourhood associations, charity and philanthropy or even religious institutions have been undermined due to the ongoing processes of social transformation and they have not been replaced by a cadre of well-trained professional care givers with adequate resources available to the people concerned. The result is accumulation of grievances on a massive scale feeding into mass protests and social tsunamis of one kind or another. While economic recovery and social stabilisation clearly need appropriate social policies and programmes, addressing larger issues of social injustice and clearing obstacles for upward social mobility in ways to be identified through applied social research, trained social scientists such as social workers can also play a useful role in providing social care to supplement and strengthen existing social support mechanisms that help people cope with diverse problems they face.

There is also a clear need for the Sri Lankan Social Science community in and outside the country to forge alliances and collaborations, come forward to reflect on, comprehend and respond to the multistranded and multilayered crisis at hand and contribute towards expanding the frontiers of knowledge in the relevant fields in terms of addressing the vexed problems confronting all of us. This may require not only new approaches to overcome the economic and other obstacles the country is facing, new ways of practicing our disciplines and innovative educational initiatives where the teachers and students are pushed towards finding viable and effective remedies for the problems at hand. The existing body of Social Science knowledge may not have all the answers to the problems we are facing but this is where new knowledge and innovative remedies must be identified, introduced, and assessed.

While resource limitations and unsettled conditions in the country may pose serious challenges for social research in Sri Lanka presently, we must bear in mind that some of the key advances in Social Sciences were made in post-war Europe and North America and more recently post-Apartheid South Africa in situations not dissimilar to what we are going through at present. Knowledge production for understanding the world around us as well as knowledge production for tackling urgent human problems remain within the remit of Social Sciences in diverse fields ranging from Applied Economics to Applied Anthropology. With a long history of cultural heritage and established scholarship, democratic governance firmly established despite numerous challenges and reversals throughout the post-independence period and a rich heritage of biodiversity and cultural unity and diversity, a considerable repair work must be done, and we should all come forward to think ahead and outside the box to address the mounting challenges we face as a country. Social Science thinking must pave the way for forward looking social policies on the part of state agencies as well as progressive social movements geared to democratic reforms, broad-based development of a sustainable nature, and rational and optimum use of public resources in publicly accountable ways for advancing the common interests of all citizens in the country,

(This essay was initially published as the editorial of the Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences Volume 45, Number 1 published by the National Science Foundation of Sri Lanka on December 5, 2022).

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Midweek Review

Of Books and Guns

Published

on

poor-village-school

By Lynn Ockersz

In the fabled Isle,

Said to have been blessed,

With all things elevating,

No sleep is lost now,

On which comes first,

‘Bread or Guns?’

For, betwixt the safety,

Of the masters of the land,

And the ‘Sambol’ and rice,

Of the toiling subject class,

It’s those wielding heft,

Who decide what comes first,

But now the schools of the poor,

Are also going the way of ‘Bread’,

For, on the drawing boards,

Of the state’s foremost brains,

Education is made to trail Defense,

In another ominous sign,

That the pillars of the welfare state,

Are in a state of collapse,

Allowing the market to freely reign,

With military muscle clearing the decks.

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