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Midweek Review

Over a decade after triumph over LTTE, Lanka still troubled by Western agenda

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Prof. G.L. Peiris with colleague, Dinesh Gunawardena at the Foreign Ministry on the day he succeeded the latter (pic courtesy FM)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A reference was made as regards the role played by Japanese Special Envoy Yasushi Akashi in the Norway-led peace process during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s premiership (2001-2003) when Japanese Ambassador in Colombo Akira Sugiyama paid a courtesy call on Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris on August 20.

Having won the Dec 2001 violence- marred parliamentary election, UNP leader Wickremesinghe swiftly signed the one-sided Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Feb 2002, obviously prepared by the Norwegians. Even the country’s Commander-in-Chief the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga was unaware of any of the CFA terms till it was signed. The UNP leader was in such a hurry he didn’t even bother to properly consult the military before the finalisation of the CFA. Wickremesinghe and the late Velupillai Prabhakaran signed the CFA, separately.

Don’t forget the UNPer finalised the so-called peace initiative, launched by Norway, in consultation with the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga. The late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, too, had been involved in that initiative.

What really matters is why former Co-Chairs, having pathetically failed in their high profile project, are now pursuing an agenda targeting Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). What did Sri Lanka do wrong to end up at the UNHRC agenda? Didn’t the US declare UNHRC a cesspit of political bias in June 2018? The then US Ambassador there Nikki Haley declared: “For too long the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abuses and a cesspool of political bias.” By whatever standards, the US is one of the worst serious human rights violators with a murderous record both in and outside the US.

Prof. Peiris, who had served as the Foreign Minister during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term (2010-2015) received the foreign affairs portfolio again during the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

Prof. Peiris succeeded Rohitha Bogollagama, who switched allegiance to Kumaratunga in Nov 2004, having entered Parliament on the UNP ticket. Bogollagama, who successfully handled foreign affairs during Eelam War IV, failed to retain his seat at the 2010 general election from the Colombo District with some of the other UPFA candidates openly ganging up against him on election platforms. He contested Colombo as SLFP Organiser for Kotte, having first entered Parliament in 2000, 2001 (general election due to dissolution caused by a dozen PA MPs switching sides) and finally 2004 from Kurunegala on the UNP ticket. ‘The day Mangala issued a warning to P’karan’ in last Wednesday’s online edition of The Island dealt with how Bogollagama received the foreign affairs portfolio in Feb 2007 in the wake of the unceremonious removal of the late Samaraweera over differences with the Rajapaksas. They differed sharply on the conduct of the military strategy though that was certainly not the only contentious issue. Prof. Peiris was also in the same Cabinet.

Prof. Peiris back at FM

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now brought back the one time top law academic to the Foreign Ministry at the expense of Dinesh Gunawardena, who received the Education Portfolio amidst the simmering controversy over teachers’ salary issue. Switching of portfolios took place on Aug. 16 at the Presidential Secretariat. The President’s Media Division (PMD) refrained from releasing pictures of ministers taking oaths before the President. There hadn’t been a previous instance of the PMD not releasing pictures/video footage.

A Foreign Ministry statement quoted Prof. Peiris as having told Ambassador Sugiyama of what he called valuable contribution made by Akashi, now 90, in the peace negotiations and reference was also made to the Japanese role in the post-war reconciliation process and human rights issues. Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage was also associated with Foreign Minister Peiris at the meeting.

It is a supreme irony that the US that dropped the world’s first two atomic bombs on two highly populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender when it was already virtually on its knees unable to stop the carpet bombing by the US Air Force of the country is now an ally of Washington ready to support whatever the Americans would bid it to do.

Having finished off the LTTE in May 2009, Sri Lanka has been struggling to explain the conduct of its armed forces for having crushed ‘the most ruthless terrorist organisation’ (termed by the American Federal Bureau of Investigation) in conventional battles against the wishes of the self-appointed international community that has committed far worse crimes in an array of countries.

It would be pertinent to mention that during the Wickremesinghe premiership Prof. Peiris served as Sri Lanka’s top negotiator in the Norway-facilitated talks with the LTTE. Japan enjoyed a special status in the Oslo-led peace process that collapsed in April 2003 in the wake of the LTTE quitting the negotiating table. After the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005 and the abortive bid to assassinate the then Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka in late April 2006, fighting erupted in the North and East in August. Had the LTTE succeeded in eliminating the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Dec 2006, the war could have taken a different turn.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. But over a decade after the eradication of terrorism, Sri Lanka remains on politically motivated Geneva agenda with the issue coming up again later this month.

The UNHRC in March this year adopted a new resolution on Sri Lanka. The Resolution 46/1, adopted on March 23, 2021, paved the way for a powerful new accountability process to collect, analyze, and preserve evidence of international crimes committed in Sri Lanka for use in future prosecutions.The so-called Core Group comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia that submitted the resolution received the backing of an overwhelming majority of the 47-member UNHRC. Altogether 22 Human Rights Council members voted for the resolution at the behest of the powerful US/UK, while 11 voted against, and 14 abstained. In spite of the longstanding close relationship between Japan and Sri Lanka, the former abstained. Japan had no alternative but to conveniently abstain as it couldn’t decide on its own on the politically sensitive matter. Japan followed the US vis-a-vis Sri Lanka at the UNHRC though the solitary Super Power quit the organisation. South Korea went a step further by voting for the resolution as Seoul couldn’t ignore US dictate.

Sri Lanka should realise the Comprehensive Partnership the two countries entered into in Oct 2015 (PM Shinzo Abe and Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the agreement in Tokyo) less than a week after the yahapalana administration betrayed the military in Geneva on Oct 1, 2015 didn’t matter as Quad member Japan is politically, economically and security-wise bonded with the US. Remember, how Abe reflected on U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit in 2016 to Hiroshima. The Japanese leader asserted: “The two enemies that fought immensely 71 years ago are now bonded by the heart.”

The ongoing confrontation between China and Quad comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia has brought Sri Lanka under further pressure due to the US-led alliance taking an extremely hostile stand as regards China-Sri Lanka relationship.

Prof. Peiris and Basil Rajapaksa, who received the Finance Portfolio a couple of weeks before the mini-Cabinet reshuffle met Colombo-based envoys representing major powers. Sri Lanka, now embroiled in a severe balance of payments crisis, needs the backing of the international community and the understanding of international lending agencies, particularly the IMF. The current crisis should be examined, sensibly, against the backdrop of the economic turmoil caused by the raging Covid-19 epidemic as it caused the total collapse of the vibrant tourism industry and nose dived remittances from our expatriate workers, both of which raked in billions of dollars annually to the country. However, the SLPP government and the Opposition shouldn’t forget the country could have faced the global pandemic much better if not for the ruination of the economy caused by unbridled waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence since independence by all counts. Those who represent the SLPP and the SJB in the current parliament cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the present state of the national economy. Energy Minister and attorney-at-law Udaya Gammanpila should be commended for publicly warning the government of dire consequences unless remedial measures were taken. The warning was given on June 13 in the wake of SLPP demanding Gammanpila’s resignation over the sharp increase in fuel prices announced on June 11. In spite of SLPP’s vow to bring down the price of fuel once Basil Rajapaksa received the finance portfolio the ruling party quietly suppressed the issue.

Thalpahewa clarifies

Foreign Ministry faces a daunting task in countering external challenges. Before dealing with current challenges let me mention career diplomat Chanaka Thalpahewa’s response to ‘India’s Vietnam moment, US pullout and Afghan dilemma with strapline UNP’s call to terminate diplomatic relations with Taliban questionable’ carried in August 25, 2021 online edition. Thalpahewa, who recently returned to the Foreign Ministry having served UN Habitat as head of the agency for Sri Lanka and the Maldives emphasized the pivotal importance of keeping in mind the origins of terrorism here. “There cannot be an ambiguity as regards the origins of Tamil terrorism here,” the author of Ashgate publication ‘Peaceful Intervention in Intra-State Conflicts: Norwegian Involvement in the Sri Lanka Peace Process’ Thalpahewa said. Having headed the Sri Lankan mission in London at the time of President Sirisena’s visit in early 2015 pointed out the declaration made by retired Vice Admiral G.M. Hiranandani regarding the Indian role in terrorism in Sri Lanka. VA Hiranandani authored a trilogy on the official history of the Indian Navy namely: Transition to Triumph (covering the period 1965 to 1975), Transition to Eminence (1976 to 1990), and Transition to Guardianship that covered the last decade of the twentieth century. The book that dealt with the 1976 to 1990 period confirmed the establishment of terrorist training camps in South India in 1981, two years before the first major LTTE attack on the Army in the Jaffna peninsula. The outspoken Foreign Service officer agreed with the writer’s assertion that India created an environment conducive for direct intervention here. Thalpahewa’s well researched book is a must read for those interested in knowing the truth as Sri Lanka is yet to set the record straight.

Today nuclear power India is part of the overall US strategy and like Japan is ready to counter the growing Chinese influence in the region. Here too it is an irony that the West that more or less treated India like a leper not too long ago and even attempted to break it up by lighting separatist fires across the great ancient country, from the 70’s now has become a lap dog of the US instead of holding her head high as the world’s second largest economic power before long, while Washington is self-relegating herself as a has been due to her profligacy and sheer arrogance.

Sri Lanka has been caught up in the battle between the US-led Quad and China for superiority and certainly a victim of circumstances due to its strategic positioning. The bone of contention is the increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka with Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd., (CICT), joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), 99-year lease on the Hambantota port and the Colombo Port City being strategic investments.

Challenges faced by GR administration

Having succeeded Dinesh Gunawardena on Aug 16, Prof. Peiris received top envoys of India (skipped UK sponsored Geneva vote on Sri Lanka accountability resolution), China (voted against), US, EU, Russia (voted against), Japan (skipped), Pakistan (voted against), South Korea (voted for), Kuwait, Germany (voted for), the Netherlands (voted for), Australia, Turkey, Qatar, Norway, Vatican, Libya, UN and Italy (voted for). Unfortunately, Sri Lanka never managed to set the record straight as regards the accountability issue. Successive governments since the successful conclusion of the war in May 2009 squandered opportunities to vigorously present our case. The SLPP, too, has so far failed pathetically.

In the absence of a cohesive effort on Sri Lanka’s part, India stepped up pressure on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC with a strong reference to 13th Amendment to the Constitution forced down our throat during the Indian Army deployment in Sri Lanka’s Northern and Eastern province following the infamous ‘parippu drop’.

The UN and so-called Sri Lanka Core Group, in consultation with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one-time the LTTE’s sidekick worked overtime to harass Sri Lanka at Geneva. Successive governments, including the SLPP conveniently failed so far at least to officially inform the unbreakable relationship between the LTTE and the TNA until the very end. The TNA, having backed war-winning Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election continues a despicable accountability agenda at the UNHRC. Of the five Sri Lanka Co-Group, three, namely the UK, Germany and Canada are major powers. The UK and Germany voted for the anti-Sri Lanka resolution whereas Canada backed it. Core Group bared its intentions when it raised the arrest of 2019 Easter Sunday carnage suspect Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah and retired Director, CID Shani Abeysekera at the UNHRC. The Foreign Ministry must examine the whole picture without being distracted by various events.

The UK is home to an influential segment of the Tamil Diaspora as well as former members of the LTTE, including Adele Balasingham, a high profile terrorist who may have been even aware of the May 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Having repeatedly refused to help establish the truth by making available wartime UK diplomatic dispatches fromthe UK HC in Colombo, the UK continues to fool Sri Lanka by maintaining proscription of the LTTE in terms of the UK Terrorism Act No. 7 of 2000. The British action is meant to deceive Sri Lanka. The British ban is nothing but propaganda. Actually, the UK never restricted LTTE activity and throughout the war stood by Prabhakaran’s conventional fighting cadre. Sri Lanka Core Group members, the UK and France (voted for anti-Sri Lanka resolution) with the backing of the UN and the US made a last ditch bid in April 2009 to throw a lifeline to the LTTE. Had they succeeded, the current inoculation drive against the raging Covid-19 epidemic would have to be carried out in consultation with the LTTE. Hope, the people haven’t forgotten how the LTTE and Western powers exploited the post-tsunami situation to set up P-TOMS (Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure) to share power with the LTTE.

Among the dignitaries, Prof. Peiris recently met included UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer who has been absolutely pursuing a hostile agenda here. Having taken over the mission in Sept 2018, Singer quite clearly played politics here. She revealed her hand clearly on a number of occasions. Singer intervened on behalf of those demanding their right to bury Covid-19 victims. She went to the extent of writing to Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa over the cremation of COVID-19 victims’ bodies. Sri Lanka never properly challenged the UN mechanism used to collect information and the use of unverified data to move the 2015 accountability resolution. This Viceroy type behaviour of the UN big wigs here has been going on for far too long.

It was only the late Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who had the guts to tell the UN where to get off when an arrogant Norwegian who was posted here as the Resident Representative at around the beginning of the present millennium unilaterally decided to convert the UN compound in Colombo into a Tamil refugee camp soon after some serious military debacles in the North. It was obviously a premeditated attempt to create a problem situation here without there being any violence against Tamils anywhere in the South!

Those in power should be particularly ashamed for failing to challenge the confidentiality clause inserted by the UN that prevents the examination of UN (judicial or otherwise) data till 2031. We must be the only country prevented from seeing who our accusers are. All those countries voted for the resolution and abstained at the March 2021 session are involved in the plot against Sri Lanka though some did so reluctantly at the behest of the US.

In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph at the 2019 presidential election, Switzerland Embassy in Colombo with the support of political elements here staged an abduction of embassy employee Garnier Bannister Francis (formerly Siriyalatha Perera). Their project failed when President Rajapaksa thwarted the Swiss bid to evacuate Francis along with her family. The Swiss also provided political asylum to Inspector Nishantha de Silva of the CID and his family just before the trumped up abduction drama. Perhaps Prof. Peiris should take up these matters with the Swiss Ambassador when the latter pays a courtesy call on him.

Sri Lanka needs to tackle contentious issues. The country whoever is at the helm cannot turn a blind eye to contentious trumped up issues. The continuing failure on the part of the government to address the core issue raised by Lord Naseby pertaining to the veracity of the main allegation that 40,000 Tamils perished on the Vanni east front is quite baffling. Thanks to Lord Naseby’s revelation in Oct 2017 regardless of the continuing humiliation at Geneva, the world knows how the UK suppressed authentic diplomatic cables that cleared Sri Lanka of war crimes. Lord Naseby fought a near three-year legal battle to secure a section of the cables. The UK’s efforts to suppress such information are understandable as whoever in power, voters of Sri Lankan Tamil origin there cannot be antagonized. But Sri Lanka’s failure to present her case properly is much worse. The UPFA/SLPP failure on the human rights front is perhaps far worse than the UNP’s betrayal of armed forces at the UNHRC in 2015.

Sri Lanka’s disgraceful letdown should be examined against the US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s bombshell revelation in June 2011 that Sri Lanka military didn’t perpetrate war crimes. Perhaps, the Foreign Ministry should revisit the accountability issue again against the backdrop of the NATO pullout from Afghanistan last month that reminded us of Indian withdrawal from Sri Lanka in 1990.



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Midweek Review

Rightwing economics or centre-left Opposition?

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By Dr. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

The situation is ripe for a progressive, social democratic, centre-left Opposition with necessarily populist appeal, but can there be one if an archaic, conservative, rightist economic theory is propounded as an alternative to the government’s oligarchic crony-capitalism?

How can the main Opposition party become a truly progressive-centrist formation which can be a magnet for voters from the vast bloc that voted for the Rajapaksas/Pohottuwa? What must it do?

The answer to that is clear and simple, and it isn’t mine. Thirty years ago, the UNP held power at the Presidential, Parliamentary and Pradesheeya Sabha levels, i.e., executive, legislative and local authority levels. That was the last time it did so. The leader responsible for that achievement made a typically unorthodox and fascinating remark while addressing his last May Day rally in 1992, at Galle Face, a year before he was assassinated by a Tiger suicide-bomber. Ranasinghe Premadasa made a surprising and pointed reference to SWRD Bandaranaike:

“…The late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike…left the UNP and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party because he thought that his views cannot be implemented through the UNP. If one were to take into account the changes that have taken place in the UNP between then and now, I am sure that if he were still alive, he would have rejoined the UNP…When you look at it from that point of view, you will be able to guess which May Day rally he would have attended if he were alive—the rally at Galle Face or the one at Campbell Park.” (President Premadasa: His Vision and Mission, Selected Speeches, p 192)

What Premadasa says here is that SWRD Bandaranaike with the progressive, moderate nationalist, centre-left views (the SLFP’s founding document used the definition ‘social democratic’) he held at the time he ruptured with the UNP because he thought they could not be accommodated, would have felt compelled and comfortable enough to rejoin the UNP because it had been transformed so radically as to be able to accommodate and represent such personalities and perspectives.

Translated into today’s politics, it can be understood as an injunction to the post-UNP successor party (led by Premadasa’s son) to be a party so configured that it can win over the voters and personalities of the progressive centre, the moderate nationalists, by representing their ideology, sentiments and grievances. In short, an Opposition party capable of winning over the centre-left SLFP and SLPP voters; the Rajapaksa voters.

JR-Ranil or Premadasa?

The ongoing and deepening economic crisis is tailor-made for a ‘Premadasist’ intervention, for three reasons:

(a) Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic has been acknowledged as proving the need for more investment in public goods and social infrastructure, rather than rely on the ‘magic of the marketplace’ with its profit motive.

(b) President Premadasa demonstrated that even in a context of extreme crisis, is it practically possible to revive economic growth, increase industrial exports and foreign investment while simultaneously, not sequentially, transferring real income to the poorest, increasing the real wages of the people and reducing inequality.

(c) The Opposition is led by his only son. It would be as absurdly incongruous for an Opposition party, led by President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son not to adopt the Premadasa development paradigm and policy as it would be someday for an Opposition party led by Namal Rajapaksa, not to have his father Mahinda Rajapaksa’s as symbol, his achievements as template, and Mahinda Chinthanaya as the basis of its guiding ideology.

The problem is that there is an ideological inclination on the part of some in society and Opposition politics, to ignore the Premadasa development model and philosophy, pat him on the back for ‘reforms’, and elevate instead, rightwing economic doctrines. In international terms these are the economic ideas that President George HW Bush (Bush Sr.), a moderate Republican, derided as “voodoo economics”.

The UNP never won a Presidential election, won only two parliamentary elections, 15 years apart, with never a second consecutive term in governmental office, after it dumped the Premadasa development paradigm and shifted to neoliberal economics, or shifted back to the pre-Premadasa economic model which helped cause the Southern uprising.

With its leadership and Presidential candidate who did far better in November 2019 than the party did before (Feb 2018) or since, the post-UNP Opposition is more organically suited for a frankly neo-Premadasist strategy for economic revival and social upliftment, which the current crisis demands.

JR+BR?

A slightly surreal slogan was tweeted recently, claiming that “we need JR+Shenoy reform once again”. This relates to the ideas of rightwing economist BR Shenoy who produced a pamphlet in 1966 which was adopted as a policy platform by JR Jayewardene, then a Minister in the Dudley Senanayake Cabinet of 1965-’70.

This policy perspective is wrong headed several times over, starting with the contextual fact that the JR+Shenoy platform was not conceived as alternative to the parental precursor of the current Rajapaksa government’s policies, namely the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera policies of the coalition government of 1970-’77.

The JRJ-Shenoy policy doctrine was one corner of an intra-governmental UNP policy debate in the mid-1960s. Today it is being revived at the second corner of a bipolar patterning of policy discourse, i.e., in an unhealthy polarisation.

Shenoy Syndrome

As a precocious lad who spent time in the editorial offices of Lake House and hung out with my father and his journalist colleagues and buddies, I was quite aware of the Shenoy episode real-time, because BR Shenoy was tapped, and his product promoted, by Esmond Wickremesinghe, the Managing Director of Lake House (and Ranil’s father). That episode was part of a policy debate that rocked the UNP government of Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in 1965-1970.

Far from being the antipode of the statist closed economy of the Sirimavo regime, the JR+Shenoy (actually JR+Esmond+Shenoy) platform squarely targeted the genuinely liberal-welfarist economics of the PM Dudley Senanayake and his Planning Ministry tzar, Dr Gamini Corea.

It is absurd and dangerous to exalt the JR+BR Shenoy line today, when the logic of the Dudley Senanayake-Gamani Corea response at that time has been tragically validated by our political history: “It is wiser to spend on welfare, than to cut welfare and have to spend much more on military expenditure later.”

As the John Attygalle Report (he was the IGP, but the report was co-authored by D.I.G Ana Seneviratne) on the pre-1971 JVP revealed, and the statements of the accused in the main trial of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) confirmed, the movement was founded for armed revolution partly as a response to the ideological struggle within the UNP government. Rohana Wijeweera’s view was that the JR Jayewardene-BR Shenoy project would require the ouster of the Senanayake faction, the installation of an Indonesian style dictatorship, and the scrapping of national elections scheduled for 1970.

This was not as wildly outlandish as it seemed. The Indonesian coup and massacre had taken place in September 1965. Esmond Wickremesinghe and those who backed the JR+Shenoy programme against Senanayake liberal-welfarism, were applauding the post-coup Indonesian economic model. My father Mervyn de Silva had been in Indonesia (with his wife and son) at the invitation of President Sukarno’s Foreign Minister Dr. Subandrio for the celebration by Afro-Asian journalists of the 10th anniversary of the Bandung conference virtually on the eve of the coup. Mervyn was the last foreign journalist to interview DN Aidit, leader of the PKI (the non-violent Indonesian Communist Party) who was murdered by the Army a few months later while in hiding, unarmed. My father was among the few (I’m being generous here) in the Lake House press writing against the Indonesian coup and the massacre of 1965, while “the Indonesian model” was being promoted.

Coiled for armed resistance to a dictatorship which never came at the hands of the UNP Right identified as JRJ and Esmond Wickremesinghe equipped with the BR Shenoy agenda, the JVP uncoiled uncontrollably on the watch of the elected successor government, the SLFP-led UF coalition in 1971.

It is not that today’s JVP or FSP is dabbling in any way with violent resistance or ever likely to, but a worker-peasant-student social movement radicalised by the policies and political culture of the Gotabaya presidency, has grown to almost the same capacity as in the 1960s, and if ‘JR+Shenoy’ economic policies are followed after the Rajapaksa regime is inevitably turfed-out, the social explosion will occur no less inevitably on the watch of the incoming ex-UNP administration.

Development Debate

Today’s Lankan economic neoliberals (who call themselves ‘economic liberals’) target a giant of Third World economic thinking, Raul Prebisch. The bridge to the tradition of Prebisch, and indeed the great Ceylonese contribution to the global economic debate, was not the Sirimavo Bandaranaike-NM Perera regime, but rather, those who had been the targets of JRJ and Shenoy in the policy debate within the UNP of 1965-1970: the liberal-welfarist progressives of the Planning Ministry under Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, namely Dr. Gamani Corea and his deputy, Godfrey Gunatilleke.

In the 1970s, the Lankan node of ‘Third Worldist’ progressive development thinking was the MARGA Institute, which was targeted by the UF coalition government, especially the rightwing Minister Felix Dias Bandaranaike and the Communist Party.

The Gamani Corea-Godfrey Gunatilleke perspective that JRJ+BR Shenoy (plus Esmond Wickremesinghe) had targeted within the UNP government of 1965-1970 and eventually supplanted, found itself revived, revised and reaccommodated within the economic paradigm of Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Prime Minister Premadasa’s extempore remarks at the panel discussion on the sidelines of the UNGA 1980; his invocation of justice for the global South at the UNGA 1980 and the Nonaligned Conference in Harare 1986, are evidence of his commitment to the international tradition of development thinking which Dr. Gamani Corea was a giant of, but is reviled by today’s para-UNP economic neoliberals. (https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/asset/2114/2114561/)

It is hardly accidental that the founder-Chairperson of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), at its initiation by Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel and through the Premadasa Presidency, was Dr. Gamani Corea rather than an ‘economic libertarian’ or ‘classic economic liberal’.

Premadasa Project

The formula that ‘we need JR+Shenoy reform once again’ also overlooks the history of the evolution of policy within the UNP in the Opposition in 1970-1973. The Dudley Senanayake line was being eclipsed, the JRJ line was becoming dominant, but a third line was coming into view, which was to be validated by real history when the ‘JR+Shenoy’ paradigm was a causative factor of the civil war in the south.

This ‘third paradigm’ was Ranasinghe Premadasa’s, an early articulation of which was his 4th April 1973 address to the Colombo West Rotary Club. He was so committed to that speech (delivered several years before Susil Sirivardhana joined him) that he republished it in the ‘SAARC Summit special supplement’ of the Daily News during his Presidency, accompanied by an introduction in bold type which read: “The seeds of today’s concepts were sown years ago…President Ranasinghe Premadasa, then First Member of Parliament for Colombo Central was invited by the Colombo West Rotary Club to deliver an address on the topic ‘A Plan for Sri Lanka’ at a luncheon meeting of the Club. The speech was delivered when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was only an Opposition member of Parliament and portrays the vision of a young politician of what he thought was the best for Sri Lanka”.

That he chose to reproduce it in the SAARC special supplement (1991) indicates that this perspective is one he wanted the outside world to know about, and which he hoped to radiate in the region.

In April 1973, he wrestled with the same problem that the economy faces today– the crisis of foreign exchange and dependency—and gave an answer that is distinctively redolent of the Rooseveltian New Deal (his 1988 Presidential election manifesto was to be entitled ‘a New Vision, a New Deal’):

“…If the problems of foreign exchange, development and unemployment are to be satisfactorily tackled, a massive development venture has to be launched to provide the necessary infra-structure such as a network of roads, a network of electricity, a network of irrigation and a network of domestic water supply. With the launching of such a scheme large number of people could be gainfully employed. Together with development of the infrastructure the country’s agricultural and industrial ventures will automatically improve. As a result, foreign exchange could be conserved. People will get more money into their hands thus enabling them to purchase their requirements. The question of subsidies will eventually be eliminated. We can solve our problems. Scarcity of foreign exchange is no obstacle. To earn foreign exchange, we must increase production; to increase production we must develop our national resources, and if we are to develop our national resources, we must harness the human potential that we have in abundance. It is futile to go on bended knees to foreign countries begging for assistance…” (Republished as ‘People’s Participation in Government’, CDN Nov. 21, 1991.)

After the UNP victory of 1977 and the installation of ‘JR+Shenoy reforms’ the evidence of its downside piled up in the 1980s from the reports of various UN agencies which had replaced ‘classical liberal economics’ with indices of inequality, the physical quality of life index (PQLI) and later the Human Development report (HDR), under the intellectual impact of a global struggle for ‘Another Development’ (as it was conceptualized) in which Gamini Corea and Godfrey Gunatilleke were the foremost Sri Lankan figures.

Prime Minister Premadasa appointed the Warnasena Rasaputram Commission. Janasaviya was Premadasa’s response to the revelations of the Rasaputram Report. The hubris of the Open economy and the ‘JR +Shenoy reform’ model had evaporated with the bloody near-extermination of the UNP in the latter half of the 1980s by Sinhala youth from the South (just as Premadasa had predicted).

Open Economy, ‘Economic Democracy’

“If anything, I am for economic democracy” Premadasa told civil service legend Neville Jayaweera in a substantive interview given to the latter published as ‘Charter for Democracy’ (1990). For him, ‘economic democracy’ meant “turning the nation into one where ‘have-nots’ become ‘haves’”.

This was Premadasa’s perspective on the open economy:

“In a world of economic interdependence, those who are self-dependent grow in strength. We live in a world society. We cannot close ourselves off from the world. Yet, we must be free to live and develop as we wish to. We will provide all the conditions for economic growth in an open economy. But an open economy does not mean an economy dictated to by others. An open economy does not mean an economy run for the benefit of others. An open economy must first benefit Sri Lankans before it benefits outsiders.” (‘Address at the Inauguration of the Koggala Export Processing Zone’-June 14th 1991, in ‘President Premadasa: His Vision & Mission-Selected Speeches’, pp 89-92.)

The Premadasa economic philosophy, though partly based on the Open Economy, is not that of ‘JR+BR Shenoy reforms’ of 1977 still less of 1966. It is a different, far more progressive policy paradigm or economic episteme. It is Sri Lankan Social Democracy.

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Midweek Review

9/11 Imperatives

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By Lynn Ockersz

Twenty years and counting,

The 9/11 horrors rage on,

With the first splurge of civilian blood,

Which was unleashed in New York,

Soon transcending time and space,

And spilling into and becoming a flood,

In fiercely contested Iraq and Afghanistan,

Where it triggered aftershocks all around,

But blessed are those who see,

In this worldwide Slaughter of Lambs,

A shameful hour for mankind,

And hear in the tragedy a rallying call,

To lose no time to come together as one,

And bring healing to angry hearts and minds,

That by designing demagogues of divisive strife,

Are tamely led along self-annihilative paths.

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Midweek Review

Easter Sunday imbroglio!

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Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith reiterates demand for justice at a recent media briefing. The Church has sought the intervention of the Vatican as well as the UNHRC to pressure Sri Lanka over the Easter Sunday probe

Can Parliament, as an institution, absolve itself of the responsibility for tainted political parties? The House did nothing when the TNA recognised the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. Both Parliament and the Election Department/Election Commission conveniently remained silent. Both institutions turned a blind eye when the TNA, on behalf of the LTTE, in blatant violation of the right to vote, ordered the Northern electorate to boycott the 2005 presidential election to ensure the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe as they thought it would be easier to prosecute the war successfully with Rajapaksa in power as he was unpopular with the West. May be the West, too, had a hand in that strategy for they, too, merely kept silent over TNA’s undemocratic demand to the Tamil electorate to boycott the vote. The TNA declared that the presidential poll was irrelevant therefore no point in the Tamil electorate exercising their franchise. But, the move was meant to ensure that normally pro-UNP majority of Tamils did not vote, thereby sealing candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat and helping Mahinda Rajapaksa win. When the writer raised this issue with Kumaran Pathmanathan aka ‘KP’ in Aug. 2009, the one-time Chief LTTE procurer of weapons, too, declared that Rajapaksa’s victory would have created an environment conducive for an all-out war. Within three weeks after the 2005 presidential election, the LTTE resumed claymore mine attacks in the Jaffna peninsula. In January, 2006, the LTTE rammed suicide boats into a Fast Attack Craft off Trincomalee harbour. In late April 2006, the LTTE almost succeeded in assassinating Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The Eelam war IV commenced in the second week of August 2006, just weeks after the Army neutralised the LTTE threat at Mavil-aru.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

A reference to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage at the commencement of the 48th sessions of the Geneva–based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was expected. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, in her oral update delivered on Sept.13 on the Situation in Sri Lanka dealt with the Easter Sunday massacre as revealed by Rev. Father Cyril Gamini Fernando, spokesperson for the National Catholic Committee for Justice (NCCJ).

The former Chilean President (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) Bachelet made two separate references to the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage. Let me reproduce them verbatim to ensure that The Island is not accused of trying to misinterpret facts.

Bachelet declared: “Despite various inquiries, the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019 and religious leaders continue to call urgently for truth and justice, and a full account of the circumstances that permitted those attacks.”

Referring to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Bachelet said: “The Government has reaffirmed its intention to revisit the Act and established a Cabinet sub-committee for this purpose. However, I am deeply concerned about the continued use of the Act to arrest and detain people. Lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah has now been detained for 16 months under the Act without credible evidence presented before a court. Likewise, Ahnaf Jazeem, a teacher and poet, has been detained without charge since May 2020. I urge an immediate moratorium on the use of the Act, and that a clear timeline be set for its comprehensive review or repeal.”

Bachelet conveniently refrained from stating why the one-time Attorney General’s Department Counsel Hizbullah (2005-2010) is in government custody. Bachelet was careful not to include Hizbullah’s arrest in the paragraph that dealt with concerns raised by the Catholic Church as regards the investigation into the heinous crime. In fact, the UK-led self-appointed Sri Lanka Core Group at the UNHRC on more than one occasion raised Hizbullah’s detention without making reference to the Easter Sunday carnage.

Now that the Catholic Church has declared that it had no option but to seek the intervention of the Vatican and UNHRC to pressure the government over the Easter Sunday investigation, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith should explain his stand on the detention of lawyer Hizbullah in connection with the Easter carnage.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Hizbullah on April 14, 2020. The lawyer was charged on March 3, 2021.

Why did Bachelet make reference to Hizbullah’s arrest without directly naming him as an Easter Sunday suspect? Did UNHRC conduct its own inquiries before taking up Hizbullah’s issue at the 48th session?

Although Sri Lanka Core Group had referred to Hizbullah in its statements (44th, 45th, and 47th sessions) previously, Bachelet, in her statements to the council, had never mentioned the lawyer by name before the 48th session. May be Bachelet is simply prostituting her independence like so many UN big shots on matters of Western interests. No wonder, one of the first things that the Iraqi rebellion against the US-led invasion of that country did was to blow up the UN compound in Baghdad!

Sri Lanka Core Group comprises Germany, Canada, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro, and the United Kingdom.

Obviously, both Bachelet and the Core Group have taken the Sri Lanka civil society (read Western backed NGOs’) stand on the lawyer. A number of civil society organisations made public statements on behalf of Hizbullah though the government insists on the lawyer’s involvement with extremists. Defence Secretary General Kamal Gunaratne in the run-up to the Geneva sessions declared that the government had irrefutable evidence as regards Hizbullah’s role in the suicide attacks blamed on the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and other organisations with similar ideology.

Those who stood for him have described the lawyer as a minority rights advocate and legal counsel for Muslim victims of human rights violations. Amnesty International is among the groups that expressed concerns over Hizbullah’s arrest. The lawyer, held under the PTA, has handled litigation before the Labour Tribunals and Magistrate’s Courts to the Supreme Court.

Let us, however, not forget a very important fact about AI. It corroborated a fantastic piece of ‘evidence’ after the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in which a weeping teenager told the US Congress how she witnessed the invading Iraqi army pulling premature babies from their incubators in a Kuwaiti hospital. Later it came to light that she was merely acting from a prepared script and she was none other than the daughter of Kuwait’s then ambassador to Washington. And she was nowhere near the action. Her performance would have easily beaten Bush/Blair’s Weapons of Mass Destruction script.

Truth certainly is a first casualty when states go into war, but what about so-called neutral umpires like AI when they too make truth a casualty?

The European Parliament’s June 10, 2021 Resolution on Sri Lanka referred to Hizbullah. The lawyer seemed to be blessed with sufficient support both here and abroad to move even the UN system. The UNHRC taking up the Easter Sunday issue should be a matter for serious concern. The UNHRC meets thrice a year. With the Vatican, too, taking an active interest in the controversial investigation, UNHRC and Sri Lanka’s self-appointed Core Group are likely to keep it on the Geneva agenda.

SLPP in quandary over MS

 The Church accuses the SLPP government of turning a blind eye to the recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry the (PCoI). In spite of repeatedly assuring the Church of transparent investigation and judicial process, free of political interference, the Church is furious over what it calls the the government’s failure to act on the PCoI report. The bone of contention is alleged attempts to save former President Maithripala Sirisena and the then head of State Intelligence Service (SIS) Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.

Before taking up the PCoI’s specific recommendations pertaining to the former President and the Senior DIG, now turned state witness and in charge of the Central Province, it would be pertinent to name members of the PCoI appointed by Sirisena on Sept 22, 2019. Senior DIG Jayawardena received appointment as Senior DIG, East, in early January 2020 in the wake of the last presidential election.

Supreme Court judge Janak de Silva (Chairman), Court of Appeal judge Nishshanka Bandula Karunaratne, retired Supreme Court judges Nihal Sunil Rajapaksha and A. L. Bandula Kumara Atapattu and former Secretary to the Ministry of Justice W. M. M. R. Adhikari. H. M. P. Buwaneka Herath functioned as the Secretary to the Commission.

 The PCoI handed over its final report to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Feb 1, 2020. The first and second interim reports were handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 20, 2019 and on March 02, 2020 respectively.

In spite of President Rajapaksa no sooner after assuming office inquiring from Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith whether he wanted to suggest a new member or two to the PCoI, the Archbishop declined the opportunity for obvious reasons.

Rev Father Cyril Gamini Fernando has declared that there couldn’t be any justifiable reason for the refusal on the part of the government to implement the PCoI recommendations.

Rev. Fernando described the appointment of a six-member Committee, headed by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa to study the PCoI recommendations as well as the report of the Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security submitted to Parliament, as political intervention meant to derail the process.

The six-member committee comprised ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Johnston Fernando, Udaya Gammanpila, Ramesh Pathirana, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena.

Rev Father Fernando declared they were quite horrified by Attorney-at-Law Harigupta Rohanadeera’s revelation that Senior DIG Jayawardena, named by the PCoI, would be a state witness. Rohanadeera made the declaration in his capacity as the Director General, Legal Affairs, President’s Office.

Rohanadeera was on Hiru ‘Salakuna,’ a live weekly programme telecast on Mondays. Obviously, those in authority hadn’t given due consideration to their own report, the Church spokesperson said, vowing to pursue a campaign for justice.

The Island sought a clarification from those closely following the case. The writer was told that Senior DIG Jayawardena would be a prosecuting witness in respect of indictments filed in cases to be heard beginning next month. But, in respect of cases pertaining to negligence, the Senior DIG wouldn’t be there as a prosecution witness.

SLPP troubled by key recommendations

The PCoI declared that there is criminal liability on the part of former President Sirisena for failing in his duties and responsibilities. The PCoI alleged Sirisena’s failure exceeds mere civil negligence. On the basis of evidence gathered, the PCoI recommended that the Attorney General consider criminal proceedings against the former President under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol. 1, p 265).

This recommendation, the first in a series of references, posed quite a political challenge as the former President Sirisena is now a member of the ruling SLPP parliamentary group. As the leader of the SLFP, the main constituent of the SLPP, judicial or otherwise measures against Sirisena who returned to Parliament from his home base of Polonnaruwa at the last parliamentary election can place the SLPP-SLFP relationship in jeopardy. The SLFP parliamentary group headed by Sirisena consists of 14 members, including the leader. Of the 14, 12 successfully contested on the SLPP ticket, one entered on the SLPP National List (Dr. Suren Ragavan) and one entered on the SLFP ticket.

The issue is whether the SLPP-SLFP partnership can survive if the Attorney General moves court against the former President. The Church is unlikely to take that factor into consideration as it steps up pressure on the SLPP administration. The government will find itself in an extremely difficult situation. Similarly, the UNHRC, too, faces a dicey situation. On one hand, Geneva wants Sri Lanka to go the whole hog against perpetrators of the Easter Sunday attacks. And on the other hand, it is seriously concerned about lawyer Hizbullah held over the Easter Sunday carnage. The UNHRC, too, is also in a dilemma.

Deputy Solicitor General Dileepa Peiris is on record as having compared the role of Hizbullah to that of the late Anton Balasingham, British national of Sri Lankan origin, who functioned as the LTTE’s ideologue until his very end.

The government parliamentary group comprises 145 members. The SLPP leadership is aware that their relationship with the SLFP is on thin ice against the backdrop of pressure to move against the former President. The SLPP does not want to lose the SLFP’s support at this moment.

The PCoI also recommended criminal proceedings under any suitable provision in the Penal Code (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 287-288) in respect of Senior DIG Jayawardena.

The government seems largely reluctant to implement the recommendations or delve into certain observations made by the five-member expert P CoI. Interestingly, the Church, in a missive dated July 12, 2021, addressed to President Rajapaksa, has questioned the rationale in the PCoI conveniently failing to make any specific recommendation in respect of the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe in its final findings, thereby literally alluding to possible bias on the part of PCoI vis-à-vis the UNP Leader.

To be fair by the PCoI it clearly pointed out Wickremesinghe’s lax approach towards Islam extremism, which deprived the then administration of an opportunity to take tangible counter measures. The PCoI asserted the UNP leader’s failure facilitated the Easter Sunday carnage (PCoI Final Report, Vol 1, pages 276-277). The Church declared: “Our view is that there should be additional investigations on this matter. We need not stress that there on that fact, Wickremesinghe, in spite of his holding special powers under the 19th Amendment, followed a soft approach. It is, in our view, a serious act of irresponsibility and neglect of duty.”

Links between suicide bombers and political parties

A wider investigation is required to find out the actual links between the Easter Sunday attackers and political parties. The SJB has repeatedly demanded justice for the Easter Sunday victims. But, Vanni District MP Rishad Bathiudeen, leader of the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), now in judicial custody, remains with the main Opposition party. The SJB demands implementation of the PCoI recommendations but has chosen to remain silent on Bathiudeen. The PCoI has recommended criminal proceedings against Bathiudeen under any suitable provision of the Penal Code whereas reference was also made to his brother, Riyaj Bathiudeen now also back in custody.

It would be pertinent to mention that Riyaj who had been taken into custody was clandestinely released by the CID under controversial circumstances. The release coincided with some members of the ACMC voting for the 20th Amendment passed by the Parliament in Oct 2020.

A majority in the SLPP demanded an inquiry from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa into Riyaj’s release. The then Attorney General, too, sought an explanation from the CID. The government never revealed why Riyaj was released. However, he was taken back into custody later following a growing outcry over his abrupt release.

The ACMC leader has served in the cabinet of Mahinda Rajapaksa (2020-2015) and President Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019). The incumbent government cannot ignore accusations that during Rishad Bathiudden’s time as the Trade and Commerce Minister of MR and MS cabinet, the politician supported the Colossus copper factory at Wellampitiya managed by the family of two of the Easter Sunday suicide bombers, Imsath Ahmed Ibrahim and Ilham Ahmed Ibrahim and their father, Mohamed Ibrahim, the founder of Colombo-based Ishana Exports, which describes itself on its website as the ‘largest exporter of spices from Sri Lanka since 2006.’

The JVP never really explained the circumstances Mohamed Ibrahim ended up on their National List at the 2015 parliamentary election. Ibrahim is in custody.

Colossus management had direct access to the highest Offices in the land. During the Yahapalana administration, the Colossus sought supply of copper from the Presidential Secretariat. Interestingly, defeated UPFA lawmaker Shantha Bandara had been the recipient of the Colossus letter at the Presidential Secretariat. Shantha Bandara is now a member of the ruling SLPP. Bandara represents the Kurunegala District.

2019 presidential election

Defence Secretary Gen. Kamal Gunaratne and Rohanadeera recently countered accusations that the 2019 Easter attacks were meant to benefit SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. ‘Salakuna’ anchor Chamuditha Samarawickrema raised the issue with Rohanadeera, who pointed out that the results of the 2018 Feb Local Government polls indicated the ground situation at that time. Gen. Gunaratne declared at a recent meeting that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations and it was a despicable attempt to tarnish President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Academic Dr. Rajan Hoole’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy: When the Deep State gets out of its Depth,’ discussed the circumstances leading to the Easter carnage. Hoole shed light on the complex web of secrets/situations/relationships that led to the Easter carnage. Dr. Hoole, who authored ‘The Arrogance of Power: Myths, decadence and murder,’ in January 2001, blamed the State elements for the attack. Dr. Hoole is unambiguous in his accusation that those who backed SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa created an environment to deprive the Muslims of an opportunity to vote at the Nov 2019 presidential election. The author asserted that attempt failed while making reference to the plantation Tamils being disenfranchised in 1949, consequent to the 1948 Citizenship Act.

In Chapter 4, Dr. Hoole briefly discussed the possibility of the failure on the part of the now proscribed NTJ to secure representation in Parliament at the August 2015 general election. Had the NTJ succeeded in securing a foothold in Parliament, the Easter Sunday carnage might not have happened, Dr. Hoole asserted, declaring that the NTJ adopted an aggressive strategy, in the wake of the electoral failure. Dr. Hoole based his quite controversial assessment on an electoral agreement, involving the NTJ, M.L.A.M. Hizbullah of the UPFA (United People’s Freedom Alliance) and Abdul Rahuman and Shibly Farook (both members of SLMC-Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, a constituent of the UNP-led coalition).

Dr. Hoole likened the attempt made by Kattankudy-born Zahran Hashim to have some of his nominees, in Parliament, to that of Prabhakaran’s successful arrangement with R. Sampanthan of the TNA. In terms of the agreement finalised in 2001, the TNA acknowledged the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, two years after the high-profile assassination of TULF lawmaker, Neelan Thiruchelvam, in 1999.

President Sirisena had no qualms in accommodating defeated M.L.A.M. Hizbullah in Parliament on the UPFA National List. Hizbullah was among over half a dozen defeated UPFA candidates, accommodated on its National List. National List MP Hizbullah functioned as the Batticaloa political lord until he resigned in January 2019 to pave the way for President Sirisena loyalist, Shantha Bandara, to enter Parliament (The man who helped Colossus procure scrap copper from the state at a nominal price usually reserved for craftsmen and cottage industrialists). Hizbullah was named the Eastern Province Governor. At the time of the Easter attacks, Hizbullah served as the Eastern Province Governor and Chairman of the controversial Batticaloa Campus (Pvt) Limited.

In a report presented to the Parliament Sectoral Sub-Committee on Higher Education and Human Resources, the scandalous politician identified himself as Dr. M.L.A.M. Hizbullah. In spite of failing to get elected from the Batticaloa District with NTJ backing, did Hizbullah serve the interests of Zahran Hashim?

Whatever the political parties may say, both major political alliances, the SLPP and the SJB are tainted. There is no point in denying the fact that the way the TNA continues to politically suffer due to its disgraceful alliance with the LTTE sometime ago, other political parties and alliances experience difficulties as a result of their relationship with Zahran’s group.

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