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Editorial

Prorogation

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Governments not infrequently prorogue parliament when they are in trouble. Perhaps the best example of that in Sri Lanka’s contemporary history was President Premadasa’s prorogation of the legislature when he was confronted with an impeachment resolution in September 1991. That enabled him to buy some time to fight the effort to dethrone him. There is no escaping the reality that the present dispensation is in trouble, massively unpopular in the country within two years of its comfortable election with a two thirds majority in 2020. This after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had, also comfortably, won the presidency the previous November.

But the recent prorogation cannot by any stretch of imagination be considered a time buying exercise. With the budget concluded and carried with a two thirds majority, parliament went into regular recess until Jan. 10 next year. Subsequent to the current prorogation at midnight on Dec. 12, the date of its reconvening has been put off till Jan. 18. So if there was time buying, it was a mere seven days. Undoubtedly, parliament not sitting right now has spared the government a great deal of embarrassment.

Despite that hard reality, critics have been quick to seize the opportunity to allege among other matters that government has resorted to a prorogation strategy to halt the work of parliamentary watchdog committees like COPE, COPA and the PAC with a view to reconstituting them when sittings resume in January. Some of these committees have been making embarrassing revelations and more can be expected in the future. They are all headed by government MPs, some of them disgruntled about being deprived of long-held cabinet positions.

The gas explosions continue unabated and the authorities are hard-pressed to explain what they are going to do about it; or why nothing has been done for this long. A formidable opposition has developed within the government to the New Fortress Energy deal, allegedly concluded in a clandestine and questionable manner. That is presently under challenge in the Supreme Court. Three cabinet ministers are among the petitioners thumbing their noses at the government. They continue in office and to hell with collective cabinet responsibility. Despite the many strident “go if you don’t agree” demands at various levels of government, they have not resigned and the government has not dared to sack them.

The cost of living has gone through the roof to unprecedented highs. So much so, UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene went public with the remark a few days ago that people are paying Rs. 15 for a single bean pod and Rs. 25 for a carrot! Covid, the weather and, not least, the ill-conceived ban on chemical fertilizers, weedicides and insecticides has obviously contributed to the scarcity and high prices of vegetables. Foreign reserves have plummeted to unprecedented lows and the country’s ability to meet its debt repayment obligations remains in doubt with Sri Lanka risking its non-default reputation.

So parliament, where the opposition can tub-thump on all these matters and more, not being in session is a distinct advantage to the government. No wonder then that the prorogation is perceived by many to be a defensive strategy of a government with its back to the wall.


Lest we forget

The people of this country to a man (and also woman and child) reacted with horror to the brutal murder of a Lankan manager of a garment factory in Pakistan a couple of weeks ago. His offence was alleged blasphemy. The atrocity occurred in the midst of a strike in the factory he was employed in and the brutality of that act of mob violence grabbed headlines not only here, but also in other parts of the world.

Pakistani Prime Minster Imran Khan reacted quickly and correctly expressing deep distress about what had happened, swiftly activating his country’s law enforcement agencies that have already made over a hundred arrests. He also conferred his country’s second highest national honour on a brave Pakistani individual who risked his own life in an abortive bid to save the victim from a savage mob of religious zealots.

We refer to this subject that has now retreated to the back burner in terms of news value in the context of an article we run in this issue of our newspaper. The writer, who is a regular and valued contributor to our columns, has reminded that we ourselves, while condemning what happened in Pakistan recently, must never forget Black July 1983 when similar events were widespread in this country. They were as horrible as what happened in Sialkot; more so in that such terror was not unleashed on a single individual but on an entire community of our own people in many parts of this country.

The law enforcers closed their eyes to what was happening and a president with a reputation for nerves of steel – the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defence – did nothing to stop the mayhem and accord to our Tamil citizen the protection that was rightfully theirs.

Many of those reacting to the recent event in Pakistan were not even born when the 1983 riots occurred, driving some of our best and brightest out of the country and strengthening the LTTE both at home and globally. This prolonged the civil war that stretched for nearly three decades. It blackened our image and cost our country hugely both in human and economic terms. Nearly 20 years after the war ended, we have not been able to recover the ground we lost and the price we paid while being ruled by a government that shamelessly called itself dharmishta.



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Editorial

Aircraft and bullocks

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Monday 26th February, 2024

Sri Lanka is a nation in the hara-kiri mode. It needs no enemies; it has become its worst enemy. It continues to maintain a bunch of failed, corrupt politicians and their bureaucratic lackeys responsible for ruining the economy and hell-bent on degrading vital national assets which they are planning to dispose of at fire-sale prices. The incumbent government therefore does not make a serious effort to ensure the wellbeing of state institutions, much less tap their full potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s economic progress.

The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) was thrown into turmoil yesterday morning when check-in-counter operations broke down, triggering a social media feeding frenzy; it was immediately claimed in some quarters that there was a wildcat strike. Some irate passengers, both foreign and local, flew into a rage on being informed of flight delays and were seen, on television, berating the airport officials.

Their consternation was understandable. The fear of being stranded makes passengers see red. Avoidable delays such as yesterday’s one tarnish Sri Lanka’s image as a tourist destination beyond repair, especially at a time when more tourists have to be attracted to shore up the country’s foreign currency reserves.

SriLankan Airlines lost no time in issuing a media statement, denying the reports of a strike. (That is about the only thing it has done without delay, during the past so many months!) The national carrier said the delays had been due to ‘temporary, unplanned operational conditions at the airport’ and not any type of trade union action. What it has said by way of a clarification could be considered a euphemism for ‘burnout’ of its staff, or, in other words, workers feeling overwhelmed and drained, and finding it impossible to cope with the workload owing to shortages of personnel and lack of planning on the part of their management.

The SriLankan management may have been able to clear the ground staff of the blame for yesterday’s flight delays, but it cannot absolve itself and the airport authorities of responsibility for the unfortunate situation, the likes of which must be avoided at any cost if Sri Lanka is serious about promoting tourism and meeting its forex targets. The BIA as well as SriLankan Airlines has become a metaphor for inefficiency and delays, which drive tourists away.

SriLankan Airlines has apologised to the passengers affected by disruptions to yesterday’s flight schedules, and promised to take steps to avoid a recurrence of the unfortunate situation. But is it actually equal to the task of making good on its promise?

A spokesman for the Sri Lanka Sevaka Sangamaya told the media yesterday that disruptions to the check-in counter operations had come about due to a dearth of personnel, etc. He likened the temporary breakdown of service to a situation where a bullock that pulls a heavy cart buckles under the weight. This is an apt analogy. When workers have to bullock their guts out, so to speak, they yield to workload, and breakdowns of services or production they are engaged in become inevitable. So, the question is whether SriLankan Airlines, etc., are equipped to eliminate the factors that led to yesterday’s breakdown of check-in counter operations.

Much is being spoken these days about a government plan to hand over airport management to a foreign company. Tourism Minister Harin Fernando, who has apparently become a ventriloquist’s dummy for New Delhi, told the media a few weeks ago that arrangements were being made for an Indian company to take over the management of three airports here, including the BIA.

He said he was confident that under the Indian company the airports would ‘reach a good level’. He, however, stopped short of naming the Indian company. Is it that chaos is being orchestrated at airports as part of the government’s strategy to facilitate the aforesaid deal purportedly on the grounds that there is no other way to make BIA, etc., ‘reach a good level’, whatever that means?

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Editorial

Umpire hora!

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‘Umpire hora’ is a famous cry in this country whether be it at backyard cricket after school, soft ball games played on the Parliament grounds during the weekend, inter-school fixtures or even during international games. Some 25,000 ardent cricket fans were yelling the same on Wednesday night as Sri Lanka lost a tense game against Afghanistan at Dambulla by a mere three runs.

Not just those fans who witnessed the game at the Dambulla stadium but the majority of the hundreds of thousands who saw it on television seemed to be convinced that Umpire Lyndon Hannibal, a Sri Lankan and no foreigner, got it awfully wrong that night. His fault was that he didn’t call a no ball after Wafadar Momand sent down a high full toss. A waist high full toss is called a ‘no ball’ and a free hit given according to playing conditions. This contentious delivery was not just waist high but a chest high full toss and should have been called a no ball. Did Hannibal cost Sri Lanka the game? Well, we will never know.

If that delivery had been called a ‘no ball,’ Sri Lanka would have got a free hit, an additional run and would have needed 10 runs in three balls to win the game and sweep the series. Could Kamindu Mendis have pulled it off? Quite possible. But here’s what we do know though. Sri Lanka have never successfully chased more than 200 runs to win a T-20 International

It’s a Sri Lankan trait to blame all else but themselves when things don’t go our way. The team didn’t lose the game because of Hannibal. They lost the game because they gave Ramanulah Gurbaz two lives when he was on 22 and 55. Their poor ground fielding conceded more than 10 runs. Kusal Perera, Nuwan Thushara and Akila Dananjaya are past their best as they are a liability on the field.

Another reason why Sri Lanka lost was that Matheesha Pathirana gave away 10 wides. You can even hold Pathum Nissanka responsible for the loss. His fitness standards were below par and he was forced to retire having made a terrific 60 off 30 balls. But we don’t talk about any of these reasons. Despite so many flaws within the team, the Sri Lankan captain found a scapegoat by calling ‘umpire hora’ loud and clear. Hasaranga was the Pied Piper and Sri Lankan fans blindly followed him.

Many people who have played the game at grassroots levels have been taught the golden rule never to question the umpires’ authority. Late Lionel Mendis had a rule that a dismissed batsman had to put his head down and walk back to the pavilion faster than he had walked in whether he agreed with the umpire’s decision or not. Late Bertie Wijesinha had got his players to ‘sir’ the umpires and some of his schoolboys greeted umpires that way even when they had moved on to the international stage.

Vernon Senanayake, another reputed cricket coach, taught his players ‘unquestioned obedience’ for he believed that when players moved on from schoolboys to adults, the trait would stand them in good stead in their workplace. Sadly, these values are not taught by coaches anymore. Now it’s all about win at any cost. The fault is not with Hasaranga but the people who have coached him.

It was an ugly scene as Hasaranga argued with the umpire. Then he walked into the media center and tore apart the umpire calling him a ‘misfit’. When questioned what exactly he told Hannibal after the game, Hasaranga revealed that he had asked the umpire whether he was a Sri Lankan. Sensibly, Sri Lanka Cricket deleted that part when posting the press conference in their social media platforms. It is clear indication that SLC did not agree with their captain.

On SLC’s part it needs to be asked why they opted for Hannibal as the on field umpire and Ruchira Palliyaguruge as television umpire. Palliyaguruge is Sri Lanka’s most experienced and decorated umpire after Kumar Dharmasena and he should have been on field and not sitting in the comfort of an air conditioned enclosure. Overall, it must be said that Hannibal or his colleague Ravindra Wimalasiri lost control of the game. Quite surprising for someone of Wimalasiri’s stature for he is a Chief Inspector of Police.

Even at school level, many facets of a player are looked at before making him captain of the team. At national level we seem to look at performance and seniority only. A captain is the ambassador of a country. He cannot behave like a bull in a China shop.

We have had players who have taken umpiring decisions on the bump. Kumar Sangakkara was batting like a king in Hobart in 2007 when umpire Rudi Koertzen gave him out wrongly. Sanga was on 192. The umpire realized the error and visited the Sri Lankan dressing room to apologize to Sanga. They buried the hatchet by visiting one of the best bars in Tasmania with Rudi paying the bill. That’s the way it should be.

Had Sanga scored that double hundred, he would have ended on par with a certain Sir Don Bradman’s tally of double centuries. Furthermore, no one was complaining when Umpire Kumar Dharmasena let Dinesh Chandimal off the hook in Galle in 2022. Chandimal was on 20 and was clearly caught behind off Mitchell Starc. Chandimal went on to post a stunning double hundred. Sri Lanka won the Test match and drew the series. Australia were feeling the pinch but didn’t make a hue and cry.

Cricket is a great leveler. There are some decisions that go your way and some that go against you. It’s the same with life. In both games, gentlemen should not get carried away and need to remain with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

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Editorial

Duplicity of human rights champions

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Saturday 24th February, 2024

The West has taken upon itself the task of protecting human rights and democracy in the world and meting out punishment to those who violate them. It has thus been able to weaponise human rights to compass its geopolitical interests. It manipulates the UN, especially the UNHRC, for that purpose. The western governments readily confer pariah status on the countries which they consider human rights violators; they even resort to extreme measures such as imposing economic sanctions and resorting to military action in the name of their human rights crusaders.

They went so far as to plunge Iraq and Libya into anarchy to oust Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, respectively, for human rights violations and endangering democracy, among other things. Strangely, they have done precious little to prevent genocidal violence Israel is unleashing against Palestinians in Gaza, where about 30,000 lives are reported to have already been lost due to Israeli attacks since 07 Oct. 2023.

The UK is at the forefront of the western crusade against the nations responsible for large-scale human rights violations and attacks on democracy. Given Britain’s much-advertised concern for human rights, one would have expected the British Parliament to make a unanimous call for a ceasefire in Gaza, where a humanitarian tragedy is unfolding.

But the British lawmakers are far from united in protecting the Palestinians’ human rights. On Wednesday, many of them stormed out of Parliament over a vote on a ceasefire in Gaza, throwing the House into turmoil. Speaker Lindsay Hoyle came under fire for being partial, and subsequently he apologised for the decision to go for a vote.

The Labour leaders said they could not support the motion moved by the SNP (Scottish National Party) calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, because it sought to condemn ‘collective punishment’ of the Palestinian people, and did not specify that the ceasefire it was asking for had to be observed by both Israel and Hamas. This, we believe, is an absurd argument.

If what is being inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza is not ‘collective punishment’ what is it? That all parties to a conflict have to observe a ceasefire goes without saying, and it defies comprehension why the Labour leaders made an issue of a non-issue. They should have mustered the courage to say that they did not want to antagonise Israel by supporting that motion.

Labour has been embroiled in an intraparty dispute over its policy towards the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and its MPs have been trying to serve self-interest rather than taking a principled stand and pushing for an immediate ceasefire to save lives in Gaza, where not even hospitals are safe. The Labour leaders, who are widely expected to win the next parliamentary election, are pandering to Washington, which is unflinchingly backing Israel to the hilt while paying lip service to human rights in Gaza.

Perhaps, the West has never been exposed for its duplicity in this manner, but it will not give up championing human rights and democracy, or rather using them as instruments to advance its geo-political agendas. It has no sense of shame.

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