By Ananda P. Dasanayake
The government of Sri Lanka published its proposed Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) on 17 March 2023. If adopted, it would replace the old Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) of 1971. The PTA was invoked mainly to deal with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) terrorism in northern Sri Lanka. After the war was over, the government came under pressure from sections of the international community, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to repeal the PTA and replace it with a new law that conforms to international standards in countering terrorism.
The word terrorism came into the Sri Lankan political vocabulary in 1971 when I was a teenager. A group of educated, yet rebellious youth led an insurrection in 1971 against the corrupt rulers and the declining living conditions of the poor. Then the government used emergency laws to curb the uprising. This group is also alleged to have led the 1988-89 violent acts. The PTA Bill of 1971 was used to curb that.
The new ATA bill purports to do away with the provisions of the PTA that were considered in violation of international human rights law. Instead, the new Bill places the power to make detention orders in the hands of a Deputy Inspector General of Police, a power which under the PTA was held by the Minister of Defence. Critics including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have already raised objections to the provisions of ATA. The danger of the new bill is that any ordinary citizen, living in Sri Lanka or abroad, who criticises any element of the government under the freedom of expression right can now be considered a terrorist by the new and very loose definition of terrorism in the ATA. Under this definition, any citizen who is politically conscious or active can be labeled as a terrorist and arrested by the rulers. The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act would empower the authorities to systematically violate fundamental human rights, Human Rights Watch said. “The proposed counterterrorism law would permit the Sri Lankan government to continue to use draconian measures to silence peaceful critics and target minorities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government’s crackdown on dissent and misuse of existing counterterrorism laws to arbitrarily detain protesters highlights the obvious risk of abuse.”
In an interview given to the BBC, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, who drafted the bill, claimed that the new bill was developed after studying counter-terrorism laws of the countries such as the United States, India, the United Kingdom, and Germany. The International Conference of Jurists (ICJ), however, says that the newly proposed anti-terrorism legislation, if adopted as currently formulated, will give rise to a panoply of human rights violations, as much as the PTA was open to misuse. The Minister’s defence of the bill seems to be based on the provision that the magistrates can intervene if there are any wrong accusations. This claim is ridiculous given that Sri Lanka has no independent judiciary or transparent law and order as most judges and law enforcement officials are in the pockets of powerful politicians.
The ATT has some new features as well. It contains what the rulers learned from the recent people’s uprising (known as Aragalaya in Sri Lanka) that led to the ouster of the then President Gotabaya Rajapakse. Aragalaya took place when the Sri Lankan civilians took to the streets in droves in March 2022, semi-organised, to protest the corrupt rulers and their devastating policies. The government brutally attacked them together with the journalists and banned all social media, and unconstitutionally imposed a 72-hour curfew and emergency law. The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung tweeted that Sri Lankans have a right to protest peacefully. Under the ATA, the president has the power to label the internet and new technology-based campaigns, social media, and democratic activism that were crucial during the Aragalaya as terrorist activities. The new act refers to the presidential powers in 42 places compared to just 11 places in the PTA.
Despite all these concerns, the public, both urban and rural, have no real understanding of what the ATA entails. They are of the opinion that the ATA applies only to the ‘terrorists’ in a traditional sense such as those who bomb places, etc., and not to them. But under the ATA, anyone can now be considered a terrorist except the rulers of the country. If you call a corrupt politician corrupt, you will be considered a terrorist. Some ministers have openly threatened the protestors by saying that they have enough water in the Beira Lake (a place that played a significant role during the Aragalaya), and enough tear gas canisters bought using the borrowed money. These threats need to be highlighted and publicly debated. The current discussion on the subject is limited to a few news conferences by the opponents, a few news articles based on expert reviews, and some international dissent.
While President Biden and Vice President Harris trot the world emphasising the importance of global democracy, the corrupt Sri Lankan rulers who are emboldened by the recent IMF loan they secured are trying to kill democracy in Sri Lanka for sure. The US ambassador to Sri Lanka should express her concerns about the danger of the proposed act just like the European Commission and Human Rights Watch have already done. The USA could easily influence the Sri Lankan government as they depend on the IMF.
Prof. Ananda P. Dasanayake is a Public Voices Fellow of The Op-Ed Project in partnership with New York University.
The dire need to increase Sri Lanka’s export earnings and thereby reduce the trade deficit to meet the severe financial crisis we are facing today has been emphasised by many. According to Central Bank annual reports (see Table), export incomes have not increased substantially during the last few years. Tea, which contributes around 12 % of the total exports, registered a notable decline of 16.0 per cent in 2022, attributed to many factors.
In 2022, production of high, medium, and low grown tea, declined by 13.8 per cent, 21.2 per cent, and 15.4 percent respectively. Meanwhile, the average yield in the smallholder tea sector decreased to 1,193 kilogrammes per hectare, registering a year-on-year decline of 15.6 per cent in average yield. Production of rubber and most of the other export crops too have decreased during the last decade.
Increasing exports is of paramount importance to overcome the current financial crisis. But what we are going to export is the main question. Newspaper reports indicate that the quantity of most of our crop exports has dwindled during the last few years. As indicated above, production of tea, our main export crop product, has not shown any substantial increase during the last few years. All these data indicate that the production of our export crops is dwindling and it is sine qua nun that an effective plan is implemented to increase our export incomes. In such a plan, increasing the production of currently cultivated crops such as tea, rubber and coconut need to be adequately dealt with.
Sri Lanka has a wide variation in soil and climate with 46 agro-ecological zones, each characterised by specific climate and soils making it possible the cultivation of a number of different types of crops such as tuberous crops, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor etc. which have a considerable export potential. Out of the 6.5 million hectares of land, around 2.0 million hectares are in the wet zone. About 75% of it is cultivated and most of this land is of low-productivity due to soil degradation. In the dry zone, out of the 4.5 million hectares, only about 2 million acres are in productive use. Thus, there is a large extent of potentially cultivable land in the dry zone. Most of the soils in the dry zone are relatively more fertile than those in the wet zone. Non-availability of adequate rainfall during the Yala season is one of the limiting factors of crop production in the dry zone. However, better water management practices would reduce this limitation. Also, various major irrigation projects such as Mahaweli, Kirindi Oya, Muthukandiya and Inginimitiya provide irrigation to about 200,000 hectares in the dry zone. The numerous minor irrigation projects too would increase the irrigable area in the dry zone. Thus, there is a considerable potential to increase the level of crop production in Sri Lanka.
Although there are many organisations such as the Ministries of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce, Export Development Board, Industrial Development Board etc. there appears to be no proper medium long-term plan to promote the cultivation of these crops and develop appropriate agro-industries except for some ad-hoc projects. The Ministry of Industry and Agriculture should implement an effective agro-Industrial Development Programme which undoubtedly would increase our exports incomes, improve employment opportunities and incomes in the rural areas. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
In any programme/plan to increase foreign exchange earnings from the agric. sector, agro-industries have to be given much emphasis. A large number of crops cultivated in Sri Lanka have considerable potential in various agro-industries. However only rubber, coconut and a few fruit crops are used in industries. Crops such as cassava, horticultural and floricultural crops, medicinal herbs, cane, bamboo, sunflower, castor, ayurvedic herbs, etc. have a considerable industrial potential but are not cultivated to any appreciable extent for want of better and improved varieties, technological know-how, relevant market information etc. Development of agro-industries will also increase export income and will have a tremendous impact on the economy of the country and also provide employment opportunities among rural people. Private sector can be involved in such projects for which appropriate technical assistance needs to be given by the relevant public organizations.
There has been rhetoric on promoting exports. It is meaningful and effective actions that are necessary. Giving talks at numerous seminars etc. will not increase exports unless there is a realistic plan implemented effectively.
Dr. C. S. Weeraratna
It’s the economy, again
There is a report in the Lankadeepa of 30 September, 2023 that thousands (‘dahas ganang’) of university graduates in biotechnology (and engineering technology) languish without employment. There is a comment that even if all of them were employed as teachers in state schools (in fact, there is no money to do so), the pool of unemployed graduates in biotechnology, which is filled yearly,
would not dry up; not dissimilarly (the reporter comments) from the fate of graduates in Arts. That graduates in biotechnology are unemployable in this economy as graduates in Arts are, validates a position that I have repeatedly brought up in these pages: university graduates and other young people are unemployed in this economy because this economy is arid and sterile and not because the education system, at whatever level, is fundamentally flawed.
The moment they land in a vigorously growing economy, they become the output of an excellent education system. Not that the education system (school and university) cannot be improved: Cambridge University has improved since 1215; Harvard University continues to improve since 1635. China (Mainland and Taiwan), Malaysia and many other economies did not await reforms in their education systems to grow rapidly as during the last several decades. It is a bit like the truism about savings and investment in the total economy: you don’t have to save to invest; if you invest savings will accommodate investment. It might be apt to say, ‘it is the economy stupid’.
The report in the Lankadipa highlighted that it was Dr. Bandula Gunawardhena, who, when he was the Minister of Education in 2012, with great enthusiasm, installed these branches of learning in schools and universities. And, he earned a Ph.D. degree in Economics!
Our erudite president of the republic, who goes around the world from one conference to another, preaching to the rest of the world, shows great enthusiasm about digitizing this economy. He is falling into the same trap as Dr. Gunewardhena fell into. You digitize a growing economy, not a moribund and bankrupt one.
It is the economy, again.
Tribute to Dr. Nilanthi Cooray
I have known Dr. Nilanthi for more than 40 years since her marriage to my cousin Frank.Dr. Nilanthi was born in Moratuwa to a middle-class Catholic family. Her siblings include an older sister and a younger brother, and all three of them were studious. Her parents, especially her father. was a devout Catholic who was a frequent visitor to St. Sebastian’s church in Moratuwa.
Up to grade eight, Nilanthi attended Our Lady of Victories Convent in Moratuwa and then joined the Holy Family Convent in Bambalapitiya. She was accepted to the Medical College in 1972 after her successful results at the A-levels. She traveled daily from Moratuwa to the Medical college until such time she was able to get a place at the medical college hostel. During her final years at the medical college hostel, she succeeded in her studies and graduated as a doctor in 1976.
Her career began as an intern at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital Colombo for six months and another six months at the Castle Street Hospital, Borella working with leading qualified senior doctors. In 1977, she got married to her lifelong friend, Frank Cooray, who was working as a Technical Officer in the Irrigation Department. Her first appointment as a fully-fledged MBBS doctor was at the Narammala Base Hospital. Thereafter she got a transfer to the Lunawa Hospital.
After serving the required number of compulsory years (five or six years) she gave up the government job and started her own private practice. This decision seemed a calculated risk as at that time Moratuwa had enough and more reputed and recognized senior doctors such as Dr. Festus Fernando, Dr. Winston Perera, Dr. Cramer, Dr. Muthukumaru, Dr. Keerthisinghe, Dr. Guy de Silva and so on. However, within a short span of time, Nilanthi was able to establish herself as a remarkable young doctor and by the time the senior doctors retired or left Moratuwa, she had become one of the highly recognized doctors in Moratuwa with diagnostic excellence.
The demands of work and the up bringing of two little daughters made it difficult for Nilanthi to cope with everyday life. To support her, her husband gave up his job and went on voluntarily retirement after serving for 18 years at the Irrigation Department. He was just short of two years to qualify for the government pension.
In her prime of life Nilanthi was diagnosed for cancer. More time was spent in rest and prayers. Nilanthi and Frank would have prayed to God and all saints for a miracle healing. This was proved, when she went to Lourdes in France, a place known for Marian worship, to fulfill a vow, after receiving the good news from Dr. S. R. Jayatilleke, who was her oncologist, that her cancer has disappeared. This was the first thing she wanted to upon receiving the miracle healing. She got the green light from the doctor to fly. After her cancer Nilanthi slowed down in her practice and limited the number of patients per day.
Nilanthi was never interested in having a luxurious life or extra comforts like luxury cars or overseas holidays. Her life was centered around her family and her medical profession. She was a loving wife to her husband and devoted mother to her two daughters. As time passed, spending time with her four grandchildren brought her great happiness.
Only after her death that most of the people came to know about her charitable acts of kindness and in treating the poor without charging a fee. During her funeral service, a priest who gave the homily mentioned how students and staff of St. Sebastian’s College Moratuwa benefited by her treatment during their illnesses.
It was only a matter of telling her husband who was now attached to the staff at the College and he made arrangements for them to consult Dr. Nilanthi on a priority line. There was no difference between a priest, staff member, minor staff or a student (of course the student had to wear the uniform to identify their school), all were treated free of charge.
Attending the funeral service were several priests (including Bishop Anthony who was a past Rector of the College) and Christian brothers who served the college. I am certain that they came not only to pay their last respects but also to express their gratitude for taking care of them during their time of illnesses.
In the latter part of her life, her health deteriorated and with the help of her domestic aid, she had chosen a saree and a blouse for her final journey, which she did not disclose to her family members. However, when Frank came to know about it, he was upset and he had asked Nilanthi what this is all about. But she had not given any answer to that.
However, taking that opportunity she had given one more instruction to Frank, and that is after she is gone to give the gold chain round her neck to the domestic aid. For her final journey she was dressed with that particular saree and when everything was over the gold chain was given to the domestic aid.
She leaves so many special memories and a legacy of love. May her soul rest in peace.
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