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Midweek Review

Province-based Devolution in Sri Lanka: a Critique

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by G H Peiris

 

1. Preamble

This article is prompted by the recent announcement that the Cabinet will soon consider a proposal to conduct Provincial Council (PC) elections without delay. The article is intended to urge that the PC system should be abolished and replaced by constitutional devices to ensure: (a) genuine sharing of political power among all primordial, áscriptive and associational groups that constitute the nation of Sri Lanka; and (b) the statutory protection of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and territorial integrity which the PC system, as long as it is permitted to last, will remain in dire peril. The article is also intended to stimulate the memory of those who appear to have forgotten the circumstances that culminated in the enactment of legislation in 1987 to establish PCs. There appears to prevail a measure of complacency among some of our present political stalwarts based on the notion that, with their two-thirds majority in Parliament, and with the 20th Amendment in place, they ought to let the status quo remain intact. This, I think, is quite silly. Apart from the fact that landslide electoral victories tend often to be brittle, those who were in the forefront of empowering the present regime are already reacting with dismay to the decision to re-establish the PCs.

 

2. Indo-Lanka Accord – the Indian Intervention

It is often forgotten that the government of India employed the most diabolical forms of diplomatic, military and economic coercion a powerful country could conceivably brought to bear upon a supposedly friendly nation with which it shares many cultural traits.

Omitting (for the sake of brevity) the vicissitudinous political career of Smt. Indira Gandhi during the 1970s, my elaboration of the foregoing observation begins with the commencement of her second spell of office as Prime Minister of India (January 1980 to October 1984) in the course of which she made no secret about her intense antipathy towards the JRJ-led government of Sri Lanka. This prompted certain emissaries of the ‘Tamil United Liberation Front’ (TULF) to suggest to her the desirability of launching an armed intervention in Sri Lanka of the type she had so successfully achieved at the “Liberation” of Bangladesh in 1971. That did not happen, probably because the JRJ regime had the backing of the West and the tragic end of her life in 1984. Regarding her malignant imprint on the constitutional affairs of Sri Lanka, however, it is worth citing the testimony of J. N. Dixit, Delhi’s High Commissioner in Colombo when (in his own words) he was “… involved in the most important and critical phase of Indo-Lanka relations; a period during which India’s mediatory efforts reached its peak culminating in the signing of the Indo-Lanka Agreement of 29 July 1987”. (Dixit, 1998: xvi):

“Once Mrs. Gandhi decided to be supportive of the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils on the basis of Indian interests and strategic considerations, the rest of the process which culminated in the Indo-Lanka Agreement and the induction of the IPKF was more or less inevitable”. (emphasis added)

Several reasons, partly conjectural, have been adduced for Smt. Gandhi’s hostility towards the government of Sri Lanka. For instance, She might have been resentful of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy leanings towards the ‘West’, and the reciprocal support which JRJ was attracting in abundance from some of the leading global powers for the mammoth development projects being implemented within the framework of ‘economic liberalisation’. Another explanation is that, with the worsening of relations between the Federal government and State governments of Punjab, Kashmir, Assam and West Bengal, Smt. Gandhi placed priority on consolidating her electoral support in Tamilnadu, which meant, among other things, greater concern on the demands of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. My own hunch is that it was a Shakespearian display of “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned” towards JRJ, allegedly for an absurd insult he had hurled at her in the course of an ‘After Dinner’ speech as the Janatha government’s PM, Moraji Desai’s, guest of honour.

Be that as it may, Smt. Gandhi began to provide clandestine aid (financial, material and training in guerrilla offensives) to groups of Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents, even after it was made public knowledge through prestigious Indian journals. This is relevant background to an understanding of the disastrous anti-Tamil riot that occurred in Sri Lanka in July 1983.

The riot caused extensive damage to life and property, and a massive displacement of the Sri Lankan Tamil population in the Sinhalese-majority areas ̶ one which included a large outflow of refugees from the country. It disrupted the economy aand brought the ‘liberalisation’ boom to an abrupt end. It tarnished the image of Sri Lanka abroad, generated a global tide of sympathy towards the Tamils, and attracted international attention and concern towards Tamil grievances. It paved the way for the direct intervention of India (untrammelled by pressures from the ‘West’) in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, culminating in the introduction in 1987 of a massive Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF). It also represented a major turning point in the history of Tamil politics in Sri Lanka, with the militant groups and their strategy of armed confrontation and terrorism gaining ascendancy over the older Tamil political parties and their proclaimed commitments to peaceful agitation and protest. The militants became a power in their own right, abandoning their earlier role as the ‘boys’ of the Tamil leadership in the political mainstreams.

 

Indian Intervention after the Convulsions of ‘Black July’

Smt. Indira Gandhi’s offer to “mediate” in the Sri Lankan imbroglio (pre-empting other global powers from claiming that role) could not have been turned down by the beleaguered President Jayewardene.

The process of mediation commenced with the arrival of the Indian diplomat, Parthasarathi Rao. It took the form of coercing the Sri Lanka government to change its policy of decentralisation of ‘development administration’ to devolution of political power, and to change the spatial framework for such devolution from the District to the Province, along with an amalgamation of the Northern Province and the Eastern Province. His “mission” ended with the production of document referred to in subsequent negotiations as ‘Annexure C’ which he took back to Delhi. To what this document was annexed, and whether there were other “Annexures” are not known.

‘Annexure C’, and Sri Lanka government’s own proposals were presented to an ‘All Party Conference (APC) summoned by JRJ at which there was vehement opposition to certain sections of that Annexure. But the government extracted from the APC proceedings a draft Ordinance providing for (a) “a revitalised District Councils” system and (b) the establishment of a Second Chamber, and tabled the drafts for further dialogue with the TULF (the SLFP delegates having withdrawn from the APC). Up to about the end of the year, the TULF leadership maintained that the draft ordinance did form the basis of an acceptable settlement. But, thereafter, in a sudden volte-face, they rejected it outright.

Smt. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh militants on 31 October 1984. Her son, Rajiv was sworn in as PM later on the same day. Critics have maintained that this caused a change in Indo-Lanka relations in the sense that Rajiv tended to be less “imperial” than his late mother in his approach to conflict resolution both within and outside India.

Despite Rajiv’s affable demeanour, the policy transformation brought about by his succession was less tangible than what most observers would have us believe.

For instance:

(a) the Delhi government made available through the State government of Tamilnadu a grant of US$ 3.2 million to the LTTE leadership; (b) as Lalith Athulathmudali (Sri Lanka’s Minister of Security and Defence) had observed, a leaked RAW document indicated the continuing existence of training camps and bases for Sri Lankan Tamil separatist activists and; (c) despite repeated requests by JRJ, Delhi did not adopt coastal surveillance measures to curtail clandestine movement of people and commodities across Palk Strait.

Meanwhile the Tamil militants escalated their terrorist onslaught, the most horrendous event of which was the slaughter by LTTE operatives of 148 devotees (most of them elderly women) at the premises of the Sri Maha Bōdhi shrine in the sacred city of Anuradhapura, and another 16 civilians in the course of their retreat into the wilds of Wilpattu on May 14, 1985. There was media speculation that firearms used by the Tigers in this massacre were purchased by the LTTE with the aforesaid Indian grant.

Romesh Bhandari, Rajiv’s Foreign Secretary, initiated peace negotiations between the government and delegates of the secessionist groups at a forum staged in July/August 1985 in the capital of Bhutan, and thus labelled as the ‘Thimpu Talks’. It provided a forum to Tamil militants for worldwide propaganda for their ‘liberation’ demands that were set out as follows (lawyer N. Balendran acting as their spokesman):

“It is our considered view that any meaningful solution to the national question of the island must be based on the following four cardinal principles:

(1) Recognition of the Tamils of Sri Lanka as a distinct nationality,

(2) Recognition of an identified Tamil homeland and the guarantee of its territorial integrity,

(3) Based on the above, recognition of the inalienable right of self-determination of the Tamil nation,

(4) Recognition of the right to full citizenship and other fundamental democratic rights of all Tamils, who look upon the island as their home.”

The Sri Lanka delegation response, as presented by H. L. de Silva (recorded in Balendran’s monograph on the ‘Thimpu Talks’) was as follows:

“First, we observe that there is a wide range of meanings that can attach to the concepts and ideas embodied in the four principles, and our response to them would accordingly depend on the meaning and significance that is sought to be applied to them. Secondly, we must state quite emphatically that if the first three principles are to be taken at their face value and given their accepted legal meaning they are wholly unacceptable to the government. They must be rejected for the reason that they constitute a negation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka; they are detrimental to a united Sri Lanka and are inimical to the interests of the several communities, ethnic and religious in our country”.

The collapse of ‘Thimpu Talks’ prompted Bhandari, in barely concealed personal disgust at the arrogance and recalcitrance of Mr. Balendran and his entourage of secessionist militants, to summon a follow-up negotiations in Delhi at which he restricted Sri Lanka participation to delegates of the government and of the TULF. At the conclusion of that effort in August 1985 a document named the ‘Delhi Accord’, “initialled” by representatives of the two governments, was released to the media by India’s Foreign Office. It claimed that a measure of consensus was reached on ‘Province’ as the unit of devolution’ and on the powers to be devolved. The Delhi Accord was rejected by the LTTE. By the end of the year the TULF leadership had also rejected the ‘Delhi Accord’.

Thereafter there was a series of discussions between representatives of the two governments. A. P. Venkateswaran, appointed Foreign Secretary in January 1987, attempted unilaterally to make the ‘Delhi Accord’ more acceptable to the TULF by bringing the Accord offers close to a federal form of government.

Perhaps the greatest betrayal of the trust which the government of Sri Lanka had placed in the Rajiv regime was represented by Delhi’s reaction to the military campaign termed ‘Operation Liberation’ launched by the government on 26 May 1987 in the face of which the Tiger cadres, abandoned their Thalaivar’s bravado, and fled in disarray. An SOS appeal conveyed by the LTTE leadership to Tamilnadu resulted in a flotilla of fishing vessels sailing out in the guise of a “spontaneous” civilian response but, in fact, with the backing of the central and state governments. That maritime invasion was foiled by the Sri Lanka Nsavy. Thereupon, in a blatant violation of international law and Sri Lanka’s air space, a convoy of Mirage-2000 combat planes dropped 20 tons of food and medical supplies on Jaffna, ostensibly as a ‘mercy mission’, but in reality, a demonstration of what Delhi could do unless Sri Lanka obeys. At the commencement of ‘Operation Liberation’, Dixit informed Lalith Athulathmudali that India would not stand idly by if the Sri Lanka Army attempts to capture Jaffna (K. M. de Silva, 1994: 631).

The JRJ-Rajiv dialogue at the ‘SAARC Summit’ conducted at Bangalore in early 1987; discussions between Indian VIPs like Dinesh Singh and P. Chidambaran and Sri Lanka ministers like Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and A C S Hameed; and, more geerally, the enforcement of his will on senior bureaucrats in Colombo by J N Dixit (who, by this stage, had earned for himself the epithet ‘India’s Viceroy’) were among the Indo-Lanka interactions that brought about the signing of the agreement.

What I have sketched above is only the bare outline of how and why the aging President JRJ, nudging 80, succumbed to the ruthless Indian onslaught, disillusioned as he was, by the disintegration of his inner circle of loyalists, the aggressive extra-parliamentary campaign led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and the ethos of anarchy and violence created by the JVP whose oft repeated theme, disseminated through the calligraphically unique poster campaign, was ‘jay ăr maramu’ (‘let’s kill JR’). Soon after the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, the JVP almost succeeded in doing that in a grenade attack on UNP parliamentary group meeting.

 

Indo-Lanka Accord’: Its Political Backdrop in Sri Lanka

Politics of insurrection gathered momentum in Jaffna at least from about a decade earlier than the signing of the said ‘Accord’ when the mainstream Tamil parties began to pursue a strategy of nurturing insurgent groups, and inculcating the notion of Sinhalese oppression (rather than inequities inherent to the mismanaged economy being experienced by all ethnic groups, and the blatant Caste-based oppression endemic to the Sri Lankan Tamil social milieu) being the root cause for their deprivations. It should also be recalled that the benefits of economic buoyancy that ushered in by the policy transformation of ‘liberalization of the economy’ from the earlier pseudo-socialist shackles, initiated by the government elected to office in 1977, were scarcely felt in the predominantly Tamil areas of the north.

It was in the context of intensifying turbulence that the leaders of Ilangai Tamil Arasi Kachchi (ITAK), All-Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) and Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) formed a coalition named the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF). At its inaugural session conducted in May 1976, the TULF adopted the so-called ‘Vaddukodai Resolution’, the opening statement of which reads as follows:

“The convention resolves that the restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular state of TAMIL EELAM based on the right of self-determination inherent to every nation has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation in this Country”.

The concluding paragraphs of that ‘Resolution’ (copied below) should, in retrospect, be understood as epitomising a formal decision to launch of an ‘Eelam War’.

“This convention calls upon its ‘LIBERATION FRONT’ to formulate a plan of action and launch without undue delay the struggle for winning the sovereignty and freedom of the Tamil Nation.”, followed by more specific belligerence,

“And this Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully in the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not until the goal of a sovereign state of TAMIL EELAM is reached”.

The campaign rhetoric of the TULF was somewhat more vicious than its belligerence at Vaddukoddai.. At a public rally conducted shortly after the formation in 1976 of the ACTC-ITAK alliance with qualified support from Arumuga Thondaman’s ‘Ceylon Workers Congress’, the person who could have been called the ‘First Lady’ of that alliance said in the course of her speech: “I will not rest until I wear slippers turned out of Sinhalese skins”. Unbelievable? If it is, look up the ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry’ into the communal disturbances of 1977 conducted by a former Supreme Court Judge (a person belonging to the Burgher community), published as Sessional Paper XII of 1980.

The data tabulated below show that the TULF appeal did not get the expected response even from the people living in the ‘North-East’. It is, of course, true that all contestants fielded by the TULF did win their seats in the Northern Province, securing comfortable majorities in the districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya; but elsewhere in the province, the margins of victory were wafer-thin. The polling outcome of the Eastern Province probably shocked the TULF leadership and certainly caused widespread surprise, especially since less than one-third of the voters of Batticaloa District (where Tamils accounted for 72%, and the ‘Sri Lankan Tamils 71% the district population) only 32% had endorsed the ‘Eelam’ appeal.

By the early 1980s, several groups had taken control over acts of terrorism and sabotage in Jaffna peninsula. The violence perpetrated by the insurgents and the retaliatory acts of the security forces reached fever-pitch on the eve of elections to the newly instituted District Development Councils. It resonated in other parts of the country in the form of two relatively brief waves of mob attacks on Tamil civilians, one in 1980 and the other in 1981. The victims included ‘Indian Tamils’.

The economic upsurge in the first 6 years of the JRJ-led government was short lived, and the political hopes proved to be illusory. The Jaffna peninsula turbulence was perceived by the government as a ‘law and order problem’ ̶ which a police contingent led by a Deputy Inspector General of Police Rudhra Rajasingham, a Tamil officer of impeccable repute, was ordered by the President to “eradicate within three months”. It failed in the face of massive protest campaigns, intensifying guerrilla attacks on government institutions and the security forces, and harsh retaliatory action by the security forces.

 

The ‘Eelam War’ for which the groundwork had been laid by the TULF was triggered off by the anti-Tamil riot of unprecedented brutality that took place in July 1983. Its damning repercussions were referred to earlier in this memorandum. JRJ reacted by proscribing several parties and incarcerating a few among his more articulate detractors, some, on the basis of barely credible evidence. Yet another blunder by him at this state was the holding of a national referendum in order to extend the life of the parliament (with the 4/5th majority under his command) by another 6 years. Apart from the rampant malpractices that features this poll, it did look like the fulfilment of his euphoric pledge in the aftermath of his victory to “roll back the electoral map”.

The youth unrest in the Northeast which was mobilised for electoral gain by the TULF began to be replicated in earnest elsewhere in the island in the form of the second wave of insurrection launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP/Peoples Liberation Front). In the economic recession that prevailed, and with the incessant Television displays of unattainable luxury restricted to the life styles of a small minority, increasing numbers of youth suffering from “frustration aggression” were attracted to the JVP fold. By 1985, they engaged in raids for the collection of money and arms, crippling the economy with frequently enforced curfews, and a range of terrorist violence such as intimidation, torture and the murder of persons identified as collaborators of the government.

 

The Province as a Unit of Devolution

The Colebrooke-Cameron Reforms of 1833 that introduced a network of 5 Provinces was intended to consolidate British rule over the island which remained tenuous even after the suppression of the rebellion of 1818. The spatial pattern of provinces was changes from time to time until it was finalised in 1889 against the backdrop of the mid-Victorian imperial glory and the absence of any challenge to British supremacy in ‘Ceylon’. The population of the island at that time was only 3 million; and, despite the ongoing deforestation of the Central Highlands, at least about 70% of the island territory was uncharted wilderness.

 

To be Continued



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Midweek Review

JRJ’s racism, cold war posturing and the Indian debacle

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New biography:

In addition to his political biography of J R Jayewardene, Godage & Bros published last month another book of travel by Rajiva Wijesinha. Around and About the Mediterranean covers journeys over half a century to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Levant from Jordan up to Turkey. It also includes travel to the Balkans, Yugoslavia in 1972 and then the separate countries of the former Yugoslavia in the last five years.

Bringing together the Classical and the Christian and the Islamic cultures of the region makes for a fascinating read for it shows the intermingling that has made the Mediterranean so productive of ideas as well as artefacts. In addition, the book shares with readers the sheer joy of travel, the wonders seen and the pleasure of strenuous exploring followed by relaxation in scenic surroundings. There are several colour pictures as well as black and white ones to illustrate each section.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An opportunity to peruse Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s critical biography of Sri Lanka’s first executive President (not elected), titled ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’, couldn’t have been received at a better time.

The country is in turmoil with a wave of protests, with farmers’ now leading the way over the SLPP government agricultural policy, a simmering dispute with China regarding a ship carrying allegedly contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment entering Sri Lankan waters, unprecedented balance of payment crisis, and a deepening disagreement with SLPP constituents over a deal with the US company New Fortress Energy, as well as foreign policy issues.

Can Sri Lanka’s current predicament be blamed on the executive presidential system, failure on the part of Parliament and the judiciary – the three pillars on which the country’s political system is based? Academic, administrator and ex-lawmaker who had represented the utterly corrupt SLFP and UNP-led political groupings (2010-2015 in Parliament), Prof. Wijesinha has launched this devastating attack on the late UNP leader JRJ but, overall, the JRJ biography seemed an extremely harsh critique on the political setup he established. But, the irony is the author himself had been part of the two major political groupings after having performed an immensely valuable role as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process (SCOPP) in addition to being the Secretary to the Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry.

The writer really appreciate an opportunity to review ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ against the backdrop of The Island celebrating its 40th anniversary at a time the country is experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis. Prof. Wijesinha has basically dealt with the period The Island and its sister paper, Divaina played a critically important role.

Before delving into Prof. Wijesinha’s quite useful analysis, it would be pertinent to mention that as a UPFA National List MP, the academic, in spite of strong opposition from a section of his Liberal Party, voted for the dictatorial 18th Amendment to the Constitution that was passed on Sept. 18, 2010. The 18th Amendment that had been brought in at the expense of the 17th, introduced during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President, literally placed the executive, the legislature and the judiciary under the President’s thumb. The judiciary cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for protecting and nurturing the Constitution if/when the executive or Parliament violated the Constitution, or both did, simultaneously. The UPFA initiated impeachment proceedings, close on the heels of the Supreme Court having deemed actions taken against then CJ Shirani Bandaranayake constitutional. Bandaranayake was accused of financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases among other allegations- all of which she denied, but her husband was involved in some banking shenanigans and he was convicted.

Wijesinghe, as an MP, however abstained from backing the impeachment motion against then C J Bandaranayake in early January 2013. A year later, Prof. switched his allegiance to a high profile yahapalana political project, spearheaded by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and Ven. Atureliye Rathana, MP (now NL MP of Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya) that facilitated the break-up of the powerful UPFA and the emergence of long standing SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena as the Opposition presidential candidate.

With Sirisena taking over as the President in January 2015, Prof. Wijesinha received appointment as State Minister of Higher Education. However, Prof. Wijesinha resigned on Feb 17, 2015 opposing the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s move to secure executive powers for himself as the Prime Minister. Prof. Wijesinha declared the move to gazette the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was both ill-timed and a wrong decision, thus, he could no longer be a part of the yahapalana government.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged in Parliament the transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was extremely dangerous when one considered the way the UNP leader was conducting himself. Prof. Wijesinha certainly didn’t receive public appreciation for shifting of allegiances from various political alliances within a very short period, first to the short-lived Sirisena–Wickemesinghe combination, and then declare support for Sirisena, at the expense of Wickremesinghe, and finally ending up with those who he abandoned in 2014. Sirisena, who led the charge against the Rajapaksas, had ended up among the same group whom he accused earlier of planning to assassinate him.

Jeyaraj’s arrest in the wake of Indo-Lanka Accord

Prof. Wijesinha dealt with how the JRJ government arrested the then The Island journalist David Buell Sabapathy Jeyaraj over the reportage of the Indian Army offensive in the Jaffna peninsula. The former parliamentarian reproduced an apt section of Jeyaraj’s report that discussed the ground situation in the peninsula. Having joined The Island, in June 1987, the writer remembers the subsequent developments that paved the way for Jeyaraj to leave for the US. The versatile writer ended up in Canada. New Delhi continuously interfered with print media cov­erage of the violence in the Northern and Eastern parts where the Indian Peace Keeping Force waged a bloody campaign to tame the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after it turned its wrath against them.

Once the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) sleuths visited The Island editorial to question Norman Palihawadana over his coverage of atrocities committed by the Indian Army in the Eastern theatre of operations. Jeyaraj left the country in Sept 1988, two years before after India ended its disastrous military mission here. The prolific writer for the first time returned to Sri Lanka in Oct 2013 – four years after the military eradicated the LTTE completely.

The section on the Provincial Council legislation, when examined with how JRJ handled the judiciary, is thought-provoking and is evidence the legislature lacks the strength to counter overwhelming executive (dictatorial) powers, regardless of opposition by some lawmakers. The resignation of the late much respected Gamani Jayasuriya over the passage of Provincial Council legislation is a case in point.

‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ published by S. Godage and Brothers should be made available in the library of the Parliament .The author should consider getting the book translated to Sinhala and Tamil, too, for the benefit of lawmakers unable to make use of the JRJ biography. The writer brought the new book to the attention of the Chief Librarian of Parliament and the pivotal importance of making it available to the lawmakers, over the last weekend.

Prof. Wijesinha discussed how JRJ brazenly amended and manipulated the Constitution, suppressed internal dissent and if the dictator had his way he would have deprived Ranasinghe Premadasa of an opportunity to contest the 1989 presidential election. At the onset of his new book, Prof. Wijesinha pointed out how JRJ brought in his first amendment to the Constitution to subvert a judgment of the courts.

Corruption becomes way of life

Prof. Wijesinha boldly discussed the impact the absolutely corrupt political system in place as a result of deterioration of parliamentary norms is having on the country. The latest JRJ autobiography has contradicted those who published hagiographies of the former President. Prof. Wijesinha compared the late JRJ with Ranil Wickemesinghe whom he described as JRJ’s spiritual heir. Having referred to their strategies in dealing with Tamil speaking people, Prof. Wijesinha repeated his long standing claim of Wickremesinghe bribing SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem in 2014 to win over his support ahead of the 2015 presidential election. Wijesinha first made the accusation in a widely watched Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ programme anchored by the late Bandula Jayasekera, one-time presidential spokesman and the writer’s colleague at The Island editorial. Prof. Wijesinha says Muslim politicians continue to cross up and down, depending on what they are offered.

Prof. Wijesinha publicly alleged years before the launch of JRJ biography how the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) sat on his complaint on the bribery accusation. The academic declared that the UNP received money to engineer a crossover of over a dozen People’s Alliance lawmakers in 2000 from businessman Nahil Wijesuriya.

Referring to the Rubber-Rice pact with China finalised in 1952 and the despicable role played by JRJ, Prof. Wiejsinha briefly examined the 99-year-old lease on the strategic Hambantota port in 2017. Prof. Wijesinha blamed the then President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema for the Hambantota sell-out to varying degrees. The author quite rightly faulted an influential section of the media for continuously attacking the Rajapaksas for selling family silver to the Chinese whereas the UNP-led administration pushed through the deal.

The incumbent government has had no option but to accept the controversial Hambantota deal. Interestingly, the government is now under fire for giving into the US strategy to take over Sri Lanka’s energy security. The author of the JRJ biography may not agree with the writer, but the undeniable truth is all governments since the advent of UNP at the 1977 parliamentary election contributed to the deterioration of democracy and sovereignty. The 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 with a 2/3 majority is a case in point. With the advent of the 20th Amendment, the much discussed abolition of the executive presidency or curbing of its powers will not be subject to discussion though some may make some statements opposed to the executive presidential system.

Perhaps Prof. Wijesinha should have discussed how Wickremesinghe received the premiership in January 2015 in the aftermath of Sirisena’s victory. JRJ’s political strategy has been exploited by interested parties to deceive the public that victory at the presidential election provided a mandate for them to take over the government. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe did exactly that. If not for the manipulation of the system, Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have received the premiership in January 2015. Prof. Wijesinha wouldn’t have to resign in Feb 2015 and Treasury bond scams would not have been perpetrated.

JRJ biography in three parts

The civil society, the diplomatic community, the media and the general public can benefit from Prof. Wijesinha’s incisive thinking. In part I, the author discussed (a) overview of JRJ’s political perspectives (b) Tamil parties (c) much amended Constitution (d) election and having ministers at his whim and fancy (e) 1982 Referendum. Basically, part 1 dealt with the building up of the colossal power base. Part 11 discussed (a) alienation of Tamils (b) riots after killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna (c) slide towards concessions (d) Indian interventions and (e) Indian military deployment. This section was aptly titled ‘A slow but relentless decline.’

The final part titled ‘And the Fall’ dealt with (a) Indo-Lanka Accord (b) India’s war against the LTTE (c) elections and increasing violence and (d) a new President.

The writer found Chapter 5 that examined the 1982 Referendum meant to prolong the life of Parliament regardless of consequences. JRJ introduced the 4th Amendment which Prof. Wiejsinha described as the worst of the then UNP leader’s constitutional amendments that paved the way for his party to rule the country from 1977 to 1989. The JRJ strategy ruined the country. The second JVP inspired insurgency, India inspired Tamil terrorism and trade union disputes wrecked the country during this period. Prof. Wijesinha lucidly explained how the then Attorney General Siva Pasupathy, who subsequently threw his weight behind the LTTE and Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon reacted to the controversial move.

Prof. Wijesinha called Pasupathy an obsequious man who had no qualms in his ‘pernicious bidding’ and Samarakoon as JRJ’s handpicked man was truly forthright. Prof. Wijesinha coverage of the judiciary’s response to a despicable move to extend the life of Parliament provides an opportunity for those interested in contemporary history to understand how the executive, the legislature and the judiciary collectively caused irreparable damage to the democratic system.

The assassination of actor-turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga in Feb 1988 should be examined taking into consideration Prof. Wijesinha’s comment on the UNP strategy meant to politically destroy the much loved man. Having had categorised Kumaratunga as a Naxalite, the UNP imprisoned him during the dubious 1982 Referendum campaign. Let me reproduce verbatim what Prof. Wijesinha stated on alleged Naxalite plot: “Gamini Dissanayake, who was then firmly under JR’s thumb, also got in on the act and claimed that ‘the leader of the Naxalites is Vijaya Kumaratunga’ and his assistant Chandrika. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, which was then fully controlled by the government, with the easily intimidated Rita Sebastian as its editor, published a list of eight Naxalites, namely, in order (1) Vijaya Kumaratunga (2) Chandrika Kumaratunga (3) Ratnasiri Wickramanayake (4) Hector Kobbekaduwa (5) T.B. Illangaratne (6) K.P. Silva (General Secretary, Communist Party), (7) G.S.P. Ranaweera (Editor, Aththa) and (8) Jinadasa Niyathapala.

Prof. Wijesinha commented on the media, including the birth of the Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL) and the disappearance of its founder Upali Wijewardene in the wake of Ranasinghe Premadasa thwarting JRJ’s move to field the top entrepreneur to contest the Kalawana electorate. The UNL received Prof. Wijesinha’s appreciation for opposing the Referendum, though mildly, whereas the state-owned media and Dawasa Group threw their full weight behind JRJ’s despicable move. The government engaged in violence in support of its political project. The author discussed how JRJ unashamedly used sections of the media and selected journalists for the project that gave his party the opportunity to govern the country for a period of 13 years, sans parliamentary elections.

A bizarre strategy

Prof. Wijesinha explained how JRJ adopted bizarre political strategies. Having undated letters of resignation from his MPs is one such shameful tactic. JRJ played politics with the system to restrict the number of by elections (remember, this was before the introduction of the PR system in 1989). The section titled ‘Flexing muscles in 1983’ under Chapter 5: Referendum underscored how JRJ consolidated unbridled power at the expense of Parliament and the Judiciary. JRJ ruined institutions at will. Parliament was among them. During a recent interview on ‘Siyatha’ , one-time President Maithripala Sirisena explained how successive Presidents brought in Amendments to consolidate their power at the expense of the people. Sirisena, quite rightly claimed that he was the only President to give up power by way of introducing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015. However, the irony is Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, allowed his parliamentary group to vote for the 20th Amendment that neutralised the 19th. Lawmaker Sirisena quite conveniently refrained from voting for the 20th Amendment having explained his predicament to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Having accused the Rajapaksas of planning to bury him, Sirisena, who has been named in the Easter Sunday Commission report for possible prosecution for dereliction of duty, ended up as an SLPP lawmaker.

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Midweek Review

Can Budget 2022 resolve national crisis?

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By Dr. Laksiri Fernando

It is extremely unlikely that the present budget could resolve the evolving national economic crisis, not to speak of the political disorder emerging out of it. In fact, during the Parliamentary debates on the second reading, the main oil refinery at Sapugaskanda was shut down due to non-availability of crude oil supplies. This is a result of the foreign exchange crisis, which the present Budget has unfortunately not even attempted to resolve.

Instead of obtaining crude oil and refining them to fulfil the fuel requirement of the people, now the Ministry of Energy is ready to import petrol, kerosene, and diesel at higher prices. At present, there are severe shortages of all these items in addition to gas, in the country.

To obtain crude oil from Nigeria, as previously agreed, the Ministry required around $ 2.5 billion, from May until December. The Central Bank understandably has not been able to offer these dollars as foreign reserves were limited to around $ 3 billion. The government, however, has allowed the Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila, to obtain refined oil (crude oil perhaps later) from Oman (3.6 b) and India (.5 b) on foreign loans and deals amounting to $ 4.1 billion.

Unplanned and haphazard obtaining of foreign loans is not a solution to the fuel crisis or the foreign exchange crisis. These are the results of indecision, wrong decisions, or reversal of decisions, perhaps a reflection of differences or rifts within the government. It is primarily for the foreign exchange crisis that the Budget 2022 does not offer any solution, although it boasts of ‘challenging the challenges.’ For example, the following is the view of the Minister of Finance, Basil Rajapaksa, on ‘foreign exchange reserves’.

“The government of HE the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, expects to create apart from a foreign exchange reserves a number of other reserves. The first of which is the reserve of water, food, and energy, which are created through the land, water, and the renewable energy which are gifts of nature.”

He states the above just before the section on ‘Identifying Potential Exports’ on page 15 of the Budget speech. Does he think that creating foreign reserves is like reserving water, food, and energy? Perhaps he is correct, considering the shortages of food, fuel, energy, or even clean water in the country, at present.

Requirements of a Budget

A Budget in a country like Sri Lanka should address three main balance sheets in the economy. This is common to many countries, but given the crisis in all three spheres in Sri Lanka, the balance of state’s income and expenditure should not be the only focus.

The three requirements are as follows: (1) the balance of payments to mean the country’s foreign (dollar) income and expenditure, deficit, debt, aid, and loans. The exchange rate is also important. (2) The balance of trade to mean the country’s exports and imports, trade deficit, nature of exports (primary, secondary, or tertiary). In the case of Sri Lanka, the status of tourism and export of labour. (3) The state expenditure and income in detail with proper breakdowns on capital and recurrent expenditure on social welfare, investments promoting development, direct and indirect taxes and profits and losses of state enterprises.

It is customary for all of us to call a budget, the ‘budget of the government.’ But it is of the state, the people being the main stakeholder. In a democracy, the government is merely the officeholder or the servant.

When one goes through the ‘Budget Speech’ or the ‘Annexes,’ the necessary information on the above three aspects of a proper Budget, the identification of problems in all three areas, and genuine proposals to resolve them are absent. That is another reason why the present budget is far from being able to resolve the present national crisis. The Budget speech of the Minister was like a ‘Throne Speech,’ more rhetoric than a genuine analysis. The balance of payments or the balance of trade are not properly covered. There are obvious structural defects in the Budget, Budget planning and presentation.

The attached annexes are limited to four, titled; ‘Summary of the Budget (2021-2022),’ ‘Gross Borrowing Requirements,’ ‘Revenue Proposals 2022,’ ‘Expenditure Proposals,’ and ‘Taxation.’ Most of the tables are quite callous and some do not even give the totals! These are compiled by the Department of Fiscal Policy among others. The ‘Summary of the Budget’ itself proves the main criticism of this article, no data on balance of payment or balance of trade. The summary is mainly limited to (government) ‘revenue’, ‘expenditure’ and proposed ‘financing.’

Summary

Let us take the ‘summary of the Budget’ on face value. The table also gives ‘estimated’ figures for 2021, correct or not. The figures are given as if the deficit is already fixed. That cannot be the case and any burden from this year would go to the next year of the present Budget.

Optimistically, the table gives the revenues first. Accordingly, the (estimated) revenue for 2021 is Rs. 1,561 billion, and for 2022 it would be 2,284. An increase of Rs. 723 billion. This could be the case, hopefully, given the new taxes introduced, and taxes of the last Budget not implemented, reintroduced. The estimated expenditure of the last budget was Rs. 3,387 billion and this budget is 3, 912. Of course, it is not a big increase, given the present crisis, but it is doubtful whether it would be sufficient to alleviate the stagnating economy. On the other hand, the Keynesians might argue for increased spending to stimulate the economy.

For example, in the last budget, the domestic deficit was Rs. 1,826 billion. In the present budget it is Rs 1,628 billion without a big difference or a purpose. The most important in a developing country is not so much the budget deficit, but how you plan to finance the Budget deficit, and more importantly how you plan to spend public funds. It is important that expenditure on provincial councils is increased from Rs. 1,085 billion to Rs. 1,218 billion. While this is marginal, these go like other expenditure to recurrent matters such as salaries, wages and necessary goods and services.

Sri Lanka is within this vicious cycle of subsistence budgeting. Public investment was limited to Rs. 581 billion in the last budget, and to Rs. 931 billion in this Budget. Considering the inflation, this increase is nothing much, and most important is how even these amounts are spent, and for what.

The way the deficits are financed is also dubious or problematic. In the 2021 Budget, Rs. 978 billion was expected from foreign sources as gross borrowings and loans. In the present Budget, Rs. 1,016 billion is expected from the same sources. The table also (not so clearly) reveals the amounts that the country must pay back, Rs. 536 billion in the last budget and an expected Rs. 866 billion in the present Budget. The same goes for domestic obligations in borrowings, although not of that gravity.

‘External budget’

The main crisis Sri Lanka is facing is in respect of what I would call the ‘external budget.’ This means the trade deficit, balance of payment deficit, depleted foreign reserves, exchange rate and the external debt. On these matters, no tables or accounts are given in the annexes. Even in the Budget speech very little attention is given to these; nonetheless unbelievable targets and figures are attached. This is limited to two pages, 73 and 74.

It may be correct to say, as the Minister has stated, exports of the country reached $ 10,028 million by last month (October). This undoubtedly shows the potential. Therefore, his target of $ 11,900 million for the whole year can also be reasonable. However, his target of limiting import bill to $ 18,900 million for the year is an underestimation given the present ‘open’ policies of the government. Thus, the estimated trade deficit of $ 7,000 million for the year is also an underestimation.

Most questionable are his predictions for 2022 and beyond. He says, “In 2022, a trade surplus is expected amounting to around USD 1,000 million, including from tourism, ports, and IT export services and I have spelt out policies and measures in this Budget speech to increase it to USD 8,000 million in 2027.” (p.74).

Even if the trade deficit could be limited to $ 7,000 million this year by some luck, how come in 2022, a trade surplus of $ 1,000 million be achieved? It would be a miracle. It is true that the Minister has ‘spelt out’ some policies and measures promoting tourism, ports, and IT export services. Revenue from foreign employment also could be added. Yet a trade surplus of $ 1,000 million next year would be unachievable, realistically. A budget should be realistic and not idealistic.

It is customary in contemporary budgets to formulate projections for the future beyond the budget year (2022). However, these projections should be realistic based on data, careful analysis and realistic estimates. Increasing the trade surplus therefore to $ 8,000 million in 2027 appears just rhetoric to deceive the people. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to believe that the present Budget could resolve the present national crisis outlined in my previous article

(Sri Lanka Heading for Serious Crisis)

in the areas discussed, among others.

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Midweek Review

The brain drain disaster: Where are we heading?

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by Rasanjalie Kularathne and Dr.Manoj Samarathunga

“I’m not happy to live in Sri Lanka” – a housewife

“I can earn more money if I go abroad” – a doctor

“I want my children to have a better future” – a school teacher

“Sri Lanka is on an economic bomb” – a university lecturer

“Many of our politicians and government officers are corrupted” – a social activist

Brain drain reflects multiple underlying socio-economic problems. While we expect to see a better country after the natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks and pandemics, a more serious threat looms; it may appear insignificant to the majority of the people, especially to the politicians and policymakers, yet it is something we should counter immediately as a national priority. Therefore, based on a series of interviews with professionals who have either migrated or are planning to do so we present some important facts about Sri Lankan ‘brain drain’.

The development of any country depends on its human capital. Similarly, the success of any organisation hinges on the performance of its competent workforce. The question is whether this qualified workforce will remain in Sri Lanka, a few years hence? All the professionals,we interviewed, are desirous of leaving the country due to many reasons, including, but not limited to, economic turndowns, coups and political instability, human rights violations, thoughtless bureaucracy, the absence of national policies aimed at development, bribery and corruption.

In this context, there is an ever-increasing number of youth who desire to pursue professional careers and expect attractive remuneration packages. Then again, the question is whether there are enough opportunities available for them in the country, or whether there are any policies in place or actions being taken to create them. If not, the youth, opt for foreign employment.

Migration is triggered by push factors, including adverse/unfavourable economic conditions, lack of employment opportunities or the general low wage levels, abusive marriages, domestic violence, lack of social freedom and unstable political governance, and pull factors, such as the host country’s favourable salaries, better quality of life, freedom/or independence, and the growing need for workers in the destination country.

Sri Lankan youth view migration as an opportunity for better employment prospects. The migratory mindset is widespread among the Lankans today, as can be seen from the winding queues near the ‘passport office’. Migration for a “better future” is a dream of many educated youth from urban and rural backgrounds. Most of the migrants, in Sri Lanka, are between 25 and 39 years.

Sri Lankans, who study overseas, return home only to find that there are no jobs available for them in their chosen disciplines. The only choice they are left with is to leave the country in pursuit of employment that is relevant to their disciplines, and better pay. After migrating to the countries of their choice, many Sri Lankans become permanent citizens, and their families also migrate. As a result, many who benefited from free education in Sri Lanka are now employed abroad. Therefore, the human resource capacity within the country, is low.

The skilled job seekers, especially carpenters, bricklayers, masons, drivers, technicians, and mechanics, have a high demand in the Middle East, European and Pacific countries. Many young women, living in the peripheral areas have no choice but to work as housemaids in the Middle East because they find the living conditions, and the cost of living, unbearable. Many people have become virtual slaves. Many others fall prey to human traffickers. Illegal migration troubles Australia, which is working with the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent it. Illegal migrants face sexual harassment, human rights violations, among other things.

Sri Lanka is experiencing a shortage of skilled professionals in many disciplines such as health, apparel, manufacturing, IT, business process outsourcing, tourism, and jewellery. As per the World Bank, in Sri Lanka, only 1.004 doctors are available and 2.18 nurses and midwives were available per 1000 patients in 2018. Every year, around 60 doctors leave for the UK, Australia, Canada, and other developed countries to undergo their one-year compulsory training, but only half of them return, exacerbating a growing crisis in healthcare services. Similarly, many university academics who leave the country to pursue higher education overseas, never return. Ekanayake, Anoji and Amirthalingam (2018) conducted a study on ‘Impact of Migration of Sri Lanka Professionals to Qatar” and they found that 70% of Sri Lankan professionals prefered to stay in Qatar far longer than they anticipated. They are also less likely to return to Sri Lanka for work in the near future. Around 39% did not prefer to return to sri Lanka. Nearly 30% of these professionals aim to secure new jobs in Qatar or other Gulf nations after their present contracts expire, while nearly 21% seek to migrate to countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. without returning to Sri Lanka.

If this trend continues, Sri Lanka will face a problem where the nation’s ‘brains’ aren’t contributing to the country’s future and there’s a tremendous flow of money going outside. To discourage international migration and stimulate ‘brain gain’ instead of ‘brain drain’, Sri Lanka needs to take appropriate measures as follows:

* Ensuring political stability in Sri Lanka;

* Introducing policies to enhance economic conditions and stimulating development;

* Discouraging bribery and corruption by enforcing the law strictly;

* Focussing on formulating strategies to keep skilled employees within the country by offering suitable employment opportunities and better facilities, realising that migration is caused by push and pull factors.

* Controlling inflation and increasing national productivity

* Strengthening the existing lawss, rules and regulations to avoid human rights violations, harassments, and discriminations;

* Attracting expatriate Sri Lankan professionals by offering them suitable positions and competitive salaries;

* Encouraging more multi-national companies to invest in Sri Lanka so as to create international level job opportunities to Sri Lankans;

* Forecasting the future human resource needs of the country and developing the existing workforce to meet future needs;

* Encouraging the professionals who have migrated to contribute to Sri Lanka’s development through different development and social responsibility projects.

(The writers are attached to the Faculty of Management Studies, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka. They could be contacted at rasanjaliek555@gmail.com )

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