by Sanjeewa Jayaweera
“No Chutta, I don’t need your help today. I will let you know when I need it.” were the last words that Aiya spoke to me. Usually, his tone was brusque and matter of fact. That day it was soft and endearing. I was a bit surprised but happy. I often wish I had the intuition to guess something was amiss.
It is now three months since my brother passed away. The intense grief and the sense of tragic loss that my three sisters and I feel have not abated. The heaviness in our hearts is still there.
As in most cases of suicide, many have posed the question “Why did he do this?” Many of his closest friends were bewildered. They did not detect any sign of depression or unhappiness. Neither did I. He was not depressed but indeed weary of life.
His letter to me, which unfortunately found its way to media outlets, websites and social media conveyed his apprehension about a couple of health issues that might impact the quality of his life in the future.
As his brother and closest confidant, I believe his following comments reveal his mindset. In his letter to me, he said, “In the final analysis, I have lived my life in full. I now see little or no reason to continue as the many negatives far outweigh few positives left. Therefore, I look forward to my departure.” In another post he said, “Left in my own time, achieving most if not all I wanted, now tired of it all and with no further reasons to stay on”. He did not elaborate as to why he felt “tired of it all” but followed the motto of Michelle Obama “When others go low, we go high”.
When I recently visited his grave, I saw a post in the cemetery that said, “Death is a delightful hiding place for men who are weary of life”. Many who desperately try to prolong their life in this world despite various challenges would find it hard to understand this. However, I do not.
Aiya was the second of five children, was born in 1956, a few days before the eighth-independence celebration day of Sri Lanka (Ceylon then). My sisters often used to tease my mother saying Aiya was her favourite! He was fortunate to get overseas exposure in his early years in Singapore and then India.
When the family returned to Sri Lanka in 1962, he and I were admitted to Nalanda Vidyalaya. Despite returning Foreign Service Officers having the option of choosing any school, my father had wanted us to be exposed to children from different backgrounds and not just the elite. Although Aiya was at Nalanda only for eight years before proceeding overseas, I believe his thinking on social issues impacting our country was somewhat fashioned by the value system that prevailed in schools such as Nalanda and Ananda at that time.
Our family proceeded overseas in 1970 and experienced the biting winter in Russia. After just one year, our father sought and got a transfer to the warmer climate of Pakistan.
After passing his GCE Ordinary Level exam in Islamabad, Rajeewa wanted to move to Karachi to do his Advanced Level exam. The reason was that Islamabad despite being the capital city, was a sleepy little town with no social life! Despite Ammi’s reluctance as he was only 17 years, he prevailed. Even then, Aiya was his own man!
In 1975 he moved with the rest of the family to West Germany. In 1980 he Graduated from the School of Economics specializing in the Catering and Hotel Trade in Dortmund. Only a few weeks before his death, he fondly reminisced on challenges he faced in having to learn the German language and maintain his grades. He said that in the first two years, several students left, but he persevered although he had to study twice as hard to ensure continuance at the institute because of the language problem. But he did it! He worked at several hotels in West Germany as part of his internship, and his stint at the Steinberger Hotel in Bonn from 1975 to 1977 exposed him to hosting of State Banquets for dignitaries like the Shah of Iran and other world figures. The disciplines he learnt were to stand him in good stead even in later years of his life when organizing official functions and dinners. All his life, he was able to know good wines from mediocre ones. He well understood the art of perfect entertaining.
He returned to Sri Lanka in 1980 and worked in the hotel trade till 1986 when he went to work in Mosul in Iraq. On his return, he decided to switch careers and joined Air Lanka in 1989 as a Marketing Executive. He quickly proved his capabilities and was appointed as the Manager of Marketing Communications in 1992. After that, he did stints in Oman, Chennai and then France as the Country Manager. In Chennai, he was Manager of the whole of Southern India.
He returned from France in 2005 and after resigning from Sri Lankan Airlines he joined Qatar Airlines as the Regional Manager for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives, and Myanmar. In 2010 he rejoined Sri Lankan Airlines on a two-year contract and was appointed as the Country Manager for Germany. However, his contract was prematurely terminated by the Sri Lankan Board in May 2011.
The reason was that Rajeewa refused a request by a VVIP who had a penchant for the welfare of airline flight attendants! He was told to arrange for an officer of the Sri Lankan Airlines Frankfurt office to meet two flight attendants who were returning by train from Berlin. They were then to be assisted and placed on board the train going to the Frankfurt airport.
As the day concerned was a Sunday, Rajeewa said that in Germany it was not possible to ask staff to work and as such he could not accede to the request. He also believed the ladies concerned were seasoned travellers and that there was no reason for them to be met and assisted. The net result was that his contract was terminated shortly after.
He was not a person who suffered fools gladly. He was known to be a firm administrator who discharged his responsibilities diligently and efficiently. A former boss of his at Sri Lankan Airlines told me recently that most of Rajeewa’s overseas postings were to places where contentious issues had to be resolved and that there was no better person than him to be assigned.
He always got the job done. He was forthright and not a “YES” man. He said what he had to say quite openly irrespective of the consequences. This forthrightness, at times, negatively impacted his career as well as his personal relationships. At times because of this, people did not always see the softer side of him.
His devotion to his parents was exemplary. He checked all their requirements and attended to them even, from overseas. When he was in France, my parents spent every summer with him and despite his hectic schedule he would take them sightseeing during the weekends to various locations. Both my parents were of the view that the time spent in Paris with Aiya were some of the happiest they have had.
When Ammi passed away, we soon realized that Thathi was neglecting himself. The cooked meals sent by Rajeewa were not being consumed. He, soon took charge and employed two attendants to look after him and spent about four to five hours every day, ensuring that Thathi was shaved, bathed, exercised and fed. All this was done diligently under his supervision. He ran the household with military precision! The menu for 21 meals for the week was on a magi board! I remember him telling me “Chutta, with your workload at JKH you don’t have the time. I will do the needful.”
My brother has written three articles about the different phases of his relationship with our father. As a teenager, he rebelled and was at odds with Thathi’s thinking. However, he was the one who was the proudest of our father’s achievements and personal attributes.
When visiting Germany during Thathi’s tenure as Ambassador, Rajeewa discovered that he was planning to order a Volkswagen Golf as his private vehicle to be brought back to Sri Lanka at the end of his assignment. Vainly he protested telling Thathi that most returning Ambassadors brought back Mercedes Benzes or BMWs from stints abroad as they could be brought in duty-free. Thathi’s reply was that he was buying a car to take him and Ammi from point A to point B and a small car was more than adequate. Rajeewa found such attitudes challenging and did not always understand such actions!
Twenty-seven years later, when Rajeewa retired from full-time work and relocated to Sri Lanka, he had to decide on a car and opted for a small Toyota Aqua despite being financially able to afford a higher-grade car. Chatting over a drink about the choice of the vehicle, and he said that he now understood Thathi’s thinking and principled way of life. He also said that he now fully appreciated one of our father’s often-repeated phrases “Class is something that you are born with and not what you acquire. It is not based on how much money you have in your bank accounts or the assets you own.”
As a brother, he was my friend, confidant, mentor, and comrade in arms! He was never intrusive. The advice given was on a take it or leave it basis and nearly always only when sought. I always knew that he was there for me and likewise, that I was there for him. When I look back it was, he who always helped me, and my greatest regret is that I did not have the opportunity to reciprocate. He rarely asked for any help.
He took great pleasure in my success at John Keells. I still recall how, after three years working as an accountant, a senior director, decided to join a competitor. He offered me a job at his new place of employment and promised a two-fold salary increase and a fully maintained official vehicle! I was delighted. However, before accepting the offer, I sought Aiya’s guidance over a drink. When I mentioned the job offer and details of the prospective employer, his reaction was “Chutta, you are an idiot if you don’t know the difference between the JKH brand and that of the other!”. That was the end of the discussion. When I was appointed a director at JKH four years later, Aiya jokingly asked me “Hope you remember our conversation”!
When I returned to Sri Lanka from London, I was a bachelor living near to Aiya’s. He used to provide me with meals and pick me up and drop me at work until I got my car six months later. When I got married, he told my wife, “Deepthi, you don’t need to cook lunch as you are working. I will continue to provide meals for both of you”. Such was the amazingly soft and considerate side of him.
Rajeewa was a proud Sri Lankan. In several articles, he expressed his displeasure as to how certain western countries were attempting to hold Sri Lanka to account to standards which they themselves do not adhere to. He was also critical of the role played by India in the late 1970s and 1980s in promoting terrorism in our country.
In one of the boxes, he left behind for me is a personal letter from The Rt. Hon. The Lord Naseby PC to Rajeewa. The letter was enclosed in the copy of Lord Naseby’s book “Sri Lanka – Paradise Lost Paradise Regained.”
The final paragraph of the letter reads as follows “I hope you enjoy the read: maybe if I am lucky it will turn out in itself to be the match to light the lamp that takes Sri Lanka forward to be better understood by the West and admired by others. I look forward to reading your review in due course.” It was unfortunate that he did not have the time to review the book written by a person whom he admired greatly and felt indebted for having spoken passionately on behalf of our country.
The decision to gift Rs. 1 million to the domestic as well as Rs. 500,000 to the Presidential Fund for COVID are examples of his generosity and his sense of duty. In the covering letter sent to the President’s Fund, he had stated that as a beneficiary of free education received, he felt that it was his duty to donate despite having paid Income tax for several decades.
He paid his Income Tax for the year 2019/20 just a few weeks before his death. He wanted me to compute the income tax payment for quarter 1 of 2020/21. He got annoyed when I told him that it was too early to calculate and in any case the payment is due only in August. Upon enquiry, I found that he had settled all his credit card dues. He wanted to ensure that he owed neither the state nor anyone else anything.
I believe that it was as a regular contributor to the Sunday Island and the Island from 2013 onwards that he found his niche in life. It gave him a purpose as all his articles were well researched and supported by facts. He was a fearless and a non-partisan writer in a country where most hide and use non de plumes when expressing opinions on controversial issues impacting the country.
He had contributed over 325 articles since 2013. I reproduce below some of the tributes paid to him by fellow scribes and readers of his articles.
“A trenchant, well-informed writer, his contributions that included incisive political analysis, were without fear or favour. He was the most knowledgeable writer on Sri Lankan Airlines in the Sri Lankan press drawing from an information bank in his head and using his ability to dig deep into the affairs of the airline which he had served long” – Manik Silva – Editor of Sunday Island
“Of course, Rajeewa Jayaweera was not my friend. I never saw him in person, nor heard him, but I had once seen his picture in a web publication. However, I saw him well enough through his writings as a fellow contributor to The Island, and experienced a latent relationship with him as a person whose intellectual grasp of our country’s burning issues, and whose concerns and attitudes relating to them generally matched mine; I felt as if I had known him closely as a friend for some time. I was impressed by the meticulous attention he paid to his language in expressing his ideas precisely (a characteristic in truth-tellers)”. –Rohana Wasala
“The well-researched analysis, on many topics, too numerous to list were factual, objectively composed and fair to everyone. He was a prolific writer on matters of public interest, providing knowledge and insights to inform and enrich our lives. His writings were always non-partisan. He wrote on all sorts of public issues, ranging from corruption, in public places, to civil aviation. He was at his best on diplomatic issues, and foreign affairs, given his family background”. – Dr D Chandrarathna
“He will be remembered by many as a courageous writer who put vital and scandalous information of Sri Lankan Airlines into the public domain, through the media. I always remember this impeccably dressed handsome marketeer who turned to be a prolific writer, placing his authority in a topic he knew like the back of his hand” – Ranjith Samaranayake
“The unbroken thread that ran through his essays was impartiality. Political angles did not influence his writings. He offered no respect to the dishonest, and those professionals who failed to preserve the national interest and dignity in office. He was fearless in the expression of his beliefs, convictions and conclusions, and was undaunted by reaction and reproach. He wrote without fear and prejudice. There was much to learn and absorb from his writings, particularly because intense research underpinned his analyses and conclusions. Reading him was a process of enlightenment, enrichment and education” – SDIG (Retired) Merril Gunaratne
“I genuinely miss Rajeewa. I probably saw the best in his incisive mind and greatly talented personality. I always looked forward to reading whatever he wrote, and we had lively discussions on topics of the day.”
I think the tributes encapsulate Rajeewa’s contribution as a journalist and the respect with which others of similar ilk held him.
Many have asked me why he chose the Independence Square? It was a close friend of his who explained that it was symbolic. It was his “independence” from a life of which he was truly weary.
Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy
Dr Channa Ratnatunga
Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.
In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.
We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.
‘The Reptilian Brain ’
A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.
Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.
All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.
Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.
Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!
As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.
With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.
The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.
Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.
Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!
Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.
Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.
If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.
To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.
As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.
It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.
Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.
The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.
This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.
What’s the Plan?
We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.
So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.
Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!
What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.
The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!
The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have
been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.
Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.
Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!
How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.
Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.
My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!
Executive presidency or premiership?
by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.
On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.
JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.
JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.
All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.
In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.
If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected
The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.
What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.
I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.
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