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Religion and responsibility!

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The recent news article in The Island, published on November 13, 2021, under the headline ‘INSS Director General says no proof Zahran met Intelligence Operatives’, is of immense relief to us, the general public, who still have faith in the state watchdogs to protect the nation.

Professor Rohan Gunaratne, an expert on terrorist behavioural patterns, after studying the statements given by Zahran Hashim’s wife to the relevant law enforcement authorities, including the 300-paged evidence submitted to the PCoI, has confirmed that there is no mention in her statements of Zahran meeting any intelligence operatives. Furthermore, here is an expert who had personally interviewed the wife of the suicide bomber, and his observations and conclusions on the matter appear to have been formed after careful analysis of documented facts.

On the other hand, a priest has chosen to make absolutely irresponsible statements, in public, offering not an iota of proof to substantiate his allegations. He has agitated the public, planting seeds of insecurity in all our minds, which in turn may have serious adverse consequences on the security and stability of our country; as it delivers a severe blow to the confidence we have placed in the main watchdog of the country to ensure our safety. We expect such irresponsible conduct from local politicians of all colours, whose credibility and reliability have reached a less than zero rank, but not from the revered clergy.

When a damning statement is made, undermining the integrity and honour of a well-respected high rank officer, it is the correct course of action for the CID to record his statement and verify the truth of the same, especially as it will assist the ongoing investigation. If the allegations are exposed to be false, then appropriate legal action could be and should be initiated. Such a course of action is by the book, and the public expects the authorities to act by the book. In fact, they are and have been in the past, criticised by the Church and the public for not going by the book.

Therefore, if the allegations are of merit and substance, why did the Reverend Father shy away from giving his statement until now? Instead of doing the right thing, as expected from the Clergy, without fear or favour, Reverend Father Cyril Gamini Fernando first filed a Fundamental Rights application in the Supreme Court, seeking an order to prevent any attempt being made by the Criminal Investigations Department to arrest him, after being summoned by the CID to record a statement. Why did he assume that he was to be arrested, if he had sufficient proof to back his claim? In any event, if he has proof, why should he keep it in his possession without presenting it even to the public, if he doesn’t want to visit the CID? His conduct merely gives us the impression he is avoiding being questioned as he has no proof to offer … hence the public melodrama and shift of focus from accuser to victim.

When President Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed duties, he visited the Head of the Catholic Church and offered a seat at, or active participation in the PCoI investigating the Easter Sunday bombings. The Revered Father therefore, had the opportunity to go before the Commission and present evidence that he allegedly possessed. Neither the Reverend Father nor the Catholic Church presented this evidence. On the contrary, the Cardinal claimed he was satisfied with the PCoI. Even today, the Cardinal’s complaint is that PCoI recommendations are not implemented, not that no opportunity was given for presentation of evidence.

There is another angle to the whole saga. Had the Reverend Father presented the so-called evidence, either to the public or the PCoI, and there indeed is evidence of liaison between Zahran and a state watchdog in the past, these facts by itself need not necessarily have any nexus to the Easter bombing. There are many examples the world over, of secret services and undercover operatives establishing contact with terrorists, for the simple necessity of information gathering for the greater good of protecting the nation. This is common knowledge. Assuming such a clandestine meeting had occurred, can the Reverend Father conclude that the Easter bombing was a result of such a meeting? In the mind of a reasonable man, such a conclusion will not surface.

Father Fernando is emulating the style of many politicians who appear before TV cameras with files in hand, claiming to possess proof of corruption, but never presenting the evidence to the relevant authorities.

From time immemorial, religion has played a very decisive and significant role in the election and sustenance of political power in Sri Lanka, if not worldwide. The State control of its people depends considerably on the blessings of the respective religious leadership. It is indeed extremely irresponsible for religious leaders, having full knowledge of the impact their speeches make on the general public, to resort to such conduct akin to politicians. In fact, it is to their own detriment that they do so, as most of us will very soon, if we have not already, lose the respect we had for these religious leaders who behave like political clowns.

His Eminence Malcom Cardinal Ranjith is a much-loved public figure and his words of wisdom on any subject, whether religion or otherwise, are well received and respected by the public. His own image is at risk of being tarnished, when some of those, who serve under him, resort to these cheap theatrics, with obvious hidden agendas to harm State Intelligence Officers, who have served our country through successive regimes. Of course, we are thankful that one rotten apple has not spoilt the cart, as another Catholic priest, obviously a gentleman worthy of the white cloth, whose name was not familiar to me, on a YouTube clip being circulated through social media, quite rationally and rightly, requested the media not to incite religious or racial disunity, by professing unnecessary comments and reminders, unrelated to the subject being reported. Such men of honour still exist, and all religious leaders must nurture them, whilst not making those unworthy, cardboard heroes of the hour, at the expense of the public. The Catholic Clergy has hitherto, been far more disciplined and responsible than some members of the Buddhist Clergy in matters of politics, and it is our fervent wish that these standards prevail.

Our State Intelligence Service has done its best to protect us and they cannot be blamed for the actions of politicians who fail to heed their advice. State Intelligence Service personnel no doubt work as hard or more than those of the Tri Forces, but get very little credit and are never in the limelight. Please do not tarnish their image in vain.

C. J. N. JINADASA



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Opinion

Building trust, a better investment

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The government has allowed private companies to import chemical fertilisers. The farmers had been holding many a street protest against the government’s blatantly unwise policy of shifting to organic farming overnight, but to no avail. The Minister concerned and others repeatedly said that they would not change the government’s decision as it had been made for the good of all the people. The farmers had no problem with organic farming but insisted that the transition had to be phased out to avoid serious adverse effects. But no! The government never relented and tried to show that the street protests were instigated by interested parties including chemical fertiliser companies, to make the government unpopular. The government insisted that chemical fertilisers have caused many ailments including the dreaded kidney disease and turned a deaf ear to the farmers’ grievances.

However, hot on the heels of Mr. Modi’s U-turn last week, the Minister has changed track and tells us that the government, being one which is always ‘sensitive to people’s concerns’, has decided to make chemical fertilizers available through private imports, but would not import them on its own or change its policy of going fully organic. Questioned by journalists, another ruling party spokesperson quipped that the government’s decision came about neither due to the Indian PM’s ‘example’ nor in response to the loud protests. It is a result of the discussions held within the party, he assured.

However, it is unfortunate that the government had to wait for more than seven months to be ‘sensitive to peoples’ concerns’. If the ruling party members had only taken a few minutes to watch TV news headlines, they would have proved their ‘sensitivity’ months earlier, not waiting for Mr. Modi to steal a march on them, so to speak. To any reasonable person, the government obviously has responded to the rampant protests that were actually the climax of a prolonged process, which began with pleading, explaining their predicament, reasoning, chest thumping, expressing disbelief, which gradually culminated in loud protests, burning of effigies and threatening to come to Colombo in numbers. Surely, Mr. Modi didn’t make it any easier for the government to justify its ‘sensitivity’ to farmers’ grievances!

Thus, to any reasonable person, the government had actually responded to the unbridled anger of the helpless farmers, not to their grievances. What’s more, looking at how the government had handled the previous issues of a controversial nature, it is hard to recall any instance where it promptly responded to people’s concerns; it was always a case of responding to people vehemently protesting as a last resort- be it the Port City issue, Eastern Terminal, Teachers’ salary or Yugadanavi Power Plant issue, not to mention the pathetic state of innocent villagers being perpetually traumatized by wild elephant attacks often taking their lives wantonly. In each of these cases, the government, wittingly or unwittingly, seemed to regard the voices of concern, not as appeals worthy of serious attention, but as attempts at disruption or politically motivated interventions. This, surely, does not augur well for the government or support its claim to ‘sensitivity’ as regards people’s concerns.

The government’s decision to compromise on its strict chemical fertiliser ban, which has come soon after Mr. Modi’s reversal of sorts, allows room for the discerning public to make obvious inferences, despite the government’s claim about its decision not being influenced by that of the Indian PM. In fact, the government reps have nothing to gain by pretending to blush when journalists suggest that they perhaps took a leaf from their neighbour. Even at this juncture, people’s representatives seem reluctant to prefer sincerity to affectation; hence the government’s growing aloofness, which is causing a “severe trust deficit”- to borrow a pithy phrase from The Island editorial of November 19.

As the representatives of the public, what any government needs to foster are sincerity and empathy. It is this tacit bond between the people and the government, which will consolidate trust in the long term. Being the party that holds power, the onus is on the rulers to secure people’s faith. Instead, every party that has come to power since Independence has always helped the Opposition to make a five yearly ‘ritual cleansing’ in the eyes of the people. So, the wheel turns.

Susantha Hewa

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Opinion

Don’t harass whistle-blower

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Thushan Gunawardena, who alerted the authorities and the media to a serious fraud taking at Sathosa should not be harassed by the Police as it is clear that he has no political motives and has acted in the public interest.

The Cabinet minister concerned is attempting to show a conspiracy against him when he has failed to prevent such frauds at Sathosa and let it continue as there were benefits flowing to him in addition to his being able to employ family members and manipulate the system for personal profit.

It is patently clear that he is trying to take the investigation in a different direction and prevent changes that would clean up the mess that is contributing to the massive losses at Sathosa.

Mahinda Gunasekera

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Opinion

Stanley (Sam) Samarasinghe

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A TRIBUTE TO A PATRIOT

Even with the prior knowledge that the end was near, when the news of the passing away of Sam on the 23rd of November 2021 was conveyed to me, it was difficult to bear. Though living the better part of his adult life in the United States, to those with whom he had regular contact and dialogue, he was ever present. He succumbed to an illness that he bore with courage and fortitude for several years. In that time his enthusiasm to live his life to the full did not diminish. Except family and close friends none had even the slightest inkling that he was battling an invasive enemy within.

I have described Sam as a Patriot, if its definition is “one that loves his country and zealously maintains its interests”, then it fits him well, as he did that in full measure.

Having schooled in Kandy at Dharmarajah College, Sam completed a special degree in economics at the Peradeniya University where his father worked. Having being accepted by both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he turned to his mentor, Professor H. A. de S. Gunasekera, who had advised him to take Cambridge. He went there with his wife Vidyamali, whom he had met at Peradeniya and obtained his Ph.D. in Economics. They both returned to Peradeniya and Sam became a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics. He taught there until 1989, when he left for the United States with his wife and two sons, Mevan and Ranmal. He was appointed Professor of the Development Studies Programme at the USAID, a position he held for many years in Washington. But what is remarkable, is that he continued his abiding interest in the many facets of Sri Lankan life, especially in education and politics and of course, Kandy. He returned to Sri Lanka at least twice a year. While others would spend such breaks as a let up from work, Sam vigorously involved himself in many spheres of activity.

Along with Prof. Kingsley de Silva, he created the only intellectual hub outside of the Peradeniya University in Kandy at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES). As Director, he secured funding for many academic projects that the Centre did. Sam was instrumental in the ICES buying its own place and then constructing a tarred road leading to the Center. The way he set about it will give the reader an idea of the man Sam was. The road served at least 12 houses. He arranged a meeting of all the householders and sold them a deal that none could refuse. Each household was asked to pay proportionately to the distance from the main Peradeniya Road to their house. At the end of the exercise. Sam refunded the excess in that same proportion!!

Sam was an academic, researching and writing extensively, sometimes collaborating with other academics such as Prof. Kingsley de Silva and Prof. G.H. (Gerry) Peiris. On several occasions, he brought out his post graduate students from the Tulane University, New Orleans (where he was Visiting Professor of Economics) to Sri Lanka and to Kandy, arranged field trips and had them interact with academics and professionals.

His particular interest in Kandy made him do a study of its traffic congestion and organised a public seminar with other experts on the subject. As the President of the Senkadagala Lions Club, Sam obtained funding for many of its projects. In fact, Sam had a penchant for writing up project proposals, an expertise he ungrudgingly shared with anyone who asked for it. He started a monthly local newspaper in 1994, the “Kandy News”, becoming its Chief Editor and its main sponsor. The last issue was a special supplement done in the run-up to the Kandy Municipal Council election in 2018.

When the tsunami stuck the country in 2004, Sam was the lead Consultant of a World Vision programme designed to make a qualitative assessment of tsunami and non-tsunami villages from Kalutara in the Western Province to Kilinochchi in the Northern Province. A task he successfully completed with his team under the aegis of the ICES.

He was an advocate for cooperation and harmony among the races. His involvement in the post tsunami work in Jaffna and Trincomalee with the Lions Club is proof of that, as much as it was when he asked the guests to the nuptial reception of his son Mevan, not to give presents but to contribute towards the project initiated by Mevan and himself in giving school books and equipment to the Tamil Primary School at the Gomorra Estate in Panwila.

My own association with Sam goes back to the time I ran for office as Mayor in 1997. He threw his weight behind me helping out in ways too numerous to mention. That friendship grew and grew and it embraced my family as well. He would ask me to criticise his writing especially on politics. He was a stickler for accuracy and uncompromising on facts. His opinions were rational, practical and unbiased. A bubbly personality, he was always a believer that there are better times ahead. His enthusiasm was infectious. His criticism of events and people were never personal. There is much to take from the life and times of Sam Samarasinghe.

We share his loss with his wife, the two boys of whom he was justly very proud of and his siblings whose welfare he always had. The country is poorer for his passing.

May he find peace in Nibbana!

Harindra Dunuwille

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