by Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It is a year since we lost our brother under the most tragic of circumstances. They say, “time is a great healer”; however, the grief, the sense of loss and shock have not diminished. On the contrary, we have struggled in our different ways to come to terms with his death. This despite having grieved the loss of our parents and a brother-in-law in the last decade. None of those had prepared us for the type of anguish we have undergone after his demise.
No doubt, the distress is accentuated as none of us had the slightest inclination that our brother wanted to call it a day. He was only 64- years old. He certainly camouflaged his feelings of being utterly disillusioned and weary of life from his siblings and his closest friends. At times I wonder whether I could have made a difference had I not strictly adhered to the policy of just being a listener and not an elicitor of personal information. Despite being very close, it is a principle that both of us had adopted since our teenage days. Do not pry and give advice only when sought.
It is exasperating when a few people still come up to me and murmur, “are you sure that he committed suicide and there is no hanky-panky?” The insinuation is obvious and a sad reflection of the times we live in. Unfortunately, in our country, through social media, various conspiracy theories are propagated, with most not being able to separate facts from innuendo. Even former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe came up with the theory that it was “forced suicide.” It was an irresponsible statement, given that our family had publicly acknowledged that we were satisfied that our brother had taken his own life. Those who engage in making wild and unsubstantiated statements do not realize the distress they cause to the grieving family.
In the very personal letter that Rajeewa wrote to me, which unfortunately became a public document, he mentioned a couple of medical conditions afflicting him that may cause a loss in the quality of life in the ensuing years. In addition, his disillusionment and bitterness were pretty evident by the request he made not to include the names of two persons in the obituary notice. He said that it would be hypocritical to refer to them as “beloved so and so.” In normal circumstances, these two people should have been the closest to him. The fact is that he had meticulously planned his departure for over six months. Therefore, there is no room whatsoever for any doubt. The magisterial enquiry concluded in August 2020 returned a verdict of death by suicide.
Rajeewa was a regular contributor of articles to the Sunday Island and the Island. Going through the database on his laptop, I came across 332 articles he authored over seven years. That is an average of nearly 50 articles per year which is once a week. The topics ranged from Sri Lankan Airlines, local politics, Indo-Sri Lankan relations, foreign interference in Sri Lanka and many other topical issues. I have had the time and pleasure to read most of his articles and what amazes me is the amount of research he has done to support his point of view. He was apolitical and spared neither of the main political parties acknowledged by all who read his articles. He was also brutally honest and a courageous writer.
He had written 40 articles on SriLankan Airlines. His stint at the airline spanned 17 years; thus, he was knowledgeable of the internal and aviation industry issues. When read together, the articles are a compendium revealing sheer mismanagement, abuse of perks and resources resulting from government interference, the appointment of Directors and CEO’s who have no comprehension of the aviation industry, corruption, operating of unprofitable routes, over-staffing and many others. Rajeewa’s articles explain why the taxpayers have been burdened with a company with accumulated losses of Rs. 326 billion as of March 31, 2020.
One article in particular that caught my eye is captioned “SriLankan Airlines – a tale of state abuse and mismanagement. The “games” Directors and VIPs played” published on April 10, 2016 in the Sunday Island. He laments how successive presidents used the airline as their private property commandeering aircraft meant for commercial operations to ferry the president and entourage on foreign visits. At times, the aircraft was kept for the duration of the stay, incurring significant costs, and depriving the airline of a revenue-generating aircraft. One president insisted on flight departures when he was travelling based on astrological times and not the scheduled time! There were numerous occasions when revenue passengers were offloaded for VVIP and VIP passengers and even free ticket holders who usually are directors of the airline.
In the article, Rajeewa recalls how when serving as the SriLankan airlines Manager in France in 2003, he had received a call from a cabinet minister informing that he was motoring from Brussels to Paris to join the SriLankan Airlines flight. The minister had told that he might be a bit late and, if that be the case, to delay the flight’s departure. Rajeewa had replied that the flight departure is at 14.10 hours and that he should kindly be at the check-in counter no later than 13.25 hours if he wished to join the flight. The minister had rung off, reminding Rajeewa that he was speaking to a cabinet minister.
So the flight left Paris on schedule without the minister! A massive complaint was lodged in Colombo of Rajeewa’s actions which the then CEO Peter Hill forwarded to Rajeewa with the comment “File and Forget“. Rajeewa goes on to say, “Under Emirates management, staff did not need to fear to do what was right for the airline whereas under state management, doing what is right for the airline could easily result in punitive action or worse.”
For those readers who did not know Rajeewa, his action in Paris totally encapsulates his personality. He was fearless, forthright, and not a “YES” man. Not the type of person who could survive in a government institution. It is a sad but true that contemporary Sri Lanka lacks such forthright people. There is no doubt that Rajeewa was a “chip off the old block.” Our father was his idol.
He was always a stickler for rules and the need for people to act responsibly. I recall how around 2007, I organized a trip to Dubai for my family. Our two daughters, both aged less than 10 years, were thrilled about the planned visits to the theme parks. They had previously traveled overseas on their mothers’ passport. However, a few days before our trip, when I submitted our passports for a visa, I was informed that Dubai did not grant visas for children included in the parent’s passport. They were adamant.
So, in desperation, I reached out to Rajeewa, who was based in Dhakka as Qatar Airways Regional Manager. For about 10 minutes, he lectured me about planning overseas trips with time to spare and the need for undertaking sufficient research about immigration rules as each country was different. The longer the lecture went, the less hopeful I was! However, at the end of the call, he said, “let me see what can be done.” I cannot remember exactly how the problem was solved, but we did fly out on the planned day due entirely to his efforts. I was able to save my bacon with my two daughters but learnt a good lesson. A few of his friend’s related similar incidents where he had helped them despite receiving an earful!
Many who had known Rajeewa in the countries he worked reached out to me to sympathize and relate instances when he had helped them. It filled me with joy because I often thought that his softer side was reserved only for me!
The loss of our brother will continue to hurt my three sisters and I until we depart from this world. I do not think we will ever get over it. Several others, like me, feel that Sri Lanka also lost a talented and fearless writer who contributed to the public debate on many burning issues facing our country.
I believe the poem by David Harkins that I reproduce below would be his message to the four of us and his friends who still grieve his untimely death.
He is Gone (Remember Me)
You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes,
love and go on
TNGlive relieving boredom
Yes, indeed, the going is tough for everyone, due to the pandemic, and performers seem to be very badly hit, due to the lockdowns.
Our local artistes are feeling the heat and so are their counterparts in most Indian cities.
However, to relieve themselves of the boredom, while staying at home, quite a few entertaining Indian artistes, especially from the Anglo-Indian scene, have showcased their talents on the very popular social media platform TNGlive.
And, there’s plenty of variety – not just confined to the oldies, or the current pop stuff; there’s something for everyone. And, some of the performers are exceptionally good.
Lynette John is one such artiste. She hails from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and she was quite impressive, with her tribute to American singer Patsy Cline.
She was featured last Thursday, as well (June 10), on TNGlive, in a programme, titled ‘Love Songs Special,’ and didn’t she keep viewers spellbound – with her power-packed vocals, and injecting the real ‘feel’ into the songs she sang.
What an awesome performance.
Well, if you want to be a part of the TNGlive scene, showcasing your talents, contact Melantha Perera, on 0773958888.
Supreme Court on Port City Bill: Implications for Fundamental Rights and Devolution
The determination of the Supreme Court on the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill was that as many as 26 provisions of the Bill were inconsistent with the Constitution and required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The Court further determined that nine provisions of the Bill also required the approval of the people at a referendum.
Among the grounds of challenge was that the Bill effectively undermined the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and infringed on the sovereignty of the people. It was argued that several provisions undermined the legislative power of the People reposed on Parliament. Several provisions were challenged as violating fundamental rights of the People and consequently violating Article 3, read with Article 4(d) of the Constitution. Another ground of challenge was that the Bill contained provisions that dealt with subjects that fall within the ambit of the Provincial Council List and thus had to be referred to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon as required by Article 154G(3).
Applicable constitutional provisions
Article 3 of our Constitution recognises that “[i]n the Republic of Sri Lanka, sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable”. Article 3 further provides that “Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise”. Article 3 is entrenched in the sense that a Bill inconsistent with it must by virtue of Article 83 be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the people at a referendum.
Article 4 lays down the manner in which sovereignty shall be exercised and enjoyed. For example, Article 4(d) requires that “fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied, save in the manner and to the extent hereinafter provided”. Article 4 is not mentioned in Article 83. In its determinations on the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002 and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution Bill, 2002, a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court noted with approval that the Court had ruled in a series of cases that Article 3 is linked up with Article 4 and that the said Articles should be read together. This line of reasoning was followed by the Court in its determination on the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill.
Under Article 154G(3), Parliament may legislate on matters in the Provincial Council List but under certain conditions. A Bill on a matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order Paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon. If every Council agrees to the passing of the Bill, it may be passed by a simple majority. But if one or more Councils do not agree, a two-thirds majority is required if the law is to be applicable in all Provinces, including those that did not agree. If passed by a simple majority, the law will be applicable only in the Provinces that agreed.
Violation of fundamental rights and need for a referendum
Several petitioners alleged that certain provisions of the Port City Bill violated fundamental rights. The rights referred to were mainly Article 12(1)—equality before the law and equal protection of the law, Article 14(1)(g)—freedom to engage in a lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise— and Article 14(1)(h)—freedom of movement. Some petitioners specifically averred that provisions that violated fundamental rights consequently violated Articles 3 and 4 and thus needed people’s approval at a referendum.
The Supreme Court determined that several provisions of the Bill violated various fundamental rights and thus were required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. The question of whether the said provisions consequently violated Article 4(d) and thus Article 3 and therefore required the approval of the People at a referendum was not ruled on.
The Essential Public Services Bill, 1979 was challenged as being violative of both Article 11 (cruel, degrading or inhuman punishment) and Article 14. Mr. H.L. de Silva argued that a Bill that violates any fundamental right is also inconsistent with Article 4(d) and, therefore, with Article 3. The Supreme Court held that the Bill violated Article 11 but not Article 14. Since a Bill that violates Article 11 has, in any case, to be approved at a referendum as Article 11 is listed in Article 83, the Court declined to decide on whether the Bill offended Article 3 as well, as it “is a well-known principle of constitutional law that a court should not decide a constitutional issue unless it is directly relevant to the case before it.”
A clear decision on the issue came about in the case of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution Bill; a seven-member Bench of the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of the decisions of the Constitutional Council from the fundamental rights jurisdiction of the Court was inconsistent with Articles 12 (1) and 17 (remedy for the infringement of fundamental rights by executive action) and consequently inconsistent with Article 3, necessitating the approval of the Bill at a referendum.
When the 20th Amendment to the Constitution Bill sought to restore the immunity of the President in respect fundamental rights applications, the Supreme Court determined that the “People’s entitlement to remedy under Article 17 is absolute and is a direct expression of People’s fundamental rights under Article 3 of the Constitution.”
In the case of the Port City Bill, however, the Supreme Court only determined that certain provisions of the Bill violated fundamental rights and thus required a two-thirds majority, but did not go further to say that the offending provisions also required approval of the people at a referendum.
Perhaps, the Court took into consideration the Attorney-General’s assurance during the hearing that the impugned clauses would be amended at the committee stage in Parliament.
However, Parliament is not bound by the Attorney-General’s assurances. In the absence of a clear determination that the clauses concerned required a referendum as well, Parliament could have passed the clauses by a two-thirds majority. The danger inherent in the Supreme Court holding that a provision of a Bill violates fundamental rights and requires a two-thirds majority but makes no reference to the requirement of a referendum is that a government with a two-thirds majority is free to violate fundamental rights, and hence the sovereignty of the People by using such majority. It is respectfully submitted that the Court should, whenever it finds that a provision violates fundamental rights, declare that Article 3 is also violated and a referendum is necessary, as it did in the cases mentioned.
The need to refer the Bill to Provincial Councils
The Port City Bill had not been referred to the Provincial Councils, all the Provincial Councils having been dissolved. The Court, following earlier decisions, held that in the absence of constituted Provincial Councils, referring the Bill to all Provincial Councils is an act which could not possibly be performed.
In the case of the Divineguma II Bill, the question arose as to the applicability of the Bill to the Northern Provincial Council, which was not constituted at that time. The Court held while the Bill cannot possibly be referred to a Council that had not been constituted, the views of the Governor (who had purported to express consent) could not be considered as the views of the Council. In the circumstances, the only workable interpretation is that since the views of one Provincial Council cannot be obtained due to it being not constituted, the Bill would require to be passed by a two-thirds majority. Although not explicitly stated by the Court, this would mean that if the Bill is passed by a simple majority only, it will not apply in the Northern Province. The Bill was passed in Parliament by a two-thirds majority. The Divineguma II Bench comprised Shirani Bandaranayake CJ and Justices Amaratunga and Sripavan, and it is well-known that the decision and the decision on the Divineguma I Bill cost Chief Justice Bandaranayake her position.
It is submitted that Article 154G (3) has two requirements—one procedural and one substantive. The former is that a Bill on any matter in the Provincial Council List must be referred to all Provincial Councils. The latter is that in the absence of the consent of all Provincial Councils, the Bill must be passed by a two-thirds majority if it is to apply to the whole country. If such a Bill is passed only by a simple majority, it would apply only in the Provinces which have consented.
The Divineguma II determination accords with the ultimate object of Article 154G(3), namely, that a Bill can be imposed on a Province whose Provincial Council has not consented to it only by a two-thirds majority. It also accords with the spirit of devolution.
A necessary consequence of the Court’s determination on the Port City Bill is that it permits a government to impose a Bill on a Provincial Council matter on a “disobedient” Province by a simple majority once the Provincial Council is dissolved and before an election is held. What is worse is that at a time when all Provincial Councils are dissolved, such as now, a Bill that is detrimental to devolution can be so imposed on the entire country. It is submitted that this issue should be re-visited when the next Bill on a Provincial Council matter is presented and the Supreme Court invited to make a determination that accords with the spirit of devolution, which is an essential part of the spirit of our Constitution.
‘Down On My Knees’ inspires Suzi
There are certain songs that inspire us a great deal – perhaps the music, the lyrics, etc.
Singer Suzi Fluckiger (better known as Suzi Croner, to Sri Lankans) went ga-ga when she heard the song ‘Down On My Knees’ – first the version by Eric Guest, from India, then the original version by Freddie Spires, and then another version by an Indian band, called Circle of Love.
Suzi was so inspired by the lyrics of this particular song that she immediately went into action, and within a few days, she came up with her version of ‘Down On My knees.’
In an exclusive chit-chat, with The Island Star Track, she said she is now working on a video, for this particular song.
“The moment I heard ‘Down On My Knees,’ I fell in love with the inspiring lyrics, and the music, and I thought to myself I, too, need to express my feelings, through this beautiful song.
“I’ve already completed the audio and I’m now working on the video, and no sooner it’s ready, I will do the needful, on social media.”
Suzi also mentioned to us that this month (June), four years ago, she lost her husband Roli Fluckiger.
“It’s sad when you lose the person you love but, then, we all have to depart, one day. And, with that in mind, I believe it’s imperative that we fill our hearts with love and do good…always.”
A few decades ago, Suzi and the group Friends were not only immensely popular, in Sri Lanka, but abroad, as well – especially in Europe.
In Colombo, the Friends fan club had a membership of over 1500 members. For a local band, that’s a big scene, indeed!
In Switzerland, where she now resides, Suzi is doing the solo scene and was happy that the lockdown, in her part of the world, has finally been lifted.
Her first gig, since the lockdown (which came into force on December 18th, 2020), was at a restaurant, called Flavours of India, with her singing partner from the Philippines, Sean, who now resides in Switzerland. (Sean was seen performing with Suzi on the TNGlive platform, on social media, a few weeks ago).
“It was an enjoyable event, with those present having a great time. I, too, loved doing my thing, after almost six months.’
Of course, there are still certain restrictions, said Suzi – only four to a table and a maximum crowd of 50.
“Weekends are going to be busy for me, as I already have work coming my way, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to going out…on stage, performing.”
In the meanwhile, Suzi will continue to entertain her fans, and music lovers, on TNGlive – whenever time permits, she said,
She has already done three shows, on TNGlive – the last was with her Filipino friend, Sean.
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