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Saving Sinharaja: A rainforest under threat



(Excerpted from the authorized biography of Thilo Hoffmann by Douglas. B. Ranasinghe)

Sinharaja is the last undisturbed extent of rainforest in Sri Lanka. It lies across the boundary between the Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces, within the Ratnapura, Galle and Matara Districts.

The protected area officially named Sinharaja, so situated, is part of a larger forest of that name. The rest of it includes Forest Reserves or Proposed Reserves under other names, some of which are mentioned below. In their midst lay the Sinharaja Forest Reserve and the Sinharaja Proposed Forest Reserve, a continuous area of forest divided thus for formal reasons.

In the late 1960s politicians, administrators and even the public were unaware of the unique value of rainforests. The State began to intensify the exploitation of wet-zone forests to meet the growing demand for timber, especially plywood. Questions relating to the environment, the conservation of unique systems of biodiversity, gene pools, and the other natural riches such forests yield were not asked.

The State Timber Corporation, contracted by the Forest Department under its Forestry Master Plan, commenced log extraction in the wider Sinharaja area from the Morapitiya-Runakanda forest.A plywood and chipboard complex with a processing capacity of four million cubic feet per year was built with Romanian aid at Kosgama. This was 85 km northwest of Sinharaja.

It was decided that the wood to feed it would be taken from Sinharaja, mainly the two Sinharaja Reserves, and that for this purpose the entire extent of pristine rainforest they held was to be selectively logged. Aid was obtained from Canada for this project to be carried out by mechanized means on a massive scale.

Outside the forest the Canadian contractors built and widened roads, strengthened bridges and culverts, and set up a large timber yard at the Dela railway station (the KV line’ then extended to this area and beyond), from where the timber would be freighted to the Kosgama factory. They cleared and built from Veddagala to Sinharaja a wide road sufficient for their equipment to be hauled in and for huge lorries to transport the timber out.

Into Sinharaja they moved the heaviest logging and extraction machinery then known. Where the Research Station stands today there rose a machine yard and repair shop, the ground soaked with engine fuel and lubricants.

The need to rescue a forest

At the time that the State turned to it in the quest for material self-sufficiency, Sinharaja was regarded as remote and mysterious, and had hardly ever been visited by a biologist, or even explored.In 1969 at the Annual General Meeting of the WNPS its President, Thilo Hoffmann, made special mention of the threat to this unexplored but invaluable asset of the country.

The following year a deputation from the General Committee of the Society led by him met the Chairmen d the State Timber and Plywood Corporations. Through them they persuaded the Forest Department to spare 1,000 to 1,200 acres of Sinharaja as a scientific reserve.

Delegations from the WNPS continued to bring the matter up at meetings with relevant Government committees and agencies. With Thilo they met the Conservator of Forests, too, for this purpose.

At the AGM for 1971 in December that year, member Vere de Mel moved the following resolution; and he in particular urged repeatedly that the Society should take further action.

“That this Society requests its Committee, if after a full study it considers it desirable to do so, to use every possible means to check the denudation of the Sinharaja Forest Reserve for the purpose of exploiting its timber for a Government Plywood Factory.”

It was up to Thilo, to initiate the action. He decided to visit the forest. Sam Elapata Jr., a long-standing committee member of the WNPS, and a close friend of his, lived at Nivitigala near Sinharaja. In an article on Thilo in the 50th anniversary issue of Loris (1986), he recounts that Thilo came to his house, and what he said, thus:

“Sam, let’s go and see the Sinharaja in its pristine glory before the people ravage and exploit it. I would like your children also to see it, because it is their heritage. Maybe one of them will remember it as it was and what has happened to it, and we may still make a conservationist out of him.” He was already thinking of the future.

Thilo spent three days, February 26-28, 1972, on extensive trips into the Sinharaja Reserves and the surrounding areas, partly with Sam, his small son Upali and Chandra Liyanage. He observed and noted the status of the forest, its fauna and flora, the people and their economy.

What he saw convinced him that the Society had to do all in its power to persuade the Government that the intact forest was worth far more than the timber, and that the Sinharaja logging project should be entirely abandoned.

The campaign

He realized that this was no easy task, especially at that time when awareness of conservation concerns was very limited indeed. An unprecedented campaign was necessary. As a basis for it, Thilo considered that it was his duty to describe and explain what was at stake. Without convincing reasons the Society would have no chance of either drawing other individuals and NGOs into their “Save Sinharaja” campaign, or of getting the Government to listen to them.

Thilo now wrote the monograph titled The Sinharaja Forest 1972. The inclusion of the year in the title was meant to indicate the threat to this age-old natural system through human interference and its transitory status at that point of time. Here, also, for the first time a Ministry of the Environment was proposed. This remarkable work, published as a booklet by the WNPS, never attained later the prominence it deserves. It is reproduced here as Appendix VII.

Very little information about Sinharaja was then available. About the only record was a report by J. R. Baker in the Geograpbical journal titled The Sinharaja Rain forest of Ceylon”‘. Baker had camped in the vicinity of Sinharaja from the end of July to the beginning of September 1936, and visited the fringes of the forest. He wrote:

“The villagers in the vicinity of Sinharaja … are Buddhists … They hold the forest itself in great veneration and consider that any crime committed in it is particularly evil. The killing of animals and the eating of flesh are contrary to the precepts of Buddhism … For this reason pressure was brought to bear upon me not to place my camp actually within the forest.”

Thilo says in his monograph:

“The people of the Sinharaja country are friendly and hospitable. We were received in several houses and offered king coconut and hakuru.”

He also describes in detail the sustainable and limited use they made of forest produce. The area was very thinly populated with few villages and hamlets, accessible only on foot. Thus the peripheral human impact on the forest was negligible.

Two thousand copies in English and 1,000 in Sinhala of the booklet were printed. With its impact the WNPS managed to bring together a large number of NGOs for the sole purpose of opposing the logging of Sinharaja. Thilo wrote a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister which was then co-signed by all those who lent their support.

It was the first time that so many different organizations were united in a single goal and acting together under one umbrella for conservation in Sri Lanka. Many NGOs supported the appeal to Government, among them the Soil Conservation Society of Ceylon, Geographical Society of Ceylon, Ceylon Natural History Society, National Agricultural Society and Planters’ Association.

The Ayurvedic Practitioners’ Association readily joined, as valuable and rare medicinal plants in Sinharaja make it a vital “Nature’s pharmacy”. Dr S. R. Kottegoda, Professor of Pharmacology and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ceylon, Colombo, also signed. Other well-known personalities in the list included former Conservators of Forests, Directors of Irrigation and Surveyors General, a few members of Parliament and journalists. The media also helped, to some extent.

Thilo realized the importance of involving the Buddhist clergy in the struggle, and sought, through Mr Sumith Abeywickrama of the Soil Conservation Society, the support of the Ven. Neluwe Gunananda Thero, Sanghanayaka of the Galle Pirivenas. The latter understandingly gave his full co-operation and associated himself with the document to the Prime Minister. The President of the All-Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Dr G. P. Malalasekera too was a signatory.

The main concerns expressed and arguments put forward in the memorandum were the following, in summary.

* Once it is mechanically logged natural regeneration will not take place, and it will be lost forever as a unique living monument of evolution.

*The evolution of the forest should continue for the sake of the gene pool. Once it is destroyed it could never be re-created by man.

*Only 9% of the wet zone in Sri Lanka is covered by forest. Experts state the extent should be 25%.

Sinharaja has not been studied systematically. It has a large number of indigenous species. It has great potential for study, research and new products from which prosperity may spring.

*Logging will affect the daily lives of people with ensuing flash floods and landslides. A good quality of life for the people is only possible in a high-quality environment.

The historic document (Appendix VIII) was submitted to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike on 18 May 1972.

It was followed on June 5 by Hoffmann’s suggestions to the Ministry of Planning on how to meet the country’s need for timber. Some of the suggestions put forward were: study of the technology of rubber wood for its use in plywood; enrichment of 250,000 acres of degraded and secondary wet zone forest with mahogany, which is an all-purpose timber, and other useful species including quick-growing plywood timbers; temporary import of plywood logs for immediate relief if necessary; and an island-wide campaign for the planting of suitable tree species in home gardens, spare plots and wasteland.

The response

As a result of this opposition, the Government appointed a Committee, with George Rajapaksa, then Minister of Fisheries, as chairman. ‘There were hearings and deliberations. These went on for several years. ‘The WNPS, too, gave evidence. This, though crucial, is barely mentioned in the final report!

The Forest Department and its Ministry, as well as the Ministry of Industries and other interested parties, including the Canadian contractors, used all their very considerable powers and influence to convince the Government and the public that logging Sinharaja was in the overall greater interest of the nation. Canadian forestry experts were cited. An Indian botanist was brought down to argue and bolster the case for exploitation. Even socio-economic reasons were adduced to justify it.

The Canadians had claimed that with selective logging the forest would regenerate in 20 years. But at the rate of extraction needed for the supply of wood as required by the contract the entire extent of the wider Sinharaja forest would be gone through in 12 years. Yet the Indian agreed with their plan.

The position of the WNPS was steadily supported by Willem Meijer, a Dutch botanist with wide experience in the tropics and expert scientific knowledge of rain-forests. Then teaching at a university in the USA, he was in Sri Lanka to revise sections of Trimen’s Flora as the author of several of its chapters. He argued against the “experts” regarding the regrowth of the tropical trees at Sinharaja, which he estimated would take from 40 to 80 years, and he strongly warned against any disturbance to the unique forest”. The Indian botanist was countered by Hoffmann, in the article reproduced as Appendix IX.

All this was to no avail. The mechanized logging of the two Sinharaja Reserves began. It was claimed that those opposing it were cranks and obstructionists, who merely pursued an anti-national hobby. Thilo was once even threatened with bodily harm by the contractors.

The official publication of the report of the Rajapaksa Committee would be delayed until 1976.

However, since 1973 its contents were conveyed to the Press and the WNPS. It was a great disappointment. Most of it dealt with yield estimates, felling quotas, and the question of how and from which Reserves the enormous quantities of timber required by the Kosgama factory were to be procured. Ecological considerations seemed to be of no concern.

The report contended: “Re representatives of the Society (who) came before the committee, it was pointed out to them that in September 1970 their Society had agreed to the exploitation of Sinharaja provided an area not less than 1,000-1,200 acres was left in an undisturbed state, however between then and now the Society has changed its views considerably and repeatedly requested that the whole of Sinharaja should be set apart for purposes of scientific study.”

Already Hoffmann had written in The Sinharaja Forest the following passage which explained and represented the Society’s momentous change of view.

“Before visiting the area I believed the selective logging, as planned for the two Sinharaja reserves would be a sensible and acceptable economical measure. After days of careful observation in the field and subsequent study of the many factors involved, I have come to the firm conclusion that the two Sinharaja reserves should be left alone, and that they serve the nation best in their present, totally unexploited state.”

The Government report proposed that 4,200 acres in the Sinharaja Reserves should be left as an arboretum. But of this, as Hoffmann pointed out, not much more than 2,000 acres was intact rainforest: the rest had already been logged. As President of the WNPS Thilo Hoffmann continued the struggle with no letup, among other actions, writing several more persuasive and well-reasoned documents.

The continued pressure brought some relief The Prime Minister’s office informed the Society that there would be negotiations with the Canadian Government to modify the contract, for the time being to exploit only 1,500 acres at lesser intensity in the north-western part of the Sinharaja Reserves, and to carry out the mechanized logging first at the Delgoda and Morapitiya-Runakanda Reserves.

The General Committee of the WNPS, including its President, visited Sinharaja on March 8, 1975. Loris records “that they were deeply moved and greatly depressed by the permanent and irrevocable changes … inflicted.” The felling of each large tree in a rainforest destroys or damages smaller trees, other flora and fauna, along and around its line of fall. In addition, the wide “skid tracks” of the machinery to approach the trees and remove the timber had destroyed more of the forest.

These were then planted with mahogany, an exotic tree, in this unique indigenous ecosystem. (It is the area altered in this manner that is today mainly accessible to the visiting public.) They also:

noted with surprise that … the size of the authorized Pilot Project of 1,500 acres had been greatly exceeded. They were told that “an extension had been given” and that by now 3,000 acres have been logged, possibly even more.

As Hoffmann remarked, in the 22,000 acres of the two Sinharaja Reserves there was now “no more than 15,000, probably 10,000 acres only, of untouched quality forest left””. (That is, 6,000 and 4,000 ha, respectively.) Of this the State had agreed eventually to protect from logging, in effect, only 2,000 acres (or 800 ha), a simply insufficient, and vulnerable, area – representing a forest type which not long before had covered much of the low- and midlands of the country.

Sinharaja continued to be cut down without due control. The mechanized logging was not shifted to the other Reserves. A year later the outlook was grave, and the “heart of the forest”, as Hoffmann called it, was being destroyed.

After all the effort it seemed that the battle was lost. At this point Thilo wrote the paper entitled ‘Epitaph for a Forest: Sinharaja – 1976’ in Loris19 (Appendix XI) to yet again urge the attention of the public, persuade the State, and prevent the tragedy which today many find unthinkable.

The damage until now had been held back and slowed down by his relentless efforts. But if events continued to run their course the lucrative main logging contract would be extended, with Canadian aid. All the rest of Sinharaja would be destroyed.

In 1977 a new Government was elected. Thilo immediately tried to obtain a personal interview with the Prime Minister, J. R. Jayewardene. Fortunately, he succeeded very quickly. The latter’s Private Secretary, Nihal Weeratunge would always be helpful in conservation matters. Now politicians and administrators had become sufficiently aware of the continuous agitation to preserve Sinharaja and the reasons for it. At last, the persuasion met with a favourable reception and response.

Swiftly the State decreed that logging in the Sinharaja Reserves should cease entirely. It was decided that all wet-zone forests were to be given complete protection. The machinery and the vehicles were removed. The contractors departed. Sinharaja was saved.

Sinharaja today

Today Sinharaja is recognized as an important part of a `biological hotspot’, i. e. one of the areas of the Earth with the highest biological diversity, which Sri Lanka is assessed to be. It is the first natural feature in the country designated a World Heritage Site. An information brochure by the Forest Department describes Sinharaja as “the heart of the nation”. Had it been logged 35 years ago, as they wanted to, it would now be a severely degraded forest area, like so many others.

Thilo remarks: “I wished Sinharaja to be placed under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (Wildlife Department), because at that time only the status of National Park could give it the necessary legal protection. The Forest Department, of course, opposed this strongly, and eventually created its own rival to the Ordinance, namely the National Heritage Wilderness Area Act, for the sole purpose of keeping Sinharaja under its control. Under this Act Sinharaja was declared a National Wilderness Area in 1989. I believe since then no other area has been so declared by the FD.

In this connection it must be recalled that it was the Forest Department which used all the power, money and influence at its disposal to make sure that all of Sinharaja would be exploited for timber and to prevent it being preserved for posterity. They nearly succeeded!

Both the Department of Wildlife Conservation and particularly the Forest Department had their own agendas which often (and in the case of the FD, more often than not) were in plain opposition to sensible and effective conservation policies and projects. The title of the Head of the Forest Department, Conservator (now -General) of Forests, was actually a misnomer.

After the letter to the Prime Minister was submitted, the WNPS, under Hoffmann, had fought on unaided for the cause of Sinharaja. Even the co-signatories had been content to leave it at that. However, we find that even by 1978, as the Secretary of the Society wrote in his Annual Report, after the lonely seven-year battle by the WNPS “everybody else seems to be claiming credit for saving Sinharaja”!

In 1991 Thilo Hoffmann wrote in Loris20 of his endeavour: “This constitutes one of the few major victories which my direct personal involvement during over three decades in the conservation movement achieved. Only long after the battle was over did the Forest Department begin to realize the value of the untouched forest and started to give it meaningful protection and scientific study.

“A new law was promulgated, called the National Heritage Wilderness Areas Act (1985) and Sinharaja is today the only site declared under it. It has also received international recognition as a World Heritage Site (UNESCO). The logged portion of the forest offers interesting possibilities for scientific study about the effects of logging and regeneration whereas the major untouched portion of the forest remains a unique Sri Lanka system of inestimable value. I am confident that Sinharaja will now survive for all time and that the people of Sri Lanka will treasure it with the love and respect it deserves. The struggle was worth it.”

The largest untouched tropical rainforest in Ceylon, Sinharaja had taken at least 100 million years to evolve.

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Unlocking shareholder value: How finance professors enrich corporate governance, maximise wealth



I recently attended a conference “The AsianFA Annual Conference” at the University of Ho Chi Ming City (UEH University, Vietnam). The key note speech was delivered by Professor Roni Michaely, an Israeli academic specializing in Economics and Finance. Michaely is Professor of Finance at the University of Hong Kong, School of Business and Economics. Professor Michaely’s research has also received many awards and honours. Michaely published numerous works (several of which received best-paper awards) in high ranked academic journals. His research has been also frequently featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Economist, Investor’s Business Daily, the San Francisco Chronicle, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Barrons, Money, Reuters, Worth, among others.

Prof Michaely presented a paper utilizing a unique dataset comprising nearly one million voting rationales provided by investors. The research findings shed light on the motivations behind institutional investors’ voting decisions and their impact on corporate governance practices.

The first finding reveals that institutional investors are more likely to provide rationales when voting against management, indicating that they disclose their concerns over management practices.

The most significant reasons include board independence, board diversity, tenure, firm governance, and busyness. These factors play a crucial role in institutional investors’ decision-making process when opposing directors.

Furthermore, the research highlights an increasing trend among institutional investors to vote against directors who have failed to address environmental and social issues adequately. This indicates a growing emphasis on holding directors accountable for their actions and the impact of their decisions on broader societal concerns.

The study finds that institutional investors’ concerns are well-founded, as companies with low board gender diversity receive more rationales regarding board diversity. Similar patterns are observed for companies with long director tenure and directors with busy schedules.

Finally, the research demonstrates that companies that experience high dissent voting related to board diversity, tenure, and busyness tend to improve their board composition in the subsequent year. This suggests that voting rationales containing investors’ reasons for opposing directors serve as valuable information for firms, enabling them to address governance shortcomings and promote better practices within their portfolio companies.

In summary, this particular study shows that institutional investors are more likely to provide rationales when voting against management, indicating their concerns over management practices. Key factors driving opposition to directors include board independence, diversity, tenure, firm governance, and busyness. Institutional investors are increasingly voting against directors to hold them accountable for addressing environmental and social issues. Companies with low board diversity, long director tenure, and busy directors receive more rationales related to these factors. Moreover, companies with high dissent voting on board diversity, tenure, and busyness tend to improve their board composition in the following year. These findings suggest that voting rationales contain valuable information for firms and serve as a low-cost strategy to promote good governance practices in portfolio companies.

Another researcher revealed that to maintain diversity in corporate boards they hire finance professors from universities. That strategy serves many purposes;

Financial Expertise:

Finance professors possess specialized knowledge and expertise in the field of finance. They bring a deep understanding of financial concepts, markets, and instruments to the boardroom. Their expertise can enhance the board’s ability to make informed decisions regarding financial strategies, investments, risk management, and capital allocation.

Research and Data Analysis:

Finance professors are well-versed in conducting rigorous research and analyzing complex data. They can provide valuable insights based on empirical evidence and help the board in assessing the financial implications of various strategic choices. Their analytical skills enable them to identify trends, risks, and opportunities, guiding the board’s decision-making process.

Teaching and Communication Skills: As educators, finance professors possess strong teaching and communication skills. They can effectively articulate financial concepts, principles, and strategies to fellow board members who may not have a finance background. Their ability to simplify complex financial information can foster better understanding and facilitate more meaningful discussions among board members.

Objective and Independent Thinking: Finance professors often maintain a degree of independence and objectivity in their research and analysis. This mindset can be valuable in the boardroom, where unbiased thinking is crucial. They can challenge prevailing assumptions, ask critical questions, and provide alternative perspectives, contributing to more robust board deliberations and decision-making.

Academic Network and Industry Insights: Finance professors typically maintain extensive networks within academia and the industry. They have access to the latest research, trends, and best practices in finance. This network can provide valuable insights and connections that can benefit the board in staying updated on emerging financial issues, regulatory changes, and industry developments.

Institutional Knowledge and Governance Expertise:

Finance professors often have a deep understanding of corporate governance practices and frameworks. They can bring this knowledge to the board, helping to enhance governance processes and ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Their familiarity with governance principles can contribute to improving board effectiveness, transparency, and accountability.

Bridge between Academia and Practice:

Hiring finance professors to cooperate boards creates a bridge between academia and the corporate world. They can facilitate the transfer of knowledge, research findings, and best practices from the academic realm to practical applications in the boardroom. This integration can foster innovation, informed decision-making, and the adoption of evidence-based strategies.

In summary, hiring finance professors from universities to cooperate boards offers the advantages of financial expertise, research and data analysis skills, teaching and communication abilities, independent thinking, academic and industry networks, governance expertise, and bridging the gap between academia and practice.

These benefits can strengthen board performance, contribute to sound financial decision-making, and enhance overall governance practices within organizations.

Another paper discussed on The growing demand for (environmental. Social and governance) ESG-related corporate information spurs the adoption of mandatory ESG disclosure regulations worldwide. We document that firms respond to these mandates by strategically adjusting productive assets through acquisitions and divestitures to enhance their ESG profiles. In particular, firms acquire more assets with strong ESG performance but divest those with weak ESG records, particularly in the wake of negative ESG incidents. Moreover, firms facing ESG disclosure mandates pay higher premiums for acquiring good-ESG assets and accept lower premiums for divesting poor-ESG assets. Acquisitions are more effective than divestitures for improving ESG performance and enhancing firm value.

Another paper points out that Researchers often study the relationship between CSR and firm value and the linkage between ownership and firm value separately. Only a few papers in the existing literature combine both the study branches, that is answering how ownership can affect the CSR-firm value relation. In this paper, we intend to fill this gap by investigating how state ownership can affect the mentioned relationship. Using a sample of Vietnamese listed firms, we figure out an interesting feature in the Vietnamese financial market. When the state is the sole large shareholder in a firm, it negatively affects the CSR-firm value relation. However, when there are foreign institutions concurrently appearing as other large shareholders, the state ownership then positively affects the mentioned relation. We interpret the phenomenon by using the overinvestment hypothesis. That is due to the agency problem, when the state presents as the only large shareholder, it uses the firm’s financial resources to overinvest in CSR activities to improve the state’s reputation in the public eye. However, doing that comes at the cost of other shareholders, specifically a decrease in firm value. Nevertheless, when foreign institutions come in, they can help monitor and alleviate the issue, therefore, the firm value increases. In this case, foreign institutional investors might play an effective role in mitigating the mentioned issue.

Another study from Korea argues that, the effects of corporate social responsibility (CSR) on firms’ stock performance were examined in the context of a corporate scandal closely tied to environmental and social (ES) issues, namely the humidifier disinfectant scandal in Korea. The researchers found that firms with higher ES ratings, particularly those with stronger social ratings, experienced significantly better stock performance during the product safety scandal. The findings highlight the influential role of CSR in shaping a company’s stock performance, especially when investors demonstrate significant attention to ES issues. This suggests that firms’ investments in CSR can effectively mitigate nonfinancial risks and contribute to their overall financial performance.

(The author, a senior Chartered Accountant and professional banker, is Professor at SLIIT University, Malabe. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the institution he works for.)

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Navigating challenges of dental education in Sri Lanka



Faculty of Dental Sciences, University of Peradeniya

By Udari Abeyasinghe

One of the principles of free education is to provide opportunities in higher education. In 2020, then-President Gotabaya Rajapaksa issued directives to the University Grants Commission (UGC) to increase university admissions by an additional 12,000 students, in line with his election manifesto. Subsequently, student enrollments were increased with inadequate resources allocated for the enhancement of university facilities to accommodate the surge in student enrollments.

Currently, state universities are grappling with managing the increasing number of students in the face of budgetary constraints. Unfortunately, neither physical nor human resources have been expanded in proportion to the increased student enrollment, leading to severe strain on the higher education system. Being an academic in the one and only dental faculty producing dental graduates at present for the entire country, I take this opportunity to shed light on the hardships experienced in dental education owing to financial constraints amplified by the economic crisis in Sri Lanka.

A glimpse into history

The history of dentistry in Sri Lanka is a fascinating journey. On 15 May, 1915, dentistry was recognized as an independent profession in the country. The first qualified dentists were officially registered by the Ceylon Medical Council under the Dentists Registration Ordinance, all of whom were British-trained professionals. These early dentists primarily served the British troops, professionals, and those among the Ceylonese population who could afford their professional services, predominantly in the private sector. It was only in 1925 that the Colonial government recognized the dental health needs of the general public. By the 1930s, several medical graduates from the Ceylon Medical College had embarked on a new educational journey by enrolling in a Licentiate in Dental Surgery programme, a two-year post-graduate course.

By 1943, another pivotal moment in the history of dental education occurred with the launch of the Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) course at the Ceylon Medical College, University of Ceylon, located in Colombo. The inaugural batch consisted of only four students, followed by six students in the subsequent batch. This marked the official commencement of comprehensive dental education within Ceylon. Recognising the necessity of practical knowledge and skills to complement theoretical dental education, a small Dental Unit (now the site of the nine-storey Dental Hospital in Colombo) was established at the Colombo General Hospital, now known as the National Hospital of Sri Lanka.

In 1953, the Dental School was relocated from Colombo to Peradeniya. Subsequently, with the establishment of the second Medical College at Peradeniya, in 1961, the Dental School became affiliated with it, functioning as a department. Over the years, the dental school gradually expanded, becoming a Faculty of Dental Sciences in 1986. In 1998, under the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) project, the Peradeniya Faculty of Dental Sciences and Hospital complex was established. Notably, in 2017, the BDS programme transitioned from a four-year to a five-year curriculum on par with international standards. Eighty years after the commencement of dental education in the country, at present about 80 dentists graduate annually, all trained under the Free Education policy. In December 2021, a second Faculty of Dental Sciences was established at the University of Jayewardenepura set to produce its first graduates in three years.

Dental education in crisis

Sri Lanka’s financial crisis has taken a toll on the education sector, resulting in significant cuts in financial allocations. UNICEF reports that Sri Lanka allocates less than 2% of its GDP to education, falling well below the international benchmark of 4%-6% of GDP and ranking among the lowest in South Asia. In 2020, recurrent costs per student per year for the dental degree stood at Rs 1.72 million. The total recurrent cost for the five-year degree was 8.62 million while the total recurrent cost for the medical degree was 4.18 million. The cost of the dental degree programme would have surely increased since then due to the increased prices of imported dental materials. Given that dental education is the most expensive degree programme in Sri Lanka, the impact of these budget cuts has been particularly harsh. Moreover, the government’s decision to increase student intake in recent years, from 80 to 123 students at Peradeniya, has exacerbated the situation, representing nearly a 50% increase.

Dental education requires close one-on-one supervision during clinical sessions, and maintaining high standards necessitates adequate human resources. According to Sri Lankan standards, the student-to-academic staff ratio should be maintained at 7:1. Due to the increased number of students in the absence of a proportionate increase in the number of academics, this ratio no longer exists. This has placed a heavy burden on academic staff, who struggle to balance their responsibilities, including teaching, supervising postgraduate students, conducting research, and contributing to faculty and university administration. The shortage of human resources is taking a toll on the well-being of these academics and affecting the quality of education they can provide.


As outlined in my last Kuppi article (09/05/2023), attracting and retaining young staff in the field of dentistry has emerged as a significant challenge. For any institution’s effective operation, the collective contributions of academics across all levels, from temporary lecturers to junior lecturers, senior lecturers, and professors, are crucial. Presently, the dental faculty faces a unique situation, functioning without a single dental graduate as a temporary lecturer. This situation has arisen primarily because dental graduates are reluctant to take up temporary academic positions due to the relatively low salaries offered in comparison to the potential earnings from private dental practice, not to mention a series of challenges faced in the university setting.

The government’s recent decision to suspend stipends for probationary lecturers in clinical departments to complete MD foreign training is one such challenge. As paid foreign training positions for dental graduates are hard to come by, completing foreign training without a stipend is unfeasible. Even though lecturers can be confirmed in their position before completion of foreign training and board certification, they are not eligible to become senior lecturers. The inability for junior lecturers to advance their careers has directly affected not only retaining but also attracting young dental graduates into the clinical departments. The situation has been further worsened by the government’s discriminatory decision to provide a stipend for postgraduate MD trainees in the Ministry of Health to pursue foreign training, which has compelled dental graduates to opt for employment with the Ministry of Health instead of universities.

The faculty has not been able to increase physical resources in parallel with the surge in student intake. Inflation has tripled the cost of dental materials needed for patient treatment, making it nearly impossible to procure the necessary supplies for both patient care and educational purposes. At present, the faculty relies upon donations from patients and alumni to bridge the gap. Other resources for clinical training, such as manikins in the skills laboratory, dental chairs, clinic equipment, and other basic facilities, including computers in IT labs, Wi-Fi, space in the cafeteria and student accommodation are inadequate to cater to the increased student intake. The responsibility to secure additional resources has fallen on the shoulders of academics with little support from the UGC.

The bigger picture

Dentistry is undoubtedly a costly degree, and access to free education in Sri Lanka has been a crucial lifeline, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As committed academics, our dedication lies in safeguarding free education and ensuring that students, regardless of their social backgrounds, have access to dental education while maintaining the high standards of teaching and learning. It is essential to keep in mind the BDS programme has gradually expanded from 4 to 80 students over a period of 80 years. The programme’s sustainability has been maintained by gradual and timely planned expansion with adequate public funding.

Indiscriminate increases in student intake during times of financial crisis will surely compromise the quality of dental education. Discriminatory decision to provide a stipend for postgraduate MD trainees in the Ministry of Health but not the postgraduate MD trainees in dental faculties will further compromise dental education. It is essential for decision-makers and policymakers to consider the long-term sustainability and quality of dental education, while strengthening Free Education in the country, even as they explore options for expansion.

(Udari Abeyasinghe is attached to the Department of Oral Pathology, Faculty of Dental Sciences, University of Peradeniya)

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.

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Full implementation of 13A: Final solution to ‘national problem’ or end of unitary state?



President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signing of Indo-Lanka Accord

By Kalyananda Tiranagama
Executive Director
Lawyers for Human Rights and Development

It appears that President Ranil Wickremasinghe, all along his political career, has acted in the belief that he can bring about national unity, true national reconciliation among different communities and find a lasting solution to the ethnic problem only by granting more and more concessions to the racist political parties with separatist agendas in the North and the East and complying with their demands.

In 2002, as the Prime Minister, Wickremesinghe signed, without the approval of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, an Oslo-brokered ceasefire agreement with the LTTE, allowing the LTTE to have internal self-administration in the areas under their control in the North-East. In 2005, he supported the move of the Kumaratunga government to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the LTTE for the establishment of a Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (P-TOMS Agreement) under LTTE leadership for carrying out reconstruction work in the six Tsunami affected Districts in the North-East. In 2006, he assured the TNA of support for the re-merger of Northern and Eastern Provinces if a motion was brought for that purpose in Parliament. During the war for the liberation of the North-East from terrorism, instead of supporting the war effort, his party tried to derail the war effort by abstaining from voting for the extension of the Emergency and making derogatory remarks about the victories of the armed forces.

Common Dream of Wickremasinghe and Sampanthan

In his Address to Parliament on February 8, 2023 delivering the Policy Statement of the Government, President Wickremasinghe disclosed a common dream Mr. Sampanthan and he had been trying to realise over the years thus:

‘‘Both Hon. R. Sampanthan and I were elected to Parliament in 1977. We both have a common dream, which is to provide a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka while we are both in Parliament. Ever since, we have been discussing that dream and have been making efforts towards its achievement. All previous attempts have failed, but we wish to succeed this time. We expect your support to this end.’’

Before proceeding to examine the dream of the President, let us examine the dream of Sampanthan and the political organisations led by him: the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This dream remained continuously unchanged since the founding of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (Federal Party) in 1949. The name of the Party – Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) or (Tamil State Party of Ceylon) itself reflects this dream. This dream was reiterated in various resolutions passed at their conferences and public declarations at different times.

Dream of Sampanthan and other Tamil leaders

Trincomalee Resolution of ITAK – April 1957

The Resolution passed at the first National Convention of the ITAK held in Trincomalee in April 1957 elaborates on this dream citing the components this dream consists of:

“Inasmuch as it is the inalienable right of every nation to enjoy full political freedom without which its spiritual, cultural and moral stature must degenerate and inasmuch as the Tamil Speaking People in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood, firstly that of a separate historical part in this island at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Sinhalese, secondly by the fact of their being a linguistic entity different from that of the Sinhalese, with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a modern development of language which makes Tamil fully adequate for all present day needs and finally by reason of their traditional habitation of definite areas which constitute one-third of this island, the first National Convention of the I.T.A.K. demands for the Tamil Speaking Nation their inalienable right to political autonomy and calls for a plebiscite to determine the boundaries of the linguistic states in consonance with the fundamental and unchallengeable principle of self-determination.”

The components of this dream are as follows:


. Tamil Speaking People in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood: i. playing a separate historical part in this island at least as ancient and as glorious as that of the Sinhalese; ii. with an unsurpassed classical heritage and a modern development of language making Tamil fully adequate for all present-day needs; iii. their traditional habitation of definite areas constituting one-third of this island; b. Inalienable right of the Tamil Speaking Nation to political autonomy.

Vaddukoddai Resolution of TULF

The Vaddukoddai Resolution unanimously adopted on 16 May 1976 by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) consisting of all the Tamil political parties and groups in the North – East narrated in its preamble all the rights denied to or deprived of Tamil people by the successive Sinhala governments and their demands for restoration thereof:

a. The Tamils of Ceylon by virtue of their language, their religions, their separate culture and heritage, their history of independent existence as a separate state over a distinct territory for several centuries and, above all by their will to exist as a separate entity ruling themselves in their own territory, are a nation distinct and apart from Sinhalese;

b. Throughout centuries from the dawn of history, the Sinhalese and Tamil nations have divided between themselves the possession of Ceylon, the Sinhalese inhabiting the interior of the country in its Southern and Western parts and the Tamils possessing the Northern and Eastern districts;

c. Successive Sinhalese governments since independence have encouraged and fostered the aggressive nationalism of the Sinhalese people and have used their political power to the detriment of the Tamils by making serious inroads into the territories of the former Tamil Kingdom by a system of planned and state-aided Sinhalese colonization and large scale regularization of recently encouraged Sinhalese encroachments, calculated to make the Tamils a minority in their own homeland.

d. The proposals submitted to the Constituent Assembly by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi for maintaining the unity of the country while preserving the integrity of the Tamil people by the establishment of an autonomous Tamil State within the framework of a Federal Republic of Ceylon.

‘‘This convention resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the Free, Sovereign, Secular, Socialist 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.


This Convention directs the Action Committee of the Tamil United 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; and



This Convention calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of TAMIL EELAM is reached.’’

· From this it clearly appears that not only the LTTE and the other armed militant groups, but the entire leadership of the TULF was also responsible for aiding and abetting and leading the Tamil youth for the 30-year war against Sri Lanka.

Although the LTTE was defeated and the 30-year war came to an end on May 18, 2009, the ITAK, the TULF or the TNA and the other political parties in the North-East have not abandoned their goal or dream of creating a separate Tamil State in the amalgamated Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka. They have only changed their strategy and tactics in the march for reaching their goal.

Speech made by R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TULF, at the 14th ITAK Convention held in Batticaloa in May 2012

In this speech, Sampanthan clearly explains to their members their new strategy to achieve their goal of a separate state thus:

“We gather here following our victory in the passage of the recent Resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, a condemnation against the SL government by the international community.

“Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi was created by S. J. V. Chelvanayagam, the father of Tamil Nation, for the purpose of establishing self-determination of the Tamil people on this island. This objective is evident in both the name of the party and in the manner in which it operates.

“Tamil United Liberation Front, of which our party was a member, took the historical decision to establish the separate government of Tamil Eelam in 1976. Based on this decision of our party, and the need to place ourselves in a position of strength, Tamil youth decided to oppose violence with violence and began to rise up as armed rebel groups.

“Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, became a great force within the Tamil community.

“We remember the Tamil youth who sacrificed their lives in armed struggle. …. SL government has committed the crime of extermination against our people,

“The intervention of India has clearly taught us the lesson that whatever our aspirations may be, India will never welcome a political solution in Sri Lanka that does not accord with the interests of India.

“Achieving Tamil Eelam was becoming an increasingly unrealistic goal. Thus, instead of sacrificing more lives to this cause, our party with the help of India, began supporting a solution that allowed Tamil people to live within a united Sri Lanka.

“A most important lesson we have learnt from the past 60 years… is that we should act strategically, with the awareness that global powers will act based on their domestic interests.

“Further, a struggle that runs counter to the international community, built only on military might, will not prevail. It is for this reason, that in the new environment created by various global influences, we have, together with the support and assistance of the international community, found new ways of continuing with our struggle.

“Our expectation of a solution to the ethnic problem of the sovereignty of the Tamil people is based on a political structure outside that of a unitary government, in a united Sri Lanka in which Tamil people have all the powers of government needed to live with self-respect and self-sufficiency.

“The position that the North and East of Sri Lanka are the areas of historical habitation of the Tamil speaking people cannot be compromised in this structure of government…. We must have unrestricted authority to govern our land, protect our own people, and develop our own economy, culture and tradition… Meaningful devolution should go beyond the 13th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1987.

“The above solution is one that is likely to be acceptable to members of the international community including India and the United States.

“Any solution to the ethnic problem concerning the sovereignty of the Tamil people must be acceptable to the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.

“The international practice prevalent during the mid-eighties, when the intervention of India occurred, has now changed. Although the issue at hand is the same, the prevailing conditions are different. The struggle is the same, but the approaches we employ are different. Our aim is the same, but our strategies are different. The players are the same, but the alliances are different. That is the nature of the Tamil people. Although we still have the same aim, the methods we use now are different.

“The current practices of the international community may give us an opportunity to achieve, without the loss of life, the soaring aspirations we were unable to achieve by armed force.’’.’’

(To be continued)

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