By Professor R.P. Gunawardane
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), one of the best and most popular non-state higher education institutions in this country, is in the news these days. It was established in 1998, with support from the Mahapola Trust Fund and its current status has been challenged by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) of the Parliament of Sri Lanka.
Mahapola Trust Fund (MTF) was established by the late Minister Lalith Athulathmudali in 1981 to grant scholarships for needy undergraduates in the Sri Lankan university system. The Chairman of the MTF has always been the Chief Justice of the country. Nearly half a million of our deserving undergraduates have so far benefitted from the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme. The MTF is certainly a noble organisation, established for a noble purpose by a great visionary, the late Athulathmudali, who was one of the best politicians, and very intelligent and energetic Minister ever produced by this country.
The SLIIT offers a novel model of non-state and non-profit fee-levying university for Sri Lanka although such institutions are common in the developed world. All top universities in the world, including Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford and all Ivy League universities in the US, and even Oxford, Cambridge and London universities, in the UK, are of this type. Although they receive some funding from the government for specific teaching and research projects, none of them are state controlled.
Almost all the top universities in the world are located in the USA, the UK, Europe, Australia and Canada. None of these countries have University Grants Commissions (UGCs) or equivalents, or Universities Acts to govern higher education institutions. All universities are completely independent and managed by their boards of management without any interference from the government. All appointments including the post of Vice-Chancellors are done independently, by the board of management. It is recognised all over the world that this type of independence is required for a university to carry out its duties and functions effectively, maintaining the highest standards.
History of SLIIT
Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) commenced its operations in 1999 as a non-state and non-profit higher education institution to train manpower in the field of Computer Science and particularly in the broad field of Information Technology. The development, with rapid expansion, was possible because of a strong commitment by MTF to provide a loan of Rs. 500 million and a lease of a land encompasing 25 acres in Malabe, owned by the Mahapola Trust Fund. However, only Rs. 373 million was released by MTF as a loan for this purpose.
It started functioning at the Bank of Ceylon Merchant Tower, Colombo 3, now called the Metropolitan Campus of the SLIIT. After almost 22 years of its existence and rapid development, it has now become a fully-fledged higher education institution at national university level with wide national and international recognition.
I served the Board of Management of the SLIIT for nearly four years at the initial stages from 2000. I was nominated to the Board of Management by then Minister of Education and Higher Education Richard Pathirana. I also served as a member of the Board of Governors of MTF in my capacity as the Secretary to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education.
During my tenure, I noticed the tremendous potential the SLIIT had in the higher education sector and the effort, dedication, commitment, perseverance and continuous hard work by a group of academics led by Professor Lalith Gamage to bring this institution to the present level. Whatever the mistakes made in the process of developing this institute, this achievement should be recognised and preserved. This institution should not be destroyed.
The SLIIT is a national asset that must be retained and further developed as a non-state sector institution with a framework for checks and balances with regard to the broad national policy.
Current Status of the Institute
Currently, the SLIIT has two campuses and four regional centres. The main campus with all the laboratory, library, auditorium and all other facilities is located on a 25-acre land in Malabe. Its Metropolitan Campus remains in the BoC Merchant building, Colombo 3. Its Regional Centres are spreading throughout the country in the major cities – Matara, Kandy, Kurunegala and Jaffna. About 12,000 students are enrolled in this institution with about 400 highly qualified academic staff and 200 administrative and supporting staff. It has a large number of links and joint degree programmes with prestigious universities in Australia, the US, the UK and Canada.
SLIIT, being a non-state non-profit institution, is not under the purview of the UGC, and does not have to abide the Universities Act No. 16 of 1978, which has centralised powers and decision making in the UGC. Thus, SLIIT has a tremendous advantage and full freedom to expand and diversify programmes with innovative approaches, without any clearance or approval from any authorities.
This freedom is lacking in the state universities, and as such clearances and approvals have to be obtained from the UGC and other relevant ministries and agencies to commence new programmes. In recent years, the UGC has taken over more powers outside the Universities Act with regard to introduction of new courses and novel projects requiring to obtain prior approval from the UGC. Sometimes, it takes up to one year or more to obtain necessary approvals or clearances. By the time approval is obtained the programme may be outdated or if it is a joint project with foreign university or international organisation, the other party is no longer interested.
This kind of freedom available to the SLIIT should be retained for further development and implementation of novel and innovative programmes. Our national universities do not have the kind of freedom currently available to SLIIT. That is why our universities cannot compete with other similar institutions in Sri Lanka and abroad although the state universities have sufficient expertise but with limited resources.
It is important to note that the SLIIT (1999) achieved the current status only in about 22 years of its existence while our oldest universities, Colombo (1942) and Peradeniya (1952), existed for about 70-80 years. It is remarkable that this institution has become a vibrant national university beating most of our state universities except perhaps a few universities like Peradeniya and Colombo.
SLIIT may be considered a new experiment and novel approach to higher education in Sri Lanka. Thus, this approach should be further explored for the expansion and diversification of higher education sector in Sri Lanka.
Issues and Concerns
SLIIT administration claims that the loan of Rs. 373 million obtained from the Mahapola Trust Fund (MTF) to establish the SLIIT has been fully paid with interest totalling Rs. 408 million. In addition, they also make the annual lease payment of Rs. 25 million for the land in Malabe regularly, as agreed. However, it should be noted that MTF is not a commercial bank or money lending institution and it does not give loans to others. It has not given loans to any other organisation. It is believed that the MTF at the time wanted to make a long-term investment in the field of higher education in line with the philosophy of its founder Lalith Athulathmudali. The intention would have been to generate additional funding to support the scholarship funding for rapidly increasing number of needy undergraduates. Thus, the support for the establishment of the SLIIT is an investment the MTF made for the future.
I consider the severing of SLIIT’s connection to the MTF is a grave and unforgivable mistake done by the SLIIT administration. SLIIT would not have come up to the present position within two decades if not for the original support of the MTF through a loan of a huge sum and a 60-year lease agreement for the land at a prime location in Malabe.
Furthermore, the refusal of the SLIIT management to appear before the COPE Committee is very unfortunate although they may not have to do so legally due to their current status. However, this act by the SLIIT which was created by a noble organisation such as the Mahapola Trust Fund is highly unethical and needs condemnation. It was also a missed opportunity for the SLIIT management to explain their side of the story to the COPE members in order to get some concessions.
Although they developed innovative and popular academic programmes, rapidly attracting a large number of students, there were a number of unresolved and troubling issues, within the Institute. Some of them are:
1. Insufficient emphasis on high quality research and lack of an initiative to develop a much-needed research culture in the institute are clearly seen.
2. In the past, there were some news reports pertaining to irregularities in the financial administration of the institute by some higher officials. The veracity of these complains cannot be ascertained until an investigation is done. It was reported that there was no properly qualified and experienced accountant or Bursar to handle financial matters, and there has been no internal audit for a long period of time.
It is essential that the SLIIT should not be taken over by the government. If it does, it will certainly do much more harm than good to the higher education sector. First of all, its connection to the Mahapola Trust Fund, which may be considered as the mother institution, must be fully restored. It is also necessary to reconstitute a fully independent Board of Management, consisting of highly qualified and eminent professionals with no history of any misdeeds. It also should include one representation of the Mahapola Trust Fund as well. This institution should continue to run as a non-state and non-profit higher education institution with the fee-levying status. Appointments at all the levels should be made by the Board of Management without any external or government involvement.
The matters raised above and any audit reports should be investigated thoroughly and appropriate action be taken in order to improve the image of the institution. As stated in the original agreement of the SLIIT with the MTF, and also as a gesture of goodwill, the SLIIT should pay 20% of its profit annually to the MTF to strengthen the Mahapola Scholarship Scheme. This should be done even if the MTF’s ownership of the Institute is not legally established. This is in addition to the annual lease payment to the Mahapola Trust Fund for its use of 25-acre land at Malabe, where its main campus is located.
Furthermore, SLIIT should establish a scholarship scheme by contributing sufficient funds to provide partial scholarships to needy students covering at least 10% of the total student population in the Institute. This aspect is extremely important for the survival of a non-state fee-levying institution in a country where state universities provide free education.
Restructuring the institute may also be required, avoiding unnecessary and irrelevant structures, units and subject areas and strengthening the teaching, research and consultancy functions in the core area of information technology. It is vital that the non-state and non-profit status of the SLIIT should be retained in order for this institution to develop rapidly to become one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in Asia, attracting a considerable number of foreign students. In this attempt, it would be the best for the SLIIT if Professor Lalith Gamage, the live-wire of this institution, who is mainly responsible for its tremendous success, should continue as the Vice-Chancellor/CEO for a longer period to see the best results.
(The author is a Professor Emeritus, University of Peradeniya, formerly Secretary, Ministry of Education and Higher Education and Chairman, National Education Commission, Sri Lanka)
Impressive Indian scene…
Some of the live streaming events, on social media, have brought into the limelight quite a few impressive performers, hailing from India.
Just recently, I checked out the live performance of Stephanie Sutari, and her sister Desiree, and found the duo very entertaining, and so the spotlight this week is focused on the singing sisters.
Stephanie says it’s her very supportive parents who encouraged her to go for piano/music classes, at a young age of eight, as a hobby. Later, she joined the church choir and participated at various singing competitions.
Before long, Stephanie was lending her voice for voiceovers and jingles for advertisements.
Ssys Stephanie: “I only considered it as a career option, in my late teens. So I completed my post-graduation, in Media, but decided to follow my heart and take up singing, full time.”
However, coming from a non-musical background, it was a challenge for Stephanie to make her way into the industry, but, she says, she was determined and extremely driven.
“They say, the universe falls in love with a stubborn heart, so, initially, I stayed in my comfort zone and started singing, professionally, in English only…but living in Mumbai – the heart of Bollywood, I decided to utilise my resources and get out of my comfort zone; you may call it fate (I believe it’s my grandparents blessings), I was offered a break with one of the best entertainment bands in India – Rodney and the Band, at the age of 22. Yes, I became a full time Bollywood singer and started touring with them, all over the world.”
Talented Stephanie branched out, from singing only English songs, to enhance her repertoire by including songs in over 10 languages – Telugu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Konkani, Marathi, Hindi (Indian languages), Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and a few African languages, like Zulu, Duala.
She has performed for over 1000 shows, all over the world, including Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Dubai, Bahrain, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Lagos, and Indonesia.
“I love to travel and if I’m not travelling on work (which is extremely rare), I travel on vacation….My most favourite travel destination is Europe, with Switzerland and Paris being right on top.”
Stephanie goes on to say that the best part of her family gatherings was the sing-along sessions and she then realised how music had the power to uplift people’s mood.
“So, when the pandemic hit, I started an official Stephanie S page, on Facebook, to help people go through the tough times, with a little hope, and went I live, once a week, to bring people, and their love for music, together. The response was overwhelming ‘cos I reached out to so many people, from all over the world, from the comfort of my home. The interesting fact is, I got my best friend Mathew Varghese, on board, who controls the entire audio and video technicalities, sitting in another country, Kuwait, online.
“My little sister, Desiree, who has a magical voice, and moves that drove my viewers crazy, soon became an integral part of my live performances, as well, and today she’s more in demand for her charisma and melodious singing. She has just started her musical journey but has a promising future in music ahead of her.”
Referring to her future plans, Stephanie said it’s to make a mark in the global music industry, by showcasing her talent.
And, her message to the next generation: “It’s important to follow your dreams, but it’s also important to complete your education first. Knowledge is Power,”
Winding up our chit-chat, Stephanie said she has never been to Sri Lanka but is eagerly looking forward to spending a vacation in the ‘Wonder of Asia’ as soon as time permits.
Dissemination of ‘real time’ meteorological information to domestic aviation community
On July 3, 1971, during the first JVP insurgency, while I was working with the then Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF), based at China Bay, in Trincomalee, I reported to the squadron early morning and was told by our Officer Commanding the No. 3 Maritime Squadron, Flt Lt Denzil Fernando, that I was assigned to fly as ‘Second Dickie’ to Sergeant-Pilot Tony (Tuan Mohamed Zachariah) Dole in a de Havilland Dove with serial (registration) CS 406. We were to go to Vavuniya to pick up the then Government Agent (GA), Neville Jayaweera, and take him to Ratmalana (RMA).
Our trip to Vavuniya was uneventful, except that the runway, unused for many years, had been cleared and secured by the Army, with soldiers standing at regular intervals along the full length of the runway. After the GA boarded the plane we got airborne and set course for Ratmalana. It was a bit cloudy when we started. Soon the clouds got heavier, and we had to fly through the clouds to maintain our course. Not long afterwards, the weather became worse, and turbulence in the clouds caused our eight-seater D.H. 104 Dove to shake like a leaf in the wind.
The twin-engine transport plane didn’t have Airborne Weather Radar (AWR) to avoid rain clouds. AWR works on the principle that the more turbulent a cloud, the greater the mass of water it will support. This will ‘bounce’ off radar signals emitted by the aircraft, and will be proportional to the cloud thickness, thereby providing an image of the turbulence, within the cloud mass, as indicated on a screen in the cockpit of the aircraft.
Without AWR, our only option was to reduce speed to make the ride as comfortable as possible for the GA (and us), not unlike when driving on a bumpy road, and then ‘eyeballing’ the weather and hoping for the best by avoiding the more intense rain clouds. The only weather forecast reports available to us were for China Bay and Ratmalana airports, but no information whatsoever on observed weather en route.
By now, flying in cloud, we had lost sight of the ground and were unsure of our position. We were avoiding clouds to the best of our ability. The vertical development of some of the clouds were in excess of 10,000 ft at some places. So we decided to go below the cloud base, which was fortunately higher than existing terrain, so we could maintain sight of ground or water to pinpoint our position. In aviation parlance, this is known as a ‘visual fix’ of position.
We also flew further west towards the coast to reduce the chances of rising terrain (hills). Soon we spotted, through the rain, the unmistakable coastline, of Kalpitiya and Puttalam, enabling us to positively establish our position. We then continued to follow the coastline at low leve,l to RMA, flying under the jet aircraft approach path at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Katunayake, and towards Colombo.
The air traffic control towers at Katunayake and Ratmalana were also reporting heavy rain showers. We found a patch clear of cloud, south of the Ratmalana airport, over Bolgoda Lake, and began circling there. But Sgt. Dole had an ace up his sleeve. He told me that showers present under cloud cells usually come in waves that transit the airport, and the best bet was to wait and land between the showers that we could see well from our vantage point in the south.
Sure enough, as soon as one rain shower passed the airport, we were well positioned to turn in and land in relatively clear weather with only a slight drizzle, before the next downpour hit.
This was exactly 50 years ago. We didn’t have radio navigational aid, except the Non-Directional Beacons (NDBs) at China Bay, BIA and Ratmalana that operated on low to medium frequency and were affected by bad weather (thunderstorms) and thus rendered useless in our circumstances described here. In fact, the signals emitted by Radio Ceylon were sometimes stronger! In addition, there were two Very High Frequency (VHF) Omni Radio Range stations (VORs) at BIA and RMA, but our aircraft was not equipped with a receiver that could be used in conjunction with the VORs. They were meant for the ‘big aircraft’. Other countries had Distance Measuring Equipment (DME) associated with the VOR, but not Ceylon.
Therefore, pilots had to navigate by a process called ‘Dead Reckoning’, which involved estimated ground speed and time over known ground features (cities, rivers, roads, railway lines and buildings for example). ‘If you reckoned wrong you were dead!’ To add insult to injury, we didn’t have ‘real-time’ observed meteorological information available to us in terms of cloud base and intensity of rain to help us make informed decisions as to what route to follow.
Today, technology has improved worldwide in leaps and bounds. We have ‘smart’ cellular phones and tablets with Global Positioning Systems (GPS). We have capabilities of providing better facilities to domestic air traffic, consisting of landplanes, seaplanes and helicopters. For many years we have had a radar station positioned on Pidurutalagala, the highest point in the island. In fact, we can even monitor certain areas of South India.
Unfortunately, real-time meteorological information is still not available as Sri Lanka has not invested in a communications system capable of providing such information. More than 15 years ago, Singapore installed a radar system at Changi Airport that was capable of giving information to pilots on the intensity of rainfall relative to their airports. We are told that Sri Lanka’s Meteorological Department invested Rs.200 million, in 2013, on a Doppler radar system which, in their so-called ‘wisdom’, they wanted to site at Deniyaya. But it was never installed, and the equipment is now in storage in damaged condition after it went ‘down the pallang’ while being transported there!
Today, there are many free websites which provide highly accurate satellite-based weather forecast information at a click of a button. It is also available on ground to flight dispatchers. It is therefore sad to note that the weather forecasts, produced by our Meteorological Department (who should be playing a key role) are not used by the aviation community, almost certainly due to a lack of confidence on the part of pilots and aviation operations officers. It should also be noted that in Sri Lankan domestic aviation, along with the satellite weather forecasts, the actual observed weather, must go hand in hand. Even this is still not provided by the Met’ Department. I believe that this is a major lapse.
The following incident illustrates the stark reality of what the current situation is for domestic operators. A few days ago, a commercially important passenger (CIP) was flown to Anuradhapura by a domestic air charter company to attend celebrations commemorating the two-year anniversary in office of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The outbound flight to Anuradhapura was uneventful. For the return flight to RMA, the flight dispatcher based at Ratmalana had to plan the flight. While the general weather forecast was rain, standard practice relied on the observed actual en route weather by police stations on the way: at Galgamuwa, Nikaweratiya, Kuliyapitiya, Divulapitiya, Palavi, Chilaw, Wenappuwa and Negombo.
All these observers are local police personnel, not qualified aviation or meteorological professionals. Consequently, their very subjective ‘met reports’ are along the lines of “the sky is dark”, “it is about to rain”, “it is now drizzling” or “heavy showers”, from which the flight dispatcher has to form a mental picture of what the en route weather is. One wonders what the insurance implications would be if an accident occurs.
To continue, the hapless pilot at Anuradhapura, who was in touch with his dispatcher on his cellular phone before departure, had to evaluate the risks and make an informed decision. Like Sgt. Dole and I did 50 years ago, he had to get airborne and ‘play it by ear’, so to speak. So, having reached the western coastline, he followed it all the way to Ratmalana. As a matter of interest, I was able to follow the progress of this single-engine light aircraft through one of the free apps on my smartphone, via satellite. That is what prompted this article.
I regard it as an absolute shame that in the last 50 years the Colombo Met’ Department has been unable to provide useful ‘real-time’ meteorological observations to domestic air operations. Yet to satisfy the international aviation community in the gathering of weather data, they have observation stations at all of Sri Lanka’s international airports. But it is a case of thus far and no further. Scrutinising the Meteorological Department’s website will reveal that they have weather observation stations in Kankesanturai (KKS), Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Mahailluppallama, Puttalam, Batticaloa, Kurunegala, Kandy, Nuwara-Eliya, Badulla, Diyatalawa, Pottuvil, Ratnapura, Katunayake, Ratmalana, Galle and Hambantota. These stations are connected to the World Weather Watch (WWW) through a Global Telecommunication Network (GTS). I do not know whether they are automatic as in other parts of the world, or require a qualified human observer.
The sad part is that this real-time information is not available to domestic aviation operators (of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters) who have to rely on amateurish police station observations and information. If the observed real-time weather is brought online with a good communications network comprising more observation stations established at all the other domestic airports, weather updates will enhance and synergize air safety in real-time.
I do not know who is responsible for this unacceptable state of affairs, but certainly the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL), the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), and the ‘keepers’ of some of the domestic airports should coordinate with the Met’ Office and have real-time weather reports available for all domestic flights.
More recently it has been reported, in the local media that the Colombo Met’ Office and Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have signed an agreement for two more weather radar stations, to be sited at Puttalam and Pottuvil, to replace the one that never ‘got off the ground’ at Deniyaya. Will JICA be able to help in establishing automatic observation stations accessible to domestic aviators, to determine and report on such vital meteorological data as cloud base, intensity of rain, wind direction and speed, and temperature, as a fundamental component of good communication?
It is sad that the ‘end users’ are never consulted in important matters such as these.
The ‘Summit for Democracy’ and its welcome stress on governance quality
A ‘Summit for Democracy’ conceptualized and organized by the US is expected to be conducted on December 9th and 10th in virtual mode and some major world powers, such as China and Russia, have not been invited to it. Such developments ought not to prompt any sections that matter in this connection to look askance at the US over its choice of invitees in consideration of the fact that politics are very much at the heart of such decision-making. It could not be otherwise, since politics are the ‘stuff and substance’ of international relations.
It should not come as a surprise too if the aim of the US in calling this forum is to project its power and influence globally. This should be expected of a super power. The forum could have the effect of accentuating international political cleavages and this too must be expected. Realpolitik is what we are up against in this summit to a considerable degree and it could not be otherwise.
However, the hope of progressives the world over is likely to be that the essentials of democracy would come to be discussed and stressed, despite these serious constraints posed by politics. It is also hoped that the quality of democracy would receive adequate scrutiny and ways worked out as to how accountable governance could be advanced. In the absence of these inputs the summit would come to nought.
Democratic opinion the world over considers democracy to be chief among the US’ soft power assets. If the US political leadership thinks so too, the opportunity has come its way through the summit in question to prove to the world that this is really so. For example, the US cannot shy away from the need to make its territory safe and welcoming for all its ethnic communities, particularly minority groups.
The US should ideally be guided by the principle that every form of life within its boundaries ‘matters’. Such questions are at the heart of democratic advancement. The resolution of issues of this kind by any purported democracy has a close bearing on the quality of democracy manifested in it.
Reverence for life is at the centre of democracy. In this connection it is discouraging to note that students and teachers are continuing to be gunned-down in some US High Schools. In one such recent incident, two students and a teacher had been reportedly killed in a High School in Michigan, while scores of others had been injured. As a self-professed advanced democracy, the US is obliged to re-examine its Gun Laws and explore the possibility of doing away with them, so as to protecting life and nurturing a pro-peace culture within its borders. However, the US’ obligations by way of advancing the quality of its democracy do not end here. Much more needs to be done in a range of issue areas, but Gun Laws ought to be prime among its concerns.
India and Pakistan are two key states in South Asia that have been invited to the summit and this ought to be a high moment for them. Since South Asia’s advancement in a number of areas depends crucially on these regional heavyweights the hope of progressives is likely to be that the people of South Asia would gain eventually through the engagement of India and Pakistan in these deliberations on democracy.
The fact that Sri Lanka has been left out of the summit ought to be worrying for it. Fire-breathing nationalist opinion in Sri Lanka is likely to be of the view that this counts for nothing and that the US is in no position to sit in judgement over other countries on issues relating to democratic development. These nationalists are also likely to vociferate that Sri Lanka could depend on its ‘all-weather friends’ in Asia for support in a number of areas and that Western support is not of much consequence for its sustenance.
But such positions fly in the face of hard political and economic realities. To begin with, no major power in Asia would come to Sri Lanka’s rescue at the cost of its own political and economic links with the West. These powers’ economic wellbeing is integral to their having cordial ties with the US, for instance. China cannot afford to neglect its trade and investment ties with the US and vice versa. China would not risk too much for Sri Lanka’s sake.
Besides, there is the case of Uganda to consider. It has scarred itself badly by mortgaging some of its real estate to outside powers. Today, the latter are reportedly staking a claim to what they seem to have lost by forcibly occupying the territories concerned in Uganda. Small countries, such as Sri Lanka, have no choice but to relate cordially with all the major powers.
Of the subjects that are expected to come up for discussion at the summit, ‘Advancing respect for human rights’, ought to be of prime importance. This is at the heart of democratic development and it ought to be clear that countries that do not respect fundamental human rights could not be part of any discussion on democracy. Accordingly, authoritarian states cannot sit at conference tables of this kind. It ought to be equally plain that ‘one man rule’ or one-party rule could not figure in these talks since such dispensations are antithetical to basic human rights.
Currently, even in the West, the suitability of the US to head the summit in focus is being vigorously questioned and there are acceptable grounds for this. While it could be argued that the US is a flawed democracy, it needs to be remembered that the foremost democracies are growing, evolving and dynamic systems and are not static and stagnant in nature in those cultural environments that favour their adoption. Accordingly, democracy cannot be rigorously defined. Essentially, it could be defined only in terms of what it is not. For example, political systems that do not nurture individual rights cannot pass muster as democracies.
Thus, the summit offers opportunities for a fruitful discussion on what must be done to keep democracy ticking. Ideally, major democracies in Asia too need to conduct such parleys on ways of benchmarking democratic advancement. India, for one, could take on this responsibility, being one of the most advanced democracies in our region.
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