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Some Trump Administration foreign policy legacies for Sri Lanka

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By Harim Peiris

The politics of any nation, attracts attention beyond its own borders and especially so in the case of global and regional powers. As the outgoing Trump Administration makes little headway in its legal challenges to the various election results in different states of the US, which together comprise their federal presidential election, it will be the Obama Administration’s former vice president and current president elect, Joe Biden, who will be sworn in as the new president of the United States on 20th January 2021. However, the Trump Administration has profoundly impacted the politics of our world and will have implications for Sri Lanka’s own foreign policy, going forward.

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy interests and focus is gradually changing and should change from its singular focus of the decades of the civil war era, to the Covid-19 and post Covid-19 realities of the world we live in. Post the war, Sri Lanka’s interests broaden and deepen primarily towards her economic and social interests. Foreign relations deeply impact our nation and her society. Sri Lanka is an island nation, embedded in and an integral part, of the global economy, especially regionally and in some very specific ways. Sri Lanka’s highest net foreign exchange earner is our expatriate work force, mostly in West Asia (Middle East), our highest volume and value of exports, both apparel and tea, both head mostly to the global North (western world), mostly the US and the EU. As our law enforcement focuses on drugs related crime, the origin of most illegal drugs is probably regional, in the Northern parts of our South Asian neighborhood. Pre and post Covid-19, foreign tourism is a key employment generator in our economy.

The Americans in their most recent and generous foreign policy initiative has approved a grant (not a loan) of US Dollars half a million through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Rajapaksa administration and the SLPP’s China-instigated rejection of the same has been unwise and looking a gift horse in the mouth. On the contrary we have swallowed high priced Chinese loans with never a whimper. A key aspect in recent Sri Lankan foreign policy, has been the China factor, as Sri Lanka under the previous and present Rajapaksa administrations, play a key role in China’s belt and road initiative. China’s expensive debt driven network of ports, airports and land developments, of which we have our own disproportionate share.

1. Containing China

The US -China relationship is relatively new, in the post second world war era, with formal diplomatic ties being established only in 1979. The more recent China policy of the US, actually begun by the Obama Administration, but sharply escalated by the Trump Administration has been the attempt to curb Chinese influence, internationally and especially in the global south, including in Sri Lanka. The US attempt to curb Chinese influence has also been in tandem with China playing a much more assertive role internationally and especially in the Asia Pacific region. Chief among them have been significant tensions in the South China sea, the inability to contain North Korean nuclear adventurism and other local and regional tensions by proxy. China as a single party, non democratic political system, doesn’t fully understand either democracy or open societies and so has internationally often backed despotic leaders, whose sudden fall from power has caught them by surprise. The US even under a new Biden Administration, will continue with a policy of seeking to contain China and Sri Lanka will need to navigate carefully the competing interests of the US, China and India.

2. Switching Middle Eastern politics from Palestine to Iran

The Trump Administration has during its four-year term, profoundly changed the politics of the Middle East and Arab nationalism from its post second world war focus on Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the issue of containing the rise of Shia Iran at the expense of the largely Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. Containing the nuclear weapons ambitions of Iran is the key strategic objective now for both Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel. The architect of much of this change was President Trump’s son in law and Middle East policy czar Jared Kushner, a young property businessman and savvy political operator. The Trump Administration shifted the US Embassy in Israel from the internationally recognized capital of Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and worked hard to normalize relations between several key Arab nations and Israel. Successfully so with both the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, both two key Saudi Arabian allies. The Saudi’s though not establishing formal diplomatic relations have relaxed restrictions including airspace for commercial flights and other cooperation. Sri Lanka with key diplomatic and economic relations with all these countries, namely Israel, Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia, the USA, Kuwait and Bahrain including trade, especially tea and oil and expatriate workers would need to navigate the changing politics of the West Asian, Persian Gulf region.

3. Sanctioning General Shavendra Silva

The US has in the past decade, both under President Obama and under President Trump and likely continuing with the incoming Biden Administration, wielded its domestic powers of sanctions against individuals for violations of humanitarian and international law and targeted people ranging from Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, sanctioned after the brutal crackdown on prodemocracy protestors and Hong Kong’s new draconian national security law, to Russian businessmen, high officials in the Iranian Government and others. Sri Lanka was also not excluded from this list and current Army Commander General Shavendra Silva has been sanctioned by the United States. The usual implication of a single person sanctioned in a country is that others may follow. When paradoxically the SJB Opposition rather than the government raised this during the late October visit of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the answer was that it was a judicial rather than a political measure. An answer we ourselves use frequently in Sri Lanka. But the implications are clear. The Trump Administration, as it relinquishes office next month, has made it mark on the world stage and its policies will continue to shape the world we live in, for years to come.

 

(The writer served as Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2016-2017)



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Opinion

Power tariff hikes and need to revamp CEB

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By Ordinary citizen

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) has again requested for an increase of 70% in electricity tariffs to settle its past losses. What are these losses and how can the CEB be run as a profit-making Institution? Recently, the Chairman of Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) has claimed that the CEB had a net profit of Rs. 1 billion last month owing to the increase in rates a few months ago. Is it fair to burden an already economically oppressed public with a 70% increase in rates? While the CEB is making these unfair claims, the minister is silent on solving the problem which is the CEB itself. He even claimed that half the employees of CEB are redundant and what has he done to remedy this situation? CEB and Ceypetco are the biggest loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOE). In spite of losses they continue to pay bonuses and huge salary increases to its employees. They get a 25% salary increase every three years and recently CEB paid Rs. 3679 million to its employees under various ruses. In spite of that CEB employees recently demanded a 36% salary increase and the management has agreed to pay the usual 25% increase and this is at a cost of Rs. 9 billion! A meter reader in the CEB gets a salary of Rs. 120,000, about twice paid to a graduate teacher. General Manager of CEB gets a salary of Rs. 655,310 and a Grade 1 engineer gets a monthly salary of 533, 895 according to their own circulars. In addition, they get additional remuneration for site inspection, overtime, fuel allowance, telephone bill reimbursement etc.

These disproportionate salaries have arisen owing to the high handedness of the Board of Management which has taken decisions against court orders, cabinet decisions and Management services decisions. Since the whole country is dependent on the electricity supply, all Governments in the past have conveniently sidestepped confronting the CEB employees and given all what they ask for.

The Auditor General has pointed out that CEB has paid 1712 million in 2018 and 1873 million in 2019 going against cabinet decisions made in 2007 and Management services circular of 2009. In 2014, CEB Board proposed a 100% salary increase to only Engineers (circular no. 2014/GM/46/Pers dated 27 November 2014 and according to a Court decision (CA/WRIT/193/2015) this circular is illegal, null and void and any payments based on this circular is illegal. However, flexing its muscle, CEB granted a 85% of the salary as an allowance to engineers through Presidential decision on the advice of the attorney general which tantamount to contempt of court. Our politicians have been intimidated with the threat of strikes so as to cripple the entire country and they have no spine to oppose such exorbitant salaries and allowances of CEB employees. They have openly flouted the Government rule that limits all allowances to a maximum of 65%. If we consider other allowances on top of this 85% salary it comes to a whopping 138% of the basic salary! Furthermore, even the PAYE tax of its employees is paid by the CEB in clear violation of the Inland Revenue Act which specifically says that the income tax of an employee has to be paid by the individual and not the employer. These matters have been questioned by the COPE on several occasions but no corrective actions have been taken.

This reminds me of the courage Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew had in dealing with a work to rule campaign of the Singapore airline pilots union in 1980. He summoned the pilot’s union representatives and gave them a choice. In his legendary remarks, he told them, “If you continue this I will by every means at my disposal teach you and get the people of Singapore to help me to teach you a lesson you won’t forget. And I’m prepared to start all over again or stop it,” Lee said. He further said, “They know that I’m prepared to ground the airline. They know that I can get the airline going again without them. And let there be no mistakes about it. Whoever governs Singapore must have that iron in him. Or give it up. This is not a game of cards. This is your life and mine. I spent a whole lifetime building this. And as long as I’m in charge, nobody’s going to knock it down.” And with that, the matter with the Pilots union was resolved. We do not have leaders of Lee Kuan Yew’s calibre and put the country first leaving aside politics. They meekly surrender to unfair demands of strong unions such as those of the CEB who hold the whole country to ransom with strike actions.

Other actions of the CEB have contributed to the losses incurred by the CEB. They have continuously scuttled cheaper energy options such as solar and buy power from private power plants at exorbitant rates. The powerful Engineers union has blocked new power generating projects such as the 300 MW LNG plant Sobodhanavi. According to them it is cheaper to purchase emergency power from private power plants which is far from the truth. Also, some of these plants could have been absorbed by the CEB through the initial agreement, yet they continue to pay not only the unit cost but also their investment expenditure. CEB has procrastinated actions on at least eleven low cost renewable energy projects in the Long Term Generation Expansion Plan (LCLTGEP) for reasons best known to them and although former President Gotabhaya in his election manifesto promised to get 70% of our energy from renewable sources, the high handed CEB Engineers: union has continuously opposed the implementation of any of the renewable energy projects. Some examples are the 100 MW solar projects at Siyambalanduwa and Pooneryn and the 100 MW wind power project at Pooneryn.

It is grossly unfair to burden ordinary consumers with high electricity tariffs when a complete overhaul of the CEB is what is needed. If the engineers’ union completely blocks such low-cost projects, it is better to go for a 100% privatisation of the CEB, which appears to be the only solution. No politician either present or past have the courage to face the unfair practices at the CEB and this requires the action of the Government at the highest levels and the parliament should debate this crucial issue in parliament and come out with a long-term strategy to provide for our energy needs. Our President appears tough on hapless student leaders and what actions he proposes to take against them. However, he has been silent on this crucial issue while the treasury is pumping around Rs. 500 billion annually to sustain the corrupt CEB and this amount has not even been included in his budget speech. No wonder why we are in such a precarious position where our economy is crumbling.

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Opinion

Alan Henricus- A Stalwart Sportsman Of Yesteryear Passes Away

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Alan Henricus (10-Feb 1933 – 26 Nov 2022)

by Hugh Karunanayake

Alan Henricus the youngest of five outstanding sporting brothers who represented their school Royal College, and their country then known as Ceylon, passed away a few days ago. He would have been 90 years of age if he survived up to his birthday in February next year.

The Henricus brothers grew up in Kohuwela where their father a former Feather Weight Boxing Champion of Ceylon lived. He served as an administrator of the sport first as Hony Secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association of Ceylon and later as its President. He helped build the Baptist Church in Nugegoda and was its Treasurer for 25 years. The road leading to their property was named Henricus Mawatha in honour of this outstanding family.

Alan represented Royal in Boxing, Athletics and Rugby, and won school colours in all three sports. He was also a school prefect, highly respected and regarded by both his schoolmates and staff. The family consisting of five brothers and two sisters were all nurtured in the best sporting traditions of colonial Ceylon. Eldest brother Barney represented Ceylon in boxing at the Empire Games and won a gold medal winning the feather weight title. The next, Basil, held the national record for 100 yards sprint and I believe his record still stands. He also represented the Havelocks Sports Club and All Ceylon at Rugby. The next brother George, for many years the Master Attendant in the Colombo Port was also a champion boxer, as was Derrick the fourth in line.

Remarkable sportsmen such as Alan reached their great heights from a base of raw innate talent fostered by regular training and a disciplined approach to life. When I was a 10-year old schoolboy I used to watch with awe and admiration Alan doing his training run at 6 a.m in the morning, jogging all the way from his home in Kohuwela to the Havelock Park and back on most weekends. Alan was senior to me in school by about three years and in those days that was an age gap filled with respect and admiration for a senior student. To us younger kids the high achieving Alan was a hero.

I recall in one Public Schools Athletics meet for the Tarbat Cup, either in 1950 or 1951,Royal College was able to obtain a total of 15 points only, and were never serious contenders for the trophy. However the 15 points that Royal earned was almost single handedly collected through Alan’s efforts. He won the pole vault event, was first in the 120 metres hurdles, and was a member of the 4 X 400 metre relay team which won the event. Although the Tarbat Cup was won by another school, the assembled gathering of Royalists carried Alan shoulder high around the grounds!

From school he was selected for training as a Naval officer cadet in Dartmouth in Devonshire in England. Fellow Royalists the late Norman Gunawardena, and Humphrey Wijesinghe were among the cadets who were selected for Dartmouth together with Alan. On returning to Ceylon after his naval training at Dartmouth, he served the Royal Ceylon Navy and its successor Sri Lanka Navy for several years until retirement. On retirement from the Navy he served for a short period as an Executive in a Mercantile firm in Colombo, before migrating with his family to Australia.

The stint at Dartmouth would carry many precious memories for him, as that was where he met Maureen the love of his life. On migrating to Australia in the 1970s Alan joined the Royal Australian Navy which he served with distinction as Lieut Commander. On my migrating to Australia in 1984 I met Alan and Maureen at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the late Brendon Goonratne. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Alan and Maureen remained very close friends of ours.

Over the years we used to meet every three months at lunch at the Rosehill Bowling Club organized for old Royalist Seniors through the initiative of Chandra Senaratne. Other social engagements over the years have strengthened our friendship, and it is with deep distress that I heard of his terminal illness about two months ago. I rang him immediately and he was stoic as ever, the brave naval officer that he was. He said in no uncertain terms that he was not seeking to extend his life on this earth, and that he would wait in his home until the final call.

Alan’s departure marks another severance with the old Ceylon we knew, and its traditions and honorable ways. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at the Baptist Church, Epping on Friday December 2 at 3pm. He is survived by his dear wife Maureen, sons Andrew and Richard,, daughter in law Caroline, and grandson Ryan.

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on “

Farewell dear Alan.

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Opinion

Controversy Over Female Teachers’ Dress To School

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Our country and its people always get involved with unnecessary things which is of no interest to the majority of people. The latest debate in this never -a -dull -moment country (as always for the wrong reason) is the dress the female teachers are expected to wear to school. This is something that should be decided by the Ministry of Education in respect of the teachers of government schools.

I recollect when we were students the majority of female teachers wore saree to school. Then there were several teachers who wore frocks. These were the Burgher ladies. And there was no problem at all. I am not indicating this to show support that the teachers should be left to decide on their dress.

Now the strange thing about this controversy is that Buddhist monks have got involved in the debate and they are trying to determine the dress that teachers should wear. They do not seem to realize that the teachers must pay for the sarees. And they need to possess several sarees as they cannot wear the same saree over and over again. Given the monks get their robes free from the dayakayas, they should never get involved in matters of this nature, even though the female nurses may be happy to have one as the president of their union!

This controversy, if settled in favour of the teachers being given the option to decide on the dress and if they wear various types of dresses, the students too might get a bright idea to wear anything they want rather than the uniform that they have to wear at present.

It might be a good thing if the Ministry of Education could decide on a uniform for female teachers in Government schools. Some private hospitals, private firms and Sri Lankan Airlines have uniforms of their own and one could identify them easily. If there is such a uniform in saree and blouse for teachers in government schools, everybody outside too would be able to identify them as teachers and give the respect due to them.

However, this is not the time to worry about dress for teachers when there are children who do not get a proper education and suffer from malnutrition. It seems our rulers always get their priorities wrong, and this always affects the country and the people adversely. First, the teachers must do their job properly so that the schoolchildren do not have to attend tuition classes. We hear that sometimes only one teacher is available, and as a result the children keep away from attending school.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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