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SRI LANKA AT CROSS-ROADS AND THE NEW DEVELOPMENT PARADIGM

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by Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya

President’s Counsel

Compared with most other erstwhile British colonies, independence was granted to Ceylon virtually on a silver platter. This statement is not meant to undermine the efforts of our own freedom fighters who without bloodshed managed to convince the colonial ruler that the country was gradually getting ready for independence. The Donoughmore system of government was a precursor to the decision for self-rule. When the first independence constitution was drafted, with the able assistance of Sir Ivor Jennings, there were simmering issues that the draftsmen took into consideration. Rights of minorities and stateless persons, religion, language of instruction, parity of status and land rights were among the many issues which multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual issues that typically encounter when power is to be transferred from a colonial ruler to a self-elected body of representatives. The British approach varied from country to country; in India, for instance, the issue of the division of India and East and West Pakistan was left to be resolved after independence was granted.

In 1972, the first constitution was replaced with the country becoming a Republic and changing the name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka. Prior to the enactment of the Constitution, which followed an ad hoc method of working through a Constituent Assembly, the right of appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was abolished. Her Majesty the Queen ceased to appoint her representative as Governor. During the period 1971 to 1977 the country witnessed many issues; an insurrection by a large number of youth was quelled within a short-time by then then Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike and the rise in global petroleum prices had a severe impact on the country. Import restrictions, ceiling on ownership of houses and land, nationalization of foreign industries etc. took place but with mixed results.

In 1977 a new Constitution was enacted. The Executive President, J. R. Jayewardene, led the initiative to liberalize the economy. With free trade and various expensive developmental projects, corruption began to erode the system slowly but surely. Even though the early signs of Sri Lanka becoming a transit centre for international drug smuggling, arms smuggling, illegal gambling, casino and sex establishments became evident but these were largely ignored by law enforcement agencies. This Constitution still remains in place, notwithstanding a record of 19 amendments. The 19th amendment was meant to curb the powers of the Executive President and to empower the Prime Minister. But on two occasions a President and a Prime Minister belonging to two different political parties led to disastrous results.

At the Presidential elections of 2019 and at the general elections of 2020, a major issue was the amendment or repeal of the 19th amendment and/or the adoption of a new constitution. The Government has opted to amend the 19th amendment through a 20th amendment as the first step.

The case for a strong Executive President is based on the assumption that the country can make rapid development under such a regime. In several speeches broadcast over the media the current President has requested that he be provided with the freedom to accomplish his developmental agenda without undue hindrance. Over the 72 years since independence the country has made only marginal gains in relation to many widely accepted socio-economic and related indicators. In the early 60s, the Sri Lankan model of development was studied by countries like Singapore and Malaysia but today Sri Lanka lags behind these and most other developing countries. Gains in the health and education spheres have had a major set back, caused partly by the 30-year long separatist war which exacted a heavy toll. Issues of internationally orchestrated calls for accountability for war crimes, justice for displaced minority groups, the rise in Islamic militancy as was evident by the brutal attack on churches and hotels in April 2019, the large numbers unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19 are among a few of the major issues that loom large.

It is in this background that the Government is poised to push ahead with a new constitutional amendment. Only time will tell whether this was timely or not, as the country has had a major setback due to COVID-19 and the closure of the airports and the economy is barely recovering. The economy also took a major beating a few years ago when an expatriate Singaporean friend of the then Prime Minister possibly caused what is now regarded as the biggest Central Bank robbery.

This article looks at the enabling environment required for selected priority national development to gain speed under the enhanced powers of an executive President.

a) People-centred Development

The exact size of the wealthy class cannot be estimated. Operations against drug traffickers with large quantities of drugs, arms and currency notes and multiple bank accounts raise credibility issues with regard to our banking system and customs controls. The Financial Intelligence Unit has remained silent as to how banks would have done a genuinely serious job with regard to due diligence and ‘Know your Customer’ requirements; otherwise one cannot explain the large deposits in accounts of people who cannot possibly provide any legitimate sources of income. Political patronage and corrupt officials within the law enforcement agencies would have provided their blessings for crimes of such great magnitude to take place. Over the decades the poor classes have become poorer and a new class (nouveau riche) has emerged vying with the traditionally rich upper class. Large numbers have gone to the Middle-East for employment and have been remitting part of their relatively modest salary but this alone has not been sufficient to raise their standard of living.

Unlike India, Sri Lanka lacked a permanent National Planning Council. Several governments did set up small national planning cells but without any real impact. A national poverty alleviation plan requires precise information of unmet needs at the micro-level of villages and in the fringes of urban centres. Media coverage often shows how the impoverished classes live. Basic facilities such as safe drinking water are lacking in many parts of the country. Empirical evidence suggests that well nourished children live healthier lives and perform better at examinations but large numbers find it difficult to have even a square meal.

We have recently seen the current President visiting selected villages and ascertaining problems and immediately suggesting to officers a solution. This is reminiscent of late President Premadasa’s taking the “Kachcheri to the villages and towns” concept where a one-stop improvised centre promptly attended to unmet needs, particularly documentation such as national identity cards, birth certificates etc. This is what should be done by Provincial Councils and other local authorities and respective ministers. It is to be hoped that the example that is now being set will trickle down to ministers, state ministers and heads of departments. For each village or cluster of villages there should be a mapping exercise done of unmet needs and the resources required for timely action. Bottle-necks should be identified and brought to the notice of the relevant authorities who should not hesitate to give directions for prompt action. Accountability mechanisms are grossly lacking or even if they do exist they are largely ineffective. ‘Passing the buck’ is a skill many public servants have effectively mastered.

The State alone cannot uplift the status or influence the life-styles of millions living in under-served villages and towns. The private sector should be assigned the responsibility of assisting selected villages for developmental activities as part of the CSR agenda or otherwise. This might result in a new paradigm shift in poverty alleviation through public sector-private sector joint endeavors. We have witnessed foundation stones being laid for so many important projects such as new hospitals and medical centres, schools etc. but follow-up action is often lacking due to bureaucratic indifference or lack of funds.

Bureaucratic indifference or sabotage is not a problem confined only to small developing nations. It is significant that a few weeks ago the Presidents of the US National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine issued a strongly worded message condemning ad hoc policy-making in relation to US health policy:

“As advisers to the nation on all matters of science, medicine, and public health, we are compelled to underscore the value of science-based decision-making at all levels of government. Our nation is at a critical time in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic with important decisions ahead of us, especially concerning the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Policymaking must be informed by the best available evidence without it being distorted, concealed, or otherwise deliberately miscommunicated. We find ongoing reports and incidents of the politicization of science, particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists, to be alarming. It undermines the credibility of public health agencies and the public’s confidence in them when we need it most. Ending the pandemic will require decision-making that is not only based on science but also sufficiently transparent to ensure public trust in, and adherence to, sound public-health instructions. Any efforts to discredit the best science and scientists threaten the health and welfare of us all.”

An Executive President should be able to periodically monitor what happens in the field by getting regular feedback from responsible ministers, state ministers, departmental heads and so on and play the role of a trouble-shooter when necessary without fear or favour.

b) Good Governance, Law and Order

When the first post-independent constitution was being drafted Sir Ivor Jennings was against the idea of providing for the justiciability of human rights stating that this would hinder administration and will become a gold-mine for lawyers. The 1977 Constitution empowered citizens to invoke the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court if their fundamental rights are violated. Though an important development per se, it comes at a cost

Reluctance by some heads of department to institute disciplinary action is impeded by several reasons, two such reasons being the possibility of the action being challenged in a court of law or due to the interference by a Minister or other powerful politician. The tradition of appointing commissions or committees to look into each and every major problem issue is a costly and often meaningless exercise. After a period of time public and media attention is diverted to new public issues.

There needs to be a robust system of accountability at every level for any issue that is subjected to investigation. On certain important national matters, the Cabinet itself or the Minister in charge of the relevant ministry, department or agency, as the case may be, must be accountable for ensuring that due process is followed and consult the Executive President where his or her guidance is required.

In matters of international relations, the country has to delicately balance competing vested interests and demands and speak with one voice. The country has to be sensitive to international commitments offered in the past. Rating agencies have given a low rating which is a red flag to possible foreign investors.

Recent media reports on the smuggling of drugs, liquor, arms, cigarettes and other contraband suggest the degree to which law and order had deteriorated within many law enforcement agencies and how certain officials have facilitated or participated in these illegal activities. The April 2019 bomb blasts could have been possibly avoided if relevant officials had done what they ought to have done with regard to such a serious matter and the officials monitoring national security had acted more sensibly in a timely fashion.

A major task ahead of an Executive President is to take stock of institutional strengths and weaknesses, identity bottlenecks and improve governance systems leaving little or no room for deviations from accepted procedures. It is when those at the top are indifferent or lack moral courage to take on problems as and when they arise, that the rot begins to percolate down the entire system and a sense of complacency arises. A proper system of checks and balances will ensure better productivity, efficiency and a better outcome. Nepotism, bribery or corruption and undue interference will gradually phase-out when a better and just governance system is in place.

Lord Acton once remarked that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Sri Lanka now has a chance to prove that even with almost absolute power there can be great and good men. As I conclude this article I hear someone playing one of Elvis Presley’s classics: “It’s now or never,… tomorrow will be too late.”

[The author is the former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka. He has previously served as UNDP Regional Adviser on HIV and Development and Community Development Adviser for Asia and the Pacific and as Head, UNAIDS Secretariat and Senior Policy Adviser to the Government of Pakistan. He could be contacted at (ichpl@hotmail.com)]

 

Dr Dayanath Jayasuriya

Tel. 0777 384047



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Features

An air of discontent prevails

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We have had a series of “Avurudhu parties” here in Aotearoa. No shortage of Kavum, Kokis, Athiraha, and even Wali Thalapa. Buffalo curd available locally and of course imported treacle in abundance. Yours truly has assumed the role of a fly on the wall during these festivities and gleaned much information, worth talking about.

First to get on to the Pearl, the talk of the botched-up vaccination plan and running out of the second dose of vaccine. Bizarre permutations as to what would happen if the second dose was not available on time and to who would be press-ganged into getting the “dodgier” types of vaccine from China and Russia, etc. The possible repercussions of getting a second dose of another type of vaccine to the original, the speculations of which left me rather glad that the general populace of Aotearoa has not been vaccinated to date. The talk moved on to the Easter bombings and the recent comments by leaders of the Roman Catholic church as to the possible perpetrators of the attack. Some increasingly obvious conclusions as to those responsible for the planning and funding of same are being reached by those other than some of us who dared to voice our opinions over a year ago! This combined with the increasing and very rapid unpopularity of the person they elected to high office hoping he was genie of the magic lamp type, and the possible reverse of Hong Kong that could take shape on the reclaimed land near the Colombo port, does not bode well for an already dubious future. By reverse of Hong Kong, I mean Hong Kong is trying to hold out as a bastion for democracy, whilst the proposed port city seems to be modeled on the opposite!

Moving on to Aotearoa, the rest of the world seems to be praying for a leader such as our own Jacinda Ardern, but the fat cats of Aotearoa are getting rather sick of her. Those who own multiple houses and have been setting off their interest payments against their taxes due to a loophole in the law that has now been plugged are grumbling. The fact that most young people can’t afford to buy their first houses due to rich people and property developers snapping up all available property, happily funded by banks who are only interested in the bottom line, is of no consequence to them. The fact that this could lead to so much discontent that it could even lead to armed insurrection doesn’t bother them. They seem to have forgotten that we have had almost no deaths and hardly any Covid 19 cases in our community when they say that the lockdowns, we underwent were too excessive and how the economy and business sector has suffered. These very people throng the stadia during the rugby and cricket games and enjoy music concerts with gay abandon. Megacorporations are not happy about the restrictions that are coming on with regard to the use of Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) due to environmental concerns. To top it all off I had a lecture from my 13-year-old daughter about how I am being “led by the nose” by Jacinda Ardern and her propaganda! Where she got that from could only be from her elder brothers whose get rich quick schemes have seen a setback due to certain leftist policies coming in from the Labour government that is in power with an absolute majority.

I laugh to myself and think about other examples I have seen of self-proclaimed pundits never being content with their lot. My education was in a very large Government school. As a perfect and a member of some sports teams we handled the administration and some of the governance of this school. Later in life when my children were attending a private school I got involved in the Executive committee of the PTA of that school. The “problems” faced by the private school and the vast dramas that were involved in trying to solve those problems were laughable when compared to those faced by even us, senior students (a much lower level in the administration) of the Government school.

It led me to believe that people always grumble. They are never content with their lot and there is always someone plugging their case and trying to sow the seeds of discontent among the populace. If those living in Aotearoa, in the present situation and well aware of the chaos and mayhem that is prevailing in the rest of the world are dissatisfied, when will anyone be satisfied? Everything is relative and one should try to step outside the confines of one’s own situation and look at the broad picture. In the words of learned barristers, I rest my case!

This week’s missive will not be complete without a tribute to the memory of Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh. He lived through some of the best and worst times of human existence on this planet and conducted himself impeccably. He showed his humanity and his failings, with a few bloopers down the line but most of those had an undercurrent of humor and couldn’t really be construed as offensive, despite the best efforts of the media and others to make them so. He served as consort to her Majesty the Queen with loyalty and aplomb and he leaves behind an enviable legacy in the world of conservation and youth affairs. It is hoped that his heirs will be up to the task for they face a task which in cricketing terms could be classed as coming into bat after the great Sir Vivian Richards had just scored a century, in his prime. Something very difficult to surpass in skill and entertainment value. Unfortunately, the Duke made just 99. May he rest in peace!

 

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We have much to learn; and emulation is no disgrace

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“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” said Oscar Wilde who, through sharply ironic wit, often proclaimed the absolute truth.

Cassandra quotes him today as she wants to point out how much we in Sri Lanka can benefit by reaping some ideas from the recent royal funeral in Windsor. And she does not excuse herself for placing stress on our mediocrity as juxtaposed with greatness. Nationalists may shout themselves hoarse and bring down a few more majestic trees by decrying the comparison. They can justifiably claim we have a cultural heritage of two and a half millennia but have we remained cultured, following faithfully and correctly the four great religions of the world? A loud NO from Cass, echoed by millions of others. Though Britain’s development of the English language, culture, arts and science was later than our civilization, they outstripped all countries at one time and are again elevated, while we are poised on bankruptcy, with the begging bowl in hand and thugs and thieves as legislators. We in Sri Lanka are mediocre if not degraded against the greatness shown by the Brits in many spheres. This is no Anglophile speaking but a dame who was born when the Brits were leaving us to govern ourselves and grew up with our statesmen doing a jolly good job of it; Sinhalese, Tamil, Burgher, and a few Muslims taking the lead graciously and effectively with complete honesty, to serve the people. They maintained and improved our country so it was admired by others and even some desiring to imitate Ceylon as Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew admitted. And where are we now? Except the Rajapaksa family from Medamulana, wearing rose tinted glasses or with eyes shut by arrogance, and their followers and throngs of sycophants, others see our country and our people for what it, and the people, really are. No need to elaborate.

 

The funeral of Prince Philip juxtaposed against customs here

The low-key funeral observing all Covid-19 restrictions was noteworthy for being utterly devoid of bombast and vainglory. It was dignified and moving. Cass wonders how many of her readers watched the funeral on Saturday 17, late evening here. Prince Philip had detailed all arrangements from the Navy being prominent and other Forces joining in plus the substitution of the gun carriage with a jeep he had helped design. The horse carriage he was adept at racing was stationed close by the entrance to the chapel. He has bequeathed it to the daughter of his youngest son and Sophie; the Wessexes having been very close to him and the Queen.

The entire proceedings proved first and foremost that the royal family observed strict pandemic restrictions like mask wearing and physical distancing. There was no one rule for them and another rule for us, thus proving beyond doubt that England (usually), and more so the Royal Family (definitely) are a country and an institution despising double standards. The monarch decreed and abided by the same regulations that have restricted everyone else in the UK, sharing their fate. An anecdote is relevant here. The Queen learned that lesson long ago. She was 14 when her mother said, after Buckingham Palace was bombed in September 1940, that she “could look the East End in the face now.”

Do all our people follow rules common to everyone? Oh! My heavens NO! There are differentiations according to layers in society. Shangri La would host a party for a hundred when only 30 are allowed to gather. During the height of the first wave when restrictions were strict, SLPP electioneering saw hordes thrust together and baby carrying, patting heads and hand clasping mostly by Mahinda Rajapaksha sans a mask. He has a charismatic bond with the masses but that needed to be curbed. Sajith Premadasa’s meetings were strict on physical distancing and mask wearing.

Only 30 were invited to the extremely solemn and yes, beautiful funeral service at Windsor Chapel. This meant eliminating even close relatives of the Family; but it was done. The Queen sat distanced from her daughter and sons and their spouses. Her now diminutive figure seated alone emphasized the loneliness she must be feeling after a close and successful marriage of 73 years.

This brings to mind our First Ladies. Cass steps out bravely to say that Elina Jayewardene was a gracious lady of restraint and dignity, the only perfect consort so far. Cass remembers Hema Premadasa beating her breast (true) and crying over the coffin of her late husband’s remains – in the true sense of the word – at the Prez’s funeral at Independence Square. There is dignity in restraint of even tears over a death in public. Among the women Heads of the country, the mother completely beat the daughter in dignity and ability.

We Sri Lankan women are now much more restrained in our mourning at funerals. Time was when widows even hoarsely wailed their sorrow, coiled and roiled with grief, and begged the dear departed “To look once more; say one word.” Cass in all the expressed grief of such funerals suppressed her laughter with difficulty. How would it be if the corpse obliged?

The choir at the funeral of Prince Philip was just four – one woman and three men. But their singing resounded in the high vaulted, completely majestic, centuries old church. The lone kilted piper within the Chapel evoked much. The service itself was short, just a Reading, prayers and listing of the multitude of honours bestowed on the Duke of Edinburgh, whose medals and decorations were on display beside the alter. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Dean of Windsor, David Conner conducted the service.

To conclude, the Duke of Edinburgh had advised and laid stipulations on a simple funeral with the necessary pomp and pageantry but low key and very unostentatious. The actual funeral was even more low-key with mourners requested not to be on the streets or place flowers. The latter they did in all the residencies of the Royal Family in appreciation of a man who faithfully stood by the Queen and in his own way gave service to the nation.

Coming back to Free Sri Lanka, we seem to stress on that first word Cass inserted to the country name, even in these dire times of no crowds. And the worst is milling crowds are apparently encouraged to boost popularity of certain VVIPs by sycophants and by the preference/orders of the VVIP himself.

Consider the funeral of Minister Thondaman: crowds in Colombo and all VIPs wishing to register their presence before the body, and then the commotion at the actual cremation Up Country. Consider this year’s Sinhala New Year celebrations which were very dignified at the President’s residence but were inclusive of all traditions and a large gathering in the PM’s home, even raban playing by the Second Lady, and milling crowds outside.

 

Roller coaster ride of the country continues

Cass is relieved she had a topic to write on; namely that we should emulate the manner in which the much admired Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was conducted, abiding by his stricture of it being low key and the country’s Covid restrictions. Our leaders especially must accept the saying I quoted at the beginning.

The country continues its roller coaster bumpy ride with some crying out the country is being sold to the Chinese, we will be a colony of theirs after they occupy the Port City; and others in remote areas sitting down for days on end, some near 100 days, drawing attention to the human elephant conflict. Much is touted about the Bill relating to the rules to govern the Port City.

Cassandra listens to all, and is somewhat warned and frightened, but cannot comment. However, one matter she speaks about loud and clear. The people must be told the status quo of the pandemic – daily numbers catching the infection and numbers dying. This is not for interest sake or ghoulish appetites; but to know how things are so we relax a wee bit or shut in more stringently. The Covid-19 Task Force, or the Health High Ups (not Pavithra please) should tell the country of the true situ of the pandemic as it holds the country in its grip. We want to know whether the grip is tightening or weakening. Please give us daily statistics. This newspaper announces total numbers. No help. Are we expected to jot down figures, subtract, and give ourselves daily infection and death statistics? No! It goes to prove that other matters – political slanted, ego boosting and economics – are more important than warning, containing the pandemic, and saving lives.

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Do you pump Octane 95 Petrol to your car to get better performance?

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If your answer is YES, this article is for you

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara.

Senior Lecturer Department of Mechanical Engineering
University of Moratuwa

Many passenger vehicles, including three-wheelers and motorcycles are fueled by octane 95 gasoline when octane 92 gasoline (petrol) is available at a lower price. 

Otto engine (petrol engine) is an internal combustion spark ignition engine invented by a German engineer Nicolaus Otto in 1876 and used in most of the light weight vehicles including cars, three wheelers and motor bicycles. Otto engines can burn most of the hydrocarbon fuels (including hydrogen and ethanol) that can mix with air by evaporation (low boiling point). But the combustion characteristics of different hydrocarbons are not the same when burned inside an engine. If an Otto engine is designed for a particular fuel, it would not perform similarly with a fuel that has a different chemical composition.

In a well-tuned Otto engine run on gasoline for which the engine is designed, the combustion of the gasoline (petrol) / air mixture will continue smoothly from the spark plug to the piston head by igniting successive layers of the mixture as shown in Figure 1 (a).

If low grade gasolines are used, the combustion of some of the air/ fuel mixture in the cylinder does not result from propagation of the flame front initiated by the spark plug, but one or more pockets of air/fuel mixture explode (Detonate) outside the envelope of the normal combustion front as shown in Figure 1 (b). This detonation can cause severe damage to the piston and the head of the engine while deteriorating thermal performance of the engine (low efficiency)

Gasoline is a petroleum-derived product comprising a mixture of different hydrocarbons ranging from 4 to 12 carbon atoms in a carbon chain with the boiling point ranging of 30–225°C. It is predominantly a mixture of paraffins, naphthenes, aromatics and olefins. Additives and blending agents are added to improve the performance and stability of gasoline. The engine designers learned that straight-chain paraffin have a much higher tendency to detonate than do branched-chain paraffin.

The tendency of a particular gasoline to detonate is expressed by its octane number (ON). Arbitrarily, tri-methyl-pentane, C8H18 (iso-octane) is assigned an ON of 100, while the straight-chain paraffin n-heptane, C7H16 is given an ON of zero. Hence, a fuel sample with the same anti-detonation quality as that of a mixture containing 90% iso-octane and 10% n-heptane is said to have an ON of 90. Gasoline is made up of a mixture of mostly branched-chain paraffin with suitable additives to give an ON in the range 90 –100. It was also learned through experiments that the ON of a gasoline blends (e.g. gasoline and ethanol) can be calculated by using weighted average ON of each compound. Most importantly, the octane number has nothing to do with the heating value (Calorific value) or the purity of the fuel.

Engine thermodynamics show that engines with a high compression ratio offer higher thermal performance than engines with a low compression ratio. These engines having high compression ratio require high octane gasoline (for example octane 95) to avoid detonation. However, using gasoline having higher octane ratings for the engines designed for a low octane rating (for example, 92 octane) would not provide an additional benefit or loss, other than increased fuel cost.

Therefore, it is important to know the designed octane number of the engine before fueling (refer owner’s manual of the vehicle). For example: the minimum ON requirement for two and three wheelers in south Asia is 87 (The World Bank). Most of the Toyota, Honda and Nissan models including hybrid engines recommend 92 octane gasoline.

Dr. Saliya Jayasekara received the B. Sc. degree in mechanical engineering from university of Moratuwa in 2001, and the M.Sc. and PhD degrees in decentralized power generation systems from Royal institute of technology Sweden and the Melbourne University Australia in 2004 and 2013 respectively. He has well over 13 years of national and international experience in design and installation of centralised/decentralised power plants, boilers (utility/package) and heat exchangers. Currently he is serving as a senior lecture at University of Moratuwa, a visiting lecturer and fellow at Deakin University Australia.

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