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Statement of protest against treatment of Swasthika Arulingam

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It is with perplexity and disappointment we state our protest against the way Ms. Swasthika Arulingam, Attorney-at-+law, was recently turned away from a lecture she was scheduled to deliver at the University of Jaffna. Ms. Arulingam, a human rights lawyer has championed the cause of justice in a wide array of cases and has stood by so many who had been denied justice: she has fought for the independence of the judiciary and for justice for all people; she has stood against state repression and has stood by women, minorities and other marginalised persons.

At a recent event in Colombo, Ms. Arulingam had, among many other pronouncements on the cause of justice and repressive laws, characterised the LTTE as a fascist organisation. This one remark, an aside in her speech at this unrelated event, had earned the ire of the student union of Jaffna University.

Subsequently, when the Department of Law, University of Jaffna had invited her to deliver a lecture ironically on judicial independence in a time of crisis, on the 31st of October, 2023, certain sections of the student population, including the Student Union, had railed against the conduct of the event. They had forced the Dean and University authorities to cancel the lecture, with threats of gheraos and barricades, barring her entry into and exit from the venue. The University authorities had caved in to this pressure, and had suggested a change of venue, outside the university, which Ms. Arulingam had quite rightly said no to.

Violence in our universities needs to be checked and countered with greater openness and discussion. Universities are places for the exchange of ideas. They are considered the crucibles of new ideas and change. Developments such as these further undermine the history of the university as a space of freedom, a space where one can dissent without fear of retribution, essential for the flourishing of criticality. There is no place for violence and acts of intimidation in our universities. To condone censorship in such a space is a violation of this spirit.

It severely compromises the substantive mandate of the university. There is, in addition, a subtle rhetoric around Ms. Arulingam’s being an ‘outsider’ who was invited ‘in’ for a talk, who therefore should have abided by the tacit rules in place. We find this attitude objectionable, because we should not subscribe to the gatekeeping of ideas nor any form of insularity in our thinking. On the contrary, universities should facilitate the open exchange of ideas, in and across the many spheres of our civil and political lives.

It is ironic that the incident takes place at a time when university students themselves are facing severe repression from dominant state forces. In such a context, it is all the more disheartening to see that students, particularly student unions who have a certain amount of political clout and power within university spaces, engage in willful suppression of views opposed to theirs.

This attitude is visible in ragging as well as in other instances of dissent, such as in this case. The fact that student politics increasingly mirror that on the national level, in spirit and in strategy, signals a dangerous trend of intolerance coming to define life at all levels of society. In this extremely trying time of a severe economic crisis, repressive laws that undo protection for the ordinary people, and a resurgence of majoritarian chauvinism in many areas of policy and populist appeal, the space for independent thinking needs to be kept alive and fought for with vigour.

The incident at Jaffna University is a wake-up call to all of us in the university system, to jealously guard the space for independent thinking and push this ethic to the utmost. We therefore call on all in the university system – academics, students, administrators – to urgently commit to ensuring that the university remains a space of freedom, criticality, and mutual respect. We call on the University of Jaffna and all other state universities to cherish and promote these principles. In this spirit, we call on the Department of Law, University of Jaffna to re-invite Ms. Arulingam to deliver her lecture, in an affirmation of the values of freedom of expression and respect for different viewpoints that she has consistently fought for.

Udari Abeyasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Ranil Abayasekara, formerly University of Peradeniya

Liyanage Amarakeerthi, University of Peradeniya

Dewmini Amunugama, University of Peradeniya

Fazeeha Azmi, M. I., University of Peradeniya

Crystal Baines, formerly University of Colombo

Imani Bakmeedeniya, University of Peradeniya

Dhanuka Bandara, University of Peradeniya

Shyama Banneheka, University of Peradeniya

Ann Conrad, University of Peradeniya

Suresh de Mel, University of Peradeniya

Erandika de Silva, formerly University of Jaffna

Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, University of Colombo

Kanchuka Dharmasiri, University of Peradeniya

Priyan Dias, University of Moratuwa

Pavithra Ekanayake, University of Peradeniya

Avanka Fernando, University of Colombo

Amna Frouz, University of Peradeniya

G D U P K Gamage, University of Peradeniya

Ruwani Gamalath, University of Peradeniya

Dileni Gunewardena, University of Peradeniya

Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo

S. T. Hettige, Emeritus Professor, University of Colombo

Tracy Holsinger, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka.

Ishafa Illiyas, University of Peradeniya

Kaushalya Jayasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Prabath Jayasinghe, University of Colombo

Jennifer Edama, University of Peradeniya

Jeyaratnam Jeyadevan, University of Jaffna

Ahilan Kadirgamar, University of Jaffna

Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya

Madhara Karunarathne, University of Peradeniya

Chulani Kodikara, formerly University of Colombo, Visiting Lecturer

Manikya Kodithuwakku, Open University of Sri Lanka

Yasas Kulasekara, University of Peradeniya

Supoorna Kulatunga, University of Peradeniya

N. Savitri Kumar, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Shamala Kumar, University of Peradeniya

Vijaya Kumar Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Rohan Laksiri, University of Ruhuna

A. H. Lareena, Sabaragamuwa University

Hasini Lecamwasam, University of Peradeniya

Saumya Liyanage, University of Visual and Performing Arts, Colombo

K. W. S. I. Madumali, University of Peradeniya

Lahiruka Madhuwanthi, University of Peradeniya

Sudesh Mantillake, University of Peradeniya

Prabha Manuratne, University of Kelaniya

Sitralega Maunaguru, formerly Professor at Eastern University Sri Lanka

Dushyanthi Mendis, University of Colombo

R. Morel, University of Peradeniya

Kethakie Nagahawatte, University of Colombo

M. A. Nuhman, Retired Professor, University of Peradeniya

Gananath Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Ranjini Obeyesekere, formerly University of Peradeniya

Buddhima Padmasiri, Open University of Sri Lanka

Sasinindu Patabendige, formerly University of Jaffna

Hasitha Pathirana, University of Kelaniya

Pradeep Peiris, University of Colombo

Ruhanie Perera, University of Colombo

Hasitha Perera, University of Jaffna

Kaushalya Perera, University of Colombo

Nicola Perera, University of Colombo

Sasanka Perera, Formerly Professor, University of Colombo

Rupika Rajakaruna, University of Peradeniya

Udara Rajapaksha, University of Peradeniya

Dileeshiya Rajarathna, University of Peradeniya

Muthumini Rajasooriya, University of Peradeniya

Harshana Rambukwella, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka

Udayana Ranatunga, University of Peradeniya

Madushani Randeniya, University of Peradeniya

Bhathiya Rathnayake, University of Peradeniya

Sajitha Ratnayake, University of Peradeniya

Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo

T. Sanathanan, University of Jaffna

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, University of Jaffna

Dr Asanka P. Sayakkara, University of Colombo

Kalana Senaratne, Dept. of Law, University of Peradeniya

Hiniduma Sunil Senevi, Sabaragamuwa University

Poornima Senaweera, University of Peradeniya

Tudor Silva, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Krishan Siriwardhana, University of Colombo

Sahani Situbandara, University of Peradeniya

H. Sriyananda, formerly Open University of Sri Lanka

Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya

Ruth Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

Esther Surenthiraraj, University of Colombo

Vasanthi Thevansan, Emeritus Professor, University of Peradeniya

Dayapala Thiranagama, formerly University of Kelaniya

Mahendran Thiruvarangan, University of Jaffna

Ramila Usoof, University of Peradeniya

Jayadeva Uyangoda, Emeritus Professor University of Colombo

Vivimarie VanderPoorten, Open University of Sri Lanka

Selvaraj Vishvika, University of Peradeniya

Chamini Weerasinghe, University of Peradeniya

Ruvan Weerasinghe, University of Colombo

Carmen Wickramagamage,University of Peradeniya

Kumudu Wickramathilaka, University of Peradeniya

Ranjit Wijekoon, formerly University of Peradeniya

Shalini Wijerathna, University of Peradeniya

Shermal Wijewardene, University of Colombo



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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Opinion

Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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Opinion

Dispelling Misconceptions: Visionary Future of an NPP-led Sri Lanka

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NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake taking part in a protest (file photo)

by Shantha Jayarathne, PhD

In recent discussions, concerns have emerged about the National People’s Power (NPP) in Sri Lanka, with some fearing a return to outdated communist traditions if the party ascends to power. These apprehensions, often fueled by political agendas, particularly target those with limited political literacy. This article aims to dispel these misconceptions and shed light on the NPP’s forward-looking vision for a progressive and prosperous Sri Lanka.

Coalition of Visionaries

Contrary to the narrative peddled by certain factions, it’s essential to recognise that the NPP represents a diverse coalition of 22 parties and civil society organisations, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as its main partner. Importantly, both the NPP and JVP members boast of a commendable track record, free from accusations of corruption, nepotism, or cronyism. Nominations are filed for any election from the NPP under the “Compass” symbol, and contestants with high repute and integrity will be drawn from all 22 constituent parties in the broad coalition.

A Clear Development Roadmap

The NPP has consistently articulated a comprehensive roadmap for the development of Sri Lanka. Emphasising the importance of a thriving Agriculture, Industry, and Service sectors, the party is committed to eliminating barriers hindering investments. Corruption, favouritism, and covert dealings of officials and people with vested interests will be totally eliminated under an NPP government. Furthermore, the NPP pledges to introduce efficient systems, ensuring minimal delays and promoting a business-friendly environment that attracts both local and foreign investors.

Government’s Primary Obligations

Addressing fears of property takeover, the NPP asserts that its government will not engage in business activities but will focus on essential public utility services, education, health, social security, and defence to ensure the well-being and security of the nation. NPP will not only encourage local investments but also it will take all possible measures to attract foreign direct investments. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) facing financial challenges will undergo restructuring with utmost transparency, fostering efficiency and accountability.

Business Friendly Environment

The NPP is dedicated to creating a level playing field for businesses by implementing regulations inspired by the most developed economies. Consistent antitrust laws, investment protection laws, and laws that are inconsistent and complex will be amended or new laws will be enacted to ensure fair competition and safeguard business interests. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and competition, the NPP aims to boost economic growth and prosperity. NPP plans to streamline the systems and process to facilitate investments within the shortest possible timeframe whereby it aims to take Sri Lanka in the Ease of Doing Business Index from 99th position today to a position within the first 50. The Cooperative system will be strengthened in an NPP government and they will be regulated to deliver an effective and efficient service to the periphery.

Transparent Tax Policy

Simplifying Sri Lanka’s tax policy is a priority for the NPP, aiming to create a transparent and tax-friendly environment. NPP will ensure a stable and consistent progressive tax policy in the country, and all regressive taxes will be eliminated. Citizens will be provided with clear information at the end of the Tax Year on how their tax contributions are utilised for public services, promoting accountability and citizen engagement. This transparency is crucial for building trust between the government and its citizens.

Learning from Developed Countries

Taking lessons from successful models of governance in developed countries, an NPP government will strive to implement best practices in public administration. Emphasising the importance of accountable institutions, streamlined bureaucracy, and effective public service delivery, the party is committed to ensuring transparency and efficiency in governance. There will be a minimum number of cabinet ministries for key areas, and their roles and functions will be clearly defined while making the officials accountable to their respective assigned functions. Zero tolerance for corruption and the law of the land will be applied to everyone alike.

Economic Adjustments and IMF Negotiations

Acknowledging the need for economic stability, the NPP plans to initiate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This strategic move aims to strike a balance between economic adjustments and safeguarding the livelihoods of the people in the country. The NPP is dedicated to ensuring that any economic reforms are implemented with a people-centric approach, minimising adverse effects on the general population and the industry.

Nonaligned Foreign Policy

The NPP upholds a nonaligned foreign policy, reflecting a commitment to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. While fostering international relations, the party is resolute in not allowing foreign nations to utilise Sri Lanka’s soil for military purposes. This stance ensures that the country remains neutral and independent in its dealings with other nations, safeguarding national interests and security.

Repositioning Sri Lanka in the World Order

A central tenet of the NPP’s vision is the repositioning of Sri Lanka in the global context. The party is dedicated to identifying and leveraging the country’s potentials, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and managing threats, both internal and external. This strategic approach aims to elevate Sri Lanka’s standing on the world stage, fostering positive engagement with the international community.

Quality of Life Improvement

A key focus of the NPP government is enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. The party recognises the importance of social welfare, healthcare, education, and infrastructure development in elevating living standards. By prioritising these aspects, the NPP aims to create a society where every citizen can enjoy a higher quality of life, emphasising the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Addressing False Propaganda

Amidst the misconceptions surrounding the NPP, it is crucial to address the motivations behind certain groups disseminating false propaganda. The fearmongering tactics employed by those with vested interests seek to perpetuate a status quo that has allowed for ill-gotten wealth and alleged illegal transactions. These groups, resistant to change, attempt to sway public opinion by sowing seeds of doubt about the NPP’s commitment to a fair and just governance model.

However, when one closely examines the NPP’s dedication to transparency, efficient governance, and inclusive development, it becomes evident that these accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to the shadows of a fading era. The party’s emphasis on tackling corruption, restructuring inefficient State-Owned Enterprises, and simplifying the tax policy directly challenges the interests of those who have thrived in an environment of opacity and undue influence.

As citizens, it is paramount to discern the true intentions behind such narratives and recognize the NPP as a force poised to break free from the shackles of corruption and vested interests. By supporting the NPP’s vision, Sri Lankans have the opportunity to usher in a new era – one marked by ethical governance, economic prosperity, and a society that prioritises the well-being of its people over the interests of a privileged few.

In conclusion, the NPP stands not only as a political entity but as a beacon of hope, calling on the people to embrace change, reject false narratives, and collectively forge a path towards a brighter and more equitable future.

(The Writer, a UK resident, is a former Senior Consultant at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA). He is a member of the NPP-Policy Development Team, and he can be reached through email: shantha323@gmail.com)

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