MINISTRY of JUSTICE LEGAL REFORMS:
By Kalyananda Tiranagama
(continued from yesterday)
In early 2005, Lawyers for Human Rights and Development (LHRD) made a comprehensive and country-wide study on the spread of obscene publications throughout the country and their pernicious social impact, heavily contributing to the increase of sexual abuse of women and children and disruption of family life; on the weakness and lacunae in the existing laws to deal with the problem; the problems and difficulties faced by the Police in the enforcement of the law; how the existing law can be enforced more effectively till required amendments are made in the law and possible amendments that can and need to be made to strengthen the law to effectively deal with the problem. The Study was published in Sinhala and English in May 2005 and launched at a public seminar held with the participation of high officials from the concerned public institutions, Ministry of Justice, Attorney General’s Department, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, National Child Protection Authority, Women and Children Bureau of the Police and Department of Probation and Child Care.
Following the launch, at the initiative of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute, a public seminar was conducted for law enforcement officers to explain to them how the existing law can be enforced more effectively to curb the menace of obscene publications. Over 500 law enforcement officers participated in the seminar held in the SLFI Auditorium, chaired by Chandra Fernando, Inspector General of Police.
Limitations in the existing law
In our study we pointed out the following limitations in the existing law:
a. Lack of a clear definition of the term ‘obscene’
retarding Police from taking action against publications that are clearly obscene.
b. Existing penalties,
Rs. 1500 – 2000 fine or/and imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, are hardly adequate for these offences and they cannot have a deterrent effect.
c. No provision to deal with exposure of children to pornographic material.
The 1995 Penal Code amendment does not cover such offences.
d. No provision for confiscation of equipment used for the production and distribution of pornographic publications.
Without confiscating such equipment, the computers used to make these publications, the printing presses used to print them or the vehicles used for their distribution, this menace can never be arrested.
e. This law was hardly applicable to other media except print media
. At present a greater threat is posed by electronic media, social media.
f. The Police had the discretion to decide under which provision of law an offender is to be charged, the Penal Code or the Obscene Publications Ordinance.
g. Though many of the acts promoted through the stories and material published through various media are crimes punishable under the law, there is no specific provision to punish such incitement or promotion of criminal conduct.
h. More than the persons who sell these publications, it is the persons who print, produce and distribute these publications who are mainly responsible for this menace. Law needs to be further strengthened to enable the Police to arrest and prosecute persons who print, produce and distribute them rather than the sellers of obscene materials.
i. Producing and distribution of pornography is a big business with high profits, in which many people are involved. Existing law cannot deal with the partners in this business or the huge profits they make at a heavy social cost.
j. Though equally or more harmful material are shown by various T.V. Channels during peak hours when children are watching them, there are no provisions to prevent that or deal with the persons who are responsible for these shows either in the Public Performances Ordinance or in any other law.
Steps taken by the Government to Amend the Law in 2007
Following the launch of the Study in May 2005, in August 2005 the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage obtained 100 copies of the Study for distribution among the members of the Cabinet of Ministers.
As shown by a letter of the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage, the Cabinet of Ministers has approved a Cabinet Memorandum presented by the Minister of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage for the Amendment of the Obscene Publications Ordinance and it has been sent to the Legal Draftsman for drafting the Bill.
The Draft Bill prepared by the Legal Draftsman has been presented to the Cabinet of Ministers by the Minister of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardhana (now the Speaker of Parliament) and the Minister of Justice and Legal Reforms, Amarasiri Dodangoda with a Cabinet Memorandum dated 28 March, 2008.
LHRD received a copy of the Draft Bill from the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs with his letter dated 31 October, 2007 and LHRD sent its observations to the Secretary.
Provisions in the 2007 Draft Bill
This Obscene Publications Amendment Draft Bill has taken steps to rectify several weaknesses in the existing law:
a. Lack of a clear definition of the term ‘obscene’ –
S. 12 of the Bill defines the term ‘obscene’: Any matter, object or thing is obscene if such matter, object or thing tends to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear such matter, object or thing.
b. Existing penalties – Rs. 1500 – 2000 fine or/and imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months – are hardly adequate for these offences and they cannot have a deterrent effect.
Draft Bill has proposed to impose heavy penalties which will have a deterrent effect:
– S. 3 of the Bill: For publishing obscene material – imprisonment up to 10 years or a fine not less than 25,000 rupees or both; second or subsequent conviction – imprisonment for a term which may extend up to twenty years or a fine not less than 100,000 rupees or both.
LHRD made the following observation on the penalties proposed in the Draft Bill
*** The Jurisdiction to try these offences has been given to the High Court. For practical reasons it is better to leave this jurisdiction with the Magistrate’s Court. Otherwise, these cases will pile up in the High Courts for decades.
*** These proposed sentences also appear too excessive. Mandatory jail sentence of two years coupled with a fine of Rs. 100,000 and confiscation of equipment will be more than enough to have a deterrent effect.
c. No provision to deal with exposure of children to pornographic material. The 1995 Penal Code amendment does not cover such offences.
S. 4 of the Bill: Exposure of children to obscene material: imprisonment for a term not less than two years and not exceeding ten years or a fine not less than 200,000 rupees or both; second or subsequent conviction – imprisonment for a term not less than two years and not exceeding twenty years and a fine not less than 500,000 rupees;
d. No provision for confiscation of equipment used for the production and distribution of pornographic publications. Without confiscating such equipment, the computers used to make these publications, the printing presses used to print them or the vehicles used for their distribution, this menace can never be arrested.
S. 16 (2) of the Bill makes provision for the confiscation of any movable property used in the commission of the offence.
e. This law was hardly applicable to other media except print media. At present a greater threat is posed by electronic media, social media.
– S. 3 (a) of the Bill makes it applicable to all media: Any person who (a) publishes, publicly exhibits or lets on hire or knowingly sells or distributes or in any manner introduces into circulation through any medium of communication, any matter, object or thing which is obscene – commits the offence.
f. The Police had the discretion to decide under which provision of law an offender is to be charged, the Penal Code or the Obscene Publications Ordinance.
– S. 4 of the Obscene Publications Ordinance is not in the Bill and they have to ignore Penal Code provisions and act under the new law.
Though this Bill was drafted by the Legal Draftsman to give effect to a Cabinet approved Memorandum, though the Draft Bill was presented to the Cabinet by two Ministers, the Minister of Cultural Affairs and National Heritage and the Minister of Justice and Legal Reforms as early as March 2008, for some unknown and undisclosed reason the Bill was never presented to Parliament.
In the study conducted in 2004 – 2005, LHRD had come across 29 different obscene publications published and distributed throughout the country by different publishers. Most of them were weekly or fortnightly publications with multi-colour photographs. Publishing of obscene material is a lucrative business. There can be no doubt that during election times many of our politicians and political parties get the support of these press owners to have their posters and other propaganda material printed. Otherwise, there is no valid reason for this important Bill not to be presented to Parliament even 12 years after the Bill was presented for Cabinet approval. That was the response we got from the Police as well when we questioned them as to why they raided only the paper stalls where these publications were available for sale and why they did not raid the printing presses where these publications were printed.
The ‘Prohibition of Obscene Publications Bill’ brought by the Ministry of Justice under its Legal Reforms Project was published in the Gazette on Friday, December 24, 2021. The weekend being Christmas Holidays, the public had hardly any time to go through the Gazette and see what it is. However, within two days of its publication the Bill was withdrawn by the Minister of Justice. A statement issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Justice M.M.P.K. Mayadunne on December 29, has stated that the decision to withdraw the Bill was taken due to concerns raised by civil society activists and other stakeholders, objecting to the bill on several grounds, including copyrights.
Several questions arise from the statement of the Ministry Secretary. Other than the definition of the term ‘obscene’ in the Bill, the contents of the Bill were not published in any print media. What are the provisions in the Bill that led to objections that aroused concerns of the civil society activists? When and how did they raise these concerns? Print or electronic media did not publish any news about the concerns of civil society activists.
Usually when people have objections to or concerns about any matter, they issue a statement or conduct a press conference expressing their views. But nothing of that sort has happened in this instance. Moreover, there was hardly any time for anybody to raise their concerns. If there was anything contrary to fundamental rights or inconsistent with the Constitution in the Bill they can go to the Supreme Court and challenge it.
Who are these civil society activists and other stakeholders who are so powerful as to compel a powerful Cabinet Minister as the Minister of Justice to withdraw a Bill published in the Gazette within 48 hours of its publication? Who are these stakeholders who may be adversely affected by the prohibition of publication of obscene material? What copyright they can have in the production of indecent and obscene material?
Definition of the word ‘obscene’
The word ‘obscene’ has been defined in the Bill as “any matter, object or thing, which by itself or where it comprises more than one distinct component taken by itself, is sufficient to deprave and corrupt the mind of a reasonable person, but does not include any matter, object or thing containing anything done in the interest of science, literature, art, education or learning.”
If it is this definition of the word ‘obscene’ in the Bill that has led to these concerns of civil society activists and other stakeholders, it must be pointed out that it is a definition found in the law of England and India and upheld by our Supreme Court in a number of cases.
The definition in the 2007 Draft Bill
: “Any matter, object or thing is obscene if such matter, object or thing tends to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear such matter, object or thing.’’
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
definition: disgusting to the senses; repulsive; abhorrent to morality or virtue; designed to incite lust or depravity.
definition: “Offensive to modesty; expressing or suggesting unchaste or lustful ideas; impure, indecent, lewd.”
given in the English Case of Regina vs. Hicklin: “I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”- Cockburn C. J., Regina v. Hicklin, 1L. R. 3 Q. B. 360, Quoted in Archibold, 27th ed., 1321
In the case of Sub-Inspector of Police, Tangalle v. Dharmabandu, 33 NLR 14, our Supreme Court adopted the definition of ‘obscenity’ given in the English Case of Regina vs. Hicklin. The Court held: “An Article is obscene where the tendency of its contents would be to deprave and corrupt the minds of those into whose hands it may fall.”
In two other cases – De Bruin v. Dharmabandu, 32 NLR 88; and Perera v. Agalawatte, 39 NLR 22, the Supreme Court adopted the definition given above. In these cases, the Supreme Court has clearly laid down certain criteria for deciding whether a publication is obscene or not. These criteria can be enumerated as follows:
a. Are there persons whose minds are open to immoral influences of (obscene) publications?
b. Is the publication likely to fall into the hands of those persons?
c. Do the photographs, pictures, stories and articles contained in a publication have a tendency to deprave and corrupt the minds of those into whose hands it may fall?
In respect of any publication, if the answers to these three questions are yes, then it is an obscene publication. In determining whether a publication could have had a harmful effect, the overall impact of the publication is taken into account. The intention of the editor/publisher/printer is irrelevant.
S. 292 and S. 293 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with obscene publications, enacted in 1969, has adopted the definition of obscenity given in Regina vs. Hicklin Case.
A book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect, or (where it comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items, is if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstance, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it;
Certain things or items are clearly exempted from the application of this provision:
Exception – this section does not extend to –
(a) any book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, or figure-
(i) the publication of which is proved to be justified as being for the public good on the ground that such book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, or figure is in the interest of science, literature, art or learning or other objects of general concern, or
(ii) which is kept or used bona fide for religious purposes;
(b) any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in –
(i) any ancient monument within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958), or
(ii) any temple or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.
The definition of the word ‘obscene’ given in the withdrawn Bill is more or less the same as the above mentioned definitions found in the English Law, Indian Penal Code and the definitions adopted by our Supreme Court. There is nothing objectionable or inconsistent with freedom of expression in it. There is no apparent valid reason or justification for the Ministry to withdraw this Bill immediately after its publication in the Gazette.
The Ministry Statement has stated that an amended Bill would be presented to the Cabinet for approval, once discussions are held with interested parties, including the BASL.
Who are these interested parties who are so powerful as to compel the Minister to immediately withdraw a Bill that was published in the Gazette?
Are they the same parties that prevented, all this time since 2008, the Cabinet approved Obscene Publications Amendment Bill, drafted by the Legal Draftsman in 2007, from being enacted?
Certainly, it cannot be the BASL.
(The writer is the Executive Director of Lawyers for Human Rights and Development)
Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective
by Harshana Rambukwella
Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).
Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.
Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.
Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.
But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.
Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.
However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.
Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies
No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment
by jehan perera
The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.
There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.
The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.
The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.
In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.
In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.
Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.
It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.
To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.
Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity
By Hema Arachi
T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.
This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.
President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”
A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.
During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.
I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”
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