I was deeply saddened to hear of the recent death of Susil Sirivardana. He was the kind of person Sri Lanka could hardly afford to lose, especially at a time like this. when the country is reeling under the exponential spread of the Covid, and the economy is collapsing under years of debt and corruption.
Susil was a man from a different world and of a different caliber. Coming from a cultured Southern family, and like many others from similar, relatively affluent groups of the time, he was sent to Oxford for his degree. Being a very good student he graduated with honors in English Literature. There, steeped in the socialist, nationalist, post-colonial discourse of that period, which his sharp mind and wide reading opened up to him, he returned to Sri Lanka, a young man with a mission — to work for his country. Unlike many others of his ilk, Susil sought to follow his deeply people oriented socialist vision, by working in the villages among the people.
His first job was teaching English in a village school in the Anuradhapura area. The white ‘arya-sinhala’ outfit of the post sixties era that he then took on, he never gave up, whatever the social and political circles he moved in. The simple garb, his unostentatious form of transport, his Vespa scooter, and the ‘panmalla’ for his books and files, which had been a part of his life in those early days, became a part of his persona, his identity. It was not for political or public gain, but a part of who he was. It was a statement and reflected his world view and values.
Susil and I have been friends over the years. We shared our interest in literature, and were interested, each in our own way, trying to bring to the monolingual student world of that time, a wider exposure to critical ideas and literatures. Characteristically, Susil took on the challenge frontally. He joined Dr. Amaradasa Virasinha, the original founder and editor of the once popular bilingual critical journal Samskruti, and with Dr. Uswattearachchi, a brilliant bi-lingual economist, together they decided to revive Samskruti, to energize younger writers and readers into critical thinking and writing. Sadly, the growing influence of the commercially weighted media, which today encourages simple uncritical absorption of information, (often biased), undermined the kind of interest in the critical analysis of literary, political or economic issues that scholarly journals such as Samskruti once fostered. With the recent death of Dr.Virasinghe, and now of Susil Sirivardana, Samskruti may have to wait for another rebirth.
Susil’s early education had also exposed him to exciting new movements and perspectives in the fields of art, architecture and environmental issues. It was therefore natural that environmental and conservationist ideas would be central to his vision and policies. In that context he critically observed the ‘Built Environment’, and never failed to express his views on architecture. In recognition of his valuable contributions on the subject, he was invited and served as a visiting lecturer at the City School of Architecture. I am told students still recall the stimulating seminar discussions with Susil, sometimes extending late into the day. He was a teacher who gave of his best to the young. They in turn deeply respected him and admired him.
By the 1980’s, Susil’s abilities and charismatic energy had made its mark both in administrative and political circles. Soon he was drafted into the newly constituted National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) in the capacity of a policy making administrator. He seized this opportunity to initiate a housing strategy for Sri Lanka with his a unique vision of “self- help, appropriate technology, and the utilization of available local materials with available local means and methods of implementation.” The Million House Rural Housing Program, the 30 House Electorate Program, the Urban Low Cost Housing Program, the Rural Accessibility Banking System were all an exceptional and integrated package of Susil’s creative vision for low cost equitable habitat — a realistic urgent need of the country at that time. Susil Sirivardana was blessed also with the rare gift of being an excellent communicator of ideas and concepts. He won the full support of the then Prime Minister, Ranasinghe Premadasa, and ably steered a meaningful housing policy through the resources of the then resourceful National Housing Development Authority.
It is a shame that our land in recent years found little space for men like Susil Sirivardane – men of complete integrity, of enormous capacity to get a job done, and above all, willing and able to take a stand for what they believed in. He worked long and hard on his projects, not for personal profit but for the people and the country of which he saw himself as an integral part.
Today, our political parties tend to box people as belonging to ‘that side’ and ‘not this side’ and so our first rate, experienced, administrators and professionals, who could contribute so much to the country, are instantly marginalized the moment one political group replaces another in the control of the government. As Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike, former Assistant Governor of the Central Bank, in a recent, brilliantly researched and well documented analysis published in the Financial Times and the Sunday Island clearly demonstrates, Sri Lanka has no lack of talent, ability, expertise, professionalism, or innovative creativity, in almost any field.
I believe that it is the present political culture of unrestricted personal power on the part of the rulers that leaves space only for abject sycophancy on the part of the ruled. Sadly, it is seen by both, as the means for their personal survival. It is that which deafens rulers to the advice of those many talented and qualified others. It is what has brought this country to this pass.
One can only hope that, sometime in a post- corona era, a younger generation will come forth, washed clean of the years of corruption, personal aggrandizement, ostentatious displays of wealth and uncaring individualism. Perhaps then this land that has survived for millennia will again return to be a humane home for all those who come to these shores, not as conquerors, but as those who choose to make it their home. It is what has enriched this land throughout its history. It is I believe what will enable it to survive.
Retired Professor, Princeton University, USA
Kandy, August 26, 2021.
Third DNA test on Sarah: SJB questions veracity of police claim, asks Prez to dig deep
Easter Sunday carnage
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) yesterday (30) questioned the veracity of a police headquarters declaration that one of the Easter Sunday bombers Achchi Muhammadu Mohamed Hasthun’s wife Pulasthini Mahendran alias Sarah Jasmin had been killed on the night of April 26, 2019 at Sainthamaruthu.
The media was told at the Opposition Leader’s Office at No 30 Sir Marcus Fernando Mawatha that the SJB was quite disturbed and surprised by the police headquarters statement issued on the basis of the Government Analyst’s findings.
Top SJB Spokesperson Mujibur Rahuman said that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government owed an explanation as to how a third DNA test proved Sarah Jasmin’s death when the two previous DNA tests failed. The former MP said that the two previous tests had been conducted during the tenures of President Maithripala Sirisena and President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sarah Jasmin’s husband Hasthun is believed to be one of the bomb makers of the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) blamed for the series of near simultaneous blasts. Explosions caused by suicide bombers claimed the lives of about 270 persons including dozens of foreigners.
Rahuman told The Island that he would like to remind President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is also the Defence Minister that Easter Sunday carnage was meant to undermine the yahapalana government in which Wickremesinghe served as the Prime Minister. “We expect the President to look into this matter. The possibility of a conspiracy cannot be ruled out,” the former lawmaker said.
Authoritative sources said that the likes of ex-MP Rahuman was seeking political advantage from the Easter Sunday fallout. The Colombo District politician repeatedly questioned the investigation for reasons best known to him, sources said, alleging interested parties were working overtime to substantiate conspiracy theories.
Rahuman challenged the government to reveal the status of the investigation into the arrest of a police officer under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) for helping Sarah Jasmin to flee Sri Lanka. The former UNPer said that the police officer’s role in Sarah Jasmin’s escape transpired in the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the Easter Sunday carnage.
The Batticaloa High Court granted bail to Chief Inspector Nagoor Thambi Aboobucker who had been arrested on July 13, 2020, a few weeks before the last general election, after he filed a fundamental rights application. The law enforcement officer had been held in custody for a period of 32 months.
Rahuman noted that Abdul Cader Fathima Saadiah, the wife of 2019 Easter Sunday attacks mastermind Zahran Hashim, too, had been granted bail. She had been held under the PTA for almost four years.The SJB official emphasized that regardless of repeated assurances given by successive governments, the Easter Sunday massacre remained a mystery. Rahuman said that SJB MPs Harin Fernando and Manusha Nanayakkara, who had been severely critical of the Easter Sunday investigations and repeatedly alleging a conspiracy, switched allegiance to the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government in last May. However, the SJB wouldn’t allow the incumbent government to suppress the truth, he said.
The former lawmaker asked whether the new partners had reached a consensus on the matter, therefore interested parties were busy covering up tracks.Rahuman said that those at the helm should be ashamed that the P CoI recommendations were never implemented. Demanding punishment to those who neglected their responsibilities, Rahuman said the current dispensation should know the conspirators, too, should be dealt with.
CBK: Proposed anti-corruption bill inadequate to end widespread problem
“75 percent in parliament are crooks.”
There is nothing in the proposed anti-corruption bill to prevent people from engaging in corrupt activities, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike said yesterday in Colombo.She said that she had accessed the draft of the bill, formulated at the behest of the IMF.
“The bill focuses on what to do when someone is identified as a crook. But there is nothing to prevent people from engaging in such acts.”
Corruption had become a key feature in Sri Lanka since 1977 despite some efforts by political leaders. However, there were strong anti-corruption sentiments in the country and they had to be harnessed, she said.
“75 percent in parliament are crooks,” she said.
The former President was also critical of the proposed new anti-terror laws. She said they were very dangerous laws and anyone could be detained for having dissenting views.
“These are scary laws. Everyone must unite to fight such laws,” she said.
SJB MP throws party union under the bus
By Akitha Perera
Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP S.M. Marikkar on Thursday said that he supported the government’s decision to liberalise the petroleum sector and that the state should not be involved in business. Marikkar added that most Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers were idling and that they got paid for not doing any work.
“If you ask me, I say that we must liberalise the CPC. We must open the market. We can’t have this island mentality and it is our parochial thinking that got us into this mess. We can’t live in isolation. The world is open and an increase in competition leads to better outcomes for the consumer.
We believe that the state should not be involved in business. The Lanka IOC is in Sri Lanka. When three other companies come in, there will be greater competition. Most CPC employees are idling. They draw fat salaries at the end of the month for doing nothing,” he said.Marikkar said that while the average CPC employee wasted public funds, those who headed it were involved in corruption. Both waste and corruption had to be stopped, he said.
“I am not sucking up to the President. We have principles and we stand by them,” he said.
However, the SJB’s trade union arm led by Ananda Palitha is playing leading role in CPC trade union struggle against the Cabinet decision to award licenses to more foreign companies that intend to enter the fuel retail market in the country.
In a Twitter message, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera said China’s Sinopec, United Petroleum of Australia and RM Parks of USA in a collaboration with Shell Plc would enter the fuel retail market in Sri Lanka.
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