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Susil Sirivardana

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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.

Ranjini Obeyesekere

Retired Professor, Princeton University, USA

Kandy, August 26, 2021.



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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE

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Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm

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By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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