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The great man who turned the Kalutara bodhiya into a sacred place

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In commemoration of Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 124th birthday

“My father was a Notary. He travelled almost daily from his home in Velitota to his office in Ambalangoda in a bullock cart that he hired for the purpose. My father never complained about having to hire his transport. But this was causing me grave concern. By this time, I had received my secondary education at Royal College, Colombo, and was conducting a series of extra classes for the children of affluent parents, in the vicinity. At this time such extra classes were not readily available. Drawing on my knowledge, my students had their own knowledge enhanced. It was in order to earn the money to buy my father a bullock and a brand new cart that I started on this programme of work. In a matter of about seven or eight months, I was able to find the money for this purpose.

At that time, I had to spend only three hundred rupees to buy a bullock and a brand new cart to facilitate my father’s travel. My father, who had so far travelled to his office in carts belonging to other people, was amazed at my gesture and with tears of joy in his eyes bestowed his blessings upon me. This in turn gave me a sense of joy that I had never before experienced. Today I think that in later life, all I touched turned to gold, because of the blessings I so received from my father…”

This was a declaration made in the year 1964. This was something addressed to me by none other than Sir Cyril de Zoysa himself, who at that time had earned accolades as a successful businessman and a Sinhala Buddhist leader of the land. I was then a very young monk whom Sir Cyril had very especially begun to associate and it was for my edification that he said this. He was at the time a chief dayakaya of the Kande Viharaya, in Alutgama where I had entered the folds of Buddhist monkhood when I was very small. It was in appreciation of the industriousness I displayed, even at that time, in carrying out any work entrusted to me and my pleasant manner too that he paid special attention to me. This is why he found me indispensable during the conduct of religious activities in the Vihara as well as when he wished to have Seth Kavi and Seth Pirith (recitation of blessings upon him) chanted. It was his pleasure to send his driver to fetch me from the Kande Viharaya or from my abode at Avondale Road in Maradana where I latterly took up residence. In response all religious activities were performed by me in the prescribed manner.

I clearly observed how everything Sir Cyril did, whether it be in the social or the religious sphere, was done in the prescribed, methodical and formal manner and I noticed that he was greatly pleased that I emulated him. For this very reason my great, god-like preceptor the Venerable Potuvila Sri Saranatissa Nayaka Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Alutgama Kande Viharaya fully approved of my being engaged in the religious activities of Sir Cyril. Whenever Sir Cyril felt the need for my services, he was in the habit of summoning his driver and saying, ‘Go Piyadasa, Go fetch Podi Hamuduruwo, (the Junior Monk)’, thus sending the car for me. He was fully confident that the Podi Hamuduruwo would fulfill his religious needs in the proper manner.

As such, I succeeded in performing Buddha Pooja, chanting Seth Kavi and attending to other minor religious needs, to his utmost satisfaction. As there was such a fund of trust between the two of us he even related to me, from time to time, the main and earliest events that affected his life, just as though I were among his nearest and dearest.

He related to me the story of the efforts he made in his adolescent days to find the means to buy the gift of a bullock and a brand new cart for his father. He wished to have this act stand out as an example to others as an act of gratitude and the discharge of a duty by a youth towards his parents. In this day and age when one often hears of how some children do not care for their fathers who provided them with an education from their young days and set them up in the higher echelons of society, Sir Cyril’s conduct stands out in contrast as the most valuable offering of his lifetime. Thus, by the power of the blessings of his father, as it were, he while ascending a flight of social steps to the top in society as a businessman, was also going up the political ladder first as the Chairman of an Urban Council and later as the President of the Senate.

He often repeated that the main reason for his progress, and his systematic life style which led to such progress, were the example his father set and the blessings he extended to him as his son; and this too he said was by way of setting an example to others.

Even some Heads of State respected Sir Cyril’s thoughts and many were the instances when they obtained his counsel and even assistance from him.

He was motivated into sharing with me interesting information about his social life and about certain personal triumphs he achieved. This was when his mind was free from the stress of business concerns and from such other pressures. What I realized later on was that he was personally enjoying relaxation by talking about such matters with a person whom he knew was most devoted to him. Although I was at that time a young novice I now feel that the extent of the knowledge I had of the Buddha Dhamma, even at that young age, together with my ability to chant stanzas and devotional songs impressed him so much that our relationship was one such as between a grandson and a grandfather where the elder of the two relieved his mind of both joys and sorrows and achieved some mental peace. Today when I reminisce about what he discussed with me, it seems to me that talking to a little monk like me suited him better than conducting discussions with a Maha Thera well versed in the Dhamma, highly disciplined by Vinaya rules and highly purified in mind.

When a man of his stature, who was sometimes worn out by continuously spending about 20 out of the 24 hours, clearing a mountain of work on behalf of society, was afflicted with even a minor ailment I blessed him and offered Buddha Pooja, and recited Seth Kavi with or without his knowledge. I later learnt that in my absence he was in the habit of telling his friends and well-wishers that all what Podi Hamuduruvo (the little monk) does conduce towards both my physical and my mental health. In order to bring about some relief in the case of minor ailments, I chanted Seth Kavi before the statue of God Vishnu at the Kande Vihara, conducted Bodhi Pooja before the Bo Tree at Bellanwila and performed various rituals at the Jayasekhara-aramaya at Kuppiyawatta. It was observed that these did have some good effects on his health.

He was so pleased with his association with me that occasionally he made me accompany him to participate in certain social events or travel long distances with him to faraway shrines. This he did as though he was accompanied by a child of a relative. During such travels I was able to understand and appreciate his personal qualities as well as the examples he set before society. On some days when he went to the Galle Face Green to take his exercises, he carried a small chair in the car, set it upon the green, made me sit upon it and then ventured out with the others on long walks by way of physical exercise.

Although in appearance he looked like the proverbial “great, black, Sinhalese” he was a majestic personality with a heart of gold. Only one who personally associated him closely would realise this. I am one of those who had the opportunity to savour of such sterling qualities owing to my long and close association with him.

He was one who was able to set up by dint of hard work, efficiency, honesty and commitment a vast business empire within which he generated employment for thousands of people. As if in response, day by day he was blessed with success in generating vast wealth. He was a living example to his employees, who in turn were required to serve, like he himself did, with efficiency and honesty. By his own example he illustrated that it was a duty of the owner of a business enterprise to teach his employees, more by example than by precept, as to how they should serve the workplace from where they draw their bread and butter. His friends as well as his foes in both the political and the business arenas equally well acknowledged this, also drawing upon him as an example.

In recognition of his services to country, nation and society, the British Government conferred a knighthood upon him. Although our own society too heaped upon him various types of honours, his view was that all these are empty gestures; that no honours are indicated where one serves the people genuinely, in accordance with one’s own conscience.

Sir Cyril expanded the services of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA) founded by Sir DB Jayatilaka, of which the office is located in Borella. As the new Chairman of the YMBA he made it a place held in the highest esteem by all of Sri Lanka. He built its auditorium and gifted it to the Association in memory of both his mother and his father. Even today the building remains an income-generating asset to the Association. The services it provides to the people can barely be stated adequately in words

Although he was involved in the proverbial ‘thousand and one’ activities, yet on his visits to the South never did he fail to step out by the monuments set up at the spot where the ashes of his parents are interred, spare a moment in reflection with palms folded and pay homage to their memory.

 

It is well known that the great Bodhiya in Kalutara turned into a place held sacred by people in all of Sri Lanka, because of the services rendered by Sir Cyril. In the beginning of the era when the premises of the Kalutara Bodhiya belonged to the Residency, Buddhists who wended their way in for worship were chased away by the white Government Agent of the time. He even tried to build a tall structure to ward them off the premises. Our ‘Big Black Sinhalaya’ rose against this White Government Agent.

Sir Cyril commenced a transport business by releasing a single bus named “Swarnapali” on to the roads and soon turned this into a large Bus Company. He adopted the simple strategy of having the conductor collect coins from the passengers who willingly subscribed to have them cast into the tills placed to make collections to support the Kalutara Bodhi. This strategy was crowned with success. Soon after he enlarged the Transport Service and inaugurated the ‘South Western Bus Company’. Along with this he began the production of spareparts for motor vehicles, retreading tyres and other such. As a result, thousands of people in our land found employment which ensured them a daily livelihood.

Later on, in 1956, when the Bandaranaike Government came into power and nationalized transport services, some bus owners who were all opposed to this action, resorted to various insidious means to sabotage the nationalization programme. But Sir Cyril evaluated this decision positively. He provided a ‘spare parts kit’ for each of his 200 or so buses, topped up each bus with diesel and handed over his fleet to the Government. Even Prime Minister Bandaranaike was astounded by this action.

One of his qualities was to ensure that supplementary allocations would be available to keep sustained, without intervening breakdowns, any programme of work he initiated, be it in the social sphere or in relation to the Sasana.

When Sir Cyril invited the Engineering maestro Dr. ANS Kulasinghe to build a Chaitya in the Bodhi premises, the latter was pleased beyond measure and resolved to construct one the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka. It was built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the white Government Agent was constructed during the British period. When a request was made to transfer that part of the premises to the Kalutara Bodhi Trust, the Government Agent of the time did not comply.

When Mr. Leel Gunasekera, the litterateur, was the Government Agent, Sir Cyril made this request of him, and it was soon granted. Sir Cyril treated this as a case of the fruition of his past Karma (actions). Mr. Leel Gunasekera too, had occasion to tell us, on a later occasion, that through this decision he too performed an act of great merit.

Mr. Kulasinghe, the Engineer, built upon the very spot on which the Residency of the Government Agent had been constructed, a Chaitya, as stated before, “the likes of which has never before been seen in Sri Lanka”. Pilgrims could walk right into the middle of the Chaitya and engage in worship. Sir Cyril too was extremely pleased that he was at the helm of the programme of building such a wonderful Chaitya.

He was in the habit of telling me often, “Podi Hamuduruwane, I want to live until the work of this Chaitya is complete.”

One day, during this time, Sir Cyril took me to his huge factories which comprised a vast network of production points, which by that time had become foreign exchange generating units as well. It was only later on that I realized that he did so to prove a point to me.

“Podi Hamuduruwane”, he started. “There was a time when the Government Agent, Kalutara, a white man, placed obstacles in the way of Buddhists who came to worship the Bodhiya and prevented them from entering the premises. I stood up against him. Now you see, there are white men who know their jobs working under me in my factories.

Engineer, Dr. Kulasinghe, used the very spot upon which stood the Residency occupied by the Government Agent, to build a massive Chaitya of a very special type. This is but a travesty of destiny. In turn Dr. Kulasinghe believed that his plan for the Chaitya is but a tribute to his own creativity.

In his last days what Sir Cyril declared to a newspaper journalist whom he met was that he has performed a vast volume of work and services and the following is what he thinks:

“I am now a free man. However much wealth a person has it is of no use. They are all empty stuff. I was born without any wealth. I shall die too without any wealth. My joy, my relief, my strength are the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live I shall receive the protection of the gods.”

One morning, in the evening of his life, he took me to his home in the Apartment Complex at Park Street, Colombo. I felt that he was in an unusual mood. As he reached home, he summoned his servant and said, “Today we have to provide the forenoon meal to this monk. So please add an extra cup of rice to the pot.” Then he had a small chair placed in the patch of garden within the quadrangular area in the middle of the house and made me sit there. He sat upon the step. “Podi Hamuduruwane” he continued. “Now, please would you chant the Karaneeya Metta Sutra and the Ratana Sutra. Thereafter please explain to me the meaning of each of them”. While I was chanting, it is with his hands folded together and placed on his forehead that he gave ear. I still remember how Mr. VT de Zoysa, his younger brother together with his nephew, Shelley Wickremasinghe too, gave ear to the chant and to my subsequent explanation of their meanings.

One day, I arrived at his home in Park Street when, as was his practice, he sent his car and driver to fetch me. He welcomed me and ushered me into the house. I then saw two youngsters leave the house. “Do you know the two who just left the house?” he queried. “They are my younger brother’s sons: Ajita de Zoysa and Tilak de Zoysa. He thus introduced them to me by name.

After the demise of Sir Cyril de Zoysa, I learnt and I saw these two youngsters playing a leadership role at various religious and other ceremonies.

Today Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa serves as the Chairman of the Kalutara Bodhi Trust and Deshabandu Tilak de Zoysa as its Secretary. This is as if in very special honour of Sir Cyril, their esteemed paternal Uncle and man of the era, who in his own time served the interests of the nation and religion – the Sasana.

It was only the other day that Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa who holds the Chair of the Amarapura Nikaya-arakshaka Sabha donated Rupees Sixty-Five Million and built a headquarters for the Amarapura Sanga Sabha in Wellawatte. This offering to the Sasana too may be cited as another instance of following upon the footsteps of an exemplary Uncle.

With the passage of time, Sir Cyril fell seriously ill and was lying at the MaCarthy Private Hospital when I visited him on many a day, morning and evening, to chant seth pirith wishing him recovery and prime health. This I did out of a sense of duty, as well, towards him. A few days later, on 2nd January 1978, he breathed his last.

This great national leader who made a name for himself even beyond the shores of Sri Lanka as the legendary Anepidu-sitana in Buddhist history passed away after repaying the debt he owed to the nation by being born into it and conversely making the nation indebted, as it were, to him. Soon it will be the 42nd Anniversary of his demise and the 124th of his birth.

For many, Nirvana is far far away. But for Sir Cyril, owing to his many acts of merit and charity, it is but a mere arm’s length away. It is our prime duty to wish him the peace of Nirvana very soon in the round of births and deaths.

 

Venerable Pandita Arama Sri Dhammatilaka Nayaka Thera M.A.

Justice of the Peace Reg. No.99/08/WP AI 10/078

Sanghanayaka of the District of Colombo,

Chairman/ Western Region- Kolonnawa Sasana-arakshaka Mandalaya

Paaramita Sri Maha Bodhimalu Vihara, Gothatuwa

011 253 4005, 011 268 5054

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Features

Teaching for job market and ‘liberating the whole person’ during Covid-19 pandemic

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by Liyanage Amarakeerthi

 

(This is based on a short presentation made at a promotion interview at the University of Peradeniya on November 19th, 2020. Author thanks Professors KNO Dharmadasa, Wimal Wijayarathne and OG Dayarathna Banda, Dean/Arts who encouraged him to publish this speech.)

At universities, we are busy teaching online. It is heartbreaking to find many students lack required facilities. Teaching on Zoom, for example, takes smart phones and personal computers for granted. We have to assume that Internet access is as ubiquitous as air, but reality is otherwise. Attendance at live Zoom classes can be as low as 40 percent in the Faculty of Arts, where students from underprivileged backgrounds account for the majority. Therefore, we need to record our lectures and make them available through other means. I myself have WhatsApp groups for all my classes to transmit important course content with a minimal cost. The university and the faculty take admirable care with extremely limited resources to make sure that no student is left behind. But the situation is far from satisfactory.

In addition to Corona, our political authorities routinely tell us that what we teach at the faculties of arts has become irrelevant and obsolete. They regularly ask us to produce employable graduates. Recently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seen in a video clip telling a graduate that she should have studied ‘something technical.’ While it is wrong to produce an endless number of external graduates merely with degree certificates to wave at media cameras at the Lipton Circus, learning something ‘technical’ signifies a poor understanding of university education.

I want to reflect on the true meaning of education at the faculties of Arts. At our faculties we teach courses in the humanities and the social sciences. As a scholar in literature and language, I am at the most pressured end of the spectrum: Learning literature is the most removed from ‘something technical.’ Therefore, we, the humanities scholars at universities, routinely have to justify what we are doing in teaching and research. There reflections are made in that context.

 

Vision of the founding fathers

The founding fathers of the University of Ceylon, never imagined that future scholars in the Humanities would have to face the particular challenge mentioned above. In the inaugural address of the Ceylon University movement Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the President of the movement, had elaborate plans for a university of our own. Out of 13 professorships they had imagined to create in the University of Ceylon, eight were for the humanities. They wanted professorships for vernacular languages such as Sinhala and Tamil, and when the university was established, in 1942, the curriculum had considerable focus on local language and traditions. Indeed, there were professorships for natural sciences, and many science-based subjects were to enter within the first decade of the university.

In addition, those founding fathers had much larger and grander ideals for education; here are the words of Arunachalam:

“University will be a powerful instrument for forming character, for giving us men and women armed with reason and self-control, braced by knowledge, clothed with steadfastness and courage and inspired by public spirit and public virtue.” “A Plea for a Ceylon University” (A. T. Alwis. Peradeniya: The Founding of a University).

Those beautifully profound words demonstrate that Arunachalam’s vision for education was much more than teaching ‘something technical.’

 

Liberal Arts

In order to rediscover the true meaning of the Humanities education, one may look into what is meant by the liberal arts in contemporary international universities. ‘Liberal arts’ is a bit more inclusive than what we call ‘arts subjects’ since they include natural sciences, basic mathematics and the like. A rich liberal arts degree programme exposes students to a wide range of subjects––languages, literature, philosophy, religion, natural sciences, mathematics, Fine Arts, citizenship education, social sciences (at least key concepts of them) and so on. Since there is nothing strictly prohibited from the domain of liberal arts, one could add numerous other things to the curriculum.

The word ‘liberal’ in liberal arts a loaded one. It includes knowledge required to liberate human beings from socio-cultural bonds they are trapped in producing hierarchy, inequality and injustice. Rousseau famously claimed that chains binding human beings were human-made’ and the hammers to break them were also made in earth not in heaven. A high quality education in liberal arts should help us see those chains and to forge the hammers that can break them. In other words, liberal arts teach us the significance of working towards a just society. For that goal, there are many sources of wisdom. Unlike political parties and rigid ideologues, universities believe that there are multiple ways to reach that goal. That goal may be always at the horizon resisting our reaching it. Still, a society that has given up on that goal is perhaps so much poor even with endless affluence. Teaching liberal arts at universities is one important way societies hold on to a richer dream even in the midst of relative economic hardships. A country can be poor but yet not philistine.

‘Liberation’ in liberal arts includes internal liberation as well, and it could include several modes of refining oneself within. When modernity was an unquestioned project, liberation from the Nature was one goal of humanity. But now we know better. While we have to keep Nature at bay, we also have to realise that we are also part of it. The time of coronavius is opportune to reflect on this. Moreover, our nature itself is something that needs refinement and taming while it is very much a part of big Nature. So, in recent times a diverse set of course related to environmentalism has made its way into our liberal arts curriculum. As Professor Spencer McWilliams has aptly put, “a liberal arts education can help us develop a more comprehensive understanding of the universe and ourselves”. (Liberal Arts Education: What does it mean? What is it worth?)

Our political authorities may ask for graduates with a certain set of limited technical skills to be productive in the narrow roles assigned to them in contemporary economy. For us in universities, a human being is not just a worker. His or her life in the world of work is only one small segment of his or her life. For us as in the Humanities, questions such as what human beings do, what they reflect on, what and how they enjoy during their non-working hours matters as much as the ‘job skills’ they are supposed to hone. To make matters even more complicated, the liberal arts is interested even in the dreams that occur to human beings during their sleeping hours. To put it simply, for liberal arts human self is much more than a human worker.

A holistic development of the ‘whole person’ is the goal of liberal arts. It includes eight interrelated aspects: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, vocational, ethical, personal, and social. Intellectual development requires acquiring broad-based knowledge, learning how to learn, and learning how to think critically. Emotional development includes understanding, managing and expressing emotions. Developing high quality relationships with other people is the basis of social development while ethical development aims at providing students with a clear value system that enables them to make sound decisions. Physical development concerns the understanding of one’s own body and taking care of it. Spiritual development may be the most culture-sensitive as each culture may have its own take on what is ‘spiritual. ‘Vocational’ is indeed a form of development that must be a part of contemporary education. But is only one among eight. It includes exploring career possibilities and developing skills required for a career. As university teachers we do want our graduates to find jobs and achieve some sort of financial independence to pursue other goals of life articulated here. Personal development, the last of the eight, stays the last because it is the bottom line, so to speak. For personal development one needs to cultivate a strong sense of self-identity and agility to step out of that identity in being considerate towards others.

The Role of Peradeniya:

Whole Person, Whole Campus

A fully developed university must have all the facilities needed to address at least those eight areas. Holistic education believes that curriculum and co-curriculum must make use of whole campus for that purpose. Founding fathers of University of Peradeniya seem to have endowed with a concept of holistic education in the early twentieth century. Just to give only a few examples, for those who argue for making use of the whole campus for holistic education claims that for one’s intellectual development, a university has to utilise learning centers, library, academic advising services, tutoring services, information technology centers, invited talks on various topics, workshops, theatre halls, art shows and so on. This list, though not comprehensive, demonstrates that the intellectual development of a graduate is much more than following time tables and attending formal lectures. At Peradeniya, we may not have all these facilities, but when the university was founded a considerable attention was paid to these aspects. Taking a long walk through the beautiful University Park can be education in itself if one is rightly attuned to the lessons of natural beauty. I have learned those lessons at stunning campus parks at Wisconsin and Cornell.

Now, let me touch on ‘spiritual development.’ In addition to formal instructions on subjects such a philosophy and arts that concern one’s spiritual life, there should be co-curricular involvements with campus religious communities. Programmes such as inter-religious dialogue could be part of these activities. Perhaps, it was for such holistic education that places for all religions have been established within the University of Peradeniya.

Instead of cutting down funding on ‘liberal arts’ education, the government must invest more in the kind of education explained above. Even without enough financial resources some of us have been working hard to promote such a holistic education. Yes, just some of us. There are people who have no idea as to what they should be doing at universities. Among them, there are academics who believe that training students to site exams that lead to a certificate is university education. Yes, that is education often found at private tuition classes. But there is much more to university education. If our holistic education is only partially done, it is natural that authorities ask out graduates to learn ‘something technical.’

The prevailing pandemic has crippled nearly all co-curricular activities at campus. An education that does not include library, playground, gymnasium, the Sarachchandra Open Air theater, the E.O.E. Perera theatre, heated discussions with guest speakers, and, even some trips to the lovers’ lane or other ‘lanes’ cannot help achieve eight developmental goals of holistic education. COVID-19 has corroded that education. But holistic education is faced with a bigger threat. It is the demand that education be geared for the job market. True academics must do everything possible to prevent that philistine virus making inroads into our higher education institutions. Only those who are capable of realising the true meaning of holistic education envisioned in the Humanities and liberal arts can stand up to such philistine invasions. Those are the ones who really deserve to be hired and promoted.

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Chinese Development Experience:

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Why Have Sri Lankans Failed So Far

by Luxman Siriwardena

 

During the past decades, several East Asian Economies have experienced consistent high rates of economic growth while achieving unprecedented improvements in the standard of living of their citizenry, an achievement that has been described in the famous World Bank study as ‘Asian Miracle’.  Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) were the partners of this achievement. One analyst explained this miracle as developments that have ‘telescoped into a single generation, a process of socioeconomic development that took the advanced economies of Western Europe centuries to achieve’. This group have now been dramatically overtaken by Communist China which has also eliminated poverty, probably excluding a few clusters in remote parts of rural China. 

Unfortunately, however, all South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka still remain far behind China as developing economies. It has been estimated that a high percentage of the population of many of these countries are living in abject poverty and deprivation. 

China’s economic development as now well demonstrated, has been associated with technological advancement surpassing many of the advanced market economies. It is only a matter of time before China   becomes the largest economy in the world. Even in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation it has emerged as the only country to record a positive growth rate in 2020, according to multilateral lending agencies.

In this context it is of significance to understand how President Xi Jinping has articulated the Chinese development within the framework of Marxist Political Economy. In this regard, a speech delivered by Jinping, in the mid-August needs to be closely studied by the academics and policy makers in developing countries like Sri Lanka. President Jinping proposes in the speech that the Marxist political economy must be studied and developed as a higher stage of theoretical and practical advancement of Political Economy. Most relevant to the current development discourse is his combining of Marxist political economic principles with new practices of reform and opening up of the Chinese economy. 

President Jinping has also categorically mentioned that the belief of some people that Marxist political economy and the analysis in Das Capital is outdated or outmoded is arbitrary and inaccurate. Jinping states that nowadays there are various kinds of economic theories but the foundation of Chinese development cannot be explained by any theory other than the Marxist theory of political economy. 

With reference to the development of theory and practice in China, Jinping upholds the contribution by successive Chinese leaders. Going through his argument it is clear that President Jinping is contributing to the new stage of development in Marxism termed as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. 

In his analysis President  Jinping refers to almost all challenges the modern-day advanced market economies are confronting and strongly advocates study of them in the context of Marxist political economy which include  theories of developing a socialist market economy, enabling  market to play a decisive role in allocation of resources while providing for a prominent role for the government and state-owned enterprises in promoting, facilitating and coordinating  new industrialization, agricultural modernization and other  essential players of growth and development. It is also interesting to learn the way China addresses the property ownership/rights and right of the farmers to contract out lands. 

What President Jinping has emphasized with regard to the study of political economy has a direct relevance to Sri Lankan academics and policy makers irrespective of what they have learned in universities of the West or from multilateral or other agencies. In his presentation President Jinping has emphasized the importance of six key principles in economic development in China. 

i. Adherence to people-centric development thinking 

ii. Focusing on new development concepts with a futuristic view 

iii. Upholding basic economic systems preserving Chinese Socialists Characteristics 

iv. Improvement of basic distribution systems 

v. Focusing on the direction of socialist market economy 

vi. Adherence to the basic national policy of opening up when effecting    necessary reforms. 

His concluding remarks would be an eye-opener to Sri Lankan and other developing country policy makers, particularly economists. 

Their commitment to upholding the basic principles and methodology of Marxist political economy does not imply rejection of the rational components of other economic theories. Western economic knowledge on areas such as finance, prices, currency, markets, competition, trade, exchange rates, enterprises, growth, and management do reflect one side of the general laws underpinning socialized production and market economics, and should therefore be used as reference. At the same time, however, Jinping suggests that it is necessary to keep a discerning eye on the economic theories of other countries, particularly those of the West, making sure that the wheat is being separated from the chaff. It should be ensured however, that these theories reflecting the nature and values of the capitalist system or are colored by Western ideology are not blindly adopted. Although the discipline of economics is devoted to the study of economic issues, it does not exist in a vacuum, and therefore cannot be separated from larger social and political issues.  

Why have our economists, both in academia and in policy making positions, not understood this simple truth?  Why have they failed to develop theories and explanations that address local needs like their counterparts in the region? For example, India, Pakistan or even Bangladesh have world class economists who have come up with homegrown theories and homegrown solutions to local problems. Could it be that our economists, unlike their regional counterparts who have succeeded, have not been able to free themselves from the clutches of the west intellectually and ideologically? How much their education in the west, reinforced through regular training given by West-dominated multilateral agencies and also frequent exposure to thinking of the West in their work, is responsible for this unfortunate situation? Whatever the reasons are, instead of thinking independently on their own they parrot their mentors in the West for short-term gains like easy recognition and self-fulfillment continuing the vicious circle and perpetuating the misery of their people. Irony is that when a solution is needed the only thing our experts are capable of doing is seeking refuge in programmes of multilateral development agencies reminding us the famous saying attributed to Einstein that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Sri Lankan policy analysts, this applies to academics and researchers too, must desist from advocating indiscriminate reliance on foreign concepts. Their analyses should be based on objective conditions that exist in Sri Lanka and associated socio-political environments namely, political economy. thoroughly and at length to prevent them being marginalized in the emerging discourse.

It is time for our academics and policy makers to change the path on which they have been travelling, the path not only built by the West but also the road rules for the travellers have been written by them.  What our academics and policy makers, especially, economists, have been hitherto repeatedly preaching and implementing are literally  carbon copies of classical, neoclassical or Keynesian theories they have learnt without adaptation to meet Sri Lanka’s development needs.

It is stated by the historians that Lenin further developed Marxism where it was further fashioned by Stalin and Trotsky. In the modern era remarkable adaptations to it were brought in by Chairman Mao. Since then there have been many Chinese leaders who have made various pragmatic contributions for the Chinese economy. President Jinping has presently brought Chinese economy to a new stage of development through more pragmatic and innovative ways without deviating from fundamental Chinese characteristics.

In view of the above it can be concluded that there are many lessons that developing countries like Sri Lanka can learn from the Chinese development experience. If our academics and policy makers can come out of the ivory tower of conventional framework and improve on theories and models that they have learned in the past by adapting them where necessary to local conditions that may go a long way in help promoting effective policy for sustainable growth and development. Until and unless that happens our attempts to achieve sustainable economic growth and development in the country will remain only a pipe dream, which it is today. 

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Covid-19 prevention:

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Revamp CMC’s crippled Public Health Services

By Dr. Pradeep Kariyawsam
Former Chief Medical Officer of Health / CMC

When the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic started, it was inevitable that the wave would reach Colombo, as many other epidemics such as dengue fever, chikungunya, cholera, influenza started in Colombo and then spread to other areas. Here of course those who travelled from abroad obviously brought the disease to the country, and then it spread towards the city in no time. There are many who travel from Gampaha District to Colombo city area and they were the potential carriers of the virus.

Prevention activities should have been started from all fronts, especially in Colombo North and Central areas, as soon as we heard about the Minuwangoda outbreak; and without hesitating when it reached Peliyagoda which lies in the northern bank of Kelani river. Colombo North lies just a few hundred feet away in the Southern bank. True the CMC started carrying out PCR tests, but most of them were off target as hardly a patient was found initially. There is no point in crying over spilt milk now. The importance of Public Health Services should be recognized at least now, and that a proper service could save the city and country from economic collapse and social unrest. The latter mostly instigated by politicians. The deaths at home is a sign that all is not well with the prevention services. Unfortunately, some politicians and government servants do not understand this reality.

Around 40 years ago, the Minister of Local Government realized the importance and the necessity to organize the people in these areas, who actually lived in slums and shanties and the need to prevent communicable diseases and provided them with basic amenities. Hence under his direction the CMC went on to carry out surveys of the needs of the people through new recruits called Health Wardens. The Health Wardens formed Community Development Councils after having elections in the so-called Gardens (Wattas) where the people in them chose their leaders as the office-bearers to run the Councils. Women’s and children’s groups were also formed by the Health Wardens, and these GCE (AL) qualified youth were the acceptable officials to give instructions on any matter on health and welfare. I can remember they even arranged marriage registrations.

They teamed up with the Public Health Inspectors, Nurses, Midwives and Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT), Health Education Officers, and formed a network that supported the preventive services to the hilt. In short, we were proud of our work and it was appreciated by UNICEF, WHO, UNCHS, etc. For example, when we had to get Colombo as polio free, all of them teamed up and with the help of Rotarians gave vaccines to all children under five years of age in the city in one day! In order to provide a proper service, the city needs at least 65 Public Health Inspectors, 35 Nurses, 175 Midwives, 35 MLTs and over 200 Health Wardens or Health Instructors as they are called now. (The Salaries and Cadres Commission please note!) These services are in a sorry state of affairs now, as the number of officers in service have dwindled so much that we no longer have a single maternity home that is operating at night, as only nine nurses are available, the PHIs have neglected food hygiene work, and Midwives are over stretched so much they are running a crippled service, the laboratories lack material and the poor people have to go to the private sector to get expensive tests done, when they could have got them done free at the CMC labs. But the most important aspects of all this, which are organizing the communities, health education, creation of awareness about communicable diseases, communicating with all and being the link between the people and the health units that were handled by the Health Instructors do not exist anymore.

There aren’t even Health Education Officers anymore, who used to supervise them. The information thus collected then can be analysed by the Epidemiologist to understand the vulnerable areas and direct prevention activities. Unfortunately, there is no Epidemiologist as the post of Deputy Chief Medical Officer (Epidemiology) is not filled during the last three years. That is what is lacking mainly in CMC’s Covid-19 prevention programmes today. It is not the ambulances that the people need as CMC already has two ambulance services; The ambulances run by the MCH Division and the 110-service are run by well-trained fire-fighters. The people need someone to be with them in their hour of need as it happened years ago, looking after their health and welfare needs, as Health Instructors were allocated to areas in which they were responsible for the people in slums, shanties and apartments.

Therefore, it is my humble appeal that the CMC, the Western Provincial Council, and the Ministry of Health get together and fill these posts, create higher cadres for these posts and appoint suitable persons immediately. We have to allocate vulnerable areas to these officers and get them to go to the people, organize them, look after their health and welfare needs and prevent a disaster happening as there will be more Covid-19 waves and new epidemics in the near future. This will definitely reduce deaths at homes. A stable Colombo, health-wise, will make the country stable in the same way. With all my experience I know that this is the only way to prevent this kind of disaster happening again, and this will be a feasible way of managing this crisis for the government to prevent and control this disease.

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