The Island: 40 years of independent journalism
Your editorial, “And miles to go …”, (16 Nov.), which appeared on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of The Island, prompted me to pen some thoughts on democracy and the role of free media, and the role played by The Island in upholding the ethical values of journalism. The powerful social media has become the darling of the communities across the world, and the print media has been losing its grip. General understanding of the effectiveness of social media is its fast spread of information, while print media can publish any story the following day.
Comment of DEW Gunasekara, Communist Party heavyweight, deserves to be quoted: “The period of 40 years, since the birth of The Island, covers both globally and domestically, dramatic and far-reaching eventful developments. The Island, as a new breed and brand, played its role magnificently with dynamism since its inception”. Democracy is a contested subject. Historically, democracy has been invested with contrasting meanings. In simple terms, democracy can be interpreted as government by the people. Three models of democracy can be direct, participatory, and representative democracy. Present model or form of democracy, practised in Sri Lanka and other democratic countries, gained value with the spread of capitalism. Further, interpretation of democracy vastly differs from the point of view of communist states and the capitalist world. Gunasekera has acknowledged the Sri Lankan brand of democracy, and the party has been aligned with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and it was a part of grand coalitions and governments. During the last presidential and parliamentary elections, the Communist party extended its support to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.
Sri Lanka has been the home to Trotskyist philosophy, in South Asia, and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, which is the oldest political party in contemporary Sri Lanka, has been an active participant in the democratic process. Communist party, a splinter group from the LSSP, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, another splinter group from the Communist party, though differing in communist ideology, have accepted the Sri Lankan form of representative democracy.
The fourth estate, the media, is described as one of the pillars of democracy. In the Sri Lankan context, the role and challenges of the print media has not been that easy, as explained in many articles authored by reputed writers on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of The Island’s journey.
Contemporary Sri Lanka navigated through many political, military, economic and social phases. The 1971 insurgency, led by the JVP, 1st Republican constitution, 2nd Republican constitution, open economic policy, 2nd rebellion by the JVP, in 1988/1987, separatist war, Indian interference and Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, ceasefires, Norwegian- brokered negotiations, conclusion of separatist war, bullying by powerful countries, war crime allegations and Geneva resolution, Central Bank scam, Covid-19 and economic impact have been important events.
While political and economic arenas are generally construed as important events, the saga of Sinhala cinema and the contribution of the genius cinematic creator Dr. Lester James Peiris and the next generation of creative cinema directors, the World Cup winning moment in 1996, and the growth and decline of Sri Lankan cricket have captured a prominent place in The Island.
When one speaks about versatility, it is precisely applicable to The Island. In the recent past, particularly during the Maithri-Ranil government, with the vigorous backing of the JVP, TNA, SLMC (all with different political philosophies) The Island was at the front, in criticising and exposing the misdeeds of the government, and the extent to which The Island has gone gave a perception that The Island was actively backing the SLPP. But The Island again is at the front in criticising the SLPP government for its blunders. The way The Island takes to task the SLPP government again gives a perception it is working against the SLPP government. It is the beauty of The Island for its stand with the people and the country. It is as simple as that.
has a unique location in the annals of independent print media. Being an ardent reader, the writer has always highly rated The Island, because it is a good example of independent journalism in Sri Lanka.
Retired Sri Lankan Diplomat
Stop intimidating judiciary,end undermining democracy,hold elections
We note with dismay the attempts being made by the President and some Members of Parliament of the government to intimidate the judiciary on the false pretext that the Supreme Court has violated the privileges of the Members of Parliament. This allegation has been made after the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with a fundamental rights application filed against the withholding of funds for the purpose of conducting local government elections. The Court has also made an interim order restraining several state functionaries from withholding any funds allocated by the Budget for the year 2023 for the purpose of conducting the local elections.
We vehemently condemn these fresh actions by the government to undermine the democratic process of our country. We also fully endorse the statement issued by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka on this matter. The BASL has warned that any attempt to interfere with the independence of the judiciary is a serious affront to the rule of law, the rights of the people of the country, and democracy.
We further note that these attempts by the ruling party Members of Parliament mark a joint effort by both the executive and sections of the ruling party in the legislature to further undermine the legally mandated local government elections from being held. It is reprehensible that the government, after the repeated failure of several attempts to force the election commission to abandon its plans to hold the election, has now chosen the judiciary as the target of its attacks.
This shows a dangerous pattern of government behaviour in which no independent institutional space – whether the independent commissions or the judiciary – is tolerated in its attempts to stay in power. It wants to prevent at any cost the people’s voice from being expressed through an election, which is the most effective and peaceful way available to the people in any democratic society to express their political preferences and choices.
What these new developments show is that Sri Lanka’s fragile democracy is under severe attack orchestrated by the President and the ruling party, using both executive and legislative powers they wield. Therefore, all Sri Lankan citizens, political parties and civil society and other mass organisations, as well as the international community, need to be alert to the urgent need to protect democratic space at every level. Sri Lanka has a history of ruling parties attacking the independence of the judiciary during the 1970s and 1980s and later as well, aimed at serving the individual and partisan ambitions of those in power. Those have only led to greater political instability, civil unrest and the deepening of the existing political crises.
Thus, defending the free space for independent judgement, action, and dissent, free from capricious interference and threats from those who hold political power, has once again become an urgent task in the agenda for protecting democracy in Sri Lanka.
We call upon the government and all those responsible for holding the elections to do so without delay or hindrance and thereby uphold and protect democratic governance and Government in Sri Lanka. We also urge the government to cease its attacks on the judiciary, an institution whose integrity and independence is pivotal to democracy in our country. We stress that the confrontational and arrogant approach currently adopted by this administration is wholly counter-productive. It even negates the interests of the people whose rights and well-being the government is duty-bound to serve with diligence and competence in an accountable manner.
Finally, we demand that the President and the government desist from interfering with the judiciary or the election commission curtailing their independence in a manner that impedes the people’s democratic liberties and rights.
End misusing political power to harm the country’s democratic institutions and processes for their partisan and personal political interests and ambitions.
Respect the interim order of the Supreme Court on the local elections.
1. Ameer Faaiz
2. Anberiya Hanifa
3. Aneesa Firthous
4. Anoma Rajakaruna
5. Anushaya Collure
6. Austin Fernando
7. Bhavani Fonseka
8. Binendri Perera
9. Buhari Mohamed
10. C. Chandrasekera
11. C. Ranitha Gnanarajah, AAL
12. Deekshya Illangasinghe
13. Divya Mascranghe
14. Dr. Chulani Kodikara
15. Dr. Devanesan Nesaih
16. Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel
17. Dr. Joe William
18. Dr. Kalana Senaratne, University of Peradeniya
19. Dr. Lionel Bopage, Australian Advocacy for Good Governance in Sri Lanka
20. Dr. Maduranga Kalugampitiya, University of Peradeniya
21. Dr. Mario Gomez
22. Dr. P. Saravanamuttu
23. Dr. Proomika Seelagama, University of Peradeniya
24. Dr. Rajni Gamage, National University of Singapore
25. Dr. Ramesh Ramasamy
26. Dr. Sakuntala Kadirgamar
27. Dr. Sudesh Manthilaeke, University of Peradeniya
28. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne
29. Dr. Visakesa Chandrasekaram
30. Fr. Jeevantha Peiris
31. Gamini Viyangoda
32. Geoffrey Alagaratnam, President’s Counsel
33. Jagath Siriwardena
34. Jeane Samuel
35. Jehan Perera
36. Mahaluxumy Kurushanthan
37. Minoli de Soyza
38. Mirak Raheem
39. Neelika Subasinghe
40. Niluka Perera
41. P. Muthulingam
42. Pamoda Jayasundara, University of Peradeniya
43. Pasan Jayasinghe
44. Prabodha Rathnayaka
45. Prashandini Uthayakumar, AAL
46. Priyantha Fonseka, University of Peradeniya
47. Prof. A. M. Navarathna Bandara
48. Prof. Arjuna Parakrama, University of Peradeniya
49. Prof. Deepika Udagama, University of Peradeniya
50. Prof. Emeritus Jayadeva Uyangoda, University of Colombo
51. Prof. Emeritus Kapila Gunasekera, University of Peradeniya
52. Prof. Emeritus. Siri Hettige, University of Colombo
53. Prof. Emeritus. Vijaya Kumar, University of Peradeniya
54. Prof. Farzana Haniffa, University of Colombo
55. Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, University of Colombo
56. Prof. Godwin Constantine, University of Colombo
57. Prof. Liyanage Amarakeerti, University of Peradeniya
58. Prof. Neil DeVotta
59. Prof. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, University of Colombo
60. Prof. Sasanka Perera, South Asian University, New Delhi
61. Prof. Saumya Liyanage, University of Visual and Performing Arts
62. Prof. Sivamohan Sumathy, University of Peradeniya
63. Prof. Tony Anghie, National University of Singapore
64. Prof. Vasuki Nesaih
65. Radhika Coomaraswamy
66. Rajan Hoole
67. Renuka Senanayake
68. Rohana Hettiarchchi
69. Rosanna Flamer- Caldera
70. Roshan De Silva
71. Sanjaya Karunasena
72. Sankhitha Gunaratne
73. Saroj Pathirana
74. Sathya Ramanayake
75. Sharmaine Gunaratne
76. Shreen Saroor
77. Shyamala Gomez
78. Stanislaus Celestine
79. Susantha Rajapaksa, University of Peradeniya
80. T. Jayasingam
81. T. Mathuri, AAL
82. Tissa Jayatilaka
83. V.S.S. Thananchayan
84. Vijula Arulanantham
Latest on IMF and debt restructuring- II
by Jayampathy Molligoda
Further to my article published in ‘The Island’ recently, IMF Executive board has just approved the EFF arrangement for Sri Lanka at its meeting held on 20th March ‘23. In the meantime, our Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in consultation with the financial advisory group hired for negotiations have finalised the latest position of Sri Lanka’s Public Debt as at end 2022 just prior to commencement of debt restructuring negotiations with creditors. The financial advisory group, Lazard was hired by former President, Sri Lanka in May 2022, along with international lawyers Clifford Chance, to guide the government through the process of restructuring its debt, for which estimates range from $70- 90 billion. According to Reuter reports published last September ’22, Sri Lanka was expected to formally reach out to private creditors who hold about $15 billion in bonds. My understanding is ‘Lazards’ is now working on different permutations and combinations.
The purpose of this paper is to critically review the latest position on the debt restructuring negotiations, because various conditional requests and diverse views are being made by ISB bond holders, Bi -lateral creditors and other stakeholders. I hope our high powered ‘negotiators’ have the competence and commitment to seek ways of avoiding the adverse results stemming from the concerns expressed here that are likely to crop up in the debt restructuring process.
Latest conditional request from the group of bond shareholders:
Having perused the document uploaded to the Ministry of Finance (MOF website) recently, the total public debt stock has skyrocketed to US $ 83.6 Billion, which includes total foreign debt of US$ 45.6 billion and the local debt of 38 billion in US $ equivalent. The total debt as a % of GDP as stated in the above MOF doc is 128%.
Latest conditional request from the group of bond shareholders places a cap on domestic borrowing component in the overall gross financing need of the government budget @8.5%. And if the total deficit financing need is @ 13%, means a MINIMUM of 4.5% of foreign debt financing component. This places serious restriction to our earlier thinking of reducing the foreign borrowing component as well as indirectly places restrictions on earlier thinking of asking higher ‘haircut’ for foreign debt holders. Previously, there was no such requirement came from India and bilateral debt holders.
Resist touching banks’ domestic debt:
In the circumstances, my own view is we are reluctantly compelled to restructure local debt i.e.; TBs and, it’s inevitable that the local debt of US $ equivalent of 38 billion would also need to be taken into consideration for debt restructuring – otherwise there is no way of reducing the total public debt stock to the level that is required as per IMF conditions. This would create a serious issue for our ‘financial system stability’ and the deposit holders including pension funds are badly affected.
This cannot be allowed and therefore the government/MOF/CBSL/Lizards need to negotiate hard on this aspect. We need to convince through hard negotiations to try and get away without ‘haircuts for Treasury bills/bonds.
As far as Sri Lanka’s domestic debt is concerned, CBSL top officials view at that time was that they should be able to get away without ‘hair-cuts’. It could come in the form of re profiling debt, i.e., bundle up short term debt instruments to long term T Bonds and ask people to hold to Maturity-may be with a coupon payment; at least to be confined to CBSL debt, EPF plus ETF and Insurance holdings. They have to know fully resist touching banks’ domestic debt. Whether they can sell this to ISB and other debt holders is another matter.
‘Alternative economic approaches’ offered by eminent economists:
Having said all these negative narratives, my concern is whether we have any other viable and practical option as a solution except IMF supported programme? As stated in my article, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, has slammed the IMF for unleashing riots on nations the IMF is dealing with He has been a critique of IMF causing great damage to countries through the economic policies it has prescribed countries to follow, in order to qualify for IMF loans.
However, in my view, neither Stiglitz nor any other eminent economist has come out with a practical and alternative policy framework to overcome the most serious economic and financial crisis faced in the 75 years of Sri Lanka’s independence. Nevertheless, some contradictory views shared through ‘alternative economic approaches’ are that the only sustainable solution could have been based on domestic self- reliant effort supported by proper planning for accumulation, productivity growth and international competitiveness, supported where necessary by friendly nations. An eminent economist, having extensive knowledge on Federal Reserve banking/CB operations world over and development economics/finance has promptly responded to the writer that this question (alternative solution) should have been seriously considered before the decision to go for IMF assistance was taken and the pre-emptive declaration of the country’s debt default, but it is too late now. Social unrest is reaching the boiling point.
Conflict resolution might be way out!
By Dr Laksiri Fernando
Sri Lankan crisis cannot be separated from the international crisis both in economic and political terms. This is a warning for the political leaders to resolve their differences and conflicts in an amicable manner. Holding (or not holding) of Local Government elections and the newly-introduced Advance Personal Income Tax (APIT) regime are the main contentious issues between the main political parties and their trade unions at present.
While there are only nine recognised parliamentary political parties in the Australian federal system, sixty-two political parties are recognised in the Sri Lankan parliamentary system giving rise to both superficial and unwarranted conflicts and competitions between them. As a result, there is no stability in the political party system. Where are the UNP, the SLFP, the Federal Party or the Ceylon Workers Congress today? All these main parties from the early years of independence have suffered crippling splits.
Conflicts and Conflicts
Intense political rivalries at the political party level are undoubtedly a reflection of the psychological mood and orientation of the public and the people. These rivalries are not uncommon to many other political systems including the developed democratic countries. France at present is one example while many parts of America have been inundated in this situation for a long time.
However, to my experience and observation, extreme politicisation and rivalries are much higher in the case of Sri Lanka. There has been a tendency among the people (both young and old) to look almost everything from a prism of politics. Even at social events or even family parties, mainly men, get involved in political debates. The drinking of liquor (excessively) at these occasions might be a contributing factor.
The world undoubtedly is going through a civilisational crisis. The war in Ukraine has become a mess and human disaster. The invasion by Russia was unwarranted even in terms security or prestige of its country. However, instead of resolving the conflict through peace and negotiations, the NATO countries and America have intensified the war through supplying arms and ammunition to Ukraine to continue a fight. The major failure has been on the part of the UN which has become hopeless in terms of conflict resolution and peace. There is a possibility of the war becoming a nuclear disaster.
This is not an isolated case. Humanity, civilisation, the so-called developed nations, and the UN have continuously failed to prevent war between Israel and Palestinians and many other wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. These conflicts have given bad examples to many other developing countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, etc. Similar conflicts have continued in the Latin American nations. This is the civilisational crisis today. Although humans have developed in terms of science and technology, they have terribly failed in terms of human relations, justice, peace, and conflict resolution. This is also one reason for the natural disasters and environmental problems.
Facets of Economic Crisis
Sri Lanka should not be callous in addressing the present economic problems. The IMF does not have a magic wand while those who oppose the IMF are misled by old leftist arguments. Sri Lanka has been a member of the IMF since 1950. If there are disagreeable conditions from the IMF, those should be discussed and negotiated. I was surprised to observe that many international media reported that the last general strike in Sri Lanka was held in opposition to the IMF! While the trade unions undoubtedly have many grievances, they should sober their positions and slogans to suit an amicable resolution to the present crisis.
The emerging international signals are continuously worrisome. Two major banks in America, Silicon Valley Bank, and the Signature Bank, have completely melted down. The signal clearly is for a world recession sooner than later. The repercussions are now shaking the Credit Suisse bank (the second largest) in Switzerland. If the government leaders in the country are trying to give a rosy picture after obtaining a small amount of IMF loan, and restructuring the debt repayments, it is a complete distortion of the situation.
The loan taking during the last ten fifteen years have been completely irresponsible. There was no transparency. There were no discussions to reveal the plans and objectives and to take inputs from independent specialists and/or the people. The political leaders and the top bureaucrats were not even keeping the accounts or information properly. When it became revealed that Sri Lanka is not able to fulfill the debt obligations, it was a shock to everyone. That was the result of the irresponsibility of the political leaders.
Still they move in the same direction of duplicity. The so-called debt restructuring is often pictured as debt cancellation. These restructured debts must be paid later while the government is still taking loans from countries and multilateral institutions. Apart from debt restructuring, the country needs to restructure the economy. Although some measures have been taken, no clear plan or programme is put forward before the people. The people’s support is imperative for any economic recovery. This is where the conflict resolution is necessary.
Relevance of Conflict Resolution
The last year 2022 was a mess both in political and economic sense. According to reliable figures the economy had contracted by 8 percent. This will not significantly change this year. A global recession will adversely affect the Sri Lankan efforts to resuscitate the economy and develop the country. These are the matters on which the political parties, trade unions and civil society organisations should come to a common understanding. That is one aspect of conflict resolution. However, there are so many other aspects.
Although the open war is over, the Sinhala-Tamil conflict is still a major obstacle for the country’s development and peace. The failure to understand each other, and respect other people’s values and culture is common even among religious, language, cast, gender, professional, regional (up-country vs. low country) and other groups. Under such a situation, peace and conflict resolution should be taught to children from the beginning of school years. There can be a mass movement and a massive effort to fulfill this task transcending political parties, divisions, and groups.
Let us take few examples. On the advice of the IMF, the present administration has declared that over 40 loss-making state institutions would be closed. To my view, this is a necessary measure to manage the economy better, and the support of all groups should be sought. Although not overtly expressed, there can be conflict of views on this and other matters. What are these institutions? What kind of an economic position that they are engaged in? These facts and information should be revealed to the public to open a healthy conflict resolution discussion.
This does not mean that the situation in the country is completely hopeless. The younger generations are quite skillful with modern ideas and views as revealed through social media and new social engagements. Although they are highly frustrated about the present situation, they could be mobilised and motivated for new ventures and paths. It is unfortunate that the present university students are disoriented and discouraged. While curricula should be changed to modern directions, the medium of instruction should be English for future prospects. Sri Lanka should be a modern country and old views, values and practices should be discarded.
During the last two decades, the development trajectory had taken a distorted form. While large infrastructure (ports, airports, major roadways) is a must to the country, they should have been the second priority, giving much prominence to industrial, entrepreneurial, and export-oriented enterprises. What are the main pillars of the economy? Traditional exports (tea, rubber, coconut) have not improved enough with value additions. New exports (textile, garments, gems, and labour) are also a fragile pillar without long term agreements or understandings with importing countries.
Of course, tourism is a promising area although affected by the Covid and political instability in the country. Unless the two major current issues of local government elections and APIT tax are remedied amicably through conflict resolution, the tourism sector also would be badly affected.
On the question of elections, the government is now playing with the idea of a presidential election at the end of this year. Although a presidential election could resolve the de-legitimacy of the present President, the logical step is to have the local government elections first to safeguard and preserve democracy. There can be negotiations, but soon. Even in resolving the tax issue, there should be negotiations and the government can easily reduce some percentage of the tax while trying to resurrect the abandoned files of the people who were excluded from the tax net under the last government.
It is not good for the country to have continuous strikes, protests, and demonstrations that could lead to violence and destroy not only the reputation but also the economic recovery of the country. It is my wish particularly for the universities to commence their sessions/teaching soon and for the students to study well and contribute innovatively to the economy, country, society, and democracy. There should be amicable conflict resolution in this sphere.
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