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The President’s problems

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By Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha

The newspapers have been full recently of arguments regarding Provincial Councils. Unfortunately, most writers seem to approach the problem from their own long entrenched perspectives, both those in favour of Councils who have been plugging their necessity for ages, and those against them who have long argued for their being got rid of. Neither side in this debate seems to be concerned with practical realities.

Those against Councils cannot ignore the fact that India feels the system is their baby, and might be upset if they were just got rid of. Of course we should not follow something which is injurious to the country just to keep India happy, but if we believe – as I now do, being one of the few who has changed his mind about this – that Provincial Councils have served little purpose, then we should make this case to the Indians and also make it clear what we propose as an alternative.

Conversely those in favour of Councils cannot ignore the fact that their most concerned proponents have provided clear evidence that they themselves did not think Provincial Councils were a necessity. Not only did they support the former government to smuggle in an amendment that led to elections being delayed, they also treated with contumely the report of the Delimitation Commission which should have been the catalyst for the postponed elections to go ahead. So, we have not had a Provincial Council in the North for over two years. And there is no evidence at all that anyone has missed them.

Unfortunately, I see no evidence that anyone is thinking of a system that will satisfy what might be termed basic requirements as well as the principal players. By requirement I refer to the needs of people not politicians, and in this context there is little doubt that a unit with close cognizance of what people need can better work to supply such needs than a faraway centre of power, whether Colombo or Jaffna.

That is why indeed I had long argued, in terms of the principles on which I supported Devolution, that District Councils were a more suitable unit. But when the Indo-Lankan Accord was signed, and Provincial Councils were agreed on, I felt it would be impossible to turn back the clock and permitted the Liberal Party – which had not committed itself previously to the unit – to accept Provincial Councils. But I should add to this that we were totally against the proposed merger of North and East, which we felt took away from the basic purpose, which was close attention to the needs of the people.

In recent times, after much work with Divisional Secretariats, I now feel that even the District is too large a Unit, and for proper attention to the people the centre for service should be the Division. In fact, way back in 2011, when I was on the team to negotiate with the TNA, I proposed more power to these and they did not reject this though their most extreme representative said that should not take away from the power of Provincial Councils. However, between G L Peiris and Sajin Vas Gunawardena that initiative was scuttled. And since then, as the current debate shows, no one is looking at such alternatives. So, what would I think be a simple solution to the problem is not even thought of by the President.

That is par for the course for, with regard to devolution as also much else, there is no sense of priorities. And this is combined with a desire, which has become endemic in political activity over the last four and more decades, to score small advantages while losing sight of the bigger picture.

That is why the President, instead of moving swiftly on reforms, waited to get a two-thirds majority. Of course, he could not have predicted Covid, but the failure to act even after the general election suggests that he saw that majority as an end in itself. So, instead of concentrating on essentials, such as removing the anomalies of the 19th Amendment, he also tried to increase the role of the executive with stupid initiatives such as limiting the scope of auditing, which brought him and the 20th Amendment a bad name.

Fortunately, those absurdities were abandoned, and the Supreme Court also played its part in limiting excesses. But it is a pity that Gota has not understood the lesson of the 2015 debacle, that goodwill lasts only so long and it must not be squandered on absurdities.

With regard to Provincial Councils, surely, he must see, if only from the polite but very definite intervention of the Indian Foreign Minister, that he should move soon. To do this he ought, working with some sensible advisers if he has any, to set down in point form what is wrong with them. Off the top of my head I can suggest

a)

They cost a lot of money

b)

They develop yet another set of politicians who spend lots of money to get elected and then get it back by various damaging activities

c)

They are as distant from the regions in need of greatest attention as the central government is

d)

They have led to different sets of bureaucrats with overlapping functions

e)

They have no mechanisms to liaise with decision making bodies that provide services to the people

All these issues can be addressed in one fell swoop if we stopped elections to Provincial Councils as they are conducted now. Given their symbolic importance they should not be got rid of, but much waste as well as conflict could be eliminated if they were elected indirectly, through an electoral college consisting of all members of local authorities in the Province.

Going hand in hand with that should be a clear demarcation of responsibilities. As it stands the Local Government Act is archaic and observed more often than not in the breach. The seven areas of responsibility allocated to local bodies are no longer all of them relevant, with utilities for instance being largely now the responsibility of central government.

The President and his troops should begin by laying down what can and should be done best by small units, with intimate knowledge of local problems. Their work should be functional, and go hand in hand with the Divisional Secretariats.

And once that is decided, the Provincial Council should be equipped with facilitatory powers to promote productive activity, while bearing in mind that policy on all matters belongs to the central government. That is the present situation, but given that we have not done enough to formulate national policy clearly, and have no mechanisms to monitor it, that crucial element in the 13th Amendment has not had the impact it should have. That statement in the 13th amendment makes it clear that this is one country and must work to common goals, in harmony, not with the oppositioning of other elements in the country that politicians on all sides practice. 

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Features

SLAF on hazardous wall, Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement……

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Sri Lanka Air Force has sent us the following statement in response to an article (That hazardous Ratmalana Wall) published on 21 Jan.

It is with regret that I would like to inform you that the newspaper article titled “That Hazardous Ratmalana Wall” published in The “Island” newspaper of 21 January 2021 contains false information which has not been clarified from the Air Force Director Media nor any other official channel of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).

It should also be highlighted that the Sri Lanka Air Force does not wish to challenge the freedom of reporting information by journalists. However, news articles of this nature published with the use of unsubstantiated information tarnishes the image of Sri Lanka Air Force.

The newspaper article in concern has caught the attention of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force. As alleged in the article, the Commander has not declared on behalf of the SLAF that there is no objection for the removal of the wall and replacing it with a fence. On the contrary he had in fact stated that a collapsible wall could be put in place of the permanent wall which should have a solid finish obstructing the view from outside due to security reasons.

In addition, to date there has been no incident/accident reported at the Ratmalana Airfield related to the wall along the Galle Road. Further, vehicles such as passenger coach/container etc; travelling on the main road would be taller than the wall in concern and according to the article, the main road would also have to be closed each and every time when an aircraft approaching of taking off from that end of the runway. International runway due to limitations which is also can be considered as hazardous to flight safety, SLAF consider Flight Safety is a paramount important factor as an organization which operates different types of aircraft over the years from this airfield.

It is pertinent to mention the wall in concern was erected by the SLAF before year 2009 with the consent of the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) to address the security concerns at that time and maintained to date. The outer perimeter security of the Colombo International Airport at Ratmalana is being provided by the SLAF free of charge over years. As a measure of gratitude, with the consent of AASL and the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD), SLAF authorized to erect hoardings along this wall and to utilize the funds generated for welfare measures of airmen.

Further, publishing of an article which has an author with a fictional name will have serious and adverse effects on the newspaper as well as the goodwill which prevails between SLAF and AASL. The goodwill which prevails between the SLAF and your esteemed Organization will also be adversely effected by articles of this nature. SLAF Directorate of Media always provide accurate and precise information to media institutions which has an impact on general public as well as to other organizations. Undersigned is contactable any time of the day through mobile (0772229270) to clarify ambiguities of SLAF related information.

In conclusion, I would like to express our displeasure regarding the newspaper article in concern and the damage which has been done to the good name of the Sri Lanka Air Force and in particular to the Commander of Air Force.

 

WADC WIJESINGHE

Group Captain

DIRECTOR MEDIA

for COMMANDER OF THE AIR FORCEs

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Features

Dog-eat-dog culture

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By Rajitha Ratwatte

There is an old joke that goes around regularly about Sri Lankans’ in hell. How absolutely no guards are needed to keep Lankans in hell because they do a very good job of pulling each other down into hell when anyone even looks like they will escape. When you extrapolate that into real life in the Pearl, the examples are plenty. All of us have personal experiences of neighbours, peers, relations and even our bosses “cutting us” as the popular phrase goes. It is mostly those who either realise and watch out for these pitfalls or those who clearly identify a powerful figure to “bum suck” for want of a better word that display pure unadulterated sycophancy to, that “progress” to propagate these trends in the future. This I believe is something that is triggered by the basest of all human emotions, jealousy, and probably egged on by a sense of insecurity as well.

One would expect that in a nation of devout Buddhists such reprehensible behaviour would be addressed and controlled. Alas it is not to be and looks like it never will be.

It is rather disconcerting to observe that this behaviour is ‘going strong’ among the Lankan community in this the land of the “long White Cloud” as well. The more I live here and mix with the community, the more I hear about people who try to start new projects or give fruition to new and possibly brilliant schemes who have been stymied by fellow citizens born in the Pearl. They indulge in the anonymous letter method (that dates back from time immemorial) made even easier by using false identities, and “one-off” e mail addresses on the web. They inform all government authorities of what they believe are attempts to break the law of their adopted country. If there are bilateral trade agreements, they diligently contact the other parties and try to cast aspersions on the people concerned. They even inform the management of any company that these people with the new ideas may be working at, that their employee may be breaking a sub clause in his contract and thinking of doing some other business while working for them. All triggered by a wonderful sense of self-righteousness from people who don’t think twice about breaking the law when it concerns their own affairs!

As a result, those who have had a measure of success, guard their positions very carefully and a few who have tried to include other Lankans in their operations have learned hard lessons from those who stole their trade secrets and started rival businesses on their own. I daresay this happens in other communities too, but among the Chinese and Indian communities that form similar minorities in Aotearoa, there are official networks formed to help new immigrants. There are schemes and methods in place to help their people do business, especially in the field of imports, to try and reach some sort of equilibrium with regard to the balance of trade between Aotearoa and their home countries. Sri Lanka imports so much milk from New Zealand but almost nothing of our spices, gems and jewellery, tourism products or even our tea that used to have a much larger share of the market, are imported.

In these desperate economic times, shouldn’t the government be looking at ways to improve our export trade? There are so many pockets and communities of Lankans in so many different countries who are doing well enough to be able to afford some luxuries from their home countries but have to pay exorbitant prices or do without. A recent import of ‘sweet meats’ for Sinhala New Year saw such a massive offtake that great plans for expansion were disrupted by Covid-19, before the Lankan rivals could put paid to it. Although such plans were in place!

Something that is rather obvious to those observing the antics in the Pearl from outside is that there seems to be no plan. Innovative thinking, especially in the field of ‘non-traditional’ exports does not exist. We have all seen how fickle tourism is. Using our fertile soil and the artistic skills of our people to build a reputation for quality exports has been totally neglected in recent times. I daresay the relevant ministries and export bodies exist, but it is a well-known fact that they simply serve as JOBS for political catchers, who do nothing except enjoy a foreign junket or two every year on account of the taxpayer.

That brilliant marketing idea of the Ceylon Tea Centers was so far ahead of its time that no one really understood it. We had the best retail locations in some of the greatest cities in Europe and the UK and were building up a great reputation for serving quality tea and promoting our cuisine. It should have been expanded to handle handicraft products on the lines of Laksala and even spices. Of course, promoting our culture, hospitality and tourism would have followed. There are two ways to handle a crisis. We can either put up our shutters and slide deeper and deeper into the mire of debt and economic ruin, or take some bold steps, make innovative investments and take a gamble on products and ideas that are endemic to our country.

 

Even if the latter method fails the end result couldn’t be much worse! Go down fighting I say! Rather than ask expatriates to come back and try to work in a totally corrupt and politician dominated society, approach expatriates with ideas in other countries and back them to promote those ideas if they show real economic benefits to our land. Not everything will work but even a 5% success rate is better than nothing at all.

It is also acknowledged that RANIL has been reappointed as leader of the UNP. Now then, what does this mean? Is it that the Uncle-Nephew party has stuck to tradition or does it mean that at least some people have realized that an experienced politician with world recognition and a certain amount of credibility in the first world, is useful to have around? Search your minds all you critics who blamed absolutely everything on Ranil. Have a dispassionate look at the Muppets in parliament and think for yourself what sort of account they would give of themselves on the world stage. After you do this, place Ranil on the world stage next to those morons and realize for yourself the DIFFERENCE!

 

fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

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Features

Lenin comes to town (again)

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By Gwynne Dyer

When Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned to Moscow on Sunday after convalescing in Germany from an attempted poisoning by the FSB domestic spy agency, the regime-friendly media loyally failed to mention his arrival. With one striking exception: Vremya, the flagship news show of Russian state television.

Presumably, somebody there was hoping to win favour with the Kremlin, because they briefly mentioned Navalny three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s two-hour programme. In fact, they compared Navalny’s trip home to Vladimir Lenin’s famous return to Russia in 1917, and suggested that he was as great a danger to Russia as Lenin had been.

As every Russian knows, the Germans plucked Lenin from exile in Switzerland in the middle of the First World War. He was sent across Germany in a ‘sealed train’ (so he wouldn’t spread the infection of Communism there) to St. Petersburg, then in the throes of Russia’s first democratic revolution – and he did just what the Germans had hoped he would.

Lenin overthrew the fumbling democratic ‘Provisional Government’ in a military coup, took Russia out of the First World War – and launched a 73-year totalitarian Communist regime that cost at least 20 million Russian lives in purges, famines and lesser acts of repression. Is Navalny really that great a danger?

The ambitious presenter at Vremya probably won’t get the job he wanted, because President Vladimir Putin really won’t have liked seeing his noisiest critic compared in stature to Lenin, a genuine world-historical figure. Putin himself never mentions Navalny’s name at all.

Russians cannot even put a name to the system they live under, as the poor Vremya presenter’s confusion illustrates. It’s certainly not a democracy, although there are regular elections. It’s definitely not Communist, although most of the regime’s senior figures were Communists before they discovered a better route to power and wealth.

It’s not a monarchy, although Putin has been in power for twenty years and is surrounded by a court of extremely rich allies and cronies. And ‘kleptocracy’ is just a pejorative term used mostly by foreigners, although Navalny does habitually refer to Putin and his cronies as “crooks and thieves”.

In fact, Putin’s regime is not a system at all. Its only ideology is a traditional Russian nationalism that is lightweight compared to blood-and-soil religious and racist movements like Trump’s in the United States and Modi’s in India. It’s a purely personal regime, and it is very unlikely to survive his dethronement or demise.

Putin has been in power for twenty years, and he has just changed the constitution with a referendum that lets him stay in power until 2036. But that seems unlikely, partly because he is already 68 and partly because the younger generation of Russians is getting restless and bored.

Navalny is a brave man who has gone home voluntarily to face a spell in Putin’s jails. (He missed two parole appointments for a suspended sentence on trumped-up embezzlement charges because he was in Germany recovering from the FSB assassination attempt.) But his role in Russian politics so far had been more gadfly than revolutionary.

His supporters do their homework and make clever, witty videos detailing the scandalous financial abuses of the regime (the latest is a virtual tour of Putin’s new $1 billion seaside palace on the Black Sea near Novorossiysk), but he is probably not the man who will finally take Putin down. What he is doing to great effect is mobilising the tech-savvy young.

Since 2018 the average age of protesters at anti-Putin demos, mostly linked to Navalny one way or another, has dropped by a decade, and their boldness has risen in proportion. Moreover, their attitude to the regime now verges on contempt. Rightly so: consider, for example, the last two assassination attempts by regime operatives.

In 2018, the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, sent two agents to England to kill defector Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia. The agents made two trips to Salisbury because they couldn’t find the right house, they were tracked by CCTV every step of the way, and in the end, they left too little novichok (nerve poison) on the doorknob to kill the targets.

Equally crude and bumbling was the FSB’s attack on Navalny in Tomsk, where the novichok was put on his underpants. Once again, the target survived, and afterwards the investigative site Bellingcat was able to trace FSB agents tracking Navalny on forty flights over several years before the murder was attempted.

Neither agency is fit for 21st-century service, nor is the regime they both serve. Russians have put up with it for a long time because they were exhausted and shamed by the wild political banditry of the 1990s, but Putin’s credit for having put an end to that has been exhausted. He may still be in power for years, but this is a regime on the skids.

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