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Midweek Review

The rise of the Bonapartists:

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A political history of post-1977 Sri Lanka (Part I)

By Uditha Devapriya

Viewed in retrospect, the yahapalanaya regime seems almost a bad memory now, best forgotten. This is not to underrate its achievements, for the UNP-SLFP Unity Government did achieve certain things, like the Right to Information Act. It soon found out, however, that it couldn’t shield itself from its own reforms; that’s how 2015 led to 2019. Despite its laudable commitment to democratic rule, the yahapalanists reckoned without the popularity of the man they ousted at the ballot box. November 2019, in that sense, was a classic example of a populist resurrection, unparalleled in South Asia, though not in Asia: a government touting a neoliberal line giving way to a centre-right populist-personalist.

What went wrong with the yahapalanist experiment? Its fundamental error was its inability to think straight: the moment Maithripala Sirisena reinforced his power by wresting control of the SLFP from Mahinda Rajapaksa, he ceded space to the Joint Opposition.

Roughly, the same thing happened to the C. P. de Silva faction in 1970: after five years in power, it yielded to the same forces it had overthrown from its own party. The lesson de Silva learnt and the yahapalanists so far haven’t was that no progressive centre-left party can jettison its leftist faction while getting into a coalition with a rightwing monolith without having its credentials questioned at the ballot box. When voters responded by electing the leftist faction in 1970, the leader of the rightwing coalition, the UNP, faced electoral defeat. Dudley Senanayake had to step down, just as Ranil Wickremesinghe had to.

Deceptively conclusive as comparisons between 1970 and 2020 may be, however, there is an important distinction to make. The rightwing ideology the UNP under Dudley Senanayake, adhered to was qualitatively different to the rightwing ideology Senanayake’s successor J. R. Jayewardene embraced. The two Senanayakes, Jayewardene, and John Kotelawala lived and had been brought up in the shadow of the British Empire. Upon coming to power they oversaw a shift in their party ideology from Whitehall to Washington; this process reached its climax in the McCarthyist Kotelawala administration.

Jayewardene was the last of the Old Right leaders whose fortunes were tied directly to the plantation economy and whose ideology cohered with the Bretton Woods Keynesian Right of Richard Nixon and Ted Heath. The paradox at the heart of his presidency, and the shift to populism at the hands of his successors, has much to do with the transition from this Old Right to a New Right. I begin my two-part essay with that transition.

The New Right, or the neoliberal Right, came into prominence via the election of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher on either side of the Atlantic. These two figures eschewed not only the leftist opposition, but also predecessors from their own parties; Ted Heath remained to the Left of Thatcher, for instance, while Gerald Ford criticised certain parts of Reagan’s reform programme (though eventually he extended his support).

In the industrialised economies of the West, to put it succinctly, the Old Right adhered as much to price controls, quantitative easing, and economic stimulus as did their rivals on the Left. By contrast, the New Right preferred low inflation even at the cost of full employment, the elimination of subsidies, and privatisation. Readers’ Digest called David Stockman “David the Budget Killer.” The epithet was not unjustified: at the Office of Management and Budget where he served as President during the first Reagan administration, Stockman oversaw the biggest rollback of the US state since the New Deal. Nixon famously claimed that we were all Keynesians, but Reagan enthroned monetarism. So did Thatcher.

How did that spill over to underdeveloped economies, particularly non-industrialised ones such as Sri Lanka’s? In the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, much of the Non-Aligned non-West suffered a full decade of unprecedented calamity in the form of famines, shortages, and inefficient, unresponsive bureaucracies. The governments of many of these countries opted for state-led industrialisation, which coupled with stagflation and incomplete land reforms at home failed to deliver on what it pledged and promised.

Indeed, laudable as Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s reforms were, they became mired in their own contradictions: as S. B. D. de Silva observed, they entrenched a class of intermediaries who benefited from the regime’s economic programme. “Nothing came out of [its] attempt to industrialise,” he recounted in his last interview in 2017, “because the industrialisation was really foreign exchange driven.” In other words, embedded in it were the seeds of its own electoral destruction, a fate accelerated by the jettisoning of the Left in 1975.

The transition from the Old to the New Right in the West led to the growth of finance capital, the deindustrialisation of Western economies and the shift to Free Trade Zones in the global periphery, and the enforcement of structural adjustment vis-à-vis the IMF, the latter revolving around four principles: economic stabilisation, liberalisation, deregulation, and privatisation (Thomson, Kentikelenis, and Stubbs 2017).

Between 1970 and 1980, debt levels in Latin America alone rose by over a thousand percent. Structural adjustment, at the time lacking the kind of critique evolved by the likes of Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty later, promised a way out of indebtedness which would lead to growth, development, low inflation, and free trade. The flip-side to these benefits, which its champions left out of the discussion, was widespread poverty, a widening income gap, high unemployment, and trade practices slanted and tilted heavily to the West.

Not unlike the World Bank prescription that preceded it, structural adjustment favoured the dismantling of local industry. But where the World Bank had prescribed the establishment of small cottage industries and continued emphasis on agriculture, the IMF recommended the privatisation of local industry AND agriculture to multinational corporations. This was in keeping with the new monetarist philosophy: reduce the money supply, lower marginal tax rates, maintain a minimal social safety net, and welcome the robber barons.

The East Asian economies grew against a different backdrop. Multinational companies until then were largely, if at all, limited to Central and Latin America: the United Fruit economies. In essence, the IMF and World Bank repackaged the United Fruit model and introduced it to countries newly embracing neoliberalism. Among these was Sri Lanka.

In a critique of Mangala Samaraweera’s maiden Budget Speech in 2017, Dayan Jayatilleka pointed out that inasmuch as the J. R. Jayewardene administration enacted open economic reforms, it did so within the framework of a centralised state. Therein lies a paradox I earlier alluded to of the Jayewardene presidency and, to an extent, of the Premadasa presidency: the dismantling of the economy did not follow from a dismantling of the state.

Yet this differed very little from what was happening in other countries enacting structural adjustment packages: economic liberalisation took place under the watch of a centralised, authoritarian state. Much of the reason for this has to do with the contradiction at the heart of structural adjustment itself: while it freed the economy, it shackled the majority, and to keep them from rising up in protest, it had to shackle dissent too.

It’s no cause for wonder, then, that many of the leaders of countries who would oversee the transition from state-led industrialisation to “export-oriented” MNC driven growth hailed from the Old Right. Jayewardene was no exception: an eloquent, shrewd populist, he made overtures to a virtuous society while entrenching a merchant class of robber barons.

Meanwhile, the rise of a civil society posing as an alternative to the private and the public sectors, but in reality aligned with the private sector, made it no longer possible for radical scholars, educated in the West, to get involved in policy implementation with the state. As Vinod Moonesinghe has noted in a paper on relations between civil society and government (“Civil society – government relations in Sri Lanka”), after 1983 there came about a steep rise in NGO numbers. Susantha Goonetilake (Recolonisation) has argued that the structures and relationships of power within and the activities of these enclaves came to reflect those of a private organisation more than of an institution affiliated to civil society.

In stark contrast to its earlier position of engagement with the public sector, civil society stood apart and aloof from the latter, inadvertently breaking away from its historical task of getting involved at the grassroots level in policy formulation and implementation. Ironically this served to speed up the government’s delinking from civil society: enmeshed in the private sector, NGOs ended up spouting postmodernist and post-Marxist rhetoric, offering no viable alternative to the UNP’s development paradigm.

Even more ironically, what that led to was a situation where, at the height of the second JVP insurrection, their most ubiquitous representatives took the side of the government over the rebels while taking the side of Tamil separatists over the government: a paradox, given that both groups were fighting the state over class as much as over ethnicity. The NGOs’ selective treatment of the JVP and the LTTE justifies the view that in the 1980s, ethnicity replaced class as the dominant topic of discussion by social scientists.

All this undoubtedly contributed to the separation of the state from the public sphere: a prerequisite of structural adjustment and economic liberalisation. Yet paradoxically, while that process of separation went ahead, it required as a lever an autocrat who could, and would, crack down on trade unions, appease a growing petty bourgeoisie and middle class, and in contradiction to the principles of nonalignment, ally with the West. This meant couching everything domestic in Cold War terms and slanting it to an anti-Marxist position: not for no reason, after all, did Jayewardene refer to the LTTE as a group of rebels fighting to establish a Marxist state in a BBC interview. Appeasing the middle-class with these methods was easy because the middle-class faced a dilemma: while it bemoaned the government’s authoritarianism, it was in no mood to revert to the autarkyism of the Bandaranaike era. It wanted more representation, while keeping the economy open.

At the heart of middle-class support for the Jayewardene presidencies, however, lay a fatal time bomb: its Buddhist constituency. When Jayewardene, in 1982, authorised the writing of a continuation of the Mahavamsa, he reaffirmed his regime’s commitment to a Buddhist polity. In an essay on the Jathika Chintanaya, Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri argued that while in one way 1977 appeared to be “a symbolic marker of a new epoch”, in another it betrayed “a loss of something that is Sinhala Buddhist.” Supplementing this was the rift at the heart of J. R.’s reforms: political authoritarianism versus economic liberalisation. Both were viewed as betrayals of Buddhism, quoting Stanley Tambiah’s book; dharmista samajayak, after all, was as much the winning promise of Jayewardene’s campaign as it was the title of Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s critique of his regime’s breach of that promise.

The suburban Sinhala middle bourgeoisie of artists, artisans, and professionals responded lukewarmly to Jayewardene. The results of the 1989 election confirmed the scepticism with which they viewed the achievements and failures of his administration: more than 46% of the UNP’s votes came from a third of the country’s electorate, none of which comprised Colombo’s suburbs (except for the city and the Catholic belt to the north of Colombo), while 38% of the SLFP’s votes came from, inter alia, those suburbs. The new UNP candidate they viewed cynically; “they were not convinced that Premadasa represented adequate change” (Samarasinghe 1989). The SLFP’s popularity among state employees, in particular, showed when it won 49.5% of the postal vote. A crucial litmus test for Premadasa would therefore be how his presidency would be viewed by the Sinhala Buddhist middle-class.

To be continued next week…

 

(The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com)

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Midweek Review

Is Obama a humanist?

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By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

Several reviews of President Barack Obama’ book, A Promised Land have recently appeared, and in one of them Obama is called a humanist. Is this true? A humanist, by definition, is a person having a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values, and dignity. If one considers his deeds and words during his tenure as the US President, to what extent does he fit into this definition?

True, at the beginning of his tenure as the US President, he spoke about his Muslim ancestry in Kenya and about his wishes to live in peace with everyone, particularly with Muslims. In June 2009, President Obama told a gathering at the University of Cairo, “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings”.

People had great expectation that Obama would steer the US along a new path leading towards peace, particularly diffusing the tension between America and the Muslim world. The expectations were so great that within 10 months of Obama swearing in as President, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to him “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. It was obvious that the award was made not on any of his achievements like in the case of all other Nobel Prize winners, but solely on his rhetoric. It was a case of granting an award in anticipation because the Nobel Committee mistakenly thought Obama would deliver all what he promised during and after his election campaign.

The attack on US military headquarters, the Pentagon, on September 11, 2001, damaged the pride of America. It showed the world that the terrorists were indeed smarter than all the security advisors and the intelligence think tanks in the US. Not one of them had imagined that a civilian aircraft could be used as a weapon deadlier than an intercontinental ballistic missile loaded with nuclear warheads. The impact of the Pentagon attack was worse than the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre where thousands of office workers and several rescue workers died.

In his address to Congressmen, Senators, Cabinet members and key security advisors made in May 2009, President Obama said, “My single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe.” So, President Obama declared that he was going to attack any country, be it Pakistan, or East Africa and Southeast Asia or even Europe and the Gulf, suspected of providing refuge to terrorists. Now, who has given the authority for the US to attack any country from Europe to East Asia merely on suspicion of harbouring and training terrorists killing civilians in the process? Don’t human rights apply in such instances? Doesn’t this violate the ideals of the Nobel Committee, which has hitherto only recognized individuals or institutions that actually promoted peace on Earth?

President Obama started attacking Libya with no reason at all. President Muammar Gaddafi was not a threat to America by word or deed. So, why was he attacked? It is obvious that America had a hidden agenda. Certainly, such deeds cannot be expected of civilized countries practising religious faiths, let alone from Nobel Peace Laureates. Is Libya a better country now than what it was before Gaddafi was killed? The US military forces under the direction of President Obama during eight years of his tenure, launched air strikes or military raids in many countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, killing hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians including women and children on the pretext of attacking terrorist hideouts. He also funded rebels in Iran and imposed trade sanctions which even affected Sri Lanka not being able to import crude oil from Iran. Could such a person be described as a humanist?

The US has spent over USD 6.4 trillion on post-9/11 wars and military action in the Middle East and Asia, according to a report from the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, released in November 2019. The report also finds that more than 801,000 people have died as a direct result of fighting. Of those, more than 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to violence. Who is responsible for all these casualties? Can the US President be called a humanist?

While President Obama’s arrogance in military activities is well known; it was displayed by him in getting the entire world to change its plans for meeting the challenge of climate change to his liking merely to satisfy his ego, is little known. The Kyoto Protocol under Climate Change Convention imposed mandatory Greenhouse Gas emission reduction commitments amounting to an average of 5%, on developed countries beginning 2008 and ending in 2012. Various parties had submitted different proposals to enhance commitments on developed countries beyond 2012.

The Conference of Parties (COP) to the Climate Change Convention held in 2009 in Copenhagen, having considered these proposals, appointed a committee of five countries, Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and China (BRISC) to recommend additional mandatory commitments both in terms of amounts and time frame the developed countries should be called upon to make beyond 2012. The developing countries on the other hand were not subject to any such mandatory commitments though they are also required to initiate action to reduce emissions to the extent feasible.

The BRICS Committee was having discussions behind closed doors up to the night of the last day of the conference. When the meeting was about to close, President Obama barged into the committee room and made an intervention. This was an unprecedented act and only President Obama could do, and there was no one in the room with the courage to show him the door. Instead, they accommodated him. Hitherto, countries like China and India protested vehemently while the US was trying to impose any emission restrictions on them. President Obama told the BRICS members that the US would mobilize USD 100 billion annually to help developing countries to undertake emission reduction projects if they undertook them voluntarily.

The Committee apparently gave in when they saw this ‘carrot’dangling before them. President Obama also told the Committee that developed countries should be asked to shift from mandatory targets themselves to voluntary targets to reduce emissions, a deviation from the Kyoto Protocol. Though this recommendation was tabled at the Plenary, it was not discussed as it was past mid-night of the last day of the meeting. The Conference report recorded that the COP only made note of this recommendation. However, the matter was in the agenda of subsequent COP meetings where its modality of implementation was discussed.

The COP took six years to finalise an agreement acceptable to all Parties on how to implement President Obama’s proposal. The Paris Agreement (PA) was the outcome of these negotiations and it was adopted at the COP meeting held in Paris in 2015. The main objective of PA is to reduce emissions enabling the global surface temperature to remain within two degree C beyond what it was at the turn of the last century. In keeping with President Obama’s pledge, many heads of states made undertakings at this meeting for providing finances during 2016-2020, totaling USD 48 billion. Among the key contributors are Japan (USD 10B), EU (USD 11B), UK (USD 8.7B), France (USD 6.6B), Italy (USD 4 B) and USA (USD 4B) (UNFCCC website).

In his address to the Plenary, President Obama came out with the motive for his proposal. He said that while the US would initiate actions to reduce emissions the way they want but without being told by others how to do it. So, the entire developing countries are now called upon to undertake emission reductions voluntarily while releasing developed countries from their mandatory reduction targets. Even the least developing countries with hardly any emissions are now called upon to submit reports to the Climate Change Secretariat describing their activities undertaken to reduce emissions. Even the funding is not given on a platter, but will have to be requested by submitting detailed project proposals. Sri Lanka is still struggling to prepare these proposals.

It is noteworthy that the US, which spearheaded the abolition of mandatory emission reductions by developed countries and getting developing countries on board with them on the promise of mobilizing USD 100 billion annually by 2020, pledged only a paltry USD 4 billion as contributions up to 2020. During President Donald Trump’s tenure, the US withdrew from the Paris Agreement leaving the developing countries high and dry, with no money forthcoming as pledged by president Obama. Now, under President Joe Biden, the US may re-enter Paris Agreement and make firm commitments towards emission reductions and also towards the Climate Fund.

Up to end of 2020, the Climate Fund had collected only USD 22 Billion; another USD 58 Billion had been mobilised through other sources making available USD 80 Billion for disbursement among developing countries, which is nowhere close to USD 500 Billion promised by President Obama up to 2020. He could have stopped at offering increased funding to developing countries to get them to agree on voluntary commitments, without removing the mandatory emission reduction commitments on developed countries already in force. This, he did merely to satisfy his ego as admitted by him. Can such a person be called a humanist?

According to a report issued by the National Geographic Society in November 2019, the majority of the carbon emission reduction pledges for 2030 that 184 countries made voluntarily under the Paris Agreement aren’t nearly enough to keep global warming well below the two-degrees-Celsius target, and it is likely that the world is on a pathway to between 3 and 4 degrees C by the end of this century. That pathway risks triggering natural feedbacks such as massive thawing of permafrost or widespread forest die-offs, which could lead to additional uncontrollable warming. Scientists have called this the Hothouse Earth scenario, where sea levels could rise 10 to 60 meters and large parts of the planet become uninhabitable. The day this happens, people will curse President Obama.

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Midweek Review

Recordings of the island’s history as seen by the compilers of the Mahavamsa

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‘A man loses contact with reality if he is not surrounded by his books’ – Francois Mitterand

 

By Usvatte-aratchi

I was delighted to read Haris’ (GPSH de Silva) new book ‘Sri Lanka, a brief history based on the Mahavamsa and …of the British Governors’. Living as we do, embalmed in fake news and entombed by the SARS-CoV-2, it is a relief to read anything so fresh. It brings one into contact with reality. The pleasure was compounded because Haris, with another, is the oldest friend I have. I cherish the first meeting with Haris on the corridor of Ramanathan Hall overlooking the river. I was walking to my room, lonely and forlorn, when a fellow freshman accosted me, ‘I am Haris. Who are you?’ (Well, I am not a historian but a plain Jane economist, no not even an economic historian!) I was the first entrant from my school to the university and here was a stranger, friendly. I was full of remorse when I failed to find Haris in Victoria Station, when both of us happened to be in London in 1963. I was away for most of my adult life but we saw each other every time I came back home. Because of our growing disabilities we have, in fact, not seen each for several months. His new book was a most welcome emissary.

It is a straight forward record of rulers in this land from the second century BCE (before the beginning of the Common Era). He was ‘dealing with the recordings of the island’s history, as seen by the compilers of the Mahavamsa…to jog the interest of the general reader as well as some students of history…’. It is brief, indeed, a mere 148 pages, including a bibliography. Among the entrants to our universities are many students who have never read any history after Grade 8 or 9, and that most unsatisfactorily. They will graduate with little familiarity with even an outline of the history of the island and even less of its literature. Without glorifying that which requires sober assessment, this little book may help to interest young people in what happened in the far past as well as in the near past of the people of this land. There is a lot of snake oil on this subject that is sold by interested parties. Here is the genuine stuff as is recorded in the old book of recipes, the Mahavamsa. It is small enough to fit in a back pocket of a person, as Haris was fond of doing when he was an undergraduate. It makes a nice gift to anyone interested in or might benefit from some familiarity with the history of this island.

It is not a history of the people but a list of rulers as presented in ‘chronological order’ but nor is Mahavamsa, as made clear by Haris. There are some brief notes about major events, especially those of a religious nature and those having to do with irrigation. Once reservoirs were built and irrigations system well established, life seems to have gone on with a certain degree of monotony. Mahavamsa does not tarry with even the momentous changes in religious beliefs and practices brought forth with the Chola invasions. However, with the introductory chapter in this book the ambitious reader can obtain some ideas about the life of the people. The author’s useful reference to epigraphical and archeological evidence helps out to imagine what may have been life in those days. From the account of British governors covering 41 pages, compared to the 100 pages for all rulers from the beginning, we learn of the innovations in transport, communications and other government activity. Perhaps, there is more written information on these besides what was given in the Mahavamsa. In the introduction, Haris has commented as follows: ‘Beyond religion, religious architecture, irrigation and literary works, evidence for (of?) dedicated scientific research on natural phenomena or any other worldly subjects is hard to come by…..Apart from the political history, it is seen, that, say unlike the ancient Greeks or ancient Chinese, the Sinhalese had not generally interested themselves in any scientific inquiries, concerning nature or natural history;..’. If one reads the literary works from amavatura to kusa jataka kavyaya, it is evident that the philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) that the Sinhala espoused, constricted themselves to works in the nature of atthakatha and tika on Buddhist teachings. The exceptions are the sandesa poems of the 15th century. (This is well written up in Rapiel Tennakone, ‘ape parani asun kavi’.)

At the end of the book, there is an appendix which gives the names of kings and their regnal years from Vijaya to Srivikrama Rajasingha and the Portuguese captains-General. The first list of names was published by Polwatte Buddhadattta (1959) in his Pali Mahavamso. The second list was written by K.M. de Silva in his A history of Sri Lanka(2005). Now we have a third in this book. It might be interesting to compare the lists but I cannot spare the time. My interest was aroused in an examination of the names of kings in the several periods of history, so divided by the principal capitals. When kings ruled from Anuradhapura there were three names for kings, that occurred frequently: Aba (abhaya), Tissa and Naga. Examples are panduka+abhaya, devanampiya tissa and chora+naga. When the capital moved to Polonnaruva, a new epithet appears frequently: Vijayabahu, parakramabahu, buvanekabahu. That tradition goes all the way down to Kotte. The bahu ending raises a question. Is it a different form for abhaya or aba? (Perakum+ba sirita has golu+aba for Gotabaya.) What does bhaya (fear, danger or risk) otherwise mean or signify? From Sitavaka began Rajasingha and the Sinhale monarchy ended in Maha nuvara with Sri Vickrema Rajasingha. What accounts for those changes and what do those changes signify? Haris did not set out asking those questions but they are not irrelevant.

After reading the book, three questions arose in my mind. The first, I raised in the previous paragraph. The third is in the last paragraph. The second is why did the Mahavamsa remain out of reach for the Sinhala reader for 14 centuries? In fact, it was read in French and English before it was read in Sinhala. The language of the Mahavamsa simply denied the expectation of its author ‘sujanappasada sangvegatthaya kathe mahavamso.- written for the enjoyment of the good people, as the sujana had no access to what he wrote. Haris has a short discussion on the language of the Mahavamsa but this is not one of the questions he raised; perhaps, it was not a subject fit for historical inquiry; I am not limited by that constraint. It is mentioned in the book itself, ‘Thera Mahanama, who compiled the earliest part from Cap 1 to Cap 37.52, was supposed to have used Sihalatthakatha Mahavamsa as the main source …’ Adikaram mentioned 19 sihalatthakatha that existed before Mahavamsa came to be written. Yet Mahavamsa was written in what Tennekone called bambabasa (the language of the brahmas) with which almost all people were unfamiliar. Did Mahanama want only bhikkhu and a few privileged laymen to have access to what he wrote? Then why were the motives of sihalatthakatha compilers, who came before him, different from those of Mahanama?

 

Perhaps, the answer is in the intervention of Buddhaghosha, who lived not far earlier than when Mahanama wrote the Mahavamsa. Malalasekera tells us that Buddhaghosha, collected all sihalatthakatha into a pile high as three fully grown elephants and set fire to them all. Buddhaghosha himself wrote his commentaries in Pali. Like all vanities, it was thought that writing in Pali exhibited one’s learning and writing in Sinhala was below the dignity of any man of learning. You can see that attitude among writers after Anuradhapura with the onset of Hindu and Samskritc cultural norms, well exhibited in Angkorvat and in Java. As I once pointed in this newspaper, it is remarkable that between the 5th century, up to which there had been Sinhala writings, Sinhala writing dried up until the 13th, excepting when in the 9th century Siyabaslakara, Dham piya atuva getapadaya and Sikha valanda (and vinisa) appeared, all of them samskrt and pali than Sinhala. A new Sinhala literature began at the end of the 13th century, when Lilavathie was queen, after a long eight centuries of drought.

The production of this book has been an amateur job by the publisher. There seems to have been no attention to book design, no copy editing and entirely inadequate proof reading. There are copy editing, grammar checks and spelling checks programmes which are common ware in computers now. No attempts seem to have been made to make use of those in preparing the typescript for print. I interrupted reading Rapiel Tennakone’s ape parani asun kavi running into 1175 pages, when I received Haris’ thin volume. Tennekone’s book has 350 pages of index, most taxing work. It was published in 1960 or so by M.D. Gunasena . The entire massive volume must have ben written by hand and proof-read several times over. I had read up to page 497 and had not found one error. There is responsible publishing. An author writes a book with labour and by the time he reads the typescript for the fifth time, there are no mistakes in it at all. However, when the fresh smelling copies come home, you feel it would have been better that you had not written. I am not trying to vent my spleen on this publisher but this malady is of epidemic proportions and the best-known publishers in the country publish fine authors with error filled volumes. I reviewed in these pages a few months ago a large volume and was furious that the publishers got away with scores of errors. It is time that our publishers took a lesson or two from those that came before them and from publishers overseas.

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Midweek Review

A daunting task for Justice Nawaz

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa shakes hands with Justice Nawaz after appointing him as the President of the Court of Appeal on January 20, 2021 (pic courtesy PMD)

Geneva proposes asset freezes, travel bans ahead of HR sessions

 By Shamindra Ferdinando

An Extraordinary Gazette notification, pertaining to the nomination of Justice Abdul Hameed Dileep Nawaz, as the Chairman of a three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI), to investigate, inquire into and report, or take required actions, regarding the findings of the former Commissions, or Committees, that investigated human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences, was issued on January 20.

The Extraordinary Gazette notification was issued, close on the heels of a ceremonial sitting of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, to welcome Justice Nawaz, Justice Kumudini Wickramasinghe and Justice Shiran Gooneratne. They were among six new Supreme Court justices, named on Dec 1, 2020, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted two months before. The other new justices are Janaka de Silva, Achala Wengappuli and Mahinda Samayawardhena.

The new Amendment approved with a two-thirds majority, resulted in the expansion of the Supreme Court bench, from 11 to 17, and the Appeal Court bench, from 12 to 20.

Having won the presidency in Nov 2019, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promoted Nawaz as the President of the Court of Appeal. The appointment made on January 20, 2021, is President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s first high profile judicial selection. The appointment didn’t receive the media attention it really deserves.

With the elevation of Nawaz to the Supreme Court, Justice Arjuna Obeysekere received the appointment as the President of the Court of Appeal. The CoI, chaired by Justice Nawaz, includes one-time IGP Chandra Fernando, the incumbent Chairman of the National Police Commission, and retired District Secretary Nimal Abeysiri.

Nawaz is the first sitting judge and the senior-most judicial officer to have been charge-sheeted by the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), during his time at the Attorney General’s Department, but cleared by courts during the tenure of the previous regime itself. So many actions, initiated by the CIABOC, judicial decisions and proceedings during the previous yahapalana administration, are under a cloud.

 The CoI has been entrusted with the following tasks: (a) Find out whether previous CoIs, and Committees, which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences (b) Identify the findings of the CoIs, and Committees, related to the serious violations of human rights, serious violations of international humanitarian laws and other such offences and whether recommendations have been made on how to deal with the issues at hand (c) The status of the implementation of those recommendations, so far, in terms of the existing law, and what steps need to be taken to implement those recommendations further, in line with the present Government policy and, finally (d) Ascertain whether action is being taken in respect of (b) and (c).

The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, is expected to finalize the report, within six months from the date of the appointment.

 

AG on role of judges

 Welcoming the newly appointed Supreme Court Judges on Jan. 20 and Jan 21, Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, declared: “The credibility of a judicial system, in a country, is dependent on the Judges who man it. Judges must be persons of impeccable integrity and unimpeachable independence. A Judge must discharge his/her judicial functions with high integrity, impartially and intellectual honesty. Speaking of Intellectual honesty; the law would be like a ball of clay in the hands of an erudite Judge. Therefore, Judges should be ruthlessly honest, independent, and impartial and possess a judicial conscience to ensure that the ball of clay is moulded, according to the law. For over 2000 years of the island’s long history, the Courts of Law have occupied a unique place in the system of government. Public acceptance of the judiciary, and public confidence in the judiciary, is necessary for the rule of law to prevail in the country. Public confidence in the judiciary is dependent on the independence and integrity of the judiciary.”

 The President’s Counsel further said: “The Judges in the exercise of judicial functions should be immune from outside control and influence and intimidation. That independence is also necessary from the other branches of government and from private and partisan interest. Judges should be above suspicion and should not leave even a glimpse for that suspicion to occur.”

 

Tamil parties seek int’l intervention

 The appointment of the three-member CoI under the leadership of a Supreme Court Judge, should be examined against a section of Parliament demanding international intervention, by way of a new Resolution adopted at the forthcoming 46th sessions of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), scheduled for Feb-March 2021. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and two Northern Province, based new political parties – Ahila Illankai Tamil Congress (AITC) and Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kutani (TMTK) have written to 47 members of the UNHRC demanding punitive action against Sri Lanka on the basis that the administration quit the Geneva Resolution 30/1, co-sponsored by the previous yahapalana administration.

The three parties are represented in Parliament by 13 members. At the time Sri Lanka co-sponsored the controversial resolution against itself, in Geneva, the TNA had 16 lawmakers, including two appointed members, with its leader, R. Sampanthan, enjoying the privileged status as the Opposition Leader, though, ironically, the breakaway Joint Opposition (JO) commanded the confidence of well over 50 lawmakers. So that was how democracy was practiced then!

With the obvious blessings of Western powers, the Tamil parties, in a letter to UNHRC members, requested (a) Member States urge, in the new resolution, that other organs of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, take up the matter and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (b) The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability, in Sri Lanka, back to the UN Secretary General, for action, as stated above (c) Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in the country and (d) Without detracting from that which has been stated in Point 1 (above), take steps to establish an evidence-gathering mechanism, similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM,) in relation to Syria, established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly, with a strict time frame of 12 months duration.

The TNA-led political grouping, backed by a section of the civil society that also supported a hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism, are backing the latest initiative against Sri Lanka.

The Ontario Centre for Policy Research, Canada and London Initiative, the United Kingdom have, however rebutted anti-Sri Lanka allegations with a timely comprehensive report recently to the UNHRC, especially in response to the growing threat of a new resolution. The lead Researcher and the Chairman of the Committee that prepared the report, Dr. Neville Hewage, and the UK-based practicing lawyer, Jayaraj Palihawadana, should receive public appreciation for countering the Western strategy. Let the public know of such initiatives and exert pressure on political parties to take up the Geneva challenge, together with the government.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva is likely to suffer in the absence of coordinated action and the failure on the part of those responsible to get their act together to attack the foundation of lies concocted by interested parties, hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court. With the UNP’s humiliating rejection by the masses, at the last general election, in August 2020, the TNA-led grouping, in spite of differences as regards political strategy, both in and outside Parliament, is confident of its new game plan.

 

The Swiss plot

 The Tamil grouping believes the return of the Rajapaksas is advantageous to their strategy. Sri Lanka would have been in bigger trouble if the Swiss project, meant to ruin Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, succeeded in Nov 2019. If not for war-time Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s refusal to allow Switzerland to evacuate Embassy worker Garnier Francis, who claimed that she had been sexually abused by government agents inside a vehicle close to the Swiss Embassy, within days after him being elected the President. Had that diabolical plot clicked with her being evacuated to Switzerland, in a special air ambulance, that had been brought down as part of the plot, the country would have been under heavy pressure now. Thanks to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa taking a tough stand on the matter, the Swiss plot went awry, much to the disappointment of those seeking to undermine the new administration. Investigations exposed those responsible for the diabolical propaganda offensive that had to be inquired into, taking into consideration unsubstantiated allegations directed at the SLPP presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a media conference, organized by the then yahapalana minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne.

 The CoI, headed by Justice Nawaz, will have to examine the overall campaign against Sri Lanka, without restricting its investigation in terms of the mandate received. It would be pertinent to mention Sri Lanka paid a huge price for not properly countering lies propagated by interested parties’ hell-bent on hauling Sri Lanka before hybrid war crimes investigating mechanism. In the wake of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s emergence as the President, with an overwhelming victory, over his nearest opponent, the same lot wanted Sri Lanka investigated by the international community.

 Sri Lanka has pathetically failed to comprehend the threat, hence the absence of proper defence, in spite of some elected members of Parliament working against the country. The government’s failure has allowed the TNA, that had no qualms in recognizing the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people in late 2001, and having being the mouthpiece of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organisation, to pursue a high profile strategy, detrimental to the country, while enjoying perks and privileges as a recognized political party.

The TNA-led campaign is part of an overall project meant to overwhelm Sri Lanka. The Swiss operation, if succeeded, could have impaired the Office of the President.

 

A wider examination of facts needed

 Let us hope that the Justice Nawaz-led committee would examine all factors, pertaining to the accountability issue, though its primary objective seems simple. Their responsibility in terms of the statement issued by the President’s Office, is to examine the previous CoI and Committees and the implementation of their recommendations. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) chaired by the late Attorney General C.R. de Silva, examined the conflict. The LLRC was appointed in response to a study undertaken by UN Secy. General’s so-called Panel of Experts (PoE). The PoE report, released in March 2011, is the basis for all subsequent measures taken by the UN though Sri Lanka simply ignored the threat. In addition to the LLRC, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances (the report on the Second Mandate of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances) examined the conflict. However, Sri Lanka cannot turn a blind eye to the PoE report, and related reports, as they remained the very basis of the Geneva initiatives, though the incumbent government quit the 30/1 resolution. Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena made the announcement on Feb 26, 2020 at the 43rd UNHRC sessions.

The government certainly owed an explanation why the appointment of the CoI to examine previous CoIs and Committees, was delayed till January 20, 2021. The continuing crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic shouldn’t be faulted for the government’s failure. For some strange reason, Sri Lanka continues to delay using Lord Naseby’s revelations, based on wartime British High Commission dispatches from Colombo (January-May 2009) as well as revelations made by Wikileaks to counter UN lies. Lord Naseby, in an interview with the writer in Sept 2019, regretted Sri Lanka’s failure to exploit his disclosure, made in Oct 2017. The senior Conservative politician said that he was quite disappointed and surprised by Sri Lanka’s response to information provided by him. The British diplomatic cables obtained by Lord Naseby, following a legal wrangle with his government disputed the PoE’s primary allegation. The information provided by Lord Naseby, when examined together with wartime US Defence attaché Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith’s explosive statement in 2011 (read US official’s defence of Sri Lankan military), exposed the UN lie.

 The primary allegation in PoE on Sri Lanka alleged that at least 40,000 civilians perished on the Vanni east front. In terms of the UN dictates, the accusations made against Sri Lanka by mystery accusers cannot be verified till 2031 due to a strange confidentiality clause. Where in the world do you get a system of justice where one is precluded from facing one’s accusers for 30 years, let alone challenge their specific allegations? Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is regularly bashed by interested parties on the basis of unverified accusations. Wouldn’t it have been better if Sri Lanka made reference to this most unusual confidentiality clause that effectively prevented examination of allegations? Perhaps, Sri Lanka will take it up at least now, well over a decade after the PoE report, and seven years after the country ended up in the Geneva agenda.

Having faulted the Sri Lanka Army, on three major counts, the PoE (Panel of Experts) accused Sri Lanka of massacring at least 40,000 civilians. Let me reproduce the paragraph, bearing no 137, verbatim: “In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.

 

Key issues that needed CoI attention

 In the absence of a cohesive strategy to counter UN lies, vested interests, both here and abroad, propagated canards against the country to varying degrees. Let me mention issues that had to be examined in the overall defence strategy: (1) Dismissal of war crimes accusations by Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith in Colombo. The then US official did so at the May-June 2011 first post-war defence seminar in Colombo, two months after the release of the PoE report. The State Department disputed the official’s right to represent the US at the forum though it refrained from challenging the statement. (2) Examine the US statement along with Lord Naseby’s Oct 2017 disclosure, based on the then British Defence advisor Lt. Colonel Anthony Gash’s cables to London during the war. (3) Wikileaks revelations that dealt with the Sri Lanka war. A high profile Norwegian study on its role in the Sri Lanka conflict examined some cables. However, the Norwegian process never strengthened Sri Lanka’s defence. Instead Norway merely sought to disown its culpability in the events leading to the annihilation of the LTTE. One of the most important Wikileaks revelations cleared Sri Lanka of deliberately targeting civilians. The cable proved that our ground forces took heavy losses by taking the civilian factor into consideration. (4) Wide discrepancies in loss of civilian lives, claimed by UN, and various other interested parties. The UN estimated the figure at 40,000 (March 2011) whereas Amnesty International (Sept 2011) placed the number at 10,000 and a member of the UK Parliament (Sept 2011) estimated the death toll at 100,000. (5) Disgraceful attempt made by Geneva to exploit the so called Mannar mass graves during the yahapalana administration. The Foreign Ministry remained silent on the Mannar graves while Western diplomats played politics, only to be proved utterly wrong. Geneva faulted Sri Lanka before the conclusion of the investigation.

The then Northern Province Chief Minister Wigneswaran rejected scientific findings of Beta Analytic Institute of Florida, USA, in respect of samples of skeletal remains sent from the Mannar mass grave site. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet went to the extent of commenting on the Mannar mass grave in her report that dealt with the period from Oct 2015 to January 2019.

Had the US lab issued a report to suit their strategy, would they have accepted fresh tests in case the government of Sri Lanka requested? The following is the relevant section bearing No 23 from Bachelet’s report: “On May 29, 2018, human skeletal remains were discovered at a construction site in Mannar (Northern Province), Excavations conducted in support of the Office on Missing Persons, revealed a mass grave from which more than 300 skeletons were discovered. It was the second mass grave found in Mannar following the discovery of a site in 2014. Given that other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future, systematic access to grave sites by the Office, as an observer, is crucial for it to fully discharge its mandate, particularly with regard to the investigation and identification of remains, it is imperative that the proposed reforms on the law relating to inquests, and relevant protocols to operationalize the law be adopted. The capacity of the forensic sector must also be strengthened, including in areas of forensic anthropology, forensic archaeology and genetics, and its coordination with the Office of Missing Persons must be ensured.” (6) Wigneswaran in his capacity as the then Northern Province Chief Minister in August 2016 accused the Army of killing over 100 LTTE cadres held in rehabilitation facilities. Wigneswaran, now an MP and leader of TMTK, claimed the detainees had been given poisonous injections resulting in deaths of 104 persons. The unprecedented accusation made by the retired Supreme Court Judge had been timed to attract international attention. Wigneswaran is on record as having said that a US medical team visiting Jaffna, at that time, would examine the former rehabilitated LTTE cadres, who he alleged had fallen sick because they were injected with poisonous substances at government detention or rehabilitation centres.

Sri Lanka paid a very heavy price for its pathetic failure to counter a web of lies fashioned by interested parties, both local and foreign, and well-funded by the West, to coerce the country to adopt a new Constitution to suit the separatist agenda. Had they succeeded, Sri Lanka’s unitary status could have been done away through constitutional means against the backdrop of eradication of the LTTE’s conventional power.

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