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The tusker from 5th lane

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by Maheen Senanayake

‘St. Peter denied Jesus no less than three times before he went on to start the Catholic church –’JOHN 18:25-27 Luke 22:58-62, The Holy Bible

It is no secret that it is fairly lonely at the top. Leadership comes with sacrifice and burden. And this be the case even in the animal world. I saw the national list as too demeaning an avenue to return to the legislature for someone of Ranil Wickremasinghe’s reputation and stature. I had met too many people who are today angry bystanders only wishing that he did something to ‘wake up the sleeping elephant’. This and this alone prompted me to come out of retirement to do a piece on the one man whose enigmatic political presence I felt deserved no less than to use a pun – a ‘soldier’s death’… though I must admit the man himself is unlikely to appreciate an end to a career spanning in excess of three generations.

Through the intercession of my editor, I had a meeting with the former four-time prime minister within 48 hours of the request. While I appreciated the speed with which with this happened, I was sorry there was so little time for preparation. I pored over election results of the previous decades, a host of annual reports from the central bank, reports from the ADB, IMF and other pieces written on the gentleman by local and foreign scribes for want of an approach. It was in the early morning hours that I decided on a different strategy.

I decided to ask three people who would not mind being named in print to raise one question each. Thereafter I planned to fill in the blanks and come about with a structure for the interview.

We arrived at Siri Kotha (coined as I had come to understand from the caretaker on location from Sir John Kotelawela’s with Sir becoming Siri followed by Kotha for Ketelawela) three minutes past the appointed hour a few days ago, with more security in attendance than green men we were personally ushered into the leader;s room at his party headquarters and affably greeted.

Some excerpts of an over hour-long discussion:

Do you mind making a few comments on the current political scenario and where the UNP as a one MP party stands?

The current political scenario is that we are in a big transition. At the last presidential elections, a large number of people, specially among the Sinhalese, Voted for Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa expecting a change, thinking that he will be different. Promises made included inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings etc. Public confidence is therefore broken and (this) has not been captured by any of the other parties either.

Though the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) as a party received the largest number of non-SLPP votes i.e. 2.7 million at the parliamentary elections, this was much less than the 5.56 million votes Sajith Preamadasa polled at the presidential election, (explainable by the minority votes that Premadasa polled at the presidential election going to minority parties who ran at the parliamentary election – Maheen Senanayake) People who were against the former government had come together.

Sajith Premadasa polled 5,564,239 amounting to 41.99% of the votes at the presidential Election 2019.

At the Parliament Election 2020 the SJB polled  2,77 million votes accounting for 23% of the total polled votes. In Colombo where I believe Mr. Premadasa contested the SJB polled  0.39 million or 32.79% of the total Colombo votes.

People have demonstrated that they have no faith in political parties whether in government or opposition. So we have all got to start from the beginning. There has to be a new political party, new thinking in political parties, about political parties, about elected representatives, about the economy and policy. That is where we stand.

In this context it matters very little whether you are a one MP or 25 MP party. If the people don’t accept you, you are not political ‘tender’ any more. This however, doesn’t affect the UNP. Naturally this means a lesser presence in parliament. People don’t always look at parliament anymore. The other disadvantage is that the media doesn’t give you publicity unless you are a sitting MP.

Meanwhile, traditional media is losing readership/viewership which is shifting to social media. In this transition, whether you are one or 40 doesn’t make a difference. One has to look at the future, and its an open field for anyone in parliament or outside. It can also be a movement outside parliament that can win the confidence of the people. Today people expect more than just ‘negative slogans’.

Long time ago Dr. Colvin R de Silva told me that all of us make the mistake of looking for successors among incumbents. He said ‘look at the political history of this country. In 1960, March, nobody knew who Felix Dias was, except that he was the son of a Supreme Court Judge briefed by Julius and Creasy. But then came July 1960 and Mrs. Bandaranaike, as a tenderfoot prime minister first let Felix be the de facto leader of government (until she gained experience and found her feet). Rohana Wijeweera also showed up just before the JVP’s 1971 insurrection. So Colvin contended that it was a cardinal error to look for successors from among incumbents.

Since this is open, I say that he or she can come from within parliament or from a political movement outside’. It is more open now than at any other time in Sri Lanka.

You were criticized when the UNP was reduced to zero and you had said that you would resign in a few months time. But that did not happen. What would you say now?

I said ‘let the party decide who they want’ and then to go ahead and that I will move out. But then a lot of pressure came up that I should go to parliament and not anyone else, specially because we were all in a crisis. I said ‘alright’, but then it is up to you to organize the party. So as party leader other than going to parliament I leave it to them to organize and implement party affairs.

In fact I don’t come here (to Siri Kotha) much now. I don’t give many media interviews or go around the country making statements. Whatever I say I say in parliament now. They feel that they want to discuss future plans specially government policy with me because of my experience. So its basically becoming a school. In fact some of the next generation of leaders – those in their early twenties and going up to thirty will be presented to the public very soon. In fact more are coming in.

We meet once or twice a week, but I must emphasize that it is a drastic recast that is happening now. The challenge is convincing the conventional thinker, because they have to understand that the whole thing is changing.

How many years have you been in parliament?

Since 1977.

How would you rate your performance as an MP?

That’s for the country to do, not for me.

How would you rate your performance as a UNPer ( if I may use the term)?

I have always stood by the UNP. Long before I joined. My first vote was for the UNP in 1970. I have upheld the values, the main values that D S Senanayake had put down in the constitution. The opening of the economy, the 13th amendment to the constitution, and as time goes by, we ensure that whatever policies we make are in accordance with these basic principles.

How would you rate yourself as a party leader?

I don’t rate myself. The whole question is ‘is there anything called self’. If you are a Buddhist that is a very philosophical matter. I don’t rate myself, others can decide whether I am good, bad or ugly.

As a member of parliament you are responsible for an electorate. How do you course correct yourself? Specially being so experienced in these affairs. How do you see the subject of accountability as a member of parliament to an electorate?

Two things. Any member of parliament is accountable to the whole country. If he or she does not follow the principles of his or her party then there is a violation and he or she can be removed. So I continue to look at Sri Lanka as a full electorate. And I take up issues of the people within the confines of the party policy.

I brought with me a question from a Mrs Sitha Wickremanayake from Yatiyantota. She hails from a family which has actively supported Hon. D S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, and even president Premadasa with her father actively supporting the UNP at one time while providing accommodation to a young and active NM Perera in Yatiyantota. Her question to you is ‘Why could you not keep the UNP together’?

All parties change and sometimes people misjudge you. The UNP is the only party that has remained in Parliament since 1947. We have done that. At the last election we had people who thought Mahinda is the king after 2009. Then there are people who thought they can forge ahead with the SJB. They took those decisions. Whether those decisions were correct or not, I cannot tell you. You have to change with the people.

With respect to UNP membership, where do the SJB members stand? Are they UNPers today?

Some of the members of the SJB are members of the UNP who have now been suspended until disciplinary enquiries are over. One member has gone to court also.

Are you seeking their expulsion?

We cannot expel them from parliament. As far as we are concerned they did not contest (the last election) under the UNP. We have left the doors open for discussions to take place which in fact have taken place at different times on how we can work together. We have only pursued minimum disciplinary action because we have to be flexible in this endeavor. Anyone else however, who has worked against us we are taking full disciplinary action against.

You maintain that people change. However, we find that at each election the people are easily persuaded by the same old scheme or promise – as it were? In this light, how do you see the people of this country?

Look! You have to accept the electorate that is there. You can’t import another electorate. After 1970 there was a complete break in the system and something completely newhappened. It was something positive. Similarly you are coming to that stage now. The economy is breaking down, your political structures are breaking down, Social systems are breaking down and this is the case with every country in the world while Covid-19 is also having its impact around the world. Something new has to come up. We are also proposing that the new ideas that we put forth are positive. There will be others who will put up negative ones. That clash has to take place and people are thinking now.

In light of the fact that many voted for repealing the 19th amendment. What would your comments be on this subject?

I contend that the people did not vote to repeal the 19th amendment. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected while the 19th amendment was in force. Elections were held on the basis of the 19th amendment. No one brought up the matter. The government did not campaign to repeal the 19th amendment. They did not say that. As far as the ‘pohottuwa’ was concerned they did not say that either.

On the subject of people, what is your position on Sinhala Only?

My position is reflected in the present circumstances. Sinhala and Tamil are official languages. Sinhala and Tamil are national languages. And English is a co-ordinating language. This co-ordinating language is nonsense. No country has a co-ordinating language so you might as well make English a national language. Then more and more people can learn English. Why are we so frightened of English? In China they are teaching English, In India they are teaching English. Also English now has a Asian version. The Chinese and Indians will dominate the English market and not the Americans or the English.

All those who are saying they don’t want English are educating their children in English here and abroad. So I say, let us not be shy. We have two official languages. I must point out that India does not have Tamil as an official language. It is we, Singapore and I think Mauritius who have Tamil as a official language. Let there be three national languages – Sinhala, Tamil and English. English affects all our lives, all our cultures. Today when you are using a hand phone you are using it in English. So all I am saying is make English a national language’.

You have been in parliament for more than 40 years. What has the UNP done to bring that about?

We are the ones who brought in the 13th Amendment ( to the constitution ) which defines the language policy. I as education minister pushed for teaching of English but there were challenges like training English teachers. For instance the last government pushed for English and IT. All I am saying is make English a national language.

Do we call English a co-ordinating language?

We call it a co-ordinating or link language. All I am saying is let’s make It a national language. More than 20% of this country speak English. In fact the number of Tamil speakers equals the number of English speakers.

(I did the math in my mind. Do 4.6 mln people actually speak English? Not even some English teachers that I know can speak it. I had my reservations. I wondered)

I feel that the people of Lanka, the people within our territory have an identity crisis. What is your view on the matter of the national identity?

We have a Sri Lankan identity.

Do we actually have a Sri Lankan Identity (not a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim identity)?

We have. We have it in our national anthem.. ‘Eka mawakage daru kela bavina’..’ [children of one mother]. But within it some people are trying to say ‘Tamil must be a separate state’, some others are saying it must be a ‘Sinhala Buddhist state’. Therefore there are different views on the subject. A majority may avoid the Sri Lankan identity saying they are being discriminated. It is not only ethnicity, people of different religion and even women who say they are discriminated as against men. So within our identity this debate will continue and it will never stop. We have to accept that we are all Sri Lankan and that all have to be treated equally subject to Article 9 of the constitution.

Furthermore we must impose it. We had the national anthem being sung in Sinhala and Tamil. Now you change that it and you have unnecessary problems.

Within that construct how would you describe the identity of a UNPer today? And are you as a party relevant today and how do you plan to make the party relevant or more relevant to the young ( 18+) voter?

A UNPer is someone who believes in the policies that we maintain including democracy, a Sri Lankan identity, a social market economy, social democracy which are our accepted views. On the question of whether ‘we are relevant?’ I don’t think that any political party today is relevant. So we have to make ourselves relevant to all those voters.

Right now there are discussions that are going on and in fact very soon we will be presenting our new leaders to the public – about ten who are all within their early thirties to forties. And more are joining. The UNP has been working in the background and the reason you don’t see us making too many public appearances is because we are working in the background and want to be prepared before we bring them out.

For instance I was interviewed by a group of young people from Royal College and I can tell you that the questions that they asked me are quite different to what you are asking me. And we did have a very useful discussion.

Do you think that the provincial councils are relevant?

We are a country of 20 million people. Between the division of the local authority and the top there has to be a intermediate player. Originally we came with the District Development Councils (DDC). After that you have the provincial councils. The issue is this – if you go to dismantle the provincial structure and put in place 22 district structures there will be utter chaos in the country. I accept the fact that there are three layers of government. They are duplicating expenditure unnecessarily. Let us look at a structure, which will ensure that this doesn’t take place.

The council is a body that is needed to pass legislation. There also we can use the American tradition where assemblies at the state level only meet two or three times a year. Once to pass the budget and they meet again once in four months. Then we must look at how the administration can cut off any expenditure. Right now we have a problem because the local authority digs drains, The provincial council also wants money for drains and the MP also wants money for drains. So finally what is the result? ‘All the money is going down the drain’ (laughter)

That is why I say that we have to radically transform it. You take that proposition to the national level, secondly you retain the powers of the thirteenth amendment. In the last parliament we appointed a committee by our constitutional committee. I think it was Susil Premjayanth who chaired it. The seven Chief ministers of the Southern provinces, That is excluding the North and East, and their leaders of the opposition gave a common report on what they want. So after obtaining the views at the provincial level, Susil Premjayanth put everything together and there is an exhaustive report on this. We can discuss this and see how we can go along. I believe that up to about 80% of the report can be agreed with. The rest, the parties with different views may have to come to consensus on and decide.

(To be continued next week)



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Features

The Sandahiru event – celebrating failure

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by Anura Gunasekera

A few days ago President Gotabaya Rajapaksa(GR), the first military man and, unarguably, the most ignorant in the ways of governance to occupy the presidential seat, celebrated the completion of two years as the eighth president of the Republic of Sri Lanka. The salutation coincided with the formal vesting with the Sangha, of the “Sandahiru Seya” in Anuradhapura, a project commenced during brother Mahinda’s last term as president. A towering stupa rising above the Jetawana and the Abhayagiri, ostensibly to honour the services rendered by the armed forces and the police in our ethnic conflict but, in reality, a monument to the Rajapaksa delusions of grandeur, aligns the Rajapaksa Family dynasty with the Sinhala Kings. A tribute to the heroic is justified but the supreme incongruity of conflating the quintessential Buddhist symbol, with success in a bloody military campaign, is inconsequential to a hegemonic mindset. The incompatibility was also ignored by the Rajapaksa-adoring Sangha, including the Anunayake Theros of both Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, who participated and enthusiastically endorsed its purpose.

Notwithstanding a grandiose commemoration, as Rajapaksa’s second year in the presidency ends and the year 2021 draws to a close, the country stands mired in calamities on every public front.

The Crisis

The economy is in disaster mode. Foreign reserves which were at USD 7.5 Billion in November 2019, when GR took office, had declined to USD 2.8 Billion by August 2021. Despite Central Bank Governor Cabraal’s blithe assurance that the economy can be restructured without IMF assistance, and that wildly reckless money-printing has no impact on inflation, banks are unable to provide importers with forex to import essentials, whilst prices of basic commodities are placing them beyond the reach of ordinary consumers. According to most economists, in the real world, when money printing increases in a background of stagnant or declining national output, all other factors being equal, hyper-inflation is the certain outcome. Recent historical examples are too numerous to quote here. However, Cabraal, who is one of the architects and, also, a highly privileged inhabitant of the Rajapaksa Dystopia, is obviously reading from a different text!

For the last few months, in every village, town and city across the island, for the first time since the Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime 50 years ago, desperate citizens have been waiting in queues to buy the most basic items. There are frequent shortages of sugar, rice, milk powder and cooking fuel; very recently, suppliers ran short of kerosene oil, the only convenient and affordable alternative to cooking gas. Gathering firewood is not an option, especially for the four million urban population of Sri Lanka.

The government has responded to the foreign exchange shortage by imposing drastic regulations to limit dollar usage, declaring over 600 imported items, including mobile phones, clothing, household appliances and a range of foods, as non-essential. Vehicles imports are also included in the restrictions.

Prices of essential foods, vegetables and staples have seen an astronomic escalation during 2021, due to low supply, either because of import restrictions or, in the case of locally grown items, a result of poor harvests due to denial- through unavailability- of basic nutrient inputs, and disruptions in the supply chain from distant growing areas.

The Cause

The pandemic has contributed to the crisis, dismantling livelihoods with some of the monthly paid subjected to wage cuts or layoffs, whilst daily paid workers are denied earnings through inability to access places of work or, because the lockdown has compelled the closure of many small establishments, which rely mainly on casual labour. As in many countries in the developing world, in Sri Lanka, the informal, small and medium scale entrepreneurial sector collectively supports more livelihoods, than either the State or the corporate sector. However, the Covid pandemic is only a contributory factor to an escalating socio-economic disaster. The government, through the implementation of a series of imprudent and ill-conceived policies, has aggravated the situation to a degree beyond retrieval.

Immediately after assuming the presidency, GR ordered sweeping tax concessions, which resulted in the diminution of government revenues by about 30% in 2020. These concessions were beneficial to a minute proportion of the population, which actually needed no such relief. They did not cascade to the ordinary citizen. Soon thereafter, to bridge the cash supply deficit the money printing spree commenced, according to some sources injecting as much as an additional 35% – 40% in to the economy, by mid-2021.

The pandemic Task Force was led by a retired army commander, appointed by a president unable to distinguish between the scientific complexities of fighting a virus, and the tactical requirements of assaulting an enemy garrison. This mindset was also compounded by an inherent insensitivity to the suffering of ordinary people. The mismanagement of the project in its early, critical stages led to an escalation of infections and deaths, especially amongst the elderly who were denied vaccinations at the outset. Successive waves of infection even led to embarrassing State sponsorship of miracle cures- the ridiculous “Dhammika Elixir” and the casting of holy water pots in to flowing water!!

Whilst people were desperately scrabbling around to sustain themselves in a setting of loss of income, essential item scarcities and other privations, overnight, the president decreed a ban on the use of inorganic fertilizer and agro-chemicals. All professional agriculturists in the country (the writer was one for over 50 years) and scientists in related disciplines, have pointed out the certainty of the disastrous outcomes from the implementation of this irrational, unscientific and impractical policy; the adverse consequences are already visible in the case of short term crops, especially rice and vegetables, whilst the impact on the long-term plantation crops, particularly tea, will very soon be evident in the form of crop declines, diminished exports and shrinking foreign exchange earnings.

The Response

The island-wide uprising of despairing farmers, beating and burning effigies of senior ministers and demanding a reversal of the fertilizer ban, was met with the promise of organic fertilizer as an alternative. The imported organic nutrient, apparently a mixture of sea weed and faeces- a second virus from China after Corona- was found unsuitable, leading to imports from India of “liquid nitrogen”, a product untried on a large scale in that country. One of the President’s responses to the anguish of the farmers was to declare at a public meeting that he could, if he considered it desirable, use the army to seize the farming community by the scruff of its collective neck and compel them to use organic fertilizer!!

The ban on the slaughter of cattle is a similarly ill-considered directive. Alleviating animal suffering is a noble cause but the consequences of the ban will be dire for several hundred thousand people. The cattle rearing industry is multi-faceted and interconnected. Milk production, beef supply and the supply of animal skin to the tanning industry go hand-in-hand. Dairy industry, which is essentially a small farmer collective enterprise, becomes unviable unless unproductive animals are converted to meat. This ban will disempower around 200,000 individual farmers island-wide, many of them Muslims in the Eastern province. The certain consequences will be the decline of local milk production, scarcity of allied dairy products and the unpreventable escalation of illicit cattle slaughter. That proverb of unknown origin, that ” The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions,” is an apt commentary on both the fertilizer and cattle slaughter ban.

Younger brother Basil, hailed by Rajapaksa acolytes as an economic genius of Einsteinian proportions- despite the absence of previous experience and known academic background – has produced a budget reinforced by bloated statistics and unrealizable dreams. His disgracefully incoherent Budget speech, delivered in Sinhala, justifiably lampooned in multiple forums, was not improved by his rambling, garbled contributions in a subsequent English language interview on the same subject, with Ms Indeewari Amuwatte on Ada Derana. The questions were intelligent, precise and designed to elicit clarity. The responses were vague, evasive and inarticulate, by a man struggling to defend the indefensible in a medium clearly unfamiliar to him; at best a cringe-worthy performance.

Consequences

A frustrated electorate propelled GR in to power in justifiable disgust at the dysfunctional governance of the Sirisena- Wickramesinghe regime, only to be confronted, in less than two years, with an ineptitude of colossal proportions. The enormous parliamentary advantage of a two-thirds majority and a presidency with unlimited power, the two moving in parallel rather than in unison, has paved the way for an economic and social disaster. It is an inevitable consequence of the 20th Amendment, which has expanded the powers of the President, whilst encroaching on the authority of the parliament and the judiciary. When the individual so elected believes that he is the sole repository of wisdom in governance – despite a total lack of experience in the field and a wretched absence of ordinary commonsense – chaos ensues. That is what we see everyday, in mass protests against moronic directives.

The only visible success in governance in Sri Lanka today is the inexorable onward march of the Rajapaksa project, which commenced during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first term and, after a slight hiccup during the abortive Sirisena regime, has gathered a terrifying new momentum since end 2019. It is conservatively estimated that about 64% of the country’s economy is directly controlled by the Rajapaksa family and those connected to it. In a country rapidly sliding in to an abyss where lies the bleak certainty of food and other essential item scarcities – including pharmaceuticals – widespread malnutrition, loss of employment and livelihoods, declining foreign exchange earnings, disruption to education at all levels and the disintegration of the society, the only glow in a leaden sky comes from the Rajapaksa comet. The State will surely fail but the First Family will surely prosper.

Unless a disoriented and vacillatory opposition quickly gathers its wits, firstly jettisoning the toxic Ranil Wickremesinghe and then rallying round Premadasa – not necessarily the best of men but the only possible alternative – the Rajapaksa dynastic succession, from elder brother to younger brother and from uncle to nephew, and thereafter to another sibling or relative, is a certainty.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President by the convergence of normally divergent political forces. But, once elected, by-passing the legislature and other democratic institutions, he has chosen to govern through the armed forces and a collection of “Task Forces”, staffed or led by ex-military men, and other disciples and profiteers, answerable to only him. A spineless, collusive and essentially corrupt legislature has become a rubber stamp to his will. A reading of the two year performance report establishes beyond doubt that the “Viyathmaga” is the road to certain ruin, and that the “Eliyamaga” will condemn this country to economic darkness before the Gotabaya presidency ends.

Very recently, parliamentarian Kumara Welgama delivered a speech at the Diyawanna assembly, amusing, but brutally frank, in its exposure of the venality of recent regimes and the familial considerations which overrode national interests in decision making at the highest levels of governance, whilst highlighting the aberrant mentality that pervades the current dispensation. It was also prophetic in the warnings sounded to the ruling regime. Not one of his statements were contested. It must now be clear to all that when madmen are allowed to run the asylum, lunacy becomes institutionalized and insanity infiltrates governance.

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Features

“Perspectives on Constitutional Reform in Sri Lanka”

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Editors: Hiran W Jayewardene and Sharya Scharenguivel

Published by the International and Comparative Law Society 2021.

Reviewed by Neville Ladduwahetty

The publication of a book on Constitutional Reform containing the perspectives of eminent contributors recognized for their expertise on the subject at a time when there is an ongoing process set up to develop a new Constitution in Sri Lanka is a valuable and necessary contribution to the Constitution making process. As is usual, the book starts with a Foreword, followed by a Preface. However, what is unusual is the material in the Prologue that follows.

It starts with a personal background of the first Executive President of Sri Lanka, J.R. Jayewardene, as being a lawyer with a legacy of five generations of lawyers and proceeds to incorporate his “THOUGHTS ON CONSTITUTIONALISM”. This section covers the evolution of Constitutional Reform in Sri Lanka starting with the Donoughmore and Soulbury Constitutions, and explains the influences that made him an advocate of the presidential form of government in preference to the parliamentary system.

It then records the historical development associated with the adoption of a presidential system and how President Jayewardene defended its merits as being the most appropriate form of government for a developing country. The Prologue also gives the key features of the 1978 Constitution. Another noteworthy feature is the presentation of an overview of the perspectives of all the contributors to this volume, thus enabling the reader to gain a broad outline of their perspectives without having to labour through each contributor’s views individually.

One fact that should be borne in mind is that however progressive are the constitutional reforms and however independent institutions such as the judiciary and other key institutions are, their service to the public depends not on the written words in their respective instruments, but in the integrity and commitment of those who make them meaningful.

The perspectives of 22 contributors are presented under seven sections. The majority, if not all of them, are lawyers. I am not a lawyer. However, the majority of us are affected by the perspectives expressed by them when they become part of the constitution under which we are governed. Therefore, there is a relevance that the perspectives presented are reviewed from such a source.

PRESIDENTIAL v. PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEMS

Prior to addressing issues relating to Constitutional Reforms, there is a need to make the hard choice between the two fundamental Constitutional Systems, namely Presidential as at present or Parliamentary as it was in the past. It is only after making such a fundamental choice that one could proceed to explore the reforms that should be introduced to make its provisions best serve the interests of “We the People”.

Bearing in mind that the most cherished interest of the People is stability and security above all else, the choice that needs to be made is whether the Presidential or Parliamentary System would better equip the State to serve the primary interests of the People. While some contributors have addressed the pros and cons of each system and even gone to the extent of expressing their preferences, they have failed to take into account the context in which either system has to operate.

There are however, a few caveats that must be borne in mind when making the choice. The first is to recognize the context in which such a choice is made. The context in particular, is that although the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party are the two major political parties to represent the People, neither is capable of mustering a majority to form a government. As a result, governments formed are invariably coalitions made up of several small parties that represent parochial interests. Consequently, policy decisions are compelled to operate within the constraints imposed by the narrow interests of these coalition partners.

The second is the recognition that the Legislative and the Executive are not separated under the parliamentary system of governance. Consequently, it is the supremacy of Parliament that makes the Executive represented by the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers responsible to Parliament. However, the fact that both the Legislature and Executive need to function as one body, the stability of Parliamentary Systems is dependent on the solidarity of the Coalition; a fact which historically has not been known as an arrangement for stability, both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

On the other hand, the Legislature and the Executive are separate under the recognized principle of Separation of Powers in Presidential Systems. This separation of power reinforced by elections to each branch separately means that even if the stability of the Legislature is tenuous, the Executive remains intact to serve the urgent needs of the People even during a crisis. Despite this advantage as far as the people are concerned, the disadvantage is that fresh legislation is not possible if the political ideologies governing the Legislature are different to that of the Executive; a fact that was highlighted during the debates as the primary reason for rejecting Presidential Systems for governance. However, even under such circumstances compromises by each branch would not only make legislative outcomes more representative of the People, but also may even turn out to be more progressive.

The other criticism often cited is that presidential systems tempt authoritarianism arising from the fact that all Executive power of the People is exercised by one individual. While this is inevitable with presidential systems under separation of power, a rational way out is for Oversight Committees of Parliament to review Executive action through appointed Executives. However, authoritarianism could also exist under Parliamentary Systems as well, depending on the backing the Prime Minister has in Parliament as evidenced in other countries and admitted as a possibility in the Book.

An issue that has not received the attention it deserves and therefore should be part of the reform process is the uniqueness of the presidential system that exists in Sri Lanka. Despite the separation of powers enlarged in Article 4 of the 1978 Constitution, the accommodation of some Members of Parliament who essentially are members elected to the Legislature to also serve in the Executive as Members of the Cabinet of Ministers needs to be addressed. This anomaly needs to be addressed for the sake of clarity. In the absence of clarity, provisions exist where the Cabinet with an independently elected President as its Head is responsible to Parliament. Such contradictions are inevitable when the principles of separation of powers are compromised.

THE JUDICIARY

The need for an independent judiciary cannot be over emphasized. However, the selection and appointment of such a judiciary depends on the process, and the process in turn depends on the independence of those who recommend the appointments. Therefore, the institution and the mechanisms deployed need to be independent and free of influence in the exercise of their mandate. In order to achieve such an objective, current processes should be reviewed and reformed if the judiciary is to function as an independent body. In order to make the selection process more open and transparent, it may be necessary for the candidates selected by an Independent Commission to appear before a Parliamentary Oversight Committee for assessment, instead of limiting the process entirely within the judicial fraternity as recommended in the book.

Two others issues that should be part of Constitutional Reforms should be constitutional provisions for judicial review without any time constraints, and the other is the recognition given to the Preamble to the Constitution, because it is the Preamble that sets the broad principles of the Constitutional Framework for the judiciary to be guided in their deliberations whenever the ambiguities and limitations in the written law prevent the administration of justice. The recognition given to the Preamble is what would permit purposive interpretations thereby expanding the scope for administering justice without being bound by literal interpretations of the written word; a practice that could lead to justice being compromised.

DEVOLUTION

The topic of Devolution as in the past, is addressed from a majority/minority perspective as if communities live in defined territories with specific and distinct identities, thus confirming the absence of a fresh perspective to devolution. The inability to accept that in reality this is not the case, is regretted. In reality the composition of the Sri Lankan State is not a collection of Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim monolithic communities living in defined areas. Instead, it is a collection of human beings often with similar aspirations living in politically demarcated areas with political powers assigned to Local Governments as the lowest peripheral unit.

Such areas may be exclusively Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim or even Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim majority areas. However, even within such areas there are gradations and hierarchies within them that challenge their homogeneity. The issues that bind them are common interests in civil, political, economic, social and cultural advancement as they relate to human development; an interest that is common to all, whatever the composition of the community in terms of race, ethnicity, religion or other identities that make one community different to another. Consequently, devolution should be perceived from the standpoint of human development since it is an aspiration common to all human beings within communities and addressed from a fresh perspective if the lives and livelihoods of all communities are to advance.

HUMAN RIGHTS

There is a common thread in the perspectives between the title, “Human Rights and Development – the Need for Indivisibility”, in the section on human rights and the comments cited above on devolution. However, the difference between the two perspectives is that the former is represented as a right whereas the latter is implied as a responsibility of the community within the peripheral political unit.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains a total of thirty articles. The majority of the articles are devoted to human rights an individual is entitled to within a sovereign State. Only Article 29 makes reference to “duties to the community”.

Article 29 states: (1) “Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Therefore, Human Rights is not only about rights and entitlements an individual could expect from the State but also about duties and even more so, responsibilities an individual has to the community, and through it to the State. Devolution should be addressed from this perspective. If this aspect is to be given its rightful place, it should be incorporated in the Preamble.

INTERNATIONAL TREATIES

Article 157 of the 1978 Constitution is the only article that addresses issues relating to International Treaties and Agreements. However, the provision in this Article that calls for a two-third approval of Parliament is required only in the case of Treaties and Agreements that are “essential for the development of the national economy…”. In view of this limitation and because any Treaty or Agreement is bound to have an impact on national interests, it is imperative that Constitutional Reforms address this lacuna and provide for ALL Treaties and Agreements between States to be subject to two-third approval of Parliament, because any and all commitments in such instruments become the responsibility of whichever government is in power. Furthermore, even non-treaty instruments such as Memorandums of Understanding should be subject to simple parliamentary majorities.

CONCLUSION

Dr. Hiran W. Jayewardene should be congratulated for taking the initiative to persuade an eminent group well versed in the complexities of Constitutional Reform to make public their views that could be of benefit to the ongoing process of Constitution making currently underway.

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Are we heading for an unprecedented disaster like the Irish Potato Famine?

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by Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

When the potato crop, the staple diet then in Ireland, began to totally fail with a fungal infestation that lead to the historic Irish famine (1845-1852), the Irish leaders in Dublin turned to Queen Victoria and the British Parliament for redress. However, the British government under which Ireland was then a colony, acted negatively repealing certain laws and tariffs that made food such as corn and bread prohibitively expensive. Tenant farmers were unable even to produce enough food for themselves, and hundreds of thousands died of starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition!

The exact role of the British government in the Potato Famine and its aftermath—whether it ignored the plight of Ireland’s poor out of malice, or if their collective inaction and inadequate response could be attributed to incompetence—is still being debated. However, even during the famine some food items were exported out of Ireland. Our situation looks very comparable to the Irish fiasco except that our leaders are not acting with malice but with foolish obstinacy, not analysing the issues at stake, not consulting experts in the subject and sticking coherently to their policy of organic farming with unattainable goals.

Our rice farmers may yet not be starving because they have at least the last Yala rice crop which has been reasonable despite the fertilizer and other agrochemical shortages. On the other hand, tea and vegetable farmers appear to be the most hit. Many tea smallholders complain that without adequate nitrogen fertilizer their crops have declined immensely and some are not even harvesting the meagre flush as it can hardly meet even the workers wages. The seriousness of the situation is further aggravated by our losing the markets which the industry claims can be substantial.

At the same time, for the general public, sky-rocketing prices of food and other essentials are unbearable. Our women won’t be able even to emulate what the French women did during the days of the French Revolution due to inflation, carrying the money in the shopping bags and bringinging back the purchases in their purses, because they have no money to carry.

It is regrettable that the President did not consult the agricultural experts in deciding to rush to convert the country entirely to organic from conventional farming within one season.He has not positively responded to the current fiasco of neither chemical nor organic fertilizer being available. His main consultants on matter appear to be a pediatrician who wants to go back to traditional rice varieties which yield less than half the new improved varieties and a professor of agriculture who identified sorghum as a rice variety, Swayanjatha wee’, with which, he claims, King Dutugamunu fed his ‘Dasa Maha Yodayas.’ There are many other ‘yes men’ behind him nodding their heads to every thing he says.

The President should be mindful that the world moved away from organic farming from about the 1850s to conventional farming because even in that era organic farming could not meet the food demand. The writer hopes that he would at least look at Table 1 here which shows how chemical fertilizers and new high yielding varieties pushed production from essentially organic farming and traditional rice to chemical farming and new varieties by three to four fold across many countries. Distinguished Professor Vaclav Smil, University of Manitoba calculated that 40% of the global population in 1999 would not have lived if urea fertilizer had not been invented.

Table 1. Comparative Rice

Production (Million MT)

Country 1960 1999

China 48 170

India 46 112

Sri Lanka 1.1 3.4

The transition from traditional agriculture where fertilizer comprised essentially farmyard manure(FYM) and green manures, to conventional agriculture(CF), as we know it today, took place in the mid 19th century with two ground breaking inventions , the synthesis of soluble (super) phosphate(John Lawes,1814 to 1900) and the need for chemical nitrogenous fertilizer for crop growth (Justus von Liebig,1803-1873) by two great scientists. In 1909, another great German scientist, Fritz Haber (1868-1934) successfully synthesized ammonia by combining atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen which revolutionized the production of urea and other commercial nitrogenous fertilizers.

These inventions and the rapidly growing knowledge then in plant chemistry led to the substitution of natural dung with chemical fertilizer. The third important element, potassium, was provided largely by potash, a substance that had been known from antiquity. It has been said that without these inventions, the industrial countries of Western Europe could not have supported the dense population growth of the 19th century. It is the same reason that later led to the Green Revolution. This is ironically the fundamental question that we should ask: is there adequate organic matter and associated technologies to “go green” fully, as the President calls it, now, if it was not possible then with much lower populations but more farmlands. Sir John Russell (1942), the reputed British soil scientist, in an article titled British Agriculture states that: “it is difficult for us in this distance in time to recapture the feelings with which the farmers received the information that a powder made in a factory and applied out of a bag at the rate of only a few hundred weights per acre could possibly act as well as farmyard manure put on the land as dressings of tons to meet the nutrient demands of crops’. The question then is if organic matter was inadequate to meet the fertilizer requirements then, can it do so now on a global scale?

The main blame of the President and his cabinet colleagues is on health hazzards of agrochemicals. There is no argument that there are risks largely due to misuse of agrochemicals. One serious problem recently has been phosphate pollution of the Rajarata water bodies due to excessive application of phosphate fertilizers in the upcountry vegetable farms. On the other hand, no comprehensive studies reveal pollution of water or soil with heavy metals or pesticides, a subject much spoken about. Farmer training on judicious use can greatly reduce the risk of agrochemical misuse which sadly is not happening with the very ineffective extension services of the day. Strengthening this service is matter of highest priority.

On the other hand hardly any politician utters a word about ambient air pollution, which is a far more serious problem than agrochemical pollution. Records reveal that it caused 3.5 million premature, non-communicable disease- deaths, globally in 2017. These were from stroke, ischemic heart disease non chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, respiratory infections, and diabetes. Local health records reveal that our situation is no better.

The President and many of his cabinet colleagues including the Minister of Agriculture continue to lay the blame on agrochemicals for the kidney disease in the Rajarata and other non- communicable diseases, apparently the main reason for the President ‘going green.’ At some public meeting the President was heard to say that if he gives ‘chemical fertilizer with one hand he will have to give a kidney’ to the farmer with the other. He was prompted to say so by one of his key advisors in agriculture, a pediatrician turned agriculture expert. Sadly he has not sought advice from the health authorities as to the causation of the kidney disease. Numerous knowledgeable scientists and publications have revealed beyond doubt that hardwater and fluoride are the cause of the disease, and a recent comprehensive report by the Health Ministry reveals that there is no evidence to implicate agrochemicals in the causation of the disease.

In this crisis situation, of diminishing food production, the President does not appear to have sought the advise of real agriculture experts. In fact a letter delivered to him over a month ago with some 140 signatures of qualified agriculture researchers and academics seeking an opportunity to discuss the current agricultural calamity has fallen on deaf ears. Let alone the local expert knowledge, he should have sought evidence from what happens elsewhere in the world. Many countries are only gradually expanding their organic crop cover which, however, yet stands at 1.5 % of the total global croplands expanding annually at a meagre 2% per annum.Only 16 countries have exceeded 10 % of the crop cover in organic farming, and in nearly all them the major extents are in pasture fertilized with farmyard manure.

Policy blunders continue to be committed. To meet the rice fertilizer needs the government claims importing 2.1 million litres of nano fertilizer at a cost of USD 12 per litre. It appears to be nano urea although the Minister of Agriculture vehemently claims that it is not nano urea but ‘nanonitrogen’ to give it an organic stance. Urea is not allowed in organic farming. The authorities claim that the cost of a litre is USD 12, and it has 4% nitrogen, meaning there are 40 grams nitrogen/litre. As average rice crop of 5 tons/ha removes over 100kg nitrogen , meaning to meet the crop demand the farmers should spray 2,500 bottles of which the theoretical cost should be USD 30,000. However, the government makes the ridiculous claim that five litres/ha of nanonitrogen is adequate to meet the crop demand. God save the farmers!

The global synthetic urea prices have soared to about USD 750 per metric ton from about USD500 last November. Assuming that a farmer applies 100kg nitrogen/ha with urea (46% N) his cost should be Rs 32,608 without subsidy; and assuming he sells his crop of five tons at Rs 60/kg, his gross income should be Rs 300,000, and the cost of urea alone should be over 10.6% of the gross income. On the other hand, with the huge fertilizer subsidy in previous years the total fertilizer cost for rice farming was a mere 2 to 3% of the total cost of production or about 1.5% of the gross return. Incisive thinking on fertilizer subsidy is another matter that needs state attention.

The need for a national advisory body like the one in India set up by Nehru in 1963, which still continues with a name change made by Prime Minister Modi to give it more emphasis on technologies. Modi also recently reported repealing antiquated regulations that are adversely affecting small farmers. Moreover, whereas we have rushed to ban palm oil imports (now reversed) and oil palm cultivation, promoting coconut cultivation to meet the national oil yields despite it yielding only 20% of oil as oil palm, Modi has engaged in a policy of expanding oil palm cultivation extending it to irrigated lands and replacing some of the low-yielding arable oil crops. His target is to expand the oil palm cover from the current level of about 400,000 ha to a million by 2025. This writer repeats that our leaders should look at what happens elsewhere in the world apart from listening to proven experts in the respective fields.

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