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Two-thirds majority and responsibility

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It was widely believed that under a proportional representation system, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get a simple majority. A 2/3rd majority under the circumstances would be an extraordinary victory. Therefore, this phenomenon has to be carefully discussed because it reflects a total loss of confidence and trust in a party that had been a major political force since Independence.

People have watched its decline in the last five years, particularly the UNP’s servility to foreign powers at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and the treachery of cosponsoring a UNHRC Resolution against the country, and twice cleaning up the Central Bank. People were determined to teach it a good lesson and, if possible, relegate it to the political dustbin. The author of the above betrayal had capitulated and withdrawn from the contest knowing well the fate that would befall him. This is a good lesson for all politicians who think the masses are asses and take their political party loyalty for granted. It is also a lesson for small communal parties who hold the major parties to ransom and ask for the impossible.

The main reason for this victory, however, was confidence and trust that the new President has earned, first as Defence Secretary and then, in these few months, as the President of the country, with his no-nonsense approach to governance and the efficiency he demands, as shown in the way the Corona pandemic has been controlled. The Prime Minister’s personal charisma and proven ability and leadership has also contributed quite significantly. Their team consisting of several talented Rajapaksas, each with different expertise, had helped to create history in the political arena, and in this sense it is unparalleled anywhere in the world. They must, however, remember they cannot afford to fail; people have placed so much faith and trust in them. Serving the people would be their holy vow and they must remember the mistakes they did in the 2010 – 2014 period that brought about their downfall and avoid repeating them. They could fall again, however big their victory may be.

What is of importance now is to consider what the voters want from a government with a 2/3rd majority. First, what they don’t want to happen, yet which has always happened, has to be remembered. This aspect of the problem assumes greater importance as most of the old faces known for various evil deeds, misdemeanor, ill decorum, and even serious crime are back. They have to be kept on a short leash, if the new President is to steer the country away from the precipice that has opened up in its path, due to the ills of the previous government and the coronavirus pandemic.

Corruption and waste

It is well known that poverty in this country could not be alleviated mainly due to the rampant corruption and waste. The country is blessed with a clement climate, fertile soil, rain in good time, ample sunshine, good literacy and an intelligent workforce. What we lack for development is honest, capable, decent politicians, who are not in politics to make money, but for the satisfaction of developing the country. If corruption and waste in government institutions, beginning from the Parliament could be controlled, the present leadership would have won half the battle. It is the top that must show the way. If there is corruption and waste at the top there is no one who could stop it at the bottom. Cannot they spend less on Parliament sessions to begin with. Cannot they do away with the commission racket at the top before they pick on lesser rogues. Cannot they punish the Central Bank robbers to begin with. Cannot bribery, drug dealing, and crime be stopped at the top so that the police can look after the bottom.

People have hope in the new President, the present political leadership and the government that the miscreants who may have been swept in with the political tsunami would be kept in check. Some new faces also have come in and the voters expect them to contribute meaningfully in the Parliament to keep things under order and control. They owe it to the people and the youth to save this country from the corrupt, the criminal, the drug dealer and the commission crook. They must form themselves into a group who would stand up for fairness and justice, integrity and honesty, decorum and behaviour. Decency in dress, beard and hair style. They must not allow the thick-skinned seniors to have their way and bungle and bumble for five years and go down yet again. These young new faces have their entire political career in front of them. They must not squander this opportunity by living it up, having a good time, nightclubbing and running around in fast cars, while their brothers and sisters, who voted for them, suffer without education and employment. They must make an effort to educate themselves on good governance, parliamentary procedure, basic economics and also develop patriotism and a love for the country so that they will develop into good leaders and statesmen.

The responsibility of the 2/3rd majority would be to change the political culture in this country, which has become so dirty that there are people, including the former Prime Minister who would like to throw politicians into the Diyawanna Oya. Fortunately, he would be spared of the watery inconvenience, courtesy the Colombo voters. Another responsibility is to see that politicians, rejected by the people, are not brought into the Parliament, via the national list.

Constitution

The two-third majority provides an opportunity to reform the constitution which has been badly mutilated by the 19th A, and which was introduced mainly to clip the wings of the then President and strengthen the hands of the then Prime Minister. It was not meant to improve the rights of the people, strengthen democracy, and attain balance between the three arms of the government. Further it has brought in confusion into the constitution when what is needed is clarity.

While the 19th A has to be gotten rid of, the presidential powers, which perhaps may be excessive, as the former President, the late JRJ famously claimed, may have to be appropriately changed taking care not to render the executive presidency meaningless, which the 19 A does. The electoral system, which has been muddled up by the previous government, also has to be revamped, to enable the voters to elect a stable government while reflecting the will of the people. Due to this muddling, the last local government elections produced almost double the number of members it was meant to elect. The independent commissions, which the 19th A introduced, may have to be retained, but a mechanism to restrict political appointments into these commissions may have to be worked out, as experience shows these units are full of LTTE sympathisers, which may have been one of the reasons for the defeat of political leaders responsible for it.

The 2/3rd majority is a clear endorsement of the need to preserve the unitary state and single sovereignty of the country. Communal politics, which unfortunately form the basis of existence for ethnic based political parties, have held the mainstream parties to ransom and taken the country to the threshold of ethnic federalism and secession. Those mainstream political leaders who colluded with these minority parties, hopefully have been relegated to history. Hence it is time the minority parties realized their mistake of overestimating themselves and believing that no major party could win without their support. They have found that if they push too hard the majority community will close rank. It is this myth that had all along prevented them from participating more actively in the governance, and also denied their people the opportunity to contribute more towards the country’s development.

The 13th A, with the threat of its full implementation in relation to land and police powers, is the Sword of Damocles that great India hung over the tiny head of Sri Lanka. This sword could cut the neck of Sri Lanka given the right conditions. The conditions were right, during the last four years, and they almost succeeded. The 13A is an incongruity in a unitary constitution. If fully implemented – there is no reason why it should not – it would give more powers to the periphery than the states of federal India have. It was forced on Sri Lanka as a solution to the ethnic problem of the Tamils, but their leaders did not make use of it to develop the North. The Tamils seem to be in a state of transition, if the results of the 2020 election is an indication. The North, East and the Central hills are showing signs of change and a disillusion with the parochialism of their leaders. Moreover, the Tamils seem to be getting on fine without any devolution, the Provincial Councils were non-existent for the last two years, yet the Tamils were not complaining.

The Provincial Councils do not serve any useful purpose other than being another obstacle that people have to overcome to solve their problems. All the communities are called upon to carry this burden for the sake of devolution of power, which in a poor tiny country is unnecessary and ill-affordable. Sri Lanka has four tiers of political administration; president, parliament, provincial councils and local government councils with thousands of members whose emoluments, perks, and corruption would be a huge burden on the poor people. Such a huge system of political administration, and representation is superfluous and unnecessary for a country of Sri Lanka’s size and population, leaving alone the cost. The aspirations of the Tamils, for political power sharing, should be addressed by more realistic means, and with opportunity for greater integration and participation both at grass-root level and the centre. The failure of Tamil leaders to realize this need has been the bane of the Tamil community and the country too.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation cannot be forced on people. It must come naturally. It had existed in early times and had been destroyed by politicians in the pursuit for power. It cannot be achieved by foreign intervention or UNHRC Resolutions that seek to investigate and punish one community. It cannot be achieved by the establishment of the Office for Missing Persons, Commission for Truth and Justice, and Commission for Reparation, etc., which are packed with supporters of terrorists and separatists. It can only be achieved by allowing people to forget the past and come together in a natural process. Tamil politicians, western powers, and their local stooges do not want people to forget the past for which one side only could not be blamed. The new President did the right thing in withdrawing from the co-sponsorship of the treacherous UNHRC Resolution 30/1. He has also said he will not hesitate to withdraw from any other world body that engages in activity detrimental to Sri Lankan interests.

The 2/3rd majority gives all communities the opportunity to work together to overcome the problems caused by Covid-19 and develop their country. Such an attitude would help them to forget the past.

In Lord Naseby’s words: “This is a new dawn for Sri Lanka, a fresh era creating the opportunity for the country to come together and finally put to bed the idea of any Tamil Eelam independence movement.

“Now is the time for the West to understand the new mood in Sri Lanka; the desire on all sides for reconciliation to become realistic without any interference from the West or the UN Rights Council”.

N.A.de S.AMARATUNGA

 



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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’

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On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.

Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.

This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.

Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.

Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.

Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.

His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.

As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.

Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.

As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.

Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”

Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.

His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.

Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email

My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.

With gratitude,
ERANGA

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