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Unpacking port patriotism: Lack of internal process and its external effects



by Rajan Philips

The first consequential announcement that the ECT deal is kaput came from Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. Early last week he was reported to have assured the port workers that the East Container Terminal (marked East on the map) “will neither be sold to any country nor handed over to any country for administration.” The PM’s announcement came as a surprise to everyone, most of all to the Indian High Commission in Colombo. It was not clear if, when and how India and Japan were formally advised of the government’s decision. It was clear, however, that the Prime Minister was trying to diffuse a gathering political storm at home and was not worrying about diplomatic niceties.

Both local politics and diplomatic caution were clearly lost on the Indian High Commission spokesperson who blurted out the same day that he wanted “to reiterate the expectation of the Government of India for expeditious implementation of the trilateral Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) signed in May 2019 among the Governments of India, Japan and Sri Lanka for the development of ECT with participation from these three countries.” It was hardly the way to express India’s position given the context in which the Sri Lankan Prime Minister had announced his government’s decision. Indian diplomacy can still learn a lot from the Chinese about being suave in dealing with smaller countries with worrisome politics. That difference first showed up way back when in Bandung, between Jawaharlal Nehru’s impatience and Zhou Enlai’s charm.  

Never mind. By Wednesday, Prime Minister Modi (Nehru’s current antithesis) was calling the Sri Lankan PM to felicitate Sri Lanka’s 73rd Independence anniversary. He was the first foreign leader to do so, beating Xi Jinping to the wire. The Chinese President later sent a message of felicitations to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Mr. Modi may have taken the high road in his call with the Sri Lankan PM, without harping on the ECT deal cancellation, and leaving it to his High Commissioner in Colombo to formally register a protest with the Sri Lankan government. High Commissioner Gopal Baglay has reportedly done just that, and has called on the President and the Prime Minister separately in a double registration of India’s protest.


What will India do?

What will India do? For now, it is all a matter of speculation. Will it retaliate by reducing the transhipment of Indian goods via Colombo? Indian goods account for the largest volume (70%) of cargo in Colombo, and according to Indian commentators “Colombo tranships more Indian goods than all of India’s own ports.” Sri Lankan commentators have noted that without the Indian volume, Colombo will not be able to maintain its current port-status in the world – 25th largest container port and 19th best-connected.

The new port in Vizhinjam, Kerala, has been touted as a response to this regional imbalance, and as a new deep water (20-24 metres) port Vizhinjam is anticipated to be India’s first Mega Transshipment Container Terminal. Coincidentally or not, the private developer of the port is none other than Adani Ports apparently India’s leading private sector port developer and operator. The USD 930 M port is being developed as a Public-Private BOT undertaking with the Kerala State government as owner and the Central government providing USD 110 M gap funding support. Prime Minister Modi is also reported to have mused about a new transhipment port in the Great Nicobar Island, which too could be a threat to Colombo’s current status.

How will the Vizhinjam port affect Colombo? According to former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who joined the ECT fray with his own little statement, the now defunct 2019 ECT Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) that his team had negotiated included a condition that committed India to treat the Kerala and Colombo ports equally without giving preference to the new Kerala port. Will India continue to do that? Or will it divert and reduce Indian transhipment through Colombo? Could it be that India cannot do anything about its cargo that now passes through Colombo because it suits India’s own distribution requirements. For example, increasing the country’s cargo handling in Kerala, at the expense of Colombo, might require significant expansion in the ground transportation infrastructure within India. So, Sri Lanka might be left with the better of both worlds. Keep the ECT as a sovereign enterprise and still receive the same volume of Indian transhipment cargo.

More speculatively, how will India and Japan respond to what the Indian media is calling Sri Lanka’s “compensatory offer” of the West Container Terminal (WCT) to be developed as a Public Private Partnership undertaking. As can be seen in the map above, the contentious East Terminal is partially developed, whereas the West Terminal (that will be to the left of CICT in the map) will be an entirely new undertaking involving a full construction component. Colombo government sources have apparently touted it as a bigger and better deal for India and Japan. According to the same media reports, sources in Colombo have indicated that the Indian response to the WCT offer has been “ambiguous” and “almost rejecting.” Indian officials, on the other hand, are said to have countered that there had been “no formal communication about WCT” from the Sri Lankan side. I have not seen any formal government announcement about the compensatory WCT offer by Sri Lanka.

As well, to Indian media queries about the likelihood of a future political opposition to WCT down the road, the Sri Lanka government sources have reportedly ruled out “chances of any further trouble on the cabinet-proposed West Terminal offer.” Can anyone be so sure that the ECT history will not be repeated for a future WCT deal? If an apparently smaller ECT is so crucial to be kept under 100% Sri Lankan control, how could the bigger WCT be given to foreigners in the future, and that too to the Adani group that is allegedly in cahoots with the Modi government?


Port Development

The first major development in the Colombo harbour was the late 19th century (1872-85) construction of the Southwest Breakwater. It was directly undertaken by the colonial government without hiring contractors to keep costs within estimates and loans repayable. Both were accomplished successfully. The loan repayment was made entirely out of the port revenue. The cost of construction was kept lower than normal because the labour used was convict labour supplied cheap by the Prisons Department, which collected less than minimum wages as its revenue and fed the convicts with “wholesome food”. The convicts were preferred apparently because of their “superior physical strength … and a certain degree of regimentation.” It was also because of the short supply of regular “coolies,” local or Indian, and their alleged lack of physical strength and regimentation. The harbour expansions thereafter were few and far between. Notable milestones are the conversion to a “sheltered harbour” in 1912, and the completion of the Queen Elizabeth Quay and expansions in 1954.

Much container cargo has trans-shipped through the Colombo port in the intervening years, but all of the current container terminals were added only after 1985. Three of them under the protection of the old breakwaters – the Jaye Container Terminal (JCT), Unity Container Terminal (UCT) and the South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) – were developed between 1985 and 1999. The South Asia Gateway Terminal is the expansion of the old Queen Elizabeth Quay and is the first and perhaps the most successful Public-Private Partnership undertaking in the Port and in Sri Lanka.

The subsequent expansion of the port facilities has been under the umbrella of the South Harbour Development Project, the technical studies for which were completed in 2006. The South Harbour expansion is a significant addition to port’s terminal and operational capacities. The expansion is based on the construction of new breakwaters and the development of three new container terminals, viz., The Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT, already built, and known previously as the South Container Terminal); the now famous East Container Terminal; and the now-touted-compensatory West Container Terminal.

But the procurement process for developing these facilities has been getting murkier and murkier with every passing cargo ship. Not everything was transparent in the selection of the consortium for the CICT facility, although the main consultant and the contactors apparently did a good job of work, at least according to the project evaluation report of the Asian Development Bank, which has been the prime lender for the South Harbour undertakings. And nothing was made transparent about the negotiations and the eventual agreement for the ECT. Why?

The answer may lie in the internal decision making processes of the government of Sri Lanka. Rather, the answer is in the lack of any process for the procurement of public goods and service, big or small, local, or foreign. Things get complicated when public undertakings are large and involve foreign participation. Add to the lack of process in procurement, the lacuna of parliamentary scrutiny and overall transparency. In fact, there is no better and more compact example for the deteriorations in process, scrutiny, and transparency in the matter of public undertakings in Sri Lanka than what you can find in the saga of the development of the port of Colombo and its terminals.

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Olga Sirimanne (1923 – 2021)



In memoriam

My darling beautiful angelic wife Olga (First batch of Air Ceylon stewardesses) and I commenced a partnership of love in Holy Matrimony on 17th June 1954. We loved each other deeply, enjoyed a blissful relationship for over 66 happy years with each other. We devoted our lives to give love and happiness not only to each other but also to all those who came to know us during our delightful almost 100 years. Beautiful incidents and memories are portrayed in several photo albums. Our friends and family loved listening to Olga’s exciting experiences and stories laced with humour and laughter as she was an excellent story teller.

Olga was blessed with three loveable children, Sunil, Laksen and a beautiful daughter Minoli; adorable grandchildren, Shelana and Sanjev, Rahel and Sariah, Kaitlyn and Taylor; great grandson, Sevan and darling niece, Ashie whose mother (Olga’s only sister) passed away some years ago. Ashie considered Olga, her ’Loku Ammie’ as her surrogate mother. Her son-in-law and daughters-in-law too loved her deeply with great respect and love. She held them fondly close to her heart with pride.

Her lifelong heart-throb was me. She always called me ‘darling’ but never addressed me as ‘Siri’ though all her friends did. Since I was ‘Thathie’ to our loving children, she too affectionately called me ‘Thathie’ even when she was on the verge of passing away. I too enduringly called her ‘Ammie’ as I loved her as much as our children.

Her gentle protective care and devotion helped me to maintain youthful looks and excellent health to celebrate my 100th birthday on 31st January 2020. She and our daughter had arranged a Holy Mass at home followed with a surprise birthday party attended by a few close friends and relations. She too received Holy Communion with blessings for the peaceful and happy years of coexistence with me. I too responded to her caring ways and helped her maintain her health and beautiful charming looks to the end.

Her 98th birthday was on 12 January 2021. She was greeted by me first thing in the morning, with loving kisses, hugs and prayers to God for giving us another year of peace and happiness. She received with warm wishes lots of beautiful bouquets and baskets of flowers, birthday cards and a countless number of telephone calls from children, grandchildren, relations, friends and loved ones here and scattered around the globe. It thrilled her to know that so many remembered and loved her.

Deep within our hearts, there was this chilling fear of the unbearable sorrow if one of us was left without the other. As age was creeping into our lives, every night we started reciting together a prayer to God before going to sleep, kissing each other and whispering, “I love you darling, God Bless you.”

The inevitable happened on 3rd February 2021 when my darling (Olga) passed away in my arms to the Kingdom of Heaven to be with Jesus. Thus, ended our happy and peaceful partnership, me afflicted with sorrow and yearning for her presence. I love you darling, my love. Rest in Peace.

Our children, Sunil, Laksen, Minoli and I wish to thank all those who attended the private funeral, sent floral tributes and messages of condolences and regret our inability to thank you individually . Please accept our heartfelt gratitude.





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Divided people in a distorted democracy



The Geneva Calamity comes more from the thinking of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, than that of the former Chilean politician who is now the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It is such thinking of disaster advancement that made our Foreign Minister tell the Geneva meeting in his virtual address that Sri Lanka acted in ‘self-defence” in the fight against the LTTE’s terrorism. Was it self-defence that led to the actions of the armed forces or the fundamental right to safeguard the unitary state, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka – whether Democratic Socialist or not?

The debate will go on in Geneva about our actions for self-defence, that defeated the LTTE, and what has taken place after that assurance of self-defence, that relates to wider reaching issues of Human Rights, with emphasis on responsibility and accountability.  Now that Yahapalana is no more, it is the task of the Powers of Fortune, or Saubhagya, to make its own case on how Sri Lanka relates to the international community.  This is certainly no easy task as we see the unfolding of the politics and crooked governance in Sri Lanka.

As the echoes of Geneva goes on, we are much more involved in the Easter Sunday carnage and the Presidential Commission report on it. The people are certainly puzzled as to why the planners and directors of this hugely bloody act of Islamic terrorism have not been revealed. We have the unique situation where the person who appointed this Commission of Inquiry, none other than former President Maithripala Sirisena, is to be legally punished for this carnage. 

Are we to have special satisfaction on the possibility that future Heads of State, who appoint such commissions of inquiry, will be the first accused, even in the much-delayed reports of such commissions?  There is not much hope for such satisfaction. The Head of State is the emblem of supremacy, with all the powers of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. 

The families of the victims of that terrorist attack at the Katuwapitiya -Negombo, Kochchikade – Colombo, and Batticaloa churches, will certainly remain in search for the exposure and punishment of those who planned and carried out these situations of carnage. What we are shown is the true purpose and meaning of a Presidential Commision of Inquiry – PCoI.

We have certainly gone back to the origins of such inquiries, and the powers of Saubhagya at Rajavasala, have shown their honour to J. R Jayewardene, who brought the Presidential Commission as the show of the five-sixth majority Jayewardene Power.  Mr. Sirisena may remember how the first PCoI of the Jayewardene era, ensured the removal of civic rights to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the defeated Prime Minister and Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, former Minister of Justice.  

Punishment of one’s political opponents is the stuff and substance of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, and Sri Lanka is now showing the whole world how much this is a part of a Distorted Democracy. A show of power that was enabled by 69 lakhs of voters in the presidential election, followed  by the parliamentary two-thirds gained through those who bowed their so-called critical heads on ‘Dual Citizens” coming to Parliament, and the huge Muslim MP cross-over – for the benefits they must have gained – as all such cross-over politicians always obtain.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who certainly prevented the Easter Sunday carnage leading to even more bloodshed, by a few timely words of caution and Christian thinking that tragic day, must be now wanting to know why he was so keen to get the report of this Commission.  Who were the planners, the funders, the trainers and leaders of this carnage? What will the people know in the weeks and months to follow, and how much can the feelings of the families that were the bloody victims of this massacre of the innocents, be brought to some relief?

This PCoI is the answer to the political prayers of those manipulating power today. It is the answer to the continually rising Cost of  Living, the protection to those who keep destroying our forests and jungles, the safeguard for all those who keep reducing the Alimankada pathways of our elephants, it is the whistle blow of  go ahead to the forces of urban destruction, and the show-piece managers of Presidential visits to the rural people. 

The rising voices of sections of the Maha Sangha against this PCoI, the call from Christian voices to expose and deal with the planners and movers of this carnage, and the louder voices for the protection of nature and the environment, will be the cause of joy to the powers of a Deadly Dominant Democracy. It is the message of power to those who take pride in killings of the past – be it the Tigers of the LTTE, or the cases of killed, injured and missing journalists, and the abduction of children.

 The powers that be will continue to sing loud about how we acted in self-defence against the LTTE terror. The echoes of Geneva will keep ringing in the ears of manipulative politics and power. But this and other PCoI reports that are seen as the substance of crooked power, will soon lead our people and country to an Age of Disaster – an age of new confrontations and calamities. How much worse can we become than the JRJ manipulation of anti-democratic power?

 How much can we allow our people to be divided, and thus supportive of a Distorted Democracy?

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The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

(From THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada Mahathera)

“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”


To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.

By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”

In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.

Kamma Nimitta

or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…

By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.

Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.

For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.

His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).

The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.

There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.

With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.

Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).

According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.

The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.

Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.

“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.

Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vijnana).

Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.

Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.

In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vijnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.

The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.

Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”

This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Panha

The King Milinda questions:

“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?

“They would arrive at the same time. O King.

“In which town were you born, O King?

“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.

“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?

“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.

“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?

“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.

“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.

“I have done so, Venerable Sir.

“And now think of Kashmir, O King.

“It is done, Venerable Sir.

“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?

“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.

“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”

“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”

“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”

“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later.

The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?

According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.

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