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Midweek Review

Visit to Moscow amid US travel ban

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General Shavendra Silva and wife Sujeewa Nelson at the Mikhailovskaya Military Artillery School(pic courtesy Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation)

By Shamindra Ferdinando

General Shavendra Silva’s recently concluded visit (Oct 23 to Oct 30) to Russia should be examined against the backdrop of an unprecedented travel ban by the United States on the Sri Lanka Army Commander over hearsay war crimes accusations, including extrajudicial killings, during the last phase of the Vanni offensive.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion on the morning of May 19, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, despite a chorus of ‘expert’ opinion generated by the West over the years claiming that the country’s armed forces were incapable of defeating the LTTE and they had literally elevated the Tigers to a mythical and invincible status.

Combined Sri Lankan armed forces, however, conducted a relentless campaign, over a period of two years and 10 months, until Velupillai Prabhakaran was trapped in the one-time LTTE stronghold Mullaitivu. Prabhakaran was killed the day after the then General Sarath Fonseka’s Army declared the end of the war, on May 18, 2009. The Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (VIR) was credited with the killing of Prabhakaran and recovery of his body more or less intact.

The US, one of the worst violators of human rights in many conflict zones, in the world, imposed a politically-motivated travel ban on General Silva, the first General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the much-celebrated 58 Division (formerly Task Force I).

Having launched offensive operations in early Sept 2007, from the Western front, the area popularly known as the Mannar rice bowl, the TF 1 troops fought their way northwards, captured Pooneryn (late Nov 2008) and then turned eastwards, crossed the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road, at Paranthan, and in quick succession stormed enemy defences at Elephant Pass and also brought Kilinochchi South under their control by early January 2009. With the fall of Kilinochchi, the Army stepped up offensive action leading to the final confrontation with Prabhakaran on May 19, 2009 in the environs of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

It must be noted here that Fonseka’s Army changed overall tactics in the northern and eastern theatres. The enemy simply had no answer to several fighting formations advancing on its bases and troops causing havoc, deep inside enemy held territory.

It would be pertinent to mention that the Army-raised TF 1 comprising two infantry Brigades on August 31, 2007, at Irattaperiyakulam camp under the leadership of the then Brigadier Chagie Gallage who carried out the first successful mission which resulted in the liberation of Silavathurai.

Earlier in April of that year, men Gallage led, captured the Thoppigala base of the Tigers, which some thought was impregnable. After its capture, ironically, then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to denigrate the victory as just the capture of a rock outcrop. We can recall that when Brig. Gallage went to announce the capture of the Tiger Jungle base at Toppigala he drove his own jeep like an ordinary soldier with a staff officer next to him also dressed like an ordinary soldier, but the media that had converged at his base close to the Black Bridge Batticaloa were not aware of the important if not symbolic achievement till it was announced over the TV and radio that night.In fact, Gallage spearheaded the Eastern campaign except the action at Mavilaru, conducted by the then Brigadier Prasanna Silva.

While TF 1 was steadily advancing from the Mannar Rice Bowl, Brig. Gallage suffered a heart attack in the Vanni west, Gallage had to undergo emergency surgery in Colombo. Fonseka brought in Shavendra Silva to command TF 1. The Army never revealed at that time military strategist Gallage suffered a heart attack on Oct 22, 2007, the day the LTTE mounted a commando-style raid on the Anuradhapura air base. Because of the calamity at the air base, Gallage had to be taken by chopper to Sigiriya air base and then flown to Ratmalana air base in a fixed aircraft. The rest is history.

Army Chief blacklisted

The US blacklisted Gen. Silva close on the heels of Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Ground Forces, General Oleg Salyukov’s five-day visit to Colombo in early Feb 2020 on the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart the then Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva. General Salyukov extended an invitation to General Silva to visit Russia though the eruption of Covid-19 epidemic prevented him from leaving the country as he was appointed as the head of the Task Force appointed to prevent the spread of the pandemic.

General Silva’s wife, Sujeewa Nelson accompanied him on his second foreign visit since the imposition of the US travel ban. Their first overseas visit was in March 2021 to Islamabad on the invitation of the country’s all-weather friend Pakistan. General Silva and Sujeewa Nelson were invitees at Pakistan’s national military parade. A section of the foreign media condemned and disputed Pakistan’s invitation to General Silva on the basis of him being among those accused of war crimes.

Having solidly defended Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), both Pakistan and Russia have absolutely no qualms in inviting General Silva. Both countries voted against anti-Sri Lanka resolutions spearheaded by the West moved in Geneva.

The timing of the US ban underscored the Superpower’s intention to meddle in local politics. The announcement was made between the last presidential election held in mid-November 2019 and the parliamentary polls in August 2020. It would be pertinent to mention that the parliamentary polls, scheduled for April 25, 2020, had to be put off to August due to the Covid-19 eruption. The UNP suffered a very heavy defeat with the over 70 year-old party that had 106 MPs in Parliament (2015-2019) being reduced to a solitary National List slot.

Most probably the US never expected the then Maj. Gen. Silva to receive an opportunity to command the Sri Lanka Army. Had that happened, the US wouldn’t have had to blacklist the highly decorated soldier. Obviously, the UNP-led government and the then President Maithripala Sirisena didn’t agree on how to deal with Silva.

The failed constitutional coup in late Oct 2018 ruined the political relationship between President Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. Therefore, no one would have been surprised by the yahapalana leaders’ disagreement on the Army Commander’s appointment.

President Sirisena appointed the distinguished ground combat commander as the 23rd Commander of the Army on August 18, 2019. Maj. Gen. Silva was also elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General effective the same date. Had efforts to deprive Silva of the top position succeeded, the US wouldn’t have had to play politics with the Sri Lankan military by imposing a controversial travel ban on him. Or had the Presidency been in the hands of the UNP it would have appointed one of its uniformed ‘yes’ men as the new Army Commander and definitely not one who helped to defeat the most ruthless terror outfit in the world.

Whatever the reasons, the stand taken by President Sirisena, the Commanding-in-Chief of the armed forces as well as the Defence Minister should be appreciated.

Following wartime Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s triumph at the Nov 2019 presidential election, Silva was promoted to the rank of a 4-star General on Dec 28, 2020. With the retirement of Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne on Dec 31, 2019, Gen. Silva was named the Chief of Defence Staff. Six weeks later the US categorised General Silva as a war criminal.

Denigration of an Army Chief

Why did the US categorise General Silva a war criminal well over a decade after the conclusion of the war? Let me remind the reader that Silva, in 2010, received the appointment as Deputy Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, in New York. Silva is the one and only serving military officer in Sri Lanka’s history to be promoted to an ‘Ambassadorial’ rank in the country’s Foreign Service. Most importantly, why on earth the US found it necessary to declare Silva a war criminal having backed the war-winning General Sarath Fonseka’s candidature at the 2010 January presidential election.

In fact, the US played a significant role in building up a UNP-led coalition that included the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in support of Fonseka. War crimes accusations against the Army seemed ridiculous against the backdrop of all predominantly Tamil speaking electoral districts in the North and the East voting overwhelmingly for Fonseka. But, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 1.8 mn votes more than Fonseka. The silly Opposition blamed Fonseka’s defeat on what the late JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe called a computer jilmart.

When the then government arrested Fonseka under controversial circumstances and was sentenced, the US intervened on the retired General’s behalf despite then US Ambassador Patricia Butenis having named Fonseka a war criminal along with the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Basil and Gotabaya. Butenis assertion is in the public domain thanks to secret Wiki Leaks. Butenis’ cable sent just weeks before the January 2010 presidential election underscored duplicitous US strategy.

Ten years after the 2010 presidential election, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “I am designating Shavendra Silva making him ineligible for entry into the US due to his involvement in extrajudicial killings during Sri Lanka’s Civil War. The US will not waver in its pursuit of accountability for those who commit war crimes and violate human rights.”

Designation of the Army Chief took place soon after Pompeo declared the US looked forward to deepening ties with Sri Lanka. How did the US expect to improve ties by blacklisting a hugely popular Army Chief?

In a previous statement, Pompeo said that allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silva had been documented by the United Nations and other organisations. US sanctions barred both Silva and his immediate family members from entering the US.

 “The Government of Sri Lanka takes strong objection to the imposition of travel restrictions on Lieutenant General Silva and his immediate family members by the Government of the United States, based on independently unverified information,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Lanka responds to US

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Washington Rodney Perera declared that the US decision hadn’t been based on independently verified information, but on the much-disputed OISL Report of 2015 and accusations propagated by various other organisations.

Ambassador Perera urged the US to verify the authenticity of its sources of information. Ambassador Perera said so addressing the American Foreign Service Association Club in Washington D.C. The gathering included several former U.S. Ambassadors and senior officials who served in Colombo.

Commenting on the inclusion of the family members of the Army Commander on the blacklist, Ambassador Perera declared: “Even though we are now in the 21st Century, even members of his family who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, have been subjected to a collective punishment reminiscent of the practice in medieval Europe.”

The career diplomat assured Sri Lanka would remain strongly engaged on this issue with the United States to have it review its decision. The assurance was given about a week after the US blacklisted the much decorated soldier. What have we done since then to disapprove unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against General Silva? In fact, the despicable project against the Commander of the Army is nothing but an affront to the country. Parliament never really took up the Western powers’ campaign against the war-winning military here. During Karu Jauasuriya’s tenure as the Speaker, the UNP politician never bothered to take it up with Western diplomats. One shouldn’t be surprised over that, as his party betrayed the military by co-sponsoring an accountability resolution on Oct.01, 2015. However, the failure on the part of incumbent Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to speak on behalf of the military when foreign diplomats called on him, cannot be justified.

Before General Silva undertook the visit to Russia, Chief of Indian Army Staff General Manoj Mukund Naravane was here. In spite of India being a US ally, New Delhi went ahead with its Army Chief’s visit to Colombo. Naravane had been here with the Indian Peace Keeping Force during its deployment in terms of the Indo-Lanka Accord and had been based in Trincomalee. Now, the issue is how is it that those countries demanding action against the Sri Lankan military for eradicating terrorism on its soil are silent on India’s accountability issues here. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacked the political will to present its case properly before the international community.

Failure on the part of successive Sri Lankan governments to address accountability issues since the end of the conflict has underscored utter irresponsibility on the country’s part. Against that pathetic background, the Russian invitation extended to Gen. Silva is of paramount importance.

 Considered to be one of the highest honours, presented in recent times, the formal and elegant Guard of Honour parade with four squads of the Russian Land Forces, together with a Russian Army band distinctively featured the significance and the recognition the Russian Land Forces attach to the visiting Sri Lankan Army Chief.

General Silva after formal honours was ushered to pay floral tribute to the monument at Alexandrovsky Garden of Moscow Kremlin where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier stands.

During General Shavendra Silva’s stay in the Russian Federation, he visited the Moscow Higher Combined Arms Command School and met its Commandant, Major General Roman Binyukov, Division Commander of the 4th Guards Tank Division in Naro-Fominsk and the Commandant at Mikhailovskaya before he visited the Military Artillery Academy, Military Medical Academy and several other places of military and tourist attractions.

Saliyapura bombshell

The writer earlier mentioned the change of command of the TF 1 in Oct 2007 following Gallage’s predicament, but what is of far more importance is what he said at Saliyapura Gajaba Regimental headquarters in the first week of Sept 2018 as his farewell speech when he retired from the service after an illustrious military career, much of it having spent leading combat troops. Gajaba veteran General Gallage didn’t mince his words when he questioned how having served the Army for well over 30 years he was compelled to retire being categorised as a war criminal. Why did Gallage have to say that? Gallage had sought a visa in Sept 2016 to visit his brother living in Australia. He wanted to visit Australia from Dec. 2016 to January 2017. Gallage’s brother, an Australian citizen of Sri Lankan origin, had visited Colombo especially to make representations to the Australian HC.

Following that meeting the Australian department of Immigration and Border Protection issued a report titled ‘Potential Controversial Visitor’ citing war crimes and crimes against humanity as reasons for denying Gallage a visa.

In the absence of specific accusations against Gallage, Australia found fault with him for giving leadership to the 59 Division after the conclusion of the war. In other words, those who commanded fighting formations during the war (Divisions 58, 59, 57, 53, 55 et al) on the Vanni front and after can be humiliated. Gallage’s is a case in point.

Interestingly, the Army celebrated its 72 anniversary at the Saliyapura base last Oct with the participation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa formerly of the Gajaba Regiment. In his speech at Saliyapura, Rajapaksa, who retired having achieved Lieutenant Colonel’s rank (1971-1992), acknowledged shortcomings on the part of his government. The government should examine the aptness of its response to war crimes accusations. President Rajapaksa made reference on Nov 6 to Sri Lanka having to face Geneva accusations though in a different context.

Designation of the Army Chief should be examined taking into consideration overall war crimes accusations directed at Sri Lanka. How can the government forget the US declined to issue a visa to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and the circumstances?

 Haven’t those in authority observed how Canada and Italy rejected retired Air Force Commander Air Marshal Sumangala Dias as Sri Lanka’s top diplomatic envoy?

British Conservative politician Lord Naseby in an interview with this writer in late Sept 2019 questioned Sri Lanka’s response to the accountability issue (Naseby disappointed in Lanka’s collective failure to use ‘Gash reports’ for its defence-Sept 25, 2019, The Island.’

Why didn’t Sri Lanka continue to refrain from effectively using British cables that had been obtained by Lord Naseby after near a three-year legal battle and wartime US Defence Advisor Lt. Colonel Lawrence Smith’s taking a view 100 percent contrary to the US and its allies as regards the accountability issue, at the 2011 Colombo Defence seminar? Nothing can be as important as the US official’s statement exclusively reported by The Island as it was made just two months after the much debated highly controversial Darusman report’s release. The split in the war-winning team with Fonseka’s entry into politics in late 2009, too, also contributed to Sri Lanka’s overall failure. Instead of countering lies, the first Rajapaksa administration squandered millions of USD in foolish image building projects.

Sri Lanka’s relations with the world should be examined in the context of Quad strategies and new trilateral security partnership AUKUS under which Australia would get a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines for the first time and Sri Lanka’s strong partnership with China. The ongoing controversy over Sri Lanka moving the Colombo Commercial Court against top Chinese fertiliser company, its local agent and the People’s Bank to stop payment for carbonic fertiliser consignment shouldn’t be allowed to ruin relations between the two countries. Like Pakistan, the emerging world power China is an all-weather friend, whose continuing support to Colombo is essential. Therefore, the issue at hand should be dealt carefully taking into consideration all factors. But, under no circumstances, should corruption be allowed to undermine Lanka-China relations.



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Midweek Review

JRJ’s racism, cold war posturing and the Indian debacle

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New biography:

In addition to his political biography of J R Jayewardene, Godage & Bros published last month another book of travel by Rajiva Wijesinha. Around and About the Mediterranean covers journeys over half a century to Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and the Levant from Jordan up to Turkey. It also includes travel to the Balkans, Yugoslavia in 1972 and then the separate countries of the former Yugoslavia in the last five years.

Bringing together the Classical and the Christian and the Islamic cultures of the region makes for a fascinating read for it shows the intermingling that has made the Mediterranean so productive of ideas as well as artefacts. In addition, the book shares with readers the sheer joy of travel, the wonders seen and the pleasure of strenuous exploring followed by relaxation in scenic surroundings. There are several colour pictures as well as black and white ones to illustrate each section.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

An opportunity to peruse Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha’s critical biography of Sri Lanka’s first executive President (not elected), titled ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’, couldn’t have been received at a better time.

The country is in turmoil with a wave of protests, with farmers’ now leading the way over the SLPP government agricultural policy, a simmering dispute with China regarding a ship carrying allegedly contaminated carbonic fertiliser consignment entering Sri Lankan waters, unprecedented balance of payment crisis, and a deepening disagreement with SLPP constituents over a deal with the US company New Fortress Energy, as well as foreign policy issues.

Can Sri Lanka’s current predicament be blamed on the executive presidential system, failure on the part of Parliament and the judiciary – the three pillars on which the country’s political system is based? Academic, administrator and ex-lawmaker who had represented the utterly corrupt SLFP and UNP-led political groupings (2010-2015 in Parliament), Prof. Wijesinha has launched this devastating attack on the late UNP leader JRJ but, overall, the JRJ biography seemed an extremely harsh critique on the political setup he established. But, the irony is the author himself had been part of the two major political groupings after having performed an immensely valuable role as the Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Peace Process (SCOPP) in addition to being the Secretary to the Disaster Management and Human Rights Ministry.

The writer really appreciate an opportunity to review ‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ against the backdrop of The Island celebrating its 40th anniversary at a time the country is experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis. Prof. Wijesinha has basically dealt with the period The Island and its sister paper, Divaina played a critically important role.

Before delving into Prof. Wijesinha’s quite useful analysis, it would be pertinent to mention that as a UPFA National List MP, the academic, in spite of strong opposition from a section of his Liberal Party, voted for the dictatorial 18th Amendment to the Constitution that was passed on Sept. 18, 2010. The 18th Amendment that had been brought in at the expense of the 17th, introduced during Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure as the President, literally placed the executive, the legislature and the judiciary under the President’s thumb. The judiciary cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for protecting and nurturing the Constitution if/when the executive or Parliament violated the Constitution, or both did, simultaneously. The UPFA initiated impeachment proceedings, close on the heels of the Supreme Court having deemed actions taken against then CJ Shirani Bandaranayake constitutional. Bandaranayake was accused of financial impropriety and interfering in legal cases among other allegations- all of which she denied, but her husband was involved in some banking shenanigans and he was convicted.

Wijesinghe, as an MP, however abstained from backing the impeachment motion against then C J Bandaranayake in early January 2013. A year later, Prof. switched his allegiance to a high profile yahapalana political project, spearheaded by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and Ven. Atureliye Rathana, MP (now NL MP of Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya) that facilitated the break-up of the powerful UPFA and the emergence of long standing SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena as the Opposition presidential candidate.

With Sirisena taking over as the President in January 2015, Prof. Wijesinha received appointment as State Minister of Higher Education. However, Prof. Wijesinha resigned on Feb 17, 2015 opposing the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s move to secure executive powers for himself as the Prime Minister. Prof. Wijesinha declared the move to gazette the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was both ill-timed and a wrong decision, thus, he could no longer be a part of the yahapalana government.

Prof. Wijesinha alleged in Parliament the transfer of executive powers to the Prime Minister was extremely dangerous when one considered the way the UNP leader was conducting himself. Prof. Wijesinha certainly didn’t receive public appreciation for shifting of allegiances from various political alliances within a very short period, first to the short-lived Sirisena–Wickemesinghe combination, and then declare support for Sirisena, at the expense of Wickremesinghe, and finally ending up with those who he abandoned in 2014. Sirisena, who led the charge against the Rajapaksas, had ended up among the same group whom he accused earlier of planning to assassinate him.

Jeyaraj’s arrest in the wake of Indo-Lanka Accord

Prof. Wijesinha dealt with how the JRJ government arrested the then The Island journalist David Buell Sabapathy Jeyaraj over the reportage of the Indian Army offensive in the Jaffna peninsula. The former parliamentarian reproduced an apt section of Jeyaraj’s report that discussed the ground situation in the peninsula. Having joined The Island, in June 1987, the writer remembers the subsequent developments that paved the way for Jeyaraj to leave for the US. The versatile writer ended up in Canada. New Delhi continuously interfered with print media cov­erage of the violence in the Northern and Eastern parts where the Indian Peace Keeping Force waged a bloody campaign to tame the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after it turned its wrath against them.

Once the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) sleuths visited The Island editorial to question Norman Palihawadana over his coverage of atrocities committed by the Indian Army in the Eastern theatre of operations. Jeyaraj left the country in Sept 1988, two years before after India ended its disastrous military mission here. The prolific writer for the first time returned to Sri Lanka in Oct 2013 – four years after the military eradicated the LTTE completely.

The section on the Provincial Council legislation, when examined with how JRJ handled the judiciary, is thought-provoking and is evidence the legislature lacks the strength to counter overwhelming executive (dictatorial) powers, regardless of opposition by some lawmakers. The resignation of the late much respected Gamani Jayasuriya over the passage of Provincial Council legislation is a case in point.

‘J.R. JAYEWARDENE’S RACISM, COLD WAR POSTURING AND THE INDIAN DEBACLE’ published by S. Godage and Brothers should be made available in the library of the Parliament .The author should consider getting the book translated to Sinhala and Tamil, too, for the benefit of lawmakers unable to make use of the JRJ biography. The writer brought the new book to the attention of the Chief Librarian of Parliament and the pivotal importance of making it available to the lawmakers, over the last weekend.

Prof. Wijesinha discussed how JRJ brazenly amended and manipulated the Constitution, suppressed internal dissent and if the dictator had his way he would have deprived Ranasinghe Premadasa of an opportunity to contest the 1989 presidential election. At the onset of his new book, Prof. Wijesinha pointed out how JRJ brought in his first amendment to the Constitution to subvert a judgment of the courts.

Corruption becomes way of life

Prof. Wijesinha boldly discussed the impact the absolutely corrupt political system in place as a result of deterioration of parliamentary norms is having on the country. The latest JRJ autobiography has contradicted those who published hagiographies of the former President. Prof. Wijesinha compared the late JRJ with Ranil Wickemesinghe whom he described as JRJ’s spiritual heir. Having referred to their strategies in dealing with Tamil speaking people, Prof. Wijesinha repeated his long standing claim of Wickremesinghe bribing SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem in 2014 to win over his support ahead of the 2015 presidential election. Wijesinha first made the accusation in a widely watched Sirasa ‘Pathikada’ programme anchored by the late Bandula Jayasekera, one-time presidential spokesman and the writer’s colleague at The Island editorial. Prof. Wijesinha says Muslim politicians continue to cross up and down, depending on what they are offered.

Prof. Wijesinha publicly alleged years before the launch of JRJ biography how the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) sat on his complaint on the bribery accusation. The academic declared that the UNP received money to engineer a crossover of over a dozen People’s Alliance lawmakers in 2000 from businessman Nahil Wijesuriya.

Referring to the Rubber-Rice pact with China finalised in 1952 and the despicable role played by JRJ, Prof. Wiejsinha briefly examined the 99-year-old lease on the strategic Hambantota port in 2017. Prof. Wijesinha blamed the then President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema for the Hambantota sell-out to varying degrees. The author quite rightly faulted an influential section of the media for continuously attacking the Rajapaksas for selling family silver to the Chinese whereas the UNP-led administration pushed through the deal.

The incumbent government has had no option but to accept the controversial Hambantota deal. Interestingly, the government is now under fire for giving into the US strategy to take over Sri Lanka’s energy security. The author of the JRJ biography may not agree with the writer, but the undeniable truth is all governments since the advent of UNP at the 1977 parliamentary election contributed to the deterioration of democracy and sovereignty. The 20th Amendment enacted in Oct 2020 with a 2/3 majority is a case in point. With the advent of the 20th Amendment, the much discussed abolition of the executive presidency or curbing of its powers will not be subject to discussion though some may make some statements opposed to the executive presidential system.

Perhaps Prof. Wijesinha should have discussed how Wickremesinghe received the premiership in January 2015 in the aftermath of Sirisena’s victory. JRJ’s political strategy has been exploited by interested parties to deceive the public that victory at the presidential election provided a mandate for them to take over the government. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe did exactly that. If not for the manipulation of the system, Wickremesinghe wouldn’t have received the premiership in January 2015. Prof. Wijesinha wouldn’t have to resign in Feb 2015 and Treasury bond scams would not have been perpetrated.

JRJ biography in three parts

The civil society, the diplomatic community, the media and the general public can benefit from Prof. Wijesinha’s incisive thinking. In part I, the author discussed (a) overview of JRJ’s political perspectives (b) Tamil parties (c) much amended Constitution (d) election and having ministers at his whim and fancy (e) 1982 Referendum. Basically, part 1 dealt with the building up of the colossal power base. Part 11 discussed (a) alienation of Tamils (b) riots after killing of 13 soldiers in Jaffna (c) slide towards concessions (d) Indian interventions and (e) Indian military deployment. This section was aptly titled ‘A slow but relentless decline.’

The final part titled ‘And the Fall’ dealt with (a) Indo-Lanka Accord (b) India’s war against the LTTE (c) elections and increasing violence and (d) a new President.

The writer found Chapter 5 that examined the 1982 Referendum meant to prolong the life of Parliament regardless of consequences. JRJ introduced the 4th Amendment which Prof. Wiejsinha described as the worst of the then UNP leader’s constitutional amendments that paved the way for his party to rule the country from 1977 to 1989. The JRJ strategy ruined the country. The second JVP inspired insurgency, India inspired Tamil terrorism and trade union disputes wrecked the country during this period. Prof. Wijesinha lucidly explained how the then Attorney General Siva Pasupathy, who subsequently threw his weight behind the LTTE and Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon reacted to the controversial move.

Prof. Wijesinha called Pasupathy an obsequious man who had no qualms in his ‘pernicious bidding’ and Samarakoon as JRJ’s handpicked man was truly forthright. Prof. Wijesinha coverage of the judiciary’s response to a despicable move to extend the life of Parliament provides an opportunity for those interested in contemporary history to understand how the executive, the legislature and the judiciary collectively caused irreparable damage to the democratic system.

The assassination of actor-turned politician Vijaya Kumaratunga in Feb 1988 should be examined taking into consideration Prof. Wijesinha’s comment on the UNP strategy meant to politically destroy the much loved man. Having had categorised Kumaratunga as a Naxalite, the UNP imprisoned him during the dubious 1982 Referendum campaign. Let me reproduce verbatim what Prof. Wijesinha stated on alleged Naxalite plot: “Gamini Dissanayake, who was then firmly under JR’s thumb, also got in on the act and claimed that ‘the leader of the Naxalites is Vijaya Kumaratunga’ and his assistant Chandrika. Meanwhile, The Sunday Times, which was then fully controlled by the government, with the easily intimidated Rita Sebastian as its editor, published a list of eight Naxalites, namely, in order (1) Vijaya Kumaratunga (2) Chandrika Kumaratunga (3) Ratnasiri Wickramanayake (4) Hector Kobbekaduwa (5) T.B. Illangaratne (6) K.P. Silva (General Secretary, Communist Party), (7) G.S.P. Ranaweera (Editor, Aththa) and (8) Jinadasa Niyathapala.

Prof. Wijesinha commented on the media, including the birth of the Upali Newspapers Limited (UNL) and the disappearance of its founder Upali Wijewardene in the wake of Ranasinghe Premadasa thwarting JRJ’s move to field the top entrepreneur to contest the Kalawana electorate. The UNL received Prof. Wijesinha’s appreciation for opposing the Referendum, though mildly, whereas the state-owned media and Dawasa Group threw their full weight behind JRJ’s despicable move. The government engaged in violence in support of its political project. The author discussed how JRJ unashamedly used sections of the media and selected journalists for the project that gave his party the opportunity to govern the country for a period of 13 years, sans parliamentary elections.

A bizarre strategy

Prof. Wijesinha explained how JRJ adopted bizarre political strategies. Having undated letters of resignation from his MPs is one such shameful tactic. JRJ played politics with the system to restrict the number of by elections (remember, this was before the introduction of the PR system in 1989). The section titled ‘Flexing muscles in 1983’ under Chapter 5: Referendum underscored how JRJ consolidated unbridled power at the expense of Parliament and the Judiciary. JRJ ruined institutions at will. Parliament was among them. During a recent interview on ‘Siyatha’ , one-time President Maithripala Sirisena explained how successive Presidents brought in Amendments to consolidate their power at the expense of the people. Sirisena, quite rightly claimed that he was the only President to give up power by way of introducing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 2015. However, the irony is Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, allowed his parliamentary group to vote for the 20th Amendment that neutralised the 19th. Lawmaker Sirisena quite conveniently refrained from voting for the 20th Amendment having explained his predicament to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Having accused the Rajapaksas of planning to bury him, Sirisena, who has been named in the Easter Sunday Commission report for possible prosecution for dereliction of duty, ended up as an SLPP lawmaker.

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Midweek Review

Can Budget 2022 resolve national crisis?

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By Dr. Laksiri Fernando

It is extremely unlikely that the present budget could resolve the evolving national economic crisis, not to speak of the political disorder emerging out of it. In fact, during the Parliamentary debates on the second reading, the main oil refinery at Sapugaskanda was shut down due to non-availability of crude oil supplies. This is a result of the foreign exchange crisis, which the present Budget has unfortunately not even attempted to resolve.

Instead of obtaining crude oil and refining them to fulfil the fuel requirement of the people, now the Ministry of Energy is ready to import petrol, kerosene, and diesel at higher prices. At present, there are severe shortages of all these items in addition to gas, in the country.

To obtain crude oil from Nigeria, as previously agreed, the Ministry required around $ 2.5 billion, from May until December. The Central Bank understandably has not been able to offer these dollars as foreign reserves were limited to around $ 3 billion. The government, however, has allowed the Minister of Energy, Udaya Gammanpila, to obtain refined oil (crude oil perhaps later) from Oman (3.6 b) and India (.5 b) on foreign loans and deals amounting to $ 4.1 billion.

Unplanned and haphazard obtaining of foreign loans is not a solution to the fuel crisis or the foreign exchange crisis. These are the results of indecision, wrong decisions, or reversal of decisions, perhaps a reflection of differences or rifts within the government. It is primarily for the foreign exchange crisis that the Budget 2022 does not offer any solution, although it boasts of ‘challenging the challenges.’ For example, the following is the view of the Minister of Finance, Basil Rajapaksa, on ‘foreign exchange reserves’.

“The government of HE the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, expects to create apart from a foreign exchange reserves a number of other reserves. The first of which is the reserve of water, food, and energy, which are created through the land, water, and the renewable energy which are gifts of nature.”

He states the above just before the section on ‘Identifying Potential Exports’ on page 15 of the Budget speech. Does he think that creating foreign reserves is like reserving water, food, and energy? Perhaps he is correct, considering the shortages of food, fuel, energy, or even clean water in the country, at present.

Requirements of a Budget

A Budget in a country like Sri Lanka should address three main balance sheets in the economy. This is common to many countries, but given the crisis in all three spheres in Sri Lanka, the balance of state’s income and expenditure should not be the only focus.

The three requirements are as follows: (1) the balance of payments to mean the country’s foreign (dollar) income and expenditure, deficit, debt, aid, and loans. The exchange rate is also important. (2) The balance of trade to mean the country’s exports and imports, trade deficit, nature of exports (primary, secondary, or tertiary). In the case of Sri Lanka, the status of tourism and export of labour. (3) The state expenditure and income in detail with proper breakdowns on capital and recurrent expenditure on social welfare, investments promoting development, direct and indirect taxes and profits and losses of state enterprises.

It is customary for all of us to call a budget, the ‘budget of the government.’ But it is of the state, the people being the main stakeholder. In a democracy, the government is merely the officeholder or the servant.

When one goes through the ‘Budget Speech’ or the ‘Annexes,’ the necessary information on the above three aspects of a proper Budget, the identification of problems in all three areas, and genuine proposals to resolve them are absent. That is another reason why the present budget is far from being able to resolve the present national crisis. The Budget speech of the Minister was like a ‘Throne Speech,’ more rhetoric than a genuine analysis. The balance of payments or the balance of trade are not properly covered. There are obvious structural defects in the Budget, Budget planning and presentation.

The attached annexes are limited to four, titled; ‘Summary of the Budget (2021-2022),’ ‘Gross Borrowing Requirements,’ ‘Revenue Proposals 2022,’ ‘Expenditure Proposals,’ and ‘Taxation.’ Most of the tables are quite callous and some do not even give the totals! These are compiled by the Department of Fiscal Policy among others. The ‘Summary of the Budget’ itself proves the main criticism of this article, no data on balance of payment or balance of trade. The summary is mainly limited to (government) ‘revenue’, ‘expenditure’ and proposed ‘financing.’

Summary

Let us take the ‘summary of the Budget’ on face value. The table also gives ‘estimated’ figures for 2021, correct or not. The figures are given as if the deficit is already fixed. That cannot be the case and any burden from this year would go to the next year of the present Budget.

Optimistically, the table gives the revenues first. Accordingly, the (estimated) revenue for 2021 is Rs. 1,561 billion, and for 2022 it would be 2,284. An increase of Rs. 723 billion. This could be the case, hopefully, given the new taxes introduced, and taxes of the last Budget not implemented, reintroduced. The estimated expenditure of the last budget was Rs. 3,387 billion and this budget is 3, 912. Of course, it is not a big increase, given the present crisis, but it is doubtful whether it would be sufficient to alleviate the stagnating economy. On the other hand, the Keynesians might argue for increased spending to stimulate the economy.

For example, in the last budget, the domestic deficit was Rs. 1,826 billion. In the present budget it is Rs 1,628 billion without a big difference or a purpose. The most important in a developing country is not so much the budget deficit, but how you plan to finance the Budget deficit, and more importantly how you plan to spend public funds. It is important that expenditure on provincial councils is increased from Rs. 1,085 billion to Rs. 1,218 billion. While this is marginal, these go like other expenditure to recurrent matters such as salaries, wages and necessary goods and services.

Sri Lanka is within this vicious cycle of subsistence budgeting. Public investment was limited to Rs. 581 billion in the last budget, and to Rs. 931 billion in this Budget. Considering the inflation, this increase is nothing much, and most important is how even these amounts are spent, and for what.

The way the deficits are financed is also dubious or problematic. In the 2021 Budget, Rs. 978 billion was expected from foreign sources as gross borrowings and loans. In the present Budget, Rs. 1,016 billion is expected from the same sources. The table also (not so clearly) reveals the amounts that the country must pay back, Rs. 536 billion in the last budget and an expected Rs. 866 billion in the present Budget. The same goes for domestic obligations in borrowings, although not of that gravity.

‘External budget’

The main crisis Sri Lanka is facing is in respect of what I would call the ‘external budget.’ This means the trade deficit, balance of payment deficit, depleted foreign reserves, exchange rate and the external debt. On these matters, no tables or accounts are given in the annexes. Even in the Budget speech very little attention is given to these; nonetheless unbelievable targets and figures are attached. This is limited to two pages, 73 and 74.

It may be correct to say, as the Minister has stated, exports of the country reached $ 10,028 million by last month (October). This undoubtedly shows the potential. Therefore, his target of $ 11,900 million for the whole year can also be reasonable. However, his target of limiting import bill to $ 18,900 million for the year is an underestimation given the present ‘open’ policies of the government. Thus, the estimated trade deficit of $ 7,000 million for the year is also an underestimation.

Most questionable are his predictions for 2022 and beyond. He says, “In 2022, a trade surplus is expected amounting to around USD 1,000 million, including from tourism, ports, and IT export services and I have spelt out policies and measures in this Budget speech to increase it to USD 8,000 million in 2027.” (p.74).

Even if the trade deficit could be limited to $ 7,000 million this year by some luck, how come in 2022, a trade surplus of $ 1,000 million be achieved? It would be a miracle. It is true that the Minister has ‘spelt out’ some policies and measures promoting tourism, ports, and IT export services. Revenue from foreign employment also could be added. Yet a trade surplus of $ 1,000 million next year would be unachievable, realistically. A budget should be realistic and not idealistic.

It is customary in contemporary budgets to formulate projections for the future beyond the budget year (2022). However, these projections should be realistic based on data, careful analysis and realistic estimates. Increasing the trade surplus therefore to $ 8,000 million in 2027 appears just rhetoric to deceive the people. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to believe that the present Budget could resolve the present national crisis outlined in my previous article

(Sri Lanka Heading for Serious Crisis)

in the areas discussed, among others.

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Midweek Review

The brain drain disaster: Where are we heading?

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by Rasanjalie Kularathne and Dr.Manoj Samarathunga

“I’m not happy to live in Sri Lanka” – a housewife

“I can earn more money if I go abroad” – a doctor

“I want my children to have a better future” – a school teacher

“Sri Lanka is on an economic bomb” – a university lecturer

“Many of our politicians and government officers are corrupted” – a social activist

Brain drain reflects multiple underlying socio-economic problems. While we expect to see a better country after the natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks and pandemics, a more serious threat looms; it may appear insignificant to the majority of the people, especially to the politicians and policymakers, yet it is something we should counter immediately as a national priority. Therefore, based on a series of interviews with professionals who have either migrated or are planning to do so we present some important facts about Sri Lankan ‘brain drain’.

The development of any country depends on its human capital. Similarly, the success of any organisation hinges on the performance of its competent workforce. The question is whether this qualified workforce will remain in Sri Lanka, a few years hence? All the professionals,we interviewed, are desirous of leaving the country due to many reasons, including, but not limited to, economic turndowns, coups and political instability, human rights violations, thoughtless bureaucracy, the absence of national policies aimed at development, bribery and corruption.

In this context, there is an ever-increasing number of youth who desire to pursue professional careers and expect attractive remuneration packages. Then again, the question is whether there are enough opportunities available for them in the country, or whether there are any policies in place or actions being taken to create them. If not, the youth, opt for foreign employment.

Migration is triggered by push factors, including adverse/unfavourable economic conditions, lack of employment opportunities or the general low wage levels, abusive marriages, domestic violence, lack of social freedom and unstable political governance, and pull factors, such as the host country’s favourable salaries, better quality of life, freedom/or independence, and the growing need for workers in the destination country.

Sri Lankan youth view migration as an opportunity for better employment prospects. The migratory mindset is widespread among the Lankans today, as can be seen from the winding queues near the ‘passport office’. Migration for a “better future” is a dream of many educated youth from urban and rural backgrounds. Most of the migrants, in Sri Lanka, are between 25 and 39 years.

Sri Lankans, who study overseas, return home only to find that there are no jobs available for them in their chosen disciplines. The only choice they are left with is to leave the country in pursuit of employment that is relevant to their disciplines, and better pay. After migrating to the countries of their choice, many Sri Lankans become permanent citizens, and their families also migrate. As a result, many who benefited from free education in Sri Lanka are now employed abroad. Therefore, the human resource capacity within the country, is low.

The skilled job seekers, especially carpenters, bricklayers, masons, drivers, technicians, and mechanics, have a high demand in the Middle East, European and Pacific countries. Many young women, living in the peripheral areas have no choice but to work as housemaids in the Middle East because they find the living conditions, and the cost of living, unbearable. Many people have become virtual slaves. Many others fall prey to human traffickers. Illegal migration troubles Australia, which is working with the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent it. Illegal migrants face sexual harassment, human rights violations, among other things.

Sri Lanka is experiencing a shortage of skilled professionals in many disciplines such as health, apparel, manufacturing, IT, business process outsourcing, tourism, and jewellery. As per the World Bank, in Sri Lanka, only 1.004 doctors are available and 2.18 nurses and midwives were available per 1000 patients in 2018. Every year, around 60 doctors leave for the UK, Australia, Canada, and other developed countries to undergo their one-year compulsory training, but only half of them return, exacerbating a growing crisis in healthcare services. Similarly, many university academics who leave the country to pursue higher education overseas, never return. Ekanayake, Anoji and Amirthalingam (2018) conducted a study on ‘Impact of Migration of Sri Lanka Professionals to Qatar” and they found that 70% of Sri Lankan professionals prefered to stay in Qatar far longer than they anticipated. They are also less likely to return to Sri Lanka for work in the near future. Around 39% did not prefer to return to sri Lanka. Nearly 30% of these professionals aim to secure new jobs in Qatar or other Gulf nations after their present contracts expire, while nearly 21% seek to migrate to countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc. without returning to Sri Lanka.

If this trend continues, Sri Lanka will face a problem where the nation’s ‘brains’ aren’t contributing to the country’s future and there’s a tremendous flow of money going outside. To discourage international migration and stimulate ‘brain gain’ instead of ‘brain drain’, Sri Lanka needs to take appropriate measures as follows:

* Ensuring political stability in Sri Lanka;

* Introducing policies to enhance economic conditions and stimulating development;

* Discouraging bribery and corruption by enforcing the law strictly;

* Focussing on formulating strategies to keep skilled employees within the country by offering suitable employment opportunities and better facilities, realising that migration is caused by push and pull factors.

* Controlling inflation and increasing national productivity

* Strengthening the existing lawss, rules and regulations to avoid human rights violations, harassments, and discriminations;

* Attracting expatriate Sri Lankan professionals by offering them suitable positions and competitive salaries;

* Encouraging more multi-national companies to invest in Sri Lanka so as to create international level job opportunities to Sri Lankans;

* Forecasting the future human resource needs of the country and developing the existing workforce to meet future needs;

* Encouraging the professionals who have migrated to contribute to Sri Lanka’s development through different development and social responsibility projects.

(The writers are attached to the Faculty of Management Studies, Rajarata University of Sri Lanka. They could be contacted at rasanjaliek555@gmail.com )

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