By Dr Laksiri Fernando
President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe is undoubtedly a capable person compared to many other former Presidents in the country. Chandrika Kumaratunga could have been better, but the circumstances of the war prevented her achieving many of the socio-economic targets. In terms of modernizing the country, J. R. Jayewardene played a pivotal role, but his political orientation led the country into an abysmal failure, particularly in terms of ethnic relations. I personally don’t believe that R. Premadasa played any positive role. Democracy in the country declined. Hopefully, Sajith Premadasa may be different.
Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa were successful in defeating ‘terrorism’ in the country, but many of their measures were excessive and brutal. In dealing with the minorities, both ethnic and religious, their approaches were extremely ethno-nationalist and majoritarian. The roots of the Easter attacks were grounded in their policies and actions. It is possible that a person like Gotabaya was manipulating the events for political gain.
Many progressive thinking people and young generations kept much (or excessive) hope about the Yahapalana government in 2015. Some even characterised the change as a ‘revolution.’ But it was an utter failure both in economic policies and promoting or sustaining democracy. It could not prevent the Easter attacks, having available all the information necessary. Who was responsible for these failures? Wickremesinghe or Maithripala Sirisena? Of course, Sirisena was primarily responsible as the President of the country at that time. He was the Minister of Defence.
I have known Sirisena for some years. He is always inclined to political manipulation. His knowledge of democracy or economics is abysmal. After an investigative commission found him responsible for the security neglect which led to the Easter attacks, he should have resigned from politics. Now, it appears that he is trying to destroy the SLFP, one of the important political parties in Sri Lanka.
Vision and Mission?
The Presidential Secretariat’s website says the Vision of the President is to achieve “A Fully Developed Sri Lanka by the Year 2048.” This is utterly vague, and the period is 25 years. This can be a/the long-term vision. There is no definition of what does he mean by ‘fully developed country?
Of course, the UN has a definition or calculation based on the World Bank. Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is the criteria. To be a developed country, Sri Lanka should achieve per capita GNI over $12, 615. Soon this criterion would be higher. But that is not the pressing problem at present. Since 2018, Sri Lanka’s GNI or GNP has been going downwards. The Rajapaksa regime used to boast that they achieved a lower middle-income country with per capita GNI reaching over $4,500 in 2018.
But since then, it has been going down. This declining trend began even before the Covid pandemic. In 2020, it was $3,880, an 8% decline from 2019. Even in 2019, there was a 3% decline. This is not to deny the effects of the pandemic but to emphasise the other structural and functional reasons, most importantly loan dependency.
The President could have declared short-term (2023-24), medium-term (2025-35), and long-term visions (2036-45). The vision of the country should not have targeted only the overall GNI, but the elimination of poverty and eradication of large income gaps in society. These are for social justice.
The next presidential election is scheduled to be held before September 2024. What is the vision of the President for that time in terms of the country’s development? The following table shows Sri Lanka’s predicament in terms of conventional criteria. Last year the country went back to 2015 conditions. This year the predictions are the same or even lower.
Independent prediction for 2024 (supposed to be the election year) is also lower than $4,000 per capita GNI. The President should explain the situation.
The Secretariat website declares the President’s Mission as “To guide the State in the right direction to efficiently and effectively achieve the set goals and objectives for building a developed Sri Lanka.” Even in the Mission statement there are no social objectives. Although the Mission statement talks about ‘the set goals and objectives’ nowhere on the website these are spelled out.
In Australia, although there is no one single vision or mission statement from the Prime Minister’s office or the Governor’s office, there are several vision, mission and value statements from various ministries, departments and offices including the Prime Minister’s office. Plurality appears to be the practice. They are not limited to one or two sentences. In addition to vision and mission, values are included in these statements.
Of course, Australia is a highly developed country in addition to its fairly developed democracy. In formulating these visions, missions and values, many agencies have conducted surveys and received public opinion. Many websites are open for people to express their viewpoints online. The Prime Minister’s Office also has a Corporate Plan and the present one is for 2023-24. Do we have Corporate Plans in Sri Lanka? I have never come across any.
A particular lesson Sri Lanka can obtain is from DEFAT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in addition to the Australian Public Service (APS). DEFAT is also relevant to our foreign trade and efforts for development. It is one entity which emphasises values. The Value Statement is the following, in addition to extensive explanations. (DFAT values | Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
“We uphold and promote the Australian Public Service Values: Impartial, Committed to service; Accountable; Respectful and Ethical. In addition, we place particular importance on the following agency values that define how we work and shape our culture.”
In addition to the President’s Secretariat, the lessons from DEFAT can undoubtedly be taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce. Both these Ministries should take a major responsibility for the development of the country through export promotion, trade, and foreign relations. Australia can not only be an example, but a country which really can help Sri Lanka if genuine changes are undertaken in the country’s vision, mission, objectives, values, and working methods.
Speculations about origin of placename, ‘Negombo’ (Meegamuwa)
By Chandre Dharmawardana,
A writer using the pseudonym GADS, replying to a previous article regarding Negombo, states (The Island 17 Sept. 2023), “It is also historically recorded that the name Negombo is the Portuguese corruption of its Tamil name Neerakolombu and the Sinhala name Meegamuwa which means and comes from old Tamil Naval terminology Meegamam Pattnam. Meegamam denotes a naval captain”.
Unfortunately, the author does not give the reference to this “historical record” or elaborate on the details available from any early sources, Portuguese and Dutch maps etc. Furthermore, he asserts that “Meegamam” denotes a naval captain. Here again, this is certainly not so in any of the Dravidian languages, or Indic languages. No such usage exists even in Arabic and other languages of the Hebrew family, as far as we can ascertain.
A “naval captain” in Arabic would be Kabtin Bahriun, while the Tamil usage would be Katarpatai Kaptain in modern usage. In old Tamil words like Nakutawere used . However, “gama, gamuwa, gammam, kamam, etc., are all refer “village”.
I have collected what is known about the place name Negombo in the website listed at the end of this note . I quote from it below:
The name Meegamuva is believed to refer to a village (gamuwa) which was reputed for its honey (mee). Thus, the Mahavamsa-based tradition has it that honey was procured from this region for Queen Vihara Maha Devi, (2 century BCE), initially from a honeycomb found in a boat turned upside down. It could also refer to a forest of Mee trees, Madhuca Longifolia (Koenig). It is well known that placenames have been based on vegetation and prominent land marks; in our view, this is the most likely source of the name.
Another interesting legend is that the name is related to “Nihumbala, the nephew of the Yakka king Raavana. The Tamil form, Neerkozimpu may mean water, and ‘kozimpu’ is sometimes claimed to mean ‘village’, but such a meaning is not recognised in standard Tamil Lexicons. Also, the Tamil name originally applied only to the lagoon-like area and not to the whole of Meegamuwa. Given the ancient histoofthe village, kozimpu may have comefrom the sinhala kalapuva adorned with the Tamil “nir”.
Maya Oya flows north of Negombo and falls into the ocean near Kochchikade. This was an early center of the cinnamon trade, set up by the Moors in medieval times. The Portuguese ousted them in the 16th century and built a fort, and established a strong Catholic religious centre here. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese in the 1644 CE. The ruins of the fort, with its fine archway marked ‘1672’ can still be seen. In 1796 the British took over Negombo, by which time the cinnamon trade had declined. The town has remained strongly Roman catholic to this day.
Frivolous folk-lore etymology attriutes the name ‘Negambo’ to nikam biruva. That is, a dog ‘just barked’ is said to be the response given by a non-comprehending bystander to a colonial who asked ‘what is the name of this town? While GADS recognizes such frivolities for what they are, the claim that Meegamuwa or Neer-kozimpu comes from the Tamil words for “sea captain” can be very intriguing if anyone takes it seriously; one cannot find a source for substantiating such a claim in any reputed Tamil lexicon or Tamil literary source.
Madras Tamil Lexicon.
 Mahawamsa, XXII, verse 48.
How to conserve electricity at home and workplace
Going through my old paper clippings, I came across the following news item which is more applicable today when the country is facing a severe energy crisis on how to conserve or restrict the use of electricity at Offices and other working places.
There are several ways of conserving electricity at home, offices and other workplaces. It is absolutely necessary to do so because electricity is harmful for our environment and the planet we live in.
Here is how
(a) Unplug all electrical appliances in the kitchen when not in use, except the refrigerator. This includes coffee pots, sandwich toasters, blenders and ovens. These appliances use small amounts of electricity when they are left in standby mode.
(b) When it comes to washing, soap them first and then open the tap halfway to wash them.
(c) Use the washing machine once a week. Try washing some of your lighter clothes by hand and save jeans and other heavy clothing for the washing machine
(d) When drying your clothes, do not use the dryer unless very necessary. Hang wet clothes on a line in the backyard which is an easy way of drying them and clothes dry so easily during the day in this intensely hot weather.
(e) Change the traditional light bulbs for energy saving bulbs. The garden lights can be replaced with solar powered lights. In the kitchen, the refrigerator is out of direct sunlight and not next to the oven. Avoid putting hot dishes in the refrigerator as it will have to work harder to cool the dish, therefore wait for a while for the dish to cool and then put it in the refrigerator.
(f) Unplug any phone or laptop chargers when they are not in use.
(g) Unplug the computer when it is not in use. This is very important because it can get very badly damaged if it is plugged in during a thunderstorm. You may not even be at home during the storm, so it is advisable to unplug the computer when it is not being used. Do not leave the computer switched on for long hours.
(h) Unplug the television set and gaming consoles too, as they can get damaged if they are on standby mode during a thunderstorm.
(i) Keep DVD players, TVs and other audio and stereo equipment plugged into a multi-port which can be turned off with one switch. This saves electricity.
(j) Turn off the lights, fans and air-conditioner when you leave the room. Remember that you do not need the lights switched on during the day.
(k) Do not use electric appliances such as vacuum cleaners and use the broom instead.
Some lesser known historical facts
The Greek women in ancient Greece realised to their utter dismay that their husbands were always fighting wars overseas. One brave Greek woman, Lysistrata, organised a women’s front with the sole purpose of denying their husbands the marital pleasures unless they remained at home to fulfill their marital duties
Socrates, known for his wisdom, was invited by the King of Sparta, which had waged war against Greece, to be an honorary citizen of Sparta. He gracefully turned down the offer as he valued the democratic way of life in Athens. As he was always arguing with fellow Athenians neglecting household work his wife used abusive language on him in the presence of his companions. Socrates continued with his arguments when his wife in utter exasperation treated him with a plate full of dish water. Socrates merely said to his companions that after thunder comes the rain.
In the Olympic games held during the peaceful times the athletes ran the races naked. Women were not permitted to attend them. The penalty was death if a woman was discovered breaking the law. On one occasion a middle-aged woman was caught breaking the law. As she happened to be the mother of a celebrated athlete she was forgiven.
Julius Caesar was caught dressed as a woman in a women only club in Rome. He was not punished since he had gone there only to meet his lover who saved him. On another occasion he had to offer a bribe to the ship’s captain, a pirate, who threatened to throw him overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.
Isaac Newton was accused by Robert Hooke for plagiarizing when the former introduced the gravitational constant in his book Principia Mathematica. Hooke was the Secretary of the Royal Society of which Newton was the President. Hooke was the person who encouraged Robert Knox to write the book “Historical Relations…” Newton was accused by the German philosopher Leibniz of plagiarism as the latter had published the calculations of infinitesimal calculus before Newton. There was a rule in the Universities that dons should take holy orders. The king exempted Newton from this obligation. Newton’s denial of the divinity of Jesus and the trinity did not earn any punishment from the ecclesiastical authorities. The complementary part of calculus, integral calculus, had been discovered by Archimedes in the second century BC. After the conquest of Greece by Rome the intellectual supremacy and the culture of Greece saw a gradual decline. It was known that the burial place of Archimedes was a much-venerated place visited by Greeks. The Romans did not show such veneration and the burial place got neglected. However, when Cicero, a Roman intellectual, lawyer and writer became the governor of Athens in the second half of the first century BC, he visited the burial site and had the monument restored to its former state. He noticed the epitaph wherein the symbol of a sphere within a cylinder had been inscribed.
A century later Rome conquered England, killing the English queen Boudica. There stands the figure of this queen on a horse (close to the underground tube station Westminster) with words emblazoned on the flanks in poetic language indicating that while England was colonised by Rome, England had conquered half of the world.
Guy Fawkes was the man who made an attempt to set fire to the Parliament building. This incident is known as the “Gunpowder plot”. He failed in his attempt and was executed. This incident may be compared to the attempt by a JVP member who threw a hand grenade when a Cabinet meeting was taking place in the Parliament building with the President JRJ presiding. The culprit got away.
When a German prince from Hanover became George the First of England, he found life in England very dull as he could not speak English. So, he invited his old German friend Handel, the musician, to be his companion. It was during this time that Handel composed his famous “Water music” and many operas.
Dr. Leo Fernando
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