By Dr. Mahim Mendis
Response to the Article, “Shamelessness”,
by Prof. Sasanka Perera
Prof Sasanka Perera’s article published in The Island on 16 June, 2021, under the title, “Shamelessness”, helps us in “soul searching”, as to who exactly we are, ideologically, emotionally, and even spiritually. The only disadvantage right now is that the people are heavily burdened, as victims of multiple shocks by a regime that has no sense of dignity, public accountability, respectability, and credibility in addition to “shamelessness”, that Prof Sasanka Perera has added.
Prof Perera makes an enlightening statement with reference to Chinese Philosopher Meng Ke, that “Feeling shameful for doing something wrong is necessarily a core foundation for the emotional and ethical development of a person, as well as the society in which he or she lives”.
Yet, what has gone wrong for us as a nation, to be devoid of these traits, when compared to another island nation like Singapore with its post- colonial background? They were in fact an insignificant port city in the 1950’s, when Lee Kuan Yew was elected. Extremely Visionary with a very strong personality, Lee was however, humble enough to gain inspiration from Sri Lanka; a nation with great stature, comparatively during the same period.
ARE WE IN A NATIONAL CRISIS WITHOUT PROPER ETHOS/GRAND CONVICTIONS?
One could argue that it is a shame not to be driven by a formidable ethos in life as without an ethos, a person or an entire nation will be like a “Rudderless Boat”.
As much as Meng Ke, it is important for us to make sense of shamefulness. Let me refer to the Greek Philosopher, Aristole,who explained that an Ethos refers to a man’s character or personality, especially in its balance between passion and caution. Today ethos is used to refer to the practices or values that distinguish one person, organization, or society from others.
Aristotle, according to Krista C McCormack of Washington University, recognized the inherent truth that we believe good men more fully and more readily than others. Furthermore, Aristotle recognized, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker, or the leader, may be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.
A fundamental question in the context of Sri Lanka is whether we are a people with a clear ethos as individuals, as a society and as a country? Do we know what we in fact stand for now and stood for in the past ideologically? Adding to this burden, I often meet university academics, including so called professors from the present generation, who have not heard about Sir Ivor Jennings, the founding father of the University of Ceylon, and how he perceived the University as an institution.
LYING AND WORKING AGAINST OUR CONSCIENCE
Aren’t we a people, who probably know what is right and wrong, but willfully implement what is wrong without any shame? We even tend to lie without principles. History records clearly how Justice Mark Fernando, in 1991, gave a judgment from the Supreme Court in the Impeachment Case of Ranasinghe Premadasa, that Lalith Athulathmudali was guilty of “Lies and Deception”.
Such a verdict could have been avoided by Oxford-educated Athulathmudali, if he had an honourable ethos. So to be without shame is not a recent trait, but an old trait that we carry ever since Prince Vijaya landed in this island, having been deported by his father for being immoral in his own land.
LACK OF CONSCIENCE AS A NATIONAL TRAIT: CASE OF SRI LANKAN LEADERSHIP ON ENGLISH EDUCATION
To give a random example, an elderly person asked me recently, how I perceive the way the late Solomon Dias Bandaranaike named his son, as Solomon West Ridgeway, in the presence of the British Governor West Ridgeway. He said that his own illustrious father, a distinguished product of St. Thomas, College that Bandaranaike himself attended, would not have done such a thing, as this is a shameless opportunism without a conscience.
He said that such a standard of opportunism also inspired the son, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike (SWRD), who benefitted from the Western Protestant ethic at St. Thomas’ College, Mount. Lavinia, and the University of Oxford. As a politician, SWRD became the father of the Sinhala Only Act, while knowing so well that this policy would deprive the ordinary people, the model of education that made him a polished personality during that time.
These issues are raised in good faith to provoke the imagination of the readers as to what would constitute “honour” or “dishonour”, as our leaders should have been role models with the type of privileged education they received. Role models in influencing fellow countrymen to act with a conscience. Also role models sharing with the countrymen what benefited them and their children.
WORKING WITH A CONSCIENCE: CASE OF SINGAPOREAN LEADERSHIP ON ENGLISH EDUCATION
Writing to the Time Magazine, in 2005, Simon Elegant and Michael Elliott, described Lee Kuan Yew as, “The Man Who Saw It All”, as the founding father of Modern Singapore, transforming an insignificant port city as a model state for the world.
This they said because Lee’s actions were firmly grounded on an ethos that he should share with the people of Singapore, what he himself benefited from. To think in terms of the big picture where all would live with dignity on a level playing field, enjoying the fruits of public policies for the Common Good of all Singaporeans.
Ironically, Sri Lankan leaders believed in the opposite and sabotaged the progressive reforms of C.W.W Kannangara, even going to the extent of depriving him of the Education Portfolio, in 1952.
Lee who was almost 24 years junior in age to SWRD who was educated at Oxford, had his university education at the University of Cambridge. About English education, he states in “My Lifelong Challenge: Singapore’s Bilingual Journey”, that, “We learn that there were four changes at the helm of the Education Ministry in four months in 1975. We learn that there were Chinese-medium schools in Singapore right up to the mid-1980s. We learn of the pain of “teachers who had to switch from teaching in Chinese to teaching in English, almost overnight”, and likewise that of students who were “caught mid-stream” in the transition from a Chinese medium of instruction to an English one.
As stated by a Singaporean analyst, “We learn why the National Day Rally of 1986, was a milestone and why he “was a proud man that day”: For the first time since Singapore’s independence, 21 years earlier, the Master of Ceremonies for the event did not have to use three languages – Chinese, Malay and Tamil – to lead the audience, as finally, English had become a language understood by all Singaporeans.
The lesson we should learn as Sri Lankans is that we should be sincere in heart and mind; in other words, decent men and women who will be objective enough to perceive issues without bias.
THE OPPOSITION LED BY SAJITH PREMADASA
The Opposition, led by Sajith Premadasa, decimating one of the oldest political parties that formed many Governments since independence, namely, the UNP, should be accepted without bias. SJB performance was a formidable achievement, that not even SWRD Bandaranaike was able to achieve after breaking away from the UNP, led by D.S Senanayake.
The JVP/JJB group, even with their vote base stagnating, continue to do their best, maximizing their own potential as a Left Wing alternative. To be fair by all, during the first year of the Gotabaya Rajapakse regime, with Covid- 19 dictating terms to all, they as an Opposition have been extremely active.
CYNICISM WILL UNDERMINE DEMOCRACY
In the case of the SJB, can any rational person say that he or she has seen the SJB functioning as a branch of the Government, as stated by Dr. Sasanka?
I would argue that to get out of this shameful political culture, we could achieve nothing by being cynical about the Opposition. All what we should do is to ensure that these parties represent an alternative socio-economic, political and cultural order to sustain democracy in Sri Lanka; not to undermine the democratic process and the parties vying for power.
In this context, we all know that Sajith Premadasa clearly represents a Social – Democratic alternative to the present regime, that will ensure economic development with the government and the private sector enabled to perform maximally. Today, with crony capitalism in Sri Lanka, no one can survive if one is not a close affiliate of the influential elements of the Government.
SJB also firmly believes in a foreign policy which is favourable, to relations with all countries irrespective of their ideologies, defined as “Positive Alignment”. This is driven by the national interest and the wellbeing of the majority, unlike what would happen for example, through the proposed Port City.
SJB’s policy on national security has much to do with social, political, economic and cultural security and not acute militarization of institutions that has today undermined the status of armed forces by taking over the functions of the trained officers of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service. Also to ensure that we would arrive at a viable political solution to the ethno-political crisis, by going beyond the 13th Amendment that the present regime threatens to abolish.
Similarly, the JJB believes in its own alternative. It would be dishonest to say that the SJB and the JJB do next to nothing as an opposition.
WAY FORWARD FOR GREATER DEMOCRACY
The role of the Opposition is to provide a viable alternative to the present regime with sound policies. The Government ironically with all the power it enjoys, continues to make a mockery of themselves, without a sense of direction.
Are we now saying that after one year of governance, the Government should be sacked immediately, and in this context, the Opposition has failed to organize street protests in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic?
If they did that, the same people would blame them for sabotaging the government. In my perception, we can be happy that Sajith Premadasa who polled 42% of the vote, against 58% by Gotabaya Rajapakse is not accused by anyone that he is sabotaging the work of the Government, as was the case of the Rajapaksa led constitutional coup, in 2019.
Let the people at this stage see for themselves and opt for a better alternative legitimately next time.
“Our ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business, and our politics”.-
Howard Zinn, American Historian, Playwright.
‘Achieving renewable energy target possible’
The above captioned news item conveys the opinion of a former Addl. General Manager [Commercial] Kanagagnana, who says it is possible to achieve the target set and recommends battery storage and pumped storage, while the President of the CEBEU, S.Kumarawadu, places the difficulties in achieving the target, inclusive of transmission lines. Both speak of Solar and Wind energy and not of other reliable sources. As we all know, Wind and Solar energy supply is subject to weather patterns and not consistent. But, have the authorities considered the other options, such as energy from garbage? [I repeat what I stated in my earlier letters]. It will be interesting to know what the International Consultants, M/s. Lahmeyer, who prepared a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy had to say, as far back is 1988, for the possibility of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose to eradicate the menace and also generate electricity, It could also produce the much needed compose manure for agricultural purposes. The report elaborates by saying the incinerator plant use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder. Grate, fixing an air quality control system and the required area is greater. Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo Area and the amount of garbage collected, annually, could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is, at present, dumped on marshy land, in the vicinity of Colombo, for the purpose of land reclamation which caused environmental problems such as smells, ground and surface water pollution, etc. The average heat content is not exactly known, but based on a few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be in the region of 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions]. This will be sufficient to generate some 400 Mw of power and, at the same time, would contribute to the solution of the Greater Colombo waste disposal problems. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment could be around USD 160 to 240 million [This figure is based on 1988 estimate] The present population in Greater Colombo area may be thrice the population that was in 1988 and the garbage collected too would be more, hence it is all the more advantages to expedite this project which could be commissioned well before the target year, 2030, after calling for international bids.
Can Sri Lanka solely depend on Wind and Solar energy to meet the target? It is reported in China, to set up a Solar station of 100Mw, it required 248 acres. Can Sri Lanka set apart such large extent of land. The answer perhaps is to provide roof-top Solar panels and large-scale Solar stations over reservoirs, tanks, etc. This has an advantage as evaporation is minimised and thereby retain more water in such places. It was once reported that India proposed to set up a solar station at Elephant Pass lagoon and also at Diyawanna Oya to supply electricity to Parliament. Let these projects be implemented early without delay.
As for Wind, it also depends on the weather patterns. According to a report prepared by the Met. Department, in 1977, the best location is Little Bases, four miles off Hambantota which has an average 17.1 m.p.h, and the best months are May, June, July, Aug. when the speed is recorded over 20 m.p.h. Next comes Hambantota [Average 12.5 m.p.h], Trincomalee. [10.1 mph], Kankesanthurai [9.2 m.ph.], and Mannar [8.4m.p.h], in that order. It may be the Wind patterns may have changed, but this gives an indication of areas to be tapped.
This letter is not to discourage the effort to harness Wind and Solar for energy, but also to look into other sources of renewable sources of energy – Garbage is one to be considered earnestly as other than electricity, in Colombo and other major cities in Sri Lanka, disposal of waste has become a major problem.
A few years ago, when the disposal of garbage was a problem to the CMC, some people came forward with proposals to set up an incinerator plant, but for some strange reason those proposals were shelved. It is not too late even now to call for international bids and a plant could be commissioned well ahead of 2030.
G. A. D. Sirimal
Politicians at Olympics: Public workers on roads
While watching the large numbers of Principals and Teachers on the streets for quite some time, I was kept wondering why such a vital segment of society was badly treated by the state. After all, the next generation is in their hands and it goes without saying that those to whom a generation to come is entrusted merited better treatment. It was said that they were a neglected lot from time immemorial. The answer dawned on me, Mr. Editor, and I have no doubt your readers will agree with me when I say that it’s due to state employees observing how much it costs to get governed and where a large number that got washed into legislature had no basic education. If such types were to secure employment in the national legislature the only opening will be conservancy services. However, having cottoned on to a political party today they live in luxury at great cost to the country.
I read, in the print media, that pursuant to the provisions of the RTI ACT TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL had sought information on the educational qualifications of those who are now in Parliament acting as SIGNAL POSTS. Though the Speaker had circulated the request in terms of the law, presuming that the patron saints will look after they had not responded. I guess the act makes it mandatory and has not exempted any category. It is the responsibility of the SPEAKER to ensure that the law is respected by the same people who enacted SUCH LEGISLATION.
Another noteworthy fact is that with the pandemic hitting the world, most legislators offered PAY CUTS voluntarily, but such noble qualities are unknown to Sri Lankan politicians. While they have a good time, the hard-working state employees, of such a vital sector, are unable to get their anomalies sorted out for survival with the cost of living over the roof, so to say.
While such drama takes place on the streets, the country also witnessed the adequately vaccinated Minister of Sports taking wing to Japan, with a group of legislators, to witness the Olympics.
It’s worth mentioning that out of 206 countries that participated, TWO MINISTERS OF SPORTS GRACED THE OCCASION – NAMELY THE MINISTER OF SPORTS JAPAN AND THE OTHER FROM CASH-STRAPPED SRI LANKA.
The nation owes a deep debt of gratitude to you for commenting editorially on the Japanese jaunt as your comment reflected public thinking when millions of hard-to-come-by dollars were squandered. It is abundantly clear that despite the financial crisis, the ostentatious lifestyle of ruling politicians had not changed. If the 225 legislators, who volunteered to serve the people, treat their entry to the legislature as a service to the country they should give up this immoral act of drawing a pension after five years and also extend the benefit to the spouse in the event of their death. I guess a substantial amount will be available for helping the deserving.
It is to the credit of the President that he lives in his private house while the previous incumbent, who spent nearly 200 million to refurbish, claiming that will be the official residence, manipulated while in office, continue to dwell there. The only man worthy of recognition who did not bleed the country after, relinquishing office, is the late DB Wijetunga. All this is in the name of service to the poor.
The anomalies in the education sector can be met by.
A. Scrap the pension scheme for MPs fully as such luxury does not exist in rich countries even.
B. Scrap the provision of houses and staff to ex-Presidents and use such savings to meet compelling obligations of the state.
The beneficiaries will claim that the law provides, however it must be borne in mind that these are laws passed by them for themselves and with conditions drastically changing they too must make sacrifices. The very same people treat the law with scant regard, to name a few sacking of the President of the SLMC at the behest of the GMOA, the violation of a law where bail was not possible namely the demolition of an archaeological site in Kurunegala, aided and abetted by an ethanol dealer,
In conclusion Mr. Editor, the biggest problem facing the nation is the THE TRUTH DEFICIT WHERE PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT FOR POLITICIANS.
Covid pandemic, KNDU debate and civil-military relations
By Dr. Laksiri Fernando
Covid-19 pandemic, undoubtedly, is the central challenge Sri Lanka is facing today, along with other countries. All indications are that the world might not be able to get back to ‘normal’ at least until 2023. This is assuming that our governments would be able to implement viable vaccination programmes and other necessary measures with people’s cooperation.
Gravity of the pandemic
Even that ‘normal’ might not be the ‘past normal’ with most countries facing continued economic devastation, weak workforces due to poor health conditions, disrupted international trade relations, and environmental catastrophes. It is not clear what kind of a political-economic ‘model’ would hold for the future as liberal capitalism is the root cause of most of the present disasters, plundering of natural resources, pollution of environment, displacing of animals and over exploitation of the human resource.
In the case of Sri Lanka, so far the challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic has been handled satisfactorily, although the necessary cooperation from some important sections has not been forthcoming. The near future, however, is not very clear given the devastating effects of the fast-spreading new Delta variant. Nevertheless, there are sections in the polity who want to desperately continue their politics, protests, strikes or even ‘plans to overthrow the government’ disregarding these conditions.
To the people, politics in a democratic system is about choices through trial and error. They did a trial in 2015 and found an error. They have again done a new trail in 2019/2020 and may be evaluating the results. The best possible choice for the people under democracy is to get the best out of any government that they elect during the tenure through dialogue, cooperation, non-cooperation, criticism and constructive criticism. This is exactly what is happening in countries like Australia where I live at present. Strikes and protests are staples in the democratic menu, but not exactly under conditions like the prevailing pandemic.
Measures in Australia and Sri Lanka
Until recently, Australia managed the pandemic fairly well, given the cooperation the central government and state governments received from the oppositions, medical professionals, health workers, trade unions and the public. Unlike France, there were not much opposition to lockdowns, face masks, social distancing, or strict guidelines. Australia managed the situation quite well, like New Zealand until recently.
Perhaps because of the successes, Australia also got a little complacent and the vaccination roll-out got delayed. This appears to be the key reason the virus started to spread again particularly in Sydney (NSW), in addition to the attack by the virulent Delta variant since last month. Now there are strict rules again. Compared to Sri Lanka, the public health system is quite advanced and the private sector is cooperating. There were no strikes or protests by doctors or nurses, although there are similar pay anomalies and grievances on their part. They were patient and tolerant.
Of course, the grievances in Sri Lanka are more grave, as a poor and developing country. Moreover, politics is exceedingly hot. Education is a field greatly affected in both countries with obvious future repercussions. In Australia, teachers are cooperating fully, conducting online teaching. In Sri Lanka, obviously there are problems, but teacher protests are completely undermining the efforts to resolve them.
Australia has the necessary resources to offset the adverse economic effects on employment and businesses, due to lockdowns and other restrictions, through job-keeper, job-seeker and business concessions. However, such possibilities, in Sri Lanka, are limited. In controlling the spread of the virus, Australia is implementing extremely effective contact-tracing measures and asking people to follow strict rules. While this type of accurate measures are difficult in SriLanka, many people who are infected or possibly infected appear to be taking these instructions lightly.
Because of, people’s widespread mistrust of the police, the application of these regulations through the police in Sri Lanka has become difficult. This is not the case in Australia. There is no apparent opposition to lockdowns or other government measures by opposition political parties at the national, state or provincial levels. The opposing Labour Party cooperates with the government, critically as necessary.
There were some protest demonstrations against lockdowns recently in Sydney and Melbourne which were forcefully dispersed and the perpetrators were brought to justice with punishments and heavy fines. This kind of pandemic control might not be possible in Sri Lanka given the present political culture and people exercising freedoms without responsibilities.
The NSW government brought the military into the scene and prevented any protest from taking place during last weekend. Soldiers are also deployed to ‘knock door-to-door’ in local government areas, where strict lockdowns are implemented, to reprimand those who disobey. Of course these measures are implemented with civility and respect for people’s rights.
Although the pandemic is the main challenge at the moment, the government, the Opposition, the civil society, media, academics or any other party should not neglect addressing or discussing other issues. What is necessary is to understand the circumstances, and prepare for the next stage, without unnecessarily postponing anything else. Therefore, the KNDU (Kotelawala National Defence University) debate is important but it should be placed in the broader context.
There is a pressing need to expand, upgrade and diversify University education, of course without violating the basic principles of free education. While around 350,000 students sit for the admissions examination (GCE-A), and around 200,000 students qualify for admissions, only around 30,000 are admitted to universities. This year the University Grants Commission (UGC) intends to enroll an additional 10,000 students to bring the number to around 40,000. Annually over 10,000 students go abroad for their education. These figures very clearly show the need to further expand university education.
Under the UGC, there are 15 universities and the average student intake is around 2,000. The expansion of university education has been lethargic, from my experience, due to the centralised control of the UGC. At least universities like Colombo, Peradeniya and Moratuwa should have been granted autonomy a long time ago, to expand, be efficient and innovate.
KNDU has been under the Ministry of Defence and independent from the UGC. The property was donated by Sir John Kotelawala and as a fee levying university it has become largely self-reliant. Its capacity has increased over five-fold, admitting less than 200 students at the beginning and increasing eventually to around 1,000 per year. KNDU is primarily a defence university (special purpose), but admits civil students. The teachers are mainly military but with other reputed academics participating.
There can be (and are) inconsistencies and weaknesses in the proposed Bill for the KNDU. But such weaknesses exist even in the Universities Act (1978). It is up to the government and the Opposition to sort them out.
1. KNDU is primarily opposed claiming it jeopardises free education. General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy or University was in existence since 1981, but there was no such opposition before. There are private universities, but those are also not opposed, but patronised by some. KNDU fees should be reasonable and it should not be a profit making enterprise. Some public universities running on a fair-fee basis, with other assistance, would help expand ‘fully free education’ for needy students while expanding the university system in the country as a whole.
A university (first) degree today is considered only a basic qualification internationally. Therefore, expansion of university education is a must for Sri Lanka to be on par with other countries in knowledge, skills and capacities. KNDU appears to make a useful contribution towards this end.
2. KNDU is also opposed because of its military affiliation or nature. This is largely a misplaced and/or emotional outburst. During 2005 and 2010, I was affiliated with the KNDU, mainly teaching human rights. I have known many civilian academics teaching different subjects in KNDU then and thereafter. Since then, the civilian student population has expanded even to the point of including foreign students. The interaction of civil and military, local and international is a healthy atmosphere at the KDU.
Student unions are barred at KNDU. Instead there are social clubs. Military training is reserved for military cadets. Perhaps sports should be promoted for civilian students (aiming at Olympics!). Sri Lanka is poor in sports except for cricket. Of course the quality and standards of KNDU courses, curricula and teaching should be reviewed by the UGC or such organisation.
I believe the newly proposed KNDU Bill can play a major role in civil-military relations. This is something neglected in Sri Lanka. Defence forces are and should be ‘People’s Defence Forces.’ They are not enemies of the people and should not be the case. The defence personnel, and also the police, also should learn how to deal with the people with civility.
In Australia, a Civil-Military Centre (ACMC) promotes this scenario. The Centre also includes the police in its programmes. Its mission statement is, “We work in contexts where there are no easy answers, where the environment is always changing. Our purpose is to support civil-military-police capabilities to prevent, prepare for and respond more effectively to conflicts and disasters.”
Particularly in the context of a pandemic like the Coronavirus, recurrent floods, landslides and droughts, and oceanic disasters like X-Press Pearl, the field of study of ‘civil-military relations’, both in theory and practice, is important. In all these activities women should be given equal prominance. The proposed KNDU Bill, with positive amendments, can expand university education, upgrade and diversify courses and curricula, and also promote civil-military relations, of course without jeopardizing free education.
A civil-military seminar in Australia (ACMC)
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