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Wimal moves: Play of Power in political reality

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The latest we are witnessing in the political scenario is the live discussion about events surrounding Minister Weerawansa of the ‘ pohottuwa’ regime. Amidst several conjectures expressed and unexpressed, the associated events have assumed highly important contours spreading across the nexus of the political picture of the country. Some sections of the opposition try to make out that this is another well planned ruse of the government, to divert the attention of the public from the predicaments seriously affecting their day to day lives. There is another school of thought that it is a manifestation of the developing internal conflicts in the Rajapaksa clan. Some Independent political critics view it as a timely maneuver, orchestrated to properly guide the direction of the government, which is now in a somewhat astray and adrift course. Few claim that it is a reaction of some of those in the government, disgruntled over the happenings going beyond their individual satisfaction, and who think enough is enough.

Well, we are yet to see the reality. But if we look at the episode with an open mind there are many possibilities towards this culmination. The group is far more formidable to be regarded as an unthreatening adversary. Whatever is the stunt, if it is so, the grouping itself constitutes a potential risk similar to that of a dormant volcano. The eruption can be activated internally as well as externally. Even if the numbers superficially visible are taken into account, it carries significant weightage, sufficient enough to tilt the balance at any crucial juncture. Unhappy external power blocks can catalyze a reaction. (We have learnt in chemistry that a catalyst can activate a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any change in the process). We cannot forget that we are exposed to and become the focus of several hawkish and no fewer belligerent forces now, unlike in the recent past.

The development too is associated with a highly vulnerable conglomeration , comprising left, ultra-left, center of left, chauvinist, diverse protagonist and senior figures in local politics. The chances are that there is a strong possibility of more diverse social groups joining in, particularly in the context of a long felt need for the country to be steered by a new third force, eliminating the dynastic influence the politics of the country has been subject to. The failure of the so called few ‘viyath-maga’ members to make any significant contribution to the political direction of the country after the last general election, and the many issues pending without any solid basis or plan of resolution, is further assisting in the process of this precipitation.

It is only after sometime will we know whether the polarization is due to and based on national issues, or parochial concerns of a few individuals. Any progress of the movement of this grouping is highly dependent on this. In order to get a clear view of this we have to examine some of the important issues that came to limelight;

= MCC agreement from USA: There was an element of uncertainty surrounding the issue, before it was finally declared that MCC grant would not be accepted which hung fire over a period of time. It is noteworthy that the final decision was announced after the deadline given by the US for accepting the MCC grant expired! It was a sour grapes story in the eyes of many.

= Colombo Port East Terminal Fiasco: We saw the level of opposition that was built up before it was finally declared that the ECT would not be given to the Company recommended by India. Expression of controversial viewpoints on the policy stand of the Government by different members became a common feature. The divergent stands were obviously wide apart, and so unusual to have originated from the same government source.

The decision-making process did not unfortunately display any degree of concern about the profile and the standing of the enterprise that came forward to get into the business jointly with the SLPDA on a partnership basis. The very fact that the WCT becoming the substitute alternative to ECT, shows that the GOSL has not properly assessed the background of the interveners. Unless precautionary safeguards are secured properly, there is a strong possibility of the activities of ECT becoming seriously hampered during the development process of the WCT by these contenders.

Then there are several other issues overhanging, which have caused serious apprehensions and concerns where the interests and policy stands among the decision makers appear to be diverse.

= One country one law: This was a political slogan which carried much weight with the voters, virtually leading them to the expectation of comprehensive legal reforms, removing several outdated laws and introducing legislature ensuring the impartiality of the judiciary.

People expected the judiciary to be secure from undue influence and autonomous functioning within their own field.

Appointment of Judges, rules to protect judicial independence, executive and the administration of justice, reforms to eliminate laws with preferential treatments applicable to communities, classes or religions were concerns in this regard.

Some of the views now expressed by those responsible in the government appear to have taken a different course direction.

= Presidential Commission findings and the pending indictments on the Easter Sunday Fracas, is another matter that has caused some interest and worry in the SLFP segment of this new grouping. There appears to be a developing anxiety about the possibility of prosecution of some of their members.

= A discontent of the SLFP, from the time of accommodating candidates for the General Election, appears to have developed further after the allocation of ministerial portfolios of the government.

The argument that the entire scene is something orchestrated by the government itself is untenable due to several considerations. It is unlikely that the SLFP- wing, represented in the group by its General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera, would have been given the green light to participate in a ginger group by the Party leader Sirisena, if it is so felt by them. Sirisena himself is in a dilemma about the pending indictments in the Easter Sunday case. So it is more likely that the SLFP, now reduced to a tail end appendage of the ‘pohottuwa’, is taking a risk joining in such a move at a crucial time like this.

Even for the government, it is a potential risk for the future of the ‘pohottuwa’ to pave the way to build up a mock but strong grouping, which can boomerang any moment.

The other political parties are in serious disarray. The UNP is virtually extinct. SJB, the main opposition party, is also fairly fragile with the known history of some of its partners. The Muslim parties are in the opposition after a long time. They always had a place in whatever form of government in power. Any slight opportunity extended will open the gate for them to go to join the government. Already their MPs supported the government to bring the 20th amendment defying the party loyalties.

Therefore, according to the balance of probabilities, the move to form a ‘Ginger’ group within the government by Ministers Weerawansa, Gammanpila and Vasudeva is a formidable step to reckon critically. The standing of these Ministers in the public eye is strongly recognized, and their role played to bring the ‘pohottuwa’ to power is unquestionably acknowledged with no reservations.

The chances are, whether they quit or are made to leave OR continue to remain, they have established themselves as a force capable of balancing the activities of an otherwise wanton passage, maneuvered from behind, regardless by those who claim the sole ownership of ‘pohottuwa’. The flowing river of the progressive sector of the citizenry has many other rills to add on to its waters during its course.

 

T. RUSIRIPALA



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Opinion

Norochcholai Power, and the Rajapaksa reality

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The CEB Chairman’s claim that Sri Lanka would have been facing daily power cuts if not for Mahinda Rajapaksa’s initiative to build the Norochcholai coal-fired power plant prompted this comment. Credit should be given to those who deserve. Let’s see how the Norochcholai project came into being.

According to the Long Term Least Cost Generation Plan of the CEB, a coal plant was to be commissioned in the year 2000. However, all governments refused to grant approval due to an objection by the then Bishop of Chilaw, saying it would have adverse effects on the Holy Shrine – St. Anne’s at Talawila, 13 km away from Norochcholai; despite the fact that local and foreign experts allayed the fears of Bishop and those who supported him.

The weak governments fearing loss of Catholic votes, (Chilaw and the western coastal belt having a significant Catholic population) did not take a political decision. It must be stated that the CEB Engineers Trade Union, carried out a vigorous campaign to educate the masses by holding a series of seminars, and panel discussions over the electronic media. The Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers, – Electrical Division, headed by Engr. B. R. O. Fernando-held a very successful convincing seminar where Industrialists, Mercantile Organizations and domestic consumers were present. At this seminar, papers were presented by eminent electrical engineers — to name a couple, Dr. P. N. Fernando, who retired from ADB, Dr. Tilak Siyambalapitiya, and yours truly too, handed over a letter to Karu Jayasuriya, the then Minister for Power and Energy, the chief guest. With much expectations we waited for a favourable response but to our utter dismay and disappointment, he wrote back to say it cannot be allowed as a policy matter.

By that time, the country faced a six-hour power cut and the situation was grave. Undeterred, the CEB engineers carried out a relentless campaign. The press too supported and the then Editor of The Island, Gamani Weerakoon, in a hard-hitting editorial, had this to say,’ if political leaders cannot take decisions in national interests, they are not fit to be leaders’.

At the general elections, held in 2005, the UNP government was defeated, mainly on this issue, and the SLFP formed the government, with Mahinda Rajapaksa as President, and Susil Premajayantha appointed Minister for Power and Energy. The CEBU and others went on pushing the new minister, to the wall, so to say, and it came to a climax that Minister Premajayantha, had no other alternative but threaten to resign his portfolio unless Cabinet approval was granted to go ahead with the Norochcholai 3×300 Mw. Project. At last, it was granted, but by that time it was too late to call for worldwide tenders, and the government had to call countries to come to its rescue. It is here that China came in with a proposal to fund and construct.

If timely action was taken by governments, since 2000, to approve the project, worldwide tenders could have been called and selected the best, state-of-the-art coal plant which would have relieved us for the constant break-down plant put up by Chinese, gaining the jocular term ‘Always break down’ as it is well known, the first plant was a refurbished one, which yet gives unsatisfactory service.

It will be seen from the above that it is not MR who should get the credit, although the approval was given by his government, as President, but the CEB engineers, and those of the public, the press – especially The Island – for having a rather steady supply of electricity today.

The Chairman CEB Vijitha Herath could be excused for giving credit to MR without knowing the facts, and at the same time as present-day public servants are political appointees, for their existence, boot-lick, say and act giving praise to those who do not deserve. Do not forget MR, too, was in the Chandrika Bandaranaike government as a cabinet minister when this subject was the hot topic then. I must honestly and sincerely state this is not to discredit MR but to state facts.

While on the subject of Coal Power Generation, the present Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma should forthwith undertake the construction of the 4th additional coal plant at Norochcholai, not as a joint-venture, but one operated by the CEB as desired by the CEB engineers; and also take immediate steps to undertake the construction of the coal plant at Sampur, to make CEB a profitable state venture, as coal generation is much cheaper, while at the same time encouraging renewable sources of energy though expensive.

Having written about the history of the Coal Plant at Norochcholai, let me turn to the sordid history of this LNG plant, which was ceremonially inaugurated. Tenders for this plant were called for, as far back as four years as far as I could remember, and the lowest tenderer was the local Lakdhavani, which the tender board recommended for acceptance. This recommendation of the tender board was not accepted by the then Minister for Power and Energy, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who is at present the Deputy Speaker to the House of Representatives, and on instruction of the Minister, the Secretary to the Ministry Dr. Suren Batagoda , requested the tender be awarded to the next highest tenderer — a Chinese Construction Company. Having no response to several appeals by the local firm- Lakdhavani – to the Ministry, it filed legal action seeking redress. It is at this stage, the present government, on the direction of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, that the court case was withdrawn and the award made to the rightful tenderer, Lakdhavani. Else, the government would have had to face a very unpleasant situation.

To me, there appears to be a very anomalous situation as it makes no sense in undertaking the construction of this LNG plant without a terminal. Hence, it is suggested that immediate action be taken to call for tenders for the construction of a terminal to be completed when the LNG plant is ready for commissioning. It is strange why the CEB has not pointed out this requirement, if my suggestion is valid.

All in all, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa should be congratulated for taking action to right a wrong. However, it will be seen that political interferences delay essential projects. Who suffers? The country and its people.

 

G. A. D. SIRIMAL

Retd. Assistant Secretary, SLAS

Ministry for Power and Energy

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Opinion

An island of Pain and Destruction?

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When there are several ‘tivus’ in the North, why was Iranativu selected for Muslim Covid burials? Why select an island with people living there, with Catholic priests, too? Why not an island with no humans at all: Is that so difficult for the Burial Experts in the Covid management?

Looks like the disposal of dead bodies, if they happen to be of Covid-infected Muslims, is the biggest problem Sri Lanka is facing  today. This is bigger than any economic issue, or any other aspects of development the country and people may be facing. It looks like there is no possibility for a “Saubhagye Dekma” or Vision of Prosperity & Splendour if any Covid Muslims are buried in this Sinhala Bauddha Dupatha.

We tried to send these bodies all the way to the Maldives, on an official request. But failed. This time it is Iranativu – and once again a failure.  So why not keep trying at Neduntivu, Sampaltivu, Vidataltivu or any other ‘tivu’ in the North or East; and till a suitable place is found, keep the dead bodies frozen at taxpayer expenditure? 

Now that the US has decided to take some un-Trump moves about Saudi Arabia, why does not the former and present US citizens  that rule Sri Lanka, think of sending all Covid Muslim corpses to Saudi Arabia, for sacred burials? With the Saudi leaders thinking of new plans for investment, Sri Lanka could become a new target of Saudi funds pouring in. But will this lead to the Sri Lankan Muslims getting any stronger than they are now?

Or, will we wait till we discover or develop a new “Gotativu or Nandasenativu” off Sri Lanka, an Isle of Saubhagya?

Are the Indian Aircraft flying in the special  70-year celebrations of the Sri Lanka Air Force an assurance of new Indian warmth  in Sri Lanka-India relations?  Did the power of the Indian Air Force, displayed over Galle Face Green, make the government take a quick pro-Indian decision on the West Container Terminal (WCT) in the Port of Colombo? 

Can President Gotabaya or PM Mahinda give any explanation why handing over the development of the WCT to the same Indian company, involved in the ECT, could be any better for Sri Lanka? Apart from the Port Trade Unions  that are likely to launch a new protest, will the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Vasudeva team also carry out protests about the WCT? Or, will they be silenced by the realities of pro-Gotabaya Politics? 

Has Gotabaya Team’s new position that the Provincial Council elections will be held under the new Constitution, an assurance given to India  that the 13h Amendment will remain part of the structure of governance in Sri Lanka? What happened to all those voices of the Pohottuva political players who had virtually written off the 13A? Have they been silenced by the flight of Indian aircraft in the Air Force celebrations?

The Nandasena Gotabaya Team of the Rajavasala had better think of how the yellow robes of sections of the Maha Sangha would react to the WCT deal with India? 

The problems of Iranativu and the WCT or Muslim burials  and the Port of Colombo are certainly pushed back by the realities of Geneva. The Sri Lankan TV stations that have been very strong in their criticism of Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, about her handling of Human Rights, have given big coverage to her statements critical of the Myanmar coup and its military leaders. Will Michelle Bachelet have a big score against Sri Lanka? Keep guessing.

The issues facing Sri Lanka in Geneva are more about the policies of the present Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajavasala, than issues involving the defeat of the LTTE and matters of responsibility and accountability in the post-war period. 

The Easter Carnage that took place, long after the end of the war against LTTE terror, and under the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Yahapalana regime, is certainly at the height of the Rajavasala problems today. Having promised the people that the truth about this carnage will be found and revealed, and the planners and manipulators identified and punished, the Rajavasala is trying to escape its promises and responsibilities. 

This is certainly no easy task as it involves the hopes and expectations of many thousands who voted for the Gotabaya and the Pohottuva at the last Presidential and General Elections. Just look at the thousands in the Wattala-Negombo area who turned away from the UNP, did not support the Sajith Premadasa – Telephone, – and voted for the Pohottuva. It was the biggest Catholic turn away from the UNP, as took place in votes for the left in 1956.

We are now moving to a Black Sunday, when Catholics have been asked to wear black in protest at church services, seeking divine intervention to reveal and punish the Easter Sunday killers nearly two years ago. The response that divinity will provide remains to be seen, but with the voice of the Catholic Cardinal echoing the pain of hundreds who have suffered in this carnage, we are certainly moving to a period of much sorrow and even disaster.

Black Sunday may come and go, but by April this year, when black flags are to fly over houses, mainly Catholic, throughout the country, we certainly face a new rise of a major Majority/Minority conflict. Do we have to think of the possible revival of all the pains of the war against the LTTE terror, or think more in terms of peace and cooperation among people, with or without divine intervention.

This will certainly not be easy in the coming months, as we see so much of nature destroyed, forests cut down, sand mined and transported without permits, the greenery of the country rapidly vanishing and only hearing the call of a painful Saubhagya! 

Will the call for Divine Help bring us to be an Isle of Peace and Understanding, and not a large Isle of Pain and Destruction?

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Opinion

Go forth boldly against global enemies

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At the UNHRC meeting the true friends of Sri Lanka emerged to speak and defend the country battered mercilessly for defeating the world most brutal terrorist organization, i.e., Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009, who held 20 million Sri Lankans to ransom for well over 25 years.

Leading the Sri Lanka bashing were the UK. Germany. Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands. Belgium and the USA, all of them having a chequered history in violating human rights at different times. India, our friendly neighbour, while thankfully taking a fair distance from the punitive stance of others, opted to emphasize on “the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils and their ‘aspirations’ insisting on the FULL implementation of the 13 A”. India should be requested to point out whether any Tamil person in Sri Lanka is deprived from enjoying a basic right because he or she is being purely a Tamil. On the 13th A, which was thrust on Sri Lanka along with the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, most Sri Lankans are of the view that it was a faulty restructuring effort of Sri Lanka’s government by India, and the Police and Land powers under the 13 A are a direct threat to the sovereign Sri Lanka. Further, the Provincial government system has not benefited Sri Lanka in any measurable manner, and has been an exercise in colossal wastage of hard-earned funds of the central government.

As regards aspirations, we are amazed how we can consider ONLY the aspirations of Tamils, as all other ethnic groups and the individuals too have aspirations, and it will be impossible to walk that talk. We need further training in the recognition of aspirations of different groups from India, and we pray for further comments from the HR specialists in India how they have reconciled the aspirations of other than Hindu religious groups — Sheiks, Kashmiris and other minority groups in Northernmost India.

But, many nations at UNHCR rejected the proposition of the Sri Lanka bashers who directly and indirectly were supportive of the LTTE armed insurrection and the separatism, threatening the unitary Sri Lanka. They also rejected the ‘the preventive prescription’ of the Secretary General Bachelet. The nations who supported Sri Lanka stood for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country. Any weaknesses in Sri Lankan affairs should be allowed to be rectified domestically, in keeping with the constitutional provisions of the country, rather than to be dictated and decided upon by the holier than thou sloganeers. Most of the nations who attempt to foist their plan on Sri Lanka are from the Western bloc who killed and maimed millions of persons living in the colonized countries and subsequently destroyed other nations as pawns of the world power games. Their “adherence”to human rights are completely at variance with their practices on the ground.

Now, Sri Lanka should re-examine their directions and resolve to work with the friendly nations who supported her to extricate from the trap laid out by the countries who desire an unstable Sri Lanka. The Government and the people should resolve to reduce our dependence on Sri Lanka bashers, and re-design our imports to suit the geo-political reality and to avoid any plot to impose sanctions by the wounded nations. Time has arrived to consider the nation’s priorities by curtailing the luxuries even for a given period. We should try to get our requirements from the friendly nations, and try to improve our trading relationship with our friends.

This the ONLY way to extend our hand to REBUILD a new world order, to be less dependent on the predatory countries who always insist on their pound of flesh from the developing nations. While we thank the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Government for having rejected co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 at UNHRC, we urge the Government to plan to reshape our trade and foreign relations, to play our role as an independent member of the international community.

 

RANJITH SOYSA

 

 

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