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Women leaders to the fore



It was indeed welcome news when we read that women were in the majority in Parliament after the last general elections in Iceland. This may be a good omen for the other countries to follow. Unfortunately for this to happen in our country we will have to bide our time till Maithree Budun or Diyasena comes as the old folks would say or till the pigs can fly.

It is a real shame that Sri Lanka, after having the world’s first woman Prime Minister has not been able to move forward except to have a few females holding Cabinet portfolios in the governments that have been in power, but with a minimal contribution towards leadership. Soon after Mrs. Sirimavo Banadaranaike had taken over the reins of our country, it was Golda Meir who became the Prime Minister of Israel. Then India followed with Indira Gandhi, Bangladesh had two women Prime Ministers in Sheik Hasina and Khaleda Zia. These two were at each other’s throat to take over the leadership alternatively. In South East Asia, the next to take over the reins of a country was Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. However, in all these countries it was only the Prime Minister and one or two female members of parliament. The strange thing about this is that all these women leaders were from the so-called developing countries, except in the case of Israel. The developed countries had to wait for a long time to see a woman Prime Minister and this was when Margaret Thatcher was elected to that position in the United Kingdom, who seemed to be a stronger leader than most of the male leaders Britain had. Though Theresa May followed her later, she was no patch on the Iron Lady.

In South America, they have had women leaders such as Eva Peron of Argentina who have done well for their countries. But they too fell prey to corruption when they had all the powers and had to leave with shame. New Zealand and Finland are the only two countries which have had three female leaders and these ladies have done well for their countries. Other female leaders have been Yingluck Shinawatra Prime Minister of Thailand, Helle Thorning-Schmidt Prime Minister of Denmark, Kristina Fernandez Kirchner President of Argentina, Dilma Rouseff Prime Minister of Brazil, Julia Gillard Prime Minister of Australia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf President of Liberia, Johanna Sigurdardottie Prime Minister of Iceland, Laura Chinchilla President of Cost Rica, Tarja Halonen President of Finland, Dalia Grybauskite President of Lithuania and Kamla Persad-Bissessar Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.

We are all aware that Mrs. Bandaranaike wanted to make this country self-sufficient in agricultural produce. Towards achieving this end she banned imports of all products to ensure that the farmers achieved the targets to make the country self-sufficient. Her government also banned the import of vehicles to save foreign exchange. Those who had to go abroad had to manage with five Sterling Pounds. Only persons who had savings abroad were allowed to bring the cars that they had used whilst abroad. All this was done to make the country self-sufficient and prevent foreign exchange being spent unnecessarily. However, it was an entirely different story when her younger daughter took over the leadership as the fourth Executive President.

There were a few women who have held Cabinet ministerial positions at various times. But none of them have made a mark to be appreciated. We also have had women at the helm of local government authorities and also Chairpersons of Corporations and Banks. Again they have done nothing of importance to write home about.

We have had a number of women who have represented Sri Lanka abroad as High Commissioners and Ambassadors from the time that Mrs. Loranee Senaratne was sent as our High Commissioner in Ghana as the first woman ambassador(from outside the Foreign Service). Here, too, there was none of the political appointees who had made a valuable contribution except to lie abroad for our country. Some of the women career diplomats have done well on behalf of their motherland.

At present there are a few women leaders who have done outstandingly well for their countries. Angela Merkel who is due to relinquish the position of the Chancellor of Germany after a very long innings has been the most outstanding leader who had done an unforgettable service to her country without using any perks available to a Head.

The next great female leader is Jacinda Ardern who has saved New Zealand from the Covid-19 pandemic. She has taken the correct decisions at every turn to help her countyrymen and all this without resorting to any corruption.

The Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-Wen is another lady to be admired. She has stood firm against the might of China to protect her small island without capitulating.

It is time for Sri Lanka to get some patriotic women leaders to emulate Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, unlike the ones we have had as Ministers involved in conspiracies and corruption and the members of Parliament who have been as if they were dumb.

HM Nissanka Warakaulle

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Doctrine of immunity in Emperor’s Clothes




Ranil Wickremesinghe has emerged as the chief “dramatis personae” in the current constitutional deadlock drama. Whether the stars had foretold the event is not known. He was never a man in a hurry.  He was cool as a cucumber when he was sacked as Prime Minister by the latter and seeking the help of the apex Court regained the position. He has chosen to confront the Supreme Court in what appears to be a battle of wits as to who has the whip-hand – the Executive President or the Supreme Court. The SC ruling in respect of the release of funds for the local government (LG) elections has opened the door for many a fundamental issue, not the least being the question of immunity and that of effectiveness and priority for SC decisions. The presidential circular does not list election expenditure as an essential item.  Indeed, a direct confrontation prima facie.

Elections Commission

One does not need much grey matter to realise that as far as the government is concerned, it does not have an iota of interest in conducting the relevant election. The pointers came in very clear terms through the “machinations” of the Government Printer, the IGP and the Secretary to the Treasury.  And in this time-consuming and futile exercise, the EC through its own volition reduced itself casting away its so-called independence to be nothing more than a pen-pusher – a far cry from the Deshapriya’s lion roar of yesteryear asking violators of election laws to be shot at the head.  Fair enough  for the EC to write to  the Secretary to the Treasury (the custodian of state coffers)  but when it was clear that there was a questionable delay, it had  a duty and responsibility to bring the issue to the notice of court to which it is bound by ruling to hold the elections. The Secretary to the Treasury is bound by the Constitution to perform his duties under the direction and control of his Minister and has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution. He has no leeway to pass the buck or to treat a SC ruling as subordinate to any other source.  Nothing of the sort has happened before.  The Minister of Finance may hold the office of President substantively but that does not ‘ipso facto’ imply that he enjoys the immunity he enjoys in his substantive office while performing duties in areas other than those in Presidential office. If   not anything else, this episode has the potential to become a dangerous precedent. It has to be immediately resolved once and for all.

Immunity of Parliamentary Proceedings

The question arises as to whether the immunity prescribed is limited to parliamentary proceedings. There is also the relevant issue of “absolute”and “qualified” immunity which has to be examined and argued with due reference to authorities such as Erskine May, the SL. Constitution and other such Constitutions. And who else is qualified to do it but the relevant professions, including the legal fraternity?  The question arises whether the immunity is limited to parliamentary proceedings. If so, any action initiated or proceeded with by the Hon. Speaker in entertaining a motion of “Privilege” and any follow-up action thereon in tabling it, etc,. could be construed as “contempt of court”    We have had the sad and unfortunate episode of Shirani Bandaranaike, which nobody wants to repeat and make SC judges  the hunting ground  of  politicians of one hue or another.  No-one wants our judiciary to be reduced to being a plaything of politicians.  The judiciary expects unequivocally and requires no repetition of the treatment of Shirani B or Neville Samarakoon.

Legal Fraternity and the BASL

The BASL has proudly felicitated President Wickremasinghe on completion of 50 years at the Bar (yet not in practice).  The country would not certainly seek to deny him the accolade. Yet,  the BASL and the “Black-coated” gentry in particular,  who thought it opportune to invade the courts of justice in their hundreds unsolicited to defend the Aragalaya  demonstrators without a fee almost exercising undue influence vicariously in the course of justice,  and the frenzy  in which they  took to the streets demanding the ouster of Mohan Pieris, was conspicuous by its absence in strength vocally and otherwise except through a tame letter.

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Casteism, the canker!



By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The malign influence of casteism was well explained in the editorial, “Canker of clientelism” (The Island, 14 March) wherein it was stated: “Caste-based politics has stood many crooks in good stead, and led to the presence of so many semi-literate politicians in Parliament, which has control over public finance. Some of these characters such as former chain snatchers, pickpockets, hooch dealers and cattle rustlers also claw their way to the Cabinet, and control vital sectors. The caste-factor is so dominant in Sri Lankan politics that it is well-nigh impossible to get rid of these unsavoury elements at elections owing huge block votes at their disposal; political parties are dependent on them to win elections. Religion and ethnicity also blind electors to reality and tribal instincts drive them to vote for some misfits.”

For the title, the editor has used the most appropriate word, though not in common usage nowadays, canker; derived from Latin ‘cancer’ and old French ‘chancre’ which is defined in dictionaries as ‘a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate.’ How better can the role of casteism be described, not only in politics but also in many other vital spheres? Though such a division based on trades practiced may have had some significance in the past, it is a totally outmoded concept in the modern era. Though I have had a fair share of experience in my youth and was hoping that casteism would soon disappear, it has not happened, unfortunately, being perpetuated by politicians and, rather paradoxically, by Buddhist priests.

In fact, I became aware of the caste system due to the involvement of my father, C Justin Wijayawardhana in politics. Though the Matara branch of the UNP chose him as the candidate for 1952 and 1956 parliamentary elections, the high-command turned it down and parachuted a businessman of dubious repute from Weligama for the 1952 election and a retired district judge from Colombo for the 1956 election. Apparently, it was done because Matara was considered an electorate dominated by the caste they belonged to! Surprisingly, this kind of the baptism of Matara electorate had been done by the comrades of the Communist Party itself!

Looking back, I wonder whether my eligibility for the Commonwealth Scholarship for postgraduate studies in medicine, in 1969, was overlooked because of caste discrimination rather than political pressure. A few days before the interview, my father dropped in our flat, on his way to meet PM Dudley Senanayake over some issues in Matara, and inquired whether he should mention my scholarship to Dudley. I told him not to as I wanted to get selected on merit. I was the only applicant under the age, it was stated preference would be given. I had a Distinction in Medicine in the final examination in addition to a distinction in Pharmacology in the 3rd MBBS examination. A candidate older than I, above the age for preferential choice, and had only one distinction (Pathology & Bacteriology in 3rd MBBS) was awarded the scholarship! The chairman of the selection panel and he were from the same caste, which may be a coincidence.

The next setback is my career was also due to caste discrimination. Having missed the Commonwealth scholarship, I was in the UK on a Health Department scholarship to obtain MRCP, which I did in 1971. Prof. Varagunam informed me that a vacancy for a senior lecturer had arisen in the Department of Medicine in Peradeniya when I applied. However, as I could not afford to return for the interview, I sent an appeal to the selection panel to consider my application in absentia and was surprised to get a registered letter informing me that I had been selected.

I returned in January 1972, ready to settle down in Kandy, but my hopes were dashed on reporting for duty to Dr D A Jayasinghe, Assistant Director of Hospitals, when he told me that the DHS, Prof R (real name withheld) had refused to release me. He could not explain why, though he agreed that up-to-then it was routine for specialists to be released for permanent teaching positions in the university. I am indebted to Prof Varagunam for keeping the position open for almost two years but I neither went pleading to Prof R nor sought help from politicians to secure my release. Instead, I opted to go to Badulla as Consultant Physician and took a step down in June 1973 to join Dr Wallooppillai as his Registrar in Cardiology Unit.

Prof R was well known to be pro-Sinhala Buddhist and I had done nothing to antagonise him. Therefore, I was baffled by his decision till the subject clerks at the Health Ministry informed me of his antipathy towards one particular caste. They pointed several instances where he had given top positions to doctors of his caste over more senior and better qualified from other casts. Worse still, he had granted overseas study leave before confirmation in post, breaching the Establishment Code, to a young doctor of his caste! It was sad and so disappointing to see such puny behaviour from an academic.

The worst form of caste discrimination is the caste-based Nikaya system, which is the biggest affront to the Buddha, who preached equality twenty-six centuries ago, but our Mahanayakas indulge in discriminatory practices even today! What is the justification for Siyam Nikaya to offer higher-ordination only to Govigama caste and exclude others? The Amarapura Nikaya to have about 21 sub-divisions based on caste and creed?

Casteism is a canker, a malign and corrupting influence that is difficult to eradicate, which muddles politics but has it got a place in religion? Is it not the time for all the Mahanayakas, of which there are many, to come together and declare that casteism has no place in Buddhism and higher-ordination is open to all in all Nikayas? The ideal would be the abolition of all Nikayas with one Sanghanayaka, but unfortunately that is not likely to happen!

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Viyathmaga II



Sri Lanka is fast creating a Viyathmaga II. When observing how various categories of professionals – teachers, musicians, artists, officers from armed forces, doctors …. are getting on a single stage, it reminds us how Viyathmaga was formed and what they did and finally how its choice carried the whole country towards disaster. Whatever happened later, their choice had some reputation gathered during the war against the LTTE.

The chosen Party of Viyathmaga II does not have any past to boast of but they show themselves as an uncorrupted group. But corruption comes with power and without any power there cannot be any opening to involve in corruption.  Even if a few persons already known could be considered trustworthy though inexperienced, a government is an assembly of many and there could be many who are unheard of.

Listening to tales criticizing one’s enemies and how they are going to be punished may be music to ears, but those vows cannot be fulfilled easily and quickly, and also will not bring people a country with Kiri Peni. Sri Lanka has no time to experiment and “This time we’ll vote for them and see” will bring more disaster.

Every political party has capable and incorruptible members and what we need urgently is, all opposition parties to join up to form a government with such people. Any party which has a genuine love for the country, at this moment should not act with over-evaluation of their capabilities or popularity and bring more disasters.

A Ratnayake

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