By Kusal Perera
All these 02 years, I have called the GMOA leadership an arrogant, professionally sectarian, unprincipled and a greedy leadership, when discussing their stand on the SAITM medical faculty, their claim in safeguarding “free education” and about the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC).
Ironically, the GMOA leadership could not answer any of my arguments and assertions all through these 02 years, when they had the “right of reply” in all media I contributed to. They therefore took to slandering and insulting, first indirectly and by innuendo and then by name in their media briefings.
Most recently on 15 October, they wrote in their plead to HE the President, “While third class efforts are made to create a public opinion against the medical council, by using people like Saman Rathnapriya, Ravi Kumudash and Kusal Perera, an arrogant attempt to change the medical ordinance by him (ref. to Minister Senaratne) is also evident”.
On the same day in the “internal memo” to branch unions they say, “He (Minister Senaratne) further claims, that the demand to abolish the medical ordinance was made by persons such as Saman Rathnapriya, Ravi Kumudesh and Kusal Perera.”
This is all I had to say about these GMOA slanders, when I wrote my Friday article to the Daily Mirror (DM).
“While I do not know what the other 02 persons named by the GMOA leaders had to do with this restructuring of the SLMC through a new law, I take pride if the Hon. Minister had heeded my arguments and requests to enact a new law and overhaul the present SLMC to include other professionals and reputed and recognised laymen and women.” (19 Oct. 2018)
I have written about this necessity in both DM and Irida Lakbima, a position the GMOA leadership could not rationally challenge.
Frustrated they cannot intellectually and intelligently reply to all that is been said about the bankruptcy and professional bias of the SLMC and the necessity to therefore change the law to establish a broad based, independent and people centred SLMC, the GMOA leadership has sent a SMS directly insulting and slandering me that in full is as follows ; “Kusal Perera hired by Rajitha to attack doctors. He demand laymen to hold SLMC inquiries on Negligence even for traffic accidents by doctors. For details – gmoa.lk”.
I checked with their official website (https://www.gmoa.lk/) on 20 October around 13.20 hrs. There is nothing in it (unless in pages strictly for members), in relation to the SMS sent around to their membership, perhaps to about 10,000 government medical doctors. Fortunately, I am not as “nutty” as the GMOA leadership led by Dr. Padeniya, to demand such inquiries.
Also, please note, in all my writings, I have taken to task the GMOA leadership and not individual medical doctors, some of whom are in conversation with me. It is the GMOA leadership with Dr. Padeniya, I call a “mafia” that ruins the health service in the country.
With all these slanders instead of intellectual engagements, they prove I am right. My sympathies are with the silent majority in the GMOA membership who are also often bundled together with this “medical mafia” in public, a social nuisance by now.
By Lisa Fuller
When a flotilla of 44 motorboats filled with 300 Sri Lankan Tamils – and a small group of activists, journalists and clergy – ignored the navy’s explicit orders and set sail for their former homes on the navy-occupied island of Iranaitheevu, they didn’t actually think they’d make it in one piece.
“We were very, very scared,” said Elisabeth, one of the women who helped organize the initiative.
At the very least, they expected the navy to prevent them from docking their boats on the island. Far worse, but also possible, was the navy opening fire and even killing some of them. After all, it had spent the past 26 years preventing them from returning to their island.
What they did not anticipate the morning of their departure on April 23 – as navy officials and intelligence officers swarmed the mainland port and photographed their preparations – was meeting no resistance upon their arrival.
Trincomalee, SRI LANKA: Sri Lankan navy boat patrols nears the naval base in Trincomalee, 07 August 2006. Sri Lankan troops launched fresh artillery attacks against Tamil rebel positions, a day after the guerrillas warned that shelling could lead to all-out war, military officials said.LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images
Nearly three months later, 100 community members have permanently moved back to the island. After a quarter century of displacement, they have begun to rebuild the long-neglected, war-ravaged town.
Their success was not a result of luck, nor did the navy have a sudden change of heart. Instead, a group of women from the community had developed and implemented a nonviolent strategy that closely resembles techniques implemented by professional civilian peacekeepers in conflict zones across the world.
Sri Lanka’s civil war – which was fought between the majority Sinhala-dominated government and a minority separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE – engulfed Iranaitheevu in 1992, forcing all 650 of its residents to flee to the mainland. They spent the next 17 years in a state of constant displacement, relocating to different areas in northern Sri Lanka to avoid the fighting.
The war ended in 2009 after the government implemented a scorched earth policy. It bombed hospitals, aid distributions and no-fire zones in LTTE territory to secure a military victory. The LTTE, meanwhile, refused to allow civilians to flee, in a futile effort to use them as human shields. The Iranaitheevu community was among the 350,000 civilians caught in the middle.
After the war ended – in an apparent attempt to weed out any potential LTTE remnants – the government detained the Iranaitheevu community and the rest of the surviving civilian population in overcrowded displacement camps, which were rife with human rights violations, including sexual violence and torture. When the government released the Iranaitheevu community members from the camps six months later, they expected to finally return home. Instead, they found the navy was still occupying their island and had no plans to leave.
The community engaged in political advocacy for the next seven years, but made no progress in convincing the government to allow their return. In May 2017, they began engaging in a continuous protest outside a church in Iranaimaatha Nagar, a port town and one of the closest points on the mainland to Iranaitheevu. Community members would alternate shifts, ensuring that at least a few protesters were always stationed at the church, holding signs that said “release our native land,” while also indicating how many days they had been protesting.
However, a group of women – known as the Iranaitheevu Women’s Development Society, or WDS – soon began to suspect that the protest would not be effective either. They didn’t think – as a disaffected minority group in a remote part of north Sri Lanka – that a traditional protest would be able to sufficiently pressure the government into complying with their demands. Other displaced communities were carrying out similar protests, and most were having little success. Plus, with Iranaitheevu lying in a strategic military location along the Palk Strait, the navy seemed adamant about retaining control of the island.
While the community never stopped protesting, the WDS began simultaneously planning another strategy to secure their return – one that wasn’t dependent on the government’s permission or the navy’s consent. It took them almost a year to prepare their strategy and gather the courage to execute it.
How to Defeat a Military With Nonviolence
The women were confident they could organize the logistics of their return – since most of the men in the community are fishers and had motorboats to sail the 13 miles (21km) from mainland to Iranaitheevu. The harder part was figuring out how to make sure the navy didn’t attack them in the process.
If they attempted to return alone, they feared the navy would retaliate. They would, after all, be in a remote location with no witnesses. It would be easy for the navy to get away with violence against unarmed civilians.
With that in mind, the WDS set out to find a group of witnesses that could accompany them to the island. At the same time, these witnesses couldn’t be just anyone. They had to confer some degree of influence and respect – that way the consequences for retaliating would increase significantly and likely discourage the navy from turning to violence.
In their search for strategic witnesses, the WDS recruited human rights activists (who could report on the navy’s behavior), clergy (who brought a degree of moral authority) and journalists, including a camera crew (who could document the entire event so that it could be shared with the outside world).
With that taken care of, they then turned to designing the optics of the event. First, to ensure the navy couldn’t justify an attack on the pretense of self-defense, they tied white flags to each motorboat, signaling they were unarmed. Then they made signs with slogans such as “release the Iranaitheevu people’s land and let them resettle,” making sure to use large letters and all three of Sri Lanka’s languages. And when they sailed, they made sure that the flags and signs were clearly visible so that the navy could not mistake their intentions.
When the community disembarked on Iranaitheevu, they were confronted by three surprised navy officers, who inquired about their intentions. One of the priests spoke up, having been assigned the role of negotiator, due to his pre-existing relationship with the navy. Politely, but firmly – and with the cameras still rolling – he informed the officers that the Iranaitheevu people were moving back into their homes, and that they would not be deterred.
Unprepared to respond, the navy officers retreated, saying they would have to consult senior navy officials.
At that moment, the community realized it had succeeded.
“They cried tears of joy, and they ran into the church and started hymns,” said a nun who accompanied them and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The navy never made any subsequent attempts to expel the Iranaitheevu people from the island.
Instead, three weeks later, the government granted the community official permission to remain, giving up its quarter century campaign to keep them from their land.
The Science of Protective Accompaniment
While such a victory may seem unlikely or even just lucky – given the risk factors involved – the WDS actually employed a methodology developed and honed by civilian peacekeepers. Known as protective accompaniment, the practice involves positioning a respected third party to be visibly present in close physical proximity to vulnerable civilians in order to deter potential perpetrators from engaging in violence.
The strategy is effective because it creates unacceptable consequences for engaging in violence – in terms of both practical repercussions and social disapproval. As an analogy, domestic violence is much more common in homes than in shopping malls, not only because potential perpetrators want to avoid legal repercussions, but also because they don’t want the other shoppers to think they are bad people. Protective accompaniment, in essence, makes vulnerable civilians safer by transforming their environment from a private home into a public shopping mall.
Research in social psychology and neurology also helps to explain why protective accompaniment is effective in deterring violence: The human brain is wired to modify behavior to avoid social disapproval when it perceives that it is being watched by a third party. Some biologists have concluded that this tendency is actually a product of evolution, as our ancestors were reliant on social cooperation for survival.
It turns out that this response is so ingrained that even the illusion of being watched causes people to be more cooperative. Various studies in different countries have shown that posting pictures of eyes in key locations can deter bicycle theft, motivate bystanders to pick up litter and incentivize people to make donations.
Specialized civilian peacekeeping organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce and Peace Brigades International provide accompaniment to groups of civilians who are being directly targeted by armed groups, women in conflict zones who are vulnerable to sexual assault and human rights defenders who are under threat as a result of their work.
Iranaitheevu appears to be a unique case for protective accompaniment, as the WDS recruited their own civilian peacekeepers, while also planning and directing the entire operation. As remarkable as their story is, however, political scholars like Casey Barrs and Oliver Kaplan have found that conflict-affected communities often develop sophisticated self-protection strategies, many of which have close links to civilian peacekeeping.
Yet, such initiatives are often overlooked. When self-protection strategies are successful, people don’t get hurt, and the effect can appear to be much less dramatic than violence.
We tell stories about violence and atrocities in an attempt prevent them from happening in the future, often in line with the “never again” mantra. But to effectively prevent violence, we must also tell the stories in which violence ultimately didn’t happen – for it is these stories that give us the guidance to make “never again” a reality.
The views in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of isis.lk
This story was originally published by Waging Nonviolence.
"Brighter prospects, optimistic markets, challenges ahead." That was the title of the IMF's World Economic Outlook update in January this year.
How quickly things have changed.
Since that report was published, turbulence, volatility and crises have dominated the economic landscape. Argentina is in crisis. Turkey is not far off. Markets have been rattled in Indonesia, Myanmar, Italy and Spain as financial conditions tighten.
The fallout from Brexit is more uncertain than ever. Populist politicians continue their rise. The trade war between the United States and China has escalated at an alarming rate.
The clock is ticking before the World Trade Organisation dispute settlement appellate body shuts down. China's financial system remains problematic. The United States faces bitterly-contested Congressional and Presidential elections with a possible 2020 recession thrown into the mix. Geopolitical tensions remain high with Iran, North Korea and Russia.
With all these risks, it's an important time to review Asia's capacity to respond to economic crises. It is 10 years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and just last year was the 20th anniversary of the Asian financial crisis. Should Asia plunge into another crisis, would we be ready?
The East Asian Bureau of Economic Research at the Australian National University this week released a report to be discussed at a forum of experts around the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Bali. The report assesses the capacity of global institutions such as the IMF to respond in different crisis scenarios. The news is not good.
The resources of the IMF have been increased substantially since the crisis. But with more countries calling on those resources, have they been increased by enough? Are the IMF's lending facilities flexible enough? Will countries go to the IMF if they get into trouble? Or does the IMF's reputation since the Asian financial crisis haunt it still?
Since the Asian financial crisis, a plethora of regional financing mechanisms have been developed, particularly in Asia. The authors explore what role these institutions, such as the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation, must play in supporting stability. Do these regional financing mechanisms compete with or complement the IMF? How would they work together in a crisis, given they are untested?
One line of defence is bilateral currency swap lines. Swap lines with the US Federal Reserve, some of which are still in place today, were integral during the global financial crisis. China has since created its own swap lines worth almost half a trillion dollars. It's not clear that these swap lines should be considered part of the safety net. Do central banks agree on whether they be available in times of crisis? How should they relate to the IMF, regional mechanisms and development banks?
Much can be done domestically to strengthen the resilience of Asia's economies and financial systems. This is what economies can do to prevent themselves from having to access the safety net in the first place. Regional forums like APEC may also be able to play a role in this process.
In the report, Edwin Truman issues a blunt warning: "Neither Asia nor the global financial safety net is ready for the next crisis." Truman suggests three reasons for this.
There is a lack of consensus about the purpose of the safety net and the place of the regional mechanisms within it. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin recently stated that the IMF's resources were adequate. The problem with his statement, warns Truman, is that the adequacy of the IMF cannot be assessed outside of a crisis.
Threats to the size of the resources of the IMF are emerging. In 2020, the bilateral loans to the IMF will begin to expire. In 2022, the IMF's New Arrangements to Borrow will begin to expire as well. The worst-case scenario is that the IMF loses half of its funding, greatly threatening its ability to respond to crises.
Truman finally warns that the mechanisms to manage the safety net are not agreed. Even if adequate IMF financial resources were assured, a consensus on how to manage them in support of the safety net as a liquidity support mechanism has not been established. Moral hazard concerns prevent the IMF from providing resources at the necessary scale while central banks require, at a minimum, that the IMF has both sufficient resources and the policy clout for them to get involved.
In short, neither Asia nor the global financial safety net is prepared for the next crisis. The message to policymakers is clear: now is the time to strengthen the global financial safety net. The old saying goes: "The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now." The same is true when it comes to preparing for Asia's next economic crises.
Adam Trigg is Research Fellow in the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research and on the Editorial Board of East Asia Forum (www.eastasiaforum.org) in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.
By Anjana Vencatesa
In the recent months, Facebook has consistently been in the spotlight for its role in the Cambridge Analytica controversy; ineffective response to fake news in Ireland’s reproductive rights referendum; and the failure to remove hate speech during the Rohingya crisis, among others. Another recent issue in which Facebook was a key tool used to spread propaganda was in Sri Lanka.
In February and March 2018, certain areas in Sri Lanka such as Kandy and Digana were witness to a conflict between groups representing the majority Buddhist-Sinhala population and the minority Muslim population. In light of the violence and arson which continued despite curfews in the selected localities, the Sri Lankan government promulgated a state of emergency to curb the violence and introduced restrictions on social media to stop the spread of propaganda videos.
In subsequent months, the government openly criticised Facebook for failing to identify and remove hateful content. While the role of social media in fomenting unrest is under the lens, another interesting aspect of any conflict situation is the coverage by the mainstream media.
In the island nation with a history of conflict, how does the media coverage of the conflict influence opinions? Part 1 of this two-part series compares and assesses the tone of coverage in English and Tamil language media in Sri Lanka. Part 2 will examine the impact of geographical proximity on the coverage by international publications.
The assumption prior to the analysis is that Tamil language media outlets may hold a more antagonistic view towards the Sinhala majority government and the promulgation of the emergency compared to English language media outlets, owing to historical or ‘lived experience’ proximity or that it may take a form of identifying with the Muslim population of Sri Lanka as fellow minorities. An analysis of the newspapers, however, reveals that the assumption did not hold true and that on the contrary the coverage was almost opposite to what was assumed.
The abovementioned ‘conflict’ was given wide coverage in leading English language Sri Lankan news outlets such as The Colombo Telegraph and The Daily Mirror Lanka. The Colombo Telegraph termed it as “communal riots” and “attacks” across various articles and specifies in each article, “the death of a Sinhala man when attacked/beaten up by Muslim men.” The Colombo Telegraph was also critical of the government’s response to curbing violence, reiterating multiple times that it was slow. One of the striking publications in The Colombo Telegraph is an Op Ed by former President Mahinda Rajapakse, in which he argued that “But since the late 1980s a section of the Muslim population has gravitated towards communal political parties. This has made it easy for conspiratorial forces both local and foreign to inflame tensions…”
The Daily Mirror Lanka focused more on political and economic fall-outs of the conflict such as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s statement to the parliament; the possibility of Muslim members of parliament voting for a No-Confidence motion; and even the reaction of the Canadian government to the violence. One such article focused on the impact of the conflict on tourism, arguing that “religious and communal violence” has affected tourism, and by describing the conflict as having begun from a “roadside brawl” and leading to “chaos.”
In Virakesari, Sri Lanka’s oldest and most popular Tamil language newspapers, the article describing the proclamation of emergency is a brief 15-line note with a straightforward headline. It refrains from mentioning any identity and also does not use terms like ‘clash’ or ‘riot’. It begins with the phrase, ‘Taking into consideration the events that have taken place in the country, the government has decided to promulgate emergency…’ [Translated from Tamil]. Another article begins by describing it as ‘violent incidents’ and while mentioning that mosques were damaged, it refers to the perpetrators as ‘members of the majority ethnicity’.
In the state owned Tamil language newspaper, Dinakaran, articles term the violence as ‘ethnicity related attacks’. This trend can also be seen in the Jaffna based Tamil language newspaper, Uthayan, where most articles refer to it as ‘ethnicity based violence or attacks’. Of all the articles covering the conflict, only one refers to the identity of the ‘majority ethnicity’ while describing it as ‘the clashes between Sinhala and Muslim communities has reached its peak’ [Translated from Tamil].
It is interesting to observe the role of political statements and considerations playing a bigger role in the English language media coverage than an actual description of the violence that unfolded. The English language media also terms the conflict as ethno-religious whereas the Tamil language media terms it as exclusively ethnic in origin. Similarly, in Tamil language media, it can be seen that the shared proximity of fellow minorities does not directly translate into increased coverage.
In 2003, a study on media in North East Sri Lanka by the Centre for Policy Alternatives and International Media Support noted that the “media is not seen as a shared space by the Tamil and Muslim journalists in the North-East,” and recommends improving relations between the two media communities through inter-communal media dialogues. A similar view is echoed in the 2015 book, Embattled Media: Democracy, Governance and Reform in Sri Lanka, where the desire to maximise benefits from limited land resources is cited as a possible reason for Tamil antipathy. It appears that years later the situation has not improved for the better.
The Need for Reparations – Victims’ Stories
By Tharaka W.B. Hettiarachchi
Almost a decade after the end of the war, there is still a segment of Sri Lankan society continues to remain in the dark. For them even as the fighting has ceased, the suffering and trauma remain unchanged.
“When I am alone having lost my children and my family, I sometimes get the feeling why I should be living… On one side I am sad about losing my family. On the other side I’m longing for assistance.”
– Lady from Kilinochchi who lost her family
Providing reparations to victims is a crucial step in the healing process of a post war country such as Sri Lanka. The “Office for Reparations Bill’’, gazetted on 25th of June 2018, was submitted to the parliament on 17th of June 2018. All reparations related tasks/matters are to be handled by the Office for Reparations. However, granting reparations does not mean merely giving monetary compensation. There are many types of reparations that can be granted. Granting reparations demand a recognition that violations have occurred in the past. It also demands a fair and adequate method of determining the best form of reparation that can be provided based on the individual needs of victims. These matters are to be considered by the Office for Reparations (OR).
Many victims of violence have suffered human rights violations, and violations of humanitarian law. They are victims who have lost their family, their land, livelihoods, education and access to basic health services. Some are in need of psycho-social support to move on from the traumatic effects of war.
Bearing the pain of loss and the burden of poverty, a lady who now lives alone in Kilinochchi says:
“I had four babies but 3 of them were stillborn… In 1991 my son survived…when he was eight months old, my husband died. I lived in untold misery after that. It must be said that I lived in the dark. I don’t know wage labour but had to somehow earn and support my child. My wages were Rs 75.00 a day and I suffered even for food. When the child was three years I sent him to school. He studied up to O’Levels and after that he also entered as a wage labourer in 2007. He went to work so as to keep his mother happy. When he is delayed somewhere I search for him because I am happy only when he is at home. In 2008 when he went to work he was killed as a result of shelling. I searched for three days and discovered the truth. I cried and cried and am still crying.”
The OR is deemed to provide support to victims such as these. Reparations can be provided to those who have lost their family members. The OR will work together with other transitional justice mechanisms that are currently set in place in order to give the best possible remedies for victims. For example, in the case that a victim is a family member of a missing person, the OR can refer such persons to the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) in order that they can continue their search for the missing and to ascertain the truth about what happened through the relevant organizations. The OR can also receive applications from the OMP regarding victims that are in need of reparations. Reparations can also provide socio-economic support for those who need to find a stable and reliable source of income. Providing the opportunity to engage in training or skills development, being provided with welfare services, and payment of loans or monetary benefits can empower war and conflict victims who are facing dire economic conditions due to the effects of war and violence. The OR would be a beneficial and highly valuable mechanism by the state to help those who are motivated and determined to move on from their plight of suffering, but who do not have the means to do so.
“I will build a house in my land and keep my son’s photograph and live in peace. My desire is to live on my own income. I must meet my expenses from the income of some self-employment… if I could build a house even if it be a hut. I must live there with no trouble to others.”
– Lady from Kilinochchi
Many victims living in poverty are simply in need of the chance to find a stable means of income.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband was shot by the brutal LTTE terrorists… Now I sew and make bags out of palm leaves…But we don’t have a good sale.”
– Wife of a Sri Lankan Army soldier, Kurunegala (Letter 214)
“In the 1980’s, fighting was intense in our areas. Those days we were living in the jungle, among many difficulties with our children… Their education was disturbed as well. After the war we returned but there were difficulties to find a livelihood. All our property was lost.”
– Victim from Ampara District (CTF Report)
According to the OR Bill, the office is set to provide reparations for the loss of livelihoods, housing and other assets.
Physical disability and psychological trauma too are crucial aspects that need immediate attention in a post-war context. These issues are often overlooked as unimportant, and with the lack of support and assistance can have significant negative impact on victims. A large number of submissions were made to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation (CTF) regarding the difficulties faced by disabled war victims (including former SLA soldiers) and the neglect they have faced as a result of it. Some cannot find work due to their disability and some are not treated because their disability is not recognized as a priority to begin with. As part of the reparations process, the OR is set to provide adequate and necessary healthcare to war and conflict victims. This includes providing special attention to those with disabilities. Physical disability is one of the many consequences of war that lead to psychological trauma.
“Before we got married, my husband got disabled in 1991, while fighting in Welioya. He is deaf in both ears…my husband lost his job. After sacrificing so much for the country, he must be feeling so sad… My child’s mental strength has also deteriorated. We request some assistance…”
– Wife of disabled soldier, Kurunegala (Tree of Life 1)
This is an example of the clear demand made by the victims. Victim centrality is one of the key principles to be followed by the OR. A need based and adequate reparations mechanism will prove to be more effective in its aim to restore victim’s lives back to their original state, as well as to build victim’s trust in a coherent and reliable system. The OR is to be headed by experienced and qualified commissioners who will act independently, not conforming to changing government interests or political biases. The primary focus should be on the victims and their needs. They want an end to the years of suffering, and look for help and support to build a better future. It is the duty of the government to empower these people who are fellow citizens of the country. They have a right to receive reparation for the violations they have endured and an effective reparation mechanism cannot be delayed for longer.
(Quoted from: – The Herstories Project at www.herstoryarchive.org. This is an online archive of war-affected women’s memories collected between 2012-2013 by Radhika Hettiarachchi and Viluthu Centre for Human Resources Development. – Final Report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms – Volume I)
By Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
It is an honour to be a part of the commemoration of the universal symbol of freedom, ethnic harmony, unity, and reconciliation, Nelson Mandela on the centenary of his birth anniversary. Mandela’s legacy has inspired not only South African society damaged by Apartheid but also every mass movement around the globe that fought for human freedom and dignity by celebrating ethnic diversity as a virtue that helps override the challenges.
He was committed to democratic values and advocated human dignity and equity. He personally experienced the pain of social repression. Consequently, he identified and addressed the root causes of human suffering.
Initially as a freedom fighter, then as a politician, eventually as a charismatic, world-renowned statesman who initiated an influential international movement, The Elders, dedicated to social justice and the dignity of humanity, Mandela showed us through personal example the qualities of true leadership. He has demonstrated the importance of unity among diverse communities. He has proved by actions that, “no power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity.”
Mandela has edified us during the debate in South Africa’s Parliament while speaking on the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on February 1999, “Reconciliation … [is] inseparable from the achievement of a non-racial, democratic, and united nation affording common citizenship, rights and obligations to each and every person, and respecting the rich diversity of our people”.
Mandela was one of the greatest human being of our time. Not only he fought for what was right. He was amazingly forgiving his enemies.
As a nation emerging from an armed conflict, we need to to work tirelessly together to overcome the multiplicity of challenges facing us. We have many lessons to be learned from Mandela’s legacy. As he told us, “reconciliation requires that we work together to defend our democracy and humanity proclaimed by our constitution”.
Let us learn, understand and transmit to succeeding generations the timeless legacy Mandela left us and march undaunted toward our goal of a united, strong and prosperous nation.
*Message by Former President of Sri Lanka Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR).
China has for long been accused of advancing its aggressive ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and Sri Lanka has been one of Beijing’s main targets to assertively lease and reclaim land.
Beijing has also targeted other countries such as Seychelles, Maldives, Bangladesh and Myanmar with attractive soft loans and infrastructure development loans. But these loans become enormous within no time, consuming countries which are unable to pay them back in time.
Beijing then resorts to coercive diplomacy to gain footholds by way of leases — initially for 30 years, then 40 years, and then 99 years. The whole process takes little time, generally less than five years.
This economic strangulation or “debt diplomacy”, as some strategic experts call it, has been adopted by China in the South China Sea, IOR and African nations, which can be very easily subjugated due to their low economic resources.
The Print looks at Sri Lanka through satellite cameras to understand how it has increasingly come under China’s stranglehold.
The expansion of Colombo Port began in early 2009. Nine years on, the latest satellite images indicate that the southern pier of the port is complete and fully functional.
Phase 1 of the eastern pier is complete and has started operations, while Phase 2 has begun recently.
The western pier is yet to begin operations, although some activity was observed last month.
The Colombo Port City (CPC) reclamation project south of the extended port’s hollow square is proceeding slowly but steadily. The shape of the reclaimed land has become clear.
Satellite images from September 2018 show that reclamation here is likely to be almost 418 hectares. That is one-eighth of the total land of Colombo city.
The images also reveal that Asia’s largest hopper dredger, JunYang #1, has been employed for faster reclamation at the CPC.
China’s Harbour Construction Company (CHCC) plans to make this CPC a commercial and entertainment hub of South Asia, just like Hong Kong.
The reclaimed land and structures built on it will be sold back to Sri Lanka at an exorbitant price.
Some members of Sri Lanka’s political opposition feel the reclaimed land will be a preserve of the rich and wealthy, and will benefit the Chinese rather than Sri Lankans. CPC developers and workers are Chinese, and hence do not increase employment or provide any other economic gains to Sri Lanka.
The Print highlighted the survey activities of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in February this year. The survey activities were carried out in the Arabian Sea around the same time when Pakistan’s Ababeel missile was being tested from the Winder Launch Pad.
PLAN ships have been visiting Colombo Port under the garb of friendly visits. The Chinese ships sold to Pakistan have also been observed there very frequently.
Last month also saw a very interesting ship named ‘Qian Weichang’ visiting Colombo. It is a 49,000-ton hydrographic survey ship (Type 636A). The ship is known to be equipped with the most modern underwater scanning and data collection systems.
The ship, also called ‘Haiyang No.25’, with a crew of 159 and the most modern systems, can fathom the IOR inch by inch, assisting PLAN in submarine warfare as also anti-submarine warfare.
Hambantota PortIndia was offered the development of Hambantota as a port by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration, but thought it to be an unviable proposal. It was probably the correct decision economically, but it has cost India dearly in regional geo-politics.
China soon entered the scene and got hold of the project, creating a small port which has been near inactive, just like the Gwadar port in Pakistan.
In December last year, Sri Lanka was forced into signing a 99-year lease agreement for Hambantota, and hand it over to the Chinese.
Recent satellite images show increase in fuel, oil and lubricants (FOL) tanks over the reclaimed portion of the lake.
The Chinese PLAN might also develop this port as a future base. Construction work, which is likely to begin by end of this year, will establish this possibility sooner than later.
Despite its widespread use, for millennia the death penalty has caused lingering societal discomfort and unease. Fairly early on in history many enlightened leaders have found the the death penalty degrading of human dignity. For example, in ancient Sri Lanka a number of kings – influenced by the Buddha’s teaching – abolished the death penalty. In fact, for much of the the first, third, fourth and thirteenth centuries the death penalty was not employed in Sri Lanka.
This may help explain why for nearly a century there has been a consensus among the legislative leadership of my country that the death penalty ought to be abolished. This consensus was based both on moral grounds and on the ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent. As far back as 1928 the Ceylon Legislative Assembly voted 19 to seven in favour of a resolution on abolishing the death penalty, which was moved by D.S. Senanayake, who became the first Prime Minister of Ceylon and founder of the United National Party – one of Sri Lanka’s two main political parties. In the end, abolition was only thwarted by the high-handedness of the colonial authorities of the time.
In 1956, a few years after Independence, my father, then the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, proposed a bill ending capital punishment which was supported by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister and founder of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – our island’s other main political party. The bill passed but tragically the death penalty was resumed a few years later as result of Mr. Bandaranaike’s assassination until a de facto moratorium was instituted in 1976.
I daresay that even today the vast majority of my colleagues in Parliament find the death penalty morally repugnant and are aware of its inefficaciousness. However, as they fear the knee-jerk reaction of uninformed public opinion they have proved unwilling to take the courageous step the Government took in 1956. I believe that this fear is true not only of legislators and jurors in Sri Lanka, but of other Asian states where the death penalty is yet to be abolished.
Therefore, the common challenge facing us today is persuading our respective people and perhaps even more importantly having the collective courage to lead by acting.
However, changing public opinion is a time consuming and resource intensive process. And the evidence points out that, despite persistent advocacy, public opinion on the subject of the death penalty is relatively static in many countries. Therefore, overcoming this key challenge requires an act of political courage. Studies have shown that when people are asked to sit in mock judgement, rather than simply answer survey questions, no more than 30 percent of people support the death penalty, even in the the most serious of cases. In France, although public opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of the death penalty in 1981, its abolition decided by the then President of France led to a change of public opinion. It is clear that the debate resulting from the process of abolishing the death penalty and the lack of change in crime rates after the death penalty has been abolished allays the public’s fears. As a result there have been very, very few cases of reversal once the death penalty is abolished.
Momentum is slowly building in Asia, where more executions take place than the rest of the world combined. In South-East Asia the number of executions has declined significantly, in South Asia there have been both short and long de facto moratoria. In 2007, twenty four Asian states voted against the UN Resolution on a Death Penalty Moratorium, in 2014 that number had declined to 18. There is further good news: Sri Lanka’s Minister of Justice, who will also be addressing a session at this Conference, has informed Parliament that Sri Lanka will return to its traditional position of voting in favour of this resolution as it did in 2007, 2008 and 2010 and, more importantly, continuing the four decades long de facto moratorium.
Allow me to conclude by saying that abolishing the death penalty requires persuasion and resolve but above all it requires leadership – the collective leadership of legislators, activists, editors, academics and jurors. As momentum towards critical mass develops, I am confident that the coming years will see the death of the death penalty in our region.
*Statement made by Mangala Samaraweera at the Opening Plenary Address at the 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Oslo on 22 June 2016.
(AP) - Asian leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Hanoi – which concluded last week – said the oscillating geopolitical dynamics in the region were manifestations of power plays in the South China Sea conflict and this could undermine an existing rules-based international order.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made references to these kinds of power plays when he said: “Leave the Mekong region’s five member countries, also known as the Mekong riparian nations, to resolve their own issues without any form of political interference or intervention.
“We are a unique region with diverse political systems, democratic practices and principles which were unique in nature to each country and thus could not be used across the board.
“This uniqueness in diversity meant that the region was susceptible to all forms of foreign intervention and each country must be left to decide what is good for them, their people, their political system and their security,” Mr Hun Sen said when he addressed the forum on the Mekong Region.
As a collective voice, the Asian leaders at the forum agreed that with the rapidly oscillating geopolitical dynamics, underscored by escalating trade tensions between major powers, there is a dire need for adherence to a “rules-based” order.The Asian leaders presented a collective voice to reject unilateral and protectionist moves.
Taro Kono, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan said: “I think we need to establish rule-based international order and any unilateral challenge to the status quo should be resisted by all.
The “collapse of multilateralism, stemming from the trade war between the United States and China”, he reiterated, must follow the same principles and existing liberal international order.
Asean leaders and their counterparts from Japan, South Korea and Sri Lanka echoed concerns over rising unilateralism with regard to increased trade tensions and territorial concerns in the South China Sea. They raised critical questions about the geopolitical implications of attempts at global rebalancing.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, left, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, center and Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum pose for a photo during the welcoming ceremony of the the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the National Convention Centre in Hanoi on Sept. 12, 2018.(Ye Aung Thu/Pool Photo via AP)
“Looking at the geopolitics in Asia and friction between America and China, I am concerned about the rebalancing of the global order.
“What will happen to multilateral law? What we have built up is multilateral law. Will that law decay, diminish or can it be strengthened?” observed Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister of Sri Lanka.
China’s territorial initiatives in the South China Sea, commented Lynn Kuok, Associate Fellow, International Institute for Strategic Studies
(IISS) in Singapore, will reveal what type of regulatory environment will prevail.
“I will be watching out for developments in the South China Sea. China is consolidating its control over the region and resources. This matters because it will change the balance of power in the region and whether the balance of power in the region is governed by might or right,” noted Ms Kuok.
While there are clear regional fractures, Kang Kyung-Wha, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea, pointed out that there are also moments of geopolitical alignment, such as current moves to advance denuclearisation efforts on the Korean Peninsula, which look much more promising than they did a year ago.
In addition to traditional geopolitical threats, such as maritime security and freedom of navigation and trade, the Japanese foreign minister added that one of his biggest geopolitical concerns is catastrophic weather changes on the back of climate change.
“The biggest concern is probably climate change, the sea water level is very high and we are getting stronger typhoons, stronger cyclones, and heavier rain.
“Once-in-a-hundred-years rain turns out to be once every two years. It is not just an environmental issue, but involves water supply management and food security. We really need to be serious about taking care of this issue,” said Mr Kono on Japan’s position.
By Dr. Amara Satharasinghe
The importance of public sector is an indisputable social and economic reality throughout the world. The Public Sector usually comprises of organisations that are owned and operated by the government and exist to provide services such as public education, health care, national defence, military, police, infrastructure (public roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, etc.) for its citizens.
Recognising the importance of the Public and semi-government sector employment statistics, the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) has conducted periodic Censuses of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment. The first such Census was taken in 1980. Subsequently, censuses were carried out in 1985, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 at intervals of four to five years. Since the devolution of power to Provincial Councils in 1987, employment censuses from 1990 onwards covered both the Central Government and Provincial Councils.
The latest round of the Census of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment was conducted by the DCS between 9.30am and 11.30am on 17 November 2016 and it is the eighth in the series of such censuses. The findings presented here, are based on data gathered through questionnaires personally completed by more than 1 million employees in these two sectors. This census did not cover the uniformed staff of the three forces: Army, Navy and Air Force.
The information collected at this census include sector of employment, age and sex, marital status, nature of appointment, level of education, major occupation group, professional/ vocational qualifications, language skills, district of the place of work, mode of travel to work, non- communicable diseases, level of ICT literacy etc. of the employees. Key findings of this census are presented here.
Number and Proportion of Employees
The total number of employees in the Public and Semi Government sectors excluding uniformed staff of the three forces: Army, Navy and air Force, as at 17th November 2016 was enumerated as 1,109,475. Of the total employees, 55.1 percent are males; 44.9 percent are females. In any employment census, it is usual to determine the employees as a percentage of the total population and as a percentage of employees of all sectors (including all other sectors). Total number of employees is estimated quarterly as well as annually through Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey conducted by the DCS.
Public and semi government sector employees constitute five percent of the population in the country. The proportion is the same across provinces, with the exception of North Central and Uva Provinces where it is six percent and the Western Province where it is four percent.
As a proportion of all employees i.e. in all sectors, public and semi government employees are 14 percent. This proportion is highest (18 percent) in the Eastern Province and lowest (11 percent) in North Western and Sabaragamuwa provinces.
Sector of employment
The census covered 32,750 institutions of which the majority belong to the central government. Majority of institutions coming under Provincial Councils comprise of schools and hospitals functioning under the nine provincial councils.
The majority of employees (65.3%) are attached to institutions coming under the central government - 43.8 percent public sector and 21.6 percent in semi government. The remaining 34.7% provincial employees. Of them almost all (34.3%) are public sector employees. Only 0.4% are in the provincial semi-government sector.
Nature of appointment
Nature of the appointment of employees was considered under ‘Permanent & pensionable’, ‘Permanent, pensionable & contributing to a provident fund’, ‘Permanent & contributing to a provident Fund’, ‘Temporary’, ‘Substitute’, ‘On contract basis’, and ‘Other’ categories. Ninety-five percent of public and semi government sector employees are in permanent positions. Further, 79.4 percent of all employees are entitled to a pension after retirement. More female employees were in permanent and pensionable employment (83.7%) relative to their male counterparts (69%).
Males constitute a higher proportion of public and semi Government employees: Of the total public and semi Government employees 55.1% are males; among Central Government employees almost two thirds are male. Higher proportion of employees are males in institutions such as the Department of Civil Security, Sri Lanka Police, Sri Lanka Electricity Board, Department of Posts, Sri Lanka Railway and Sri Lanka Transport Board, and Road Development Authority. Contrary to this, almost 62 percent of employees in the Provincial Councils are female. This is mainly due to female teachers working in provincial schools.
While the majority (61%) of employees are in the age group of 30 -49 years, about one in four employees is over 50 years of age. Of those employees entitled for pensions, 60,092 are to retire on completion of sixty years, within the five-year period from 2018 to 2022. Number of persons to be retired in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 are about 10,550; 11,300, 12,220, 12,560 and 13,460 respectively.
Level of Education
In order to assess the level of education of public and semi-government sector employees, the highest level of education was categorized into ‘Below GCE(O/L)’, ‘Passed GCE(O/L)’, ‘Passed GCE(A/L)’, ‘Degree’, ‘Post Graduate Diploma’, ‘Post Graduate Degree’, and ‘PhD’.
Over one third (35%) of public and semi government employees are GCE (A/L) qualified and little over one fourth ( 26.1 %) have degree or higher qualifications. It is noteworthy that 190,498 employees or 17 percent employees have not passed the GCE (O/L) examination. Among males this percentage is as high as 27.2% while among females it is only 4.8%. Further, having degree or higher level qualification among female is very high (36.7%) compared males (17.6%). There are 290,378 graduates employed in public and semi government sectors. Of them 2,014 have reported to have more than one basic degree. More than half graduates (54%) have degrees in the arts stream while Management/ Commerce graduates are 14.3%, and Science graduates only 10.4%.
District of work place
Public and semi Government employees are concentrated in the Colombo district. A total of 225,000 or one out of five are working in the Colombo district. This is followed by Gampaha and Kandy districts - percentage of each district is 7.3%. Percentages in Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar districts is less than one percent. When Divisional Secretariat Divisions are considered, the highest number of employees are working in the Colombo DS division of the Colombo District and it is where 67,000 employees are working. It is followed by the Thimbirigasyaya DS division (63,000 employees). Thus, more than half of the employees of the Colombo district are posted within the Colombo and Thimbirigasyaya DS divisions.
Six hundred employees are stationed in other countries in diplomatic missions, banks and other institutions.
Mode of travel
Employees were asked how they travel to and from work: ‘Walking’, ‘Bus’, ‘Train’, ‘Assigned Official Vehicle’, ‘Official Group Transport’, ‘Private Motor Vehicle’, ‘Staff Service’, ‘Taxi’, ‘Motor Cycle’, ‘Foot Bicycle’, ‘Other’. The majority of employees (42%) use public transport to travel to work and it is noteworthy that almost one in four or over 277,000 employees use motor cycle to travel to work.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are a growing issue. The workplace is recognised internationally as a crucial to address these health issues. Employees in any institution represent an important population category: their quality of life, health awareness, and ability to embrace healthy behaviours are expected to influence their productivity, avoid NCD occurrence, and reduce healthcare costs.
All employees were asked about the non-communicable diseases they are suffering from. Some commonly found NCDs were given and the respondents were allowed to mark more than one disease if they are suffering from more than one NCD.
The most common self-declared NCD is diabetes. Almost 6 percent of employees suffer from Diabetes - more males (7 percent) than females (4.5%). The second most common NCD is (5.3%) was high blood pressure.
While Sinhala and Tamil languages are considered as official languages, English language is considered as the link language in the country. All employees were asked the level of their proficiency in ‘Reading and Writing’ and ‘Speaking’ of each language as ‘Good’, ‘Average’ and ‘None’.
Just over 84.2 percent report "good" proficiency in reading and writing in Sinhala language and 16.5 percent in Tamil Language. These percentages on the ‘speaking’ proficiency are 85.1 percent and 16.6 percent respectively.
In general, communication skills in English have been identified as an important workplace tool for success in business and have been correlated with career success and increase in financial rewards. The self-declared good proficiency in ‘Reading and Writing’ and ‘Speaking’ proficiency in the link language (English) of the public and semi government sector employees are 23.7 percent and 15.1 percent respectively.
Ability to use computers, email and internet
Technology is an integral part of the 21st-century workplace that any business without some level of technical savvy is likely to fail. It is that critical. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can be used to eliminate non‐value‐adding tasks or to make them more efficient. ICT can also improve employee welfare, for example, through transforming the content of work by deleting unimportant activities. In this census information on self-declared ability to use computers, e-mail and internet was collected from all employees.
More than 60 percent of public and semi government employees report the ability to use a computer. Nonetheless, only 36 percent use computers to perform their official duties. Provincial sector employees are slightly more computer literate (ability to use a computer) with a computer literacy rate of 66 percent compared to that of the central government (61 percent).
According to the data from the census, 56.3 percent of employees are using the internet. Significant gender differences are observed in the use of internet. More than 63 percent of female employees use internet while only 50.7 percent of male employees have stated that they can use the internet.
Out of all public and semi government sector employees, 38.4 percent have said that they can use e-mail. Among males it is 34.7 percent while among females it is 43.0 percent.
In today’s economic environment, achieving improved performance and efficiency in public sector organisations is more important than ever to improve competitiveness, deliver better service, and reduce costs.
According to the literature, attempts to improve performance of the public sector have had mixed results in many countries. A precondition for new improvement programs to succeed where earlier efforts have failed is that they should focus on improving precisely those factors that make a public service organization perform well. These success factors have been identified as high quality of management, high quality of workforce, long-term commitment, open and action-oriented culture, and a culture of continuous improvement and renewal.
The report titled "Census of Public and Semi Government Sector Employment – 2016" released by the DCS, presents a wealth of information on the employees of these two sectors. A few basic but important features of the employees is the high female participation that has resulted in near equality in numbers, still youthful but a large elderly age structure, relatively low levels of education, still to be achieved standards of information and communication technology. Each of these has major implications such as the need for gender responsiveness, using strategies to maintain the dynamism while optimising experience and expertise, facilitating options for knowledge and skill enhancement of the employees. Recognising and responding to these implications will help to make the employees a satisfied workforce, predicting and preparing for future trends, as well as enabling the employees to deliver their services up to high standards. Information provided in this publication merits further analysis to produce policy and pragmatic guidance. They can be used to make informed decisions, to further improve performance of public sector workforce to more effectively and efficiently provide public services to the citizens of this nation.
*The writer is Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics
By Tripti Lahiri
The leaders of dozens of African nations are in Beijing this week for a major China-Africa cooperation summit that takes place every three years. African leaders have come away from these meetings in the past with billions of dollars in investment commitments from China.
This year, China is expected to use the meeting, which began today (Sep. 3), to address concerns over transparency around its loans to African countries, and over the trade deficit they are racking up with China. At a business forum today, Chinese president Xi Jinping said China’s financing to Africa was not about “vanity projects” (paywall) but about “bottlenecks to development.”
The summit falls ahead of the fifth anniversary of a speech by Xi, where he unveiled his vision for a global infrastructure “Belt and Road” plan to foster trade, which has spurred an increase in lending for construction projects to developing countries all around the world.
But this week’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation also comes amid growing concerns over the costs of being part of the Belt and Road grand plan, with Malaysia’s newly elected prime minister, for example, pushing back vocally against Chinese-funded projects it called too costly. Sri Lanka, for example, is left heavily in debt (paywall) because of its inability to repay Chinese loans for a port project, and in December gave China a 99-year lease and a 70% stake in the port in return.
Commentators in some African countries and think tanks have expressed worries about more countries ending up like Sri Lanka, and forced to cede control of key assets.
In an editorial in Kenya’s Daily Nation earlier this year, columnist Jaindi Kisero wrote: ”The Chinese will readily offer you infrastructure loans but you will only start feeling the pinch when the time for servicing the debt comes calling — and you realize that your economy is not raising enough dollars to repay it. If you are in doubt that we are gradually sinking into the Chinese debt trap, just grab a copy of the budget documents.” China is now Kenya’s largest bilateral creditor, accounting for 72% of foreign loans to the African nation.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s deeply indebted Eskom power utility, which provides nearly all the country’s energy, signed a $2.5 billion loan from China in July, while the country’s president Cyril Ramaphosa is also looking to China to help with a stimulus package.
According to the Washington-based think-tank Heritage Foundation, many countries in the continent have taken on substantial new external debt in the last five years, leading debt levels to cross 50% of GDP, a threshold that some economists believe developing economies should remain below. Citing World Bank research, the think tank said a dozen sub-Saharan countries are experiencing debt distress or at high risk of it, up from seven in 2013. It also noted that China has made considerable new loans over that time period.
A report from the Center for Global Development (pdf), also based in Washington, pinpointed eight countries globally as being in danger of debt distress from Chinese financing, including Djibouti, where China has its only overseas military base and has financed an amount equivalent to 75% of the country’s GDP. John Hopkins University’s China-Africa Research Initiative (pdf) found Chinese loans to be a significant contributor to debt distress in three countries: the Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Djibouti.
China’s foreign ministry has criticized the idea that Beijing is doing anything different than other developed nations that lend.
“None of the African countries has once complained about being trapped in debt crisis because of their cooperation with China. On the contrary, many leaders of African countries have appraised China’s investment and financing cooperation with them and are looking forward to greater cooperation with China in this respect,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying last week, noting that from 2000 to 2016, Chinese loans accounted for 1.8% of Africa’s foreign debt. “Why the money is sweet ‘money pie’ when it is offered by the Western countries but a dark ‘money trap’ when offered by China?”
This article was published in Quartz.
By Padma Rao Sundarji
In an interview to this writer last year, Sri Lanka’s PM Ranil Wickremesinghe extended some invitations to India. One of them has just reached fruition. For at least 40 years and through a majority stake in a joint venture, India will soon run Mattala, the Sri Lankan airport in the southeastern coastal district of Hambantota. Also known as the Mattala (Mahinda) Rajapaksa International Airport, after the country’s former President and current strongman of Sri Lanka’s Joint Opposition, the terminals threw open their doors in 2013. Five years on, they are still waiting for someone to check in.
Hambantota, 240 km southeast of the Sri Lankan capital, is also home to a controversial, China-built seaport, which, like Mattala airport, has been visited by more journalists than ships so far. Just before I met the PM, I had spoken to angry subsistence farmers and Buddhist monks who were protesting against the decision by Mr Wickremesinghe’s government to hand over the port and an additional 15,000 acres of mostly farmland back to China for 99 years. At the time of the controversial debt-for-equity swap, Sri Lanka owed China $8 billion, one-twelfth of its staggering overall overseas debt.
If it earlier bristled over Chinese submarines “dropping in” on Colombo without prior warning to India, China’s debt-trap stranglehold over Sri Lanka in Hambantota multiplied New Delhi’s concerns tenfold. Yet, Mr Wickremesinghe brushed off India’s worries. “We have always been friendly with China, but not at the expense of India,” he said. “If there is still some uneasiness, it is (because of) the Indian media, that reports from their point of view. There is nothing I can do about it.”
And as if to offer India a head-rub with the island-nation’s famous Siddhalepa pain balm, the PM disclosed plans aimed at inviting India to invest in Sri Lanka. These included Mattala airport.
The airport was built to handle one million passengers, 50,000 tonnes of cargo and 6,250 air traffic operations every year. Earlier this year, it lost its last customer and its hangars are reportedly being used by local farmers to store rice. So, much like the police arriving last at the scene of the crime in a Bollywood flick, why on earth is the otherwise astute and booming economy, India, investing in a dud and that too in southern Sri Lanka, long after China gained the upper hand?
Setting parody aside, it’s not such a dumb idea at all.
Hambantota seaport is firmly in China’s hands. Rumours that Beijing intends it for military use are so persistent that the Sri Lankan Navy is relocating its southern naval command to the region. Mattala airport is just 35 km away. Establishing a presence there will give India the opportunity to literally breathe down China’s neck and monitor its every movement.
There is already close cooperation between the Indian and Sri Lankan navies. The host country, along with Japan and Australia, recently participated in a “humanitarian” naval mission under US command in the seas off Hambantota. China’s string of pearls has not escaped anyone’s notice, least of all that of the United States.
The argument that the small island-nation doesn’t need two international airports overlooks several crucial aspects. Tourism is one of the main revenue-earners for ethereally beautiful Sri Lanka. More than 1.5 lakh visitors arrived in Sri Lanka over the previous year alone and those figures have been on a steady, upward graph.
In the era of terrorism, arrivals and departures by air are the least pleasurable aspects of a holiday. Even when its long-overdue expansion is completed, Colombo airport will remain a fraction of the size of Delhi’s Terminal 3, which, despite its gargantuan proportions, is already overwhelmed by traffic. It’s only a matter of time before tourists in Sri Lanka will yearn for alternatives.
An empty Lankan airport holds promise for India
What do visitors do in Sri Lanka? Given its excellent roads and nationwide tourism infrastructure, most hire a car and traverse the entire country within a week or two, returning to Colombo to depart again. An arrival on one coast and departure from another would save travellers days of precious holiday time.
Consequentially, almost everything points to the fact that if Mattala airport is well marketed and incentivised by Sri Lanka’s tourism authorities, it may well be a commercial success. And even if it isn’t, India’s reported investment of $300 million into the airport will reap other strategic rewards.
Still, even the most sure-footed elephant can stumble, if it focuses only on the juicy fruit above and ignores the rumbling on the ground.
Up to last year, ordinary Sri Lankans were largely upbeat about China’s massive investments in their country. Barely a year later, there is growing resentment over what many see as a “sellout” to China. And as in most small island nations, the growing presence of Chinese expats has exacerbated the fear of a “cultural invasion” too.
India has much to gain from its joint venture in Mattala and other places, but New Delhi would be wise to read the signals. India-bashing is the favourite pastime of all neighbouring countries anyway. And despite the cultural cousinhood between India and Sri Lanka, Sri Lankans are anything but serendipitous about the big neighbour. Historically, India has not endeared itself to Sri Lanka for its dodgy role in first training and later fighting the terror group LTTE, and by Tamil Nadu’s shrill support of Tamil separatism in Sri Lanka.
But the civil war is long over. Of late, Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists are more concerned about growing Hindu chauvinism over the “Ramayan link” in Sri Lanka. They fear that Indian investment too — especially in Sinhalese-dominated districts — may be a smokescreen for cultural subjugation.
Hambantota is not in Hindu-majority Jaffna. This is the deep, Buddhist-Sinhalese south and — the stronghold of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during whose tenure ties with India were in a deep freeze. Though relations between Mr Rajapaksa and India’s ruling BJP have been improving in leaps and bounds, it will take more than one joint venture to convince all Sri Lankans that India’s intentions are honourable.
On top of a promontory overlooking the China-held Hambantota seaport, is the picturesque Gotha Papitha Buddhist monastery. This, along with many other scenic spots, will be swallowed up by China’s Special Economic Zone. As with all big-ticket projects and especially along one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world, real estate vultures will invariably hover: highrise condominiums at spots like the monastery guarantee a killing.
“Yes, Buddhism is a peaceful religion,” chief monk and fierce protester Thera Gotabhaya Amitha told this writer. “But Buddhism’s connection with our people is like a tree and its skin. We will do more than what it takes to resist this port. And if we die? We don’t care.”
Indians are throwing money around on real estate all over the world. If Indian investors do not ignore the temptation to milk the entire area around Mattala airport for profit and insist on lending airport operations a strongly Indian, instead of Sri Lankan identity, they will meet the wrath of tens of thousands of such protesters across Sri Lankan political party lines.
But if India plays the sensitive friend and not the bully big brother, its arrival in Sinhalese-dominated southern Sri Lanka could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
*The writer is a senior foreign correspondent and the author of Sri Lanka: The New Country. A version of this article was first published in the Asian Age.
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