By Mangala Samaraweera
We are fortunate to witness this moment when the Government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has given life to an important promise made to the people of this nation. The Office on Missing Persons Act was passed in August 2016 and on 27 February, a seven-member commission was announced to lead its activities and investigations starting immediately.
My commitment to the struggle of the missing, goes back as long as my journey in politics. I recall a time in the 80s when cases of large scale disappearances were at alarming rates. The decision to devote myself to politics was driven by my concern with these atrocities that occurred around my hometown, and a strong desire to bring justice to those families suffering as a result of this. It may be the greatest irony that during those times I was inspired by the words of many individuals who championed the cause, including our former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse. He spoke fervently about our responsibility to find these missing people and to prevent such outrages from occurring in the future. I was struck by his moving words and his dedication to the cause and so began our journey for justice. In 1990 it was Mr. Rajapakse and I who were co-conveners of the Mother’s Front movement. This was a movement against missing children of the South and had a significant impact in setting the discourse surrounding this sensitive topic. Today, I am dismayed by the sentiments that he vociferously articulates, to tear apart initiatives that seek to alleviate the pain of innocent mothers of this country.
The journey thus far has been long and by no means easy. A history of 30 years of violence is witness to the absolute necessity for the OMP today, perhaps even more crucial than it has been ever before. We have suffered through many conflicts from the time of the JVP insurrections in the 70s and 80s to the post-war violence just a few years ago. In these trying times, when the numbers of the missing have been steadily rising, few walked with us to see this journey to completion. The voices that spoke so passionately against these crimes suddenly started changing their tone. These same voices began switching camps so unexpectedly that lately many of the attacks on the OMP have been directed from Mr. Rajapakse himself. If the question of the missing still remains high on the agenda with the reported numbers of the missing rising each day, the question remains why it is no longer a cause worth fighting for. The answer is sad and simple. Self-serving policies and party politics have taken precedence over the suffering families of those gone missing over the past 30 years. For Mr. Rajapakse in 1989, this cause was worth getting arrested for at the airport while he carried documents with information regarding the missing to the UNHRC in Geneva, and today the same movement has been portrayed by this camp as an attack on our war heroes. The discourse has been distorted and manipulated for political gain, becoming a tool in the hands of power hungry individuals. Misconceptions have been drawn out to confuse the public and the victims of this have been none other than the affected families who have had no means to redress their loss. But make no mistake, this journey will not be ended by the selfish actions of these self-serving individuals.
The OMP does not aim to benefit only one community and does not threaten another. It is merely a truth-seeking mechanism. It aims to investigate and find out the truth about those identified as “missing” or who have disappeared during conflict. According to the international Committee of the Red Cross, over 16,000 individuals have gone missing during the civil war. Of them, 5100 belonged to the armed forces. These are the very same individuals who fought against the terror that the LTTE created. We as a nation, have a responsibility to find the truth about where they are, and to bring an end to the agony faced by their families and loved ones.
The OMP mandate cuts across all ethnic and religious boundaries. It seeks to investigate persons missing in connection with the conflict of the North and East and its aftermath. This includes those of all ethnicities; including the armed forces and police who have been identified as “missing in action”. It will investigate into those gone missing during political unrest or civil disturbances in the south as well as victims of enforced disappearances island wide. The mandate of the OMP ensures that it will carry out searching and tracing of missing persons, clarifying the circumstances in which such persons went missing and their fate, making recommendations to relevant authorities in order to reduce incidents of missing and disappeared persons, and identifying proper avenues of redress available to the families of the missing persons and informing them of the same.
Despite its role as an investigative body, the OMP is not a law-enforcement or judicial body such as a court of law, and the Act clearly states that “the findings of the OMP shall not give rise to any criminal or civil liability.” The myths that have been spread about the OMP claiming that it is a witch hunt to prosecute our war heroes is a lie. The OMP cannot prosecute perpetrators of violence. These rumors are political manipulations to deter the fair and just actions taken by the government towards peace and reconciliation. It is merely an office set up to address grievances of the families and friends of those gone missing during conflicts and to ensure fair treatment for them in the future. The OMP gives the chance for renewed faith and hope for those who have lost their families and friends. It is not limited to an area or ethnicity but promises dignity and prosperity for all. These steps will prevent isolating and radicalizing aggrieved communities and avoid new forms of terrorism that can shake the peace and stability of our nation.
In 2015 the coalition government vowed to develop a culture of consensual politics. The OMP took into strong consideration the recommendations made by the general public and civil society groups. Families of the affected voiced their concerns and ideas on the best ways to improve the OMP bill. Today their voices have been heard. Accordingly, the OMP is ready to engage with all groups, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or geographic location in order to get their valued input and information. The decision to do so was demanded by the people.
At the UNHRC in 2015 I stated that our political change was bringing an end to short-sighted policies and a triumphalist approach to the end of the war. The OMP is the primary example for this promise. This independent body is set to continue its investigations despite changing government interests. It is an autonomous, transparent commission acting independently to any political biases or affiliations.
This multiethnic island is one step away from lasting peace and prosperity. We as citizens of this great country must take this step together. We have made it through the difficult times. We have endured adversity in all its forms and we are here today looking forward to a better future.
How a Sri Lankan international hero became a taxi driver in UAE
Filed on February 9, 2018
When I flagged down a cab in the mad morning rush to keep a medical appointment, little did I know it would be a journey into the plebeian life of a forgotten national hero. Buckling up in the front seat of the Emirates Taxi cab, my prowess to identify different races seems to have worked.
"Which place in Sri Lanka are you from?"
The driver, a middle-aged Sinhalese, was taken aback by the quick-shot query. "Kandy, sir. Why?"
"Where exactly in Kandy?"
"Nawalapitiya, sir. And you are from?"
"From Kerala, India."
"So, you know PT Usha and Shiny Wilson?"
"Of course, they were newsmakers of yesteryear, but I never got a chance to meet them. Why?"
"I knew them in their prime, sir. I also knew Bahadur Prasad Singh, former Indian middle distance runner. He was a good friend."
"Wow! But how? Did you chauffeur them around?"
"Sir, I too was an international athlete. Sri Lanka's middle distance runner, with international gold and silver medals under my belt."
The exchange happened in less than a minute. Then there was silence. Except for our long sighs rising over the vroom of the engine. My destination and hospital appointment suddenly took a back seat. I'm sitting next to a person who once upon a time, was the pride of a nation. The journalist within me wanted to ask, 'What on earth are you doing here?' If life is a tragicomic musical, here is a living protagonist who would fit the bill of the tragic hero. Something in my gut told me I had no reason to disbelieve him. Innocence was writ large on his face. The story of Lalith Prasanna Galappaththi, odd man in the family of two sets of twins, reeks of the neglect and indifference that retired heroes typically face in the cruel world of sports in the subcontinent. He is a decorated athlete who brought laurels to the island nation and is still running the marathon of his life. One that brought him no rewards. No miles to conquer, no medals to win, no records to break, Lalith - married with two children aged 16 and 14 - still has the passion burning inside him.
For the next couple of hours, I was like a kid listening to a bedtime story. Eyes wide open.
Lalith had just finished his A Levels from Anuruddha College, when the desire to shape up kicked in. One fine morning in 1991, dressed in a Sri Lankan jersey gifted by athlete Ajith Dharmasena, he set out on a jogging routine. An acquaintance quizzed him about the ethics of wearing the national colours. "The day will come when I will wear the colours for the nation." He fought back the tears of embarrassment with the pledge, and never looked back. Training under coach Norbert Perera and later under Janze Dissanayake, Lalith tasted his first win when he took home gold in a 20-km cross country run in his village. A couple of district-level honours later, Lalith won his first national-level title - he placed third in the 3,000 metre steeplechase. That's when Dissanayake realised his middle distance potential and made him concentrate on the 1,500- and 800-metre races. The turning point came in 1995 when he set a 1,500 metre national record with 3 minutes and 46.2 seconds in the South Asian Federation Games selection meet.
The son of a grocer, and training under veteran national coach Dervin Perera, Lalith made his international debut by winning gold in the 1995 and 1996 Malaysian Open Championship. The same year, he won another gold in the Indonesian Open Championships and a bronze in the South Asian Federation Games in Madras. What followed was a relentless rain of titles and medals in 14 international meets till he pulled out injured from the Sri Lankan Olympic squad in 2002. Lalith said he is thankful to his sponsor Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawala, founder of Ceylinco Insurance, who was magnanimous enough to give him cash rewards every time he brought in a medal.
Despite the fame, life for Lalith has been a race to nowhere. During the competition period he was offered a job with the Sri Lankan Air Force where he was employed from 1993 to 1998 without taking part in any action. The year 1999 witnessed two milestones - a job as middle distance coach with the Ministry of Sports and wedding to his childhood heartthrob. Life only got harder with a paltry pay of 20,000 SL rupees. Living in Colombo as part of the job - with no facilities such as housing, insurance, transportation etc - made life more miserable which forced Lalith to quit the pensionable job to seek out greener pastures. He bears no ill-will, but the thought that life would have been rosier had he chosen a different path crosses his mind when he sits behind the wheel in the UAE. Lalith is grateful to the Emirates Cab management for his present job.
Coming on a visit visa in 2012, the former athlete found a bellboy's job with a hotel apartment in Bur Dubai where he worked till 2014. "My life is a sum of simple math and a little logic. There is no space for big dreams in it. In Colombo, I was getting 20,000 rupees. With the UAE job, I send home around 100,000 rupees. Period." Taking a break for one year, Lalith was back in 2015, this time as an Emirates Taxi driver in Abu Dhabi. With a college-going daughter and son to take care of, fate has not given him a choice except to slog over 15 hours a day. "I love my country. It's a paradise. But politicians are not interested in taking good care of sportsmen who are the ambassadors of the nation. Heroes are at the end of the day conveniently dumped into oblivion."
Lalith, whose favourite athlete is former American sprinter Carl Lewis, doesn't think he is a spent force. He runs at least twice a week to keep himself fit. "I still have a burning desire to go back to the field in different roles. I have the knowledge which I had acquired as a middle distance coach in Sri Lanka. I wish I could land the job of a coach with one of the clubs or schools in the UAE. That's my ambition. This county is now a global educational and sports hub which, I am sure, could have some space for me as a coach. I can deliver," says Lalith.
Moment that haunts him forever
Looking back, Lalith Galappaththi feels that all the memorable moments from his 11-year-long running career were shattered by a single tragic incident. Famed Sri Lankan Olympic marathoner KA Karunaratne was killed along with Highways and Road Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and 12 others when an LTTE suicide bomber attacked a marathon opening at the western district of Grampaha, about 25km from Colombo.
"It was the saddest moment in my life. I had been associated with him for over 20 years. It was shocking that one of our best sporting talents was lost to a mindless act of terror," says Lalith.
He says making friends with Indian runner Bahadur Prasad and receiving a medal from the then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa are some of the memorable takeaways from his sporting days. "I met Bahadur at various meets. He was working for the Indian Railways and I with the Sri Lankan Air Force. He won a bronze at the Bangkok Asian Games while I lost in the second round. We got along well. I also had the opportunity to interact with PT Usha and Shiny Wilson."
Training under veteran coach Dervin Perera, who was also former president of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka, was a great achievement. "He was one of the most successful athletics coaches in Sri Lanka. Both Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe and I trained under him. That's when I made friends with Susanthika."
He holds close the friendship with Sugath Thilakaratne, Olympian and the 1998 Asian record holder in 400 metres. "He is one of my best friends. We both come from the same village area in Kandy. Sugath is also former president of the Sri Lanka Athletic Association."
"Had I got a chance to train under Dervin in my initial days instead of the divisional coaches made available to me, the story of Lalith Galappaththi would have been different."
Who is the Indian politician Lalith likes the most? "Former prime minister AB Vajpayee and former president APJ Abdul Kalam. Among Sri Lankan politicians, former president Mahendra Rajapaksa is his hero.
Source : The Khaleej Times
Mega Mess 19A
By Kusal Perera
-No shame facing the truth
-Personalities and individuals don’t provide answers. We need to have an alternate programme to begin anew
-Urban middle-class is not willing to accept they blundered and messed up not just for them but for the whole country
-The society is left numbed and those in elected offices have failed to prove there is in fact a Government running the country now.
-What is thus on the cards is more crises and chaos and not cleaning up the systems for good governance.
-Law and Order Ministry also becomes important in this battle for dominance over who runs the Government
I wish to honestly thank the people of this country who elected me with a clear majority on the basis of our election manifesto and the principles laid before the people, at the presidential elections held a few days ago on January 8, to choose the supreme servant to serve the people. From this most sacred and venerated land here, I wish to pledge to my dearest people, citizens of this country, as mentioned and promised in our manifesto, we would work towards transferring the unrestricted powers vested with the ‘Executive Presidency’ to the parliament, to the cabinet of ministers, to the judiciary, to the independent commissions and to public administration.In our country, within development there is corruption, fraud, bribery and misappropriation that will be totally eradicated in establishing a society that is clean and morally noble - President Maithripala Sirisena addressing the nation from the precincts of Temple of the Tooth Relic
Three years after this first official address to the nation by President Sirisena, all that was promised and all that was expected from this Government have come to naught. Corruption of the previous Rajapaksa regime was a major issue that was hyped during the Presidential election to win votes. Corruption given many labels such as “commissions, brokerage and agent’s fee” became part of business ever since the economy was opened up by President Jayewardene in 1978.
What later became corruption was called “mega corruption” and it was mega corruption during the Rajapaksa regime that was promised to be dealt with on a high priority agenda.
This mega corruption that stole the election show was argued as the result of almighty power vested with the Executive Presidency that allowed for family rule by the Rajapaksas. Executive Presidency was therefore promised to be replaced with 19A for Parliamentary rule. That was what President Sirisena meant when he said, “…..we would work towards transferring the unrestricted powers vested with the ‘Executive Presidency’ to Parliament, to the Cabinet of Ministers, to the Judiciary, to the Independent Commissions and to Public Administration” within a week after swearing in as President.
While the election promise was to abolish the Executive Presidency to give Parliament its due importance, the election outcome was a compromise to prune down powers and not abolish the Presidency.
Held together by the Constitutional provisions of 19A, disunity in this alliance is best seen in how the economy is decided and handled. Economic programme of this ‘Unity Government’ that had no ‘unity’ from day one was on the increase, with further liberalising of the economy under UNP control.
The 19A was thus hurried at ‘break-neck’ speed, without any open discussion in society. The chaos this country is now facing was thus built into 19A in a bid to keep a wholly incompatible political alliance together, on Constitutional Provisions and not on any principled political programme.
Most obnoxious clauses in this hurriedly adopted 19A were smuggled into the Amendment with only English copies made available during the 3rd Reading of the Amendment, a practice never adopted in Parliamentary democracy. In Parliament, this was questioned only by Prabha Ganesan, who requested for Tamil translations and was shouted down by PM Wickramasinghe in a very ugly scene that said much about the “democracy” this Unity Government would offer to the people.
Held together by the Constitutional provisions of 19A, disunity in this alliance is best seen in how the economy is decided and handled. Economic programme of this ‘Unity Government’ that had no ‘unity’ from day one was on the increase, with further liberalising of the economy under UNP control.
Moderate with the layman’s aspirations in his understanding of economics and leading a pack of SLFP Ministers in a Government no less corrupt than the Rajapaksa Government, President Sirisena was pushed to intervene in all decisions that were taken under PM Wickremesinghe’s guidance.
From the first budget proposal of this ‘Unity’ Government presented by then Minister of Finance Ravi Karunanayake, most proposals adopted by Parliament after three ‘readings’ were withdrawn on Presidential Directives and “requests”.
The second budget was changed so much, it was joked in public that what was eventually left in the budget was Minister Karunanayake’s address to the Speaker as “Hon. Speaker, Sir”.
The reshuffling of Ministers in May 2017 was also due to these conflicts on economic issues. Ravi Karunanayake’s exit from the Finance Ministry and Mangala Samaraweera’s entry was only a compromise and was no permanent answer to what the two sides actually battled for; dominance over deciding economic issues.
There is a good reason for economics to be one major conflict in this unholy, unprincipled alliance.
The SLFP depends very much on rural Sinhala vote than the UNP which is more urban based. Further liberalising of this “free to loot” economy, further marginalises the rural sector that plays negatively on the SLFP, which President Sirisena wants to take hold of.
Thus the battle for dominance over economic decisions was not over even after the May 2017 Cabinet reshuffle that changed the Finance Minister. In less than three months, President Sirisena appointed his own National Economic Council (NEC) termed a high powered committee to decide on all development projects, ignoring the Economic Management Committee that PM Wickremesinghe had established under him.
President Sirisena had the Economic Management Committee under PM Wickremesinghe, disbanded on a decision taken at the last Cabinet Meeting, further strengthening his hand on the economy.
This would not end just there. It also leads to mega corruption against the Rajapaksas under investigation.
Therefore, “Law and Order” Ministry also becomes important in this battle for dominance over who runs the Government.
PM Wickremesinghe holding on to the Ministry of Law and Order even temporarily proves the UNP does not want to let go of that Ministry.
Their proposal as reported in media to have Field Marshal Fonseka as the Minister of Law and Order has reportedly run into a conflict with President Sirisena disagreeing.
What PM Wickramasinghe, the UNP and the President while disagreeing on that proposition, do not address is the fundamental issue of how a fulltime military officer be in politics when security forces and the Police are barred from politics.
That being totally illegal and unconstitutional, it would also create a major cold war between the Law and Order Ministry and the Police Department.
More because the number of top Police officers, who are accused, suspected and taken to custody for numerous crimes from former IGPs to DIGs to Senior Superintendents prove all talk and any change in responsibility of Law and Order would not go beyond rhetoric for publicity.
What is thus on the cards is more crises and chaos and not cleaning up the systems for good governance.
Within all those conflicts and contradictions, all through these three years what was very clearly evident is a growing battle between the Presidency and the parliamentary rule.
Presidential rule the President promised his “dearest people, citizens of this country” he would transfer to “Parliament, to the Cabinet of Ministers, to the Judiciary, to the Independent Commissions and to Public Administration”.
In contrast, what is clearly evident is the Presidency overruling most decisions taken at Cabinet meetings and adopted in Parliament.
It has also become the pattern in attempts to resolve issues to short circuit relevant Ministers and approach the President, as the long dragged and muddled SAITM issue proves.
This mess was evident from day one of the campaigns for a “single issue – common candidate” begun by Colombo middle-class pundits.
Reason for UNP compromising for that was its lack of confidence in facing up to Rajapaksa at a Presidential Elections and UNP agreeing for a “Common Candidate” did not justify that “single issue” campaign.
Thus the compromise to hijack a group from Rajapaksa rule and plug them with the UNP under a Common Candidate with or without a clear programme was destined to end up with this mega mess.
This chaos the incompetent opinion makers in Colombo still try to justify by parroting their old hacked slogan “Out with Rajapaksa”.
It is no shame at least now to accept the formula used to oust Rajapaksa was a total lie and he has in fact not been ousted from political power, though removed from presidency. Leaving out the recent LG election results in calculating the Rajapaksa factor, this is very clearly evident in everything this President’s Executive Power to Parliamentary governance has been trapped in.
The society is left numbed and those in elected offices have failed to prove there is, in fact, a Government running the country now.
Where do we go from here?
It is a long and a serious trek to sanity in politics, the urban middle-class is not willing to accept-even now.
They yet don’t want to accept they blundered and messed up not just for them but for the whole country and this country has now to discourse the programme that can put things to right instead of finding “honest and credible” personalities yet again.
That is tested and failed approach. Personalities and individuals don’t provide answers. We need to have an alternate programme to begin anew.
With campaigning for the local government elections winding up midweek, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke exclusively with the Sunday Observer about the big questions facing the nation in Saturday’s poll.
The Premier who leads the United National Party – the leading constituent in the ruling national unity alliance, said, a silent revolution has unfolded over the past three years in Sri Lanka since his Government took office, with major democratic, economic and welfare gains for the citizen, the scrapping of an exploitative electoral system and efforts to bridge the gender gap in political representation.
Unperturbed about the political threats from the Rajapaksa-backed fledgling SLPP, the Prime Minister said, he welcomed the contest against the former President because it would remind people of the struggle fought and won democratically in January 2015. “I think this country’s decade of darkness under President Rajapaksa is not easily forgotten. It is not so easy to forget the brutality, nepotism and unbridled corruption of that dark era. It was a time when Sri Lanka faced an existential threat – whether it would remain a functioning democracy, or, slide into authoritarianism. I think the people of Sri Lanka recognized that threat in January 2015 and overwhelmingly endorsed democratic rule over tyranny and repression,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe noted in his interview.
He expressed confidence in the electorate as his party faces next week’s poll, saying, the Sri Lankan people would never vote for tyranny, repression, nepotism and corruption over democracy, freedom and the promise of real economic prosperity.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Why do you think the people of Sri Lanka should trust in the UNP to deliver at this local government election?
A: The very fact that this local government election is one of the most peaceful in recent memory is a case in point. This is not a chance phenomenon. There is a reason for this. For decades, politicians have talked about electoral reform. This Government delivered on it. The rotten preferential system has been scrapped and anyone can contest the local council elections today because competition has been limited to a ward rather than an entire local government area. This has not only brought local politicians closer to their constituencies, which was the old way, but it has dramatically reduced the need for massive and expensive campaigns that attract contributions from various unscrupulous elements. When this system works, it will result in a sea change in the country’s political culture, freeing the politician from interest groups and agendas, and making him or her truly accountable to their constituents.
We have also ensured that for the first time 25% representation of women in a party’s nomination list has been made mandatory. These are big steps in the right direction, as we seek to perfect our democracy, but they are silent revolutions that have happened.
When you don’t hear of election violence or walls pasted with posters, just as when you pump a full tank of petrol or buy a cylinder of gas at cheaper prices you may not necessarily think of the UNP. But, all this was possible because of the sound policies we have pursued. From Gal Oya to Mahaweli to the Mahapola Scholarship scheme, to Gam Udawa and Janasaviya these great community and welfare projects are part of the UNP’s legacy. Today, this Government has provided free medical insurance to all schoolchildren and offered life-saving cardiac medical equipment completely free of charge at Government hospitals. There is so much left to do, but there is no question, the UNP is a party that always delivered, whether at a national level or at a local level.
Q: Are you concerned about the rise in popularity of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?
A: I have complete faith in the long-memory and the intelligence of the Sri Lankan people. I don’t subscribe to the theory that Sri Lankans have short memories. I think this country’s decade of darkness under President Rajapaksa is not easily forgotten. It is not so easy to forget the brutality, nepotism and unbridled corruption of that dark era. It was a time when Sri Lanka faced an existential threat – whether it would remain a functioning democracy or slide into authoritarianism. I think the people of Sri Lanka recognized that threat in January 2015 and overwhelmingly endorsed democratic rule over tyranny and repression. Even with all state power at his command, and rampant abuse of state resources at the January 8, 2015 election, Mahinda Rajapaksa was unable to defeat the courage and will of the Sri Lankan people. I doubt anyone has forgotten how he and his family ran this country.
One brother terrorized the country. Journalists were killed, protestors shot dead and media organizations set on fire. Another brother pilfered the country’s resources. People have not forgotten that his sons were having night races outside the sacred Dalada Maligawa. A brother-in-law who had no educational qualifications was tasked to run the national carrier and ran it to the ground. A plethora of friends, relatives and cronies were appointed to every feasible government position. People are not fools. While there will naturally be some incumbency fatigue in any democracy, the intelligent Sri Lankan electorate will never intentionally choose terror, tyranny, nepotism and corruption over democracy, freedom and the promise of real economic prosperity. And of course, democracies are flawed and must be perfected. That is our duty, to move towards a more perfect democracy. But, there is no question of going back to brutality and repression.
Personally, I am glad Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan of miscreants have decided to contest these local government elections. It will remind people of what we all defeated in January 2015 and at what risk to life and limb we struggled against the Rajapaksa regime.
Q: What do you say to the accusation that some in the government are blocking investigations into corruption and other crimes under the Rajapaksa regime?
A: This is simply not true. One of the promises we made to the people in January 2015 was that we would re-establish the rule of law. This is a promise we have delivered on. The Rajapaksa years were marked by the fact that the law of the jungle prevailed. The war hero Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka was dragged out of his office like an animal and put in prison like a common criminal, after frivolous charges were brought against him.
In that case, legal proceedings happened at lightning speed. But no one will argue that the process was just or that due process was followed. The whole country knows that General Fonseka was jailed for the crime of contesting the presidential elections in 2010. If President Rajapaksa had won in 2015, many of those fighting against his candidacy may have suffered a similar fate.
We cannot do things that way. We cannot constitute political witch-hunts just because we want to see justice served as quickly as possible. This Government has given the law enforcement agencies total carte blanche to investigate and bring to book any persons who have been operating outside the law, whether they were members of the former regime or even if they are presently in office. This is the fundamental difference between the Rajapaksas and the Government that followed their defeat. People who have committed crimes will pay a price, irrespective of their politics.
This is the governance the people asked for when they defeated the Rajapaksas in 2015. They did not ask for witch-hunts and quick fixes, but for justice to prevail. The law must be allowed to take its course.
Q: You mentioned that the government has approved draft legislation for a special High Court to try mega corruption under the former regime. Some would say the move is coming late in the day. How quickly do you expect at least the high profile corruption cases to be brought to court?
A: Sri Lanka saw unprecedented levels of corruption by the ruling family between 2005-2015. When the head is so rotten, the body stands no chance. Once we took over in 2015, getting to the bottom of the corruption cases was a priority. At the same time, we needed to be cautious that these investigations were not conducted like political witch-hunts and that due process was followed every step of the way. It is remarkable that a newly established police unit to probe financial crimes has been able to conclude investigations in more than 400 cases. It is a priority for this Government to ensure these cases are expedited. But, just as important as speed is the need to get the process right, so there can be no allegation of bias or malice against political opponents. At the same time, it is understandable that people are losing patience and are eager to see justice served against those who have misappropriated the people’s money. I am hopeful that this new High Court on Corruption that has just got approval from the Cabinet will help to expedite the backlog of cases, since it will have specific jurisdiction over complex financial crimes and misappropriation of state assets. Rather than waiting years for a case to be completed, our hope is that the new High Court on Corruption can conclude cases within six months.
Justice was the promise of Yahapalanaya and we remain committed to living up to this promise. But, the people also want to see justice so I am hopeful that within the year some of the large scale corruption cases will be tried and concluded.
Q: How do you address the accusations of corruption under this administration, especially the Bond issue?
A: The fact that there has been accountability with regard to the Bond issue is the best example that can be given for the success of the Yahapalanaya government. During the Rajapaksa regime there was daylight robbery of resources of this country. We recall the Greek bond scam, the hedging deal, Krrish and the outright sale of Galle Face. That regime ran Sri Lankan Airlines to the ground. Political loyalists could literally get away with murder and rape and proximity to the ruling family gave them immunity from prosecution and facing up to those crimes. The economy was in the vice-like grip of Basil Rajapaksa and other cronies, to run as they pleased. There was no such thing as accountability for any of these crimes.
Think about how vastly different things are today. Checks and balances have been put in place and democratic institutions and law enforcement arms strengthened. No country has been able to root out corruption entirely, but the main thing is, the rule of law is in place and people will be held accountable for those crimes, no matter who they are. With regard to the Bond issue for instance, I went before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the problem. As did other Ministers. There is no precedent for this, when a serving Prime Minister has willingly gone to testify before such a Commission. That process is now moving forward.
It has always been our position that the UNP will not protect anyone responsible for financial misconduct. Let justice and accountability take its course. In fact, even within our party these checks are in place. The Thilak Marapana Committee which went into the findings of the Bond Commission, recommended that the Assistant Leader of the UNP refrain from holding office until his name is cleared. This is Yahapalanaya or good governance and this government can be proud that for the first time in our country’s post independence history, the democratic checks and balances have been established to ensure that no one is above the law.
Q: How do you foresee going forward with the Yahapalanaya government, with the President being critical of the UNP in recent weeks?
A: We must not forget that the election of President Maithripala Sirisena was a watershed moment in our history. He was not elected by only the SLFP or the UNP but by all forces that desisted tyranny, one family rule and state terrorism. For the first time, the UNP, SLFP, JVP, the parties representing the Tamil and Muslim communities all came together to save our democracy. The situation was dire. We forgot all our ideological differences and came together to protect our motherland from tyrannical family rule. We prevented Sri Lanka becoming Zimbabwe. As a result of that election, Maithripala Sirisena is our President. We will work with him and ensure that we deliver on the promises that we made on January 8, 2015. While we have come a long way, there is much more to do. The patient is out of the coma but not yet ready to be running a marathon. But, we will get there. I believe, we need to constantly strive to perfect our democracy. This battle cannot be won in a single day. It is an incremental process, and we must plod on, and chip away slowly at the old prejudices and political culture that holds us back. I believe, President Sirisena is equally committed to this journey towards a more perfect, less flawed democracy. But, we must remember this is not an easy task – many of the ghosts of the past are lurking in the shadows, ready to drag us back into the dark days.
Q: Where does constitutional reform process stand at the half way point of your Government’s tenure?
A: The current constitution-making process is the most transparent and democratic endeavour undertaken since independence. In 1947 we were given a constitution by the departing colonial regime. In 1972 and 1978 the winning political party with an overwhelming majority enacted constitutions with hardly any participation from other stakeholders. In both the Republican Constitutions (1972 and 1978) the minority parties, especially, the Tamils boycotted the process. Today, the situation is different. For the first time in our history the two main political parties have joined together to make a constitution that suits all of us in the 21st century. The country’s main Tamil party and all the Muslim parties are very much on board and are negotiating in a credible and reasonable way. This will be a constitution for all the peoples of Sri Lanka and I am determined to see it through, as is President Maithripala Sirisena.
As a country about to celebrate 70 years of independence we must collectively reflect on whether we have done justice to ourselves by failing to enact a constitution that meets the aspirations of all our people and treats all citizens equally. Finally, we have an opportunity to achieve this. It is a special window of opportunity and my view is that we must not let it slip away. All peace loving people of this country must unite to see this through. There have been many lost opportunities over history, and we must not allow a handful of extremists to engage in fear mongering in order to derail and sabotage this process. I am confident that 2018 will be a historic year for many reasons and I hope, one of these major milestones will be the drafting of a new constitution for Sri Lanka which will acknowledge the rights and freedoms of all our people.
Q: Where does the reconciliation process stand vis-à-vis the government’s pledges to its own people as well as the international community?
A: Since January 2015 the government has taken many steps to heal the deep wounds that prevailed in the country. This is a long process that could take generations to fulfil completely. All major political parties, both in the North and South have contributed to the divisions that caused the civil war. We must learn from these mistakes. Playing into ethnic divisions, riling passions may be great politics, but it is disastrous for a country. We must desist from such petty politicking because so much is at stake. To go down that path again is not only to open this island out to the potential of future conflict, but also to ensure stunted economic growth and development.
True reconciliation has to happen in our hearts. That is what all the current processes that are underway really aims to do – to heal the hearts of our people. That is why they are domestic processes. No internationally imposed process can achieve real reconciliation after a civil conflict. That is why we have taken ownership of these processes. Even the recent Geneva resolutions were co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. We demonstrated to the international community that we were undertaking these commitments not due to international pressure but because it is the right thing to do for us as a country striving for lasting peace. Our government has worked to strengthen the human rights framework. Today, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is an independent body with commissioners who are confident and strong and with whom the Government has never dared to interfere. We have established a Missing Persons Office and allocated funding for that Office to commence work. Legislation is in the works for other mechanisms that will also take the reconciliation forward, including compensation and reparations for those who have suffered from the long war.
None of these are happening because of international obligations, but because they are important steps in the process to healing the wounds of war and prevent a recurrence of violence. This country must never again experience the blood-letting and strife that has plagued two generations. Let’s not forget Sri Lanka has seen several bouts of extreme violence since independence. The war in the North and East, the 1971 insurgency and the 87-89 bheeshanaya. If we do not address underlying causes for these bouts of extreme violence, our future generations are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
True reconciliation is not just the Government’s task. It’s also up to the people, because we all have a stake – we all have much to lose if we fail in this endeavour.
Q: Will the UNP contest the next parliamentary and general elections on its own or with a coalition?
A: The UNP remains the strongest political force in the country. We sought a national unity government not because we couldn’t form a government of our own after the August 2015 election, but because we believe Sri Lanka is at a unique moment in history where we can rise above petty party politics and do something truly great. When the two main parties in the country who have always been rivals, and always sabotaged each others’ agendas come together the opportunity to radically change a political culture and a system of governance comes about. Consensus is necessary between the two parties to tackle big issues, like drafting a new constitution or accelerating development and economic growth that was stunted for decades because of the war. The people have waited so long for an economic dividend and for lasting peace. As responsible politicians it is our obligation to try to deliver this to our citizens, even if it meansforging unconventional alliances, that can appear to be rocky or tenuous at times. The mandate of the people in 2015 was crystal clear in my opinion. The people wanted unity rather than division. They wanted statesmanship rather than petty politicking. This is what we are trying to deliver.
For the moment, we are not focused on the next major election. Once local government elections are over there is work to be done. When the time comes to decide on how to contest national elections, the UNP will make its decision in consultation with all stakeholders. For the moment, we are focused on the job at hand – which is governance.
Q: Who will be the UNP’s candidate for the 2020 Presidential election, if the current constitution remains unchanged in respect of the Executive Presidency?
A: This question will arise only if the Executive Presidency is not abolished, but our focus now is building the economy and increasing its growth, improving infrastructure facilities and developing the health and education sector. We are focused on reducing unemployment, improving exports and trade ties that will bring dividends to the people. You must understand, when we took over the economy in 2015, it was in shambles. The extent of the trouble we could not tell the people, because it would result in a hopelessness that would be devastating to the national psyche.
With the greatest difficulty, we have resuscitated this patient who was on life support as it were. Day by day the health of the economy is improving. But, given the situation we were in, people cannot expect miracles. Over three years, the people have experienced a reinforcement of their democratic freedoms, and borne witness to the strengthening of democratic institutions and systems that restore power to the citizen and perform the necessary checks on those holding public office. But as I said before, there is much work left to do here too. We have a constitution to draft. We have to heal the wounds of a brutal war. So we are not like other governments always wondering about the next election. We are trying to be a different type of government. One that will think rather of the next generation.
Source : Sunday Observer
By Kusal Perera
21 February 2018
This caption sounds insane on the face of it. But it cannot be ruled out, the way veteran Tamil politician and leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R. Sampanthan said it in parliament on Monday 19 February during the debate on LG elections and its aftermath. This emotion packed, very strong statement by Sampanthan unfortunately was not given its due importance in Sri Lankan mainstream media. Sinhala media of course cannot be expected to have it as important, unless with a spin.
Sampanthan said he wants to have it on record that Rajapaksa’s brand of Sinhala politics not only deceived the “innocent Sinhala people”, but also Rajapaksa himself. And if he persists with this Sinhala agenda, Sampanthan said, “Eelam will bloom, not on account of us, but on account of your Lotus Bud.” Sampanthan had a very valid point in that with historical validation.
Since independence, for over 03 long decades till 1976, no Tamil nationalist political campaign ever demanded a “Separate Tamil State”. It was extremely frustrated C.Suntheralingam MP who said a “Thamil Eelam” would be the only answer, the way Sinhala leaders treat Tamil people when in 1956, the newly elected Bandaranayake government legislated Sinhala as the only official language. Dissociating with Suntheralingam, the ITAK leadership in 1957 sat with PM Bandaranayake to discuss “regional administrative powers”. Having agreed to a compromised solution on regional councils for North and East, PM Bandaranayake reneged on the B-C Pact giving into a small protest in front of his residence led by some Buddhist monks. This B-C Pact was possible only because ITAK rejected the “Thamil Eelam” proposal by Suntheralingam. As TULF leader Appapillai Amirthalingam told the APC chaired by President Jayawardne and attended by leading Buddhist monks as well on 19 January 1984, “But we who were members of the Federal Party (ITAK) and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress resisted the demand for a separate State. We wanted to preserve the unity and the integrity of the island.”
Tracing the history of Tamil politics that sought a decent and a dignified solution to their problems, Amirthalingam in that same statement to the APC said, “That is the sordid history of pacts and solemn undertakings given by successive governments to the Tamil people. No honourable person can be happy about this record. The introduction of the 1972 Constitution removing the safeguards against discriminatory legislation ‘contained in the Soulbury Constitution’ resulted in all the Tamil Parties getting together and forming the Tamil United Front. We submitted six (06) demands, very modest ones, for inclusion in the Constitution. They were not even acknowledged.” [unedited full text of this statement is appended in my book ‘Rajapaksa the Sinhala Selfie’]
That history is about the first 30 years in independent Ceylon. History of Sinhala political leaders breaking all promises and all agreements and pacts the Tamil leaders compromised in settling with a permanent solution to their issues. That period of finding answers came to an end, with TULF for the first time on 14 May 1976 resolving to restore as Amirthalingam said, “the sovereign State that they (Tamil people) had before the European arrival and conquest of the country” (ibid). The youth by then had decided, there can be no serious political negotiations and answers found with the Sinhala political leadership. That resolution for a separate Thamil State was put to the Tamil people for a mandate at the 1977 parliamentary election when the TULF won 18 seats out of the 19 Tamil seats in the North and the East. The TULF leadership was thus given a resounding “YES” vote to proceed to establish a separate Thamil Eelam State.
It was this history that Sampanthan summed up in one simple sentence. Continuous efforts by Tamil leaders to find a political solution within an “undivided, indivisible, single country” was thwarted by Sinhala leaders in their quest to consolidate themselves as Sinhala Buddhist leaders wooing Sinhala Buddhist votes. That Sinhala racist politics which continuously denied a justifiable solution to Tamil people after 20 years pushed even the TULF in 1976 to adopt a resolution for a “separate Thamil State” a stand they kept rejecting from 1956.
Yet, they did not embark on a separate State. Instead the TULF leadership used that mandate as bargaining power for a solution within a united system of power sharing. That was how the TULF in 1981 came to accept the District Development Councils (DDC) as devolved power for Tamil people, 04 years after they were mandated by their own people to establish a separate Thamil State. Sinhala political leaders were never grateful for such accommodative Tamil politics. Running amok in Jaffna town, attacking the TULF head office and MP Yogeswarana’s house, looting Tamil shops and committing the most dastardly act of burning one of Asia’s most privileged libraries, the DDC’s were marked for a quick death, once again leaving democratic Tamil politics utterly helpless. Probably President Jayawardne and his henchmen like ministers Cyril Mathew and Gamini Dissanayake were naïve in believing, such would end the call for “Devolved power” by Tamil people and make them “Sinhala heroes”.
What they did not understand or did not want to understand is, where democratic politics is suppressed, it is the hard line anti democratic politics that gain space. Thus came the armed Tamil youth groups to the fore. Jayawardne fumbling in his foreign policy ignoring geo politics of ‘Bay of Bengal’, these armed Tamil groups got the privilege of enjoying New Delhi patronage. Rest is history written in its saddest and tragic language.
Over 25 years of a prolonged, protracted war in its bloodiest form, left an ethno-religiously polarised country, many thousand innocent women, men and children unnecessarily killed, yet another few thousands without limbs and over a hundred thousand war widows on both sides of the barricades in a war devastated country still talking of resettlement and reconciliation. Still watching war affected families continuously protesting for over one year, demanding answers from the Colombo government about their “missing” family members.
This is no background for any serious politician bargaining for political power to raise racist slogans that would drag this country deeper into the mire it is already in. This country in the South is no happier with its own sorry fate too. As I have written before, Rajapaksa’s Sinhala image was not without other conditions applied to it. Other conditions paved the way for his loss at the Uva PC elections in 2014 September before his defeat at the 2015 January presidential elections that gathered the usually pro SLFP Southern Muslim vote from the time of late Badiudin Mahmud, also against Rajapaksa.
Uva PC election setback for Rajapaksa thus had other factors at play. Cost of living was on the increase while the rural economy had no answers for livelihood of the people. “Whole of the rural society thus lived with the large pay packet the young soldiers brought home once in 03 months till the war was concluded and for now with remittances from Mid East the toiling young women send home and the meagre savings the female workers send from sweat shop factories.” I wrote (http://kusalperera.blogspot.com/2018/02/political-chaos-in-sl-demands.html). And then added, “This had two evil side effects that changed the old value system not for the better, but for worse. One, it made youth search for quick money for a fast consumer life, never mind how. This increased domestic migration with youth trekking to Colombo and suburbs in search of whatever livelihood possible. Two, it allowed for politicising of local life leading to a lawless, corrupt rural society. In a corrupt rural society tied to political control of life, two things grow quite fast. One is illegal trade and business sidestepping law enforcement and two, increase in sexual abuse of children, rape of women and underage marriages. All that taken together breeds dependency, frustration and an “anti State” feeling.”
That “frustration and an “anti State” feeling brokered the rural Sinhala shift away from Rajapaksa in the presidential elections too. That same Sinhala shift was seen against this Sirisena-Wickramasinghe government over their failures during the past 03 years. Bottom line is, the Sinhala Buddhist patriarchal image alone does not decide electoral politics. Rajapaksa image though tailor made for the Sinhala Buddhist psyche does not have a monopoly over Sinhala Buddhist votes. What he gained this time too isn’t the majority Sinhala Buddhist vote that can decide a parliamentary election for him.
Playing for Sinhala Buddhist votes will not provide answers for the economically and socially ailing Sinhala village. Sinhala Buddhist vote will not provide the Sinhala Buddhist rural society any improvement in their living. Will not bring them better schools, better hospitals, better public transport. Will not make their villages economically better and prosperous. Moreover, Sinhala Buddhist politics will not even rid their villages of increasing sexual abuse of children, rape of women, underage marriages and drug peddling.
Added is the debt trap this country has been dragged into with ethno-religious politics. Year 2018 will come to end piling a debt service requirement of 03 trillion rupees. Therefore it is prudent and beneficial for the Sinhala South to accept the fact, this country needs a national political leadership instead of a Sinhala political leadership that has no clue what “national socio economic and cultural development” is. Accept that Sinhala leaderships have exploited the Sinhala voter for the benefit of political power that has not made the life of the Sinhala majority any better.
It would have therefore been a complete statement if Sampanthan said, “Eelam will bloom, not on account of us, but on account of your Lotus Bud, that will not be of any benefit to the Sinhala Buddhist people either, who had been deceived by Sinhala leaders ever since independence”.
Reality check in Sri Lanka
By Meera Srinivasan
Sri Lanka’s local government elections, scheduled to be held on February 10, have elicited the interest of a national election, and with good reason.
This is the first time the country will go to the polls in about three years since the President Maithripala Sirisena–Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe combine rose to power promising “good governance”, giving voters a chance to say what they think of the performance of the government they elected to office.
Further, the two coalition partners in government — Mr. Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — are contesting the island-wide local polls separately, with their campaigns laying bare the deep fissures and insecurities within the coalition government.
Inevitably, the outcome will impact the future course of the government in the remaining two years of its term, with much of the work on the promised constitutional reform and post-war reconciliation remaining only on paper. Going by the mudslinging on the campaign trail, it is clear that the elections will most likely leave the country’s first national unity government, formed by two traditionally rival parties, considerably weaker.
Focus on corruption
Amid severe criticism of his government for taking little action against corruption during his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term, Mr. Sirisena has pegged his campaign to an anti-corruption crusade, chiefly targeting the SLFP’s senior coalition partner in Parliament, the UNP. The President’s attacks have grown shriller after a presidential commission of inquiry (CoI) held a former Central Bank Governor, handpicked by the Prime Minister, responsible for a loss of 11,145 million Sri Lankan rupees to public institutions following a major bond scam at the apex bank, in 2015. The CoI also accused former Finance and Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, a close aide of the Prime Minister, of corruption. On Tuesday, it was decided that Parliament would debate two different reports on the bond scam and other serious acts of fraud and corruption on February 6, four days before the election.
Justifying Mr. Sirisena’s pre-poll rhetoric, his supporters maintain that it is no surprise, given that he is competing with the UNP. For the purpose of this election, he has donned the hat of the head of the SLFP and engaged in mass politics, with no compulsion to sound statesmanly in his campaign. His attacks have irked many UNP-ers, especially the backbenchers who have not missed an opportunity to retaliate, though the Prime Minister has shown restraint. What has also given more fodder to the UNP camp critical of the President is his recent move to seek clarification from the Supreme Court on his term limit and his ambivalence about the executive presidency.
The challenge for the two parties does not end there. Mr. Rajapaksa and his supporters, basically a faction of the SLFP and others who call themselves the ‘Joint Opposition’, are campaigning for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front. His brother Basil Rajapaksa, a prominent member, is known to be an efficient organiser.
The SLPP has become the de facto political vehicle of the Rajapaksas, though Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had earlier resolved to topple the government in 2017, remains a member of the SLFP that Mr. Sirisena, his former cabinet colleague and now arch rival, leads.
In effect, the local government polls present a three-cornered contest, with the President and Prime Minister fighting each other, despite being coalition partners in the national government, and the Rajapaksa-backed SLPP threatening to eat into the SLFP’s vote share.
While it remains to be seen whether the bond scam will cost the UNP electorally, or if Mr. Sirisena’s apparent inability to garner more support within his party will weaken his position, what will certainly matter is the government’s failure to deliver on many counts, be it on the new Constitution aimed at a political solution to the Tamil question, assurances on war-time accountability, jobs to unemployed youth and the spiralling costs of living gripping the urban and rural poor.
Though the leaders are contesting local government polls, they are in fact gearing up for a bigger fight, so much so that key local issues such as illegal sand mining, deforestation, irrigation and drinking water hardly figure in the ongoing campaign. The widely read local weekend paper, The Sunday Times, reported that unemployment is a chief concern not only in the war-affected north and east but also across other provinces, despite the Prime Minister’s grand promise of a million jobs.
For a government facing enormous pressure within and outside, the fact that the Rajapaksas, who retain considerable support in the island’s southern districts, are seeking to capitalise on the incumbent government’s shortcomings makes matters more difficult. It is in this context that the UNP and the SLFP have to take a decision, following the local polls, on the likely renewal of their memorandum of understanding signed when they formed the government.
This is not to say that the story of the forthcoming local polls, in which about 16 million citizens are eligible to vote, is entirely about a brewing political crisis. It does offer some promise, especially after the government enacted a law mandating 25% representation of women in local government bodies, prompting many women community leaders to contest. This is also the first time that Sri Lanka will follow a mixed electoral model whereby 60% of members will be elected by the first-past-the-post system and the remainder through closed list proportional representation.
All the same, it is a high stakes election as UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim, who is also a cabinet Minister, noted recently. “Elections have consequences — and sometimes they are dire,” he warned, reminding voters of the “era of darkness” under the previous regime.
A scenario where Mr. Rajapaksa stages a comeback, would be the government’s own making. In the last three years, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has left the people of Sri Lanka, including Tamils, with fewer reasons to remain hopeful. Despite the initial promise and some welcome initiatives, disillusionment and frustration pervade the electorate. Busy fire-fighting to manage frequent tensions within, the ruling coalition has had little time for the good governance it promised.
Undoubtedly, the political stakes are high for all parties and the actors in this election. But the leaders would do well to remember that the stakes are higher for the people.
Where “political party” means a “gang of dealers” and “power is addictive”
2018 February 13
This Local Government election is unique in that this is the only LG election in history to decide the contours of central government power. Unique in that a political party leader as president who was completely discarded as irrelevant in politics with only 13.3 per cent votes polled, tells the other partner in the “Unity” government that polled 32.6 percent votes, their PM has to now step down. And that seems to hold political logic too with a totally new political party sweeping the elections led by former President Rajapaksa whose image is as strong as a popular “brand name” easily marketable across the whole of Southern Sinhala society.
All elections, carry with them numerous post-election analyses using numbers to defend one’s own thinking and political affiliations. Despite President’s thinking that there needs to be serious changes in government to continue, the main partner in this “Unity” government the UNP is now working out analyses to justify continuing in power. Mangala Samaraweera, Minister of Finance and Media, generally considered the most trustworthy of all politicians in this government has issued a statement to claim “The UNP has a solemn duty not just to the 46 per cent of the electorate who voted for us (the UNP) and President Sirisena’s SLFP (includes UPFA too) last Saturday, but to the entire resounding majority of our citizens, all 6.1 million of them (55.3%) who marched to the polls last Saturday and voted against a return to Rajapaksa rule.” Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne too came up with similar numbers, the day after the LG election results recorded a political Tsunami that left the Yahapalana government in debris.
The writing of a coming political Tsunami was glaring big on the wall. Here’s what I wrote in my blog after reading it, 02 days before elections.
“With Rajapaksa assumed to have another comeback, President Sirisena will have a harder time ahead than his ‘advisors’ had calculated.”
“The ITAK leadership in TNA will therefore find themselves in troubled and deep in hot waters without any acceptable excuse for piggybacking the UNP for 03 long and unproductive years.”
“In brief, the Unity government after the LG elections will be left as fragile as no other coalition government had ever been in mid term before. Election campaigning by President Sirisena had already laid the ground for the political crises ahead despite how the people would vote on Saturday. What the EC would read out as official results will only add salt to the bitter pickle on the boil.”
Calculations made by this Unity government “apologists” cannot hide the fact that in Sinhala South, the social psyche that had grown over the past 03 years does not accept this “Unity” government anymore. Even the numbers the yahapalana ‘apologists’ cluster together don’t carry the logic they blurt out.
One argument they hold on to is that Rajapaksa had failed to maintain the 5.8 million he mustered at the 2015 January presidential election. That his percentage vote of 47.6 at the 2015 January presidential poll had decreased to 44.7 per cent. One may then ask Samaraweera where the 62 lakhs who voted for Common Candidate Sirisena in that same presidential election are now. All the votes that Samaraweera had collected from so many different places still adds to 61 lakhs only.
It is more prudent to take numbers from the 2015 August parliamentary election, as the alliances and parties that ran for election then, seem almost the same as this LG election, 02 years and 06 months later. The UNP, JVP, TNA and also the SLFP/UPFA vote blocs can then be compared without any of the numerical gimmicks that Samaraweera is resorting to. Politics of the UNP platform then and now was also the same. They promised more investment with plenty employment and spoke about IT and a modern ‘Sri Lanka’ then and now. What was the outcome? At the 2015 August parliamentary elections UNP polled 5.1 million that was 45.7 per cent of the total polled. This February at the LG elections 13.1 per cent of those voters left the UNP and voted against the UNP leaving the UNP with only 32.6 per cent polled. How will Samaraweera explain this massive shift against the UNP?
Samaraweera and all “Yahapalana” apologists should face the truth that clustering numbers to keep highlighting a “Rajapaksa phobia” was and is their major blunder. Their “Rajapaksa phobia” proved the Yahapalana government had no answers, no solutions to any of the issues they raised against Rajapaksa; from economic to democratic to mega corruption. Thus it is not only the UNP that was heavily voted down, but it’s partner President Sirisena and his SLFP/UPFA too.
Technically, if people who voted SLFP/UPFA to elect 95 MPs in August 2015 stayed with the SLFP/UPFA, then President Sirisena should have polled 42.3 percent with 4.7 million votes. But President Sirisena could only retain a meagre 13.3 percent of that vote. That 42.3 percent in August 2015 was mustered by Rajapaksa for the SLFP/UPFA while Sirisena as President played the most sinister role of defaming Rajapaksa during the election campaign. Thus 29 percent of those voters opted to go with Rajapaksa and voted SLPP. Rajapaksa also gained from the 13.1 per cent voters who deserted the UNP in topping up the 29 per cent from SLFP/UPFA. Thus 42.1 per cent of the 44.7 per cent the SLPP totalled came from the SLFP/UPFA and the UNP.
It is stupid for a politician like Samaraweera who generally talks sense to argue that voters behaved in the same “anti Rajapaksa” manner this election too after 03 years of miserable rule by “yahapalanaya”. Forces that came together in poling 6.2 million for Common Candidate Sirisena to be elected president in 2015 January, had parted ways after 08 months when the parliamentary elections were held and contested against each other. That 2015 August re alignment of forces was further polarised at this LG election with the JVP, the Muslim vote in most districts and the SLFP in all its tattered forms clearly going “anti UNP” with President Sirisena being the loudest. Every single vote President Sirisena begged and bagged, was a vote against the UNP. The UPFA/SLFP councillors who were elected on that anti UNP vote at local level, cannot sit with the UNP. They ca n only opt to join with Rajapaksa to oust the UNP where the UNP failed to win an absolute majority.
Thus it is not only the Rajapaksa led SLPP which polled 44.7 per cent that was hard line anti UNP. Even the Sirisena led UPFA’s 8.9 per cent and his SLFP’s 4.4 per cent plus the JVP’s 6.2 per cent were all “anti UNP”. This totals to a massive 64.2 per cent votes among Sinhala South against the UNP. That’s after leaving out the Muslim and Tamil vote which went against the UNP in constituencies they contested against each other. If that number is added, the anti UNP vote could go well above 65 per cent.
In such a catastrophic situation in any democratic country where political parties are also democratic, the most important news catching headlines would be changes discussed at “Special Conventions” of political parties. It is such special conventions of party members who decide their next leader. It is they who decide the “political line” of the party. That was how the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) decided their coalition with the SLFP in 1964 June. The whole party discussed 03 different “Resolutions” at local party branches and elected their “delegates” for the special conference. At the special delegates’ conference it was Dr. N. M. Perera led group that won with their resolution to join the SLFP government with ministries. That LSSP is long dead and none of the political parties here in SL are democratic. Political parties today don’t have an actual membership. Here in SL, political decisions under party labels are taken by the leader with his own carefully selected group of henchmen amidst scheming and manipulations. Most henchmen are either from the “Filthy Rich” in this neo liberal economy or directly in business with them. Therefore decisions taken in the name of the “people” with promises for democratic reforms and justice to all, never get translated into action. If pressured to implement, they are scuttled and left dormant in Statute books.
Bottom line is, decisions that would actually be made effective are those for the benefit of the “filthy rich” and all attempts therefore in ensuring a government of their “choice” is what happens in these neo liberal economies. “People” are there to endorse them and give them legitimacy. Same is happening now and nothing else. This parliament has no other purpose as well.
Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary; to arrest or not: analysis
January 30, 2018
Our political correspondent examines how Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has avoided arrest despite being implicated in the murder of Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and several other crimes.
Economy Next political correspondent says both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may want Gotabaya to remain a free man, but the two leaders have different reasons for not making the high profile arrest.
President Maithripala Sirisena last week confirmed rumours that circulated in Colombo late last year that he had intervened to prevent the arrest of former top defence official of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
Speaking to senior editors, Sirisena for the first time admitted he saved Gotabaya despite having repeatedly denied he ever blocked the prosecution of the one-time de facto head of state under brother Mahinda.
For President Sirisena, Gotabaya Rajapaksa could be a useful ally to rally hard-line Sinhala-Buddhists within the splintered Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and eventually to secure the leadership of the party.
Even though Sirisena is nominally the leader of the SLFP, he knows that a majority of SLFP members of parliament and the rank and file are with his predecessor Mahinda.
However, Sirisena could use the plethora of criminal cases pending against Gotabaya to twist his arm into supporting him (Sirisena). Support from Gotabaya could help Sirisena win over the hardliners within the SLFP.
Gotabaya has emerged as a symbol of hard-line Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and his association with the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) of Ven. Gnanasara is well-documented.
Any truck with Gotabaya will cost Sirisena the support he received from the two main minority groups, the Tamils and the Muslims, but for Sirisena the most pressing issue is the leadership of the SLFP.
A drubbing at the February 10 local council elections could make Sirisena more desperate to cut a deal with Gotabaya and other hardliners in the Rajapaksa faction. That is probably why he announced last week that he is ready to ditch the UNP and form an SLFP government if all SLFP MPs stood behind him.
Sirisena justified interfering in the imminent arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November last year saying that he did not want any action taken without a water-tight case prepared by the Attorney General.
Sirisena made it clear that he had no faith in the dossier prepared by the AG's department and wanted private senior legal experts to re-examine the case file before proceeding to indict Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
With Sirisena pulling the handbrake with both hands, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left the island last month and is conspicuously absent from his brothers’ local election campaign.
For Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too, not arresting Gotabaya Rajapaksa could be a blessing in the long run.
Wickremesinghe is hoping to run for the presidency in 2020. Any split in the main opposition SLFP could only help Wickremesinghe. To perpetuate a division within the SLFP, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa factor could be vital for Wickremesinghe and the UNP.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a divisive figure. Many SLFP stalwarts such as Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne and several other seniors believe that their positon in the party could be undermined by the former defence secretary.
Groups that support Gotabaya Rajapaksa target the SLFP’s Maithripala faction more than the UNP. For Wickremesinghe, the challenge is to keep the SLFP split going till 2020 and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is an important cog in that strategy and for that he must be free to deepen the divisions within the SLFP.
There have been allegations that Wickremesinghe’s Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, had a cosy relationship with Gotabaya Rajapaksa and that he too may have helped him evade arrest.
Political sources say former President Chandrika Kumaratunga has openly criticised Ratnayaka for the very slow progress in prosecuting Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Minister Rathnayake's brother Kavan Ratnayaka is also known to be a close associate of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa has also secured interim court of appeal orders preventing the police from arresting him for the misappropriation of state funds to build a memorial for his late parents.
However, police investigators said there was nothing to prevent them from taking Gotabaya Rajapaksa into custody in connection with several other more serious crimes, if not for political interference.
How does Corruption affect Economic Growth?
By Chamindry Saparamadu
(The author Chamindry Saparamadu is a lawyer and an international development consultant. )
Corruption is the abuse of public power for personal benefit or for the benefit of one’s family, friends, clan, tribe, party etc. (Tanzi 1998). Across the world, regardless of the size and type of economic system in place, accusations of corruption have caused governments to fall and prominent politicians including Presidents and Prime Ministers to lose their office.
Scholars and economists have long argued that corruption negatively affects economic growth (Mauro 1995). I argue that corruption can retard economic growth through several channels including
Misallocation of public expenditure
Corruption, especially political or grand corruption, is often tied to capital projects. Since commissions paid out by enterprises to public officials to win investment contracts are tied to project costs, an incentive is created for larger projects which carry higher commissions in absolute terms (Tanzi and Davoodi 1997). As such, corruption is likely to increase the number of capital projects undertaken in a country.
However, empirical investigations have shown that an increase in the share of current expenditure has positive and statistically significant growth effects. By contrast, the relationship between the capital component of public expenditure and per capita growth was established as negative; the standard type of capital expenditure commonly undertaken in developing countries, such as capital, transport, communication etc had either a negative or insignificant relationship with economic growth. Productive expenditures can become unproductive when used in excess. In contrast, higher current expenditure, components such as Operations & Maintenance (O&M) expenditure was associated with higher economic growth. (Devarajan et al 1996)
Nevertheless, corruption induces a misallocation or excessive allocation of resources to unproductive capital projects. This explains why in so many poor countries, governments would rather spend their limited resources on infrastructure projects and defense, where corruption opportunities are abundant, than on education and health where these opportunities are much more limited (Shleifer and Vishny 1993).
- Reduction in Private Investment
Corruption affects private investment, by creating an unpredictable climate wherein investors are not guaranteed a return on their investment.
When corruption becomes endemic, it can threaten the basic rule of law, property rights and enforcement of contracts. An investor needs assurance that his money will be returned. Such assurance is dependent on the existence of a sound and well- functioning legal system and an independent judiciary to adjudicate disputes relating to investments (Azfar et al2001) .
Unraveling the East Asian Paradox
Paradoxically, the East Asian countries depicted a positive correlation between high rates of investment and growth with relatively high levels of corruption.
In unraveling this paradox, Campos et al (1999) argue that different corruption regimes have different effects on investment. They categorize countries into,
a. Those with high levels of corruption and low predictability;
b. Those with high levels of corruption and but greater predictability;
c. Those with low levels of corruption and high predictability
East Asia’s puzzling economies fell in the second category above, as corruption in many of such economies were seemingly well organized rendering a very high degree of predictability (Campos et al 1999).
When corruption is more centralized, that is, a system in which, there is a single public official, who can decide on awarding franchise, the degree of uncertainty about the possibility of actually obtaining the franchise, upon payment of bribes, is much lower. Conversely, in situations in which corruption is decentralized, that is, when several government officials have a veto power over a firms’ application, but none have absolute power to grant the franchise, the degree of uncertainty or unpredictability is higher. In the second situation, firms will invest lesser than in the first situation. (Shleifer and Vishny (1993)
The East Asian miracle economies, with high levels of corruption, attracted higher levels of investment compared to other developing countries, simply due to that reason (Campos et al 1999). As a result, compared to most developing countries, the East Asian countries have grown faster. Nevertheless, their economies would have grown even faster if they were in the third category, that is, low levels of corruption and high predictability, which invariably would have attracted more investment than the first and the second categories (Campos et al (1999))
- Misallocation of Talent
Corruption can also hamper economic growth through a misallocation of talent.
In general, the attractiveness of an occupation to talent is determined by three factors, the size of the market, returns to scale and the compensation contract (how much rents on their talent can be captured). In many countries, rent seeking rewards talent more than entrepreneurship does.
The type of activities that most talented people choose can have a significant impact on the allocation of resources. Investment in unproductive human capital such as, building up connections and rent seeking, referred to as ‘political capital’, is socially unproductive (Lui 1996). Investment to acquire political capital competes for resources that could be used for investment in productive capital. Such diversion of resources to non-productive political capital lowers the economy’s long term growth rate (Lui 1996).
It has been found that a 1% improvement in the level of corruption is associated with a 0.27% point increase in the growth rate of GDP per capita through encouraging human capital accumulation. (Kim et al 2010).
- Productive Inefficiencies
It is a well-established principle in economic theory that free market/competition as an organizing principle, economizes the allocation of resources. Efficiency criteria would guarantee that the most efficient project would be chosen because it maximizes profits.
However, when public officials exercise discretionary powers, often, the decisions with regard to selection of firms could be based on informal criteria such as friendship, kin relationships, common political backgrounds as well as the capacity of parties to pay bribes rather than on efficiency criteria. Such a system will not reward productive efficiency but will reward only moral unscrupulousness or the capacity to build relationships/friendships with public decision makers. Hence, firms can come out on top irrespective of their technical inefficiency. (Della Porta 1997),
Since the key to a country’s economic development lies in the destination of resources for productive investment, the exclusion of efficient firms from the public sector impose significant long term costs. (Della Porta 1997).
Convincing evidence is found to establish the pervasive impact of corruption on the long run economic growth of a country. Governments across the world fall short of achieving the desired levels of economic development as genuine efforts are not taken to deal with this systemic problem. If governments are serious about long run growth, tackling corruption needs to be prioritized at the top of any policy maker’s agenda.
This article is reproduced as a tribute to the memory of legendary filmmaker Dharmasena Pathiraja who passed away on Sunday 28, January 2018 at the age of 74.
In Sri Lanka, the '70s represented the rising tide of the revolutionary idealism and the sadistic brutality embodied by the State. The social and cultural fabric - fragmented by ethnic and class disparities - provided the breeding grounds for political discontent and radical activism. The disillusioned youth in the south stormed the bastions of power sending giant ripples across the subcontinent while the young men and women in the north drifted away from the 'mainstream' to confront the deep-seated racial injustices head-on.
In 'The Wretched of the Earth', Fanon wrote 'The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations'. The post-colonial Sri Lanka continued to be a society cut in two, where the frontiers were redefined and galvanized along new lines of oppression. The '70s pushed these hidden borderlines onto the surface.
Dharmasena Pathiraja's arrival epitomized this radical rupture with the past. He pioneered a powerful new genre in film making by capturing and creatively exposing the underlying political currents of the changing social landscapes. As one observer vividly puts it, Pathiraja's arrival re-defined 'a socially conscious 'Other' to Lester James Peries' gaze on bourgeois idealism'. His unconventional approach made him stand out from the rest, laying the foundations for a new school of filmmakers.
Dr Pathiraja, in an exclusive interview with the JDS, spoke to Manjula Wediwardane about his work, politics and contemporary cinema.
JDS: Recently, a young Sri Lankan filmmaker, said that “producing a war film is the dream of every film director.” Let me start the conversation by asking your comments on such views. Also, what do you think about the so-called 'Sri Lankan War Cinema' in general?
Dr Dharmasena Pathiraja: As I do not know in what context the other filmmaker made this comment, I cannot comment on its validity. Yet I can say this. War is a horrible thing and war is not there for filmmakers to make films. War happens when negotiation between people and authorities break down, or when social cohesion is shattered. One could make films about that, to capture the problems in modern politics. If you look at the war film genre in general, these films glorify violence. They are generally xenophobic or ultra-nationalist. They glorify militarization and male domination. That is the ideology of war films. If one is to make a film about war, it has to be about the people, people’s heroism, women as they contest male power and male domination within the masculinist ethos of war.
JDS: But instead of such serious attempts, we can only see two prominent tendencies. One is focused on reinventing a fictional past on the basis of "Mahavamsa" while the other trend trying to reinterpret the 'ethnic problem' in the context of 'war victory'. How do you reflect upon such trends?
Pathiraja: There is a culture of political quietism prevailing in the country today, particularly in the cultural sphere. Filmmaking is a mass medium and this political quietist trend is most evident in contemporary filmmaking. Looking to history, particularly as a glorification of the past as a Sinhala Nationalist/Buddhist one, which the political power of the regime is based on, is ideologically and politically very dangerous. This trend of making historical films may not last because the films that belong to this genre have not made any real impact on the cultural makeup of the people. Yet, filmmakers see this genre as a safe bet. The narrowness of this vision is detrimental to filmmaking. Filmmaking is an act of courage on many fronts: Politically, socially and financially. I hope we are able to produce courageous filmmakers who are willing to look at contemporary history and the past in the eye and deal with it honestly.
JDS: What do you think about the close collaboration between the state and the filmmakers?
Pathiraja: If you are talking about state support for films, I am not against it. Filmmakers need to demand support from state funds for filmmaking. This would free us from the vice-like grip of the market. But this support has to be completely free of political interference by the state in any form. This would make for a healthy climate of filmmaking and filmmaking culture would thrive then. If a filmmaker embarks on making films as a part of state propaganda machinery, then we are doomed, and sadly, that is happening amongst us today.
JDS: Since you made your first Tamil film 'Ponmani' in the late '70s, the Tamil people have gone through unimaginable horrors and sufferings. The social fabric in Jaffna now lies in tatters. Looking back, how would you view 'Ponmani' now?
Pathiraja: Ponmani heralds the era of violence/political violence that takes over the society of Jaffna in the ‘70s. Ponmani is about women, family and caste and hints at the non-viability of the Jaffna middle-class economy in the time to come. Though at the time I did not realize this, looking back at it today I see how prescient it is. There was something waiting to happen, and that something would be violent. The violence would be from outside, but importantly, from inside too.
This is a good time for Tamil films and I hope there is support for it. There is a developing space for films in Tamil, but how that space would be utilized is a question. There should be more cultural and political dialogue between all the different communities in Sri Lanka, in this post-war era, and that dialogue would create a space for collaboration as well.
JDS: But still the Tamil society is battling to come to terms with their harrowing experiences and they have hardly recovered from the shock. Whatever may be the intentions, don't you think it is too early - perhaps even wrong in a moral sense - to intervene and interpret their lives in our terms?
Pathiraja: I don’t think anything is too early for anything. But what we need is in-depth understanding and collaboration. I don’t think we should get stuck in binaries of Sinhala/Tamil and or Sinhala/Muslim/Tamil. Yet I can see what you are driving at. It is not the Sinhala perspective that is at fault here. It is the lack of understanding of where the Sinhala perspective fits into the overall scheme of things.
For instance, where does the Director as a Sinhala person figure in the film itself, within its coding? This is an important aspect.
To put it more simply, it is important to have an in-depth understanding of the society one is working with, the material. When I did Ponmani, Rajadurai’s story grabbed my attention. It was a very simple story, but I saw the depth of it. One has to feel strongly for the people, what is happening to the people, overall, have a strong social commitment, to be honest with oneself. This means one develops an intimacy not only with the people but also with the issues, the material. A combination of this intimacy with the people as well as the politics of the people would make you see that there is an organic link between the people, the issues, and the place. This takes time and time is important.
JDS: Your last film “In Search of a Road” drew considerable attention from many viewers as a serious attempt to explore the geographical and emotional terrains of war-affected regions in the island. What was the reaction of the Sinhala viewers?
Pathiraja: 'In Search of a Road' is not about Tamils per se. It is about the political life of Sri Lankans as ethnic politics and the Sri Lankan state as it impinged on the lives of the people. We were a three-member team of researchers and all of us brought our memories into the research and the script. Our research was driven by memory or personal engagement with events in the past and in contemporary times. This was our strength. When we did research, there was a personal investment. I had large amounts of footage at the end. The film went through multiple versions. What was important was a vision that we carried through the film about the dialogue between all sections of the people. We had an extensive dialogue with different segments of the people, displaced and living in the middle of an intense war.
The most important thing in 'In Search of Road' is about the links between the north and south; both socially and politically. The political links overlap and counter the social and economic links. In trying to trace these links over a 100-year period of history, as ethnic consciousness intensifies and the marginalization of minorities intensifies, leading to violence and war, in the end, I wanted to look at how people coped and how this has impacted on the people. It is the antithesis of a war film. Recently at a screening in Zurich, one of the spectators said, what a quiet film it is. And it is that inner quietness that we need as opposed to the pomp and pageantry of the war films.
The film has been screened in post-war Sri Lanka and continues to make an impact. Interestingly, it evokes different emotions and thoughts among different communities, Northern and Eastern Tamils, and Muslims, upcountry Tamils and the Sinhala people in the south. And all those feelings are important to engage with.
JDS: You belong to the first generation of political filmmakers in the country, who pioneered a new approach in the early '80s widely known as the 'Left Bank Cinema', which was named after Rive Gauche in the French new wave. Do you see any possibilities of reviving such a tendency?
Pathiraja: It would be good to revive a left bank cinema in Sri Lanka. There are so many budding filmmakers who are experimenting with form and content today. And they show a certain kind of sophistication in technique and in the visual medium. But for the most part, I feel there is a lack of a strong commitment to social change in those films. I wonder whether this has to do with our dependence today on film festivals. But this question has to be explored further. So, I too am in search of an answer as to how we can form a film movement that is not prescriptive, that nurtures innovation and experimentation both in form and content, and yet remain politically committed to questioning the status quo, the establishment.
JDS: In most of your films, the 'silence' is used as a form of expression. What do you intend to express through your silence at this time?
Pathiraja: I am biding my time. I have a few good scripts, but in this time of the domination of market forces, compounded by the fact that the space for filmmaking has shrunk and has become increasingly conservative, I must say, that when I do make my next film, it would be an outburst.
Source : JDS Sri Lanka
How Sri Lanka, a Growing Drug Trafficking Hub, Is Fighting Drug Abuse at Home
By World Politics Review
On Jan. 18, authorities in Sri Lanka destroyed $108 million worth of cocaine seized from a single shipment in the port of Colombo, which is a growing hub for international drug trafficking.
Police officers carry a haul of seized cocaine sack to be destroyed under judicial supervision in Katunayake, Sri Lanka January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte.
While Sri Lanka does not appear to be a final destination for many of the drugs transiting the country, drug abuse has spiked in recent years, prompting the government to launch ambitious measures aimed at mitigating, and possibly eliminating, drug use by 2020. In an email interview, Sunimalee Madurawala, a research economist at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, discusses the country’s current drug policies, how they have evolved and the challenges ahead.
WPR: What are the central components of Sri Lanka’s approach to combating drug use?
Sunimalee Madurawala: Sri Lanka’s approach is enshrined in its National Policy for the Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse of 2005, which was amended in 2016. Several of the amendments were incorporated to strengthen the laws against the production, smuggling, trafficking and use of illicit drugs in the country, in order to address both international drug trafficking and health issues, such as HIV and AIDS among drug addicts. The new policy framework also seeks the active involvement of different stakeholders—government institutions, the private sector and other agencies—in combatting drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Sri Lanka.
The central government agency is the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, or NDDCB, which was established in 1984. The NDDCB has a vast purview and wide-ranging powers, including formulating and reviewing national drug policy, coordinating the activities of relevant agencies, crafting treatment, rehabilitation and education programs, conducting studies and coordinating with regional and international organizations involved in drug control activities.
Various branches of the national police handle actual drug enforcement. The principal legal statute regulating drugs is the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935, a colonial-era statute that has been amended several times over the years. Sri Lanka is also a signatory of major international conventions related to drug abuse and trafficking, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.
WPR: How significant is drug abuse in Sri Lanka, and how have efforts to combat it changed in recent years?
Madurawala: The NDDCB reported that there were 79,378 drug-related arrests in 2016. Although this was a slight decrease from 2015, the number was way up from 2012, when there were 47,926 cases. Out of the total drug-related arrests in 2016, 35 percent were for heroin and 60 percent were for cannabis. The NDDCB reports indicate that abuse of psychotropic substances is also becoming a significant social and health problem. Although these are controlled substances, they are widely reported to be available on the black market.
Drug abuse has huge economic and social implications in Sri Lanka, a country of around 21 million people with a minimum wage of just $2.50 per day. Sri Lanka’s daily consumption of drugs reportedly amounts to almost $3 million—a huge burden to the economy and the finances of individual households. In 2016, the total number of people treated for drug abuse was 2,355. Furthermore, the total number of drug-related imprisonments in 2016 was reported to be 24,060. More than 90 percent of those who were imprisoned were men, leading to many negative consequences, such as poverty due to income loss for families and broken homes.
President Maithripala Sirisena launched an island-wide drug prevention campaign called “A Country Free of Intoxicants” in 2016, part of his Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention that has the ambitious goal of gradually eliminating the overall consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The task force formulates joint initiatives, implements and supervises the national drug prevention program at the grassroot and national levels, manages the financial provisions allocated for drug eradication and distributes educational materials. A special program led by the police and all three branches of the military aims to further strengthen preventive measures taken by the government.
WPR: What are the challenges facing the government’s aim of drastically reducing, or even eliminating, drug use by 2020?
Madurawala: Sri Lanka is not a producer or manufacturer of illicit drugs, with the exception of cannabis. It is, however, an important hub for international drug trafficking, including opium and heroin. This is mainly a result of the country’s strategic location, especially on important maritime and aviation shipping routes, for drugs originating mainly in India and Pakistan. Fighting against illicit drug trafficking is a challenge for Sri Lanka because of its lack of resources, both financial and human. More needs to be done in terms of capacity-building and training officers to counter the drug trade. Sri Lanka’s coast guard, for example, was only created in 2007.
Domestically, the government needs to allocate more money to the rehabilitation of drug users and reintegration programs for the victims of drugs. Youth prevention is key, too. According to the NDDCB, around 20 percent of illicit drug users in Sri Lanka are between the age of 19 and 25, and 38 percent are between the age of 26 and 35. It is also a widely known that large-scale drug dealers evade the law with the support of politicians and others with influence.
Japan Claims a Stake in Sri Lanka’s Ports
By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Sri Lanka earlier this month was the first by a Japanese foreign minister in 15 years. Governmental confirmation of Sri Lanka’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) project came during Kono’s visit, when the prime minister’s office revealed that an MoU was to be signed with Japan to build a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU). The FSRU and LNG terminal project will be a joint venture by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority with both Japan and India. The LNG terminal is to be located within Colombo port – one of the busiest ports in South Asia and an important trans-shipment hub in the region.
Japan’s public broadcaster NHK described Kono’s visit as being “part of Japanese government’s plan to promote cooperation for port expansion projects.” The low-profile visit concluded with a tour of Colombo port, and Japanese media did not hesitate to place it in the context of Japan’s concerns over China’s growing maritime footprint in the region. Before the port visit, according to NHK World, Kono told reporters who accompanied his delegation that “China is increasing involvement in port development in Sri Lanka,” and that “projects to build ports and other infrastructure should be open to any country.” The remark flagged Japan’s concerns over China’s major role in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development, especially the Chinese-built, Chinese-run Hambantota port in the south.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano with the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana. (Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Japan’s concept is “to develop free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region as an international public good,” Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a briefing with a selected group of local journalists in Colombo. Asked about the status of talks with regard to the eastern port of Trincomalee, the development of which Japan has indicated interest in, he declined to comment.
The increasingly anxious interest shown by Japan and India in investing in Colombo and Trincomalee ports would seem to be related to concerns arising from Sri Lanka’s recent finalization of the lease of Hambantota port to a Chinese company that holds a majority stake. The apparent loss of sovereign control over the port, strategically located near major East-West sea lanes, has led to fears that it may become a Chinese military base, in spite of Sri Lanka’s assurances to the contrary. “We want to ensure that we develop all our ports, and all these ports are used for commercial activity, transparent activity, and will not be available to anyone for any military activity,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reported as saying in Tokyo last April.
With China being seen as a common enemy, Japan’s strategic interests have begun to converge with those of the United States and India, and a closer strategic partnership has evolved among the three. Japan now participates in the Malabar naval drills with the United States and India, and uses the same rhetoric, with terminology like “Indo-Pacific” to refer to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, blurring the boundaries.
Japan has always been generous with aid to Sri Lanka and is a major development partner. During Sri Lanka’s war years, Japan was one of the four co-chairs of the peace process; when the Western co-chairs threatened to cut off aid, Japan reassured Sri Lanka that it would not follow suit. Japanese envoys never fail to recall the speech made by Sri Lanka’s former president, J. R. Jayewardena, at the San Francisco peace conference in 1951, where Sri Lanka came to Japan’s defense. Then-Finance Minister Jayewardene quoted the words of the Buddha, saying “hatred ceases not by hatred but by love,” and asked that no reparations be exacted that would harm Japan’s economy. “The Japanese still remember that this speech supported Japan’s return to the international society after the WWII,” Kono said in a written interview with the state-run Daily News ahead of his visit.
Against this backdrop, Japan’s interest in investing in Sri Lankan ports would normally be seen as a welcome development. But with India a partner in the proposed joint venture, and given the evolving strategic landscape, it would now appear to be embedded in a larger trilateral project of countering Chinese influence. This could mean there is a hidden cost — in that Sri Lanka risks being unnecessarily drawn into a big power conflict if there is an escalation in tensions between China and the United States and/or India.
In tracking Japan’s role in shaping the regional security architecture, analyst Brian Kalan’s observation two years ago in Southfront would seem relevant. “The only question is how Japan will decide to utilize their naval power in the coming decades,” he said. “Will it be used in the pursuit of ensuring their independence and peaceful relations with their regional partners, or in the self-destructive pursuit of U.S. hegemony in the region?”
Lasanda Kurukulasuriya is a Colombo-based independent journalist, a correspondent for the New Internationalist and columnist for the Daily Mirror.
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