IMG-20130405-04190With nothing much to do, I decided in 2012 that I would travel. The last purely personal target I would like to reach in my life is to have visited a hundred countries, and I realized that the intense work of the previous years had precluded any significant progress in this ambition. I had been to a few countries in the preceding years, including thankfully to Syria before the West set about destroying it, while at the Peace Secretariat and in Parliament. But in 2013 I thought it was time to travel more intensively.

I went to ten new countries in 2013, beginning with Bhutan over our New Year holiday period in April. I had a SAARC Travel Permit in my passport, which meant I did not need a visa. I had been told travel in Bhutan could otherwise be expensive, since tourists were expected to spend quite a high amount every day, but in fact I found the prices quite reasonable in the very comfortable inns at which I stayed.

IMG-20130406-04302I went with an Indian friend, and had a programme arranged through a contact of a cousin who did some work with Druk Air. We had an excellent driver, who was quite game to travel all over the country, though he noted that most tourists saw only about half of what we covered in the week we were there.

The Dzongs, monasteries that were also fortresses, were spaced at convenient intervals through the country. We saw half on the way east from Thimpu, to Tashiyangtze, and the other half on the way back. The monks who lived in the Dzongs were delightful and friendly, many of them students who were quite uninhibited in their playtime. Football was a favourite pastime, and I have some lovely photographs too of IMG-20130421-06391youngsters pushing each other in a wheelbarrow. But their serious side was also impressive, wonderful chanting in richly decorated shrine rooms, and occasionally drumbeats that reverberated in the courtyards.

The scenery too was fantastic, snow covered peaks and waterfalls, and yaks in abundance. We would have lunch at small wayside cafes, rather as I used to do with Ena in our meanderings at home. I rather enjoyed the cheese with chili that we had at every meal, but I’m afraid my Indian friend was not so adventurous and preferred chips whenever we could find them. In the evenings we would huddle with our drinks near the fires all the inns provided, though often of a morning I would brave the balconies with my coffee to watch the sun rising over the hills. Read the rest of this entry »

It was towards the end of 2012 that I began to feel that my shelf life was in a sense over. After 20 years of working for one or other government organization, there was no more that I would be able to do in terms of public service. It seemed then that the Mahinda Rajapaksa government would go on for the foreseeable future, but after what I felt was effective service, ever since he had unexpectedly asked me to head the Peace Secretariat, in 2007, it was clear that I was no longer wanted.

I should perhaps have sensed this in 2010 when I was not made a Minister. But I had after all been put into Parliament, which I thought then meant something. Though he had not kept the Peace Secretariat going, to work in Reconciliation as I had suggested, I thought that was the result of different persons with greater influence in government having other ideas. But then he had appointed me as his Adviser in Reconciliation and, after the emerging threat became clear, with the publication of the Darusman Report, he had put me on the team to negotiate with the TNA.

He had also asked his Secretary to put me on the Committee to implement the interim recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee. But Lalith Weeratunge had been persuaded by Mohan Pieris not to make the appointment. But Lalith did fall in with my suggestion that I monitor the work of that Committee, and this was duly put into my terms of Reference as Adviser on Reconciliation (which finally arrived in the middle of 2011, Lalith having managed to twice lose the terms of reference I had previously drafted, when the appointment was made earlier in the year).

All that should have made me realize the stage was darkening, but Mohan Pieris, with consummate hypocrisy, did feed me crumbs from his table, to indicate that he was making some progress with regard to what he saw as the important recommendations of the LLRC. The number of those in detention, which had come down from over 4000 to 2000 during the period when, as Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, I chaired the relevant committee, had been reduced to quarter that figure eighteen months later.

And the President still seemed to want my services, for in September 2011 he asked me to go to Geneva. This was when the Americans, through the Canadians, first sought to bring a resolution against us at the Human Rights Council. I refused, and then refused again in March, though I finally agreed when he asked me a second time on that occasion. But the chaos I found in Geneva, where our Permanent Representative, the potentially very effective Tamara Kunanayagam, had been sidelined by the enormous circus taken to the Council by those advising the President on strategy, made me realize nothing could be achieved there. Read the rest of this entry »

Nilanthi Wickramasinghe

The Tertiary & Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) as the apex body in Technical & Vocational Education &Training (TVET) sector, is geared to accomplish its mandate through its main goals, which is to formulate, review, update and implement robust TVET policies and strategies. It also includes planning TVET activities to develop and maintain information systems. Thus developing TVEC’s institutional capacity to establish and maintain a credible and quality assured National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) system which is here to stay.

“TVET was established in 1992 as the overall body for the Vocational Education Sector, of which the oldest institution is the Dept of Technical Educational Training (DTET). There is also the Commission and the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) established simultaneously.

Then the Vocational Training Authority (VTA) which was established a little later, and a Teacher Training Branch which was upgraded subsequently intothe University of Vocational Technology (UNIVOTECH)”, said Chairman- TVEC & former Chairman- Academic Affairs Board, National Institute of Education, Rajiva Wijesinha.

“Something that the Education Commission and we were very keen on was to develop a University level qualification for Vocational Training & they created UNIVOTECH. However, typically they did not really give UNIVOTECH its freedom. It tends to have more of an academic approach, although they now have a very good Director General who has come through the trade, but still inadequate in promoting the practical way of looking at things,” he said. Read the rest of this entry »

The last letter I got from the former Chaplain of my College reverberates still in my mind. He was already old when I went up as an undergraduate, and no longer Chaplain, though he continued as a Fellow in History. Oddly enough he had been a sort of spiritual adviser to my uncle, Lakshman Wickremesinghe, when he had been reading for a Master’s degree at Keble 20 years earlier. This was in Political Science, in which he had excelled at Peradeniya, getting the best first ever in the subject, Dayan Jayatilleka coming near but not quite rivalling him thirty years later. But Lakshman gave up political science and, perhaps because of the influence of Tom Parker, decided to become a priest, and went on to Theological College at Ely in Cambridge. His understanding of politics and his commitment however never left him, which is why he was seen as a Red Bishop and wrote, when his mother exulted at the UNP victory in 1977, that his party had lost.

Tom had no College position when Lakshman was a student, for he was considered too High Church. But Univ later gave him a home, where he was able to deliver the most erudite sermons. ‘You will all remember’ he began on one memorable occasion, ‘the controversies associated with the question of the double procession of the Holy Ghost’. Fortunately he had handed over by then to a younger man, who was more in tune with the times, and became a great friend as well as a mentor.

Tom came from a distinguished family of Butchers and, while still Chaplain, he became Master of the Worshipful Company of Butchers, one of those strange trade guilds that still exist in Britain, and hold elaborate ceremonies in the Guildhall. As a special mark of favour, he took one of his pupils to dine there when he presided. This was Ravi Dayal, whom I met in the eighties when he headed Oxford University Press in Delhi, and I was trying to get permission to republish some of the later poems of Patrick Fernando in one of the early collections I brought out while at the British Council. This was before some Thatcherite groupie in London declared that it was not the business of the Council in Colombo to take bread out of the mouths of British publishers.

Ravi was a delightful man, and we got on well, not only I think because of the Univ connection. He regaled me with the tale of the dinner which consisted entirely of red meat, notably beef, which as a orthodox Hindu he could not touch. Tom, unworldly to a fault, had no idea of the solecism he had committed. Read the rest of this entry »

Only two people are now left at Lakmahal of those who filled the house 50 years ago. First of all, in those days, there was my grandmother, who still dominated the place at the age of 65, just a bit older than I am now. My parents and my brother and sister were also upstairs, each with their own rooms, though I still had to share a bedroom with my brother, the dark room which needed the lights on at any time of the day if one wanted to read. It had been my uncle Lakshman’s in the thirties and forties, and I have suggested elsewhere that his deep sense of social justice, so magnificently asserted when he was Bishop of Kurunagala, might have had something to do with the deprivation he suffered from in comparison with everyone else in the house in his youth.

Downstairs we had an old friend of the family who had come to stay when he was seconded to work for the newly established Tourist Board, a factor I recall now that I am charged also with developing better training mechanisms for the hospitality industry – including competence in English, which has been so woefully neglected in the curricula in existence now. In addition my great-uncle and his daughter came down once a fortnight from Kurunagala, a high point for me since they brought cakes aplenty and I was allowed to share a beer with the old man on weekday mornings. Read the rest of this entry »

Time, passing, introduces us to activities which we will have, we suddenly realize, to continue with for ever. I recall still my sense of disquiet, way back in the early seventies, when my mother was diagnosed with high pressure and had to take tablets. When I asked her for how long, she said for the rest of her life, with an equanimity I could not share. The fact that she was growing inexorably older was not something I liked.

I had had a similar sense a decade earlier, when I started at S. Thomas’ and realized I would have to set off each morning, for school, and then for work as I saw my father doing, for the rest of my life. Most children do not understand the rigours of the walls closing in on them when they start school, for they do this when very young. So they have got used to their lifelong prison by the time they are old enough to appreciate the relentless forward march of time.

But I had had a reprieve.  I had begun in the Kindergarten at Ladies College, and then my family went to Canada, and I found myself free again, since the age of schooling there was higher. I could spend mornings at home with my mother, when my brother and sister, muffled up against the cold – we got there in the October of 1958 – set off for school. And when I was bored, I could go downstairs and play in the front garden. It stayed enormous in my memory for a couple of decades, but turned out to be tiny when I revisited the place in 1979 while waiting for my doctoral viva. It was there and then, in that first winter, that I stopped a lady in the street and asked if I could throw a snowball at her. I saw the incident, when I wrote ‘Explorer’s Diary’ about my voyage round the world in 1986, as the first sign of a thirst for adventure, encompassing the trivial as well as the exotic. Unfortunately for me what I thought of as an anonymous encounter became a tale to be told to entertain visitors, when the lady saw me with my mother at a supermarket and made the connection. Read the rest of this entry »

  1. You were one of the few MP’s who   crossed over with Mr. Maithripala Sirisena  in  November 2014. You supported him at the January 2015 Presidential poll. He was elected president and you were made a state minister. Subsequently you resigned from that Govt but remained supportive of President Sirisena. However after the August 2015 Parliament elections you were not appointed a national list MP. Why  do you think that happened and where does it leave you now?

I suspect I fell victim to the internal warfare between supporters of President Sirisena and President Rajapaksa. I took seriously the President’s decision to give his predecessor nomination, since that was the best way of promoting a SLFP / UPFA victory, and ensuring indeed that the party was not decimated.

But those around the President panicked him with stories of what a Rajapaksa led SLFP victory would mean for him, while in turn this was fueled by the latter’s supporters claiming that they would be revenged on the President if they won. Neither side took note of the reality that the party was not likely to win an absolute majority, and that even if it did, there were enough solid supporters of the President to ensure that the Prime Minister would be someone he chose (though it would of course have had to be with his predecessor’s support).

As a result the President played games with the Secretaries of the parties, and sadly the UPFA allowed this to happen. The claim was that he had to be absolutely sure of the allegiance of any National List nominees, and those who were currying favour – none of whom had dared to speak out when the Sirisena campaign was launched – doubtless told him I could not be relied on, even though I had been told that he had wanted me on the National List, and he should have known better. But in any case the UNP had been allowed a significant plurality, which is why this is not really a genuine coalition, but one dominated by the UNP. Perhaps that is just as well, since it is more likely that President Sirisena, if he really believes in the manifesto on which he won the election, will realize that that cannot be fulfilled by a UNP government as constituted at present.

 

  1. When you became State minister of Higher Education in President Sirisena’s Govt much was expected of you as you had wide knowledge and experience in that sphere. Yet due to differences with the  cabinet minister and also the Prime minister you resigned within 5 weeks. What  led to your resignation?  Has the passage of time made you  regret the decision?

Read the rest of this entry »

My comments on the ridiculous expansion of the Cabinet were carried in the Leader today, expressively edited by the sensible Camela Nathaniel. Ironically they were juxtaposed with those of Nirmal Ranjith Dewasiri, who was initially responsible for the unwarranted interference by the Prime Minister in my work which led to my resignation. But I don’t suppose he can understand his role in ensuring that the only voice able to challenge the hardline UNP leadership on its own terms was removed.

Will Jumbo Cabinet Be Another Nail In Government Coffin?

by Camelia Nathaniel
The government’s move to increase the number of cabinet ministers has come under fire from many quarters. On April six, President Maithripala Sirisena appointed a new state minister and two deputy ministers, increasing the total number of ministers and deputy ministers to 92.  Badulla District United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Lakshman Seneviratne was appointed State Minister of Science, Technology and Research while UPFA Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara and UNP Kalutara District MP Palitha Thewarapperuma were appointed as deputy ministers.

At a press briefing held in Colombo last week, JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said they were totally against the latest appointments. The former regime, Silva said, had maintained a cabinet exceeding 100 members and it was pathetic to see the present government too following the same bad policies. Silva said there was no scientific or logical basis for appointing these ministers. Citing the example of MP Thewarapperuma who represents the Kalutara district in the south, Silva said there was no logical reason for appointing him to develop the Wayamba Province. According to Silva the only reason these appointments were made was to strengthen the President’s power.

President Maithripala Sirisena is facing a split in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and according to Silva he is trying to assert his power in the party by doling out ministerial appointments.

Already the coalition national government of Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has faced criticism and there is some suspicion that the coalition may be in trouble. The UNP rode on the back of Maithripala and vice versa and now Maithripala may be worried, it is surmised, that the UNP is trying to take over. The UNP on the other hand is trying to strengthen its position in the coalition by holding onto the key positions in the government. Although the two main parties decided to come together in a bid to save the country from the tyrannical Rajapaksa regime, these same two parties are now engaged in a power struggle to establish supremacy over each other. Generally a single, more powerful party can shape the policies of the coalition disproportionately. Advocates of proportional representation suggest that a coalition government leads to more consensus-based politics, in that a government comprising differing parties (often based on different ideologies) would need to concur in regard to governmental policy. Another stated advantage is that a coalition government better reflects the popular opinion of the electorate within a country.

Prone to disharmony

However those who disapprove of coalition governments believe that such governments have a tendency to be fractious and prone to disharmony. This is because coalitions would necessarily include different parties with differing beliefs and who, therefore, may not always agree on the correct path for governmental policy.

Commenting on the current status of the national government of Sri Lanka and its waning promises, veteran politician and writer Professor Rajiva Wijesinha said it was sad that the number of ministers was increasing apace, because that destroyed the idea of governance, let alone good governance.

Pledges Ignored

“The President’s manifesto pledged that ‘the number, composition and nature of the Cabinet of Ministers would be determined on a scientific basis’ but as I noticed last year, I was about the only person interested in the manifesto,” Wijesinha said.

The short manifesto pledged a Cabinet of 25 which was ignored too, the number increasing dramatically when SLFP members who had not supported the President were brought in – none of the senior leadership, though, which has contributed to the continuing suspicions of and about the President.

Then, when the 19th amendment was brought, though the idea of statutory limits was introduced, there was a proviso that, in the event of a National Government, the number could be increased. That was destructive, because it implied that a National Government was essentially about jobs for the boys, he added.

According to Professor Wijesinha, when the 19th Amendment was put to the house, some of those now in the Joint Opposition objected to the special clause about possible expansion in the case of a National Government after the next election, but their remedy was to make that exception valid in perpetuity. “I proposed dropping the exception, but that amendment was not taken up, and there was no effort to define the term National Government.” Read the rest of this entry »

Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

at the ‘Afkar-e-Taza: Rescuing the Past, Shaping the Future’ Seminar

Lahore, April 3rd 2016

The world seems to be at boiling point at present given the increasing impact of terrorist activity. Civilian populations are subject to ruthless attacks in Africa, the Middle East and now both Europe and Asia. Typically, there is much less attention to what happens in our part of the world, which I believe may explain why there seems no adequate response to deal with the menace. Western powers engage in long distance operations that result in more civilian deaths, in the less developed world, and the occasional claim that an identified terrorist has been killed. But the reach of the terrorist organizations seems only to grow in the face of such operations.

There has indeed in recent years been only one unquestionable success in dealing with terrorism. In 2009 Sri Lanka defeated a terrorist movement that had pioneered suicide killings, with responsibility for several incidents where the victims had been numbered in hundreds. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had also killed two heads of government and destroyed several leading moderates of the ethnic group which it claimed to be liberating, namely the Tamils of Sri Lanka (Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India, President Ranasinghe Premadasa of Sri Lanka, Messers Amirthalingam, Yoheswaran, Sam Tambimuttu, Neelan Tiruchelvam, Lakshman Kadrigamar, Mrs Sarojini Yoheswaran, Ketheswaran Loganathan, Alfred Duraiyappa, etc)

And yet, far from this achievement being recognized, and efforts made to replicate it,  Sri Lanka became the object of relentless persecution by the Western bloc at the United Nations. While the Sri Lankan government certainly blundered in not dealing firmly with allegations against it, and also in failing to address comprehensively the problems that had created the terrorist movement, the manner in which it has been hounded deserves careful analysis. Not least, one needs to examine the role of the Obama administration, in playing to a public gallery of bleeding hearts whilst continuing a far more ruthless war on those it feared than had been engaged in by previous American Presidents.

These victims of American terrorism, concealed as human rights promotion, included serving heads of state as well as terrorists, while ironically sometimes the latter were deployed to destroy the former when they seemed more dangerous to American interests. But, as Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a particular object of hate to leading lights in the Obama administration, put it to a State Department official who preached at him, he could not help the fact that his terrorists were not Muslims. Read the rest of this entry »

Introductory remarks by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha

at the Panel discussion during the Seminar

‘Afkar-e-Taza: Rescuing the Past, Shaping the Future’

Lahore, April 1st – 3rd 2016

I will be very brief since I presume discussion, and responding to questions that are raised, will be a more useful way of dealing with this question. To introduce the topic however I will paraphrase some remarks I made at a seminar on working Towards an Asian Agenda also held in the Punjab, in Chandigarh just six months ago.

I noted then the need for more concerted Asian inputs in what current dominant forces believe is a unipolar world. This belief has led now to greater terrorist activity that threatens all of us, including the horrendous attack in this very city, less than a week ago.

One of the problems about concerted action from a South Asia perspective is possible worries about India taking a leading role. That seems essential, for reasons of geography as well as the size and wealth of India in comparison with its neighbours. But I recognize that this point may be challenged, and most obviously by Pakistan.

Personally I regret this, and I regret too the manipulation of the post-colonial situation in South Asia from the time in which the then dominant world powers realized the independence of their colonies was inevitable. The dispensation put in place then led to an othering confrontational situation, as opposed to the more civilized inclusive approach that should have been normal for the East.

All that however is water under the bridge, and we have to recognize that the suspicions that were engendered during the Cold War years will not be easy to overcome. Instead of engaging in wishful platitudes therefore, we need to think of ways in which the rest of South Asia will worry less about domination by one of our number. I was impressed then by the fact that the seminar in Chandigarh included participants from Central Asia, because that is a region which has ancient cultural and trade connections to the South, but it was cut away because of the dichotomies of the colonial era.

Strengthening links is vital, but I believe this may also contribute to resolving the South Asian problem, on the model of what Paul Scott suggested when he wrote of a stone thrown into a pond leading to ever widening ripples that then connect with the ripples of another stone. At its simplest, the overwhelming threat, that India’s size can be interpreted as by one or more other countries in South Asia, diminishes in the context of a larger group which will involve countries with greater economic leverage too, such as the energy rich nations of Central Asia.

Future discussions should focus then on how regional cooperation can be expanded, so as to avoid possible perceptions of security threats. The model of the European Union, which could not be replicated in an unbalanced situation as obtained in South Asia, can be more easily replicated in a larger grouping.

At the same time the problems that now beset Europe can be avoided, by greater mutual respect for the different cultural and social perspectives in the South and Central Asian region. For while we need to focus on what we have in common, we should also celebrate differences and seek out what we can learn from each other. In particular we all need to know more about the astonishing achievements of different elements in Islam basSouthed civilizations, that move beyond the monolithic vision of Islam that leads to confrontation such as many Islamic countries – but not those in Central Asia – are suffering from now.

Such educational initiatives should also include a cohesive programme in all our countries to increase awareness of the cooperation of the past, and the cultural connectivity that flourished. The way in which civilizations built on each other, and the role of trade in promoting personal interactions even in times of political hostility, needs celebration. That may also help to reduce prejudices, as has happened through for instance the Erasmus programme in Europe.

I should note too that, in addition to increasing cooperation with Central Asia, we should as a body move also towards better relations with ASEAN. That too will I think help to kick start SAARC again since – to return to Paul Scott’s metaphor of stones creating wider circles – success with other bodies will help to get over the distrust within SAARC that I have noted.

For this purpose I believe it would be helpful if there were regular meetings of senior administrators in our countries to work out not just common approaches, but also structures that would facilitate cooperation. At present SAARC centres hardly function, though I did find, when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management, that the SAARC Disaster Management Centre was an exception – and largely I think because of the excellent understanding between the Indian and the Pakistani heads of the relevant institutions, both professionals of the highest calibre.

More cooperation in such fields would I think help to bring us closer together, and also help countries like Sri Lanka, which no longer has as good civil servants as India and Pakistan have, to develop greater professionalism that would help to overcome the predilections of politicians. These can be destructive at times, for obvious reasons, but a bedrock of professional understanding would I think help us to work together more productively.

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2016
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