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When I got back to Colombo from Uzbekistan, the Central Bank Bond issue was hotting up. Ranil had tried to suppress the report his own lawyers had produced, which made it clear that chicanery had taken place. They had I think been asked to protect Arjuna Mahendran, and this they did with a dogmatic claim regarding his innocence, which the rest of their report belied. Even devoted UNP lawyers, it seems, were not prepared to put their reputations on the line by claiming that nothing wrong had occurred.
The Opposition demanded a debate on the subject, but the Speaker, perhaps trying to maintain a balance, decided that the issue should be investigated by the Committee on Public Enterprises. D E W Gunasekara, its dedicated Chairman, was keen to start immediately, but I was due to go abroad again on May 24th and he decided to postpone sittings. Though others perhaps would disagree, he saw me as the most valuable member of the Committee, and felt I needed to be present to deal with what he realized would be obfuscation on the part of UNP members.
I make no bones about the fact that the transformation of COPE had been largely because of my initiatives. I had not asked to be put on this Committee, having asked instead for Consultative Committees in areas which I knew about. But the myopic Ministers the President had put in charge of subjects relating to Reconciliation obviously wanted no one around with significant capacity. So this was the most important Committee I was appointed to, apart from the one on Standing Orders, and that ceased to meet after a few months.
Assessing what COPE was about, I found that we were supposed to report on a couple of hundred institutions, but managed in a year to look at fewer than 50. This struck me as ridiculous, so I suggested sub-committees, which D E W Gunasekara institutionalized, against opposition I should note by Ravi Karunanayake who thought the whole committee should look at any institution (despite the evidence that this was not possible). Read the rest of this entry »
Back in Colombo in early April, I went ahead and introduced my proposed 23rd and 24th amendments to the Constitution. During the previous year Vasantha Senanayake and I had discussed proposing some changes, since we felt we had an obligation to make clear the need for reform. He had put forward a Bill then to reduce the size of the Cabinet and was astonished at the reaction. Apart from strong arm tactics from Basil, the President had called him in and told him he was being unduly influenced by me, which made him indignant given his long family commitment to democratic politics. Twice then he withdrew the Bill or rather, as he affirmed since he did not want to close the door completely, postponed it.
With the change of government we had hoped those who had professed commitment to good government would take our proposed reforms on board, but we soon realized they had no interest in details, and those in charge were keen only to transfer power to the Prime Minister. We ourselves were hamstrung by the fact that we were part of the executive and could not therefore move Private Bills, but when I resigned I was free of this constraint. Unfortunately Vasantha had by then passed on the ownership of his Bill to the JVP, which having agreed to move it promptly reneged on the commitment – and I was then unable to move such a Bill myself since only one Bill on a particular subject could be entertained at any one time.
But with some help from the Bills Office I put forward two Bills and presented them in Parliament on April 9th. One was about Electoral Reform, and the other was a principle I thought essential for an independent Public Service, namely that Permanent Secretaries be appointed by the Public Service Commission, not the President. Both Bills were seconded by Pabha, the actress who had been elected on the UNP list for Gampaha, but who had then crossed over in the mass defection to the government that took place early in 2007. She understood little about politics, but was keen to learn, and had an intrinsic commitment to democratic governance. Read the rest of this entry »
In one respect I believe things are better now than they were in the darkening days of 2013. I refer to Trinity College, which I had got involved with at the end of 2004, when the then Bishop of Kurunagala, Kumara Illangasinghe, asked me to serve on the Board of Governors as one of his nominees. He had to select a Christian from the university sector and, though I was the only non-Trinitian on the Board for many years, I found the little work we had to do interesting. I believe I was also found useful, for I was asked to serve for three terms altogether, and invited to serve on several sub-committees and to chair the committee on school development.
The blight that hit Trinity between 2012 and 2014 seemed to parallel that in the country, for it involved massive fraud and connivance in this at the top. But unlike what has happened in the country, with continuing waste and corruption as exemplified in the Central Bank Bond Scam, Trinity now seems to be doing well again, under a new Principal, an Englishman called Andrew Fowler-Watt. A measure of his quality was the fact that he promptly offered to admit the boy who had been rejected by his local school on the grounds that his father had died of Aids, a cruel decision that seemed to have the backing of the Minister of Education, who then sprang into the fray with astonishing ignorance of both facts and principles in this regard.
Fowler-Watt had been my choice for Principal when we advertised the position back in 2008, but I was by then at the Peace Secretariat and had not been involved in the initial selection process. I gave in readily then when a section of the Board, led by Jayantha Dhanapala, advised against getting another foreigner. This was understandable, for the previous Principal, also an Englishman, Rod Gilbert, had summarily had his visa cancelled. Sadly I believe this was yet another example of Mahinda Rajapaksa giving in to pressure. Or possibly he was part of the plot, since the strongest opposition to Gilbert came from a group in Kandy who were keen to cut Trinity off from its Anglican roots. Read the rest of this entry »
The request to write an article on US Policy towards Sri Lanka in 2008/2009 came at a timely moment, for I had been reflecting in some anguish on the crisis that the Sri Lankan government is now facing. I believe that this crisis is of the government’s own creation, but at the same time I believe that its root causes lie in US policy towards us during the period noted.
Nishan de Mel of Verite Research, one of the organizations now favoured by the Americans to promote change, accused me recently of being too indulgent to the Sri Lankan government. I can understand his criticism, though there is a difference between understanding some phenomenon and seeking to justify it. My point is that, without understanding what is going on, the reasons for what a perceptive Indian journalist has described as the ‘collective feeling that the Sri Lankan State and Government are either unable or unwilling’ to protect Muslims from the current spate of attacks, we will not be able to find solutions.
Nishan might have felt however that I was working on the principle that to understand everything is to forgive everything. But that only makes sense if corrective action has been taken, ie if the perpetrator of wrongs has made it clear that these will be stopped and atoned for. Sadly, after the recent incidents at Aluthgama, I fear the time and space for changing course are running out. But even if we can do nothing but watch the current government moving on a course of self-destruction, it is worth looking at the causes and hoping that history will not repeat itself at some future stage
My contention is that the appalling behavior of the government at present springs from insecurity. That insecurity has led it to believe that it can rely only on extremist votes and extremist politicians. Thus the unhappiness of the vast majority of the senior SLFP leadership, and their willingness to engage in political reform that promotes pluralism, are ignored in the belief that victory at elections can only be secured if what is perceived as a fundamentalist and fundamental Sinhala Buddhist base is appeased.
I am grateful for the request to write about India and the 13th Amendment because, while I have referred to the subject in different contexts, it would be useful to assess precisely what Indian priorities are, and how we should respond to these. In doing this, we should be clear about the principles involved –
- As Sri Lankans, our own national interest must come first. This includes both safeguarding the integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka and also ensuring that all our citizens can dwell contentedly in their country, with access to equal opportunities and full participation in politics and development.
- As South Asians we must also recognize the important role India plays in the region. This means that, without any violation of our own interests, we must ensure that India does not come under undue pressure from any quarter because of us.
It is clear that we got into a conflict situation with India because we violated the second principle. While India could have reacted less aggressively, I believe the Jayewardene government must be held responsible for allowing India to come under pressure from two quarters. The first was pressure from Tamilnadu, because of what was perceived as, not just discrimination, but also violence against and oppression of Tamils.
The second set of pressures however was more worrying for India, as is clear from the provisions of the Indo-Lankan Accord. The Sri Lankan agreement then to ensure that foreign policy decisions took Indian interests into account (as spelled out with regard to Trincomalee and its oil tanks as well as broadcasting facilities to other nations) made it clear that Jayewardene’s flirtation with America in the Cold War context had worried India deeply.
We must remember that those were days in which America saw India as a hostile element, and had no scruples about engaging in activities calculated to destabilize the country. Salman Rushdie’s brilliant account of language riots in India in the fiftes, in which Tamilnadu hostility was the most aggressive, has a brilliant cameo in which he suggests the American contribution to street violence. And while obviously no direct causal connections can be diagnosed, there is no doubt that America would have been quite happy in those days for India to split up – and the obvious instrument of this would have been Tamil Nadu, with the longstanding American connection to the area, through missionaries in particular.
These Readers were produced by the English Association of Sri Lanka in the nineties, and were made available at Rs 5 – Rs 10. They sold out rapidly, but now it has been possible to reprint some of them through the Parliamentarians’ Decentralized Budget. They will be distributed free of charge to schools in the Sabaragamuwa and Northern Provinces, but the publisher, International Book House, has been requested also to make low cost copies available nationwide.
The initial distribution to schools will take place at the Provincial Council offices in Ratnapura on April 7th, under the patronage of the Hon Maheepala Herath, Chief Minister of the Sabaragamuwa Province. This follows on workshops to train teachers of Primary English conducted by the English Language Teaching Department of Sabaragamuwa University at Eheliyagoda and Balangoda with the support of the Regional English Support Centres and Provincial English Administrators.
It is hoped to follow up on these with training in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Vavuniya Districts.
by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP
Former Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
I was delighted when General Hasthurusinghe called me last month to tell me that he had been awarded the GUSI Peace Prize by the Philippines based Gusi Foundation. And I was deeply touched at the ceremony at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute to witness the commendations and congratulations from worthies of Jaffna, at a felicitation they helped to arrange for him. This was the more significant in that I believe that this prize is a symbol of something more than simple recognition of the work of an impressive peace-builder, it is also the first clear recognition internationally of the tremendous achievement of our forces in pursuing peace.
An army in the modern world faces challenges that require initiative and understanding that an earlier age could do without. It requires firmness in the face of unremitting and subtle hostility, but it also requires flexibility, since the theatres of war and peace overlap. In dealing with terrorism, when negotiation and discussion prove futile, because of intransigence, one has to pursue a military goal relentlessly. But one has also to be constantly aware of the context in which terrorism flourishes, and deal with that context with sympathy and skill.
This was the challenge that faced us at the conclusion of hostilities and the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. Until that happened we had to be constantly vigilant and forceful in the field, though I believe too that we were more careful about civilians than any other army dealing with terror. After the war though we had to concentrate on restoring confidence in the people who had been so brutally abused by the LTTE in the preceding period, and who were also distrustful of us because of skilful propaganda.