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CaptureA couple of months back the retiring Canadian High Commissioner introduced me to the German Ambassador, whose country has been doing much helpful work in vocational education. He seemed a nice young man, but as it turned out he was cross with me because, in an article in this series about six months back, I had been critical of some pronouncements he had made.

I had quite forgotten what I had written, and I certainly did not associate the football playing youngster with the old man, his predecessor during the war, who used to pontificate to us. But on cue as it were, even while he suggested that I should have spoken to him before making pronouncements, he pronounced again, on much the same lines. Apparently not having read the manifesto on which President Sirisena won election, he continued to pontificate about what he claimed were ‘changes that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government had promised in 2015’ referring almost entirely to what Mangala Samaraweera had signed up to in Geneva. And most worryingly, in talking about corruption, he twinned it in both efforts with impunity / exemption from punishment.

My article noted that what the President should concentrate on is the promises in the manifesto on which he was elected, and in particular dealing with corruption in terms of the suffering it brought to the Sri Lankan people. I did tell him that I would be happy to discuss anything he wished, but since then there has been a deafening silence.

I suspect this is because he also in his message referred to an issue that I would hope he now finds embarrassing. He repeated the old canard about my ‘role some years ago which led to the closure of the office of the Friedrich-Naumann-Foundation’.  He obviously assumed that the allegation was true, even though the former Deputy German Ambassador had discussed the issue with me at length, and seemed convinced that it was nonsense. The reason for the FNS Head, Sagarica Delgoda, being questioned by the police was, as clearly described by Jehan Perera, its organization of a seminar on ‘improving the opposition’s ability to win elections by better campaign methods’.

Underlying this of course was the support Mrs Delgoda and the FNS gave Ravi Karunanayake for a range of activities. One of these was the Democratic Youth Leagues, for which Buddhika Pathirana and Manusha Nanayakkara were the front men, though later he fell out with both of them.

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One of my more naïve assumptions as I entered Parliament, in April 2010, was that it was an independent institution. I also assumed that it was the role of backbenchers, even on the government side, to bring issues to the attention of the executive. I was therefore the first member on the government side to ask a question, and also the first to propose an adjournment motion.

Some of my colleagues actually questioned this and suggested I was trying to embarrass the government. But at a Parliamentary Group Meeting the President indicated that we should get involved in such parliamentary practices, and not leave it all to the opposition, whereupon others followed suit.

I was less lucky about another initiative I started, which was to propose adjournment motions signed also by opposition members. I had found several who seemed like me to want the dignity of Parliament upheld, but after I had got several signatures – Ramesh Pathirana and Neranjan Wickremesinghe from the UPFA, Rosy Senanayake and Buddhika Pathirana from the UNP, Sunil Handunetti of the JVP and Mr Saravanaparvan of the TNA and Mr Radhakrishnan of the UPF – one member of the government group questioned the concept and, sure enough, at the next Parliamentary group meeting, the President said this was not proper. Unbeknownst to me, his idea of promoting consensus was to bring people over to then vote with government on all issues – which happened soon afterwards, giving the government a 2/3rd majority – not, as I had hoped, to promote initiatives which parliamentarians on all sides would favour. As a matter of interest, I give here the text of the motion which eight of us signed and handed in to the Leader of the House –

We, the undersigned Members of Parliament, representing a cross-section of parties, request that the following adjournment motion be taken up for discussion as soon s possible –

That this House do stand adjourned to regret the numerous occasions on which Parliamentary questions have to be postponed again and again because of a failure to provide answers in time; to request Hon Ministers, while recognizing that such delays are due to circumstances beyond their control, to emphasize to Ministry staff and Heads of Departments the importance of providing answers quickly; to suggest that Ministries should set up systems to maintain records more carefully so as to have essential information readily available; to urge the relevant Ministries to devise and implement swiftly training programmes for public servants that will ensure skills in line with the requirements of a knowledge society; to request a thorough overhaul of the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration to promote the provision of courses that may receive appropriate accreditation , to improve soft skills of communication and analysis as well as administration; and to urge the entrenchment in the public service of a culture of swift responsiveness to the needs of the public, with regard to information as well as action.

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I referred some weeks back to the games being played by various individuals and institutions in Colombo with regard to the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, the political foundation of the German Free Democratic Party. This is a member of Liberal International, though its Liberalism is generally more concerned with free market economics, and does not have the same commitment to social equity as say the British Liberal Party. Still, there are enough people in the FDP, and also in the FNS, who understand our commitment in Sri Lanka to a more Gladstonian version of Liberalism, though sadly they have been in comparative short supply in dealings with South Asia.

I suppose this is understandable in that South Asia tended, at the time the FNS established itself here, to be committed to social equity from a more socialist standpoint, and it was free markets that needed nurturing. However this led to at least some personnel neglecting other aspects of Liberalism, as with the official who said he saw nothing wrong with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s assertion that democracy could be delayed, as in South Korea and other East Asian countries, until development had reached a satisfactory level.

This mindset has contributed to a generally hostile attitude to the Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, though there have been honourable exceptions, including the Regional Director who encouraged my conducting workshops on Liberalism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sadly he was soon sent away from Delhi, though he has since contributed immeasurably to Liberalism in South East Asia, where the command model of an open economy held sway, and it was necessary for Liberal parties to argue for the restoration of democracy and social equity.

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I have been intrigued recently by a couple of reports about how other countries have been providing funding to various organizations in Sri Lanka that engage in political activities. First there was the allegation, made prominently by Wimal Weerawansa but expanded on elsewhere, about Norwegian funding to the Bodhu Bala Sena.

On the same day on which I asked the Norwegian ambassador about this, I was told that Sagarica Delgoda, head of the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung in Sri Lanka, had been questioned about support she had provided to a conference organized by the UNP. The FNS is the foundation of the German Liberal Party, the Free Democrats, and they had provided the Liberal Party, or rather our think tank, the Council for Liberal Democracy, with funds in the old days for various seminars.

When I was inquiring about the story, I was told, by Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who had long ago been one of my Vice-Presidents in the Liberal Party, that before the lady was questioned there had been attacks on me too, in various newspapers, on the grounds that I too was receiving funds from the FNS.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2018
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