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A Move towards a New Paradigm Shift?

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Draft Twentieth Amendment

by Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya P. C.

Most social and political scientists are in agreement that in respect of several sectors Sri Lanka made significant progress under the Donoughmore system of government. The first State Council of Ceylon opened on July 7, 1931; an event held 89 years ago with much pomp and pageantry. The committee system had specific mandates and members nursed their electorates to win confidence to be reelected largely without political affiliations. The first independent constitution, drafted with the assistance of Sir Ivor Jennings, who became a close associate of D. S. Senanayake, followed basically the Westminster parliamentary model of democratic government with dual chambers and other changes. The Queen retained limited powers and was represented through a Governor.

Party politics continued to exert greater influence with language, religion and minority rights gaining more currency. In the early 1970s, nationalist sentiments called for a ‘home-spun’ constitution. The first casualty was the appeals to the Privy Council. This was essentially a precursor to adopting a new constitution through an informal assembly and bypassing the entrenched provisions in the independent constitution. In 1972, the country became a full-fledged democratic Republic, known as Sri Lanka, severing all links with the British monarch. With a change of government in 1977, the process of drafting a new constitution began. The new Constitution has since been amended 19 times giving rise to its description as a ‘periodical’ in bookshops and libraries in the U. K.

The period from 1948 to 2020 has witnessed many changes and developments. Besides the well known youth insurrections and a 30-year war against an attempt to set up a separate state, several Prime Ministers and Presidents, together with their respective ministers and party members, have initiated movements and projects to develop the country. Resettlement schemes of D. S. Senananyke; prominence to Sinhala as the main language by S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike; the green revolution of Dudley Senanayake; the nationalization of schools and the popularization of the non-alignment movement by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike; liberalization of the economy by J. R. Jayewardene; housing projects for the homeless by Premadasa; institutional capacity-building by Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga; and construction of highways and building of harbours, airport and a new Port City by Mahinda Rajapaksa are only a few examples that readily come to mind.

However, it cannot be gainsaid that all these were an unqualified success story; some led to or took place during a train of unpleasant events which still haunt the country such as the rights of minorities, the huge external debt etc. From the early 1980s, the ethnic war diverted attention from more pressing social issues and was a drain on the economic resources, not to mention the huge loss of life or disabilities of youth in their prime. The April 21 Easter Sunday attacks by militant Muslim groups have added a new dimension to the problems to be resolved in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Highly qualified professionals migrated seeking greener pastures and the country lost the benefit of their services.

The country’s economic plight was neatly summarized by W. A. Wijeywardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank:

“Sri Lanka’s economy today is in a deep mess. Even after seven decades of independent rule, the country has not been able to push itself up to the level of a rich country. Over the entire post-independence period, the country had had a meagre economic growth of about 4.5% on average. That was pretty below the growth rate of 9% needed for raising the country to the status of a rich country within a few decades. Hence, all governments in the post-independence period are responsible for this malaise. Beginning from 2013, over the last seven-year period, the situation further deteriorated. Symptoms were manifested by falling growth rates, stagnant exports, mounting external debt, rising recourse to commercial borrowings, falling in government revenue, stubborn budget deficits, stagnant capital formation, high inflation though at mid-single digit level over the world inflation and pressure for exchange rate to depreciate…” (Daily FT 8 September 2020).

The 19th amendment was a hastily prepared piece of legislation which was not subjected to close scrutiny by politicians, lawyers or political scientists. Soon thereafter there was no love lost between the President and the Prime Minister who came from different political parties. A Supreme Court ruling effectively prevented the removal and replacement of the Prime Minister and the premature dissolution of the Parliament. The judgment placed great emphasis on the nebulous concept of ‘sovereignty of the people’ and some 15 President’s Counsel who appeared in the case paid lip service to the more important and salient concept of ‘separation of powers’.

In August 2020, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party gained a landslide two-thirds majority with a mandate to amend or replace the 19th amendment and/or to introduce a new constitution. The ruling party has opted to introduce a new 20th amendment repealing some provisions in the 19th amendment but retaining certain provisions and appointed a committee of experts to draft a new constitution. A few members of the Buddhist clergy are unhappy that a non-Buddhist is heading the Committee but these fears are unfounded as there are other members and the committee’s mandate in only to submit a draft which would then be subject to public, parliamentary and judicial review before becoming law.

The paramount need to amend the 19th amendment to the Constitution apparently arises from the fact that two Presidents have found it difficult without full powers to achieve their intended policy goals. On two occasions a President and a Prime Minister from different political alliances found that what was to be a holy matrimony soon ended as an unholy deadlock. The appointment by President Sirisena of a non-national as the Governor of the Central Bank at the insistence of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led to an unprecedented financial disaster tarnishing the reputation and integrity of the Central Bank. In at least two so-called independent commissions established under the 19th amendment to the Constitution. we saw certain members airing private views in public when they were expected to act discreetly.

Untrammeled presidential powers seem to be the golden key that anyone in power hopes will help to open the door to unleash the development process. The draft provides, inter alia, for the President exclusive powers to make high-level appointments of his choice. Parliament can be dissolved within a minimum of one year- a departure from the bizarre provision in the 18th amendment which provided for a four and a half year period. It was bizarre for the reason that if all members of Parliament resigned and no replacements were made, the President would still be obliged to complete the four and a half year period before calling for fresh elections! No piece of legislation is perfect but the 19th amendment leaves more to be desired than any previous amendment to the Constitution.

Already many criticisms have been leveled against certain draft proposals. For instance, much has been said about the proposal to grant dual citizens to enter Parliament. Even though it is speculated that this is intended to accommodate a related party who is currently debarred from being accommodated, there is no logical reason to exclude dual citizens from holding political office if the country were to benefit from their expertise and knowledge. A second chamber, the Senate, was envisioned under the Soulbury Constitution to give a place of importance to distinguished individuals who were reluctant to contest but could otherwise contribute to the nation’s decision-making process. Ideally, the 20th amendment should provide for dual citizen to hold not only political office but also office in public service and academia. We may hopefully be able to see more academics who are now overseas return to upgrade the knowledge and skills of students.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Sri Lanka was an exemplary developmental model studied by other countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. Today, the situation is just the opposite. Using current global indicators measuring corruption-free administration; ease of doing business; control over drugs of abuse, tobacco and alcohol; attracting foreign investments etc., Sri Lanka has fallen far behind most nations of the world. Successive governments and opposition members of Parliament and public servants must take much of the blame for inaction, short-sighted policies and running dysfunctional institutions.

Lord Acton, expressed the following opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

The challenge for any new President now is to emerge as a great and good man, thus proving that Lord Acton was wrong as far as his statement is concerned. Dharma Asoka the Great was known to have been a benevolent dictator under whose rule much good had taken place in India during his time. He is said to have followed the ten precepts (Dasa Raja Dharma) outlined by Lord Buddha himself as the duty of a perfect ruler, namely

1. To be liberal and avoid selfishness

2. To maintain a high moral character

3. To be prepared to sacrifice one’s own pleasure for the well-being of the subjects

4. To be honest and maintain absolute integrity

5. To be kind and gentle

6. To lead a simple life for the subjects to emulate

7. To be free from hatred of any kind

8. To exercise non-violence

9. To practice patience

10. To respect public opinion to promote peace and harmony

In plural societies such as ours, it is important that the achievement of peace and harmony must gain the top most priority. It behoves all religious and national leaders to move away from their narrow comfort zones and adopt a holistic approach and do whatever is possible to make Sri Lanka as one modern united nation that proudly belongs to all of us after 72 years of independence.

(The writer was conferred a Ph.D. by the University of Colombo for his work on ’Mechanics of Constitutional Change: The Sri Lankan Style’. After a career as an international civil servant he returned to Sri Lanka and served as Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Insurance Board and as a member of the Public Utilities Commission and the National Procurement Commission. In December 2005 in accordance with a general circular from the Office of the P.M. he relinquished all these positions.)


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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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