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Two-thirds majority and responsibility

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It was widely believed that under a proportional representation system, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get a simple majority. A 2/3rd majority under the circumstances would be an extraordinary victory. Therefore, this phenomenon has to be carefully discussed because it reflects a total loss of confidence and trust in a party that had been a major political force since Independence.

People have watched its decline in the last five years, particularly the UNP’s servility to foreign powers at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and the treachery of cosponsoring a UNHRC Resolution against the country, and twice cleaning up the Central Bank. People were determined to teach it a good lesson and, if possible, relegate it to the political dustbin. The author of the above betrayal had capitulated and withdrawn from the contest knowing well the fate that would befall him. This is a good lesson for all politicians who think the masses are asses and take their political party loyalty for granted. It is also a lesson for small communal parties who hold the major parties to ransom and ask for the impossible.

The main reason for this victory, however, was confidence and trust that the new President has earned, first as Defence Secretary and then, in these few months, as the President of the country, with his no-nonsense approach to governance and the efficiency he demands, as shown in the way the Corona pandemic has been controlled. The Prime Minister’s personal charisma and proven ability and leadership has also contributed quite significantly. Their team consisting of several talented Rajapaksas, each with different expertise, had helped to create history in the political arena, and in this sense it is unparalleled anywhere in the world. They must, however, remember they cannot afford to fail; people have placed so much faith and trust in them. Serving the people would be their holy vow and they must remember the mistakes they did in the 2010 – 2014 period that brought about their downfall and avoid repeating them. They could fall again, however big their victory may be.

What is of importance now is to consider what the voters want from a government with a 2/3rd majority. First, what they don’t want to happen, yet which has always happened, has to be remembered. This aspect of the problem assumes greater importance as most of the old faces known for various evil deeds, misdemeanor, ill decorum, and even serious crime are back. They have to be kept on a short leash, if the new President is to steer the country away from the precipice that has opened up in its path, due to the ills of the previous government and the coronavirus pandemic.

Corruption and waste

It is well known that poverty in this country could not be alleviated mainly due to the rampant corruption and waste. The country is blessed with a clement climate, fertile soil, rain in good time, ample sunshine, good literacy and an intelligent workforce. What we lack for development is honest, capable, decent politicians, who are not in politics to make money, but for the satisfaction of developing the country. If corruption and waste in government institutions, beginning from the Parliament could be controlled, the present leadership would have won half the battle. It is the top that must show the way. If there is corruption and waste at the top there is no one who could stop it at the bottom. Cannot they spend less on Parliament sessions to begin with. Cannot they do away with the commission racket at the top before they pick on lesser rogues. Cannot they punish the Central Bank robbers to begin with. Cannot bribery, drug dealing, and crime be stopped at the top so that the police can look after the bottom.

People have hope in the new President, the present political leadership and the government that the miscreants who may have been swept in with the political tsunami would be kept in check. Some new faces also have come in and the voters expect them to contribute meaningfully in the Parliament to keep things under order and control. They owe it to the people and the youth to save this country from the corrupt, the criminal, the drug dealer and the commission crook. They must form themselves into a group who would stand up for fairness and justice, integrity and honesty, decorum and behaviour. Decency in dress, beard and hair style. They must not allow the thick-skinned seniors to have their way and bungle and bumble for five years and go down yet again. These young new faces have their entire political career in front of them. They must not squander this opportunity by living it up, having a good time, nightclubbing and running around in fast cars, while their brothers and sisters, who voted for them, suffer without education and employment. They must make an effort to educate themselves on good governance, parliamentary procedure, basic economics and also develop patriotism and a love for the country so that they will develop into good leaders and statesmen.

The responsibility of the 2/3rd majority would be to change the political culture in this country, which has become so dirty that there are people, including the former Prime Minister who would like to throw politicians into the Diyawanna Oya. Fortunately, he would be spared of the watery inconvenience, courtesy the Colombo voters. Another responsibility is to see that politicians, rejected by the people, are not brought into the Parliament, via the national list.

Constitution

The two-third majority provides an opportunity to reform the constitution which has been badly mutilated by the 19th A, and which was introduced mainly to clip the wings of the then President and strengthen the hands of the then Prime Minister. It was not meant to improve the rights of the people, strengthen democracy, and attain balance between the three arms of the government. Further it has brought in confusion into the constitution when what is needed is clarity.

While the 19th A has to be gotten rid of, the presidential powers, which perhaps may be excessive, as the former President, the late JRJ famously claimed, may have to be appropriately changed taking care not to render the executive presidency meaningless, which the 19 A does. The electoral system, which has been muddled up by the previous government, also has to be revamped, to enable the voters to elect a stable government while reflecting the will of the people. Due to this muddling, the last local government elections produced almost double the number of members it was meant to elect. The independent commissions, which the 19th A introduced, may have to be retained, but a mechanism to restrict political appointments into these commissions may have to be worked out, as experience shows these units are full of LTTE sympathisers, which may have been one of the reasons for the defeat of political leaders responsible for it.

The 2/3rd majority is a clear endorsement of the need to preserve the unitary state and single sovereignty of the country. Communal politics, which unfortunately form the basis of existence for ethnic based political parties, have held the mainstream parties to ransom and taken the country to the threshold of ethnic federalism and secession. Those mainstream political leaders who colluded with these minority parties, hopefully have been relegated to history. Hence it is time the minority parties realized their mistake of overestimating themselves and believing that no major party could win without their support. They have found that if they push too hard the majority community will close rank. It is this myth that had all along prevented them from participating more actively in the governance, and also denied their people the opportunity to contribute more towards the country’s development.

The 13th A, with the threat of its full implementation in relation to land and police powers, is the Sword of Damocles that great India hung over the tiny head of Sri Lanka. This sword could cut the neck of Sri Lanka given the right conditions. The conditions were right, during the last four years, and they almost succeeded. The 13A is an incongruity in a unitary constitution. If fully implemented – there is no reason why it should not – it would give more powers to the periphery than the states of federal India have. It was forced on Sri Lanka as a solution to the ethnic problem of the Tamils, but their leaders did not make use of it to develop the North. The Tamils seem to be in a state of transition, if the results of the 2020 election is an indication. The North, East and the Central hills are showing signs of change and a disillusion with the parochialism of their leaders. Moreover, the Tamils seem to be getting on fine without any devolution, the Provincial Councils were non-existent for the last two years, yet the Tamils were not complaining.

The Provincial Councils do not serve any useful purpose other than being another obstacle that people have to overcome to solve their problems. All the communities are called upon to carry this burden for the sake of devolution of power, which in a poor tiny country is unnecessary and ill-affordable. Sri Lanka has four tiers of political administration; president, parliament, provincial councils and local government councils with thousands of members whose emoluments, perks, and corruption would be a huge burden on the poor people. Such a huge system of political administration, and representation is superfluous and unnecessary for a country of Sri Lanka’s size and population, leaving alone the cost. The aspirations of the Tamils, for political power sharing, should be addressed by more realistic means, and with opportunity for greater integration and participation both at grass-root level and the centre. The failure of Tamil leaders to realize this need has been the bane of the Tamil community and the country too.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation cannot be forced on people. It must come naturally. It had existed in early times and had been destroyed by politicians in the pursuit for power. It cannot be achieved by foreign intervention or UNHRC Resolutions that seek to investigate and punish one community. It cannot be achieved by the establishment of the Office for Missing Persons, Commission for Truth and Justice, and Commission for Reparation, etc., which are packed with supporters of terrorists and separatists. It can only be achieved by allowing people to forget the past and come together in a natural process. Tamil politicians, western powers, and their local stooges do not want people to forget the past for which one side only could not be blamed. The new President did the right thing in withdrawing from the co-sponsorship of the treacherous UNHRC Resolution 30/1. He has also said he will not hesitate to withdraw from any other world body that engages in activity detrimental to Sri Lankan interests.

The 2/3rd majority gives all communities the opportunity to work together to overcome the problems caused by Covid-19 and develop their country. Such an attitude would help them to forget the past.

In Lord Naseby’s words: “This is a new dawn for Sri Lanka, a fresh era creating the opportunity for the country to come together and finally put to bed the idea of any Tamil Eelam independence movement.

“Now is the time for the West to understand the new mood in Sri Lanka; the desire on all sides for reconciliation to become realistic without any interference from the West or the UN Rights Council”.

N.A.de S.AMARATUNGA

 


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Opinion

Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office

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By Dr Laksiri Fernando

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.

In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.

 

Initial Addresses

UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.

His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.

Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.

But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.

 

Controversial Presentations

China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.

He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”

“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”

It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.

His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.

His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,

“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”

‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.

What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.

In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.

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President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View

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Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).

PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.

So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.

PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:

I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.

Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.

In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?

On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.

 

Enough money even to donate
vaccines

Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.

Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.

In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !

That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.

Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.

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Opinion

Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka

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If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.

This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.

Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.

Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.

In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.

Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.

When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.

 

MAHADENAMUTTA

 

 

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