Peace for the World

Peace for the World
First democratic leader of Justice the Godfather of the Sri Lankan Tamil Struggle: Honourable Samuel James Veluppillai Chelvanayakam

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Hindu temple vandalised in Jaffna

Home24Feb 2018

A Pillaiyar temple in Chemmani, Jaffna was vandalised this week, with the statue of the deity smashed. 
The attack, by unknown persons, occurred on Thursday evening. 
The police are reportedly investigating the incident, which is the latest in a series of incidents of vandalism targeting Hindu and Christian places of worship across the North-East. 

ITAK welcomes UNHRC report, wants govt. to honor commitments to int’l community



 

The Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) welcomed the report of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.

The party’s Central Committee, which met in Colombo yesterday welcomed the report, ITAK said in a statement.

"We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to strictly adhere to the commitments it has made to the International community in bringing lasting peace and political solution to the national question", the statement noted.

"Furthermore, we appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka not to deviate from these commitments and deliver on the promises that the Government has made to both of the people of Sri Lanka and to the International Community", it said.

The statement further said: "We strongly endorse the recommendations made by the High Commissioner of the United Nations Human Rights Council and urge upon the member states to ensure a close and constructive engagement with the Sri Lankan Government. The ITAK/and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has constantly raised the issues pertaining to the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, release of lands belonging to civilians, the issue of missing persons, release of political prisoners.

"The lethargic progress in addressing these issues has raised serious concern about the genuineness of government’s actions among the Tamil People. We strongly urge the International community to hold the Government of Sri Lanka accountable for the above-mentioned matters and to the recommendations made by the High Commissioner for United Nations Human Rights Council.

"In addition, we appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka to expedite its actions and to fully implement the cosponsored resolution without undue delay. While expressing our appreciation to the High Commissioner of United Nations Human Rights Council, on behalf of the most affected Tamil community, we urge that the office of the UNHRC and other International agencies and member states to ensure that these recommendations are taken seriously and implemented by the Government of Sri Lanka, as per its commitments".

Saturday, February 24, 2018

UN MIGRATION AGENCY, SRI LANKA EXPLORE WAYS FORWARD ON CONFLICT VICTIM REPARATIONS

Image: Children selling peanuts in Jaffna; poverty remains a major obstacle to achieve Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka. ( photo courtesy of @garikaalan)

REPORT from International Organization for Migration.-24/02/2018

Sri Lanka BriefColombo – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and the Sri Lankan Secretariat for Coordinating the Reconciliation Mechanism (SCRM), are today hosting a two-day (22-23/2) international conference on reparations for conflict victims in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This is the first such conference to be held in Sri Lanka since the end of the country’s long-drawn-out conflict in 2009.

The conference follows a UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the need to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” and a government decision, following national consultations in 2016, to actively promote reconciliation, including a system of victim reparations, that will contribute to a lasting peace.

Mano Tittawella, Secretary General, Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms, Sri Lanka, noted that “reparations are essential in leading to a process of reconciliation and is should be done in parallel to a process on truth, justice, and non-recurrence.”

UN Resolution 60/147 (2005) upholds the right to reparations for persons who collectively suffered harm through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, and affirms the obligation of states to provide reparations as imperative on the basis of international law.
Experience from other countries shows that reparations through judicial processes (criminal or civil) are not necessarily feasible for countries with a large and diverse number of cases, for which comprehensive reparations (also known as administrative reparations) often represent the most viable and inclusive option available.

Reparations programmes can be legally anchored in different frameworks: some may result from an international litigation process (e.g., the German Forced Labour Programme), some are reliant on the recommendations of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (e.g., Sierra Leone), others are founded on dedicated legislation, peace agreements, or a combination of both (e.g., Colombia).

“Transitional justice is a relatively new field which, on a daily basis, is being expanded and enriched through experiences, both positive and negative, from many different societies across the globe. A solution in one country or community does not necessarily work for others, particularly in relation to finding the right balance between what is desirable and what is feasible,” said IOM Sri Lanka Chief of Mission Giuseppe Crocetti.

“It takes a whole of society approach to move from a divided past to a shared future and that is the underlying theme of this conference,” he added.

The conference brought together some 150 participants from the government and non-government sectors, development partners, UN, local and international NGOs, civil society organizations, victim groups, academics, experts and other relevant stakeholders. It aims to provide a platform for mutual dialogue and consultation based on international best practices and lessons learnt from other reconciliation processes.

The key elements of a legitimate, fair, transparent and efficient transitional justice process are inclusivity, victim participation, feasibility and effectiveness. In such a model, the restorative justice mechanisms, such as reparations for human rights violations in conflict, can deliver meaningful benefits to the most affected population, thereby empowering the victims to have more capacity to engage in other aspects of the process, noted Crocetti.

In Sri Lanka, IOM has been working closely with the SCRM in the reparations domain since 2016, initially though Sasakawa Endowment Fund, later with financial assistance from the Government of Australia, and more recently via the UN Peacebuilding Fund.

IOM’s work in reparations in Sri Lanka is guided by, and fits within its country approach to social cohesion and reconciliation click

here: http://srilanka.iom.int/iom/sites/default/files/IOM%20Sri%20Lanka%20brou…
For more information please contact Giuseppe Crocetti at IOM Sri Lanka. Email: gcrocetti@iom.int, Tel. +94115325354

International Organization for Migration:

Copyright © IOM. All rights reserved.

GTF Wants Visas Of Brigadier Fernando’s Family Cancelled

logoThe Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has written to Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, UK, demanding that the visas granted to family members of Brigadier Priyanka Fernando be cancelled.
Fernando, former Minister Counselor (Defense) of the Sri Lanka mission in London, was asked to return to Sri Lanka following an incident at a protest organized by expatriate Tamil organizations.
The GTF argues that the family member’s visa statuses were dependent on Fernando’s and since the GTF believes that the latter has no status as of now their statuses ‘should also fall’.
However, in a letter that the South Asia Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, had written to the GTF in response to a letter by the latter, what is intimated is just that the Sri Lankan Government has ordered Fernando to return to Colombo ‘while the incident is thoroughly investigated’. This follows, according to the South Asia Department, serious concerns being expressed to Sri Lanka by UK authorities.
Both letters are given below in full:

Will this coalition government ever learn?

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection
 Sunday, February 25, 2018

In the aftermath of Sri Lanka’s local government elections, a weary sense of resignation weighs heavier in the scales than lingering (if not hopeless) optimism. As President Maithripala Sirisena dons white and is back again to his accustomed role of preaching morality and the virtues of good living to the restive populace, the fire breathing persona in blue promising to spearhead a new corruption fight on the election platforms a month ago appears to have disappeared not with a bang but with the proverbial whimper.
The Sunday Times Sri Lanka
Extraordinary failure of political competency


On their part, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his band of now not-so-merry men protest that the warnings given by the electorate earlier this month will be taken to heart. A senior ministerial committee of the United National Party will present recommendations for policy reforms which will be discussed with its coalition partner to ensure unanimity and then swiftly implemented.

These are mind numbingly familiar terms emanating from the lips of the Prime Minister, committees, policy reforms, so on and so forth. When these words are heard in the public mainstream, sardonic chuckles ensue. It is this palpable absence of public faith that the coalition Government must overcome. Both the President and the Prime Minister are put to the stern test in terms of delivering more than the endless stream of political rhetoric, now hinged apparently on the musical chair games of changing the Cabinet. Who in this Cabinet actually commands public confidence? What is the point of changing portfolios when the same discredited faces circulate in nauseatingly slow motion rather like that dreaded nightmare from which one wakes up in a petrified state?

From the cosy corners of Colombo, there is no point preaching good governance and the Rule of Law to a potato farmer in the Uva province whose family is starving or to desperate paddy cultivators in the North Central province stricken by drought. The utterly inept handling of the portfolio of Agriculture by President Sirisena’s protégé in the Cabinet says a lot for the determination (or the absence thereof) of both to redress the plight of their own constituencies. It was an extraordinary failure of political competency, more so given that public anger had been visible for months previously. So there must be concrete change in the way that the Government is run. But none of that is discernible so far. This is why the public await future action with resignation uppermost in its collective mindset and the Rajapaksa lobby salivates in the wings.

The return of the Rajapaksas

A good friend of mine who disagreed vociferously regarding the strong critiques featured in these columns after the ‘yahapalanaya’ victory was secured in 2015, based his fears on the possibility that ‘Mahinda may come back’, if public scrutiny of the coalition government was too harsh at the inception. My counter to that was that, if constant vigilance over the Government was not maintained, that would lead to precisely that same result. Three years later, that possibility if not probability has now reared its head in a ferocious show of defiance, surprising only the supremely naïve. And let us not forget that it was precisely in the honeymoon period of ‘the inception’ that the first bond fraud occurred at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL). It says much for the manipulations of those in power that this fraud was engineered scarce before the bloom had faded from the promises held out at Independence Square that Sri Lanka will take genuine steps towards ridding itself of the horrors of a murderous, corrupt past.

Cynical power games continued, aided and abetted by once strident critics of the Rajapaksas who suddenly turned to purring cheerleaders of the coalition Government despite the fact that many points of controversy had uncanny similarities. One example was the Government’s effort to bring in a new counter-terror law which was worse than the existing public security and prevention of terrorism statutes. Even now, there is apparently a new draft that has been finalized but the public is kept in the dark while in all likelihood, this has already been shared with western missions. Is this how governance is conducted? Will this Government never learn?

A grotesque subversion of the right to vote

And this allegation of a lack of accountability in governance swings both ways. There are many who are of the view that the commonly known Commission of Inquiry into the Treasury Bond issuance at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) should never have been appointed and that in doing so, the President focused public attention on the UNP for which the coalition paid a high electoral price. But that is a misapprehension of the most serious kind. The logic therein is indeed akin to saying (absurdly) that an investigation should not take place in regard to a serious crime given the danger that the robber could be identified.

However the allegation leveled against the President that he took action in respect of this scandal only at a point that it became politically expedient for him to do so and that the act of appointing the Commission was part of a deliberate scheme to gain political capital out of the fiasco remains to be answered. In any event, the result of the February elections was an unequivocal reprimand to both parties that the public is not impressed by these political games. But how many electoral lessons are to be meted out to Sri Lanka’s irrepressible politicians, which they never seem to quite grasp?

In a grotesque subversion of the right to vote, the only thing that elections seem to accomplish these days is to allow the country to get handed over from one group of crooks to yet another, both of whom take turns at robbing the public coffers but get off scot free as they are safeguarded by each other. Each so-called ‘victory’ that is seemingly won at these elections is ephemeral. In January 2015, the rainbow revolution petered out into dismal quarrels though some strides in the improvement of the Rule of Law were evidenced. In February 2018, the strong showing of the Rajapaksas can only thrill those with lamentably short memories of what happened during that ‘decade of darkness.’

Where redemption lies

Right now, effective action based on the Commission of Inquiry report in to the CBSL Treasury Bond issuance is high on the list of imperatives for this Government. Two scapegoats disappearing into the murky depths of Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system does not suffice to meet the public call for justice. It is on this along with a range of other factors, that the ‘yahapalayana’ Government was rightly judged.

And it is on these legitimate points of concern that it must redeem itself, if redemption is yet achievable in the public domain.

Non-governance and non-opposition in Sri Lanka

To end on a slightly different but not unrelated note, if we could have learnt anything from our 40 years of presidential-parliamentary experience it is that the country is not served well by the two extremes of constitutional exuberance.

by Rajan Philips- 
( February 25, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We can no longer blame the local government election results for the continuing paralysis of government and the consistently off-the mark criticisms of the Joint-Opposition. The much anticipated cabinet reshuffle (even though there is nothing to shuffle in a pack of jokers with no aces, as Pieter Keuneman once wisecracked) would have given something new to write about for the weekend column, but that did not happen at the time of writing. So we are back at the same topic of non-governance and non-opposition. Political gossip and rumours now are all about the UNP-SLFP haggling over cabinet portfolios in the expected new makeup. Of the two senior portfolios, who will take the foreign ministry – Sarath Amunugama for the SLFP? Will Managala Samaraweera leave finance and have another portfolio, if the banks are not brought back to finance where they belong? Will Kabir Hashim agree to part with the banking institutions after getting used to them for three years?
Lakshman Kiriella – is he going to be toppled from his twin high horses – highways and higher education, and brought down to something more earthly and less lucrative? Will John Amaratunga, that erect symbol of Christian morality and frequent flyer to see the Pope, continue his inflicting cabinet presence, or be relieved of serious perks as minister without portfolio? Nimal Siripala de Silva could be the SLFP counterpart and good company to John Amaratunga in the club of senior ministers without portfolio. Whatever will happen to the SLFP busybodies who tried to create an SLFP-SLPP government and remove the UNP from the government? Will the anxious Harsha de Silva and the poised Eran Wickremaratne finally break out of their prolonged internships and be promoted as fully-fledged cabinet ministers? If Harsha de Silva does not get a full cabinet position, it will only confirm the rumours that the decadent UNP leadership is going to punish him for calling for leadership change after the local elections.

The opposition then and now

On the other hand, the media and the Joint Opposition have been keeping up the pretence of a constitutional crisis and the illegality of government based on the status of an agreement between the UNP and the SLFP to collaborate in a national-unity government. If the agreement had lapsed, or been broken, it has been argued, there could be no government except illegally. Speaker Karu Jayasuriya apparently had to consult outside legal opinion to dismiss the opposition’s and the media’s vexatious claims. By this token, the LSSP could have argued in 1975 that the then government of Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was rendered illegal because she had broken up the United Front agreement by dismissing the three LSSP ministers – NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva and Leslie Goonewardena.
The LSSP leaders made no such claim because they were serious grownups and not the overgrown juvenile delinquents that many of our parliamentarians are today. What NM, Colvin and Leslie did after losing their ministerial portfolios was to take parliament and the government by storm from the opposition. They were not the official opposition, which was the UNP and JR Jayewardene was the official Leader of the Opposition. But that did not deter the LSSP trio from vigorously and relentlessly holding the government to account. Their energy and focus apparently prompted UNP’s Gamini Dissanayake to remark that if NM, Colvin and Leslie could be so irrepressible when they were old, how much more formidable they would have been when they were young. There are no such formidable figures in the Joint Opposition today.
The only opposition spark in parliament during the drab two weeks came from R. Sampanthan, the TNA Leader and the official Leader of the Opposition. His concluding salvo that any prospect for Eelam blooming rests not with the TNA but how the Rajapaksas use their Lotus Bud politics, created bit of a benign stir in political circles. GL Pieris, not known for general humour or political wit, took a rather puerile shot at Sampanthan that the TNA Leader was trying to take the shine away from the SLPP’s local elections victory. It is not Sampanthan but Mahinda Rajapaksa who takes the shine away from his victory by opportunistically tarnishing it with anti-Eelam rhetoric when the Tamil vote in the northern and eastern provinces, if not the rest of the country, was overwhelmingly for parties, including the TNA and the EPDP, who stand for a united and devolved Sri Lanka.
As well, the electoral shine of the SLPP’s February 10 victory has no matching substance or depth in terms of policy or direction for governing Sri Lanka, nationally or locally. The SLPP’s victory is by and large a negative victory, caused by a rejection of the present government’s corrupt practices and performance blunders. It is not a positive victory based on an endorsement of the Rajapaksas and their platform. In fact, the Rajapaksas offered nothing new or different at the February 10 elections from where they stood and were defeated in 2015. The Rajapaksas kept their numerical vote total and swept the board of local seats, while those who were united against them in 2015, foolishly went their separate ways in 2018, splintering their votes and losing badly in terms of local seats.

Government’s cooked-up crisis

While the responsibility for the election debacle should fall squarely on the shoulders of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, the responsibility for the post-election paralysis is entirely the President’s making. The government’s crisis is a cooked up crisis, with President Sirisena as the principal chef. His ingredients have been primarily ineptitude and indecisiveness. The main stock apparently is man’s ambition to be in office beyond the first term that will be over by the end of 2019. There are hardly any Machiavellian spices in his political stew although there seems to be some attempt to suggest a clever design behind his incoherent chess moves. The Machiavellian explanation for the President’s inept inconsistency is that he deliberately confused the UNP and the SLPP by cajoling and rejecting both in order to re-establish his authority after the damage it suffered at the local elections. Anyone who believes this is qualified to join the President’s unimpressive team of advisers.
The more plausible explanation is that the President has become a captive in the hands of a handful of SLFP ministers who have been allegedly working in collusion with the SLPP and the joint opposition. Their apparent advice to the President is for him to wield the stick at Ranil and the UNP to the point of getting rid of them from government, and they (SLPP and JO) will then get him the carrot of a second term in office. This explanation is plausible for if anyone could be duped into this stick-and-carrot promise it would be Maithripala Sirisena. A complementary explanation is the President’s tendency to agree with everyone who meets with him in spite of their inconsistent positions, and the tendency of almost all the people who meet with him is to rush to the media to announce the President’s agreement(s) with them. And the media has developed its own tendency to broadcast everything that is reported to it by the so called political insiders without checking for their inconsistencies, let alone their inaccuracies. This is fake news but different from the Trumpian use of the term.
In the midst of all this, the Prime Minister seems to have gone quiet and withdrawn. He emerged briefly to announce in parliament that the UNP-SLFP agreement is intact and that the national-unity government is continuing – whatever that means. But the basis for unity would appear to be an agreement over the spoils of office – i.e. cabinet positions and portfolios, rather than an agreed upon program for government action for the next two years – at the most. We will have a better picture if and when a cabinet reshuffle actually takes place. Until then non-governance and non-opposition will be the order of the day.
A taste of things to come seems to be building up in the apparent contradiction between UNP ministries, on the one hand, and the Central Bank, on the other, over the ministry proposal to establish a new agency (National Payment Platform) for the clearing of retail payments. Newspapers have reported the fundamentally different positions but no one in the Joint Opposition has picked up on the issue. They are still basking in the shine of their local election victory. It will be instructive to see how the location of the Central Bank is addressed along with the anticipated cabinet reshuffle. If the Central Bank and other banking institutions are not reverted to the Ministry of Finance, it will only mean that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP have learnt nothing and forgotten everything after the bond scam disaster and the local elections debacle. It will also mean that for all his public flaying against corruption, the President is unable to restore the Central Bank to its traditional and legal location. Nothing would have changed, but we will have a great deal to write about.
To end on a slightly different but not unrelated note, if we could have learnt anything from our 40 years of presidential-parliamentary experience it is that the country is not served well by the two extremes of constitutional exuberance. One is the tendency to extend terms in office or postpone elections: to wit, the 1982 referendum; the 18th Amendment; and the recent delays in local and provincial elections. The other is to orchestrate elections – as another way to extend terms, to exercise executive overreach, and to enforce authoritarian control at all levels of government: examples include, the notoriously self-serving timing of presidential elections, the 2004 dissolution of parliament, and the holding of staggered local and provincial elections to ensure victories at the peripheries for the governing party at the centre.
The 2015 January presidential election and the 19th Amendment thereafter, despite its publicly jested 19 defects, have admirably pushed back on both extremes. The real benefit of 19A in the current circumstance is in its forcing on our parliamentarians the hard work of making our institutions function as they are supposed to and not rushing to the people for a new mandate at the drop of every political hat. After the local election public thrashing and almost two weeks of much constitutional ado about nothing, the prematurely tired and tottering Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government seems set to sworn itself a new lease for governing. The expectations are for a new cabinet makeup and new assurances to govern differently and for the better in the two years that are left for Messrs Sirisena and Wickremesinghe to do something worthwhile before their respective political sunsets. Neither man deserves this reprieve as a reward. The reprieve is really a punishment to both men: a sentence to two years of good behaviour and good governance. No more, no less.

Containing Mahinda’s racist and kleptomaniacal neo-populism Crisis of govt and latent crisis of state


article_image
"What a bloody mess!"
(Image from Asia Mirror via Groundviews)

Kumar David-February 24, 2018, 

Danger has surfaced; there is a threat of a return to authoritarianism which may harden into semi-fascism. The dark side is unifying and mobilising. Those who are for democracy, the Jan 8 Movement, the left in all its complexions, national minorities and liberals must prepare to join battle. In 2015 we decided on a common candidate to use as a lever to resolve a Single Issue, restoration of democracy. Democracy has been restored; the lever MS has rotted and been discarded; no problem. If the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, then the people must reawaken every time peril returns.

About half the LG councils are "hung" in the sense that no one party has a clear majority to form an Administration. This is a consequence of Compensatory Proportional Representation (CPR). I described CPR with an illustrative table in my column on 4 Feb. Take Jaffna MC; the ITAK polled about 37% and was awarded 16 seats (FPP+PR). All others shared 63% and secured 26 seats (FPP+PR); Gajendra Kumar’s party 13 in total, the EPDP 10 and smaller entities 6 seats. Fifteen of the ITAK’s seats were FPP; only one PR. GK’s party and the EPDP won 9 FPP seats between them, but pocketed a thumping 13 PR places under CPR. Had it been an all-FPP, 40-constituency election, the ITAK would have bagged about 30. (All numbers are for illustration).

This pattern has repeated itself all over the Island; not one LG body in Jaffna District has a single-party majority. SLPP got 40% to 50% in many Sabhas but is unable to form an Administration since the balance of power lies with others, UNP, JVP, UPFA/SLFP or CWC. Wheeling and dealing goes on; as usual in Lanka, politicos are bought and sold by the crate. Those who anticipated a power struggle and crisis between a RW-MS Centre and an MR Periphery bungled their arithmetic, again.

Crisis of Government, not State

I remember reading 10 days ago in the pro-Rajapaksa Island newspaper (not to be confused with Sunday Island) an assertion that the polls ushered in a state of Dual Power. Rubbish it did not! In revolutionary Paris in 1848 real power (physical control of the city, its institutions and the streets) was contested; two regimes were at war. The writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon describe it well. It was dual power, though the term was coined 50 years later by Lenin to describe chaotic conditions in Petrograd from Feb to Oct 1917 when two governments, two armies, two state-powers prevailed. The nearest Lanka came to dual power was in the Vanni in the 1990s when two states overlapped. The currency was Colombo’s, Colombo paid salaries, sent food and ran services, while the LTTE had an army, police, Ministries (Forestry, Agriculture etc) and levied taxes. Two governments ruled the same people and the same territory simultaneously. It is like that in Syria and Iraq’s Kurdish territories now. Only a novice would call the post LG-election predicament in Sri Lanka dual power.

Still, let’s not quibble over terminology; is there a latent crisis of state power, is dual power on the horizon, are we heading there? I don’t think so; but here’s a hypothetical scenario, and were things to go this way, it would be dual power. Say Rajapaksa mobilises his crowds for direct action, say the streets are occupied with throngs demanding Ranil’s removal, say Ranil refuses and the President is trapped (he cannot dismiss the PM without a vote of no-confidence in parliament). Say fired up masses flaunt de-facto power like in Cory Aquino’s yellow revolution, say relations between LG bodies and the centre break down, the country becomes ungovernable and the military wavers. Now that would be dual power, but we are nowhere near, and most unlikely to get there - except what I will say later regarding the national question.

One other comment before moving on. Prof Hoole’s "Devolving Powers to Women . ." (Island 19 Feb) is lucid and essential reading to understand how the 25% minimum quota for women will be implemented. Many people are not clear how this excellent new provision will be executed.

Can the Unity Government

recover?

A crisis of state power it is not, but a crisis of government is upon us. If Ranil goes as PM - possible only if his party wills it - it can be used to advantage by yahapalana. Whether RW continues as party leader while, say #, becomes PM is beside the point. The odds favour the status quo, that is a MS-RW-Administration (MS-RW-A) enduring, but be that as it may, what will the UNP do to try to recover by 2020? It will have to undercut Mahinda-SLPP’s three trump cards; racism, the corruption dilemma and cost of living. This yahapalana menagerie is incapable of addressing the first, but it can make headway on the other two.

The government has blackened its copybook by consorting with rogues and killers. If corrupt Ministers - there are stacks - had been prosecuted and thrown behind bars, if the Lasantha case had not been wilfully derailed by powers at the top, if rogues like Mr Tenpercent, Mr MIG and Mr SL-Airlines were in prison, then MS-RW would not be spat upon as now. If the UNP hopes to rebuild barricades by 2020 it will have to make amends for harbouring criminals. I doubt it has the willpower, balls and guts to mount even a belated offensive to throw felons into whatever pit they deserve to be dumped in (unfortunately the death penalty has been abolished). If the UNP acts even now (forget MS he is dead meat) it could improve its electoral prospects. Those calling for Fonseka to be Law & Order Minister are sending the same message in their own way.

A key statistic is that 1.49 million UNP voters (13.04% of valid votes cast) abstained in Feb 2018 compared to August 2015. If the UNP cannot win back this vote bank it does not have a hope in hell. Also note that if, say, half these votes had been cast, the apparent percentage of the SLPP would have slipped from 44.7% to 40.7%, the SLFP/UPFA from 13.4% to 12.2%, and so on with others. I make this remark because, perhaps, chastened UNP voters may not boycott in such large numbers in future Provincial, General and Presidential elections.

Let me touch on cost of living concerns. How is MS-RW-A (or MS-#-A) likely to respond to the popular demand for more goodies to eat and enjoy – long-term development be damned! I am not a UNPer and have no role advising it; my job is to judge what it is likely to do. My answer is it will swing to economic populism. Mangala’s perspective and budget were long-term and development oriented – it is not neoliberal, notwithstanding the ‘analysis’ of left ignoramuses. It is growth-oriented capitalism. Not my cup of tea, but my point is that this will be pruned. Guardian angels in the IMF will permit more deficit financing (jargon ‘fiscal loosening’), allow increased debt (jargon ‘debt slippage’) - it’s the mutts who come after 2020 who will pay - and wink at concessions to consumption over development (jargon ‘hand-outs’).

People want to eat, drink and enjoy, no! The culture of sacrificing present consumption for future betterment is not Lankan, unlike the ethos of East Asia. So, our ensnared government will shift gear to give people what they want. What I anticipate for the next two years is that MS-RW-A (or MS-#-A) will swing in a populist direction to recoup lost electoral ground. Even privatisation – good riddance if Sri Lankan Air goes – will be for the purpose of raising cash to feed the masses. Ranil has attributed the defeat to economic setbacks, this of course is to deflect attention from his failure to fight corruption, but it does indicate that more "hand-outs" are on the way.

Populist economics and an aggressive drive to lock up Rajapaksa era crooks and murderers may pay dividends. My view is that with no other options, this will be the government’s game plan.

Dead-end for Tamils

As for the national question, prospects are bleak. Political prisoners will not be released, return of military occupied land to owners will be at snail’s pace and fittings will be looted before return, rehabilitation at 5000 a year will take 20-30 years to complete, and what about devolution and the constitution? Rajapaksa chauvinism killed devolution, Sirisena was an accomplice. Race and religion, overt or subliminal, have been bigoted for 70 years; deep racial pathology changes very slowly, if at all. Even if the government contains pressure by addressing corruption and easing cost of living concerns, the one trump in the Rajapaksa-SLPP pack that can do much mischief is racism.

The Tamils and the TNA are up the gum tree; the poor sods have been taken for a ride for the fifth or sixth time. They are better off buying real-estate from Elon Musk to settle on planet Mars than to expect justice from the Sinhalese. Tamil nationalism will strengthen, overshadowing a progressive trend in Kilinochi (Chandrakumar) and pluralism in Mannar and Vavuniya.

There will be no devolution, constitutional amendments may scrap the executive presidency but not devolve power to minorities, no police powers, no release of political prisoners, minimal resettlement, inadequate reconciliation and aggravation of the psyche of alienation. This is where a crisis of state power will ripen, slowly but surely; this is Lanka’s latent crisis of state.

The government will awaken to the tactical benefits of economic populism and it cannot evade the corruption quagmire any longer, but it cannot do anything about the Tamils. However, it is neither the government or its supine leaders, but mobilisation of people – including of course the lower rungs of the UNP - that can be a bulwark against tyranny. Hey, any UNP Ministers ready to discard comfortable sinecures and come join and organise the real struggle? Welcome!

Tech vs. Democracy

Featured image courtesy Jason Howie
 
GUY VERHOFSTADT-02/23/2018

BRUSSELS – Instagram, a photo-sharing platform owned by Facebook, recently caved in to a demand by the Russian government that it remove posts by opposition leader Alexey Navalny alleging misconduct on the part of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. In a YouTube video that has garnered almost six million views (and which is still available), Navalny shows Prikhodko hobnobbing with the oligarch Oleg Deripaska on a yacht in Norway, where he alleges bribery took place.

After Navalny’s posts appeared, Deripaska went to the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor to request that Facebook remove the content, which it immediately did. This episode has now attracted much attention, as well as criticism for Facebook. And yet there have been thousands of other cases just like it.

In an age when most people get their news from social media, mafia states have had little trouble censoring social-media content that their leaders deem harmful to their interests. But for liberal democracies, regulating social media is not so straightforward, because it requires governments to strike a balance between competing principles. After all, social-media platforms not only play a crucial role as conduits for the free flow of information; they have also faced strong criticism for failing to police illegal or abusive content, particularly hate speech and extremist propaganda.

These failings have prompted action from many European governments and the European Union itself. The EU has now issued guidelines for Internet companies, and has threatened to follow up with formal legislation if companies do not comply. As Robert Hannigan, the former director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, recently observed, the window for tech companies to reform themselves voluntarily is quickly closing. In fact, Germany has already enacted a law that will impose severe fines on platforms that do not remove illegal user content in a timely fashion.

These ongoing measures are a response to the weaponisation of social-media platforms by illiberal state intelligence agencies and extremist groups seeking to divide Western societies with hate speech and disinformation.

Specifically, we now know that the Kremlin-linked “Internet Research Agency” carried out a large-scale campaign on Facebook and Twitter to boost Donald Trump’s chances in the 2016 US presidential election. According to US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three organizations, an army of Russian trolls spent the months leading up to the 2016 election stoking racial tensions among Americans and discouraging minority voters, for example, from turning out for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Mueller’s findings obviously raise important questions about transparency and the protection of democratic institutions in the digital age. Despite having allowed themselves to become Kremlin special-operations tools, the major social-media platforms have been reluctant to provide information to democratic governments and the public.

For example, in the United Kingdom, the MP Damian Collins has launched an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum, but he has struggled to receive much cooperation from Facebook and Twitter. In December, he described Twitter’s response to his questions as “completely inadequate.” That is regrettable. When democracy itself is at stake, social-media platforms have a responsibility to be transparent.

Moreover, if Russia can interfere so thoroughly in the US democratic process, just imagine what it has been doing in Europe, where we still do not know who financed some of the online advertising campaigns in recent national elections and referenda. I suspect that we have only just scratched the surface when it comes to exposing foreign meddling in our democratic institutions and processes. With European Parliament elections due in May 2019, we must be better prepared.

The tech giants, for their part, will continue to claim that they are merely distributing information. In fact, they are acting as publishers, and they should be regulated accordingly – and not just as publishers, but also as near-monopoly distributors.

To be sure, censorship and the manipulation of information are as old as news itself. But the kind of state-sponsored hybrid warfare on display today is something new. Hostile powers have turned our open Internet into a cesspool of disinformation, much of which is spread by automated bots that the major platforms could purge without undermining open debate – that is, if they had the will to do so.
Social-media companies have the power to exert significant influence on our societies, but they do not have the right to set the rules. That authority belongs to our democratic institutions, which are obliged to ensure that social-media companies behave much more responsibly than they are now.

Editor’s Note: To view more content from Project Syndicate, click here

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, is President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) in the European Parliament.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.

WB praises Sri Lankan health service


2018-02-24 
The World Bank (WB) praised the public health service in Sri Lanka by saying that there are few if any other low or middle-income countries that have public health service like in Sri Lanka, simultaneously achieved strong health outcomes, good financial protection and low cost.
In a publication on universal health care study series titled ‘Sri Lanka: Achieving Pro-Poor Universal Health Coverage without Health Financing Reforms,’ says that many countries are lauded for achieving two out of three, but few can claim to have done as well as Sri Lanka on all fronts, especially considering that it is still classified as a lower-middle income country.
“Sri Lanka’s health system has a long track record of strong performance. For at least 50 years it has achieved much better outcomes in maternal and child health and infectious disease control than would have been predicted by its income level. Health financing indicators also indicate that the health system is both pro-poor and efficient,” it said.

Sri Lanka’s Reshuffle repair?

Differences between the two national ruling parties were exposed during the local elections where what was at stake included not only the 341 local bodies up for grabs but also national elections not far down the road.

by Manik de Silva-
( February 25, 2018, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Few analysts were venturing guesses on what the cabinet reshuffle expected to be completed today will bring us. The signs are that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will make some changes on the UNP side but there have been no hints that President Sirisena, whose SLFP/UPFA fared worse that the UNP at the Feb. 10 local election, will do likewise. Wickremesinghe has made some mea culpa noises after the results were declared; but not so Sirisena who has laid all the blame at the UNP’s door. Whether making some changes on who occupies which ministry for the next two years will make any real differences in the government’s report card is unlikely. Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake has publicly indicated willingness to step down from that ministry although he’s expected to remain Minister of Southern Development. The prime minister is reported to favour Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to take responsibility for law and order although whether the president and SLFP will agree to that is a question that remains wide open.
Fonseka, once described by his then commander-in-chief, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa whom he challenged for the presidency in 2010 as the “world’s best army commander,” paid dearly for his effort to dethrone Rajapaksa. He was cashiered from the army, stripped of his rank, medals and decorations, deprived for his pension and court martialed and jailed. A tough military officer who neither gave nor sought any quarter during his military career, Fonseka endured tough prison conditions that might have been made easier had he been less unbending. The ‘common candidate’ formula which worked for Sirisena did not work for Fonseka who was confident of victory in 2010. Following Sirisena’s 2015 victory, Fonseka was pardoned and a newly created rank of field marshal was bestowed on him. Given the rough treatment he received at the hands of the Rajapaksa dispensation, conferring the law and order ministry including overseeing investigations heaped on the Rajapaksas following the regime change, on Fonseka will be akin to setting a rotweiller on the former president and his family including then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. In that event, there will be no room for allegations of the kind that has been leveled against Sagala Ratnayaka who was accused of going ‘soft’ on the former first family.
Even if the UNP wishes to make the appointment, whether President Sirisena will go along with it remains an open question. Despite his assertions to the contrary, there is no ironclad guarantee that the incumbent is not seeking a second term. His recent bid to build up his SLFP at the local elections at the cost of the UNP points in the direction that Sirisena is nursing that ambition. Many of his campaign statements, including one saying that his present government is more corrupt that that of the Rajapaksas’, was aimed at the UNP. While the prime minister reined his own side and did not permit UNPers to do unto Sirisena what the president was doing unto them, there is no escaping the reality that both major constituents of the ruling coalition has emerged battered and bruised from the Feb. 10 contest which some political analysts say has “also exposed the failure of their long-term political strategies.”
Differences between the two national ruling parties were exposed during the local elections where what was at stake included not only the 341 local bodies up for grabs but also national elections not far down the road. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pohottuwa has already seen the coming colour although its leader cannot run for president again under terms of the present constitution. A general election must be held in 2020 and this must be preceded by a presidential election. While Sirisena said soon after he took his oaths at Independence Square in January 2015 that he does not plan to seek a second term of office, his silence on this score since then has been eloquent. Also leading members of the SLFP he leads have gone on the public record saying that the incumbent will be their candidate and the president has not contradicted them. Wickremesinghe who chose not to run against Rajapaksa in 2010 annointing Fonseka as the ‘common candidate’ did likewise five years later. Nobody would attribute altruistic motives for these decisions. On both occasions, it was obvious that the best chance of de-throning the war-winning Mahinda was ensuring a Mahinda vs. the Rest match and what better candidate to field in 2010 than the general who commanded the army in May 2009 when the LTTE was finally defeated after a near 30-year war. Apart from the UNP, Fonseka was then even able to enlist the support of the TNA and the JVP. But it took five more years for that strategy to work and Wickremesinghe had to be content with the second slot of prime minister – an office he had held twice previously.
He has not formally announced his candidature for the presidency next time round but most observers think he will want to crown his political career with the office at least three incumbents promised to abolish but welshed on their promise to the electorate. After the drubbing his party suffered at the local elections, Wickremesinghe has gone on record saying that the UNP must set about the long- neglected task of grooming a future leader. But there have been no signs of anything of the sort happening. Whether two years are long enough for the UNP, regarded the senior partner of the ruling coalition, to deliver on the expectations of the people enabling its leader to make a pitch for the presidency Ranil might have won in 2005 but for the LTTE which prevented Tamils in the north voting to emerge from the wings and take center stage remains to be seen.
( The writer is the editor of the Sunday Island, a Colombo based weekly newspaper where this piece first appeared)

Back To Square One: What Next?

Dr. Ameer Ali
logoIn spite of the landslide victory to the SLPP at the local polls, the acrimonious campaign between the MS-RW couple, driven almost to the verge of permanent divorce, and the theorization of constitutional pundits and soothsayers about the future design of the government, the country is back to square one with the same faces and with the same policies. How much of pressure from international players like India and the US was brought in to save the MS-RW matrimony one can only guess. The main question now facing the country is, what next?
The voters who showed their utter disgust of the MS-RW regime in the local elections are not worried about any constitutional changes or who holds which ministry in the cabinet. (In fact the voters know the character and background of each of the ministers, their deputies and other representatives in the parliament. Nothing is a secret in a country like Sri Lanka). But the voters’ main concern is about the rising cost of living and corruption in government circles. In a way these two evils are interlinked. Corruption in public administration is partly the cause for rising cost of living. On the one hand, the government’s commitment to work within a neoliberal open economy makes it hard to contain cost increases, a greater part of which is imported. If the regime decides to intervene in setting prices arbitrarily, that will earn the wrath of its international managers, which will prove detrimental to the regime’s international dealings in the future. On the other hand corruption adds to the imported costs, because the middlemen will always pass the corruption cost on to the final consumer. Eradicating corruption will certainly remove the locally added component of the cost of living. The problem is therefore systemic and cannot be tackled in a piecemeal fashion.
On corruption, Transparency International has shown that the situation remains as it was when the new rulers came to power in 2015, although with the promise of eradicating it. Their failure to bring the culprits from the former regime to books and allowed the new ones to escape from justice demonstrates either the government’ lack of commitment or its incompetency or both to cure this cancer. No wonder they received the drabbing from voters in the local elections. When the echelon at the top itself is corrupt cleaning up the subaltern is an impossibility. With the issues of cost of living and corruption remaining unresolved the government’s confidence deficit in the eyes of the public will only widen.
What is the alternative? The SLPP cannot expect it to be swept to power at the next general elections simply on a protest vote against the current regime. In fact, there is no guarantee that their success at the local polls will be repeated at the national one unless its economic policies and solution to the ethnic issue manifest radical changes. The former MR regime was also working within the neoliberal open economy paradigm in spite of its close links with China. One important lesson that China’s rapid economic development teaches to the world is the way it operates its markets. The market is given freedom but within the parameters set by the Chinese Five Year Plans. This is why some economists describe the Chinese economy a ‘bird cage economy’, where the bird is the market and cage is the plan. To apply this model to Sri Lanka will involve systemic change but will go a long way in containing the rise in cost of living provided corruption is also tackled at the same time. Is the SLPP or any other opposition party prepared to undertake this radical alternative?
The ethnic conundrum is a running sore in Sri Lankan polity. No national party irrespective of its hue wants to solve the problem, because by solving it the party loses the trump to win another election. Ever since SWRD let the ethnic genie out of the bottle no political party, including the ethnic parties, has demonstrated a sincere commitment to put the genie back where it was, in the interest of the country and nation. From JR to MR and MS and from FP to LTTE and TNA this had been the sad story. SLMC of course is an irrelevant element when it comes to national issues.
Corruption demands a clean and heavy hand at the top to be eradicated. The current one at the top has disqualified itself by its proven incompetency and lack of commitment. Corruption also was the major problem to the MR regime, which brought its downfall in 2015, in spite of its victory in the civil war. 

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Minister Kabir Hashim’s hogwash

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The carrier flies to
60 destinations in 33
countries in Europe,
the Middle East, South
Asia, Southeast Asia,
the Far East, North
America and Australia. PHOTO: AFP
by Rajeewa Jayaweera- 

According to media reports, Minister of Public Enterprise Development and subject minister for the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, Kabir Hashim, responding to a question from JVP Parliamentarian Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa is reported to have stated, he had written to President Sirisena requesting investigations by the recently appointed Special Presidential Commission should be based on the J.C. Weliamuna Report. The Weliamuna Board of Inquiry was hastily appointed, shortly after the installation of the Yahapalana government.

Minister Hashim has supposedly further stated, the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) should investigate SriLankan Airlines and now defunct Mihin Lanka. He had expressed his willingness to testify before the COPE on the two airlines, should an investigation be initiated.

Minister Hashim has been the subject minister of both SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka till its amalgamation with the national carrier since August 2015. He failed to direct the Chairman of the airline to conduct internal inquiries based on the findings by Weliamuna and his associates. The report highlighted issues related to Manpower (HR) including recruitments carried out before Presidential elections, Tenders associated with Duty-Free Services besides alcohol for onboard service and General Sales Agent appointments abroad. The mothballed report for which the subject minister must be held accountable cost taxpayers over Rs 3.5 million. Having neglected his duties during last two and half years, the sudden urge for an investigation by COPE in the wake of the appointment of the Special Presidential Commission is suspect of sinister motives.

The mandate issued to the Special Presidential Commission is to investigate wrongdoings at SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka during the period January 01, 2006 till January 01, 2018. The Weliamuna investigation report did not go as far back as January 2006. It also did not cover wrongdoing between January 10, 2015, until January 01, 2018.

No doubt, an in-depth investigation is required to establish the truth relating to the purchase orders of six Airbus A330-300 and eight A350-900 aircraft by the previous administration. That said a thorough investigation into mismanagement in many other areas including recruitment, especially to critical positions, promotions and service extensions is equally necessary. Also required is the examination of procedures and processes. Such an in-depth investigation is bound to provide answers to the airline’s continuing abysmal financial results.

An investigation by COPE as suggested by the subject minister will serve no purpose at this juncture. Lessons must be learned from the two COPE investigations into the Bond scam in which the SLFP and other members were on the offensive and UNP on the defensive, resulting in findings being watered down with footnotes to reach consensus. Members of the Yahapalana government were found to have had hundreds of phone/ Viber/ WhatsApp conversations with those accused.

A COPE investigation into the national carrier will not be similar to the two Bond investigations by COPE. UPFA members and their acolytes committed wrongdoings before January 2015. Yahapalana members and their acolytes have taken their turn since January 2015. Any report is bound to end up with more footnotes than content.

As for the offer to give evidence during a COPE investigation, the less said, the better. The public is aware of the ‘invaluable’ evidence given by Minister Hashim and another Yahapalana minister during the Presidential Investigation into the Bond scam. There is no reason to believe, evidence during a COPE investigation of SriLankan Airlines relating to matters pertaining after January 2015 would be any less ‘invaluable.’ It would be an utter waste of public funds.

Consequent to the SriLankan Airlines Board meeting held on January 25, 2018, the public came to know, a majority of Directors had requested the resignation of the Chief Executive Officer within one week or face dismissal. At the end of one week, a statement from the Prime Minister’s office stated, such a course of action is not possible without the approval of the subject minister, thus making the Board of Directors irrelevant.

Directors demand the resignation of CEOs under extenuating and compelling circumstances. Reasons for a majority of Directors to demand the resignation of the airline’s CEO needs investigation. Unfortunately, this issue cannot be investigated by the Presidential Commission as it falls outside the mandated period.

The transformation of SriLankan Airlines Limited to the Department of SriLankan Airlines going back in time to the Air Ceylon era of 1947 – 1979 is now complete.