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, December 17, 2017

Do we consider corruption ‘family values’ in Sri Lanka?

logoMonday, 18 December 2017

I just watched a recent video published by the World Bank Group (WBG) titled ‘Confronting corruption: commitment, innovation, impact’. It was screened at an event to mark International Anticorruption Day (9 December) which was attended by WBG President Jim Yong Kim and former WBG President James D. Wolfensohn (two terms of office; 1995-2005).



Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn 

Wolfensohn can be regarded as the father of the anticorruption movement launched by WBG more than 20 years ago. Kim is following in Wolfensohn’s footsteps and has made a lot of progress in combating corruption and making WBG more human.

At the said discussion, answering a question raised by Kim, who is now serving his second term as WBG President, about one of the meetings Wolfensohn had in Indonesia 20 years ago, the latter said: “The meeting timetable changed all of a sudden. After the President’s (Suharto) speech, there was a half hour break in the agenda before mine. I asked the reason from one of his assistants. He said that the President wanted to speak to me and I was fetched to his office. At this private meeting, he (Suharto) told me that he understands that we were doing interesting things at WBG and asked about corruption. So I explained what we were doing at WBG. Then he looked at me and said, ‘I understand what you are saying, but it is not a subject for you to go along here!’ Then I (Wolfensohn) told him that I thought it was one. He (Suharto) said, ‘No, no. In terms of governance corruption is a good thing. I (Suharto) think it is good; my whole family thinks it is good’. So, I (Wolfensohn) asked whether it was their salary, he said, ‘Yes - but not approved!’”

Then Kim recalled how Wolfensohn paraphrased Suharto’s words a few years back as follows: “Mr. Wolfensohn, what you call corruption, we call family values!”

WBG’s officials mentioned a number of measures and systems they have put in place after President Wolfensohn’s historic anticorruption speech delivered in 1996. One of the recent initiatives has been holding the first ‘Global Forum on Asset Recovery’ staged earlier this month and the signing of a tripartite MoU between Nigeria, Switzerland and WBG to recover public assets from the Abachas of Nigeria (Sani Abacha was the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993-98).

Sources say that during the Abacha regime, he and his family reportedly stole £ 5 billion from the country’s coffers.

This forum has been attended by 28 countries including Sri Lanka. Asset recovery must be on the cards here too and it is good news for all law-abiding Sri Lankans.

For most of us Sri Lankans who can think a bit, corruption and upholding family values are two different things. But we know some Sri Lankans have upheld their so-called ‘family values’ at the public’s expense. The authorities must make arrangements to bring all the culprits to book for the recovery of stolen assets while tightening the screws against potential future corruption.

[The writer is a borderless thinker and futurist. He can be contacted at galhena@yahoo.co.uk]

Lord Naseby vs the Sri Lanka Campaign War is over, but body count debate continues


By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan-2017-12-17

It's quite intriguing why Lord Naseby PC and the President of the All Party British Sri Lanka Parliamentary Group, which was initiated by him in 1965, came back like a knight in shining armour to challenge the United Nations' Panel of Experts' death toll of 40,000 against his 7,000 casualty claim during the last phase of the war.

His debate that around 7,000 were killed in the last days of the war was not a new discovery. He has been supportive of the faction that argues that the Government of Sri Lanka never committed war crimes during the Rajapaksa regime. But his speech at the UK Parliament last October caught wide attention, thanks to the media and a vulnerable government that entertained his claim – which took many by surprise – by accepting to look into his 7,000 deaths claim although the UK co-sponsored the 2015 UN resolution.

Sri Lanka Campaign – a global non-partisan movement – noted the incumbent Sri Lankan Government is using Naseby's statement to lobby to reverse its international commitments on accountability, where the current Foreign Minister suggested that the government would see the latest information as an opportunity to counter international pressure.

What is also interesting is that Naseby's claims should be taken into consideration in a backdrop of series of enforced disappearances, excavation of mass grave yards, families searching for their missing loved ones, paramilitary groups in operation, white van abductions, extrajudicial killings and overall alleged human rights violations that rocked the country for several decades.

It's also quite interesting to see him meddling with internal affairs of a country that has always been opposed to international interferences by criticizing every country that spoke on the injustices committed against its people.

Moreover, there has been a series of accusations from the very top Army personalities such as Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka who revealed that Gen Jagath Jayasuriya committed crimes while he was posted in the North during the last months of the war.

When this writer interviewed Gen Jayasuriya this year, and asked whether he knew of any mass killings in the North, all he had to say was that while being posted in the Mullaitivu camp how he could have known what was going on at the Nandikadal lagoon.

The secret detention camp JOSOPH was located in the camp where he was serving, but he said he would not have known anything because another officer was in charge of that building.
Utter chaos

Lord Naseby's 7,000 deaths claim should also be considered in the backdrop where the writer was told by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa that the last days of the war was utter chaos with so much going on and in a situation like that who could go about monitoring who was doing what.

Naseby's statement is also against the UN's statement which noted that hundreds of enforced disappearances committed since 2006 have already placed Sri Lanka among the countries with the highest number of new cases in the world.

It should also be reminded that former Secretary General Ban Ki-moon admitted that the UN failed during the last days of the war.

Lord Naseby tells Ceylon Today in an email response that all his evidence related to the final number of deaths, which was gathered over a period of nearly three years, has been made available to the UK Government, the Government of Sri Lanka, and that last week he delivered it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He also says the High Commissioner of the UNHCR as well as the nine special rapporteurs on the UNHCR who have visited Sri Lanka recently have received a copy of his claims and that he awaits their response.

On the missing persons issue Naseby says he understands that the Government of Sri Lanka is taking the matter very seriously, having set up a new department of 'Missing Persons' and that a great deal of research has already been done by the ICRC and the Paranagama Report. "I do feel for all the families who come from all over Sri Lanka not just the North and East. I shall be monitoring progress," he says.

Sri Lanka Campaign fought back against Naseby theory of low casualty stating that his information was clearly the initial numbers that were in record and that was not the ultimate result and it's obvious he is making a major error.

They also noted that this information is from 39 pages of heavily redacted war-time diplomatic despatches between the former British Defence Attache in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Anton Gash, and the UK Foreign Office.

The Defence Attache is quoted by Naseby as stating, on 26 April 2009, the total number of civilians killed between 1 February and 26 April stood at 6,432. Based on this, Naseby argues that the "UK must now get the UN and the [UN Human Rights Council] in Geneva to accept a civilian casualty level of 7,000 to 8,000, not 40,000."

Presenting old data

Sri Lanka Campaign reiterated that the Defence Attache's figure is presented by Naseby as new and distinct from other estimates of civilian casualties to date. However, it is not. In fact, as evidenced by this Guardian report from 2009, it is merely a snapshot of figures compiled over a much broader time-frame by the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka, which placed the total number of civilians killed between August 2008 and 13 May 2009 at 7,721. This estimate has been in the public domain at least since 2011, when it was cited by a Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to look into the final stages of war. Their report found 7,721 'likely to be too low' an estimate of civilian casualties – highlighting the 'quite conservative' methodology deployed by the UN Country Team in arriving at the figure, and pointing out that the counting of the dead by UN Country Team staff had stopped several days before the war actually came to an end, "when the number of civilian casualties grew rapidly".

These later UN estimates, which together indicate that the range of civilian deaths probably lie somewhere in the range of 40,000-70,000, remain the most credible to date. The suggestion by Naseby that – having highlighted a mere portion of the evidence – is simply incoherent, Sri Lanka Campaign, also based in the UK, noted. Naseby's motive to not accept facts pertaining to final casualty figures and other serious human sufferings as accepted by the UN, of which both the UK and Sri Lanka are member countries, is still unknown. But, the fact remains that he has been highly glorified in Sri Lanka for the only reason that he is against all accusations against Sri Lanka, which is preventing the victims from calling for an end to their sufferings.

It's also interesting that the British High Commission dismissed Naseby's claims by stating that his call doesn't reflect UK's stance.

The BHC Colombo stance on the matter is obvious that the despatches by Col. Anton Gash, the former defence attache of the British High Commission that the death toll was an initial estimation.
What Naseby said about Darusman's POE report was that "there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths," but then guessed at 40,000. This figure is bandied about by virtually every human rights organization and the thousands of Tamil diaspora throughout the world, many of whom were LTTE Tamil Tiger supporters and still are, inflamed by Tamil Net and those ghastly Channel 4 Killing Fields films, which so influenced the previous Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, a senior official of a prominent ministry, who did not want to disclose his name, told Ceylon Today that the so-called Sri Lanka Global Forum is on an agenda to bring back the Rajapaksas and they have been heavily backed by some current and former mission heads, who have close associates and relatives as MPs in the Joint Opposition.

He also noted that Naseby's statement is being used by them to try to create a conflict within the country and also make the government and the President look foolish in the eyes of the international community. "They miss the point that the panel of experts report doesn't matter. It is not a UN report and in any case, the number that died in the last phase of the conflict is not the reason for any of the resolutions to be adopted.

Some of the prominent figures in the international NGO sector noted that the old statistics being rehashed with total dishonesty because Gash (who anyway was sitting in Colombo so what did he know) said 7,000 (based on very conservative UN estimates in April 2009 ) does not preclude 40,000 (or more) being a reasonable estimate reached after the war – the UN panel is not saying they counted 40,000 bodies – they are estimating – based on all the reports they got – including the 7,000 count which is anyway a partial count.

"Naseby deliberately and simplistically uses the 7,000 count to contradict the 40,000 estimate and have no credibility abroad and OISL cannot be undone," he noted further.
Excludes worst killings

Naseby quotes a figure of 6,432 killed from Anton Gash. That is the precise figure used by the UN for casualties from 20 Jan to 20 April 2009 only – that is three months and not including the worst killing in May 2009. Gash would have heard these UN briefings.

I have seen the UN spreadsheets they are based on. These are only triangulated ('verified') deaths where three independent sources confirm them. It's an amazingly cautious figure. And yet this UN data says 20% of dead (of 6432) were kids. In addition 13,946 were recorded injured in this period by UN and perhaps some will have died of their injuries.

In 2012 the UN noted that they failed to call proper attention to the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan civilians during the bloody final stage of the Government's war against the LTTE.
The report said the UN system failed to meet its responsibilities – highlighting, in particular, the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programs of the UN Country Team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council.

Ban's panel, was led by Charles Petrie, a former UN official. Later he said their findings and recommendations provide an urgent and compelling platform for action.

The panel also criticized UN member states for not calling a single formal meeting of the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the 193-nation General Assembly during the final months of the Sri Lanka conflict.

Petrie's report cites 50,000 casualties from UN uncorroborated (i.e. not triangulated) data and paragraph 210 explains it thoroughly.

The need of the hour is to investigate all these number claims and the assistance by Col Anton Gash who is around to testify on his report how and when he got these statistics. The matter cannot be delayed because Sri Lanka has been using human sufferings as a tool to do power games and politics.
Naseby's 7,000 or Darusman's 40,000 death toll does not define how fair the war was, but how did you do it. If Darusman's numbers are based on no reliable evidence, then Naseby should tell what happened to the rest of the 32,000 people in the calculation and prove his death toll number 7,000 with tangible evidences.

Unanswered:

Some of the pertinent questions emailed to Naseby came unanswered. Some of them were: What's new about the 6,432 figure – Is it what UN's COG collected and briefed diplomats on in Spring of 2009? Of course Gash would report on it. So what about it?

The Petrie report annex cites 17,810 and 36,905 killed and injured – but these numbers were not verified in the way the smaller figure was. Isn't it possible the figure is actually much bigger than the 7,700 UN collected because this number doesn't include deaths in May 2009 when the war was at its most intense and people were starving etc. 'also this figure doesn't include all those people who disappeared after surrendering or in custody? What have you to say?

It was 18,479 verified injuries by UN by April 2009 – isn't it possible many of these also died of their wounds given conditions in war zone in May 2009, how do your casualty numbers relate to the numbers collected by the UN in 2009?

amiesulo@gmail.com

Professor Hoole Twists Language Issue To Out Twist Traffic Cop In Court

December 17 2017

On Thursday 14.12.2017, Magistrate Mohammed S.M. Samsuddin of Mullaitivu declared Prof. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole of the Election Commission not guilty of the offence of speeding on 26.06.2017 at 80 kmph where the limit was 70 mph.

According to the court records of case no. 23388 and eye-witness testimony, the incident occurred on the A9 in the Muruhandy area. Professor Hoole had complained at the Mankulam Police Station having jurisdiction for that area that he had been driving within the speed limit and had been stopped for the purpose of soliciting a bribe.

The case, where Prof. Hoole represented himself, raised several issues of interest. The language of the courts in the North by the Constitution’s Article 24, is Tamil. When the police prosecuted in Sinhalese, Prof. Hoole objected, demanding a trial in Tamil. When the police said they did not know Tamil, Hoole asked them why they came to the North knowing that the official language is Tamil. “Is it to lord it over us?” The judge said Tamils are not joining the police and Hoole’s rejoinder was that Tamils cannot work with such nasty policemen. There was  tension as the policemen angrily protested. Finally a policeman translated and Prof. Hoole again objected that the man was helping witnesses by speaking to them in Sinhalese. Judge Samsuddin then assured Prof. Hoole that he would check on the translation.

In cross-examination the sergeant and the constable who did the ticketing admitted that they spoke entirely in Sinhalese during the traffic stop. Asked if they check whether a driver understands them before speaking in Sinhalese, the constable said no but that is how all policemen are. Asked if they care if they are understood by Tamils and whether they see Tamils as cattle and sheep, he did not answer. Prof. Hoole asked rhetorically  if it is like in that courtroom where the Court Sergeant shouts at everyone and no one understands him. He also said that the policeman by the accused’s cage had beaten him on the hands for them to be taken off the rails. At this point Hoole asked the judge, “This man thinks it is an insult to court if I have my hands on the rails. Is that so?” The judge, a little taken a back, said “No. You can have your hands there.”
 
The sergeant had claimed he knew only Sinhalese but his constable spoke Tamil well and that Prof. Hoole had told him he had just bribed a policeman in Mullaitivu and offered Rs. 1000 to him if he would let Hoole go. He added that it is angered by this that Hoole had filed a complaint at the Mankulam police. Asked if his OIC had queried him about it, he said no.

The Constable began testifying in Sinhalese and when Hoole insisted he should testify in the language of court, he claimed not to know much Tamil. He too had not faced questioning. He testified in Sinhalese about the offer of a bribe by Hoole and that the conversation was in Tamil. Asked to repeat the offer of the bribe in the words used by Hoole, he could not. However, the judge said may be he can understand what was said but cannot repeat it. He said the radar was certified by Moratuwa University.

The Constable was then asked for the route from Mullaitivy to Colombo. The answer was through Mankulam or Puliyakulam. The follow up question was how someone going from Mullaitivu to Colombo was caught in Muruhandy. There was no answer.

On the radar machine, Prof. Hoole produced his own electromagnetics textbook by Oxford University Press explaining how radar works and elaborated on ghosting and shadowing errors. The sergeant who ticketed him produced a certificate from Colombo-based ACE certifying to the reliability of the machine for the three months of the date of certificate. The radar ID was not on the machine.
On cross-examination the Constable was asked how, when even goods by world-class companies break down while on warranty, any scientist of decent credentials could say the machine will not breakdown for three months. He produced evidence from the Australian Police and the International Chief of Police Associations, both saying that a radar machine has to be tested before and after a policeman’s shift through calibration to ensure that it was in good order when speed was measured. Because of various errors a recommendation from the Crown Prosecution Services in Canada was produced advising that no one be ticketed unless he was 10% above the speed limit pus 2 mph.

Read More

That merry-go-round of denying legal counsel to suspects




Amidst the routine ‘celebrating’ of annual International Human Rights Day, a Bill to amend Sri Lanka’s Code of Criminal Procedure Act (CPC) on the vexed question of giving suspects in police custody the right of prompt access to legal counsel gazetted in mid-November, quietly escaped scrutiny.

The Sunday Times Sri LankaA sorry trajectory of bad amendments
Ironically, if these proposed amendments had been brought by the former Rajapaksa administration, they would have given rise to a storm of protests amidst muttered and dark warnings of the Rule of Law at risk. Rather than actually secure a most important and basic right of access to legal counsel for those most vulnerable, the amendments actually undermine the right. At each and every point in the trajectory of the successive amendments on this issue from 2016, the privilege afforded to the police is sought to be entrenched. This time around, it is the same.

Late last year, the Government proposed an amendment to the CPC, along with a badly crafted Counter-Terror draft law, which gave suspects in police custody the right to independent legal counsel only after the police interrogations were completed and statements recorded.

As was pointed out in these column spaces at the time, this amendment reversed earlier progressive constitutional precedents. In cursus curiae of the Supreme Court from the mid-nineties onwards, enlightened judges had recognized the fact that torture is most often inflicted by law enforcement officers on suspects at the earliest points after arrest and stressed the need for adequate safeguards in that regard.

Promises have not been honoured
As I observed; ‘long before glamorous notions of constitutional rights gripped our collective imagination, these same rights had been secured without much fanfare by Sri Lanka’s appellate court judges in relation to accepted criminal procedures.’ On its part, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka issued a sober caution in respect of the 2016 amendment, stating that ‘many instances of torture as well as cruel, inhuman treatment of suspects at police stations occur between the period of arrest and the conclusion of the recording of their statements.’

A new version of the amendment gazetted in early March this year was also flawed as it stated in unreasonably broad language that such access may be denied if it ‘impedes’ ongoing investigations. A further version followed in April with similarly problematic aspects. Responding to growing public apprehensions, the Government assured that the Bill would be comprehensively overhauled. But contrary to these undertakings, what has been gazetted in November basically takes the contents of the earlier amendments and recasts the same in amended words.

The November Bill states that access to legal counsel should not ‘affect’ the investigations being conducted. What the legal meaning of ‘affects’ may be is anybody’s guess. In this instance, the discretion is left to the undoubtedly perilous hands of an OIC who may act as he or she wishes as the freedom to do so is not legally constrained in narrow terms. When such access is delayed, the decision is subject to review by a senior police officer not below the rank of a Superintendent of Police. In this version, a lawyer is not allowed to be present when a suspect is being interviewed by the police and his statement is recorded.

The unwise conferral of broad powers
Further, the gazetted amendment (similar to its predecessor drafts) gives discretion to the officer-in charge (OIC) of the police station to delay an attorney-at-law access to a suspect if the OIC had ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that this may lead to the destruction of evidence of or interference with or cause harm to evidence or cause any threat or harm to any person who may be acquainted with the facts and circumstances of such offence.

The list of grounds to delay access also include belief on the part of the police that such consultations with lawyers may lead to the alerting of any person involved in the offence or may hinder the identification, location or recovery of any property, utensil and so on which has been obtained or used in the committing of the offence. These are provisions which seem perfectly proper and reasonable in any functioning Rule of Law system. However in a thoroughly degraded policing system such as what unfortunately prevails in Sri Lanka currently, there are peculiar dangers that arise when specific laws confer broad powers such as these on police officers.

And when I say ‘degraded’, it is with full recognition of the precise meaning of that term. Such an assessment does not come from unsubstantiated reports or vague rhetoric or for that matter, from recent reports that senior police officers are enraged en masse by the command ‘from high’ that their phones should be ‘tapped,’ as scandalously indicative of the internal breakdown of institutional integrity as this may be. Instead these conclusions stem from years of meticulous documentation of endemic practices of torture by law enforcement agencies under Governments of all shades and party colours, which have indeed been condemned by Sri Lanka’s judiciary at the highest levels.

The unseemly tug-of-war must stop
The point here is that, this systemic breakdown traces itself to a malfunctioning prosecutorial and criminal justice system. A singular example is the lack of convictions under Sri Lanka’s Convention against Torture (CAT) Act despite being one of the better drafted laws in this country.

As documented on a case by case basis, the acquittals of torturers when they are (even rarely) brought before the court is due to manifold failures in the prosecutorial and legal process, laws delays being one factor.
Moreover, the lack of awareness on the part of judges in the judicial process also impacts adversely on strong outcomes. So in a context where there is little effective legal deterrent to torture in police stations, amendments such as these must be entertained with the utmost care and caution. But little wisdom is evidenced in this unseemly tug of war with one draft amendment succeeding another but all bad in varying degrees.

It is almost as if giving suspects this basic right will lead to an utter breakdown of the criminal justice system, which is preposterous to say the least.
Draft amendments such as these, once passed into law, may be very differently used in practical terms by an administration inclined to aggrandize its power. There is little question therefore that allowing political loyalties to blind criticism of what is unquestionably bad in law leads to unfortunate consequences for the citizenry as a whole.

That reality must be recognized in all its dangers. Attempts to gloss over the same should be fiercely opposed.

Labour Unrest

 

How do we respond to the recent railway union strike? Was it about higher salaries and administrative grades of railway workers? Or, was it a disruption of public transport? I argue that such strikes prod us to think about workers’ rights in a democracy. 

  

2017-12-18
The railway strike was not an aberration. Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed an increasing number of agitations and protests - student unions opposing privatisation of education, plantation workers struggling for higher wages and telecom workers demanding permanent employment are some of those major mobilisations. The accusation that all these strikes and protests are politically engineered attempts to topple the Government by the remnants of the Rajapaksa regime do not hold much water given their widespread and different character. Rather, these waves of strikes and protests reflect the failure of economic policies to speak to their basic concerns and their deteriorating economic life.   


Trade unions

Historically in Sri Lanka, as in most other countries, trade unions have been important for ensuring decent wages and working conditions. In addition to fighting for workers’ rights in the capitalist system, which is dependent on exploiting workers, trade unions are often central to the defence of democratic rights. Drawing from our own history, trade unions were at the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle. Ensuring that the government does not infringe upon freedoms of expression and association is a key, recurring challenge in democracies and often, trade unions are central to asserting these rights.   
Given that the power of the trade unions movement depends on its organisational strength, it is important to consider the obstacles that have emerged in the recent decades. Laws that stipulate how a trade union can be formed to have tightened, the Labour Department responsible for trade unions functions more like an “employers’ department” and the division of workers into permanent workers and contract or commonly called “manpower” workers has led to unprecedented insecurity and precariousness of workers, inhibiting them from participating in trade union activity. It is in such a stifling environment that trade unions try to organise workers and negotiate 
with employers.   

"The JO has been crassly opportunistic and only concerned about cheap shots at the Govt. The formal opposition TNA has been virtually asleep on economic issues and mainly toed the Govt line when it comes to workers concerns"

The persistent attack by employers and the state on workers pose a major challenge to unions, leaving unions with few options, including strike action as the last resort. Strikes are a disruption, and are intended to halt economic activities, when employers and the state are unwilling to negotiate with the trade unions. However, strikes are a risky course of action for trade unions and their worker membership, because the failure of such escalated and collective action can also cost the workers their jobs.   
When strikes are launched, the government in turn responds by delegitimising and, when possible, crushing trade unions. The government drags decision-making, and meanwhile threatens workers with dismissal, all this backed dutifully by an anti-union media propaganda, until public sentiment turns against the workers. Therefore, the mobilisations and pronouncements on both sides of the divide, with the trade unions and the Government in the case of the railway strike, become an ideological battle to win the support of the public.   
In this context, the trade union movement as a whole needs to recognise its shortcomings. Whether in the West or in Sri Lanka, trade unions have excluded women and other marginalised groups in their organising work and leadership. Therefore, trade unions have to broaden themselves to take up the concerns of working women, informal workers and rural people’s livelihoods. Furthermore, if trade unions are to reclaim their democratic vision and role, they must reject outright nationalism and majoritarianism, which are the bane of any just society.   


State confrontation

The recent strikes in Sri Lanka have taken on the character of a confrontation with the state. This is a consequence of moves to privatise state-owned enterprises. There is considerable pressure from institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank to privatise state-owned enterprises, and state policies are now overtly 
seeking privatisation.   
The background to the railway strike are also moves towards the partial or complete privatisation of such state-owned enterprises. The irony of the gazette notification making railways an essential service during the strike, begs the question as to why any government would consider privatising an essential service? Furthermore, the Government and its elite propagandists claim strikes inconvenience – transport as with the railway strike – the working people in particular, even as they seek to privatise state services resulting in much higher costs to the public. Such contradictions reflect the hypocrisy and lack of vision on the part of the Government in addressing both workers concerns and services to the public.   

"Given that the power of the trade unions movement depends on its organisational strength, it is important to consider the obstacles that emerged in the recent decades"

Such contradictions are also seen in moves of some unions. While the GMOA over the last two years is seeking to position itself as a champion of trade union rights, it remains committed to the private practice of its doctors through channelling in large private hospitals and work in private clinics. The growth of the private healthcare industry through such means is continuing to undermine free healthcare to the public.   
There is another reason for the increasing number of strikes and protests in recent times in relation to state policies. It is not just the problematic stance of the Government, there has also been little effective advocacy much less alternatives from opposition forces in Parliament. The Joint Opposition has been crassly opportunistic and only concerned about cheap shots at the Government. The formal opposition TNA has been virtually asleep on economic issues and mainly toed the Government line when it comes to workers concerns.   
Thus, a lack of meaningful debate and airing of issues and alternatives have meant trade unions and peoples’ movements have no choice but to escalate their problems through strikes and protests. They try to gain the attention of the public as means of engaging the Government. In this context, the Government sometimes resorts to violence including teargas and police or even military action to break the protests.   


Capitalist exploitation

While the recent strikes in our country are mainly seen as a confrontation among trade unions and the Government, the long history of strikes globally points to a less apparent and powerful underlying process of conflict between capital and labour. One of the most profound works on the history of labour and trade unions in recent times is Beverly Silver’s Forces of Labour: Workers’ Movements and Globalization since 1870 (Cambridge University Press 2003). Silver and a large research team working for close to two decades looked at data spanning over a century from 1870 to 1996 on the frequency of labour unrest, defined as strikes, demonstrations, factory occupations, food riots etc., in 168 countries. What they found is that with increasing exploitation of capital in different parts of the world at different time periods, labour unrest also increased. Their conclusion points to the contradictions and conflicts between capital and labour as central to frequency 
of strikes.   

"When strikes are launched, the government in turn responds by delegitimising and, where possible, crushing trade unions. The government drags decision-making, and meanwhile threatens workers with dismissal"

Such international research on workers’ struggles should also be instructive for us to understand our context in Sri Lanka. That would mean understanding strikes not just as political manoeuvres or confrontation with the state, but as the historical outcome of increasing exploitation, precarious employment and dispossession, which characterise the social and economic life of our people. In other words, no matter how much the elite and sections of the middle class, moan and groan about the disruption to public life by strikes, unless we are willing to find and invest in equitable and socially just economic alternatives, such labour unrest is likely to continue. The major task before trade unions and those committed to social justice is to channel labour unrest towards economic democracy.   

CEB employees continue fast

Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) employees continued their fast for the fifth consecutive day yesterday. This is against irregular increments granted to CEB engineers and that the cutting back of their own overtime payments and bonuses.
Joint Trade Union Alliance Convener Ranjan Jayalal alleged that the former Mahinda Rajapaksa Government bribed the engineers in November 2014 with an increment and assured them that this would be added to their basic salary after the January 8, 2015 elections.
“An agreement was thus signed between the engineers and the previous regime and the engineers received a salary increment for three years.The agreement further stated that a 30 percent salary increment will be added to the basic salary by December 2014.
“But, the tables started to turn with defeat of Rajapaksa in January 2015 and the Engineers Union which was in control issued a circular stating that all salary increments including the illegal ones should come into effect by January 2015,”Jayalal said.
He added that when Champika Ranawaka was appointed as the Power and Energy Minister during the 100 day government in 2015, protests were held at the National Salaries and Cadre Commission, Ministry of Finance and Planning and the Treasury. Cabinet thereafter had released a statement that they had given no approval for the salary increase and thus it was illegal. “Then we complained to the CID, Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. They told us to wait until they provided a solution. Then after the election, with the appointment of Minster Ranjith Siyambalapitiya as the Power and Energy, we were told to wait a year but no solutions have been provided to us so far,” Jayalal said.
In the wake of these illegal increments the salary ration has become 1:9 between an average worker and engineer, which was earlier 1:6.
“When the salary increments were presented for Cabinet approval, Jayalal explained that they opposed it and as a result alleged that their overtime payments, bonuses and even donations during disasters were cut.
The Unions have threatened to continue their strike for another two days. “The workers are under pressure because their incomes have been cut down. We want our OT payments and bonuses to be restored. It is not fair for us to ask for an illegal increment like the engineers. This is why we decided to go on strike,” Jayalal said.

Bond Commission Report: Moment Of Truth For Country


By Amrit Muttukumaru –December 17 2017

The country is awaiting with a mix of excitement and trepidation the Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) into the alleged Treasury Bond Scam which will one way or another indicate whether there is hope for optimism for the future of the country. The report is crucial for reasons which include:

1) It has captured the popular imagination unlike no other scam in a country awash with scams under successive administrations since television in vivid colour and social media enhanced by good investigative reporting in the print media have brought its sordid details to even the humblest of homes. The people have drawn their own conclusion and if they sense there has been a ‘cover-up’ particularly of its masterminds it would further undermine the ‘rule of law’ which is a sine qua non for any meaningful socio-economic development.

2) Those who voted for the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government under trying circumstances to usher in ‘good governance’ after the traumatic Rajapaksa years feel betrayed and demand accountability. 
 
3) That Sri Lanka is an unreliable and unstable country where the ‘rule of law’ is not applied uniformly is well known to the outside world. Equally well known is its endemic corruption, social injustice and inability to address long festering minority issues. It is due to this that ethical FDIs are few and far between. In its place we have had some questionable proposals with alleged money laundering origin. The controversial Chinese and Indian investments are largely driven by geo-political consideration with the potential to destabilize the country. Any ‘cover-up’ will confirm the worst fears of the international community.

4) After nearly 70 years of independence the country has come to such a sorry pass that we have to suffer the ignominy of:

“The US State Department” reportedly fielding “a Resident Legal Advisor in Colombo to provide anti-corruption and asset recovery training and also support the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC)”

Does this not indicate we are near to being a ‘failed state’’?

In this context if the Report of the PCoI is not credible, will it not confirm this with all its implications? 
 
Have not some PCoI actions during the inquiry stage raised fears of what’s to come? 
Partiality?

Readers can decide for themselves whether or not the PCoI abandoned ‘DUE PROCESS’ for other witnesses by glaring PARTIALITY to one witness?

Core of Bond Scam:

1) ‘Conflict of interest’ arising from then Central Bank Governor Arjuna Mahendran’s son-in-law, Arjun Aloysius – owning/controlling PTL (Perpetual Treasuries Limited) – a Primary Dealer.

2) Arjuna Mahendran – a foreign national being handpicked for the position of Governor, CBSL by the Prime Minister although aware of the ‘Conflict of interest’. The PM himself confirmed this in his affidavit and while testifying before the PCoI.

3) The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) the issuing agency for Treasury Bonds which normally falls under the Ministry of Finance being brought under the purview of the Prime Minister.
4) The PM continued to have Mahendran as CBSL Governor although he was aware that Mahendran had reneged on his ‘assurance’ to him that his son-in-law (Arjun Aloysius) will sever all links with PTL prior to his appointment as CBSL Governor.

5) The PM robustly defended and endorsed Mahendran for a second term despite the widespread perception of Mahendran’s role in the alleged Bond Scam.

6) Being fully confident on the propriety of the issuance of Bonds, the PM robustly defended the same in Parliament despite the evidence that subsequently transpired before the PCoI.

7) During his testimony at the Bond Commission the PM stated: “Mr. Aloysius did say to me he need bit of time to dispose his share holding to get good price. (shares of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd or shares he held in other entity in the name of PTL). I met him (Aloysius) at one or two parties, and there he told me that he was pursuing his interests in Mendis distilleries.”

What is at issue is the integrity of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. How can the PM who is also responsible for the CBSL even consider a “bit of time” to resolve a ‘conflict of interest’ concerning the Governor and that too articulated “at one or two parties”?

Despite all this, did not the PCoI take some unusual decisions in regard to one witness?
1) Unlike in the case of other witnesses, the PM was given questions in advance by the PCoI to enable him to provide answers by way of affidavit.

2) Unlike in the case of other witnesses, the PCoI decided to invite the AG himself who wasn’t involved in the investigation up to that point to personally lead evidence for the first time. Up to this time, Messrs. Dappula de Livera and Yasantha Kodagoda – Senior Additional Solicitor General and Additional Solicitor General respectively lead evidence.

3) Unlike in the case of other witnesses which included former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake who were grilled by Messrs. Dappula de Livera and Yasantha Kodagoda, limited questions were posed to the PM. The PM was at the PCoI reportedly for less than an hour to clarify matters arising from his affidavit

4) Much is being made that the PM ‘volunteered’ to come before the PCoI although ‘not summoned’ like the other witnesses. The media has even reported that PCoI Chairman – K. T. Chitrasiri (SC Judge) “emphasised that the question of compelling PM Wickremesinghe to appear before the commission had never arisen”.  I respectfully ask (i) in view of the facts and circumstances should not the PM have been ‘summoned’ like the other witnesses? (ii) if not why? (iii) what does this indicate?

Read More

Crisis of school education in Sri Lanka


article_image


By Dr. S. Sivasegaram- 


[Primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka, once a leader among Asian countries in literacy and school education, are now in crisis owing to decades of callous neglect.]

Introduction

Liberal influences on the thinking of the British colonial rule benefitted colonial Ceylon in several sectors and education was one of them. Thus the country was among Asian pioneers to implement free education in schools, technical colleges and universities.

A shell shocked world: More cuts on the private sphere

Posted by -Friday, December 15, 2017

The private sphere of this country and of most other postcolonial societies, even India, did not open up fully to the Westernised paradigm of modernity and progress that it was supposed to open up to. What we got instead was a fatal contradiction, since that sphere, in whatever form and sector (even education) uprooted itself from cultural sensibilities and at the same time followed the worst elements of a patriarchal, quasi-feudalistic world. When CEOs of global companies from our part of the world contend, in front of a panel or interviewers, that it is good karma for women not to ask for pay rises, they are pandering to the superficial elements of a culture, any culture, which does not require them to let go of their Westernised outlook. The cosmetics of such cultures (the “pansakulaya, malwatti, and upparawatti” as Professor Nalin de Silva memorably wrote) appeal to those who believe that even in the private sphere, a balance must be struck between the need to be “nationalised” and also “globalised.”

This was largely a legacy of the split in the Buddhist order, firstly between the laity and the clergy achieved by the British after we were colonised, and secondly between the traditionalists and the reformists, the wielders of the faith and the wielders of a new secularism, that the intrusion of Theosophy brought about. By this I am not belittling the attempts of Colonel Olcott or Helena Blavatsky, rather I am pointing out that in the Theosophist movement we see a sustained division between the worldly and the otherworldly (noted by William Ames and Heinz Bechert) that found its way to postcolonial societies like ours. By artificially creating a rift between culture and society, the proponents of this new secularism had found a rationale for their offspring and even they themselves to wallow in the materialism, the crass consumerism, and Westernisation which their parents and grandparents had fervently opposed in 1956.

The new secularists, who were veritable champions of the cosmetic elements of culture, were the “children of the children” (as I pointed out in last week’s column): they let themselves be overwhelmed by the new culture of social upliftment. It was a new way of thinking, of looking at the world (they would call this “positive thinking” as the years went by), and the result of it all was that they were only too willing to target those who shared that worldview. The emergence and creation of an alternative education sector, free from the constraints of the Ministry of Education, was one method of catering to that worldview, and our new secularists, whose own children would go beyond them in being Westernised and uprooted, soon became shrewd businessman. Those who went through this alternative education sector from the nineties can attest that these institutions were never preoccupied with the profit motive – and those behind them were not enamoured of that profit motive either, yet – because they didn’t need to be: they had targeted the perfect single market, less a market, in fact, than a collective inhibited by an inferiority complex.

Gunadasa Amarasekara writes about this collective and milieu in many of his novels after Yali Upannemi and Karumakkarayo (the last two he wrote before he renounced the Western conception of literature he had been entranced by), particularly (though I have not read them yet) the cycle of stories revolving around Piyadasa (Gamanaka Mula, Gamanaka Mada, etc). He subtly points out the gulf between the idealists and the pragmatists, between the devotees and the secularists, between the nationalists and the “nationalists”. It’s an interesting phenomenon, certainly, one which shows us that no matter how universally feasible globalisation may be, all it does at the end of the day is destroy entire collectives while preserving the cosmetic elements of the cultures of those collectives: Keats’s Grecian Urn, Lawrence’s Arabia. For the West the East can only be salvaged through those cosmetics, an attitude largely shared by the new secularists who emphasised on rote learning history and religion in their institutions.

History is not a series of dates that need to be remembered, and religion is not a series of sermons and chants that need to be memorised. They are more, much more, than what their surfaces will have you believe. The children of the children were guilty for having abandoned in their professional lives their faith and heritage, so when they targeted the cultural sensibility they themselves acceded to, they tried to ensure that both faith and heritage would remain (ostensibly) core elements of their curriculum. I remember one of these new secularists, who had sent her child to one of these institutions at the behest of an aunt, impatiently glaring at one of those commentators who on television frequently reiterated the need to know one’s language properly. By denying their children a proper space to learn that language, the maw basa, they were in effect turning the need into an option: it was no longer mandatory to seep oneself in the past as before, it was rather a choice that had to be made by their children.

It was a half-baked world but one can’t blame those who were resident in it because no culture, in this postcolonial phase of history, can survive the inhibitions of those who imbibe the Western paradigm of development and modernism. Limited to one or two periods, the maw basa (Sinhala and Tamil), the agama (particularly Buddhism), and the sanskruthiya (based largely on extracurricular activities like dancing, music, and the Hewisi Band) were by and by afterthoughts of the new secularists who wanted a premium education for their children, even though these subjects and activities had the effect of entrancing those children to the culture their elders were repudiating. The world had moved on, and the elders were still very much behind. They wanted their children to learn faster, to let go of any affiliations to their country and even live abroad. Even our nationalist politicians see no contradiction in subscribing to this attitude when it comes to the education of their offspring. It’s an elephant in the room.

The debate over the international school system has so far been conducted by the rabid nationalists and the would-be modernists: the former decry any attempt at opening an alternative space in our education sector, while the latter see in that space a veritable chance of redeeming their inhibitions, their sense of inferiority, by westernising their children. No proper debate, consequently, has followed our international schools because the extremists, on either side, have so far headed it. It is my contention that the international school system as is present in Sri Lanka, particularly with respect to schools which target a bourgeoning middle class, opens up a complex interrelationship between the imperatives of culture and the imperatives of the material world, an interrelationship that I believe deserves another article.

Raids to catch 30,000 quacks


2017-12-17
Island wide raids would be conducted from January 2018 by the officials of the Health and Indigenous Medicine Ministry backed by Police to nab 30,000 quacks in the country, Health and Indigenous Medicine Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said.
“The quacks have become a menace and contribute to health-related mishaps with pseudo-medical practitioners on the rise,” Minister Senaratne said.
“All qualified doctors, who are engaged in private practice, must ensure to get their registration at the Private Health Services Regulatory Council (PMSRC) to prevent any inconvenience, when officials visit private medical centers and clinics,” he said.
“We have information that nearly 30,000 individuals without any medical qualification are practicing medicine, masquerading as doctors. Statistics indicate that there are about 30,000 such persons and many of them practice in rural areas. We are also aware that a large number of illegal abortions are performed by those quacks putting the life of women at risk. A majority of abortion- related deaths are taking place after an abortion performed by a quack,” he said.
He said public cooperation was extremely important to apprehend quacks as those impersonators could not practice as qualified doctors if the public try to identify them and complained to the PMSRC. (Sandun A Jayasekera)
Special island wide police operation nabs over 1800 persons, seizes illegal liquor, drugs

Sun, Dec 17, 2017, 11:08 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.


Lankapage LogoDec 17, Colombo: A special four-hour operation launched Saturday (16) night covering all police divisions across the island has made over 1800 arrests and seized consignments of illegal drugs and alcohol.
The special police operation under the direction of Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundera was carried out between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Saturday by all police stations in the country.
Police Headquarters said that 14,706 police officers and 10 police dogs took part in the operation.
As a result of the operation, 559 people with arrest warrants and 92 suspects wanted for crimes have been arrested. Another 720 persons have been arrested on suspicion.
Police conducted 586 raids on places selling illicit liquor and narcotics and seized more than 24 milligrams of heroin and more than eight kilograms of cannabis. They have seized 26,239 liters of illegal liquor following the raids.
The police also cited 4,472 traffic violations during the island wide operation and arrested 501 drunk drivers.

Police have seized six illegal firearm during the operation.

M12M on the campaign trail Spotlight on polls and criminal elements


By Kavindya Chris Thomas-2017-12-17

There was a time when dirty politics and Sri Lanka were almost synonymous. Elections would send waves of fear and paranoia among the public, armed gangs would rule the streets, notorious crime lords would discard their stereotypical hiked up sarong and cover up their prison tattoos with the white, clean national suit.

Yet, the present is not so obvious and not so hopeless. We have – we would like to think – surpassed the innate apprehension towards corrupt and violent ridden elections. Sri Lanka has witnessed two almost peaceful elections since 2015, but they too experienced some bouts of violence. The root cause for this lies with the social outcry that erupted since then that demanded the grand transition from dirty to clean politics. This was when our masses dawned on the realization that it is not only possible to have elections without the fear of riots and murder, assassinations and armed groups, but it is also possible to be satisfied of their elected representatives.

Clean politics

This change of ideology and fears was partially called into existence by the March 12 Movement, which was set up two years ago for clean politics, good governance, more checks and balances to consolidate democracy and to eventually move towards a just society. The Movement is seeking the support of civic-conscious citizens, the State and private media groups for the 25-day countrywide campaign starting on 13 March to achieve the vision and goals for which the people voted for at the presidential election on 8 January 2015.

The M12M, as the Movement is known believes that it is vital to carry the message to the grassroots level and that it is the reason why it is going countrywide. People's Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi told a news conference this week that M12M has announced that they were already in possession of accumulated evidence against certain political parties that are sponsoring convicted criminals as candidates at the forthcoming Local Government elections.

Maithripala Sirisena

Pushing its 2015 initiative to bring about a clean political culture within the country once again, the March 12 Movement noted that despite many of the leading political parties following in the footsteps of President Maithripala Sirisena and agreeing not to nominate candidates who are packing criminal records and to engage in politics certain groups have however, gone back on their word.
The Movement has so far collected over 20 complaints regarding tainted candidates who have received nominations from the two leading political parties. Hettiarachchi noted that the Movement has recorded two complaints from Ampara District, one from Polonnaruwa, two each from Kurunegala, Galle and Kegalle while five complaints against one candidate was received from Puttalam.

These individuals have been accused of a variety of illegal activities which include fraud, trafficking in narcotics, lumber, sand and wildlife, prostitution, gambling and various other misdeeds. Information has been provided anonymously and in some cases with crucial evidence accompanied with police reports. Some information has even been provided by members of the party who had been forced to remain silent during the selection process. More often than not, the party's district leader when contacted would be against providing nominations to these individuals as Hettiarachchi noted, yet the final decision on the nominations lies in the hand of the electorate organizer of that party, which leaves the rest of the candidates helpless.

Hettiarachchi said that if the political parties failed to put forward politically clean candidates at the upcoming Local Government elections, it will be in violation of public aspirations. The Movement further opined that under the new electoral system, the public's franchise is thoroughly hindered when it comes to electing the right candidate. This, added with the sudden increase of candidates for the election, from 4,000 to almost 9,000, will further frustrate the public, they noted. "The increased number of candidates that are elected are to be sustained by the nation's wealth; the monies of the people. If the right candidate - the clean candidate - is elected in, then the people won't complain about having to spend on them. If this does not change it'll be the responsibility of each and every political party and the electoral organizers."

Tainted candidates

Hettiarachchi further said, "We have already received information about candidates who have been engaged in narcotic trafficking, illegal sand mining and various other crimes, that have received nominations from parties that are contesting the election."

The Movement further noted that a draft of the proposed campaign Finance Act, with the recommendations of the Elections Commission, had been submitted to the President, who is yet to present it to the Cabinet of Ministers.

In giving nominations, PAFFREL has proposed certain criteria and standards so, that in Parliament, Provincial and Local Councils we will see sincere, selfless and sacrificial representatives who will be servants of the people, instead of plundering and pillaging the wealth of the country. PAFFREL, which for many years has played a leading role as an election observer, now hopes to expand its scope of duties and responsibilities. It says the aim is to bring about a constructive change in the prevailing political culture at a time when the country has reached a crucial moment in its political history.

Among the criteria for the nomination of candidates are:

Should not be a person who had served a jail sentence for a crime or a person who had received a suspended sentence.

Should not be a person who had been found guilty of bribery or corruption and should be acceptable to society and a person of good character. Be cautious when considering candidates allegedly involved in bribery or corruption.

Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in trades such as alcohol, drugs, gambling, casinos and prostitution.

Should not be a person who is engaging or had engaged in trade which destroys the ecological life support system.

Should not be a person who has abused political power.

Should not be a person who had entered into financial agreements prejudicial to the country.

Legal arena

These accusations against these candidates and those who violate the above criteria - should be met in a legal arena, accused and challenged at a Court. But the question remains, who is going to do that? The Movement has announced that they would file legal action against any such tainted persons who receives nominations.

The Movement has commenced forwarding all such complaints in writing to the secretaries of the relevant political parties. Other complaints concerned those involved in illicit liquor production, sand, soil and stone quarry mining, and obtaining monies for the provision of employment, allegedly being given nominations by political parties.

The Police and the Election Commission can only take action within the legal framework, he noted.

"The political parties must take a decision on what criteria they will adopt when selecting candidates to give nominations and whether they will select those against whom various allegations have been levelled. For the public, we advise them to, regardless of the party, elect only those who are suitable. The public have been invited to send complaints in writing to the March 12 Movement Secretariat, No. 12/3, Robert Terrace, Robert Gunawardena Mawatha, Colombo 6, the latter being the preferable mode of communication or call on 0112-514441/2 or fax to 0112-514443," he explained.