- People and Events
Paradise gone rotten C.O.L. strangles
- The hidden agenda of Eppawela
- How tough cops got over tricky situations
- UNDP poverty report, Janasaviya and PAs disaster economics - Part II
- The Press Council and lesbianism: The Liberal Party viewpoint
- The other Ondaatje
- The Eastern province, Tamil claims and 'colonisation'
- The succession in Syria
- Our Foggy Bottom hits the pits?
- Tales of a lifetime
People and Events
Paradise gone rotten C.O.L. strangles
Poor, poor Punchi Singho. He hung himself last Sunday, or more correctly was strung and hung by, lets say euphemistically- circumstances. Poor man - Everyman - of this Paradise gone rotten.
Over the years Punchi Singho has been the loser; losing the battle against life as epitomised by the COL and conditions wrought in Sri Lanka by those in power. Punchi Singho kept demonstrating how he was losing the battle against soaring prices. He definitely was getting thinner; lost his Bata slippers; his pankola malla sprung tatters and holes and carried less and less. His trousers he sold, or more likely just strip teased off with no belly twisting or risque dancing. He could not tighten his belt any more and so his thin waist could no longer hold up his nether garment. Fortunately for him and us, his shirt was long but kept getting more threadbare and I for one feared hed have to fix some paper border to keep his modesty intact. He could not sell it, of course. The poor man is dead and gone, strung like a skeleton with diesel and Shell cans as ballast. We hope and pray Wijesoma managed to lower him before he breathed his last. If Punchi Singho is no more, life will be pointless for us Paradites, clinging as we do, to every little bit of cheer in our cheerless lives.
In sharp contrast are wielders of power, businessmen, polititions, slimy tricksters and slithery pandam karayas and hench aiyala who emerge from Wijesomas commenting pen. Oh dear! The fear is they will burst out of their clothes, their tailors not being able to keep pace with their ever increasing girth.
And thus the haves and have-nots in this Paradise gone rotten.
In the Footsteps of Punchi Singho
Falling into the category of have-not, I fear my fate is Punchi Singhos. So also the fate of the majority of Sri Lankans, mostly the middle class, caught as they are like the arecanut in the nutcracker: inadequate and dwindling means but having to maintain life and soul and standards.
Inflation is too much money chasing few goods. I am in reverse inflation and getting deeper mired. Too many bare, basic needs to be satisfied with not enough income and also a fast depreciating rupee to do it with. Just as I start to breathe easy with an additional part time job taken on, prices of essentials shoot up, the rupee shoots down and I, a poor yet very national minded Paradite, is ensnared in the never ending battle of making ends meet, of keeping the nose above water, barely fed and clothed. Dont talk of "in good health". I shudder to think of hospitalization. Cannot afford a nursing home and even in a government hospital, medicines have to be bought by the patient.
Suicide - the only alternative
So its a serious consideration of finding a way out. The only way out is Punchi Singhos. But I cannot hang myself. How can I swing from a beam when I live with a flat above me? Shall I borrow a cyanide gulli from You-Know-Who? The capsule will be given but with a proviso - lob a bomb or better tie one on yourself and blast a VIP. Spare the capsule and spoil this 5 ft 2 of mine.
Ive casually asked people who know what a lethal dose of valium is. They look queerly at me and rapidly change the subject. Maybe I look queer to them or sound so. Heres a person who really, really steeped herself in joie de vivre with a husband and son and siblings who liked a decent life and travelling around beloved Sri Lanka, and now wishes to put an end to existence. What other alternative? Going on the streets with a pol katta? Living on childrens charity? Poor houses and homes for senior citizens are already overcrowded. By the time your turn comes in the long waiting list, you will surely be the late so-and-so.
Talk of the Town
Wherever one goes, with whomever one speaks these days, the talk is price hikes and the impossibility of making ends meet. Invariably the lament ends on the most pessimistic of premises: things will get worse. The optimism of coming elections improving things is dim.
No hope is the consensual opinion.
Think of the teacher who devoted her life to her pupils. She dressed well, was a role model to other teachers and dear Miss to hundreds of young girls who passed though her personality developing, caring hands. Now retired, she is expected to live on Rs. 3700. This amount barely pays her monthly bills. All told she could live one week on it. Shes been dipping into savings, albeit meagre, and once that is gone, its suicide for her.
I am not joking. Salaries steady; COL soaring
Wages should keep abreast of the COL. That is a pipe dream as far as this Paradise gone rotten is concerned. I personally do not approve of wage increasing ad hoc since that might mean printing more money to add the needed amount to an already depleted government coffer. Extra cash flow ignites inflation, doesnt it? When salaries are increased in this Paradise gone rotten, everything miraculously goes up in price, even the humble pala mitiya inflates its price, though the seller trundles his bundles and has no excuse to offer of diesel prices sky rocketing.
There are institutions even in this Paradise gone rotten, foreign mostly, that adjust wages to keep abreast of the COL. Yours truly worked in a foreign institution which once gave a 25 percent increase of salary because costs rose.
So, no thanks to wage increases. With war drained off government resources how, and why, give salary increases?
The one remedy is to strictly combat the cost of living. It can be done, I am sure. We Paradites will sacrifice if sacrifice is universal to all Sri Lankans and if it is not necessitated by bad management.
I hate to see the piles of yellow oranges and red apples that are on sale even in the remotest corners of the Island. Who wants them in such abundance? We have enough and more indigenous fruits. OK, import a small quantity to satisfy the foreign fruit aficionado but dont flood the market with preservative injected and wax coated apples and oranges, unless of course it is a condition of bilateral trade, where the fruit exporting country buys our goods.
So also the import of onions, potatoes and chillies. Our Mahaweli producers commit suicide when they cannot sell their harvests of these crops and tomatoes, not by hanging but by swallowing insecticides and pesticides that are a-plenty.
I weep for you, Sri Lanka. My heart bleeds for your poor, long suffering inhabitants.
Belts Tightened to Strangulation Point
We do live frugally and will do so gladly if we have hope of a better future.
The widow of an ex-VVIP reads her bana books by the light of the street lamp. Another old friend has given up travelling by three wheeler even though the man down her lane gives her a concessionary rate. She risks life and limb in public transport. My domestic and I grope around in the late evening until a light or two have to be switched on. (Thank goodness the second son is not at home. He wants bright lights and the flat almost floodlit!). Telephones are silent. Cooking is reduced and curries fridged for future meals. Many are vegetarian, fish, flesh and fowl costing so much. Some of these austerity measures are healthy for us, however, and disciplining.
Consider however, families with children. We are heading for a malnourished, weak in body, mind and spirit citizenry. How on earth can families afford to give their kids sufficient nourishment and vitamins, their infants milk when the mother stops lactating through stress or having to supplement the husbands income.
Economic and family problems drive the man to drink. This is true. We may pity him since he does not have the backbone to face a problem and get over it. But the wife and children bear the brunt of his weak selfishness.
Of course the government is concerned about you and me. The government is just and honorable.
Like the Brits in WWII and even us in Sri Lanka during the war years, we can suffer privation and deprivation; eat manioc instead of rice, resort to blacking our homes, IF, I repeat IF, there is no way out for the government to reduce the burden we bear, and a silver lining to the dark cloud is discernible. We will suffer without complaining. But most of these adverse conditions were willfully brought upon us. We, in Paradise gone rotten, cannot see that gladdening glimmer. The tunnel of difficult living seems unending.
The hidden agenda of Eppawela
The thin edge of the wedge
by A. Denis N. Fernando
The Ancient Nuwera Kalawiya was an area from the West Coast to the East Coast which included Anuradhapura (Nuwera), Kalawewa (Kala) and Padawiya (Wiya) from which it derived its name. It was a strategic area which on the western seaboard was between the Kalaoya and Malwatuoya, while on the eastern sea-board was between Trincomalee and Kokilai Lagoon which was called Hurulu verala where the mineral sands lie. This area controlled the shipping trade that took place in Northern Sri Lanka or Rajarata with Anuradhapura the capital central to it. The area in the north namely the Vanni (Vanaya) was in Forest gave protection to the Sinhala Heartland from the sparsely populated area north of Nuwarakalaviya.
There appears to be an hidden agenda to take over this area by interested parties in view of its strategic importance, so that they could isolate the Northern Tamils from the rest of Sri Lanka physically and create a buffer zone between which could be occupied by the new foreign powers concreting the problem caused by the then colonial powers; and their present Economic interests in dominating the Indian Ocean for their own hidden agenda. As a development planner to my mind this seems to be their ultimate goal and the hidden agenda.
Already the Iranavilla area has been taken over by the Americans for their VOA transmission station. With a foot hold and direct access to the western seaboard, they are able at crucial times to use this access for their various activities.
On the pretext of the Eppawela Mining Project a large area between Anuradhapura and Kalawewa covering an area of 800 square miles has been earmarked for "Phosphate Exploitation" but no mention is made of the rare heavy minerals of strategic importance in the appetite like Thorium titanium, uranium, etc. and also the precious metals like gold and silver of economic value.
The Americans would have a foothold in the international deep water harbour of Trincomalee with the so called processing factory located there. This is only a front to control the harbour at crucial times under false pretences. They are to be given the right of unlimited access too the AIR SPACE and the shoreline which is the greatest NATIONAL SECURITY RISK for Sri Lanka and the region. This would show that once they are here, they would not leave in a hurry certainly not in 30 years.
These are all done with the simultaneous dislocation of purana villages in the Triangle Anuradhapura, Kalawewa and Trincomalee. This would lead to the ethnic cleansing of the Sinhalese from Nuwerakalawiya on various pretexts.
It would be of interest to note that in the time of J. R. Jayewardene, when Cyril Matthew was Minister of Industries, when this was brought before Cabinet Mr. G. V. P. Samarasinghe the Cabinet Secretary advised against involvement of Foreign Multinational Companies. When it was brought up once again in the time when Mr. Denzil Fernando who was Minister of Industries who was not very keen on it, was pointed out by the Cabinet Secretary Mr. M. A. G. Perera of the earlier Cabinet decision and it was once again dropped. This was for the third time once again taken up in the time of Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe when he was Minister of Industries and Mr. A. S. Jayawardene was Secretary when both of them were promoting even the privatisation of even the profit making industries, and the present dilemma of the Eppawela Proposal is a direct result of that initiation, and the late Mr. C.V. Gooneratne further pursued it too, for whose benefit ?
In passing it would be interesting to state of my experience when I was secretary of the Ministry of Minerals and Mineral based Industries in 1991, when Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe was Minister of Industries as it has a relevance to the thinking at that time in regard to Privatisation of Pulmudai Mineral sands which contain strategic minerals of thorium, titanium, monzsite, routile, zircon etc, when the papers were sent to me for report, I asked a simple question . Are we attempting to privatise industries that are profit making or non profit making? Here we have an industry that is providing the coffers government of a nett income of Rs 150 million annually. I indicated that only a fool or some interested naive would attempt to privatise an industry that in showing an enormous profit to the government coffers. This was followed by a question, namely, are we trying to donate Rs. 150 million annually to the private sector company who is eyeing it ?
I further emphasised that if some money is required there is enough iron scrap available at Pulmudai which could be sold to generate millions of rupees and so why do we not want to sell this scrap only ? With these questions been asked by me the idea of privatising was left in abayence. This unfortunately is not the type of advice that is rarely given by persons who have no clue in respect of Science or Industry, be they Secretaries or SLAS officers, with no technical background or common sense, but only paying pooja to the whims and fancies of their Ministers. This is unfortunately the reality of today.
I am sure that very soon the idea would dawn to the Americans of exploiting the vast copper ore and gold that was first indicated in the Mahawamsa in 200 B.C. When the Mahatupa was built in the time of Dutugemunu the copper ore was rediscovered by the Geological Survey in 1970, while Uranium has been noted in the Kala oya basin.
It is interesting that the Apatite Deposit discovered by Mr. Dilup Jayawardene of the Geological Survey Dept. in 1971 is the centre piece of Eppawela project that is eyed by the American multinationals . This American company under another name is also well known in Indonesia for operating a copper and gold mine. So it is a foregone conclusion that they would eye the large copper deposit that is east of the Mahaweli Ganga near Seruvila as well to have it within the orbit of their control.
In this senario we could figure out that very soon the Americans would in the near future, if their hidden agenda is fulfilled of first having control of the Apatite deposit they would then move towards the need to mine other minerals and metals, and further expanding their scope to the mineral sands not only in Pulmudai in the east coast (the site of Jambukola, the Talakori Emporium of Ptolemy and the Palavaki of Parakramabahu I), but also at Kukuramalai (the Hipporous of Pliny), As well and the copper deposits at Seruvila (the Mudduti Emporium of Ptolemy) to have full control of the NUWERAKALAVIYA . This is no imagination as the MIA already provides for them to obtain mining licences for other sands and minerals.
This would cover the vast area including the Iranavillu, as well as from the Deduruoya to Malvatu Oya in the western sea board and from Seruvawila to Pulmuddai on the eastern seaboard with the prise Trincomalee Harbour in full control. And the area in between including Anuradhapura and Kalawewa ethnically cleansed and under their full control. It is only a matter of time that at the slightest provocation they would bring the American navy and Marines stating that they have come to protect the Company interests of their citizens.
This would ensure the isolation of the Northern Tamils from the rest of the country, which would then divide our country into two whether we like it or not. Is this what the citizen of our country want. Are we so blind as we do not want to see or are those who cannot see with their eyes wide open? Are we only confirming the view of some who think "SINHALAYA MODAYA KAVUM KANDA YODAYA"
In the past it has been said to beware of Greeks bringing gifts, But today we have to be more careful of those who want to solve the so called Tamil problem, which is in fact an Economic Problem that is being faced both by the Tamils in the North and the Sinhalese in the South. Instead of solving the real problem are the do gooders on various pretexes only attempting to grab the Trincomalee harbour and divide the country, with the time tested adage of the Colonial powers of Dividing and ruling us and plundering our national wealth of our country and create further problems to the Region, be they by Norwegians or Americans.
How tough cops got over tricky situations
Former DIG Vamadevan recalls police life in old Ceylon
I had three stints working in the City of Colombo. First as a young Probationer with the four others in the batch. I worked in Colombo when Mr. C. P. Wambeek was Superintendent of Police, Colombo (CPC as it was referred to in Police circles). He was a kind and amiable boss whose lessons were more by example than sermons. During this time we came across a cross section of the officers with whom we were going to work for the next few decades - the smart and the able; ones who talked their way through; the decisive and the indecisive.
This was also the time we met veterans like B. W. Perera, K. S. Perera, Algie Perera and the like. I also came to know Mr. A. J. Rajasuriya with whom I worked very closely later when he was Commandant of the Sri Lanka Police Reserve. His demise was a loss that I felt very badly. He typified those offers who took a lively interest not only in their juniors but also in their families. My feelings for Mr. Rajasuriya has been encapsulated in the appreciation I wrote after his death. Inspector (later Assistant Superintendent) H. B. Dissanayake was another interesting officer who even as the Officer-in-Charge of Modera Police station had his own horse and did his rounds on horse back. Hoodlums melted away from the streets on sighting him on his grey mare.
There was one particular officer who avoided taking decisions and made it into a fine art of bureaucratic administration. If an officer sent a file with a studied report asking for approval for a certain course of action, it would come back with the endorsement if in order approved. He was a good tennis player and that is probably where he learnt to keep the ball in the other persons court all the time. It was said of him that his decision not to take a decision, was the most decisive decision he ever took.
Most senior post
My next stint in Colombo started on the 27th of January 1961 the night of the attempted coup detat. The entire Officer Corps in the City Police was on remand. A helicopter was sent to Batticaloa to fetch Ivor Van Twest to head the City Police. On his arrival he was asked to choose whom he wanted as his Assistant Superintendents. I was then serving in Matugama and received a telephone message that I was tranfered to Colombo as Assistant Superintendent (Colombo West), It was the most senior post an A.S.P. can aspire to and there I was in the deep end with only 3 years service. The others with me were Vernon T. Dickman, R. C. Thavarajah, T. S. Bongso and A. Mahendran. Douglas Ranmuthugala even junior to me was Assistant Superintendent (Traffic). We were just One Superintendent and five Assistant Superintendents to manage the city of Colombo.
Here I learnt the political pitfalls of Police work the hard way. The general election of 1964 was the most difficult situation I faced and it also led to my removal from Colombo and being shunted out to Nuwara Eliya where I was put in cold storage - both literally and metaphorically. The events that led to this situation need recapitulation. The Coalition had lost the election and the U.N.P. had won. There was a time lag between Mrs. Bandaranaike handing in her resignation and Mr. Dudley Senanayake taking over as Prime Minister. Ivor Van Twest wanted me to maintain a Police presence around the Queens House (now the Presidents House) and keep it clear. A heavyweight Minister from the Coalition ordered me to move from there and swore that if I did not obey a ministerial order I would regret it for the rest of my life. His intention was to surround Queens House with his own goondas so that Mrs. Bandaranaike would not be able to go in and resign and Mr. Dudley Senanayake would not be able to be sworn in. I stood my ground and out there in the cold night we exchanged words that are best not repeated here. An hour or so later Mrs. Bandaranaike came unimpeded to hand in her resignation and sometime later Mr. Dudley Senanayake was sworn in.
Working in the City Police
But when the dust had settled, I was told that I was transferred to Nuwara Eliya because a good officer was wanted there. But it was common knowledge that it was to make way for a friend of a friend who would be more amenable to political manoeuvers. The Daily News of August 16, 1965 had this to say:
"....At one point that night there appeared to be a definite coalition plan to scatter their storm-troopers outside Queens House thus preventing Mrs. Bandaranaike from entering-to resign and preventing Mr. Dudley Senanayake from entering to be sworn in.
One man stood between coalition activists and their plan: ASP Vamadevan. With a patrol car and a brace of armed policemen he held the area near the Ceylinco building, keeping the activists from moving into positions outside Queens House.
At the height of the tension a rumbustious coalition Minister arrived on the scene and ordered the Police party off, using the language that could have made even a Maradana slattern blush. He also threatened the young ASP with dire reprisals.
Mr. Vamadevan did not budge, as reporters who were eyewitnesses will testify. Curiously he was transferred out of Colombo within a matter of weeks".
While I was hibernating in Nuwara Eliya, Mr. Aleric Abeyagunawardhene was appointed Deputy Inspector-General and Nuwara Eliya was in his Range. He is one who never forgets to right wrongs whenever he got a chance. Shortly after his first visit to Nuwara Eliya I received a official message transferring me to Colombo with immediate effect. I took the first train and I was gone.
My third stint in Colombo was as Commissioner of the City Police from 1977 to 1980. The post of Superintendent of Police Colombo is one of the coveted positions a Superintendent could aspire to. This position had been held by officers like C. C. Dissanayake (Jungle) S. A. Dissanayake (Jingle), A. C. Fernando (Auty), Harry Vanden Driesen, C. P. Wambeek, Ivor Van Twest etc. By this time the title of the post of Superintendent of Police had been changed to that of Commissioner of Police, Colombo (CPC). Since this change of name there had been many more who were in the hot seat- S. S. Joseph, H. G. Bowdewyn, Jack Van Sanden and A. C. Lawrence. Now it was my turn. I was now in the cockpit steering the policing of a city with a population of close upon a million and a Police strength of 2000 and 20 Police stations.
I had a good team. The Crime Chief was none other than Tyrell Gunatilleke, and most of the sensational cases of the time including that of the Matthew Peiris murder investigation were in his capable hands. A. C. Gaffoor was in-charge of Colombo South and Operations, and he used to work long hours into the night.
Tricky situations cropped up all the time. My task was to defuse such situations and create a climate in which my officers could carry on their good work without let or hindrance. This involved my being something of a shock absorber taking all the political bumps and jerks and telling the officers that all was fine and to carry on with their good work. This capacity to be a shock absorber is, in my view, a sine qua non for Police highups in the present political climate.
Lot of concern
One fine day all looked normal and bright until I was told that a procession was going to be taken out by Dr. N. M. Perera, the leader of the Nava Lanka Samasamaja Party and that I was not to permit it at any cost. Indications were given that even if it was necessary to open fire the procession was not to be allowed. This caused a lot of concern and intelligence was that preparations were going on inspite of the permit being refused, and that Dr. N. M Perera was going to defy the ban, taking out the procession from the Town Hall to Galle Face. The build-up was causing tension and I had to find a way out without letting it to escalate.
A couple of days before the event I thought I will make use of my good rapport with Dr. N. M. Perera and drove up to his Cotta Road home and told his Appu (valet) to announce me and my desire to speak to him. He was still in bed and yelled out Vama come in and asked his Appu to bring a chair up to the bed. What can I do for you? he asked. I told him the procession he was proposing to take out was illegal and that he was putting me in a difficult situation because I was under orders to stop it at any cost. We talked about it for a while over a cup of tea and typically he wanted to help me. Alright he said it is too late to change any arrangements, I will start the procession. You come and stop me. It will be alright after that. He then added that way all parties will be satisfied. My experience was that leaders like Dr. N. M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R. de Silva and Pieter Keuneman were easy to deal with if one approached them directly, with all the cards on the table they always listened to reason.
On major occasions which were common in Colombo, we worked hard virtually round the clock, very often starting at 6.00 A.M. and finishing at 11.00 P.M. But we always finished up at the Mess where all officers could unwind and relate their experience. Interesting stories were told and retold and everyone had a good time.
I remember the story often told of our encounter with Mr. C. R. Arndt. He was a man of few words, and he conversed more in grunts and mono syllables which made others very uncomfortable . We as Probationers had to pay courtesy calls on Senior offcers and cover the whole top echelon before the training was over. We set apart one evening each week to call on Senior Officers. The day we called on Jungle Dissanayake was very pleasant. His wife was a perfect hostess and very kind to us. Jungles son T.D.S.A was present and as we knew him it helped to break the ice. We had postponed our call on Mr. Arndt until days had run out and our training program was coming to an end. Someone in the group suggested that we drop in and take a chance. It would have completed our schedule perfectly. So, the five of us dressed in lounge suits trooped-in and knocked at his Longden Place bungalow door. The unmistakable voice of Mr. Arndt inquired from inside as to who it was. One of us picked up courage and said it was the five Probationers calling on him. The door never opened, but the unmistakable voice from inside responded. The first thing you must learn is to make appointments before calling on an officer. We beat a hasty retreat. I was reminded of a Tamil proverb never mind the alms; hold the dog.
Speaking of Mr. Arndt brings to my mind a tale of him and Frank Silva, now the Inspector General of Police. Mr. Arndt was Superintendent of Police of the Northern Province, and young Frank worked with him for his Provincial Training segment. Arndt had instructions that no one was to give leave to his orderly except himself. Young Frank was signing a heap of papers that had been in his In tray and one of it happened to be Mr. Arndts drivers leave papers which too he signed. The next morning Frank had a call from Mr. Arndt inquiring whether he would like to join him on an inspection of Mullaithivu. Young Frank was very excited. It was his first long trip into the wilderness as it were. When they were ready to leave Arndt asked Frank whether he would like to drive. Frank said it would be a pleasure and sat at the drivers seat. Mr. Arndt settled into the back seat. Driving all the way to Mullaithivu with his Superintendent in the back seat he had ample time to ponder on the message. This is why even as Inspector-General now, he never signs a paper without reading it thoroughly.
Arndt was not always at the dispensing end of such lessons. His predecessor in Jaffna was Mr. W. E. C. Jebanesan (Jebs to his friends) and as Superintendent of Northern Province he had a very liberal Travelling vote for Anti-Illicit Immigration work, something like Rs. 800/= a month, a princely figure at that time for a Police Officer. Mr. Arndt was in Headquarters as Superintendent (Headquarters). Arndt constantly raised queries on Jebs travelling claims and inspite of his protestations cut the vote to Rs. 500/=. Then the wheel of fortune turned full circle and Ardnt and Jebs exchanged positions. Now Jebs started asking questions about the need to use Rs. 500/= for illicit immigration work and after a long and hilarious correspondence, and despite Arndts protestations he cut it down to Rs. 250/=. The relevant file in Headquarters is interesting reading.
In Colombo there were constant protests from the public and press that the Police were like the rainbow appearing always after the storm. So, I made it my mission to tackle this shortcoming. By constantly monitoring the response time of the Police we made a good impact and figures showed that our response time was as good as any of the good Police services elsewhere. My obsession with the urgency of quick Police response soon earned me, among the lower ranks, the name VAHAMADEVAN (Vahama in Sinhala means immediate).
For the first time we embarked on an aggressive Police promotional campaign to fight traffic accidents and crime through radio jingles. My wife had a very successful Advertising Agency and she obliged with two compositions that were well received by the public. They are still fresh in my memory and are worth reproduction here. They were broadcast in all three languages.
UNDP poverty report, Janasaviya and PAs disaster economics - Part II
by Tisaranee Gunasekera
The UNDP Poverty Report is critical of strategies which create a dichotomy between growth and welfare policies. "Growth on one track and human development on the other. The two tracks rarely interact: economic policies are not made pro-poor, while social services are assigned the burden of directly addressing poverty". (p. 10). The Report advocates the formulation of anti-poverty plans which give economic policies a more pro-poor slant by developing strong links between anti-poverty programmes and macro-economic policies.
Poverty alleviation was the main focus of the Premadasaist development strategy: "Whatever development we may bring about should be to the benefit of the poor. Development in any sense should help people live. There is no meaning in development that keeps people in hunger" (providing Assets to the Assetless - 13.2.89). Consequently during the Premadasa period "Growth was regarded as a necessary (but not a sufficient) precondition for poverty alleviation and poverty alleviation as a necessary (but not a sufficient) pre-condition for growth. The need for aggressive intervention to alleviate poverty was accepted; but these interventions were not regarded as welfare measures and were placed firmly in the space of macro economic policy measures. Poverty alleviation measures were therefore not social welfare measures situated away from the sphere of hard economic policy and often counter to the logic of it. They were an important component of the economic policy measures and were linked by a thousand threads to every aspect of growth - from export promotion to industrialisation. It would perhaps be correct to say that growth and poverty alleviation/social justice formed the core of the economic strategy; almost all of the economic policies were aimed at achieving these twin objectives simultaneously." (Research Report on the JSP. Lanka Guardian April 1st 1997).
According to the UNDP Report "The current consensus on the importance of pro-poor growth is still hobbled by an inability to recommend practical policies and concrete reforms of structural adjustment programmes". (p. 10). An outstanding feature of the Premadasaist development strategy was that it contained a number of practical policies and concrete reforms to achieve pro-poor growth.
The 200 Garment Factories Programme was one such instance of innovatively using high growth industries as vehicles for poverty alleviation. This Programme was aimed at achieving growth with (not before or after) equity. It was therefore an attempt at formulating and implementing a new type of industrialisation strategy which was directly, explicitly and simultaneously aimed at employment generation and poverty alleviation. This was done by laying down strict criteria for the investors. As Premadasa explained these "are intended to cater to the needs of the neglected and the deprived sections of our people. They are intended to bring about equity and social justice" (The Address on the Establishment of Garment Industries at AGA Divisional Level, BMICH - 18.2.1992). The criteria included:
Garment factories to be dispersed among all AGA divisions - a majority of the factories were set up in the rural areas.
Each factory to provide employment to at least 500 people" They should make a substantial contribution to employment generation in the peripheral areas" (Premadasa Ibid.).
A minimum monthly salary of Rs. 2000/- plus other benefits (free breakfast, tea, medical attention) "Employee welfare and employer interests are intricately inter-woven." (Premadasa Ibid.).
In recruiting workers, poverty is the only qualification: "Recruiting to the workforce will not be left to employer convenience. It will be because employment generated- must respond to poverty alleviation strategies. Such strategies should incorporate distributive principles" (Premadasa Ibid.).
By the end of 1993, 134 factories were in operation - "providing employment to about 70,000 persons. Export earnings of these enterprises amounted to 29,589 million or 52% of the total textile and garment exports of the BOI industries during 1993" (Annual Report of the Central Bank 1993). A significant contribution was made to prevent the concentration of the industrialisation effort and its benefits in a few urban centres. 82.1% of the factories were out side the Western province. 40.3% (54 factories) were located in the zone with the lowest mean and median income levels. 7 factories were established in the government controlled areas of the North East.
The uniqueness of the 200 Garment Factories Programme lies in the fact that it successfully brought together multiple aims and objectives generally considered mutually exclusive: growth and poverty alleviation; investment promotion and employment generation; employment generation and better pay/working conditions. In less than two years it created more employment opportunities than the two export promotion zones did since inception - permanent jobs with adequate pay, a minimum wage and working conditions, mainly to unskilled female workers in the underdeveloped rural areas.
Creating strong and direct links between poverty alleviation and growth was thus a fundamental premise of the Premadasaist development project. As Premadasa said: "We have our housing programme. We can easily bring in the Janasaviya recipients into that programme. Today there is a programme to alienate land to those who do not have land. These people too could be brought into that programme" (4.9.89). Premadasas gigantic Housing Programme was aimed at creating a partnership between the people and the state in order to eradicate homelessness and furfil the housing needs of the economically disadvantaged segments.
The other objectives of this multi-faceted programme included poverty alleviation, rural development, employment generation, skills development an community participation. The state provided the villages which came under the Village Reawakening Programme with internal roads, foot paths, water supply, drainage and sewage disposal, street lighting and primary schools. A distinctive feature of the programme was its approach to the issue of urban homelessness. In most parts of the Third World this problem is addressed by providing the urban slum dwellers living spaces outside the city. The private sector is then allowed to develop the land previously occupied by these dwellers.
In Sri Lanka the state either built housing projects for the slum and shanty dwellers in the same locations; or the dwellers were provided with state assistance to develop their housing and communities. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) would identify the areas and declare them as special cases exempted from regular urban planning and building regulations (this was perhaps the first occasion double standards were used in favour of the poor and the powerless); the state would then provide financial and other assistance to the dwellers to upgrade their housing conditions.
The UNDP Report also identifies the "failure to squarely address the sources of inequality - such as unequal distribution of land" (p. 10), as a major impediment to poverty eradication. During the Premadasa presidency 327,368 acres of state owned land were distributed free of charge among 353,436 landless families, under the Presidential Land Task Force Programme (between Dec. 1989 and Dec. 31st 1992). The Task Force had identified around 400,000 acres of state land to be similarly distributed, when the newly elected PA regime discontinued the programme. Consequently today we see a growing number of land seizures by landless people, contributing to the creation of a situation of economic and political instability.
One final example of Premadasas determination to creatively use every opportunity to further the goal of poverty eradication. A devastating train-bus accident in Ahungalla in the late 80s high lighted a common and potentially dangerous problem - that due to the high cost of rail gates there were around 700 unprotected rail crossings in the country. (With Rs. 350,000/- per gate in 1988-89 the total cost would have amounted to Rs. 245 million - unforgettable to a country in the throes of a severe politico-socio-economic crisis). Premadasa came up with an innovative answer - a bamboo pole was installed at each of these rail crossings. Six people from poorest of the poor families in the area were tasked with manning this make shift rail gate thus providing round the clock protection. (The PA regime removed these bamboo gates stating that they will be replaced by proper rail gates - an empty promise as it turned out to be).
Crisis creation and crisis resolution
The best evidence of the viability of this radically different approach to development was the fact that under the Premadasa Presidency there was both growth and equity. Growth rate was satisfactory (an average of 5.5% in 90-93); unemployment decreased (l9.5% in 85/86 to 14.5% in 93); inflation was generally under control except for a spurt in 1990; average budget deficit during this period was 7.4%; investment as a % of GDP increased; Balance of Payment showed a positive balance for the first time in years; debt service ratio improved remarkably (28.8% in 88 to 13.8% in 93); and the stock market flourished.
This remarkable growth in the economy took place side by side with a dramatic improvement in poverty and income inequality. According to the World Bank Head Count Index I, poverty levels decreased by 4:9% between 85-86 and 90-91; according to the World Bank Head Count Index II the decrease during the same period was 5.26%. Income distribution too improved: the % of income received by the bottom decide increased from 0.4% in 85/86 to 1.9% in 90/91. The distribution of income improved not only in favour of the poor but also the middle classes - the share of income received by the bottom 50% of the population improved from 12% in 85/86 to 21.2% in 9O/91. The only significant losers were the highest 10% of the population whose share declined from 49.3% in 85/86 to 36.5% in 90-91. (Source: The Statistical Pocketbook of Sri Lanka).
What is significant is that this growth with equity took place while the country was recovering from a bloody and extremely destructive insurgency and while being engaged in another full scale war in the North East. The second Eelam War broke out in June 1990, just six months after the civil war ended in the South. Consequently there was a massive increase in the military expenditure during this period. However the developmental performance of the Premadasa years clearly indicate that the war/high military expenditure is no barrier to economic growth, poverty alleviation or the upliftment of the living standards of the people. The determinant variable is the correct approach and the right policy package.
Premadasas answer to the key question of how should the costs of crisis resolution be distributed among the different classes and segments of the populace was: from each according to his ability. The PA on the other hand is following a policy of demanding the greatest sacrifices from those who are least able to afford them while sparing those at the top of the economic heap (quite a few of them highly paid foreigners).
The PA propagandists try to convince us that the government has no other choice but to wage economic war on the people in order to continue with the war against the LTTE. This is because the regime is wedded to the dogma of neo-liberal economics and the advice of the IFIs. In this context the government is likely to continue to resort to practices such as increasing indirect taxes (specially GST), removing subsidies and devaluation - which will further exacerbate the economic crisis by depressing the economy and the living standards of a majority of the populace. It is a policy of overburdening those least able to bear that burden. (As William Blake said in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, "one law for the Lion and ox is oppression").
The only way out is declaring a moratorium on indirect taxes and shifting to a policy of increasing direct taxes. (Any increases in indirect taxes should be strictly limited to luxury consumer items). In order to raise money fast, an excellent method is a considerable increase in PAYE taxes for the upper wage brackets; the high earners should be asked to tighten their belts for a change, until the LTTE is defeated. This would ensure that the burden of the war effort is distributed relatively more evenly and justly. (Incidentally why not make the earnings of the Parliamentarians and the top bureaucrats taxable - particularly those in the Finance Ministry and the Central Bank who heap burdens on the already overburdened masses with gay abandon and defend these measures with such insouciance).
Though the UNP is critical of the PAs current economic policies it has failed to come up with a credible alternative. The cure it offers is worse than even the disease - stopping the war against the LTTE and thereby risking the territorial integrity of the country. The UNPs failure to come up with a credible alternative is due to the fact that there is no great divergence today between the UNP and the PA when it comes to fundamental economic thinking. After all according to Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe the PAs major mistake is its inability to manage/administer the economy and not its approach to development. Therefore the present UNP leaderships criticism of the anti-people economic measures of the PA is likely to be as empty and phoney as the PAs 1994 election promise of open economy with a human face. This is best evidenced by the fact that the current leadership of the UNP allowed the PERC bill to go through, enabling the creation of an omnipotent entity which can sell off our national assets as it willed, without the slightest accountability. The infamous Shell deal was a direct consequence of this failure on the part of the UNP leadership. The tragedy of the UNP and of the country is that today there is no Premadasa capable of coming up with a genuine alternative to the PA, which can help protect the territorial integrity of the country without povertising the people (waging war with the economy while making peace with the people). That critical absence is causing the acceleration of the countrys march towards the infinite abyss of a economically and ethnically driven third Southern insurgency.
The Press Council and lesbianism: The Liberal Party viewpoint
by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
President Liberal Party
In the context of recent extremely sad developments in the country, the Liberal Party was in two minds about issuing a statement regarding the recent malignant comments of the Press Council with regard to lesbianism. However a close reading of the judgement reveals a mindset that we feel is of a piece with the attitudes that have contributed to other tragedies in Sri Lanka. For this reason we feel it necessary to issue a forthright critique of the manner in which members of the Press Council chose to express themselves, and an assessment of what precisely their judgement signals as to what pass for official attitudes in this country. In doing so, we call upon the Media Minister to dissociate himself from the pronouncements of the Council and to request their resignation.
The comments of the Council arose in the context of a complaint regarding a letter that was said to advocate the criminal offence of rape. It was up to the Council therefore to decide whether or not the letter did advocate a criminal offence. The Council ruled that suggesting something is advisable is simply pronouncing an opinion and does not amount to advocacy. It accepted that the writer was emotionally involved in the criticism and used a harsh language, but claimed that this did not amount to any malice or grudge towards any particular individual except for their hate and unpleasantness about the spreading social menace in the society.
Leaving aside questions of prejudice, at this stage one wonders even about the intellectual (to say nothing of the linguistic) competence of the members of the Council. The action that was thought advisable was rape, which is a crime, and though it was not advised against any particular individual, it was against a distinct group on the logic of the Council members, a suggestion that minorities are a menace and therefore should be beaten up would not be culpable because there was no malice towards any particular individual.
The Council members however would doubtless argue that there is a difference, in that lesbianism is unquestionably a menace. And in this respect it has to be recognized that the vindictive attitude they evince has received encouragement from the fact that, in 1995, lesbianism was indeed made a crime by an amendment to the Penal Code. When, following the criminalization of homosexuality in Britain, Sri Lanka followed suit, lesbianism was not mentioned, reportedly because Queen Victoria could not conceive that such a practice existed. A century later however, the bold statement of the Council - We do not hesitate to state that lesbianism is illegal in our law - was possible because, it would seem, the new Minister could conceive of what Queen Victoria could not.
What was sad is that, probably, left to himself, Prof. Peiris would not have wanted amendments, initially intended to protect minors, to extend to levels of repression that the United Nations Covenants on Human Rights have condemned. Certainly his close associate Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam distinguished himself yet again by being the only legislator to speak against the amendments. But pressures from various interest groups led to the government introducing a measure that criminalized what had not been criminal before.
So the Council members had a crutch on which to support themselves. It is an open question whether they would have felt justified in expressing such extreme views in the old days when lesbianism was still legal. Prof Peiris, suffering now from death threats that almost totally limit his movements, may well not care, may well think us callous for looking at such matters in depth when he is in such a sad situation. But to us there seem to be extremely pertinent, if ironic, similarities in the situations. For the LTTE could well claim that they have no grudge towards any particular individual except for their hate and unpleasantness about the spreading social menace in the society. The only difference is that for them the spreading social menace is not lesbianism but a Sinhalese government.
We do not justify such an attitude, we condemn it utterly. But we also think it important to note that any condoning of violence, against those a particular group hates, encourages different forms of violence against other groups. And of course such violence is justified further by demonizing of the target groups. So not only do the Council members claim that lesbianism is illegal, they go on to say it is an act of sadism and salacious. No evidence is advanced for this statement, which is indeed patent nonsense, since in any characterization of sexuality what is assumed, unless evidence to the contrary is adduced, is that it is based on consent. The rank prejudice of the Council members is further obvious in the fact that they thus dismiss the suggestion that the letter promotes sadism and salacity: they conveniently ignore the incontrovertible fact that it does promote violence.
But, without considering the promotion of violence, which is surely the most dangerous element in our society today, the Council members go on to claim that it is the complainant against the letter advising rape who, in promoting lesbianism, is the one who is eager to promote sadism and salacity. Earlier they had denied him legal status in the case on the grounds that, since he was not a female and therefore could not be raped as advised in the letter, he could not be a victim of such violence. These last, it should be noted, are the words of the Council members, indicating that in fact they understand perfectly well that violence is involved.
That the complainant is a supporter of gays and lesbians is not thought sufficient to give him status, either in terms of public interest or in his own personal right. Yet at the same time the Council members imply that the complainant does not come before them with clean hands and they describe him as a person who promotes abnormal or immoral acts in society. If this is the sort of humiliation officially inflicted upon those who seek to change laws by peaceful means, it is little wonder that less long suffering people turn to more aggressive methods.
Underlying all this is the fact that the sentiments expressed here, in the course of an official judgement by a highly responsible body, are symptomatic of the divisiveness our society has encouraged for too long. Very simply, what Sri Lanka needs if it is ever to be a properly functioning nation, is a concept of plurality that accepts differences. We need to accept even those differences we dislike, and allow those with different priorities and interests to pursue them provided they do not oppress or impose on others. When, far from doing this, we demonize and vilify them, we should not be surprised if they choose to opt out. And if, to assert themselves, they start using the violence that we have, obliquely or otherwise, encouraged, we will have only ourselves to blame.
Given all this, we urge the Media Minister to affirm his commitment to a more tolerant and open society by dismissing the current members of the Press Council and reconstituting it in a more socially responsible manner. He himself has been bold in making no hypocritical pretences about his own sexual preferences, as so many other politicians have done. However, given the pronouncements of his Council, we wonder whether this is because he rests assured in the knowledge that there is one law for the powerful and privileged, and another for the deprived, that whereas his acts are merely individualistic, theirs are abnormal or immoral. In this light, what seemed courage before would seem now to be only a callous flaunting of double standards.
And we trust too that he recalls now the disgraceful episode in the last parliament when the then opposition moved a motion concerning the murder of Richard de Zoysa. Mr. Samaraweera as he then was supported the motion which was opposed by a government MP with an argument that suggested that, as Richard de Zoysa was homosexual, he deserved to be murdered. Rape may not seem now to the Minister as serious as murder. But on such a matter of principle it is important that he, and the present government, take a strong stand.
The other Ondaatje
By Nick Ryan
Given his dramatic exploits, the brother of the man who wrote "The English Patient" and "Anils Ghost" could have walked right out of a novel.
May 26, 2000 Christopher Ondaatje was raised in one of Sri Lankas most powerful colonial families. And though his family later fell into poverty, he went on to create a billion-dollar empire in Canada. Along the way Ondaatje, 66, became an Olympic sportsman, then turned his hand to writing and achieved best-seller status as a biographer. He has also carved a reputation as an accomplished explorer, wildlife photographer, philanthropist and international art collector.
"In the early 1970s, I was steeped in the world of North American finance," he says in a precise, clipped voice. "Then I read a book, called The Devil Drives, by Fawn Brody, and it changed my life."
Tall and elegant, the older brother of poet- novelist Michael Ondaatje looks at the pictures on the walls around us as he talks. "The Devil Drives is a biography of Victorian explorer Sir Richard Burton," he says, with a faint colonial twang to his words. "I was hacking my way through the jungles of finance, and I suddenly realized his was the life I would have preferred to have led. For over a quarter of a century, I have been fascinated with Burton. And I was obsessed by his search for the source of the Nile with John Hanning Speke over l 50 years ago, which contributed to his being the best-known traveler of the 19th century.
"l was obsessed, obsessed, by the source of the Nile for over 20 years. It was on my brain 99.9 percent of the time."
Ondaatjes fascination with Burton, Speke and the Nile River has indeed changed his life. It led him to give up his business and embark on a series of perilous journeys into the heart of equatorial Africa to find the true source of that mighty river.
Ondaatje might at first seem an unlikely explorer. In his adopted country of Canada he is a national name, recognized as an extraordinarily successful financier who has given millions to galleries and public institutions. On the international stage, his Sri Lankan art collection is the largest of its kind in the world, and the six books he has written, including the semi autobiographical "The ManEater of Punani," about his rediscovery of his native Sri Lanka, and the recently published "Journey to the Source of the Nile," about following in the footsteps of the famous Victorian explorers in eastern and central Africa, have been bestsellers.
However, in the U.K., where he now lives, he remains something of a mystery. He is the philanthropist behind the annual 10,000-pound (about $14,740) Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture, offered each summer by the Royal Society of Portrait Painters. And he is recognized as a prominent council member of the Royal Geographical Society. Yet despite the apparent generosity of his Ondaatje Foundation to various British causes, his is scarcely a name on everyones lips.
That could soon change. On May 4, Ondaatje was revealed as the man behind the new $23.4 million expansion of the National Portrait Gallery in London. According to director Charles Saumarez Smith, Ondaatjes "incredibly generous" gift of almost $4 million allowed lottery funding to be secured and the project to go ahead. "The NPG has for some time been my favourite gallery in England, if not the world," says Ondaatje. "Its one of the very few galleries in the world that is devoted to portrait painting."
His role as a philanthropist and explorer seems a world away from his beginnings in what was then Ceylon, muses Ondaatje, as we sit and sip strong black coffee in the opulent surroundings of his Sloane Square apartment. "I must have been a strange boy," he recalls. "Tall, slim and angular. Always alone Always thinking."
His father, Mervyn, was a plantation owner part of a prominent line descended from Dutch burghers, who arrived on the island in the 17th century. One ancestor produced the first translation of the Bible into Tamil, and the young Ondaatjes uncle on his mothers side was Ceylons attorney general.
Mervyn emerges as a sort of lovable maverick in "Running in the Family." Michael Ondaatjes fictionalized account of the childrens upbringing. A major in the Ceylon Light Infantry, Mervyn was "a big man with sandy hair and blue eyes, bigger than his own father, and he was incredibly charismatic he could sell anybody anything," remembers the older Ondaatje brother.
Mervyn spoke Sinhalese and Tamil fluently and managed various estates. "Unfortunately, he never got out of the habit of drink. For most of the time I knew him, he was sober, but occasionally he went on a binge." The binges would start as soon as he got up in the morning. "No one could predict what he would do," Ondaatje says. At these times, his father was feared by both the family and the estate workers.
It was at school that he fell in love with cricket, and he vividly recalls the West Indies playing at Taunton in 1951. However, the idyllic days were soon shattered. Just before his last year at Blundells he received a letter from his mother, telling him he would have to leave because the family had lost all their money, as a result of problems after Ceylon gained independence from Britain. "I had had no idea of the familys financial troubles," wrote Ondaatje later. "Like most privileged children, I didnt think about things like that. I had to leave before experiencing the best years of school life. In some ways, the shock of being forced out of my second home was more brutal than that of being away from Ceylon. I left, and on my 17th birthday ended up working in London."
There was one positive point; his mother came to stay in England and the two were reunited. Then, in 1956, instead of taking up a job offer as the assistant manager of a bank back in Colombo, Sri Lankas capital, he "realized the colonial game was up. " "l made a key decision in my life to go west. So I started a financial and banking career in Canada," he says.
His aim, he says, was "to rebuild the familys fortunes." With just $13 in his pocket when he arrived, and surviving for a time on a diet of toast and coffee, he worked his way up through the world of banking before establishing a hugely successful network of companies in the publishing and corporate finance sectors.
In 1970, he helped found Canadas first institutional brokerage, Loewen, Ondaatje, McCutcheon & Co. And Pagurian Press, which he created in l967 with a $3,000 budget, eventually grew into the Pagurian Corp., worth $500 million and controlling assets of $1.2 billion. It was his understanding of "paper," he says enigmatically, that helped him achieve his success.
At the same time, Ondaatje indulged his keen interest in sport, representing Canada in the bobsledding competition at the World Championships in 1960 and at the Olympic Games in 64, when the country won a gold medal. He also wrote and financed the publication of the first of his best-selling books, "The Prime Ministers of Canada: 1867-1967," in 1967. It eventually sold 600,000 copies.
It was during this period that Ondaatje married his Latvian wife, Valda someone who "understood the devils" in him, as he writes in the dedication of "Journey to the Source of the Nile" and brought his younger brother, Michael, to the country.
"When he was 18, I pulled him out to Canada to go to university. He immediately latched onto the literary set," Ondaatje says, "where he set about developing his budding flair for drama and writing." It was a chance for the brothers to reacquaint themselves: "Hes 10 years younger than me and we didnt really have a chance to get to know one another in earlier life. I was in England and he stayed behind with the family in Ceylon."
Are they close now? "Oh, sure!" Ondaatje exclaims. He talks of watching Michaels writing develop and mature, calling his brother a "literary purist in the truest sense of the word."
"So what kind of person is he?" I ask.
"Hes a nice guy," replies Ondaatje, clearing his throat in the warm, constant air of the apartment. "But I think hes more laid-back, more literary than me. The literary world is his all-consuming passion. Hes a poet, really. Hes earned his success; he worked hard for it. I dont think my brother wanted to do anything else [but write]. And despite my success in finance, l felt that way too. I always have. "
As his business life prospered, this feeling intensified. Something was missing the kind of life and adventure he had read about in books about the famous Victorian explorers, particularly Burton (of whom he owns several original Victorian-era paintings). "I wanted to write an adventure story. More than that, I wanted to actually have the experience myself," he says.
He pauses for a moment. "Being kicked out of my house and my family in 1947 forced me to become worldly-wise and to be able to think for myself and make decisions very early on. But making it [in the business world] is a selfish business."
So he sold his business interests in 1988, "fed up with the world of financial and greed, and the uncertainty of the economic clouds. I was worried too that I wouldnt have enough time to do all I wanted with my life. II didnt want to die with financier written on my gravestone." Ondaatje promptly resigned all his directorships and moved back to England to "be close to the Royal Geographical Society and to spend my life on adventure and writing."
In 1947 Mervyn sent Christopher to be schooled in England at Blundells, a public school in Devon. "I didnt see my father ever again," says Ondaatje, turning away, "and next saw my mother when I was l7." During this time, his mother also divorced her husband an "awful time" that Ondaatje says he will never forget.
His first step of liberation was a journey to East Africa in 1988, which led to his book "Leopard in the Afternoon." Then there was the pull of Sri Lanka, which he hadnt visited for nearly 40 years. "It is true that I was sent to England to school and I then decided to go to Canada to rebuild my familys lost fortunes," he says. "But I never got Sri Lanka out of my system. I always wanted to return, but the shame of what had happened to our family prevented me. Eventually I chucked everything and did all the things I should have done years ago, including returning to Sri Lanka to come to terms with the ghost of my father:"
This shame became one of the driving forces in his life and the self-avowed "selfishness" of his business career and it was only in writing "The Man-Eater of Punani" (1992), about the voyage back to the island of his youth and the search for his lost heritage, that he began to come to terms with his past. "Every writer has one book which is their best book. ManEater is mine," says Ondaatje. "It really is an autobiography and a love letter to my father - whom I never saw again. With it, I rediscovered my roots."
This interest in Sri Lanka also manifested itself in Ondaatjes growing art collection. What began as a humble passion has grown into the largest private collection of its kind in the world, stored at his mansion, Glenthorne, in north Devon. It contains maps, manuscripts, etchings, watercolors, paintings, armor, swords, daggers, knives and various objets dart. The finest of all his Sri Lankan antiquities is a replica of Tara, a solid bronze-gilded image of the sakti or female essence of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. (The statue has been held in the British Museum for the past 170 years.)
As if that were not enough, Ondaatje also forged a career as one of the worlds leading experts on the Victorian explorers of the Nile, writing a book about Sir Richard Burtons early life, "Sindh Revisited," and retracing the footsteps of Burton and his contemporaries John Hanning Speke, society darling Samuel Baker and his wife, Florence; Dr. David Livingstone; and Henry Morton Stanley to see if Speke had indeed, as was claimed, found the true source of the Nile at Lake Victoria.
Since Herodotus in the fifth century B.C. and Ptolemy in the second century, men had been trying to find the Niles true source. However, it was Speke who, in 1858, said, from the summit of a hill overlooking what is now Lake Victoria, near the present-day town of Mwanza, Tanzania, "I no longer feel any doubt that the lake at my feet gave birth to that interesting river, the source of which has been the subject of so much speculation and the object of so many explorers."
This declaration was to win him fame and adulation, and in turn launch the fabled "race for Africa" among the colonial powers. "History changed forever," Ondaatje says simply. However, Speke had concealed the true nature of his discovery from Burton, the expedition leader, and hurried to England to present his findings to the Royal Geographical Society despite the fact that the men had agreed to wait for each other before announcing any discoveries.
After a second expedition undertaken with James Augustus Grant, Speke mysteriously died in a shooting accident in 1864, the day before he was to debate the Nile discoveries with a by-now hostile Burton. "Ive no doubt Burton would have ripped him to shreds," says Ondaatje - particularly because on his second journey, Speke had ruminated in his notes that the Kagera River fed Lake Victoria (thus making it a tributary of the Nile), yet failed to present these findings, perhaps fearing it might lessen his glory.
In 1996, Ondaatjes passion for this question and these mens lives led him on a three-and-a-half-month expedition to the Great Rift Valley lakes of eastern and central Africa. The only way he could prove his own theories about the Niles origins was, as Ondaatje puts it, "to go there."
So, with his team of local guides, he followed Burton and Spekes trail, "even into blind alleys, across rivers, through marshes, through fens, bogs, forests, getting lost, places right off the map, [even though] practically all the place names on Burtons map are not the same anymore.
"We had a helluva job to go through this thing," Ondaatje says, "but it was an extraordinary exploration achievement for Burton and Speke. So we went where they went, slept in the same places they slept, kept to the same dry lakes they kept to and so on."
With him, Ondaatje took all the various Victorian explorers journals, so that "we experienced much that they had, whilst reading about their experiences."
Baker had claimed during his journey (after Burton and Spekes) that Lake Albert and Lake Victoria were the sources of the Nile. "And why not?" says Ondaatje. "He was damned near the truth. These are the two mighty reservoirs of the Nile. But they are in turn fed by two rivers, the Kagera and the Semliki. And they drain the Burundi Highlands in the first case, and the Ruwenzori Mountains, the famed Mountains of the Moon, in the second case." Ondaatje had found the Nites true source.
The journey was not without danger, however. Attempting to climb the Mountains of the Moon, his team was stopped by the arrival of 5,000 rebels in the local town. (This was the start of the war by Gen. Laurent Kabila against President Mobutu Sese Sekos regime in what was then Zaire.), "I didnt know what was happening; it was a terrifying moment, and we were unbelievably lucky to get out."
Wading through swamps, marshes and bogs, Ondaatje now recalls, "I had been where no other Victorian explorer had been. Not Burton, not Speke, not Baker, not Livingstone, not Stanley. I knew I had crossed the line. I had in fact earned my own prize. And I am probably the only person ever to have done all their journeys."
Recalling the similar passions of his heroes, Ondaatjes drive and obsession are clear in his voice, the past very much alive in his work. He says that he is now living the life he always wanted to lead. "Ive got adventure, travel; Ive got writing, cricket; and Ive got art. " He speaks fondly, too, of his wife and their three grown children, now living across the world.
"Hes a great friend, an incredibly energetic man," says Charles Saumarez Smith. J. Robert Knox, keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, calls Ondaatje "a complex character. He brims over with talents, facts, ideas and charm. He has an astonishing store of energy, leaving most ordinary people gasping in the wake of his lightning explanations of his theories and his collections. He is an entrepreneur and man of the world with single-minded determination."
For Ondaatje himself, there is just one more ambition: "I want to do one more book, call it the Last Safari, trying to piece all the things Ive done, from my early life to the last 12 years, to try and fit together this urge to achieve the unobtainable and what you have to do to get there, because preparation is everything. You have to cross the line to achieve it.
"The black leopard for me is the symbol, the talisman, the thing that I could never get," he says. "But now, late in my life, Ive seen it and would like to write about it as a symbol of things that I would like to try and do the countries that have made me; spawned me, also the countries that have tended to destroy themselves."
The Eastern province, Tamil claims and 'colonisation'
by Gamini Iriyagolle
In 1658, the year in which Portuguese were completely expelled from the Island, the Kandyan Kingdom still had as its major ports Kalpitiya and Puttalama on the western coast and Trincomalee, Kodiyarama and Batticaloa on the eastern. Each port served a designated territory of the kingdom. Tampalakamam was the port for the Disavani (Province) of Tamankaduwa and was known as Tamanatota and Panama on the south eastern coast was the port for Uva.
In 1766 the Sinhalese lost their littoral in the north west as well as in the north east, east and south to the Dutch and with it all their ports; their kingdom became landlocked. Previously they held only the south western seaboard, the northern Wanni and the peninsula of Jaffnapatnam (now Jaffna).
The Third Article of the Sinhala - Dutch Treaty entered into on 14th February 1766 consequent to the Dutch War provided as follows:
"Moreover, all the sea board round the island not held by the (Dutch East India) Company before the war, is to be given over to the above named.. Company to wit, on the West from Kammalato (the limits of ) the administration of Yapa Pattanama, on the east from the limits of the administration of Yapa Pattanama to the Walagiyaganga1 4; this coast line (italics mine) is given up in manner a distance inland of one Sinhalese gawwa, more or less, in such wise as to admit of (the fixing of) a better line of demarcation with respect to rivers and hill ranges"15
One Sinhala gawwa is about 4 English miles. The Dutch however, confident in the knowledge that the Sinhalese could not fight another war so soon encroached on entire Sinhala districts beyond one gawwa from the coast, especially in the east. They occupied the whole of Wewgam Pattuwa (later Tamilised as Kaddukulam Pattu) of the Nuwarakalaviya Disavani (Province), the sulu disavanis (lesser provinces) of Tambalagama (now Tampalakamam), Kodiyarama , Madakalapuwa (Batticaloa) and Panama (see the Ehelepola Sannasa of 1745 translated and published by Sir Archibald Lawrie in the Gazetteer of the Central Province, pp.200-201 ), the Korala Pattuwa of Tamankaduwa Disavani, the eastern pattuwas of Bintenna and Wellassa Disavanis, and Magam Pattuwa (now part of Hambantota District).
They created two new Dutch districts : Trincomalee comprising Kaddukulam Pattuwa, Tambalagama and Kodiyarama and Batticaloa District comprising Korala Pattuwa, the eastern pattuwas of Bintenna and Wellassa and Panama Pattuwa. The land between the Kumbukkan Oya and the Walaweganga was included in their Matara Disavani and is now part of Hambantota District..
The Dutch possessions, which were all on the coast, capitulated to the British in 1796 and were formally ceded to Britain in 1801 under the Treaty of Amiens. In that year these maritime districts were declared a Crown Colony.
The kingdom of the Sinhalese was now landlocked. It was ceded in its entirety by the Sinhalese to the British on 2nd March 1815 under the Treaty of conditional cession known as the Kandyan Convention.
Before the "cession" of 1766 the Dutch had only a fort in Trincomalee and a fort on Puliyanduwa islet in the Batticaloa lagoon in the east of the island and therefore no territory to constitute any administrative unit in that part of the country. The Eastern Province we know today was created in 1873 by the British. It is constituted by Sinhala coastal territories ceded in 1766 to the Dutch and by territory adjacent thereto on the west ceded by the Sinhalese to the British in 1815 under the Kandyan Convention.
Post independence fiction
There never was any Tamil political right or interest - this is all post independence fiction. The British of all people now urge devolution of political power in the Province to the islands Tamil minority!
It will be thus seen that the entirety of what has been known as the Eastern Province since 1873 was for centuries an integral part of Kandyan Sinhalese territory and passed by cession from the Sinhalese to the imperialist powers.
A report of Hugh Cleghorn the first British Colonial Secretary of the Maritime Provinces submitted in 1799 describes the Dutch administrative and judicial divisions of the littoral after 1766. This report is known as the Cleghorn Minute. This was, however, audaciously cited in 1977 by the Tamil United Liberation Front as describing the territory of an exclusively Tamil state called "Tamil Eelam" which they alleged came into being at the beginning of the 13th century, and the boundaries of which they further alleged were intact till the British disturbed them in 1833.
Cleghorn was ordered to furnish a report on the "Administration of Justice and Revenue in the Dutch Settlements" as at 1796 when they were surrendered by the Dutch to the British. The result was the celebrated Minute.
It is claimed since 1976 by the Tamil political interests that what we know today as the Northern and Eastern Provinces as well as lands further to south of Mannar District as far as, and including Puttalama and Chilaw are the territory of an exclusively Tamil state (some international non governmental organisations such as the Minority Rights Group and the notorious International Alert put within this the lands up to and including Hambantota Town in the Southern Province).
The Cleghorn Minute, an accurate account of Dutch administration after 1766, has been misrepresented with incredible boldness by all the Tamil political groups including the warring LTTE and has been put forward as the basis of Tamil claims to land and of Tamil terrorism of the past two decades. It has been made out by Tamil politicians that Cleghorn described the territory of a 13th century Tamil kingdom.
The corollary to the claim is that settlement of landless Sinhala farmers on state land in the claimed territory (i.e. Northern and Eastern Provinces) in state funded irrigation projects has been an invasion of Tamil lands; the term "colonisation" applied in Sri Lanka by the British to land settlement projects on land gone to forest after decline of the Sinhala hydraulic civilisation (such as those lands described by Governor Ward) has been cynically exploited by the Tamils in its totally different imperialist sense of acquisition and occupation of the lands of a colonial people by the nationals of an imperialist power.
This is dealt with in more detail later. What Cleghorn actually describes are the administrative divisions of the Dutch territory as at 1796 and not a Tamil state.
Administration of territory
The administration of territory in the east and how the Dutch acquired that territory from the Sinhalese consequent to the Treaty of 1766 is described by Cleghorn as follows:
"Trincomale was under a military commandeur, and till the year 1766 had but a very small territory annexed to its government. At that period the Candians ceded to the (Dutch East India ) Company the countries (i.e. districts) of Coetiar, Tamblegamme, and Koutamcolonpattoe (Kaddukulampattu) These three countries were fertile in grain, and moderately populous, but of late years their agriculture has been mostly ruined, partly from the conduct of the chiefs, and partly from the various changes of government which Trincomale has experienced. A Land Raad has also been established at Trincomale.
"Batticaloa, the first possession of the Dutch on the island of Ceylon. Was formerly under Poeliantivve at the mouth of the river. But at the peace in 1766 the Company obtained in sovereignty from the Candians, the eight provinces of Batticaloa. These countries are now governed by civil servant and a Land Raad.
The acquisition of the western half of the Sinhala Disavani of Puttalama is also described: "Calpetty (Kalpitiya) and Putalam were under a civil chief. The island of Calpetty was an ancient possession of the (Dutch East India) Company. The very narrow district of Putalam was ceded to it by the King of Candia (Kandy) at the peace of 1766, together with the territory of Chilow which (now) forms a part of the Dessavene of Colombo.. "
Dutch judicial division
Where did the Tamils discover in this description and in that of a post 1766 Dutch judicial division (see below) the boundaries of a Tamil state Cleghorn had never heard of?
The Dutch thereafter created the two new administrative districts, viz Trincomalee and Batticaloa., referred to by Cleghorn (supra).
Cleghorn thus makes it clear that the entirety of the east and south east was Sinhala territory till 1766. The Minute actually destroys the claim to a Tamil state formulated by the Malayan born S. J. V. Chelvanayagam after the British left in 1948.
It will also be seen that the Cleghorn Minute states the opposite of what Chelvanayakam and his various followers have represented it as saying and proves that the former was a crude and dangerous liar:
Firstly, the Minute has no reference at all to a Tamil state.
Secondly, far from making such a reference, it establishes that Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts were a Sinhala territory till 1766; this is commonplace Sri Lanka history. The Dutch governor Ryckloff van Goens (Snr.) states in his Memoir dated 26th December 1663 that " The country between the river Waluwe and Trinquenemale .. is entirely inhabited by the Kings (i.e. Rajasinghes ) people" and therefore " I have never been able to visit this district
Thirdly, the Dutch judicial division of Jaffnapatnam, was, from 1766 to 1796, according to the Minute, constituted by parts of the pre-1766 Dutch and Sinhala possessions.
Fourthly, the Portuguese did not, at any time in the period of their presence in the Island, acquire or in any way possess any territory in the east of the Island other than a small fort on the hill at Trincomalee built in 1628 by Constantine de Sa de Noronha "to close that harbour to the Chingala" and the tiny islet of Puliyanduwa in Batticaloa lagoon.
These were captured in 1639-40 by the combined forces of the Sinhalese and the Dutch, taken possession of by the Sinhalese and demolished by Rajasinghe II. Subsequently, when Sinhala-Dutch friendship turned to enmity on account of Dutch perfidy, the latter built two forts on the same sites by force.
While ignorant Tamil voters would not know the Cleghorn Minute or any other book or document, the entire well-documented political history of the island is available to educated Tamils and to all foreign commentators such as the International Commission of Jurists.
The acceptance by the ICJ of false claims and their legal effect is therefore manifestly dishonest. All those who read the Tamil claim for statehood would also observe that the territory which is supposed to have been firmly established as a state has no boundaries and the description consists of mention of a number of places on the coast of Sri-Lanka.
After the Dutch took over lands in the east in 1766 they restored and constructed irrigation works close to the coast except in the exclusively Sinhala division of Panama Pattuwa which was under a Kandyan Sinhala Rate Mahatmaya as late as 1875. Lands benefiting by such works belonged to the government and was made available to the Tamil and Muslim inhabitants of the coastal areas. The people who benefited from irrigation development by the Dutch and their alienation of land were not only Tamils and Muslims living close to the coast but also immigrants from south India.
They also developed Trincomalee town for the benefit of their naval establishment and brought in Tamil settlers from Jaffna to populate settlement. More than half the population of a sparsely populated district was soon made up by such settlers .
Most of the Muslims in these coastal areas in the east were (and still are ) descendants of refugees who had been settled there in 1626 by the Sinhalese King Senerat of Kandy, when they were expelled by the Portuguese from the south west littoral. " The Candiot received many of them into his ports.. and in Batecalou alone the Idolatrous King placed a garrison of 4000 of them. ( de Queroz, Vol II, p.745 ).
In the eastern dry zone the Sinhalese of the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa were not only neglected by the new masters but immigration there to and colonisation thereof by Tamils and Muslims encouraged..
Exclusively Sinhala areas
The British substantially retained the Dutch district of Trincomalee but added a large area of the Wellassa and Bintenna of the Kandyan Kingdom to the Batticaloa district which they demarcated as part of the Eastern Province which they constituted in 1833 and reconstituted in 1873. Extensive areas claimed since 1949 as exclusively Tamil lands are actually exclusively Sinhala areas taken over by the Dutch in 1766 and by the British under the Kandyan Convention of 1815.
In the 19th century the British themselves restored or constructed irrigation works in the eastern littoral for the benefit of the coastal population of Muslims and Tamils, of immigrants from Jaffna and South India, and allowed the Sinhala areas of the interior to go to ruin in terms of policies adopted to suppress the Sinhalese after the Great Rebellion of 1817-18. After the construction of these irrigation works the British allocated government land benefited by those works to Muslim and Tamil colonists.
(To be continued)
The succession in Syria
by Dr. Stanley Kalpage
Hafez Al-Assad, a peasants son, governed Syria for thirty years since he seized power in 1970. Having risen through the ranks of the Air Force and the Socialist Baath party while being a young officer in the Syrian Air Force he carried out a successful coup. Assad died of heart failure on Sunday 11 June at the age of 69.
Assad ruled Syria with a combination of terror and corruption. He showed his ruthlessness in the town of Hama, a former stronghold of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which in 1982, was inciting mass uprisings against him. In response, Assad sent his army in and at least 10,000 people were massacred.
Bashar Assad assumes presidency
So far the succession in Syria has been smooth. Backed by the main political structures of his fathers long rule and without public dissent, Bashar Assad, the former presidents 34-year old son, has quickly consolidated power acting as the de facto head of state and dominating public life since President Hafez Al-Assads death.
Bashar Assad was not in direct line to succeed his father. The leadership post was meant for his elder brother who died in a car accident in 1994. Bashar is therefore less inbued with his fathers politics and can possibly be more concerned with economic realities. People hope that he will be to Syria what King Juan Carlos has been to Spain, which was converted into a free market economy from the fascist dictatorship it was under Francisco Franco.
But Bashar Assad cannot forget that his succession means the continued rule of the minority Alawite group over the majority Sunni Muslims who consider the Alawites as heretics. The Alawite group constitutes only 11 percent of Syrias population of 17 million in which Christians are 10 percent and there is a small Jewish community.
Assad was a genius at playing off enemies and potential enemies against each other. His balance of terror politics was meant to keep all potential opponents off balance and to build complex alliances among the military, the secret police and the secular Baath party. He also had to keep his neighbour and rival Saddam Hussein at bay.
Most Syrians have expressed the hope that Bashars succession would mean "change with continuity" implying that in addition to political stability there would eventually also be economic reform. On 25 June the Syrian parliament nominated Bashar for the presidency and a referendum is scheduled to confirm his appointment. Meanwhile the ruling Baath party has met for the first time in 15 years and chosen Bashar as its leader.
Pretenders to the throne
The real public challenge to Bashar Assads authority has come from Rifaat Assad, the late presidents younger brother, who lives in exile in Marbella, Spain having been sacked as vice-president in 1998. Rifaat, a charismatic strongman with some internal support, believes he is the rightful heir to power.
In a television interview he has accused the Syrian leadership of violating the constitution and promised a new "correctional movement" that would bring democracy to Syria. But Rifaat, who fell out with his brother long ago would find it difficult to even enter Syria without being arrested.
There are others with ambition. For example, Bashers powerful sister and her husband, Assif Shawkat, an officer in the military intelligence.
Syria today faces momentous challenges - war or peace with Israel, economic stagnation and internal instability after the death of a powerful autocrat. It will take Dr. Bashar, as he is known in Syria, more than just a famous surname to succeed.
For Bashar, Syrias determination to win back the Golan will have to give way to other concerns in the immediate future. The priority for the young and politically inexperienced Bashar will be to consolidate his power base within the civilian and military establishments.
He will also want to make sure that his purge of the corrupt members of the old guard is completed and then acquaint himself with the economic and social problems, which beset his country. Only then will be able to turn his attention to matters of foreign policy - and in particular to the Middle East peace process. Syrians are hoping that the new succession will see change through continuity.
Peace with Israel
Hafez Al-Assad had always insisted on the return of the whole of the Golan Heights that Israel had annexed in 1967. Talks with Ehud Barak failed when the Israelis were not willing to concede this, as it would give Syria access to the vital water resources in the Sea of Galilee. Syrian foreign minister Farouq Al-Shara has reiterated Syrias willingness to reopen talks with Israel at any time but on the basis that the borders prior to 1967 would be fully restored.
Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon earlier this year and removed the excuse that Hafez Al-Assad had for harassing Israel through the Hisbollah operating from the northern Syrian oocupied parts of Lebanon. Syria has not been in a hurry to make peace with the Israelis until they agree to return every inch of land in the Golan Heights.
Fathers and sons
King Abdullah II (38) of Jordan who succeeded his father King Hussein in February 1999 and President Bashar Assad (34), reportedly good friends, are supposed to have a much in common. Both are scions of long-ruling fathers, both the foreign-educated, English-speaking political neophytes. Neither grew up expecting to lead the country. But the similarities end there.
Abdullah came to power after a stint in the Jordanian army where he built up a rapport with his fellow officers. Bashar on the other hand was propelled into power so suddenly that he was not able to build a support base in the army or elsewhere. During the six years after he recalled from medical studies in London, he exercised power mostly in his fathers shadow. In any event, Syrian politics was in turmoil before Assads death, unlike in Jordan.
Again, Abdullah never had any opposition from his own family. King Hussein had made it clear to Queen Noor that his chosen successor was Abdullah. Bashar faces opposition from his uncle Rifaat now in exile in Spain and from an ambitious sister and her husband, Assif Shawkat.
Jordanians are comfortable with the ruling Hashemite family, who are a regal family with a long history of ruling the Muslim holy places in Mecca and Medina now in modern-day Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, the Assads have been defenders of the Alawite religious minority dispensing favours to their kinsmen for decades to win their loyalty. The idea of an Alawite dynasty makes Syrians rather uncomfortable.
Abdullahs father was a popular monarch who consulted even those who opposed him. Bashars father was secretive and ruthless. He played his cards close to his chest. He trusted no one and even high-ranking officials did not know what Syrias policies were or how they were made. In international relations King Hussein had placed his country firmly in the western camp and Jordan had an honoured place in the councils of the world. Assad, on the other hand, could not overcome the loss of his patron the Soviet Union and left Syria with no powerful allies and with no strategic importance.
Drift to dynasties in Arab countries
Although Syria is a socialist republic, power has passed from president Ashad to his son Bashar. This mode of succession seems to be commonplace in the Arab world. Of the 21 Arab countries 13 are republics but some of their rulers are adopting the practices of those they cast aside in the 1960s and 1970s. In these Arab countries democracy is usually weak, free speech is suppressed and parliaments where they exist are merely rubber stamps. Syrias succession is an undemocratic one and other Arab countries seem to be following the same route.
Egypts President Hosni Mubarak has never appointed anyone to the position of vice president, a post he himself held before his elevation to the presidency. Recently he has made his younger son Gamal a member of the secretariat of his ruling National Democratic Party.
In Iraq President Saddam Hussein had given important positions to his two sons apparently grooming one or both of them for leadership. It might be that the two sons will compete for the leadership if anything happens to their 63-year old father.
The younger of Muammar Gaddafis two sons Al-Saadi Seif has lucrative links to the oil industry and has been tipped to inherit power.
Yemini President Ahmed Ali Abdullah Salehs son, Ahmed, is an army colonel and has been a member of parliament since 1997. He is a strong contender to succeed his father.
Power in Jordan, Morocco, Bahrein, Quatar and Oman power has recently passed from father to son. In Jordan, Morocco and Bahrein the transition was peaceful and had the earlier blessings of their parents. In Quatar and Oman the sons seized power through palace coups.
In Saudi Arabia power has passed from one to another of five sons of the founder Ibn Saud. Over the past few years power has moved gradually from the fifth son King Fahd to Crown Prince Abdullah, who is himself in his 70s. King Ibn Fahd is reported to have more than 70 children most of them rather old.
Even though Arab countries have opted for dynastic rather than western democratic succession, the young mostly western educated men of the high tech era may well guide their respective peoples into the kind of international relations which will move away from the inward-looking policies their fathers adopted.
Our Foggy Bottom hits the pits?
by K. Godage
Some years ago the Sri Lanka Foreign Service Officers Association applied to join the Organization of Professional Associations, but the application was turned down as the foreign service officers did not hold a so called professional qualification. It was nevertheless conceded that a diplomat who practiced his (or her) profession was in many respects, a professional.
When they were referring to a diplomat, they were thinking in terms of the Foreign Service officers of the UK, the US, France and other such countries including India and Pakistan of course. They conceded that a diplomat was generally (foreign ministers are also referred to as diplomats) a Foreign Service Officer who had in the first instance received a training in the art of diplomacy and was versed in the art of managing relations with other states, and someone capable of directing and influencing these relations for his countrys maximum advantage.
A diplomat today also requires the attributes of a businessman, and of an administrator. His principal weapon is knowledge - a knowledge of his country, its geography, its culture, its political, economic and social structure, a good knowledge and understanding of international politics and with it the ability to see how world events affect the interests of his country. The diplomat must be well versed in the methods of international intercourse - if you know what I mean. He must also be politically aware and personally acceptable, he or she must have an intellectual bent and should be versatile.
This background is essential if he (or she) is to be able to absorb the skills necessary to practice diplomacy, which are the ability to negotiate, to observe, analyze and report on political situations in foreign countries and how such situations would affect us. He should have the ability to communicate and above all, the competence to represent the country adequately.
Now why have I set out who or what a diplomat needs to be? It is only to make the point that the Sri Lanka Foreign Service has over the years been completely devalued through wrong recruitment. This process which began at a trot before the UNP came into office in 1977, went into a canter during the UNP period. But there was a small difference.
Let me make the point by referring to a speech attributed to the President herself in the Sunday Leader newspaper shortly after the last SAARC Summit. She blamed what she perceived as mistakes, and breaches of protocol and other logistical disasters on the Foreign Service. She was reported to have said that the FS was full of certain undesirable types who had come into the service through the backdoor.
The President was wrong in one respect, there were indeed undesirable types who were given a free ride at the expense of the tax payer, but all of them were on contract. Minister Hameed did promote many clerical officers to the Foreign Service for services rendered to him. Some of them have blossomed out well in the service. What appears to have happened under this government is that the Foreign Service has moved away from becoming a professional service.
What appears to have happened under this government (ably supported by at least one very bureaucratic foreign secretary of the past who never understood the substance of Foreign Affairs but was rewarded by this government for services rendered by being put on a slow boat to somewhere) is that the Foreign Service has moved away from becoming a professional service.
Whilst there has always been a quota for promoted officer - which permitted the entry of quite a number of able, experienced men, some of whom were an asset to the service, the quota has apparently been substantially increased to accommodate friends for services rendered. As to whether this is a good thing and whether it is in the interest of building a professional service is a matter which needs to be examined.
Considering the demands of the service and the type of person required, an element of caution should be exercised when recruitment is done to ensure that the persons promoted have the right aptitude and mentality and are suited for the task at hand. Any other consideration would defeat the purpose. Some of the officers should have been promoted in the Administrative Service or appointed to a new Consular Service or to a Consular Division of the Foreign Service.
The Foreign Service, must be built into a thoroughly professional service, if the country is to manage its foreign relations in an acceptable or desirable manner. As is the situation in certain developed countries, the service could best be protected by an Act of Parliament.
Despite the fact that there has been very little interference with direct recruitment into the service, after this government came into office, it is said that there are many whose attitude/mentality, does not fit the requirements of the service.
Further the training by the Bandaranaike Diplomatic Training Institute must be continuous - they should conduct distance education courses for officers at all levels, to ensure that the highest possible professional standards are maintained.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also said to have a serious shortage of senior experienced officers at the top. Whilst this has been partly due to the fact that there has been no planned recruitment over the years, (this goes back to old SLFP times) the situation has been compounded by the government not changing the age of retirement in terms of its needs. The government has also not taken into account the fact that life expectancy in this country is almost 70 today. The age of compulsory retirement should be increased to 65 and the optional age raised to 60, as is the practice in the West, where they get the best out of their manpower.
We have very limited trained manpower but we retire officers at 60 and pay them 90% of their previous salary as pension (I would consider this 90% as the balance that was my worth whilst I served). However that may be, this government does not have a consistent policy on this issue - they retired two senior FS officers on the day they turned sixty and replaced one of them with a man from the Administrative Service, with absolutely no knowledge of foreign affairs (and to a very important country) - who had himself retired at 60!
In the case of the other man who retired at 60 in November of last year - he has been re-hired on contract and spends his time (not as an executive) in the Ministry in Colombo. He could very well have remained on contract at his previous station and completed his term. The vacancy has yet not been filled though eight months have now elapsed - brilliant management of our foreign affairs!
On the subject of representing the country, there is most unfortunately a misunderstanding about the work of a head of mission. Almost all non-career heads of mission and quite a few career officers too, consider it to be a desk job. This is the furthest from the truth. The pith and essence of diplomacy is that it is a field job where you must reach out to people especially the policy and opinion makers of the country you are accredited to.
I recall how President Premadasa, merely because he could not contact a particular ambassador when he wanted to, gated everyone by having a circular issued to the effect that no head of mission should travel out of the capital city without his permission. The senior officials of the FO did not have the spine to advice the President that this would act as a constraint to the performance of ones legitimate duties. Two years after the circular was issued and when it was explained to the President that his order had created a problem, his reaction was, "Why was I not told!
Today many of our heads of mission merely warm their seats. In one instance diplomatic officers in an important mission are not even allowed to attend meetings without the express approval of the head of mission. The stupid man has virtually crippled the mission. The government should require heads of missions to submit quarterly performance reports and indicate the lines on which such reports should be submitted. There was an assessment scheme proposed in 1995 but that seems to have died a natural death.
Another consequence of ambassadors being desk-bound is that the all important lobbying, that has become necessary because of the LTTE problem, has been left to the expatriate community. Whilst the assistance of the expat community has proved invaluable, their agenda is, at times, at variance with that of the government and this could and has, created problems.
In recent years this government has appointed the wrong persons to the wrong places and for the wrong reasons as heads of missions. No doubt they do have a problem but they have compounded the problem by making and continuing to make appointments which are not only bad but are not in the interest of the country. This writer will desist from naming them, as those who are to be blamed are the persons who appointed them - and not those who were appointed.
Some of these heads of missions are all at sea they may have had short briefings but that is wholly inadequate to represent the interests of the country or discharge, what are in fact, professional duties. These amateurs do not even have a Manual of Instructions to help them with their work. In one instance the new head of mission has sidelined the two Foreign Service officers attached to his mission and is taking advice from his clerical assistant! Hilarious situations have ensued.
The staff problems in the ministry also appears to have turned ugly recently with the apparent promotion of an Administrative Service officer to the rank of an Additional Foreign Secretary! The charge was that this has been surreptitiously done and the career service officers deceived in the process. This does indeed seem a most unfortunate situation, for when a certain official from outside the service was appointed to a high post in the ministry, the servicemen had welcomed the appointment. They claim to have extended the fullest co-operation, though the servicemen were not themselves considered (two SLFS men are said to have made a hash of it) for the appointment.
On the substantive side too there appears to be a very special problem. Our heads of missions, it is said, do not have access beyond the lowest level in foreign chanceries. As opposed to this, foreign ambassadors stationed in Colombo have access right to the top - not only to the ministers but also to the president herself. This means that the foreign government does not have to relate to our representative in whatever country on any matter so why should they waste their time with the Sri Lanka Ambassador? Invariably he (or she) would also know far less than the foreign office in the country he or she is accredited to on matters relating to Sri Lanka!
A foreign ministry is the HUB, the control centre or the principal operations base which is responsible for the implementation of the foreign policy of a country and the management of external relations. The ministry of foreign affairs must also act as the cordinating ministry of the government. Its staffing is therefore of the highest importance. The most competent of staff should be at headquarters but in our case it is perhaps our weakest link in the chain.
There are periods when competent men are in charge but this happens only for very short periods. Even this weak situation (which impedes the work of foreign missions in Colombo) has been rendered hopeless by the transfer of all three Directors General of the ministry (three able officers) out to man missions. I am not criticizing but only setting out a problem and highlighting the need for imaginative management.
The picture that emerges is not a comforting one. The situation in the ministry is not what it should be; the career service feels left out and those who are at our outposts are unable to reach out effectively to the governments they are accredited to because the government at home is dealing directly with foreign governments, through their missions here; our missions are invariably left to wallow in the politics of the local Sri Lanka expat community.
Last but not least, our missions are in a mess because of bad appointments to them. What hope is there for our countrys foreign relations?
The ministry no doubt has an unenviable task on its hands. This fact is conceded but that is no excuse. This article is written in the hope that it would provoke new thinking. There is no doubt that the ministry as is presently constituted cannot serve Sri Lankas needs in the 21st century. The challenges we face today are so completely different from those that governments of Lanka faced in the years after independence. New policies and skills are needed to meet the emerging local and international challenges.
Sri Lanka has to rethink its foreign and security policy. It has also to aspire to being a major trading and service centre to have any influence even in the region leave alone the world. From the export of primary products we moved to the export of garments the only industry we have of any consequence and now we need to move on to sustain a population of at least 20 million a mere 20 years from now.
Let us hope the government will have the courage and the vision to restructure its foreign policy establishment to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.
Tales of a lifetime
by Gerald Cooray
When I was eleven, I decided to become a fast bowler. The decision was, I think, largely influenced by watching Hildon Poulier, the fast bowler in the Royal College team, whose performances on the cricket field impressed me greatly. Initially I even adopted the same bowling action and decided on a long run like him.
I well remember my school pals teasing me by saying: "when Gerald bowls, he starts his run from just inside the boundary line!"
It was only after I left school that I began to make an impression on the cricket field. During this period from 1935, before I left for England in 1945 for postgraduate studies, I played both for the Sinhalese Sports Club and the University of Ceylon.
Once when I was not chosen to play for the University, I turned out for the SSC against them. The University was beaten by an innings, largely due to my bowling performance. After taking four wickets in the first innings, I took 7 wickets for 31 in the second innings and bowled out my University colleagues very cheaply.
Sometime later, I was on the University side against the SSC. I remember this match clearly because of a memorable incident. I opened the University innings with M. N. Jilla. We were close friends and I cant think of a more caring person than Jilla as will be obvious when I relate what follows.
We were batting well and a good opening partnership was developing when suddenly I was run out. I returned to the pavilion and before I could remove my pads, Jilla joined me. Upset over running me out as he imagined, (he took the blame on himself), he lost concentration and was bowled.
I never scored a century. The closest I got was 92 when I turned out for the SSC against the Malay Cricket Club. Under the mistaken assumption I was 94, I tried to hit a six and reach a century. I directed my shot, unfortunately, without sufficient power in the direction of long on. There was no fieldsman there at the time. Sadly for me, one fieldsman in mid-field chased the ball and brought off a brilliant running catch on the end of the boundary.
Next week, turning out for SSC against the Notts Cricket club, I saved the SSC from a collapse when the top order including the all Ceylon cricketers F. C. de Saram, S. S. Jayawickrema and L. D. S. Gunasekera were dismissed cheaply.
I scored 41 and was undefeated when the innings ended. However, the runs we scored were sufficient to gain a narrow victory over our opponents.
On just one occasion, I performed the hat trick when playing for the SSC against Ananda College. Actually, when I performed the hat trick I was not aware I had done so until my team mates came up and congratulated me. I had taken two wickets in the last two balls of an over and when I took a wicket with the first ball of the next over, I hadnt realised I had performed the hat-trick.
It was in Cambridge when captaining the Selwyn College Cricket eleven in 1946 in my first year at the College, that I enjoyed most success. I opened the batting with David Bartlett and the bowling with Harold Booth. I headed the averages in both batting and bowling. My batting average was in excess of 40. My highest score was 87 not out against Kings College.
I had a very happy relationship with the team I captained. Especially with Harold Booth, who was Vice Captain, David Bartlett whose parents invited me to spend my vacations with them, Ted Marley who stood down and had me appointed Captain in his place but was always at hand with his friendship and counsel, Bernard Davies, a very useful change bowler and middle order batsman who was a very useful member of the selection committee.
After 50 years I am still in touch with Harold Booth and David Bartlett. I was also in touch with Ted Marley who became a doctor and later Professor of Medicine until his untimely death a few years ago. Bernard Davies began as a schoolmaster and subsequently became a headmaster.
On two occasions, when playing in first class cricket, in the absence of D. S. Jayasundera, the all Ceylon player who usually opened the bowling, I took his place.
On the first occasion, it was against the Colombo Cricket Club, whose membership was confined to only Europeans. It was only after independence that Ceylonese were welcomed. The CCC were at full strength, whereas we were without D. S. Jayasundera and some of our best batsmen such as S. S. Jayawickrema and L. D. S. Gunasekera.
The CCC opened with W. T. Brindley and C. Clover Brown, who usually opened for all Ceylon as well as in representative matches. F. C. de Saram who captained us, handed the new ball to me. Much as I would like to record success here, I have to state that all I did in this match was to prevent Brindley and Clover Brown hitting any boundaries of me in my opening spell.
The CCC amassed a huge total and sent us in. However, due to a magnificent unbeaten century by F. C. de Saram, we managed to draw the match.
On the second occasion, I was more successful. This was at Radella in the hill country. Here our opponents were Europeans. Once again, in the absence of Jayasundera, I opened the bowling after we had batted first. In the first over, I clean bowled Toshack. In the next few overs, F. C. de Saram took three catches in the slips off my bowling. My final tally was five wickets. We won quite easily.
The Radella Cricket ground in those days (this was in the early 1940s) was a picturesque ground. Way down below was a stream. It was the ambition of most cricketers to hit a six into this stream. But no one ever did. Except for D. L. (Dougie) de Saram, one of the greatest, if not the greatest Ceylon cricketer of yester year. Dougie achieved this feat not once, but five times. The story about this incident is now a legend.
In one match, he hit five successive sixes into the stream. In each instance, the cricket ball could not be retrieved. After he had hit five successive sixes into the stream, five cricket balls had been lost. Before the sixth ball was bowled, the captain appealed to Dougie and said "this is the only ball we have left. If you hit this ball into the stream, the match will have to be abandoned. So please hit a four with the next delivery".
Dougie reluctantly consented and hit a four off the sixth ball giving him 34 runs in one over. Had he been permitted to hit another six and score 36 runs in one over, he would have set up an all time world record. Because several years later, Gary Sobers equalled this record playing in English County cricket. But with a difference, he was under no obligation, unlike Dougie, to hit a four instead of a Six off the last ball.
While we are on the subject of records, I would like to conclude with a record which has been set up quite recently in Melbourne by a little bloke. He is my grandson, Charith, aged nine.
Playing in a school match recently, he took four wickets in succession, including the hat trick.
He did much better the next day, playing for the under 12 team of the Moorabbin cricket club. At nine, he was the youngest member of the side. In the first innings he took four wickets for three runs and in the second innings he took seven wickets for five, including the hat trick for the second time in succession. This gave him a match analysis of 11 wickets for 8 runs.
In recognition of his feat, the Moorabbin cricket club at their Awards Night, presented him with a trophy containing the cricket ball, with which he took the hat trick. He also topped the teams bowling averages for the season.
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