SRI LANKA’S CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE ACT: AN AMENDMENT THAT DEFEATS ITS ENTIRE PURPOSE

SRI LANKA’S CODE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE ACT: AN AMENDMENT THAT DEFEATS ITS ENTIRE PURPOSE

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Sri Lanka BriefBY Kishali Pinto Jayawaradena.-25/09/2016
It is unfortunate that a Bill purporting to amend Sri Lanka’s Code of Criminal Procedure Act made public this week takes away existing rights to suspects detained by the police through constitutional precedents.
Torture is at the early stages

This is in relation to a suspect’s right to consult a lawyer of his or her choice at the earliest point after arrest. The amendment purports to give that right only after a suspect has been interrogated by the police and statements recorded. This is manifestly unacceptable at several levels.
For years, the demand by advocates had been to liberally interpret Article 13(3) of the Constitution which states that “‘any person charged with an offence shall be entitled to be heard, in person or by an attorney-at-law, at a fair trial by a competent court.” As criminal law practitioners are aware, long before glamorous notions of constitutional rights gripped our collective imagination, these same rights had been secured in a solid body of jurisprudence which was developed quietly and without much fanfare by Sri Lanka’s appellate court judges in relation to accepted criminal procedures.
Much of these safeguards were however displaced by national security laws to the point of negation. One noticeable absence concerned the failure of the criminal procedure law and constitutional provisions securing the prompt right of legal counsel to a suspect.For practical reasons, this right became of the utmost importance as endemic practices of torture by the law enforcement machinery became evident, whether in relation to petty crimes or in interrogating suspects in graver offences. As studies have extensively documented, torture takes place at the very early stages that a person is taken into a police station.
State policy needs to be clear
Non-access to a lawyer has been a pivotal step in this perverted chain of custodial torture. The Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Manfred Novak has rightly observed that this failure deprives Sri Lanka’s Criminal Procedure Act of basic safeguards preventing torture (see Mission to Sri Lanka 1-8th October 2007 (A/HRC/7/3/Add.6, 26 February 2008, at para. 36).
Indeed, if the wish of the Prime Minister is to give effect to the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) as frequently declared on the floor of the Parliament and elsewhere, there can be no better way to do this than to revise this amendment so as to allow access to legal counsel at the very first point of arrest. Issuing a General Comment under the ICCPR, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has stressed that the right to communicate with counsel requires that the accused is granted prompt access to counsel. Counsel should be able to meet their clients in private and to communicate with the accused in conditions that fully respect the confidentiality of their communications (General Comment No. 32, Article 14: Right to equality before courts and tribunals and to a fair trial, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/GC/32 (2007). It has also reiterated this same point in several Communications of Views against State parties.
The proposed amendment therefore defeats the entire purpose of changing the law in the first place. As the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka warned in an excellent statement released on Friday, such an amendment will gravely impact on the right to a fair trial which commences at the time of investigation.
Unacceptable excuses cannot be tolerated

In their earlier avatars, senior state lawyers of the Department of the Attorney General, (now yahapalanaya crusaders), defended the failure to give the right of access to legal counsel to a suspect at the earliest point on some novel arguments. Thus for example, in a 2002 report to the Committee against Torture submitted in terms of Sri Lanka’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, it was stated that this was because police investigators should be able to conduct the initial investigation and interview suspects in an unhindered manner. Therefore, (as was said), such interview, by counsel representing suspects should not take place prior to the recording of the statement of the suspect.
Imaginatively it was further proclaimed that the suspect is free to divulge any assault or harassment at the time of initial production before the magistrate. It was also affirmed that counsel/attorney-at-law representing arrested suspects have the right to interview the officer-in-charge (OICs) of the relevant police station any time after the arrest (even prior to the recording of the first statement of the suspect) with a view to ascertain the basis of allegations against his client (suspect) and the date, time and location relating to the production of the suspect before a magistrate.
These explanations however are fundamentally unconvincing. They must not be allowed to stand if these are the same reasons as to why this particular amendment has been framed in such completely unacceptable terms. The stark reality is that when lawyers do indeed, proceed to interviewing the OIC or any relevant senior officer, he or she is open to the real risk of being chased out of the police station. This was indeed what happened to one gentleman at the Bambalapitiya police station in consequence of which the Supreme Court detailed the right of a lawyer to represent a client at a police station and directed the OIC to facilitate such access without hindrance.
Reconsider the ill-wisdom of this amendment

Where law reform is concerned, the right of a suspect to counsel after arrest has been grudgingly conceded in some cases but here too, this is not afforded at the earliest point. Thus special provisions amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, which were operative for specified periods of time, afforded a suspect the opportunity to consult an attorney-at-law of his choice to suspects. But this was only in relation to a particular category of serious offences and not pronounced as a general principle. This reluctance needs to be overcome.
If this Government wishes to live up to its promise that Sri Lanka is not a police state any longer, it is imperative that the basic right to independent legal representation must be available as of rights to suspects at the earliest point after arrest.
It is hoped that the profound ill-wisdom of bringing this amendment in its current form will be reconsidered.
– Courtesy The Sunday Times
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Ezhuka Thamil: A Skewed Vision Of Self-Determination

Ezhuka Thamil: A Skewed Vision Of Self-Determination

Colombo TelegraphBy Mahendran Thiruvarangan –September 25, 2016

Mahendran Thiruvarangan

When I was doing field research recently in Musali South, a Muslim majority DS division in Mannar district in the Northern Province, an elderly Muslim man posed to me a couple of questions that indicated to me why one should be wary of Tamil nationalist politics even if it represents the aspirations of an oppressed community: “The government of Sri Lanka has banned us from using the forest resources in our village from which we have been benefitted over a long period of time. The land and the trees behind my house have been declared as belonging to a protected forest by the the forest authorities. Even to make a handle for the hoe that we use at home we now have to search for a tree that is not declared protected. A new Buddha statute has also sprung up in our village. We are also citizens of the Northern Province. But, why doesn’t your Chief Minister raise our problems? We cannot clap with one hand, right? Why can’t we all work together to solve our problems?”
When I first heard of the Ezhuka Thamil (Arise Tamil) processions and rally, an unmistakably Tamil-centric political event as the name itself reveals, I could not help but remember this political critique grounded in the everyday life of a Muslim man from a border village in the North who articulated it in a language so plain and devoid of jargon. Though some might say that Muslims consider themselves as a distinct political group or a nation or that Minister Rishad Bathiudeen is there to help the Muslims in the North, I refuse to buy these alibis which will never help us explore avenues for bettering Tamil-Muslim relations at the grassroots or forging, eventually, a common territorial movement of resistance as communities under oppression or communities that share the land, waterways and the environment in the region. As members of the Tamil community which constitutes 93% of the total population in the Northern Province, it is our responsibility to take the questions posed by this elderly Muslim man seriously and scrutinize our politics of resistance revolving around Tamil nationalism in all earnestness.
self-determination-tamilAs my conversation with the Muslim man from Musali South indicates, deep-rooted structural problems like Buddhisization, militarization and land grab confront all the minority communities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. To frame these issues through the lens of a narrow Tamil nationalism, as was done at the ‘Ezhuka Thamil’ rally, is misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Such attempts would never promote the much-needed goodwill and understanding among the minority communities but further their isolation from one another.
Yesterday’s Ezhuka Thamil rally, where a large number of Tamils from across the Northern and Eastern Provinces gathered to articulate their political aspirations and channel their grievances to the South and the concerned international actors, seemed to me to be an event that sadly revealed the majoritarian sentiments of an oppressed minority. It did very little to bring out the multiple ways in which state oppression is experienced by multiple minority communities in the country or in the North-East.
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Techno City is the first step in the right direction but there is much more to be done to attain the final goal

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Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe signs on the digital drawing of the Techno City during its launch yesterday while Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka and Science, Technology and Research Minister Susil Premajayantha look on – Pic by Lasantha Kumara 
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University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ) researchers are exploring collaboration with Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the UK’s Northumbria University Prof. Jon Reast. From left: Dean Graduate Studies Prof. Hemanthi Ranasinghe, Northumbria University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof. Jon Reast, USJ Vice Chancellor Prof. Sampath Amaratunge, Observer W.A Wijewardena, Research Council Co-Chair and Director Prof. Pathmalal Manage and Research Council Co-Chair

Dr. Pradeepa Jayawardane-Monday, 26 September 2016

Techno City is a welcome development

logoThe Government has laid the foundation for setting up a ‘Techno City’ in Pitipana, Homagama in Sri Lanka with a planned investment of Rs. 19.3 billion or about $ 130 million over the years (available at: http://www.ft.lk/article/569426/Govt–aims-for-hi-tech-with–Techno-City-).

This is a part of the Technopolis to be set up in the land area from Malabe to Pitipana under the Government’s Megapolis project that aims at elevating the Western Province of the country to the status of wealth creator for the nation.

untitled-3untitled-4Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, speaking at the foundation laying ceremony, has said that it is the wish of the Government to develop the Techno City as an innovation centre making available the inventions to be made at the Techno City to entrepreneurs for commercial production, a process known as ‘innovation’. He has also remarked that if Sri Lanka could get back Sri Lankan scientists working in the US, the country could make a true quantum leap in developing its scientific and technological invention base.

According to media reports, five institutions are to locate their research centres at the Techno City initially. They are the National Science Centre, the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies and the Universities of Moratuwa, Sri Jayewardenepura and Colombo. Of them the University of Sri Jayewardenepura has got the lion’s share of Rs. 7.5 billion or $ 50 million as a start-up technology based university in the country.

Past attempts have just been wish lists without concrete plans

This writer has been drawing, in this series of articles, the attention of policymakers to the need for developing the country’s science and technology base, if the country desires to push itself up from its current lower middle income country position to higher middle income country position in the initial stage and then to rich country position as the final goal. Having examined the strategy adopted by the previous Government in this regard, this writer noted in 2013 that it was a mere wish list without any concrete plan to attain the objective (available at: http://www.ft.lk/article/228844/Becoming-a-technologically-advanced-nation).

There was a proposal by the previous Government to set up several university townships, but there was no allocation of funds or development of a concrete roadmap to make it a reality. The only worthwhile attainment in this regard by the previous Government was the establishment of the Nanotechnological Institute at Pitipana with private sector participation.

Sri Lanka can learn from South Korea

In a subsequent article in 2014 on the strategies followed by South Korea in converting that backward economy in the 1960s to a world-class scientific and technological powerhouse within a few decades, this writer emphasised that the Government should concentrate on a few selected areas for development drawing lessons from President Park, who had remarked that “if we try to attain everything, we wouldn’t attain anything”, (available at: http://www.ft.lk/article/285478/Korean-growth-experience-and-its-relevance-to-Sri-Lanka-today).

South Korea had connected its infrastructure projects to industry, taken action to develop world-class research institutions and set up a large number of vocational training schools to keep on supplying technicians needed by a new economy continuously. Without such a plan, the industry would be starved of the needed skilled workers to keep the industry going. Hence, Sri Lanka should pay attention to developing vocational and technical education in order to supply the needed skilled workers to a growing industrial economy; the alternative would be to import them from abroad with underlying social, political and economic issues at its front yard.

Sri Lanka should now get on to the ‘missed global technology-bus’

A general observation made in these articles is that Sri Lanka has already missed the ‘global technology-bus’ by being a passive spectator of the world’s developments in that area. The other countries in the region had teamed up with the world’s giants in technology and extracted a high external benefit by being a partner of technological developments. Singapore did so by linking its universities to the best universities in the US and attracting foreign direct investments or FDIs from large corporations which had already developed high technology. South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand had attracted FDIs with high technology.

Sri Lanka could have been a breakout nation in the early 1980s but the costly ethnic war and the insane reaction of the majority of Sri Lankans had prevented worthwhile FDIs from coming in. An example often cited, as reported by Saman Kelegama on page 57 of in his ‘Development Under Stress’, is the shifting of the proposed manufacturing plants of two major electronics multinationals, Motorola and Harris Corporation, from Sri Lanka to Malaysia and elsewhere, respectively, due to the ethnic riots of 1983. Therefore, it has been suggested that Sri Lanka should now restart its efforts at converting its economy into a complex economy which also includes the development of nanotechnology.

Innovation-based economy concept needs prior action

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has emphasised the need for creating an innovation-based economy as the way out for Sri Lanka. Innovations are needed but there are several pre-steps which Sri Lanka should take in order to generate innovations.

One of the initial steps is to create new products or services known as inventions or using inventions done elsewhere for domestic commercial use. There are thousands of such inventions made by knowledgeable people every day. But not all these inventions lead to creating a commercially viable new product or service.

For instance, there are stories of some Sri Lankan youth inventing remarkable new products such as a ‘sea-water driven motor car’ or a ‘multi-tasked paddy-thresher’. While such inventions have their own merit, they may not be commercially viable at the current stage of technology due to higher cost of production compared to available alternatives. Hence, they just remain as prototype inventions incapable of going through an assembly line of a factory that depends on commercial viability for its survival.

The Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter has made this distinction between invention and innovation. According to him, the inventions so made are used by entrepreneurs by converting them into commercial production lines. That process is called, as mentioned earlier, innovation.

Researchers lack capacity to use inventions commercially

According to Schumpeter, innovation leading to the continuous economic growth of a country is a process and it consists of four stages. The first stage is the invention where a researcher or a scientist, through elaborate experiments, comes up with a prototype of a new product.

At the time of creating these inventions, the scientist or the researcher concerned has no idea about whether they would be commercially viable. He only knows that it would change the prevailing world habits or systems. Commercial viability comes from two other factors. One is that there should be a demand for the new product in preference to what is presently available in the market. The other is that the producers should be able to produce it at a cost that would generate them a profit when they sell it at prevailing market prices. If these two conditions are not met, the prototype invention will just remain an invention only in paper.

It is entrepreneurs who generate innovations

In the second stage known as innovation, enterprising people will draw, according to Schumpeter, on the discoveries of scientists or inventors and convert them into commercially viable products or services. By doing so, they create new opportunities for investment, growth and employment.

But for them to do so there should be mechanisms for making such new discoveries available to them for using in commercial production and guaranteeing their right to use them, known in economics as ‘property rights’. This involves linking research institutions with business. In the case of private research institutions, the question does not arise since private researchers should necessarily have to sell their research outputs to those who could use them productively. The problem arises with respect to state-owned universities and research institutions which are normally reluctant to pass their research outputs to private sector-owned businesses. Though such disabilities are not there in the case of state-owned businesses, such businesses do not have proper business acumen to convert a research output into a viable market product.

Innovations should get diffused

The third stage is called ‘diffusion’ or making available such knowledge to interested parties through the market mechanism. According to Schumpeter, it is the entrepreneurs who perform this task as well.

Diffusion is a concept first put forward by Researcher Gabriel Tarde in 1903 when he said that knowledge disseminates over time taking the shape of a slanted English letter ‘S’. This is because every new product has its own ‘product life’ growing rapidly in the initial stage and then coming to a peak before it starts to decline again. At this stage, a new product will take the place of the old discarded product.

Tarde identified five stages of the innovation process: Initial knowledge from the invention done by a researcher, forming an attitude on the invention, deciding whether to adopt or ignore the invention, using the invention in a commercial production and confirming the decision to adopt the invention continuously. Once one innovator comes to the market, there will be others who would follow his lead. It then leads to more inventions and innovations.

Successful innovations are imitated like a pandemic

The final stage arises from diffusion where other entrepreneurs will imitate the initial innovation. At this stage, innovation spreads across the economy like a pandemic. There will be hundreds and thousands of new entrepreneurs who will imitate the initial trailblazers.

This was evident in the computer industry. Before the 1970s, it was the mainframe computers that ruled the world. But after Stephan Wozniak and Steve Jobs broke the rules by producing the first Apple Macintosh desktop, a new desktop computer industry was developed throughout the globe. Then, it was a series of new inventions and innovations that started to supply the world with laptops, tablets, phablets and now hybrid tablets.

Techno City should encapsulate researchers and entrepreneurs 

The Techno City is expected to make inventions through scientific research and technological advancements. Such inventions should be combined with enterprise, an art mastered by entrepreneurs to convert them into commercial use. Hence, in the second stage, it is of utmost importance that the Techno City should house leading enterprises as well.

There are examples of such combinations successfully implemented elsewhere. Today, that isolated existence of research and industry cannot sustain itself for two reasons. One is that invention and research requirements are rising dramatically in a fiercely competitive world. Hence, industries and entrepreneurs are incapable of meeting those requirements through only research done in-house.

The second is that entrepreneurship has become a specialised talent and not all inventors are skilled in that talent equally. Hence, the two types of work, namely, invention and innovation, have to be separated with each group specialising only in its area of competence.

Accordingly, industry has to depend on research institutions and universities for inventions and research institutions and universities have to depend on industry for innovation. This linkage is now being established in a different kind of a production model.

The dead Sheffield has been converted into a vibrant research town

An example for this new model is the Advanced Manufacturing Facility set up around the University of Sheffield, UK with many giants of industry and commerce being located there (available at: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/03/25-manufacturing-innovation-district-sheffield-england-katz-kline).

The need for establishing such advanced manufacturing facilities has arisen due to sheer necessity: The need for competing successfully with low-wage and low-cost countries. Hence, it is necessary for advanced economies to bring out continuous innovation of production and processes involved in manufacturing. To do so, they have to engage in applied research, investment in sophisticated plant, technology and investment, automation of manufacturing processes through robotics, and developing a highly skilled workforce. All these four requirements are now met in one location where industry has been linked effectively to research and knowledge creation.

Co-existence of small start-ups with giants in industry in Sheffield

Sheffield had been famous for quality steel products for decades. It was such a popular world brand that, instead of calling ‘Made in England’, steel product manufacturers in Sheffield were successful in developing their own brand name, ‘Made in Sheffield’. Like Ceylon Tea, it instantly denoted quality and reliability.

This was not to be for long after Sheffield began to experience fierce competition from other countries that also went into the same production line such as Japan, South Korea and now China. Consequently, Sheffield lost its glamour as well as economic base. Now to regain that lost glamour and lost economic base, Sheffield has established an Advanced Manufacturing Park around its university which functions as the key knowledge creator. It provides advanced manufacturing companies with industrial expertise, cutting-edge machines and equipment and solutions to complex industrial issues.

More than 100 giant manufacturing companies including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems, Hitachi and Tata are located in Sheffield Park. Along with these giants, a large number of small and medium-sized start-up research developers have also been set up in the park in an incubator facility so that they can benefit from the practical exposure they will get.

In addition, apprenticeship is provided to young workers to train them on the job thereby demonstrating that, to be creative and skilled, one need not have to acquire a four-year university degree.

Similar to the Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Park, advanced research towns have been established around almost all the leading universities in the US. MIT, Washington and Boston are some examples.

A proactive attempt by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura

An important requirement is that the local researchers should have willingness and capacity to work collaboratively with foreign researchers. If local researchers feel that they are superior to foreign researchers, then, there is no room for learning through cross-fertilisation which is a must for any nation to move forward.

Recently, this writer had the opportunity to observe an initial meeting which the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Professor Sampath Amaratunge, and his leading research team had with the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of UK’s Northumbria University, Professor Jon Reast.

It was a brief meeting but what it demonstrated was the sparkling willingness of the Vice Chancellor and his research team to work collaboratively to upgrade the research capability of the university. To this writer, this was an encouraging sign since the University of Sri Jayewardenepura is a leading player in the proposed Techno City.

The University of Sri Jayewardenepura has been able to inculcate a research friendly culture in its core researchers. It has, in preparation for its new role, established a Research Council overlooking research work at the university and under the Council, nine new research centres. Some research centres have established research collaboration arrangements with world famous universities like Oxford, Duke, North Carolina, National University of Singapore and Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. The university says that it has got funding; its meeting with the Northumbria University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor was to equip those research centres with experienced researchers. This is the way a proactive university should support the Government’s initiative to convert Sri Lanka into an innovation-based economy.

This is a culture of modesty to learn from others. It should be promoted across the nation, if the Techno City project is to become a success.

(W.A Wijewardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com).

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Sujith Mangala to ‘Sathhanda!’

Sujith Mangala to ‘Sathhanda!’

Sujith Mangala to ‘Sathhanda!’
Sep 24, 2016
Journalist Sujith Mangala de Silva, who had not received an extension of service at ‘Lankadeepa’ of Vijaya Newspapers, has joined the ‘Sathhanda’ newspaper, reports say. ‘Sathhanda’ is said to be loyal to president Maithripala Sirisena, and Sujith’s duty is to balance the news relating to the UNP and the PM. The new administration of ‘Sathhanda’ is of the view that there should be a balance in news of the two main affiliates of the national government.
Senior journalist Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama was recently appointed as chairperson of ‘Sathhanda’ and its editorial director Ruwan Ferdinandis left to join the new national newspaper ‘Irida Apple’.
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Gota who rode the high horse has a heavy fall after Duminda’s death sentence ! Won’t contest elections !

Gota who rode the high horse has a heavy fall after Duminda’s death sentence ! Won’t contest elections !

-Those sentenced to death cannot contest elections

LEN logo(Lanka-e-News -25.Sep.2016, 11.00PM) Clear signals are now on the horizon that Sri Lanka’s toffee nosed ex defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse who lined his pockets with a colossal sum of US dollars 10  million (Rupees 1500 million) on the MiG jet illicit deal , and if his  involvements are  proved in the case pertaining to the murder of Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickremetunge, Gotabaya will undoubtedly have to face death sentence . 
Gota’s criminal involvements are : While claiming MiG jets are to be purchased ,after producing a  bogus address of a  shop in England, and through a non existent Co. Belimissa in England (such a Co. never existed in England) the fraud of  US dollars ten million was perpetrated ;  and for killing Lasantha because he exposed the lurid  details of the MiG fraud committed by Gota.
These details surfaced when Gotabaya met Malwatte Asgiriya Mahanayake yesterday (24)  , and when the former told he will not contest the future Presidential elections ( as he is aware of what is in store for him in the future ). Earlier on the moribund ,discarded, beleaguered  common opposition group was saying Gotabaya is to be promoted into politics (despite being aware of his notoriety and criminalities ).

Gota said yesterday , he is plagued by problems because of that announcement.

Gota in his characteristic treacherous style said in most disappointed and dreary tone  , he is not aware of the conference the Ekabadha Virudha sandhanaya  alias Ekabadha vinashaya (United  devastation ) is going to hold on 8 th of October in Ratnapura  , and he is not participating in it. This is contrary to his repeated announcements most proudly and loudly hitherto  ,that if the people want him , he is ready to enter politics.
Following the death sentence delivered on infamous Duminda R. Silva a great bosom pal of Gota , as well as  a lickspittle cum lackey of MaRa , it is apparent the arrogance of murderers encouraged under the last regime and  the impunity that  was  enjoyed by murderers have come to an end . They are now forced to realize they cannot forever toy with the law.  It is to be noted , one on whom death sentence is passed  cannot ever contest elections even if he escapes punishment in the end .
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by     (2016-09-25 19:37:57)
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Income gap gets uglier

Income gap gets uglier

2016-09-26

Taxation is a key public policy instrument that modern democratic States use to reduce social inequality and ensure equality of opportunity in diverse spheres such as food consumption, education, health and social protection.
Though conventional Marxist analysis expected a steady increase in economic and social inequality under capitalism, social and political reforms in many capitalist societies in Europe and elsewhere under social democratic regimes resulted in a steady decline in inequality.
However, in many parts of the world, income inequality has been on the rise in recent decades. This has been partly due to the declining role of the state in economic management and the redistribution of wealth in society and partly due to a deliberate attempt to keep the personal and corporate taxes low, largely due to the increasing influence of vested interests.
Lower taxes naturally reduce the share of national wealth controlled by the state resulting in lower public spending and higher levels of private consumption in such areas as education, health, transport, leisure and housing.
The data in the following table indicates how diverse the countries are even today in terms of rates of taxation, State tax revenue as a proportion of the GDP and public spending as a share of the GDP. As is evident from the data, the extent of public spending in a country is dependent on the tax revenue of the State.  On the other hand, income inequality is also a product of the rate of taxation. This is not difficult to understand, because higher taxes naturally reduce the nett income of higher income groups. In countries where higher rates of personal income tax are levied, the gap between the highest and the lowest income groups is consistently low.
As the data clearly shows, the government’s share of the GDP is over 50% in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland. In these countries, the highest rate of personal income tax is over 50%.

“Many poor people who are suffering from life threatening ailments often go from house to house or wait at congested road intersections begging for money to pay for life saving drugs, and food, while the members of the elite take the earliest available flight ….”

On the other hand, the government’s share of the GDP is countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal is very low. This is partly due to very low rates of taxation in these countries. Other reasons for this situation include the ratio of regular, formal employment to informal, irregular employment and the presence or the absence of minimum wage legislation. Whatever the reasons, the ability of the State in some countries to control a large share of the GDP enables it to divert adequate resources into critically important social sectors like health, social protection and public transport. (Table 1)Another important function of higher taxes on corporate and personal income is to reduce income inequality between the rich and the poor. This is clearly evident from the data on Table 2.
While income inequality in all countries listed in the following Table is very high before tax, income inequality has come down drastically after tax. This is further evident from the data in column 3 on the ratio of income of the highest and the lowest income groups. As is evident, Japan has the lowest income gap of 4.5, compared with nearly 16 for the USA.
In other words, Japan has the most equal income distribution, even better than some of the European Welfare States like Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
For comparison, Sri Lanka’s ratio is over 11, which is worse than those of developed welfare States. It should also be noted that Sri Lanka’s income inequality has become worse over the last several decades. This is evident from the Household Income and Expenditure Surveys conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka. Table 2:
Higher levels of income inequality are not only unjust and dehumanising for the poor but also have other significant economic and social implications.
Firstly, higher personal incomes of wealthier people, at least partly due to lower taxes, lead to increasingly wasteful and conspicuous private consumption.
In a country like Sri Lanka, such consumption involves importation of luxuries such as expensive motor cars and household gadgets and overseas spending such as foreign education, private healthcare and holidays.
All these inevitability contribute to the widening trade gap in the country.
As one might expect, higher taxes on incomes under democratic regimes committed to rational policy making would divert at least part of the additional State revenue collected for social investments that benefit lower income groups and vulnerable sections of the population.
Besides, increased social investments in such areas as health and education are more than likely to improve the life chances of the underprivileged groups, creating a more equitable, just and contended society.
It is well known that most people in Sri Lanka earn low and irregular incomes and therefore do not pay direct taxes.
In other words, only a small proportion of the people are liable to pay direct taxes.
So, when the rate of taxation is also as low as 15%, actual direct taxes levied amount to a small proportion of the GDP. This has several implications. Firstly, the government resorts to indirect taxes to shore up state revenue, forcing everybody to pay taxes irrespective of their level of income.
Secondly, a very low rate of taxation imposed on higher income groups leaves most of their income intact, enabling them to use it for private consumption.

“Secondly, a very low rate of taxation imposed on higher income groups leaves most of their income intact, enabling them to use it for private consumption”

Thirdly, lower level of taxation deprives the government of much needed capital for public investment. And finally, growing income inequalities translate into acute social disparities leading to a growing sense of social injustice and marginalization among underprivileged groups. We have witnessed in the recent past in this country the adverse impacts of such trends on social peace and political stability.
Social disparities arising out of worsening income inequalities in Sri Lanka are clearly evident in many sectors today. These are transport, health, education, housing and social protection.
Many elderly people cannot retire and rest and therefore, they continue to work because the government cannot provide them with adequate income support. Many poor people have become squatters on public land such as railway and road reservations because they cannot afford to pay for land and decent housing.
Our congested roads in urban areas display in no uncertain terms the failure of the State to contain growing income inequalities through progressive taxation and other public policies.
It is distressing to witness the unceasing and at times ugly struggles for dwindling road space involving the whole spectrum of society.
Many poor people who are suffering from life threatening, chronic ailments often go from house to house or wait at congested road intersections begging for money to pay for life saving drugs, medical tests and food, while the members of the elite take the earliest available flight to a developed country for medical treatment.
There cannot be any disagreement that economic development is a necessary precondition for resolving key social and economic issues in the country but there is no justification for maintaining wide income inequalities through unsound public policies.
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Why Sri Lanka needs to appoint competent ambassadors

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logoFriday, 23 September 2016

We regularly hear politicians saying diplomacy plays a direct role in addressing the root cause of insecurity and that good diplomatic initiatives help to build partnerships so that Sri Lanka can work together with the world to address some of our thorny bilateral and multilateral issues. To play that role effectively, they also say Sri Lanka needs competent officials. But despite that, we still post officials to important markets with no experience whatsoever.

Sri Lankan diaspora living in a Western capital were shocked recently to see their envoy not knowing that the Ambassador/High Commissioner was the primary representative for all Sri Lankan interests in that country, and that varies from being responsible for taking care of Sri Lankan citizens and their needs to the issuance of visas, to the discussions about political and economic and trade and commerce issues, also the military relationships and dealing with the environment.

It’s technically the whole range of things. In addition they must also do public diplomacy, they are expected to give effective speeches at different sorts of events to make sure that people in that country are well aware what our policies are and why we have them.

Ambassador appointments 

There are really two ways to get appointed as an Ambassador or a High Commissioner for Sri Lanka. Either through the Foreign Service process where you join as a junior officer and you work your way up through the system and about two-third of the ambassadors go through that route. For that, you begin by taking a written test. And then if you pass that test and get in, you work your way up through the system.

The other way for becoming an ambassador is that the Government always chooses a number of ambassadors from its own lists without the Foreign Ministry connection, and that’s based upon people who have assisted the effort to get the president or government elected one way or another, or competent people who are well-known to people in the government and they figure that they would do a really good job even though they haven’t gone through the system.

Some ambassadors have the good fortune to know or be related to somebody who gets elected as president, like in the previous regime when two brothers got posted to the US and Ukraine at the same time.

Serious business

As the JVP has said many times in public, diplomacy is serious business. It refers to communication or negotiations tactics that use political and legal channels to address both bilateral and multilateral issues.

Good diplomacy works in at least four ways a) to protect a nation’s security, b) to stop potential threats from becoming real, c) to secure a nation’s economic future and d) to protect the global environment. Therefore, members of the Foreign Service play a crucial role in making the kind of lucrative international connections/agreement possible to help a country to look good and in the pursuit of economic objectives.

Diplomats need to help to set up partnerships and relationships all around the world so that a country can understand the global issues, maintain global competitiveness and to capitalise on the opportunities globalisation creates.

Diplomacy used to be thought of as the quiet, behind-the-scenes, government-to-government communications. It’s now so much more than that. Therefore for a country to promote the kinds of economic and trade policies they want around the region and the world, a country needs to appoint competent people to build a public case internationally for their policies, for their values and for their interests.

This will then enable a nation to become a credible and trusted partner, while remaining devoted to their national interests and also promote their economic ties at the same time.

Skilled officials

Therefore the officials appointed to promote Sri Lankan interests abroad should as far as possible be people who have the skill to focus on economic and political diplomacy to secure our core national interest. That would require for the service to have a mix of top quality non-career and career diplomats with good academic pedigrees and technocratic mettle and with character, integrity and helicopter quality to drive our political and economic agenda.

Therefore, given the economic and socio political shift, the technology disruption that has occurred in the international scene and the need for active international engagement, which is basically leveraged upon the pursuit of economic objectives, promoting good diplomacy can increase our ability to play a constructive role in building a more peaceful, prosperous region, for us and others.

To do that, our reps need to be skilled, politically effective and trusted, enabling them to accomplish goals that the country so desires.

(The writer has authored two books titled ‘Selected Essays on Foreign Affairs’ – Part 1 and Part 2.)
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Sri Lanka: Ancient innovations combat water woes

Sri Lanka: Ancient innovations combat water woes

In a village of abandoned wells, ancient water management techniques are throwing a lifeline to desperate villagers.

A resident of the small village of Puhudiwula stands beside her neglected rainwater harvesting tank [Tharuka Dissanaike/ UNDP/ Al Jazeera]–Children in a village near Horowpathana can only drink from this tank, which must be refilled frequently. The water from their well is unusable [Tharuka Dissanaike/ UNDP/ Al Jazeera]
The restored bund is so broad it is now a main point of access for this Galgamuwa village. It is used to transport crops and bring materials to the fields. [Tharuka Dissanaike/ UNDP/ Al Jazeera] –A father and daughter go to collect water. These are the thirstiest months in the dry zone, and the family travels several kilometres twice a week to a shop. [Tharuka Dissanaike/ UNDP/ Al Jazeera]
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Puhudiwula, Sri Lanka –  In the district of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Puhudiwula is a village of abandoned wells. Though new and well-built, these wells can be found in every garden, costing around 100,000 rupees ($700) to build. The villagers, however, will not drink or even cook with the water, which they believe is driving an epidemic of the deadly Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Etiology (CKDu) in this area. While the illness is not the end of the community’s troubles, many of their woes are tied to water. 
These are the hottest months of the year in Puhudiwula, deep in the island’s dry zone. The local water tank is nearly dry – its bed is ribbed with cracks as the clay changes colour, hardening under the sun. This year, to save their crop of paddy, the farmers ordered bowsers to deliver water to their fields. Climate change in these parts means more dry days and higher temperatures; it also means that people have to dig deeper wells to meet their needs, inadvertently increasing the risk of the contamination of their drinking water.
As a former border village on the frontlines of a nearly three-decade long civil war, the villagers lived with sporadic violence and terrible uncertainty. Now, seven years after the conflict ended, times are still tough, but the village of Puhudiwula is about to be thrown a lifeline.
In 2016, Sri Lanka became one of the first 15 countries in the world to receive a grant from the Green Climate Fund. The Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), procured $38.1m to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Over the next few years, an estimated 770,500 people in the dry zone, including those in Puhudiwula, will experience direct benefits from this programme.
Somewhat remarkably, the whole proposal turns on Sri Lanka realising that the best answer to their modern woes is an ancient innovation.

Scrabbling for answers

A sign in Sinhalese by 40-year-old Bandula Silva’s door in Puhudiwula reads “May Buddha Bless this House”. Inside, however, its owner has been dealt a death sentence. Eleven months ago, the 40-year-old from Puhudiwula was diagnosed with CKDu. He began treatment but the disease had already ravaged his body. The father of three is barely able to walk and cannot keep his food down, except just after a session of dialysis, when the treatment brings some relief. It is difficult to predict how much time his weekly visits to the hospital will buy him.
Just down the road from Silva, G Premawathie has the same disease – the elderly widow’s kidneys have begun to fail her and fluid retention has left her feet and ankles swollen. She has another neighbour, a 29-year-old farmer who was recently diagnosed. Though the intensity of the condition can vary, villagers know the outlook is grim: Two days ago, they attended the funeral of a man who had succumbed to CKDu. The diseased was a close relative of Piyasiri Soyza, president of the local farmers’ association. Soyza estimates that there are currently more than 100 people battling CKDu in this area. He lost his own father to the disease.
Since he was diagnosed, Silva and his family have stopped drinking water from their well. Premawathie and her family also buy their water, paying by the litre.
“The water from our well tastes of rust,” she tells Al Jazeera. Soyza, who is hale and fit at 57 years old, says for years now he has travelled several kilometres each week to bring his family water from another village where there is a spring and no occurrence of CKDu.
CKDu has been reported in many countries, yet the disease remains poorly understood. In Sri Lanka, studies have explored multiple causes, most notably the possibility that the heavy use of agrochemicals is to blame. The fact that men are most at risk of developing the condition has led researchers to consider what role dehydration and outdoor farm work might play, though it is likely to be a combination of many factors.
In a presentation earlier this year, Sarath Amunugama, of the Ministry of Health, noted that there was a need to move away from a single cause explanation to multi-causal explanations when trying to understand the disease.
According to a Government Medical Officers Association study in 2013, a total population of 400,000 are affected across the country. Some 1,400 lives are claimed every year, while the death rate in North Central Province is 19 per month – the island’s highest (PDF).
In the face of this ongoing tragedy, everyone is scrabbling for answers. Providing clean water seems to be the most obvious first solution, and it is one the affected communities themselves are seeking out.
“The entire population is affected by drought, but the most disadvantaged and most vulnerable group are women,” says AADWS Pradeep, a divisional officer at the Department of Agrarian Services. “Women are responsible for providing drinking and household water, and when the wells and tanks dry up, they have to go far away to find it.”
Men often migrate to areas where there is water, because seasonal labourers are sought to work on fields. Left behind, women must manage not only the needs of their households for cooking and sanitation, but ensure their domestic animals have enough to drink and their home gardens are watered, or they risk being unable to feed their families.

An ancient innovation

Though climate change threatens to exacerbate the situation to a dangerous degree, Ranjith Punyawardena, chief climatologist at the Department of Agriculture tells Al Jazeera that people in Sri Lanka’s dry zone have always struggled to find enough water.
Some of the small village tanks in this area have been in operation for more than 2,000 years.  The best estimates place the total number of both functioning and abandoned tanks in Sri Lanka at 18,387 [PDF].
Over generations, these tanks evolved into cascade systems connecting these earthen water reservoirs – resembling ponds and lakes – with each other using a system of canals.
“The cascades were a counter for this natural climate variability,” says Punyawardena, adding that without these innovative water management systems, cultivation in the dry zone would have been impossible.
According to Herath Manthrithilake, head of the research programme at the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, the tanks “eventually evolved into a new kind of hydrological civilisation.”
Manthrithilake explains that some tanks would be water holes, serving as upstream sediment traps. Forest tanks in the upper catchment area were for local wildlife and kept animals from competing with humans for water. Others were especially designed to replenish ground water or support seasonal irrigation.
The ancients even developed their own sluice gate design, allowing water to be collected from the surface of the tank, rather than its murky depths.
Now the funds from the GCF are going to be invested in restoring a number of these cascade systems in the dry zone, including the one adjacent to the village of Puhudiwula.
Experts say rehabilitating the network of small village tank irrigation systems means protecting the forests even as farmers get the water they need to cultivate their crops, ensuring food security in a very vulnerable region. It also means that groundwater could be replenished and that water quality in the village wells around the tank would improve as a result.
Villagers would not have to dig so deep to reach the liquid, and pockets of contaminated water would become less likely, offering some protection against diseases such as CKDu.
The relatively linear arrangement of these tanks, explains Manthrithilake, allows for the installation of monitors that can then function as an early warning system, alerting villages along their length to the threat of floods.
“Water is the big player in this whole scenario; this is the medium through which we experience climate change,” says Manthrithilake.
It all comes down to water management, both in excess and scarcity. However, restoring and maintaining these cascade systems in a time of widespread environmental degradation, poor intergovernmental coordination, and the ever greater challenges posed by climate change, is a monumental task.
“The current approach is very sectoral,” says Tharuka Dissanaike. A policy specialist with the UNDP, Dissanaike says that there is a marked lack of coordination between irrigation and drinking water authorities from state to village level.
“What we are now coming up with is a transformative model that treats drinking and irrigation water as a single local resource – much like the ancients did. It is important to value both uses equally since small irrigation systems contribute to drinking water availability in these villages.”
Adapting to climate change
Some cascade systems are currently being restored, with heartening results. Sampath Bandara Abeyrathne, the project manager of the Climate Change Adaptation Project at the UNDP, has been directing a team of researchers and engineers, overseeing the restoration of the 28 tanks that are part of the Maha Nanneriya tank cascade system in Galgamuwa in the Kurunegala district.
Abeyrathne grew up in these parts and explains that the de-silting of these tanks must be done very carefully, ensuring that the natural clay seal remains intact to prevent seepage and that the holding capacity of the tank is not affected. The ratio of depth versus spread of the water in the tank is critical to managing issues like salinity, water evaporation and flow within the cascade.
Abeyrathne points out that a catchment area is only as good as the forest it relies on. But a drone he sent up recently came back with images that revealed huge patches of deforestation and chena, or shifting cultivations, in this stretch.
Despite these issues, one fully restored tank in the Maha Nanneriya cascade has held its water during the driest months. Standing on the tank bund, AMA Adikari, a retired school principal and member of the local farm organisation, says that for the first time, farmers are contemplating cultivating through three seasons instead of staggering through just one – a move that will have a profound impact on their food security and incomes.
It is essential that the community take an active hand if the cascade systems that have been repaired are to survive, emphasises Buddhika Hapuarchchi, a technical adviser at Sri Lanka’s Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme, the UNDP’s national partner on the Maha Nanneriya cascade project.
“Galgamuwa is one of the most drought-prone divisions in Kurunegala, and in fact, the whole country,” adding that restoring this cascade system is “essentially the pilot project for Sri Lanka on climate change adaptation. We have to see how to incorporate climate change adaption into our development planning process.”
The project will also help fuel a quiet revolution in Sri Lanka’s approach to water management.
In years ahead, local farmers say they hope to borrow from ancient systems of labour and land sharing, which emphasised a community approach in all things.
“We had a very good democratic system to manage scarce resources as a collective, without creating unnecessary competition,” says Adikari. This generation, he believes, still has a lot to learn from their ancestors.
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Only In Sri Lanka?

Only In Sri Lanka?

Colombo Telegraph

By Emil van der Poorten –September 25, 2016

Emil van der Poorten

The pictures of Chanuka Ratwatte being escorted into custody as a result of being charged with what some publications claim is the biggest single financial fraud in Sri Lankan history brought a smile to my wrinkled old visage, if not an outright guffaw.
Why? Because this kind of humour is not easily come by in Sri Lanka, despite it being the capital of such as ambulatory, human tents parading as cabinet ministers. Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner certainly get pushed into the farther reaches of comedic history by something like this.
Let me explain.
Not so long ago, a small group of superannuated Kandy Sports Club supporters decided to hire a van and go down to Colombo to support their club rugby team in their fixture against the team that represents the service that is designated to “serve and protect” all of us ordinary (unarmed) citizens.
chanukaTypically, being there well ahead of the regular spectators, we had a good view of, not only the grounds, but the seats as well, particularly those adjacent to ours that were designated as being for special guests, to which category we belonged for that afternoon at least by virtue of our “superannuated visitor” status.
Anyway, there not being too much excitement in watching the grass grow on the police grounds, we looked around as we chatted among ourselves. There was a younger couple (90%+ of all those present, apart from ourselves, would have belonged in that category!) some seats away from us, temporarily, at least, somewhat isolated from whoever else were (very) early birds in the stands.
I thought I recognized the male, having been a classmate of his father in what was once known as “the best school of all,” Trinity College. I had also been introduced to his eldest brother first by that individual’s mother-in-law and then meeting him at least once more at his father’s funeral. I regretted that the brother with whom I had spent most time in pleasant and civil conversation – now the ex-Mayor of Kandy – was, unfortunately, not there.
Any reader who has followed this narrative so far is probably going to be wondering where all of this is going. Well, let me start nibbling at the pith of the anecdote.
First, I verified the identity of the youngest son of Anuruddha Ratwatte and was then told that his finance (?) company was the sponsor of the police rugby team which, typical of any such entity seeking success had lured several established players from other clubs (who weren’t serving members of the police service) and most of whom must have had post-graduate qualifications in thuggery, rather than rugby, if the rate at which they qualified for penalties was anything to go by.
However, before talking about the quality (or lack thereof) of the rugby on the field, let me describe some of the pre-game niceties we were spectators to.
As is typical on such occasions, before the game began, the “distinguished guests” trooped in. Among the many-pipped and be-ribboned police hierarchy which, I was told, included the Inspector General of Police was a coterie of politicians, inclusive of at least one of senior Cabinet rank.
What I found most amusing was the fact that the so-called “dignitaries” all appeared to greet Mr. Ratwatte with a significant degree of deference (I suppose, as befits the financial sponsor of the rugby team representing Sri Lanka’s primary law-enforcement agency.)
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Govt wallowing in someone else’s mud

BY CHARMINDA RODRIGO-2016-09-25
Convener of the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya said, “Though we did not disclose the developments to the media, we maintained a constant dialogue with the relevant decision makers on the government reforms”.
Excerpts:
?: NMSJ broke its silence last week during the meeting you had with President Maithripala Sirisena along with other 45 civil movements that spearheaded the change of government in 2015. What forced you to make this move?
A: We didn’t remain silent during the recent past. We have voiced our concerns with the relevant authorities. Though we did not disclose the developments to the media, we maintained a constant dialogue with the decision makers on government reforms. We have advised them on some salient issues. Even though the government had paid attention to what we had to say, the outcome of our propositions is not up to our satisfaction. That is not what we had anticipated. Therefore as civil representatives we were completely disappointed over the reaction of the government. This is exactly why we requested the President for an opportunity to discuss these matters in detail. We met him last week and had a fruitful discussion.
?:Last week you submitted a collective memorandum to the President enclosing five salient points for his perusal. What were they?
A: First, we asked for a prompt Cabinet shuffle. This is the aspiration of all those who backed the President during the Presidential Election. While conducting investigations into the misappropriations of the past regime, the President should pay attention to a corruption-free Cabinet of ministers. The media had highlighted the misconduct of the ministers on numerous occasions which are contrary to the principles of good governance. We have brought the arbitrary actions to the attention of the government. However, so far no action has been taken to remedy the situation. We have not mentioned any names in the memorandum. We hope the President and the Prime Minister have a very clear understanding of the ministers subject to public criticism.
Secondly, we emphasized the necessity for independence of the judiciary. A three-judge Bench was appointed to hear the Bharatha’s case and the proceedings were over in a short time. The accused Duminda Silva along with several others were sentenced to death after the judges analysed the facts presented before them.
The case involved well-known politicians during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime. Therefore we asked the government to expedite the court procedure. Some people feared that there would be a long delay when the case came up for hearing. There was also a suspicion that the case would be delayed until a new government would come to power. When people seek justice it is the prime responsibility of the government to expedite cases.
Thirdly, we urged the President to immediately stop the ministers from interfering with investigations. The President should ensure the independence of government institutions without political interference.
Fourthly, we requested the President to go forward in implementing the Audit Bill. Those who oppose it are the same public officials who are guilty of misappropriation of State funds. They are forcing the ministers to protect them. The government should not be frightened of the threats posed by such officials. There are enough honest officials to take the country forward.
Finally we urged the President to introduce political reforms without delay. The government has to bring in political reforms.
?: The Joint Opposition (JO) alleges that investigations against malpractices are biased? What do you think about such allegations?
A: We have urged the authorities to investigate into all allegations irrespective of the regime, political affiliation or the position of the individual. Crimes should not go unpunished. Authorities should prioritize the inquiries. However, there is an unrest among members of the JO when investigations begin. It is natural, because they have never expected this transformation. Even any act of misappropriation that takes place under the present government should not go unnoticed. They should be investigated and the culprits punished. We believe that nobody has a licence to misuse their power.
?: As independent observers we see that there is a hidden agenda when conducting investigations and making arrests. There seems to be a connection with the political developments of the JO. Do you agree?
A: Honestly, even we feel that investigations conducted against some people seem to be delayed for some unknown reasons. This means that investigators are not independent. If the authorities have complete independence, they should be able to proceed with the cases they handle. We do not know why they have to get the advice of the President’s office or the Prime Minister’s office.
A senior minister has said that no action would be taken against any SLFP minister for alleged malpractices. This is not the true essence of good governance. Action must be taken against anybody irrespective of their position or party affiliations.
JO member Wimal Weerawansa is alleged to have used two passports and misused State property. However, the government has not taken any action to investigate into them.
?: Another member of the same political party has been remanded for misusing State property. In fact his brother too had to face a similar situation. Do you not see that there is a mismatch in what you say?
A: What we emphasize is the fact that we should not delay the legal process. The government came to power promising that justice will be meted out to any offender irrespective of their social standing. However, no action has been taken against the former President’s wife, Shiranthi Rajapaksa who was allegedly involved in acts of misappropriation, such as the “Siriliya account”. The investigations have been concluded, but no further action has been taken. Who or what is preventing the authorities from taking further action? We do not want any excuses from the government on these matters. We need action and not excuses.
?: Going beyond the investigations into corruption, a strong allegation has been levelled against the government pertaining to war heroes. Is the government really betraying them?
A: There were many abductions, assaults and threats reported during the war. However, members of the Security forces did not take part in such activities. It has been found that certain officials were involved in them. Such actions were resorted to silence the opposition. Now the same people, who had misused the security forces to attain their political ends, are shedding crocodile tears when the authorities probe into certain incidents. How can you call a person who has killed an innocent individual a war hero? This is absurd.
?: The government is proposing a new Constitution. This is aimed at fostering ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka. What do you think the structure of the Constitution should be?
A: Why do we need a new Constitution? We need a Constitution to make sure that there will be no bloodshedding in the country. Powers should be devolved in the proposed Constitution. It should ensure the Rule of Law and the independence of the judiciary. Also the electoral system should be changed accordingly. Those are the main drawbacks leading the entire political culture to chaos. We need a Constitution which safeguards the rights of the people. We may not be able to satisfy everybody, but we need to draft a Constitution that could satisfy the majority.
?: Critics of the JO say that the proposed Constitution encompasses federal elements. They fear that it would pave the way to a separate State. What do you have to say about this?
A: When the war was over, the so-called constitutional law specialists should have asked the President to go for a constitutional reform. But they did not do so. The same people who have allowed Mahinda Rajapaksa to amend the Constitution so that he could remain in power are making such comments. The new Constitution is still a draft. I can only pity the critics.
?: Two leaders (President and Prime Minister) who had an unconditional agreement at the beginning. Now they seem to be deviating from the main pledge, and both SLFP and UNP want to form their own government. Do you see this as a deviation from the mandate?
A: You may be referring to the speeches delivered at the party anniversaries. I see it in a different way. The Prime Minister said the United National Party (UNP) has done so much for the country and at the sametime he regretted any fault. This is a brave statement. This shows the humble nature of the leader. We have no objection to the involvement in their own parties. However, we urge them to sit at one table when it comes to resolving the issues of the people. Mind you, our pact is for this government not forever.
?: What do you think about the decision to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on certain goods and services which is widely discussed in many forums?
A: This has come out as a measure to enhance the revenue of the government. That was due to the insane decision taken during the 100-day programme. Indeed the people were anticipating a relief from the sky-rocketed cost of living. The prices of essential commodities and fuel were brought down to relieve the people. No one talks of that anymore.
However, VAT has become a hot topic due to the political overtones it carries. The government should have taken a calculated risk when slashing down the prices, keeping in mind that revenue is really essential for its survival. They had not foreseen this factor. They knew that the previous government had left a heap of debt behind them. Finally, the present government is wallowing in someone else’s mud.
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