Opinion

What has happened to the British Pound?

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“Working people are paying the price of the Tory government’s casino economics. Labour will cut bills, create jobs and secure energy independence for Britain by 2030.”  ~ Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer in response to the chancellor’s mini-Budget.

When I came to Britain in 1966, the pound bought me US Dollars 2.40 and today it is at a record low against the Green Back, as early trading in markets in South East Asia, collapsed the Pound to $1.0327, the lowest since decimalisation in 1971. Luckily it regained ground to $1.07. What really happened after Black Friday? (23 September 2022).

Markets are volatile and naturally, they seem to have taken fright after what our new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. KwasiKwarteng stated at the weekend that he was ready to slash taxes even further, more than the £45 Billion cuts in his Mini Budget on Friday.

Speculation was growing that the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee might have to intervene with an emergency rate hike, sooner than expected.

Need I say, if Sterling Pound falls to parity with the US Dollar, it could trigger a rebellion among Tory backbenchers who could refuse to vote for the Government’s Finance Bill, or even submit letters of no confidence in PM Liz Truss, said the Daily Telegraph.

Labour Opposition at Party Conference in Liverpool

The Labour Party at its Annual Party Conference in Liverpool, with Parliament in recess, accused the Chancellor of “fanning the flames” of the crisis and calling the City’s regulator to investigate leaks in his Mini Budget.

Labour has challenged the “Growth Plan” in the Mini Budget. The fallout has given Labour a well-timed opportunity to lay out an alternative economic plan at its party Conference but does not want to divulge its plans, in advance of a General Election planned for 2024.

Can Labour win the next General Election?

After 12 years of Conservative Government, the public is asking this question. As it stands today according to a poll Labour is on course for a sizeable majority whenever the next General Election is called. It is increasing looking like a “Government-in-waiting,”  unless it spoils its chances.

Polls give it today a 12 point lead over the Conservatives, which would land them a comfortable Parliamentary majority, estimated at 56 seats.

What the Pound record low means for UK?

We know a consideration and delivery of measures announced in the Mini Budget will, however, create new opportunities for an innovative start-up and will help unlock private investment.

The Mini Budget announcement has envisaged an economic growth goal of 2.5 percent, before the next General election.

A Tory Grandee says the current crisis will pass. Some others have been scathing in their views. Still, others have urged colleagues to be patient and not panic.

In my view, it is like Boris, the British will always rise to the occasion, which is a trait I have learned in England.

In my view, a decrease in the wholesale price of gas will over winter make a big difference.

People cannot only be bought over with “tax cuts”?

Innovation is the mantra which is built up from a foundation of ideas and knowledge, which the Conservatives have acquired over the past 12 years in Government. This experience is priceless.

But at the same time, a weak Pound will no doubt fuel the cost of imports depending on the cost of living crisis. The Governor of the Bank of England has ruled out any emergency increase in the Bank Rate in the immediate future. That’s “cool” in the colloquial.

How the Conservatives want to play their cards when Parliament reopens will to a large extent determine the outcome of the crisis?

Dictator Biden’s Double Standard

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As blood-red lighting stained the backdrop, the dark black sky rendered an eerie aura of despotism. Members of the military stood guard clutching their weapons in a show of power. Like a tyrannical allocution, US President Joe Biden lifted his hands clenched tightly into a fist and condemned his political opposition as being extremists and a threat to democracy. He propagated words of division to an already heavily-polarised population split along lines of party, politics and ideology.

Joe Biden took to the stage in downtown Philadelphia to issue a speech of mere opprobrium pointed bluntly toward the rivals of his political camp. His clenched fists thrown into the air complemented by his bared teeth and glare of hostility reminded the world of Hitler’s speeches at the Nazi conventions in WWII Europe.

By declaring that former President Donald Trump and his supporters are a threat to American democracy, Joe Biden essentially promulgated that over 77 million of his own people are extremists. “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic”, Joe Biden raged.

The timing of his schismatic speech is politically felicitous as it comes a few weeks before the 2022 mid-term elections – an event that could witness a return of the Republican party to control the House or Senate. The botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the immigrant crisis on the Southern border and the devastated economy are some of the principal talking points of the Republican camp.

White House officials termed Biden’s address as the ‘battle for the soul of the nation’ and Biden claimed that he speaks to America on ‘sacred’ ground. This sort of language reminds any political reader of the authoritative attributes of the famous Big Brother, in George Orwell’s classic; 1984. This is of course complemented by the widespread censorship of opposing political views on mainstream media and big tech platforms as well as the rampant cancel culture that seems to have infiltrated social life across the globe.

As the Biden-Harris administration plummets to become the second least popular duo in office, White House officials work hard to put on a dazzling show before the mid-terms. However, being flanked by Marines complemented by Nazi-like lighting behind the president is probably the worst backdrop that the strategists could come up with.

Biden’s comments on his political opponents come as a result of the forced entry of Trump supporters into the US Capitol on 06 January 2021 – for which court cases and trials are open to date. The US judiciary, politicians and legal system have arrested, are trying and will sentence scores of Trump supporters for storming their government buildings.

Yet the very sanctimonious posturing lies in the hypocritical statements of Western representatives with regard to the Sri Lankan Aragalaya regime change operation. While Biden condemned insurrectionists as ‘extremists’ threatening American democracy, his ambassador to Sri Lanka, Julie Chung, hailed the Sri Lankan insurrectionists as ‘peaceful protesters’. Why is it that the insurrectionists of Sri Lanka were defended as peaceful yet when America is threatened in the same way, their insurrectionists are castigated as a threat? Perhaps post-colonial neo-imperialism is the underlying impetus.

The Aragalaya movement in Sri Lanka was the propulsion of mob violence driven by behind-the-scenes political strategists. Kumar Gunaratnam’s Peratugami and the Anthare played pivotal roles in the planning, organising and executing of the protest-riot compilation. The raging mob violence left millions of rupees in damages in Galle Face alone. The same mobs burned down over sixty homes of lawmakers, destroyed over fifty public and private vehicles and waged incendiarism in the current President’s residence – but yes, according to Ambassador Chung, they are ‘peaceful protesters’.

When Sri Lanka attempted to protect her national assets by making the insurrectionists leave the invaded government buildings, including the Presidential Secretariat, Presidential Residence and Prime Minister’s Residence, the US and Western officials released tweets and reports against President Wickremesinghe’s actions. Yet when their own Capitol building was invaded by insurrectionists, the US government deployed over 26,000 National Guard troops to quell the demonstrations. The double standard in handling crises is not just appalling, but rather vituperative in the larger sense of geopolitical regard.
Of course, this sort of hypocrisy is not new to the table as the same Western governments that unfoundedly accuse Sri Lanka of unsubstantiated war crimes and manipulated ‘genocides’, enjoy immunity from condemnation for their crimes in wars across the world, especially during the Invasion of Iraq and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.

Biden’s antagonist-like monologue lambasted the Trump-aligned population of America as being “a clear and present danger” who placed “a dagger at the throat of [American] democracy”. Does the US diplomatic community suggest that Sri Lanka is not in ‘clear and present danger’ from the politically charged regime change operation that transpired here?

The American state and people have been a friend of Sri Lanka for decades. The political bond that was enjoyed during the JR-Reagan period is one of diplomatic brilliance and political prosperity. Likewise, the US military has always had a cordial relationship with its Sri Lankan counterparts. Amongst several instances, the US Navy Pacific Command provided intelligence to the Sri Lankan government of LTTE terrorist activity to hunt down terrorist ships and crew during the war. Alternatively, the Sri Lankan military provided Jungle Warfare training to foreign troops. The potential inconvenience to this politico-militaristic relationship stems from mishandled diplomacy on both sides of the spectrum; including the double standard view of the US government as well as the failure of the Sri Lankan diplomatic corps in building a stronger relationship with its Western counterparts.

The LTTE international network carries out its compelling strategy of lobbying, litigation and lawmaking in the global arena. By lobbying foreign politicians with funds and votes, the LTTE international body attempts to achieve the vision of separatism through international geopolitics after having failed to achieve it through sheer brutal terrorism on the island. At the same time, the ongoing shift in US foreign policy away from the political ecosystem of the Middle East and towards the Indo-Pacific region signals a potentially intense power play in the region.

The Sri Lankan government and diplomatic corps must immediately understand the severity of this impending materialisation and prepare themselves at the earliest. The economic condition of the country and the failing political stability have rendered the nation a regional punching bag, as rightly commented by President Wickremesinghe. A punching bag will not survive the storm – only a ship with a sturdy sail and adept steering can make it through. It is time Sri Lanka builds her sail and firmly lays her hands on the helm. The storm is coming.

A Tribute to Winifred

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by It is not so conventional for a husband to write an eulogy or memorial for his wife. However, we have not been very conventional in life on many matters and occasions. We were born in the same area of Moratuwa, more precisely Moratuwella, in between the Panadura river and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, the nature and water had some effect on our lives in a positive manner from the beginning. Only on rare occasions we had to be careful about the rising tide of the river or the angry behavior of the sea. The area was fairly clean, and the residents were less than a quarter of the present population. Her house was along Francisco Place and ours was just beside St Peter’s Church. 

It was after an initial stay in Ragala, where her father ran a petrol station, that she came with some of her siblings to stay at their ancestral home and to go to school in Moratuwa. While she went to the Princess of Wales College, I attended the Prince of Wales College. Her elder sister and one of my elder sisters were friends. This gave us the initial opportunity to become family friends. We also went to the same church and Sunday school at St Peter’s Church. 

She had an initial adventurist nature to influence others through several devices. When I met her as a teenager, one of her tricks was to read or pretend to read others’ horoscopes. Perhaps she had learnt something from a Guru. I was bypassed, until I learned palm reading. Obviously, palm reading was more effective than horoscope in conquering followers. That is how I managed to conquer her. 

We had common endeavors in studying and preparing for examinations. That is how we came closer in early 1960s. We exchanged study notes, books, pens, pencils, and letters including love letters. Those days pens were not bolt point but fountain pens. We sometimes got reprimanded by our families for these exchanges, but not necessarily for our friendship. In our family, Winitha was considered a good person and perhaps I also had the same reputation in her family. Among our topics of discussion, leftist politics started to take prominence given my close association with the Lanka Sama Samaja Party – even as a school student. 

We entered the University of Peradeniya, one after the other, I opting to do a special degree in Economics, and Winitha selecting B.Ed.. At Peradeniya, apart from our studies we were closely involved in radical left politics. Our objective was to keep the left movement as independent as possible from the main (bourgeoise) parties – although it was difficult to achieve. Those days, in the student movement, there was a fair balance between studies and student activism. However, things were changing during the latter stages of our student days.  

In 1970, Winitha became a graduate teacher, first teaching at Kandapola, while she boarded at Nuwara Eliya. By that time, we were married. Our marriage was sudden and unconventional. My appointment at Vidyodaya University in June 1969 was an easy excuse for a sudden marriage. Under university rules, when a lecturer goes on overseas leave, the spouse received travel grants if they were married before the appointment. That was an excuse. We didn’t see much point in having a conventional wedding or a big ceremony, although our families were all ready for that. 

This year, 2022, we completed 53 years of married life without any upheavals. Our only son, Ravi, born in 1973, was always on our side. His birth also marked a change in our lives, from being a less responsible couple to a more accountable parents. Politics became more of a theoretical or academic matter without our direct involvement. 

We went to Canada in mid 1970s to complete our postgraduate studies thanks to Prof A. J. Wilson’s help. Winitha completed a M.Ed. We became very close to Wilson family, Susili Wilson (S. J. V. Chelvanayakam’s daughter) as an inspirer. Through experience, we came to know the futility of Sinhala people suspecting or distancing themselves from Tamil people and vice versa, one of the causes of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.               

While more of her study courses centered around educational psychology, she selected “The Development of University Education in Sri Lanka, 1963 – 1971: Implications for Employment” as the research topic. She wrote “My main conclusion is that while it is to some extent clear that the expansion of university education during 1960s, with a greater emphasis on the humanities and social sciences, was largely responsible for aggravating the unemployment situation, there is, however, the more important consideration that a greater share of the blame for the situation has to be assigned to tardy economic growth.” 

Although having a M.Ed. from the University of New Brunswick, she was not expecting any special treatment or promotion as she knew that all these are mostly done in Sri Lanka on different considerations. She accompanied me to Geneva in 1984 until we decided to migrate to Australia for the sake of our son in 1991. She was also committed to the objectives of the World University Service (WUS) as I was. 

She had completed a teaching career of over 15 years by then. Under new regulations, those teachers who had completed 12 years of teaching could obtain retirement and pension. However, she could not. When we applied for a pension, she was served with ‘a vacation of post notice.’ When an appeal was made, a person in charge of the matter said that we should go to the Minister. Although the Minister was personally known to both of us, Winitha was not agreeable to go before a politician as a matter of principle. 

In Australia, she first served at the Community Services Centre in Bondi Junction. Then she obtained a Casual Teacher position in the Western Sydney area. Thus, we moved from East to West in Sydney. When a teacher was on leave or absent, she had to go and teach. No influence was necessary for these appointments. Although it was casual, considering her postgraduate qualifications from Canada, she was given a higher salary scale.  

Teaching and teacher education appeared to make a big influence in a person’s personal character. She was calm and sober, balanced minded and moderate, and without jumping on to quick conclusions on any matter. After my retirement, our lives became much closer during the last ten years or so. We again started to exchange things like shirts and shoes, like in our young age. She was delighted to wear my shirts. 

For the last three years, we have been staying at the Bruce Sharpe Lodge in Rockdale, Sydney. Australia supplies excellent services to old-aged people particularly with health issues. Her passing away was completely unexpected. She was admitted to hospital due to a brain aneurysm. Although a successful surgery was done, acquiring Covid surprisingly in the ICU, prevented her further recovery. No health system appears to be faultless in any country today. Negligence or challenge of Covid was a major factor. 

Winifred passed away peacefully without much suffering on 12 August. Our daughter-in-law Clare, our grandson Josh, our son Ravi, and I were by her side during her last moments. She passed away at 4:33am on 12 August surrounded by music from her childhood (Sunil Santha’s songs were playing) and by her loving family. That is what she always wanted. We feel that she is still with us in spirit although not physically. 

May she Rest in Peace. 

May she attain Nibbana. 

(This tribute was written with inputs from our son, Ravi Fernando.) 

Are these floods in Pakistan an ‘act of God’?

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Calamities are familiar to the people of Pakistan who have struggled through several catastrophic earthquakes, including those in 2005, 2013, and 2015 (to name the most damaging), as well as the horrendous floods of 2010. However, nothing could prepare the fifth most populated country in the world for this summer’s devastating events, which began with high temperatures and political chaos followed by unimaginable flooding.

Cascading frustration with the Pakistani state defines the public mood. Taimur Rahman, the general secretary of the Mazdoor Kisan Party (‘Workers and Peasants Party’), told Peoples Dispatch that after the 2010 floods, there was ‘enormous outrage about the fact that the government had not done anything to ensure that… when there is an overflow of water, it can be controlled’. Evidence of relief funds being siphoned off by corrupt politicians and the wealthy elite began to define the post-2010 period; those memories remain intact. People understand that when the disaster industrial complex is in motion, cycles of corruption accelerate.

A third of Pakistan’s vast landmass was inundated by floods in the last week of August. Satellite imagery showed the rapid spread of the waters which broke the banks of the Indus River, covering large sections of two major provinces, Balochistan, and Sindh. On 30 August 2022, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called it a ‘monsoon on steroids’, as the rainwaters swept away more than 1,000 people to their deaths and displaced about 33 million more. The situation is dire, with those who fled their homes in immediate and long-term danger. The people camped out on higher land, such as major roadways, are currently at risk of starvation and in danger of contracting water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery, and hepatitis. In the long-term, people who have lost their standing crops (cotton and sugarcane) and livestock face guaranteed impoverishment. Pakistan’s Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal estimates that the damages will total more than $10 billion.

At first glance, the primary reason for the floods appears to be additional heavy rain at the tail end of an already record-breaking monsoon or rainy season. A very hot summer with temperatures of over 40°C for long periods in April and May made Pakistan ‘the hottest place on earth’, according to Malik Amin Aslam, a former minister for climate change. These scorching months resulted in abnormal melting of the country’s northern glaciers, whose waters met the torrential rain spurred by a ‘triple dip’ – three consecutive years of La Niña cooling in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In addition, catastrophic climate change – driven by global carbon-fuelled capitalism – has also caused the glacial melt and downpour.

But the nature of the floods themselves are not wholly due to turbulent weather patterns. Significantly, the impact of the rising waters on Pakistan’s population is due to unchecked deforestation and deteriorated infrastructure such as dams, canals, and other channels to contain water. In 2019, the World Bank said that Pakistan faces a ‘green emergency’ because each year about 27,000 hectares of natural forest is cut down, making rainwater absorption in the soil much more difficult.

Furthermore, lack of state investment in dams and canals (now heavily silted) has made it much harder to control large quantities of water. The most important of these dams, canals, and reservoirs are the Sukkur Barrage, the world’s largest irrigation system of its kind, which draws the Indus into the southern Sindh River, and the Mangla and Tarbela reservoirs, which divert the waters from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Illegal real estate construction on floodplains further exacerbates the potential for human tragedy.

God has little to do with these floods. Nature has only compounded the underlying crises of capitalist-driven climate catastrophe and neglect of water, land, and forest management in Pakistan.

What are the urgent multiple crises afflicting Pakistan?

The floodwaters have revealed a set of enduring problems that paralyse Pakistan. Surveys in May, before the floods, showed that 54% of the population considered inflation to be their main problem. By August, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics reported that the wholesale price index, which measures fluctuation in the average prices of goods, increased by 41.2% while the annual inflation rate was 27%. Despite inflation rising globally and the acknowledgment that the cost of the floods would be over $10 billion, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has promised a mere $1.1 billion with austerity-like conditions attached to it such as ‘prudent monetary policy’. It is criminal that the IMF would impose strict austerity when the country’s agricultural infrastructure is utterly destroyed (this inadequate action is reminiscent of the British colonial policy to continue the export of wheat from India during the 1943 Bengal famine). The 2021 Global Hunger Index already placed Pakistan at 92 out of 116 countries with its hunger crisis – prior to the floods – at a serious level. Yet, as none of the country’s bourgeois political parties have taken these findings to heart, undoubtedly, its economic crisis will intensify with little recovery.

This brings us to the acute political crisis. Since its independence from the British in 1947, 75 years ago, Pakistan has had 31 prime ministers. In April 2022, the thirtieth, Imran Khan, was removed to install the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. Khan, who faces charges of terrorism and contempt of court, alleged that his government was removed at the behest of Washington owing to his close ties to Russia. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI or ‘Justice Party’) did not win a majority in the 2018 elections, which left his coalition vulnerable to the departures of a handful of legislators. That is precisely what was done by the opposition, which stormed into power through legislative manoeuvres, without a new mandate from the public. Since his removal, the standing of Imran Khan and the PTI has risen in Pakistan, having won 15 out of 20 of July’s by-elections in Karachi and Punjab, before the floods. Now, as anger rises against Sharif’s government due to the slow pace of relief for flood victims, the political crisis will only deepen.

What are the tasks at hand?

Pakistan is suffering from ‘climate apartheid’. This country of over 230 million people contributes only 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is threatened by the eighth highest climate risk in the world. The failure of Western capitalist countries to acknowledge their destruction of the planet’s climate means that countries like Pakistan, which have low levels of emissions, are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of rapid climate change. Western capitalist countries must at least provide their full support to the Global Climate Action Agenda.

Left and progressive forces – such as the Mazdoor Kisan Party – and other civilian groups have organised a flood relief campaign in Pakistan’s four provinces. They are reaching out mainly with food relief to tackle starvation in hard to reach, largely rural areas. The Pakistani Left is demanding that the government stem the tide of austerity and inflation that is sure to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.

In the summer of 1970, flash floods in the mountainous region of Balochistan caused great damage. A few months later in the general elections, the poet Gul Khan Nasir of the National Awami Party won a seat in the Balochistan provincial assembly and became the minister of education, health, information, social welfare, and tourism. Gul Khan Nasir put his Marxist convictions to work building the social capacity of the Baloch people (including setting up the province’s only medical school in Quetta, the provincial capital). Thrown out of office by undemocratic means, Nasir was sent back to prison, a place he had become all too familiar with in previous years. There, he wrote his anthem, ‘Demaa Qadam’ (‘Forward March’). One of its stanzas, 50 years later, seems to describe the zeitgeist in his native land:

If the sky above your heads
becomes full of anger, full of wrath,
thunder and rain and lightning and wind.
The night becomes dark as pitch.
The ground becomes like fire.
The times become savage.
But your goal remains the same:
March, March, Forward March.

Excerpts from the newsletter of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

A Sri Lankan as Cabinet Minister of United Kingdom

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Who would believe that among the Cabinet members of Prime Minister Liz Truss, is a British-born Sri Lankan, Rt. Hon. Ranil Jayawardena, the charismatic constituency MP for Northeast Hampshire.

As a Sri Lankan living in England, without a British Passport, since the World Cup in June 1966, I find it is a singular honour for my country, an accomplishment of note for Ranil Jayawardena, becoming the first ever individual of Sri Lankan parentage, to be not only appointed a Cabinet Minister but hold one of the prestigious and coveted posts, as Secretary of State for Environment. Food and Rural Affairs. The Brits know we have problems back home, but have much to offer in Britain?

Ranil Jayawardena previously served as Minister for International Trade from May 2020 to September 2022 in Boris Johnson’s government. Without much publicity, I do not need to tell my readers how much he accomplished.

No one knows how much PM Liz Truss had entrusted Ranil Jayawardena, with the delicate diplomatic work of clinching trade treaties with many nations, including with Australia, when she was Secretary of Trade, prior to being promoted by Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. She has in my opinion, rewarded him now for his track record.

A Cabinet of the Colours of Benetton or the Commonwealth?

PM Liz Truss has entrusted and appointed four ethnic minority representatives to hold the four key posts in her Government. It is not necessarily to appease the minorities?

They are the offices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, to Rt. Hon. Kwarsi Kwarteng, of Sierra Leone, the first Black Foreign Secretary; James Cleverley, of West Indian parentage; the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, Q.C, of Indian origin and the first Black Trade Secretary, Kemi Badenock of Nigerian parentage. Besides, we have others of foreign decent, holding well-deserved high posts, both in Government and H.M. Opposition.

It appears for the first time in the history of Parliament and Cabinet Government in the United Kingdom, we see a Government with Commonwealth representation, the “United Colors of Benetton” or a government entrusted to citizens of foreign parentage.

Why are so many Cabinet Ministers of foreign background

It is a well thought out and planned strategy for the Brits to entrust difficult assignments, for that matter “impossible tasks at times of crisis to people of foreign origin”. There is an adage that “the new colonial mindset of the Brits”, is to rely on the best available talent available in the country.

It has been tried and tested strategy in times past, that to get a job done, well and truly done or, “to make a task doable,” the most reliable way, is a search for talent, coupled with proven track record. The Brits are very good at spotting talent, and cultivate association.

People of foreign origin, have a habit of wanting “to better the British,” and they often perform impossible tasks, through sheer hard labour, knowledge and attention to detail.

I know from my experience, how foreigners work hard and how much they deliver against all odds.

I can also imagine how much Ranil Jayawardena will give of himself to prove “a point of delivering the impossible”, by sheer diplomacy.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is a well-known adage

Prior to Brexit, we were told, “that Britain’s being shamed by an army of highly motivated East European immigrants willing to work long hours, according to a report published by the Home Office. Employers believe that immigrant workers are often harder working, reliable and motivated compared to their British counterparts. Have Britons lost the work ethic?” according to The Times.

That said, I know the job ahead of Prime Minister, Liz Truss is a thankless job. To be frank, even her Prime Ministerial post contestant, Rt. Hon. Rishi Sunak said: “he would go back to United States, “Silicon Valley” rather the contest his seat in Yorkshire Dales again.

What makes the Brits so confident that they will deliver now?

For those of us who have breathed the air and the tenacity of the Brits for over half a century now, the British have an innate feel when an impossible job is “do-able”?

They are so adept in getting anyone in the world to do the job, they think can be done.

International Literacy Day – 8 September 2022

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Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. ~ Frederick Douglass

The Sri Lanka Guardian was founded as an online web portal in August 2007 “by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. This portal is currently a platform for over a hundred regular writers from around the world”.  In other words, it accommodates writers to express their ideas and views and comment on what’s going on in the world, to be shared with the literati who, it is hoped,  benefit from the intellectual exertions of the writers. In that context, it is ineluctable that the most important date of the year for both the Sri Lanka Guardian and its readership is 8 September.

International Literacy Day falls on 8 September each year and seemingly passes with the unobtrusive dignity of the message it usually carries – that books enlarge a child’s world and enrich an adult’s vision, knowledge, and wisdom.  As the saying goes, reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Founded in 1966 and designated as International Literacy Day by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  the day is meant “to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. International Literacy Day brings ownership of the challenges of illiteracy back home to local communities where literacy begins, one person at a time”.

UNESCO, which has adopted the theme “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” for this year’s celebrations, says it will be an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable, and inclusive education for all, while going on to say: “In the aftermath of the pandemic, nearly 24 million learners might never return to formal education, out of which, 11 million are projected to be girls and young women. To ensure no one is left behind, we need to enrich and transform the existing learning spaces through an integrated approach and enable literacy learning in the perspective of lifelong learning”.

One of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations is “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”.  Of these words, arguably the most important words are “promote lifelong learning”. Now, most of the world receives basic education in school and those of us who are more receptive and persevering receive university education. But only some of us pursue “lifelong learning”.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman once said he writes his books and columns to learn about things as, in the process of writing he educates himself.  In other words, he acquires knowledge while dispensing wisdom to the world. 

Simplistically put, “literacy” means “the ability to read and write”.  However, this definitive should not be inhibitive to just reading and writing but expansive to be stretched to all the various stages and processes of our education.  Literacy should encompass the five stages of our justification for existence, particularly as literati.  They are, reading; understanding; analyzing; creating and innovating.  Creating and innovating from a literacy sense is achieved through writing, whether it involves writing books, articles, poems, short stories, novels, columns, screenplays, or theatrical plays. The ability to write is innate in all of us but we can bring it to fruition if only we try. The basic tool for writing is reading, which helps us in applying the range of our knowledge to the depths of our curiosity. It makes us realize that we can rejoice in the richness of common academic heritage and believe that imitation is suicide and creativity is the essence of wisdom. At a time when profound and powerful forces are shaking and remaking the world, and information technology brings knowledge to our doorstep, we are in a world which knows no limits to show us that, in a fast-changing world, our challenges are fearsome, but so are our strengths. The fruits of our own literacy give us the certainty of our judgments and the boldness of our convictions to serve the world and help others who might need our guidance.

As the much acclaimed and Man Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy once said: “the place for literature is built by writers and readers. It’s a fragile place in some ways, but an indestructible one. When its broken, we rebuild it. Because we need shelter. I very much like the idea of literature that is needed. Literature that provides shelter. Shelter of all kinds”.

Another distinct benefit of lifelong learning is that it helps us manage ourselves and shows us the path to leadership in our own professions. Leaders who are moral and ethical would know the Greek proverb “Know thyself” and watch out for their mistakes and improve on areas where they are weak in if they continue to pursue learning. They will be able to fix their weakest parts whether they are in regulation, standardization or harmonization. Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, in their book The Mind of the Leader, cite four critical factors sought by today’s workforce: meaning; human connectedness; true happiness; and a desire to contribute positively to the world. Today’s leader has to be connected to herself and to those around her and have a sense of purpose. The teleological significance of life and its meaning and purpose comes from learning. A leader should lead the people towards that sense of purpose. Peter Drucker famously said: “[Y]ou cannot manage other people unless you manage yourself first”.

Literacy, if used wisely makes us antifragile, non-traditional, lateral thinkers who take existing usage and change the way things are. The mind of the true literati is not of a one-time solution provider.  It is constantly active and therefore introduces a dimension that goes beyond adaptability.  Nassim Nicholas Taleb,  the author who introduced the concept of anti-fragility says: “ Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better”.

The literati also think laterally. Wikipedia sums up lateral thinking as “a manner of solving problems using an indirect and creative approach via reasoning that is not immediately obvious. It involves ideas that may not be obtainable using only traditional step-by-step logic”. Lateral thinking goes against the usual “vertical logic”.  Edward de Bono, widely acclaimed as the father and guru of lateral thinking, explains clearly with what he calls “the intelligence trap”: “a highly intelligent person can construct a rational and well-argued case for virtually any point of view. The more coherent this support for a particular point of view the less the thinker sees any need actually to explore the situation.  Such a person may then become trapped into a particular view simply because he can support it”.

Literacy makes us escape from this trap.

Trustless Companions

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3 mins read

Just a few months back, it was in the news that the US authorities were considering imposing sanctions on India because of its trade ties with Russia. It was all being done as a part of US’ isolation strategy during the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine those days. Situation became more serious when India stood in the line of those 35 countries which abstained themselves from voting at the United Nations against the Russian advancement in Ukraine. Certainly the Indian decision of going against the US will and desire was not very much encouraging rather pleasing for the US authorities, military as well as political. At political level both the Democrats and Republicans raised their concerns about India’s stance of ‘going against the wind’ and it was being apprehended that this decision would create distances between the two countries. It was also in the air that the Biden administration might impose sanctions upon India under the ‘CAATSA law’ which imposes certain restrictions on the countries purchasing defense materials from Russia, North Korea and Iran. The abbreviation CAATSA stands for ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. But in spite of all these fears and apprehensions, according to some analysts, India is still the ‘blue-eyed boy’ of US and this misconception rather misunderstanding would prove a seriously painful shock to the US policy-makers, somewhere in near or far future.

Meenakshi Ahmed is a renowned expert on India-US relations. She is the author of ‘A Matter of Trust- U.S. India relations from Truman to Trump’. Recently she penned down an article in the Atlantic with the title, ‘America Has Never Really Understood India’. She said, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has resurrected Cold War hostilities, harkening back to a world in which the United States saw itself pitted in a Manichaean struggle, facing a choice between good and evil. The U.S. is using similar rhetoric today to persuade countries to isolate and punish Moscow.” She further says, “President Joe Biden has garnered support among his NATO allies to impose crippling sanctions on Russia, but his efforts elsewhere have been only partially successful. Australia and Japan—which, along with the U.S., make up three-quarters of the Quad, a relatively new Asian-security grouping—have signed on, but India, the fourth member of the bloc, has declined to join the chorus of condemnation.” If India were a very serious and sincere partner of the US, it must have been the first one to offer all cooperation in this regard.

In March 2015, Crispin Rovere penned down an article in The Interpreter with the title, ‘India is no ally of the US’. The writer said, “As for India and the US, I find it astonishing that after more than 50 years of being repeatedly burned, some Americans still have not learned their lesson and continue insisting that China and India are ‘natural competitors’. This is false. China and India are historical competitors, but such competition is not necessarily ‘natural’ and certainly nothing like the strategic competition that exists between China and the US. After all, any Chinese expansion in the Western Pacific will be at America’s expense. It is hard to argue that India’s expansion into the Indian Ocean is being actively resisted by China. India is not a pro-Western democratic bulwark, and never will be.”

Last year on April 15, 2021, same apprehensions were expressed by Chirayu Thakkar regarding uncertainty of US-India relations in an article appeared in the Stimson. The writer said, “For the last 20 years, the United States has mostly overlooked its divergences with India in multilateral forums as the relationship paid economic, strategic, and political dividends bilaterally, whereas the costs of divergences at the multilateral level were negligible. In spite of such exceptionalism enjoyed by New Delhi, U.S. diplomats at all levels reminded their Indian counterparts that India’s “obstinate role at the UN was increasingly at odds with our emerging strategic proximity.” With a restructuring of the global order, continuous assault on rules-based order, and China’s rise as a common strategic adversary, the costs of their inability to work together in the global governance arena can be much higher for both countries today.”

‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’ is no doubt a book which must be an eye-opener to all those who are misguided by the notion that India would always remain an ally of the US, keeping all its national interest aside. The book is written by India’s external affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. He has very emphatically tried to explain that India has no plan to align itself fully with either the U.S. or China. He says, “This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, reassure Russia, and bring Japan into play.” Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In September 2021, his review on Shankar’s book was published in the Hill, in which he tried to make his readers realize that whatever Jaishankar said in his book, must not be taken for granted as he had been a former ambassador to both Washington and Beijing; moreover he is the son of Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam who is recognized as the ‘father of India’s nuclear program’. Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam is the person who maintained close ties with Moscow even as he was perhaps the leading advocate of the 2007 Indo-U.S. Agreement on Civilian Nuclear Cooperation. If such a well-informed and well-connected person does not find harmony in American and Indian interests, it means the actual situation is altogether different from what apparently seems. If India is not fair in its relationship with US, why US is wasting its resources on making India ‘the regional god-father’.

Public ownership of essential UK services?

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3 mins read

Public ownership of essential resources remains a dream, but is hugely popular across the political divide. According to a YouGov poll for “The Times”, half of Tory voters now want Britain’s energy companies brought back into public hands.

With the energy crisis, this should not surprise many, although some Parliamentarians would deny it. The Labour Party, however, defends proposals for the freeze on energy bills part funded by expanded windfall tax on oil and gas profits.

Public ownership of energy, water, railways and postal services privatised during the time of Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in the 1990’s was desired to increase competition. But, times have changed and the mood of the country has undergone a seismic change, let alone the Covid 19 pandemic.

Fixed prices for goods, fair wages for workers and unfair profiteering was then seen as immoral. But today, what has happened in the past year, is the so called “failure of privatisation”?

Do people want nationalisation?

Skyrocketing of energy bills have reached the tipping point. Living standards have been squeezed. Resolution Foundation says rising energy bills will push an extra 3 million people into poverty.

This is adding pressure on Boris Johnson’s successor as Prime Minister “to beef up support” from State resources.

With prices rising faster than wages, strikes are the order of the day. With winter fast approaching, there is anxiety brewing. Food banks, people forced to take shelter in public libraries and museums, to save mounting fuel bills; Museums in turn want to close on select days to conserve energy. The incoming government of a new Prime Minister after 6 September 2022 is making life imponderable.

Stagnation due to weak productivity?

Liz Truss, the front runner to replace Johnson, was quoted as saying:
“If you look at productivity, it is very, very different in London, from the rest of the country, but basically this has been a historical fact for decades. Essentially it’s partly a mindset and attitude thing. I think it’s working culture basically.”

Critics of Liz Truss say she has ruffled feathers by describing a very real problem. To claim this is due to the innate idleness of people outside London is offensive and more important for an incoming Prime Minister – economically illiterate by their standards.

Others maintain workers in London didn’t suddenly and spontaneously decide to work harder than their counterparts elsewhere.

It is well known that in the aftermath years of the Thatcher Revolution of the 1980’s and 1990’s, there was disproportionate opportunities for wealth creation both in London and the rest of the country. Boris Johnson called it levelling up.

While only roughly 15% of UK population is based in London, with the capital capturing 30% of the country’s private sector employment, in high-wage, high-skilled professions in insurance and banking fields, we cannot blame graft as being the real problem elsewhere in the country. There were regional inequalities, regional price structures, regional dialects,
among others, to name a few.

The emphasis of Governments, Conservative and Labour over the years was for government spending in the capital, while the rest of the country was short of technological and infrastructural development. Poor transport services, old industrial base in the countryside with shut down coalmines and factory closures to boot. Capital strangulation in short. These problems were hardly highlighted.

Liz Truss hopes to bring a new era to Britain, at a time of tremendous change and unease.
She has launched an astonishing broadside against the sluggishness of the British worker, suggesting they lack the “skills and application” of foreign rivals, pitting Londoners against the rest of the country, perhaps, UK against the rest of the developed world.

Wilful misrepresentation by the media?

To force Liz Truss to lay her cards open ahead of the election to high office, she has had to undergo media scrutiny, multiple meetings, hustings, and quotations which she made when she was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, a post she held until 2019.

That was then, but now she has rightfully claimed there has been a wilful misrepresentation of her policy. But, she is steadfast, as at a recent Tory leadership husting in Perth, Scotland, she appeared to confirm she still believes “British workers are not as productive as they should be”.

The Labour Party’s rebuttal as expressed by Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth states,” workers across the country are working all hours to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and provide for their families”.

No one denies the above, but the job of the future Prime Minister of Great Britain, is an envious job. Whoever manages to win the leadership race of the Conservative Party will have a number of challenges to contend with in the days and weeks ahead.

Britain’s economy is facing rocketing inflation, high expectation coupled with high debt and low growth, representing one of the tightest squeeze on people’s finances in decades, all during an energy crunch exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, which has sent fuel prices soaring.

The Most Important Election in the Americas Is in Brazil

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5 mins read

Former Brazilian President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) runs about on stage at the Latin America Memorial in São Paulo. He was there on August 22, 2022, speaking at a book launch featuring photographs by Ricardo Stuckert about Lula’s trips around the world when he was the president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. Lula is a man with a great deal of energy. He recounts the story of when he was in Iran with his Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in 2010, trying to mediate and end the conflict imposed by the United States over Iran’s nuclear energy policy. Lula managed to secure a nuclear deal in 2010 that would have prevented the ongoing pressure campaign that Washington is conducting against Tehran. There was relief in the air. Then, Lula said, “Obama pissed outside the pot.” According to Lula, then-U.S. President Barack Obama did not accept the deal and crushed the hard work of the Brazilian leadership in bringing all sides to an agreement.

Lula’s story puts two important points on the table: he was able to build on Brazil’s role in Latin America by offering leadership in far-off Iran during his previous tenure as president, and he is not afraid of expressing his antipathy for the way the United States is scuttling the possibility of peace and progress across the world for its own narrow interests.

The book release took place during Lula’s campaign for president against the current incumbent—and deeply unpopular—President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is now in the lead in the polls ahead of the first round of Brazil’s presidential election to be held on October 2.

Fernando Haddad, who ran against Bolsonaro in 2018 and lost after receiving less than 45 percent of the vote, told me that this election remains “risky.” The polls might show that Lula is in the lead, but Bolsonaro is known to play dirty politics to secure his victory. The far right in Brazil, like the far right in many other countries, is fierce in the way it contests for state power. Bolsonaro, Haddad said, is willing to lie openly, saying offensive things to the far-right media and then when challenged about it by the mainstream media, he tends to feign ignorance. “Fake news” seems to be Bolsonaro’s best defense each time he is attacked. The left is far more sincere in its political discourse; leftists are unwilling to lie and eager to bring the issues of hunger and unemployment, social despair and social advancement to the center of the political debate. But there is less interest in these issues and less noise about them in a media landscape that thrives on the theatrics of Bolsonaro and his followers. The old traditional right is as outflanked as the far right in Brazil, which is a space that is now commanded by Bolsonaro (the old traditional right, the men in dark suits who made decisions over cigars and cachaça, are unable to supplant Bolsonaro).

Former Brazilian president Lula attracted a crowd of 50,000 people in pre-campaign act in Teresina, Piaui, Brasil, 3 August 2022. [ Photograph: Roberta Aline/Zuma Press Wire/Rex/Shutterstock ]

Both Bolsonaro and Lula face an electorate that either loves them or hates them. There is little room for ambiguity in this race. Bolsonaro represents not only the far right, whose opinions he openly champions, but he also represents large sections of the middle class, whose aspirations for wealth remain largely intact despite the reality that their economic situation has deteriorated over the past decade. The contrast between the behavior of Bolsonaro and Lula during their respective presidential campaigns has been stark: Bolsonaro has been boorish and vulgar, while Lula is refined and presidential. If the election goes to Lula, it is likely that he will get more votes from those who hate Bolsonaro than from those who love him.

Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is reflective on the way forward. She told me that Lula will likely prevail in the election because the country is fed up with Bolsonaro. His horrible management of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the economic situation in the country mark Bolsonaro as an inefficient manager of the Brazilian state. However, Rousseff pointed out that about a month before the election, Bolsonaro’s government—and the regional governments—have been rolling out policies that have started to lighten the burden on the middle class, such as the lifting of taxation on gasoline. These policies could sway some people to vote for Bolsonaro, but even that is not likely. The political situation in Brazil remains fragile for the left, with the main blocs on the right (agro-business, religion and the military) willing to use any means to maintain their hold on power; it was this right-wing coalition that conducted a “legislative coup” against Rousseff in 2016 and used “lawfare,” the use of law for political motives, against Lula in 2018 to prevent him from running against Bolsonaro. These phrases (legislative coup and lawfare) are now part of the vocabulary of the Brazilian left, which understands clearly that the right bloc (what is called centrão) will not stop pursuing their interests if they feel threatened.

João Paulo Rodrigues, a leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) is a close adviser to the Lula campaign. He told me that in the 2002 presidential election, Lula won against the incumbent Fernando Henrique Cardoso because of an immense hatred for the neoliberal policies that Cardoso had championed. The left was fragmented and demoralized at that time of the election. Lula’s time in office, however, helped the left mobilize and organize, although even during this period the focus of popular attention was more on Lula himself rather than the blocs that comprised the left. During Lula’s incarceration on corruption charges, which the left says are fraudulent, he became a figure that unified the left: Lula Livre, “Free Lula,” was the unifying slogan, and the letter L (for Lula) became a symbol (a symbol that continues to be used in the election campaign). While there are other candidates from Brazil’s left in the presidential race, there is no question for Rodrigues that Lula is the left’s standard-bearer and is the only hope for Brazil to oust the highly divisive and dangerous leadership of President Bolsonaro. One of the mechanisms to build the unity of popular forces around Lula’s campaign has been the creation of the Popular Committees (comités populares), which have been working to both unify the left and create an agenda for the Lula government (which will include agrarian reform and a more robust policy for the Indigenous and Afro-Brazilian communities).

The international conditions for a third Lula presidency are fortuitous, Rousseff told me. A wide range of center-left governments have come to power in Latin America (including in Chile and Colombia). While these are not socialist governments, they are nonetheless committed to building the sovereignty of their countries and to creating a dignified life for their citizens. Brazil, the third-largest country in the Americas (after Canada and the United States of America), can play a leadership role in guiding this new wave of left governments in the hemisphere, Rousseff said. Haddad told me that Brazil should lead a new regional project, which will include the creation of a regional currency (sur) that can not only be used for cross-border trade but also for holding reserves. Haddad is currently running to be the governor of São Paulo, whose main city is the financial capital of the country. Such a regional currency, Haddad believed, will settle conflicts in the hemisphere and build new trade linkages that need not rely on long supply chains that have been destabilized by the pandemic. “God willing, we will create a common currency in Latin America because we do not have to depend on the dollar,” said Lula in May 2022.

Rousseff is eager for Brazil to return to the world stage through the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and offer the kind of left leadership that Lula and she had given that platform a decade ago. The world, Rousseff said, needs such a platform to offer leadership that does not rely on threats, sanctions and war. Lula’s anecdote about the Iran deal is a telling one since it shows that a country like Brazil under the leadership of the left is more willing to settle conflicts rather than to exacerbate them, as the United States did. There is hope, Rousseff noted, for a Lula presidency to offer robust leadership for a world that seems to be crumbling due to the myriad challenges such as climate catastrophe, warfare and social toxicity.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sri Lanka: Aragalaya has a message — Don’t shoot the messengers

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6 mins read

During a meeting in Anuradhapura recently, President Wickremasinghe, deliberately, or inadvertently and/or innocently touched on a core issue that is at the heart of the dissatisfaction people have with the political system and what it has produced over the years. He mentioned that the original spring (or ulpotha) that gave rise to subsequent political parties, (authors remark, Sinhala Buddhist oriented parties) was the United National Party (UNP). He mentioned late SWRD Bandaranaike who was in the UNP, and who subsequently formed the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP), a section of which has since evolved into the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Party (SLPP) under the leadership of the Rajapaksa brothers, Chamal, Mahinda, Basil, and Gotabaya, and whose father late D A Rajapaksa had broken away from the UNP along with SWRD Bandaranaike to form the SLFP, and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), a breakaway from the UNP, had their origins in the UNP.  In making these observations, President Wickremasinghe extolled all these parties to come together now in the country’s hour of need as they all had a common source of origin.

While all political parties must come together at this hour of need to forge a future together from the ashes of the economic debacle that the country is in, President Wickremasinghe must realise that such a coming together cannot be and must not be for a return to the status quo and to perpetuate the system that has existed since independence, as it is this system that has brought about the economic bankruptcy of the country.

The system that political leaders and political parties established and managed since independence had some successes, but many failures. The weaknesses outweighed the strengths.  In hindsight, the country can see this and should learn lessons from past mistakes. The bankruptcy of the country in economic terms is a result of the system and those who the system produced and who then managed it. Policy flip flops, absence of strategic thinking and action, huge debt based investments without assessing costs and benefits and return on investments, systemic corruption at all levels of the society, absence of a  coherent and consistent foreign policy, have all been inherent features of the political system that has failed the country. The reluctance and/or inability of political parties to get together to develop a governance policy for the next 12-18 months when the country is at the bottom of the pit is an indication of the dynamics of the political system. The next election and who acquires power is more important for the constituents of the system, than the interests of the country. This is the reality.

In this context, whatever other motives Aragalaya or some within it may have had and still have, the fundamental premise is the need to change the political system. And why? Simply, because it failed the country.

The spring or ulpotha that the UNP was, and all the rivers and rivulets that flowed from it no doubt would have had good intentions overall, but the stark fact is that they all failed. The present and coming generations do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. All they see is the system that failed them, making all possible attempts to resurrect itself.

Rather than arresting, detaining, and charging some who were associated with the Aragalaya, it would have been far more strategic and politically more prudent to have begun a discussion with the Aragalaya and encourage it to have discussions with the broader public rather than attempting to silence its voice. In saying this, there is not even a hint made that any violent action should be condoned and tolerated. However, some would view the use of the PTA, detention, and court action against protestors as nonphysical violence against them if one were to consider these means as part of the status quo, system-wise.

The following excerpt from the Daily Mirror is quoted to support the contention that the system had failed. Quote “the list of creditors in the $81 billion economy ranges from Western sovereign bondholders, who together account for the largest $14 billion slice of debt, to bilateral players such as China, Japan, and India. Then there are the multilateral lenders — the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The country’s outstanding foreign debt is a staggering $51 billion, with some independent economists estimating that China’s lending to Sri Lanka from 2001 to 2021 amounted to nearly $9.95 billion. Sri Lanka had a foreign debt bill of $6.9 billion that it had to service in 2022 but defaulted in April after it ran out of foreign reserves, a first in the South Asian nation’s history.

The country of 22 million currently has $300 million worth of usable foreign reserves, not enough to ensure a steady flow of food, fuel and pharmaceutical imports. The latest figures from the Department of Census and Statistics show that food inflation in July soared to 82.5% on the year “unquote.

The country’s economic bankruptcy cannot be clearer than this. It is a country surviving on debt, and with almost no assets in the form of foreign exchange reserves to buy its essentials.

When mentioning systems, it is not only the political system that is the subject of the discussion. Many parts of the administrative system, the judicial system, the law enforcement system, the prison system judging by shocking and disgusting revelations made by a recently released high-profile prisoner, are also in a state of dysfunction, with bribery and corruption permeating to these as they have to the political system.

Sinhala Buddhist hegemony has become even more evident and a stronger influence in the outcome of elections leading to who governs and who does not. There is increasing evidence of Muslim extremism from a Sri Lanka perspective, with more fundamentalist Wahabism taking hold in in the country and amongst Muslims. Christian church groups outside of the more traditional Catholic, Anglican and Methodist groups have spread and have become stronger. One needs to question whether strengthening of Sinhala Buddhist hegemony has been a consequence of other religious denominations veering more towards orthodoxy and fundamentalism or whether it has been the other way about. There is confusion as to where the Egg is and where the Chicken is.

The political system, and in a general sense, the politicians it has produced, one inextricably linked to the other, and the unquestioning attitude of voters, their expectation of maximum governmental interference in economic affairs of individuals and society, the opposite of a laissez-faire system, has contributed to short term politics and who gets their vote in return for small handouts. The political literacy of the public, in a general sense, has been questionable as they have been averse to considering and accepting a middle ground economic model.

In this climate, and context, unless the politicians of today take the lead to metamorphose themselves and the system, and learn lessons from the likes of the Aragalaya, the system could well be replaced by something else which everyone may come to regret later. Persecuting people associated with the Aragalaya is not the answer. Listening to their message, and the message of many who are very likely a silent majority, is the answer.

In effect, the current political system distances people from governance, and pays only lip service to the adage that democracy is about electing governments for the people by the people. No doubt there are no perfect democracies, and some might agree with the Churchillian adage that democracy is the least bad system of governance.

The purpose of mentioning these dysfunctional state of affairs is to pose the question where Sri Lanka is with human rights, moral and ethical conduct in all aspects of governance despite its 74 year post independence history, and the much publicized Sinhala Buddhist majority heritage.

If one takes the view that the political system is at the pinnacle of all systems considering its role in political governance, it would not be out of place here to conclude that the root of the cancer has been and still is the political system. Unfortunately, this cancer appears to have spread to all other parts of overall governance, and it is questionable whether it is possible to excise the cancer from the primary source of the eventual spread, the political system. Even if it were possible, leaving such a task in the hands of politicians themselves would be stupid and a guaranteed failure.

A new Aragalaya, comprising of as many non-partisan political bodies and personnel functioning as opinion facilitators amongst the public, should lead the task of exploring a new political system for the country. While some are calling for elections, it will not address the critical need to change the governance system that has brought the country to where it is now. Without a change to the system, it will continue to produce the kind of politicians who have governed the country so far and brought it to where it is today. The political literacy of the public too needs advancement, and this should be led and facilitated by a new breed of politicians as well as by religious and society leaders. The same machine will produce identical sausages. The machine must be changed to produce different sausages. A crude analogy, but a logical one.

A new system that focuses on long-term planning carried out by experts in economic, agricultural, energy, health, education and social areas, which provides equal rights to everyone, including women, which recognizes the ethnic and religious diversity of the country without any one segment of the society labeled as more equal than others, which ensures all citizens are equal before the law and which ensures that adherence with the law of the land entertains no compromise, which has strong punitive measures against bribery and corruption, and which provides for a political governance council drawn from all levels of the society and which devolves administrative governance to peripheral levels, are some features that a future governance model could consider.

One does not need to be an Einstein to say that it would be foolish to expect different results if one continues to do the same thing.

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