Politics - Page 4

United Kingdom: Legal Basis for The Constitutional Monarchy

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Do not be fooled by constitutional theories (the ‘paper  description’)  and  formal  institutional  continuities  (‘connected  outward  sameness’)  – concentrate  instead  on  the  real  centres  of  power  and  the  practical  working  of  the  political system (‘living reality’).  Walter Bagehot (1867)

This article commences with profound appreciation of Her Majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II and her service to the Nation and concludes with every good wish for the reign of His Majesty King Charles III.

At this turning point in the history of the United Kingdom the most fundamental truth and point of clarity is that the King reigns (as head of nation) but does not rule.  This legal profundity is founded on the philosophy of John Locke ( 1632-1704) who propounded the concept of the “Moderate Monarchy” – a new political idea – that infused certain limitations of power on the Monarchy based on the principle that laws should be enacted for the common good of the citizenry.  Having introduced this approach,  Locke advocated residual powers for the sovereign, ascribing discretion to the sovereign to change or amend laws – again for the common good -a practice  now known as the Royal Prerogative. 

It is the Parliament that rules and the King is obliged to follow the advice of Parliament. The King has meetings once a month with his Privy Council – his advisory body – and approves Orders in Council that emanate from the consultations with and advice of The Privy Council.  The King also performs, with the advice of the Parliament,  several key functions such as appointing the Prime Minister and senior judges and  receiving  incoming and outgoing ambassadors. The King also signs State papers which he receives daily and conducts weekly meetings with his Prime Minister as well as other meetings regularly  with senior officials.

Additionally, the Monarch can declare war and peace; sign treaties; dissolve Parliament; confer peerages and knighthoods.

In 1689 co-rulers of England King William III and Queen Mary II signed into law the English Bill of Rights.  For the first time in English history the bill adumbrated explicit constitutional and civic rights and it is believed by many that it was the genesis of the constitutional Monarchy (where the monarch’s discretion is limited) and Parliamentary power over the Monarchy. Arguably, The English Bill of Rights greatly influenced the draughtsmen of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The English Bill of Rights came into being after the ouster of King James II who was largely considered autocratic and was subsequently ousted.  Ineluctably therefore the document identified the misdeeds of James II.  The English Bill of Rights clearly ascribed to the king or queen the exalted position of head of State but circumscribed some of his or her powers which were considered as limited by law. Some of the rights contained and embodied in The English  Bill of Rights were: freedom to elect members of Parliament, without the king or queen’s interference; freedom of speech in Parliament; freedom from royal interference with the law; freedom to petition the king; freedom to bear arms for self-defence; freedom from cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail; freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without the agreement of Parliament; freedom of fines and forfeitures without a trial; freedom from armies being raised during peacetimes. The English  Bill of Rights also prohibited Catholics from becoming the Monarch and required that Parliament be convened regularly.

The Monarchy was obligated to rule under the consent of Parliament, with the recognition that the people had individual rights. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to say that in the  British constitutional Monarchy, the king (or queen)  plays a largely ceremonial role. However, the monarch stands out as the symbol and inspiration of national unity and earns the respect of the local and international community as an apolitical figure.  The famous former editor of The Economist Walter Bagehot described the monarch as the “dignified part of the Constitution”.

At law, there can be no civil or criminal proceedings against the sovereign. It’s par for the course that this exemption notwithstanding, the King or Queen (as the case may be) is careful to act within the bounds of law and tradition. The genesis of this tradition arguably lies in The Magna Carta Liberatum (Great Charter) signed between King John and a group of barons in 1215 laying out the freedoms of individuals.  The document was composed of 63 Articles, one of which said the king must follow the law and could not simply rule as he wished. The Magna Carta stands as the monument of the constitutional history of England.

One of the legacies, and indeed a blessing of the Moderate Monarchy as espoused by John Locke is that between the Monarchy and parliament, these two institutions effectively preclude the infestation of insidious and invidious autocracies in the community. A corollary to the harmonious blending of the two institutions is The Rule of Law.  One of the most significant features of the majesty of the law as the queen of humanities is the elegance of the Rule of Law as the foundation of humanity.  The Rule of Law is the hallmark of democracy.  Regrettably, at the present time, the aspirations people had of equal rights and representation by the people of the people for the people have gradually  eroded into a quagmire of ambivalent populism that is shrouded in mendacious and self-serving casuistry. A whole new phenomenon called illiberal democracy has been identified by the intelligentsia as a definition of this  phenomenon. The hallmark of illiberal democracy is the ignoring by those democratically elected by the people – in many instances those that have been re-elected or reaffirmed through referenda – of constitutional limits on their power, thereby depriving their citizens of basic rights and freedom.

The Rule of Law, which is entrenched in the unwritten British Constitution reflects the quintessence of Constitutional Monarchy. To this end Lard Bingham has attempted a definition of the Rule of Law thus: “all individuals and organizations within the State, whether public or private, are bound by, and entitled to the benefit of laws prospectively promulgated and publicly administered in the courts”.  This definition can be expanded to several corollaries. Laws should be intelligible.  They should not be couched in a plethora of pages in convoluted language and expanded to hundreds of regulations.  Nor should they be orally delivered  through speeches and pronouncements.  Any written amendment to a law should be brought to the attention of the people.  A society should be governed by law and not by discretion granted to or assumed by public officials.  Additionally, they should be equally applied.  To expand further, laws should not favour a particular category of individual.  Past examples are the depravity of slavery, servanthood  and the arbitrarily perceived  inferiority of women in some jurisdictions.

It can be argued that the sustenance of the modern-day British Monarchy and its dignified relationship with the Parliament would continue to ac as a buffer against populism, illiberalism, and autocracy.

Sri Lanka: UN Resolution Violates Our Sovereignty

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The following article is based on excerpts adapted from the statement by the author as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka at the 51st Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 12 September 2022 – Edts

We remain cognizant of and acutely sensitive to the events that have taken place in the recent past. The severe economic crisis emanating from factors both internal and external offer many lessons for all of us. We recall in this context the indivisibility of human rights, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The Government is extremely sensitive to the socio-economic hardships faced by our people, and has initiated immediate multi-pronged measures to address the challenges and to ensure their wellbeing through the provision of supplies essential to the life of the community. A staff level agreement has been reached with the International Monetary Fund, and discussions on debt restructuring are in progress. The Government is in dialogue with UN agencies as well as bilateral partners to protect the most vulnerable from the adverse impacts of the crisis. In spite of multiple challenges, Sri Lanka would endeavour to remain on course in meeting the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The recent changes that have taken place bear testimony to our continued commitment to upholding our longstanding democratic principles and norms. The constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and expression guaranteed the democratic space for our people to exercise their rights. In this regard, transgressions of the law resulting in criminal and unlawful activity were addressed in accord with the law and the Constitution, in circumstances where such freedoms were abused by elements with vested interests to achieve undemocratic political ends.

Notwithstanding the severe constraints and challenges, Sri Lanka remains firmly committed to pursuing tangible progress in the protection of human rights and reconcilation through independent domestic institutions.

Categorical Rejection

Sri Lanka along with several Members of this Council have opposed resolution 46/1, fundamentally disagreeing with its legitimacy and objectives. We have consistently highlighted that the content of the resolution, its operative paragraph 06 in particular, violates the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka and the principles of the UN Charter. Once again, we are compelled to categorically reject any follow-up measures to the resolution, as well as the related recommendations and conclusions by the High Commissioner.

It is observed that the High Commissioner’s report makes extensive reference to “economic crimes”. Apart from the ambiguity of the term, it is a matter of concern that such reference exceeds the mandate of the OHCHR. In this context, we recall the paramount importance of adhering to UNGA resolutions 60/251, 48/141 and the IB package.

Notwithstanding, Sri Lanka has continued to brief the Council on the comprehensive legal framework that is being established to further strengthen governance and combat corruption. The proposed 22nd Amendment to the Constitution introduces several salient changes which would strengthen democratic governance and independent oversight of key institutions, as well as public scrutiny, participation in governance, and combating corruption including the constitutional recognition of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). This will include, inter alia, the composition of the Constitutional Council, and the reintroduction of the National Procurement Commission and the Audit Service Commission. The proposed legal framework will also strengthen the asset declaration system, protect the rights of whistle blowers, and increase the independence of the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption.  A proposal to establish a system similar to an Inspector General tasked with overseeing government expenses by detecting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse in public institutions, is under consideration.

Our Own Way Against Corruption

Measures aimed at promoting domestic reconciliation and human rights, if they are to be meaningful and sustainable, must be based on cooperation with the country concerned, be compatible with the aspirations of its people, and be consonant with its basic legal framework. The international community is aware that unconstitutional and intrusive external initiatives have repeatedly failed to yield meaningful results on the ground, and are in effect an unproductive drain on member state resources.

The Government would endeavour to establish a credible truth-seeking mechanism within the framework of the Constitution. The contours of such a model that would suit the particular conditions of Sri Lanka are under discussion.

The recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on “Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees and the Way Forward” have, inter alia, resulted in the establishment of an Advisory Board under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), progressive amendments to the PTA, and the release of detainees. Further recommendations are awaited.

As we delivered on the onerous task of review and reform of the PTA this year, to further enhance human rights, we will replace the PTA with a more comprehensive national security legislation in accordance with international best practices.

Repealing PTA

The recent delisting of groups and individuals will provide further impetus for constructive dialogue.

The independent statutory bodies established to advance the rights of victims and their families, and to provide reparations, continue to vigourously execute their respective mandates.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) has commenced the process of inquiry and verification, set up separate units on Tracing and Victim and Family Support, and acts as an Observer on relevant judicial proceedings.

Despite economic constraints, the Office for Reparations (OR) continues to deliver on its mandate, and the recently adopted National Reparations Policy and Guidelines have expanded the work of the Office beyond monetary compensation, to other forms of support.

The necessary support and resources to strengthen the functioning of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), continue to be provided.

The outreach to overseas Sri Lankans encompassing all communities and generations will be expanded through the establishment of an Office for Overseas Sri Lankans, thus facilitating more vigourous engagement.

As recognized in the Universal Declaration, human rights are interdependent, interrelated and indivisible. In upholding human rights, we have benefitted from the considerable expertise available with other countries as well as the United Nations. We will seek further advice and support on best practices as we proceed, and as deemed necessary.

Real Challenges

We will continue our cooperation with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms. Sri Lanka is party to the 9 core Human Rights Conventions and has maintained regular and constructive engagement with the UN Treaty Bodies. We have extended a standing invitation to all UN thematic Special Procedures mandate holders to visit Sri Lanka, and facilitated a high number of visits in the recent past. We look forward to constructive engagement with the Council through the Universal Periodic Review process. We have delivered on our commitments at the UPR, and will proactively engage in the upcoming UPR fourth cycle.

 We have facilitated two visits by the Office of the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka in May and August this year, and provided unimpeded access. The visits provided the officials of the OHCHR with the opportunity to engage with a range of stakeholders, and witness progress.

It is 13 years since the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and since then a new generation has emerged with their own aspirations. While issues of reconciliation and accountability are being comprehensively addressed through a domestic process, it is time to reflect realistically on the trajectory of this resolution which has continued on the agenda of the Council for over a decade, and undertake a realistic assessment on whether it has benefited the people of Sri Lanka. There is a need to acknowledge actual progress on the ground and support Sri Lanka.

 The current challenges, though formidable, have provided us with a unique opportunity to work towards institutional change for the betterment of our people. Sri Lanka appreciates the solidarity and support extended by our friends and partners during this challenging time. In a message of unity and reconciliation, President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his inaugural address to Parliament said “if we come together, we will be able to invigorate the nation”.

Sajid Javed: Man Behind Truss’s Victory

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I’m wandering across Scotland spreading time between tasting Scotch, admiring the stunning terrain, imbibing the Scottish way, and witnessing historic political events in the UK from Melrose, on the Scottish-English border. Dominating the news are two events: the battle for No 10; and the embarrassing failure of HMS Prince of Wales to sail.

At 12.30 PM Monday, the Conservative Party at Westminster chose Foreign Minister Liz Truss over Rishi Sunak with a surprisingly small majority to become Prime Minister of Britain following the coup against Boris Johnson in July. Truss’s win was widely predicted and only a miracle could have helped Sunak win. Commentators said they would ‘eat their hat’ or any other item of accouterment was Truss to lose. The UK is not yet ready to have a non-White as Prime Minister.

At 96, the ailing but most loved Queen did not ask the heir to the throne, Prince Charles to swear in Liz Truss, a ceremony that was performed for the first time at Balmoral Castle during her 70-year reign and not Buckingham Palace where thousands of tourists pay Pound Sterling 30 (Rs 3000) for a guided tour. Instead, yesterday the Queen received the PM-in-waiting Truss for the ‘kissing of the hand’, forming the government, and a photograph. In 1908, King Edward VII gave an audience to Herbert Asquith when the monarch was relaxing at the French coastal resort of Biarritz. Both Truss and Sunak had agreed to meet the Queen wherever she was, with Sunak adding: “the PM serves her Majesty”. For Indians, Sunak reaching so close (and yet so far) to becoming PM must be something to celebrate.

On 27th August, the Daily Telegraph put out a two-page supplement for its guesstimate of the Truss cabinet. Expected for the three most senior posts of Chancellor, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary are Kwasi Kwarteng, Suella Braverman, and James Cleverly. Kwarteng is a free marketeer and a consistent political ally of Truss. Together they have advocated low taxes, low regulation economy, and minimum governance. John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg are likely to assist the Chancellor. Braverman will have the challenging mission of ending illegal immigrants across the Channel (last Sunday 1061 crossed over). She’s known to have favoured their deportation to Rwanda, since suspended by the courts. Braverman, a child of Kenyan and Mauritian immigrants had described the British empire as “on the whole, a force of good”. For Foreign Secretary, Truss’ likely choice and replacement are James Cleverly assisted by Tom Tugendhat, who was one of the PM aspirants. Cleverly was a junior minister in the Foreign Office.

Tugendhat, a former Army officer, and like Truss a China hawk is chairman Foreign Affairs select committee. Ben Wallace, the current Defence Minister, is likely to keep his job. He has advocated a higher defence budget which agrees with Truss’pledge to raise it to 3 per cent of GDP. Some other ‘likelies’ in the Cabinet are Sir Ian Ducan Smith as leader of the House, Nadeem Zahawi whose leadership bid failed spectacularly, as Health Secretary, and Ranil Jayawardene of Sri Lankan descent as Environment Secretary. Whether Sunak will be in is the big question. He has said he wants to support the Conservative Government in “whatever capacity”.

Sajid Javed who triggered the coup against Boris Johnson and later backed Truss may be rewarded with a ministerial post. Big names likely to be left out are Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab, and Alok Sharma. The Truss government faces enormous economic challenges especially meteoric energy bills. While the pound sterling is struggling, funding the National Health Service is the other big challenge. The never-ending row with France is back in the spotlight. When asked last week whether she considered Macron a friend or foe, Truss replied: ‘the jury is out’. Macron’s response: ‘The UK is a friendly nation, regardless of its leaders’. Macron added: ‘if Britain and France cannot determine whether they are friends or enemies, then we are heading for serious problems.

An embarrassing event that Britain could have done without last week was the failed maiden voyage to the US of the UK’s largest (65,000 tonnes) aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, dedicated to Nato. Earlier this year, the second aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth, was on a long tour of the Indo-Pacific which included exercises with the Indian Navy. A British Gurkha veteran I spoke to, was puzzled about the four-year Agnipath scheme. Operation BoJo (return of Boris Johnson as PM) many Brits feel, could happen before Christmas following a no-confidence vote in Truss so that he can lead Tories into elections in January 2025. Labour is ahead in the recent polls. India is hoping the FTA under India-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership due by Diwali will happen and the price of Scotch will be deregulated. Cheers from Melrose!

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.

Four Prime Ministers in six years in Britain?

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Talk about the changing seasons, there is no better country than Britain to change its leaders.

“Knickers to the pessimists, how about that, knickers to all who talk Britain down,” so said Boris Johnson, when he took office as Prime Minister, two and a half years ago when he replaced Theresa May in December 2019. Theresa May was preceded by David Cameron in 2016.

Parliaments are for a fixed term of five years, but it seems the electorate gets fed up with leaders as they fail to meet their expectations.

Many believe, that Boris Johnson was elected as a one-issue Brexit Prime Minister, but he not only delivered Brexit against all odds but made the capital, by rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations, which was the envy of Europe, if not the world. When the job was done, he was thought of as excess to need and booted or so it seems.

Next Prime Minister

Tomorrow 6 September 2022, Liz Truss (47 years old) who beat Rishi Sunak with 81,326 to 60,399 votes (57.1%) to claim the leadership of the Conservative Party, will be formally appointed as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom when she meets H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, this time at Balmoral, instead of Buckingham Palace, at the ceremony called “the kiss of hands” before taking office.

What the voters wanted to hear from her, she stated in her victory speech today 5 September at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. She said: “I will deliver a bold plan to cut taxes and grow our economy. I will deliver on the energy crisis, dealing with people’s energy bills, but also dealing with the long-term issues we have on energy supply.”

The mantra “Delivery, delivery, delivery”

“I know that we will deliver. We will deliver, we will deliver, we will deliver. And we will deliver a great victory for the Conservative Party in 2024,” she stated, as she accepted the applause from her party supporters.

The British people are very cautious and resilient. It is too early to tell if Prime Minister waiting, Liz Truss has received a cautious welcome. She has inherited a raft of problems; inflation – the highest in years, energy bills spiralling, Northern Ireland and Brexit on the boil, the war in Ukraine, growing strike action in the UK, trouble everywhere?

Can Liz Truss deliver on promises, promises?
What are the options on her mind? Stability is key for a healthy economy. When it comes to resolving more than one issue, Liz Truss is adept at having a bold plan to first cut taxes, to grow the economy. Who are the people who will benefit most? The rich and the well-to-do business enterprises will benefit the most from a tax cut, while the poor and the vulnerable struggling on low wages will suffer. She is expected, to rely on and surround herself with the “Ultra Conservative” mindset, unlike Boris Johnson, to help her “deliver” by promoting high investment projects with high returns to grow the economy fast.

What are some of the projects that will get capital investment? People have already been told to invest in “Wind Farms”, and buy lands with windmills, to save on their energy bills, long-term.

Will she be promoting more privatisation, who knows? She has pledged her commitment to removing planning restrictions in an attempt to boost housebuilding, but simultaneously, abandoning the government target of building 300,000 houses a year.

The big question is who will she appoint as her Housing Minister, to deliver on her promises? There have already been 20 Housing Ministers who have come and gone since 1997, with little to show.
She is a keen supporter of “fracking” for oil and invests in Nuclear Power Energy to supplement future energy supply.

She is a keen supporter of women, herself taking on the role of Women Minister, her first Ministerial post in 2010.

What choices does she have?

When she has settled in, the first choice she will have is to decide to call a General Election to confirm her position by the electorate. But will she be constrained to plod along with her current reduced majority of 60 Conservative MP’s or wait until 2024, the planned date of the next election? Who knows?

We must learn lessons from history

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I represent the Jaffna Electorate not the Colombo Electorate. The problems of the North and East are different from those of the South. This Country consists of two Nations. – the Tamil Nation and the Sinhala Nation. The Tamils are the original inhabitants of this Island. They have lived continuously for over 3000 years in this Island according to latest excavations, inscriptions and findings. They are the majority in the North and East even now. The Sinhalese are the majority in the other seven Provinces. By adding the majority in the North East to the majority in the Southern seven Provinces they have made us minorities in the Country. But we are not minorities. We are the majority in our areas. That fact should have been realized by the British when they gave independence. Only later did Lord Soulbury realize their folly and stated so in a foreword to a book by B.H.Farmer in the early 1960s. 

We have been asking for a settlement of our political problem for the past 70 years or more. In fact our youth took up to arms due to the discriminatory policies of successive Sinhala majority Governments. Our youths were freedom fighters not terrorists. Now our Sinhala brethren are getting a taste of the PTA.

So any attempt on our part to join any government and sail with them would depend upon the resolution of our Political Problems as well as Social and Economic Problems we face today. We have identified some of our immediate problems such as;

  • Release of all Tamil Political Prisoners some of whom have been in incarceration for over 25 years.
  • Withdrawal of the PTA whose provisions go against the grain of our normal Criminal Law.
  • Order an International inquiry into the status of the Disappeared.
  • Calling off the functioning of the Commission on Archaeological Research and returning the lands in the North and East expropriated by the Commission.
  • Withdraw the Mahaweli Authority from the North and East and stop all colonization taking place in the Tamil areas bringing in Sinhalese from outside the Provinces and settling them. Hand back the lands appropriated by the Mahaweli Authority back to the people from whom they were taken. Hand over other Lands to the D.Ss of the respective areas.
  • Withdraw the Military from the North and East. They have no right to occupy the North and East even after the war was over. Such Occupational Forces must be withdrawn and placed in other Provinces since the Government in recent times have identified the need to have the Military in other Provinces as well. The North and East could be run by an efficient Police Force inclusive of Tamil speaking Police persons from the Northern and Eastern Provinces.
  • Stop illegal fishing being done on our shores by persons from outside our two Provinces with the help of the Armed Forces, to the prejudice of the local fishermen.
  • Stop the taking over of our good Schools in the North and East to the Central Government under the pretext of making them National Schools. The Central Government under the Thirteenth Amendment cannot interfere with the powers granted to the Provinces.
  • Open up the Palaly Airport. Allow owners of lands around the Airport to get their lands back evicting the Military occupying them.
  • Start the Ferry Services to from South Indian ports.
  • Allow diaspora investment in the North and East without interference from the Centre nor its officials.

Only if there is a change of heart in the powers that be, after the aragalaye, could we lend support. Even the Leader of the Opposition wants to help the Rajapakses and the war criminals at Geneva. Polarisation in Sri Lanka is not between what is right and what is wrong. It is between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.

Joining a Cabinet full of Sinhala speaking majority by a member of the Tamil speaking Community could be an embarrassment. They would jabber, jabber and jabber in Sinhala and most of the time we would be outside the purview of their discussion. Of course I do know a little Sinhala but not to the extent of understanding the jabbering that takes place in Parliament.

Secondly once we enter the whilpool of Sri Lankan Politics we would lose sight of the purpose for which we are there – to obtain relief for the Members of our Community.

Thirdly Cabinet responsibility would control us. We would not be able to differ from or contradict the decision taken by the majority Sinhalese Members of the Cabinet. If I am a non Tamil speaking Tamil like certain earlier Ministers I would not have any problem deciding to the detriment of the Northern and Eastern Tamil speaking people. We must learn lessons from history. In the past, many Tamil politicians held and are holding ministerial positions on the pretext that they are working with the government to work towards the interests of the Tamil people. But in reality, through these ministerial positions, they have done more to blunt the struggle for Tamil rights than to do any good to the Tamil people. They are forced to go to Geneva and argue that what happened in Mullivaikal was not genocide. I wouldn’t dream of doing that.

I am not interested in becoming a Minister for the glamour it gives whether such glamour shines or not. I am interested in finding solutions to the long standing political, social and economic problems of my people. I hail from the North and East. I was a Judge in the North and East and I lectured in Law inter alia to Students from the North and East. Hence I owe a responsibility to my brethren who hail from the North and East. 

The Tamils are definitely interested in working for peace, reconciliation and economic progress. But they must be pulled up from the bottom of the well to terra firma to stand up as equals with the Sinhalese to work for peace, reconciliation and economic progress. There cannot be peace and reconciliation between unequals. How could we be considered equal when the Military are stationed in large numbers in the North and East since even after the war?

Views are personal

Sri Lanka: Gota Returns After Moonlight Flit

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Ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa returned to the country Friday, an airport official said, seven weeks after he fled amid the island’s worst-ever economic crisis. Cabinet ministers and politicians have arrived at the airport to welcome former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa was festooned with flowers by a welcoming party of ministers and politicians as he disembarked at the main international airport, the official added — in a sign of his enduring influence in the Indian Ocean nation critics say he led to ruin.

“There was a rush of government politicians to garland him as he came out of the aircraft,” the official told AFP.

Rajapaksa fled Sri Lanka under military escort in mid-July after unarmed crowds stormed his official residence, following months of angry demonstrations blaming him for the nation’s unprecedented economic crisis. He sent in his resignation from Singapore before flying on to Thailand, from where he had petitioned his successor Ranil Wickremesinghe to facilitate his return.

The 73-year-old leader arrived from Bangkok via Singapore on a commercial flight, ending his 52-day self-imposed exile.

“He has been living in a Thai hotel as a virtual prisoner and was keen to return,” a defence official, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Grand welcome by colleagues at the Airport [ Photo: Sri Lanka Guardian]

“We have just created a new security division to protect him after his return,” the official added.
“The unit comprises elements from the army and police commandos.”

Opposition politicians have accused Wickremesinghe of shielding the once-powerful Rajapaksa family.
Sri Lanka’s constitution guarantees bodyguards, a vehicle and housing for former presidents, including Gotabaya and his elder brother and fellow ex-president Mahinda.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation ended his presidential immunity, and rights activists said they would press for his arrest on multiple charges, including his alleged role in the 2009 assassination of prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.

“We welcome his decision to return so that we can bring him to justice for the crimes he has committed,” said Tharindu Jayawardhana, a spokesman for the Sri Lanka Young Journalists’ Association. Rajapaksa also faces charges in a court in the US state of California over Wickrematunge’s murder and the torture of Tamil prisoners at the end of the island’s traumatic civil war in 2009.

Tight security

Singapore declined to extend Rajapaksa’s short-term visa and he travelled to Thailand in August, but authorities in Bangkok instructed him not to step out of his hotel for his own safety.

Rajapaksa’s youngest brother, Basil, the former finance minister, met with Wickremesinghe last month and requested protection to allow the deposed leader to return. On Friday police deployed plainclothes officers and armed guards outside a government residence allocated to Rajapaksa in Colombo ahead of his arrival.

Security at his private home was also stepped up, officials said, adding that he was expected to first visit the family residence.

Sri Lanka has endured months of shortages of crucial goods including food, fuel and medicines, along with lengthy electricity blackouts and skyrocketing inflation after running out of foreign currency to finance essential imports.

New place in Colombo [ Photo: Sri Lanka Guardian]

The coronavirus pandemic dealt a hammer blow to the island’s tourism industry and dried up remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad — both key foreign exchange earners. Rajapaksa, who was elected in 2019 promising “vistas of prosperity and splendour”, saw his popularity nosedive as hardships multiplied for the country’s 22 million people.

His government was accused of introducing unsustainable tax cuts that drove up government debt and exacerbated the crisis. Wickremesinghe was elected by parliament to see out the remainder of Rajapaksa’s term. He has since cracked down on street protests and arrested leading activists.

The government defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April and the central bank forecasts a record eight percent GDP contraction this year.

After months of negotiations, the International Monetary Fund agreed on Thursday to a conditional $2.9 billion bailout package to repair Sri Lanka’s battered finances.

(With inputs from AFP)

Public ownership of essential UK services?

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796 views
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.

Sri Lanka’s First Firm Steps at Economic Reforms

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1469 views
5 mins read

President Ranil Wickremesinghe took tentative steps to bring a semblance of orderly governance during the month. He ended the month presenting an interim budget to stabilize economic growth with the aim to create a surplus by 2025. After the exit of the Rajapaksa’s, the hopes of Wickremesinghe restoring democratic governance were belied when the government used the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to rounded up the Aragalaya leaders, drawing severe criticism from civil society and the UNHRC. There is a sense of disappointment among the people to see parliamentarians reverting to riding their hobby horse – jockeying for power, tinkering with legislation in the name of curbing executive powers of the president and endlessly talk of the elusive “all party government”.

On the positive side, the young energy minister Kanchana Wijesekara seems to be making honest efforts to tame and rationalise energy pricing and distribution. The talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have progressed, though efforts to reschedule creditors is making halting progress, with China playing truant. President Wickremesinghe seems to have succeeded in his tightrope act in foreign policy so far, despite the India-China differences coming alive over China berthing its spy ship in Hambantota port in spite of India’s security concerns.

Interim budget and economic reforms

Presenting the Budget, President Wickremesinghe said the government’s aim is “to create a surplus in the primary budget by the year 2025.” The Daily FT listed six salient aspects of the budget. These included the announcement on billions of rupees-worth social safety measures, quit notices to public servants over 60, restructuring for key 50 state owned enterprises (SOE), measures to kickstart revival in agriculture, industry and tourism, write off default loan of farmers and announcement of wide-ranging revisions to many existing legislations. Every Sri Lankan would agree with his remark that the country “can no longer be a nation dependent on loan assistance, we can also no longer be used as a tool of interference by other countries with strong economies. All our collective vision should be to make our country strong and stable, in order to stand independently.”

However, Wickremesinghe’s reiteration of the call to political parties to join the “All Party Government” probably has only some cosmetic value to the political discourse as the APG is a non-starter. While this may be the need of the hour, much will depend upon how the political cookie crumbles. As he said, if Sri Lanka “miss these opportunities, we will be marginalized globally.” But the credibility of his remarks is weakened as the same tainted political class is still calling the shots in the present government. There is talk of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa returning home on September 24 from his self-exile in Thailand. If that comes true, Wickremesinghe should get ready to handle the unsavoury task of yet another socio-political turbulence.

The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has welcomed the budget. SJB MP and economist Dr Harsha de Silva saw it as an attempt by the President to change the course of the country into a ‘modern productive enterprise’ by undertaking serious reforms to stabilise and restructure the economy. To achieve this, the President has proposed the introduction of new laws like the Public Finance Management Act to run the affairs of the government and amendments to the Monetary Law Act to reduce the pressure on the Central Bank from Treasury and reduce money printing. The introduction of the new laws will have a more disciplined system of governance.

Well entrenched political and trade union interests in SOE and among public servants, Wickremesinghe is likely to face a tough task at every step in fulfilling this part of the agenda. As Dr de Silva pointed out “They (SLPP) opposed every type and every time reforms were brought up for four decades. It is a quirk of circumstances and fate almost that is them who will have to do these reforms now.” The state-owned Sri Lankan airlines is a case in point. It has accumulated a staggering $ 1 billion debt and dues comprising of $ 175 million government guaranteed international bond, $ 380 million payable to state banks, BOC and Peoples Bank and $ 80 million loan taken from BOC by mortgaging shares of Sri Lankan Catering. The government can no longer fund the national carrier given the country’s financial, forex and economic crisis.

However, the privatisation of this white elephant is going to be an uphill task, as leftist trade unions rule the roost in most of the SOEs and see a red flag in any talk of privatisation. Already, there are protests voiced against the proposed privatisation of retail distribution of fuel. Ultimately, when IMF’s structural reforms come into full play, Sri Lankans will have no option but to corral and weed out 60 odd white elephants of SOE. As PM in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, Wickremesinghe had co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 adopted in 2015. To retain his international credibility, he will have to bring the issue to a logical conclusion by establishing a credible judicial process to bring to book alleged right abusers. This is a humongous task as the President is dependent upon the SLPP support.

The first step in improving the government’s accountability process would be to abolish the PTA “one of the key enablers of arbitrary detention for over decades” as described by a UN body. Unfortunately, the government has used it to arrest Aragalaya protestors. Instead of doing away with PTA, the government efforts are on subsume its provisions in a National Security Act (NSA). This could only bring international criticism to the government, when it is trying to maximise its economic support. Of course, the larger question of implementing 13th Amendment in full is still lingering and this is yet another pressure point.

China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy in action

China’s “spy ship” Yuan Wang-5 docked in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 16 to 22 disregarding the security concerns of both India and the US and turning down Sri Lanka’s request to defer the visit. The research ship belonging to the PLA’s 5th branch – the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) – created in December 2015, can carry out space, cyber and electronic warfare. It also has the capability to assist PLA’s land-based stations in tracking satellite, rocket and ICBM launches within a range of 750 km. There is more to China’s insistence on docking Yuan Wang-5 in Hambantota port than refuelling and replenishment.

China was testing the depth of India-Sri Lanka relations which have become closer than ever before. It is also a strong affirmation of China’s influence on Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean Region. This was indicated in an op-ed the Chinese ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong wrote in Sri Lanka media. Hinting at India, he warned “any infringement on the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka shall not be tolerated” (obviously by China). He further added, “External obstruction based on the so-called ‘security concerns’ but without any evidence from certain forces is de facto a thorough interference into Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence.”

The Chinese ambassador also reminded Sri Lanka of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council to be held in Geneva where human rights issues of Sri Lanka might be stirred up, where China could help. India took strong exception to the Chinese envoy’s article. The Indian High Commission in Colombo departing from the norm, let loose broadsides on the article saying, “His violation of basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude.” It added, “His views of Sri Lanka’s northern neighbour may be coloured by how his own country behaves. India, we assure him, is different. His imputing a geopolitical context to the visit of a purported scientific research vessel is a giveaway.”

It is evident, India is not prepared to tolerate any more needling from China. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar during his South American tour explained that the relationship (with China) cannot be a one-way street. “They are our neighbour, and everybody wants to get along with their neighbour…But everybody wants to get along with their neighbour on reasonable terms. I must respect you and you must respect me.” He stressed that each one will have their interests and we need to be sensitive to what the concerns are of the other party.

Tailpiece: Yuan Wang-5 is currently 400 nautical miles South-Southeast of Dondra Head at the southernmost tip of the island nation. It is a matter of detail that the vessel is mapping the ocean bed in an area close to the US military base in Diego Garcia.

This article is a part of Sri Lanka Guardian Syndication. This was originally published in Security Risks Asia, a Delhi-based Think Tank. Click here to visit the original source.

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Ambassador Julie Chung: Pinocchio in New Normal

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770 views
4 mins read

US Ambassador Julie Chung was spot on. A few days ago, she pointed out, correctly, that ‘fake news – and fake tweets – are a real problem.’ She urged one and all, ‘don’t be misled.’ This particular tweet, apparently, was a response of sorts to ‘fake tweets mimicking [her] account’ which ‘have been spreading on social media.’

Indeed, I’ve seen some ‘Julie Chung tweets’ which, at first glance, aren’t exactly out of sync with the tone and substance of Her Excellency’s utterances — they are as hilarious, condescending and ill-informed — which perhaps, if we take her word for it, are fake. In these dismal times some light humour is not misplaced of course. Satire, as she knows, is legit. It’s good that she has alerted the general public who could be, in her words, misled. The lady, however, might want to review her overall operational thrust in Sri Lankan affairs, tweets and other statements included. Just to be sure that clever mimickers cannot make an already pathetic public image even worse.

But. She got it right. Fake news (and news) and indeed fake anything can be a real problem. The rise of social media, for all the communicative benefits, has its own pitfalls, especially considering that those who run the platforms are not politically neutral and those who use it can get away with murder. Ms Chung should know, after all, her government, through the National Endowment of Democracy (NED) and other lovely-sounding-but-nefarious outfits have been funding all kinds of people and organizations with dubious histories for several years now. Sri Lanka had her fill of fake-news/tweets traceable to such people, consequently, especially during the aragalaya.

[Interestingly, those who seem to be even more upset than Chung about her being parodied in social media (yes, those fake tweets she refers to) uttered not a word of objection about deliberate efforts to mislead people. Maybe, for them, and by extension, Chung, such activity was never a problem but in fact a solution to a problem they were taxing their brains over. Yes, one is reminded of sauces, geese and ganders.]

But. She got it right. Fake anything is a problem. And it’s not something that started happening just the other day. Any half-way decent study into the antecedents of what is supposed to be the origins of European (or white) civilisation would yield rich, sophisticated and thriving black culture, science and social organisation. Jesus Christ was not a blond haired, blue-eyed white man. He was black (Source: the Bible, no less). He was not born on December 25th either. A lot of Christian symbols and iconography are borrowed from what are called pagan religions.

But. She got it right. It’s not just a long ago thing, but something that’s evident in remembered, recorded and verified history. It’s evident in a not-long-ago, in the yesterday and today of human affairs, political and otherwise, not excluding the machinations of the corporate sector and self-styled aragalists.

Joe Biden, her President, put it well: ‘There is no subject off-limits to this fire hose of falsehoods. Everything from human rights and environmental policy to assassinations and civilian-killing bombing campaigns are fair targets.’ Of course he was targeting Russia, but when it comes to firehoses and falsehoods the USA would be tough to beat. Chung and Biden ought to know.

Way back in 2010, Thomas L Carson wrote an essay titled ‘Lying and Deception about Questions of War and Peace: Case Studies,’ in which he documented ‘political leaders and public figures [who] told lies or engaged in deception as a pretext for fighting wars.’ Chung would find references to William Randolph Hearst, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Obviously hardly an exhaustive list of liars. Fake news (no tweets back then) was not a problem for the USA even then. Remember Woodrow Wilson coming to power refusing to enter the way but in six months doing just that?

According to John R. MacArthur (Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War) George Bush (Snr) went about it professionally. The public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, among other things, arranged for a 15-year old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah to testify before Congress prior to a key vote. She claimed, MacArthur recounts, ‘that she had volunteered at the al-Addan hospital. She had said, ‘While I was there I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and going into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.’

Turned out that ‘it turned out that the witness was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S., and human rights organizations found no evidence that anything like what she described had actually happened.’ Fake news. No problem for the USA.

We all know about non-existent weapons of mass destruction as pretext to invade Iraq. There’s the bombing of a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant. Then the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Exhaustive enumeration would force me to exceed the prescribed word-count for this piece.

The USA has a long history of interfering in other countries, beginning with the Ottoman colony Tripolitania in 1805 to the more recent examples of Ugly Americanism in Libya, Syria and Ukraine. Yes, another word-count exceeding exercise. Maybe Chung wants her name somewhere in this long and disgusting history, we don’t know. What is relevant is that in these machinations too, fake-news played a role, A plaint media did its part, one might add.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki recently expressed surprise that anyone could doubt the US military’s claims when it came to civilian casualties. Oh well! Sums it up doesn’t it? Not only are their damned lies but perhaps uttered so often that the utterers believe it all to be truth beyond a shadow of doubt. Julie Chung, on the other hand, got one thing right. She knows that fake news/tweets are a problem. Maybe she’s more enlightened than Jen Psaki — she doesn’t believe the fake news manufactured by her country but uses it anyway.

So. Retire moral posturing, already, Ms Chung and just encourage the laughs, huh?

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