Opinion - Page 3

Life and times in England today?

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There is so much going on in England that it is hardly necessary to describe the plight of the British.

One of Cornwall’s most beautiful beaches was unrecognisable at the weekend after a huge sewage and mud spill, according to The Times, tainted the environment.

“Last Sunday morning showed the usually pale blue water transforming into a murky shade of brown.Environmental groups have described the scenes as shocking and the government is being called on to review its sewage action plan.South West Water confirmed that the storm overflow at Agnes, in Cornwall, had triggered ‘briefly’ but claimed that mud dislodged by heavy rain had also contributed to the discolouration of the water”.

Inside the House of Commons, and on the front pages of most major papers and news websites this morning, embattled Home Secretary, SuelaBraverman, literally “came back from the dead on Halloween”. She has come under fire for her handling of the migrant boats of Albanian economic migrants crossing the English Channel from the French coast. She sparked outrage for calling the situation “an invasion”, deemed unwarranted by the Labour Opposition. Refugee charities and pressure groups have also accused her of overcrowding these economic migrants at Manston, in Kent, and allowing them to sleep on the floor, while awaiting processing.

It is well known that over 30,000 Albanian economic migrants have flooded into UK in the past year, after working on parts of the Continent including France as cheap farm labour, flooded with cash to find a home in England. 

To avoid the accusation of bias against the Home Secretary, past Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has been blamed for a security breach on her phone being tapped by outside agents. Blame is the name of the game.

Does anyone want to be Prime Minister of UK at this time?

An elderly woman patient at Kingston Hospital in Surrey confronted Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, during hisplanned visit to her ward recently. She warned him to pay nurses more and when the Prime Minister said ‘the NHS is important to him and to the country’, she retorted, “yes, you are not trying, you need to try harder”.

People generally want to “shove the blame” for all the ills of England, on to the English born, first Asian Prime Minister. Is there a taint of prejudice, who knows? So why is the Prime Minister working all the given hours of the day to put things right? Why is he wanting to turn Britain around, what his motive to prove himself capable, while people name him as Rishi, and not call him by his official title as “Prime Minister”?

Whilst all this is happening, is there is a hidden agenda?

There is a“method in the madness”?  The Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Hunt is eying ways to cover  a multi-billion hole,(£60 billion on estimate fiscal black-hole) with plans that vital public services could be cut on the 17 November 2022 Mini Budget Statement. This is argued is close to the heart of the Prime Minister.

The English are thought to detest the French “froggies,” but want a French speaking Mauritian- Indian, Home Secretary, SuelaBraverman, to broker a deal with her French counterpart, to help curb the flood of migrants across the English Channel. She too is working round the clock to prove that she can deliver, and/or better the English “speaking French with the French”, by stopping criminal Albanian drug economic migrants flooding into UK.

People smugglers are being watched after the Home Secretary’s intervention, now more closely monitored by the French and British authorities. In fact, the Home Office may sooner than later, pay a sum to the French authorities, to curb the migrants coming across from France, rather than accommodating migrants at hotels at state expense.

The Battle of the Wits

While the Asians in high office are keen on showing off their talents, it is not strange that the English are being driven to work harder to survive. Most working people first want to go on strike to claim better wages. Understandably, they are worried that there could be cheap labour flooding in from abroad, such as Nursing Staff and other factory workers, plus boat loads of migrants, to accept low pay and conditions. Doctors and surgeons, in specialist hospitals in England, are thus performing more operations per day with the assistance of Anaesthetics, to clear the backlog due to COVID-19.

The Nurses at Hospitals are soon to ballot their members, as walk-outs are looming. They like the Train drivers want to hold the country to ransom, by demanding higher wages amidst soaring inflation and the oncoming winter.

Civil Service administrators are also worried that the new Chancellor may use his axe to chop top heavy government departments.

The one thing is for sure, there is a hue and cry for more wages as inflation soars. At the same time, market forces are demanding to cut to size of the economy, which is the vision of both the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer. Clawing back the excessive profits made in recent days and months by the Energy Companies in UK, is sooner than later envisaged by the Government and is welcome by both the Opposition and the general public.

Why Support for Ukraine Could Dwindle in the Final Months of 2022

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5 mins read

Since February 24, 2022, Ukraine’s armed forces have successfully defended much of their country. But without American assistance, the Ukrainian military campaign would have likely floundered months ago. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. has provided the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, alongside enormous financial and humanitarian assistance. With the U.S. midterm elections to be held on November 8, 2022, both President Joe Biden’s administration and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.

The economic effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, such as higher energy prices, have taken their toll on American voters, and recent polling shows that U.S. support for the war is waning, especially among Republicans. According to Pew Research Center, the belief that the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine surged among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents from 9 percent in March to 32 percent in September.

While the U.S. economy is in a relatively good state compared to much of the rest of the world, Republicans have exploited domestic economic concerns to undermine Biden and the Democrats for months. And though many influential Republicans, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, continue to voice strong support for Ukraine, others aligned with the Tea Party and former U.S. President Donald Trump form the GOP’s increasingly vocal “isolationist wing.”

The influence of this populist group has been reflected in the growing split between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, with both of them recently sparring over the issue of Ukraine aid. In May, 57 House Republicans voted against the $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, and during the middle of October, McCarthy warned that the U.S. is “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” With elections polls predicting a Republican House majority, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face greater GOP resistance.

Support for NATO and Ukraine among Trump-leaning Republicans has traditionally been low. Trump derided NATO throughout his 2016 presidential campaign and presidency, and his July 2019 phone call with Zelenskyy led to the first official efforts to impeach him. Florida Republican Governor and Trump ally Ron DeSantis was also comfortable enough to ignore calls to pull his state’s $300 million investments from Russia shortly after the war began.

Unfortunately for Kyiv, Democratic support for Ukraine has also fallen, according to the September Pew Research Center poll, as anxiety over the economy, access to abortion, and other issues have mounted. Another Pew Research Center poll from October found that the economy is the top issue for voters heading into the midterm elections. Biden’s explanation of rising inflation as “Putin’s price hike in gasoline” has only reinforced the notion in some voters’ minds that U.S.-led sanctions targeting Moscow and support for Ukraine have been partly responsible for their economic pain.

And on October 24, 30 members of the progressive caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Joe Biden urging him to hold direct talks with Russia and end the war. While the letter was retracted the next day, it further demonstrated Ukraine’s falling support with the left in the U.S.

Any significant drop in American assistance to Ukraine—the U.S. has provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine from January 24 to October 3, 2022—will severely impact the latter’s ability to defend itself. According to Christoph Trebesch, head of the team compiling the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s Ukraine Support Tracker, “The U.S. is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.”

The UK has led major European efforts to defend Ukraine and is on track to train up to 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers on its own soil this year. But the UK is experiencing political destabilization following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September and the resignation of two prime ministers in under two months. These events have inhibited the British government’s ability to form a coherent foreign policy and expand its support for Ukraine.

Furthermore, the UK has its own disputes with the EU regarding Brexit and is unlikely to rally many of the EU states to join its efforts to support Ukraine without strong U.S. coordination.

The EU has sent billions of euros of financial aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, but far less humanitarian and military aid. Bilateral military aid from Ukraine’s most important EU suppliers—France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Poland—fell significantly since the end of April 2022, with no new military pledges being made in July. Large-scale European military assistance only resumed following the launch of the successful Ukrainian offensive that has reclaimed a large part of the territory since early September.

Yet around the same time (on September 5), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned that member states’ weapons stocks were “severely ‘depleted’” after months of providing Ukraine with arms, reinforcing perceptions of the EU’s inability to provide long-term military support to Kyiv.

On October 17, the EU formed its own military training program for Ukrainian soldiers. France declared it would train 2,000 on its soil, while other EU members will train another 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers. Though they are unlikely to match NATO-led initiatives, the latest round of EU sanctions against Russia, which were approved on October 5, demonstrate Europe’s commitment to keeping pressure on Russia.

A drastic increase in EU assistance to Ukraine and confrontation with Russia, however, remains unlikely. Poland, the leading member state advocating for these policies, was the largest recipient of EU funds between 2007 and 2020, and will not be able to coalesce the bloc for these purposes on its own. And with Europe’s energy costs mounting, the ability of the EU countries to maintain, let alone increase, their support for Ukraine may also soon come under much further strain.

As in the U.S., much of Europe’s political right wing (as well as left-wing political elements) is already far less enthusiastic about maintaining support for Ukraine than the political mainstream. Citing economic pain at home, fueled in part by rising energy costs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has led the continental criticism against Russian sanctions since the Ukrainian invasion. His enthusiastic reception at the August 4 Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas, Texas, proves that these policies have not caused much concern in the GOP.

With the threat of reduced support from the U.S. and Europe, Ukraine’s ability to hold off Russia will weaken significantly in 2023. While most UN members voted to condemn Russia for its invasion, only Western allies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have chosen to sanction Russia and aid Ukraine. This is unlikely to change, particularly if pressure from Washington and Brussels subsides.

Because the newly elected and reelected representatives in the 2022 U.S. midterm elections will not take office until January 2023, the Biden administration appears intent on using this window to build up its support for Kyiv. Lawmakers have begun discussing a $50 billion aid package for Ukraine that is expected to be finalized by January.

One problem with this strategy is that winter weather risks grinding Ukraine’s autumn offensive to a halt. Any potential Russian counteroffensive may wait until next spring, and Ukraine’s needs may have changed by then. Russia has shifted strategies throughout the war, including bolstering the use of artillery, Iranian drones, and other weapons. The first of the roughly 300,000 Russian reservists and volunteers are expected to arrive soon in Ukraine, allowing Russia to change strategies once more.

By then the war would be more than a year old, and U.S. public and political support would likely have fallen further. Having already provided more than 52 billion euros in military, humanitarian, and financial aid to Ukraine since January 24, 2022, Washington is unlikely to provide Ukraine with more large aid packages until the U.S. domestic economic situation improves.

It remains to be seen if Republicans win the House or the Senate. And if Ukrainian forces manage to regain a significant amount of territory from Russia over the next few months, then current levels of U.S. support could be mostly maintained even if Republicans gain control over either chamber of Congress. Nonetheless, Kyiv may be wise to prepare for one more extensive U.S. aid package and focus on maintaining support for current sanctions while appealing for greater help from Europe. While the Ukrainian armed forces may not mount any new major offensives for the foreseeable future, they may be able to prevent the Russian military from doing so.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

US breaks ice, Russia thaws

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6 mins read

Fall ends and winter starts at the moment of the December solstice. But what if the Vernal Equinox arrives instead? In these times of climate change, anything is possible. There are subtle signs. Backyard birds are singing, butterflies and bumblebees are returning. How can one possibly miss it? 

It is abundantly clear by now that it was Ukraine war that drew the British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace post-haste to Washington on a secretive visit last Tuesday. Wallace met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan followed up with meetings at the Pentagon, State Department and the spy agencies. 

Two press releases from the Biden Administration ensued — readout of Sullivan-Wallace meeting and a statement by President Biden, pinned on the exit of Liz Truss as UK Prime Minister, reaffirming the evergreen Anglo-American alliance. The striking thing was that neither statement spewed fire. Yet, the US and Britain are in the middle of a war that, according to Biden, is inching close to the Armageddon. 

Upon his return to London, Wallace lost no time to make a statement on Ukraine at the House of Commons, on Thursday. Although not directly relating to his visit to Washington, Wallace’s statement radiated from his consultations with top US officials.  

The statement largely adhered to the western triumphalist narrative of the war in Ukraine to the effect that “Russia’s ground campaign is being reversed. It is running out of modern long-range missiles and its military hierarchy is floundering. It is struggling to find junior officers to lead the rank and file.” 

However, towards the end, Wallace abruptly changed tack by expressing  appreciation of Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu’s handling of the “potentially dangerous engagement” on September 29 between an RAF RC-135W Rivet Joint spy plane “on routine patrol” over the Black sea, which “interacted” with by two Russian armed Su-27 fighter aircraft when one of the Russian jets released a missile in the vicinity of the British plane “beyond visual range”. Wallace messaged the crucial importance of keeping communication lines open to Moscow. (The Hansard record is here.) 

Significantly, a day later, the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin made a phone call to Shoigu, the first such contact in over 5 months. Apparently, Austin and Wallace have a common opinion that it is about time to resume conversations with Moscow. 

The Pentagon readout merely said Austin “emphasised [to Shoigu] the importance of maintaining lines of communication amid the ongoing war against Ukraine.”

Indeed, Austin also took care to brief his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov about his initial call with Shoigu and “to reiterate the unwavering U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ability to counter Russia’s aggression.

“Secretary Austin also underscored the international community’s continued support in building Ukraine’s enduring strength and safeguarding Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the future, as demonstrated by the security assistance commitments made by allies and partners at the most recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on October 12. The two leaders pledged to remain in close contact,” the Pentagon announced.

Curiously, two days later, on Sunday, it was Shoigu’s turn to make a follow up call to Austin. But this time around, the Pentagon readout clarified that “Secretary Austin rejected any pretext for Russian escalation and reaffirmed the value of continued communication amid Russia’s unlawful and unjustified war against Ukraine.” 

And within an hour of receiving Shoigu’s call on Sunday, Austin got in touch on phone with Wallace “to reaffirm the U.S.-UK defence relationship and the importance of transatlantic cooperation. Their conversation today was a continuation of their discussion at the Pentagon last week, which covered a wide range of shared defence and security priorities, including Ukraine.”  

Presumably, the fog of war is thickening. Or, possibly, Austin smelt a rat as Shoigu had in the meanwhile on Sunday also made calls to three other NATO capitals — Paris, Ankara and London — where they discussed the situation in Ukraine “which is rapidly deteriorating,” and Shoigu conveyed “concerns about possible provocations by Ukraine with the use of a ‘dirty bomb.’” (here)

Importantly, the British readout said Wallace reiterated to Shoigu the UK’s “desire to de-escalate this conflict… and the UK stands ready to assist.” 

It is entirely conceivable that all this could be the foreplay of a meeting between President Biden and President Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on November 15-16, which seems increasingly likely. 

But there is also the backdrop of a massive Russian military build up in the Kherson Region in southern Ukraine in the direction of Nikolaev (and, possibly, Odessa.) Contrary to the western media reports, the real picture is that on the western side of the Dnieper, Russians may have established a big troop presence in their tens of thousands with logistical back-up that keep the frontline fully supplied and reserve forces backing up. The Russian defence line is reportedly hardening all across the Kherson front with the deployment of armoured weaponry and tanks. 

The Mayor of Nikolaev (also known as Mykolaiv) Oleksandr Syenkevych, an Ukrainian official, has ordered the evacuation of the civilian population in the city as heavy Russian bombardment continues. He told Christian Amanpour that Russian tanks are already in the vicinity of the city’s airport. (here

Evidently, things are moving toward a major escalation by mid-November. The capture of Nikolaev opens the road for Russian forces to advance toward Odessa 110 kms to the southwest. Control of Nikolaev and Odessa would mean control of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline and denial of access to the NATO warships based in Romania and Bulgaria.

Evidently, despite the Western media’s triumphalist narrative, the big picture is turning against the US-UK axis. Wallace and Sullivan would have pondered over it, for sure. 

Again, cracks are widening in the transatlantic system, as it dawns on European countries that they have fallen victim to the US’ grand strategy of hegemony. There is growing bitterness that American oil companies are making windfall profits. 

The forthcoming visit by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to China is a massive statement in favour of globalisation in defiance of the Biden Administration’s strategy of “decoupling” from China. It signals a nuanced shift and return to pragmatism in Germany’s China policy. Official data shows that China-EU trade topped $800 billion for the first time in 2021 and two-way investment went beyond $270 billion in cumulative terms. In the first eight months of 2022, bilateral trade hit $575.22 billion, up by 8.8 percent and EU’s investment in China soared 121.5 percent year-on-year to $7.45 billion. 

War fatigue is also becoming a compelling reality. The EU has pledged 1.5 billion euros for Ukraine, but how long can it carry such an annual burden when its own economies are in recession? The UK economy is on the verge of collapse.  

Then, there is the “X” factor: sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. Putin wouldn’t have pointed finger at the US without corroborative evidence. The Kremlin said on Friday that the “truth” behind last month’s explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines “will surely surprise many in European countries if it was to be made public.” 

The bottom line is that Austin broke the ice on Thursday in consultation with Wallace and with Biden’s approval. In a conciliatory tone, the White House also issued an extraordinary statement by Sullivan on Friday expressing appreciation of the “rapid and unanimous vote in support of the Security Council resolution proposed by Mexico and the United States, to impose sanctions measures and hold accountable those actors who are undermining stability in Haiti.” 

Truly, isn’t it amazing that Russia voted for a US resolution imposing sanctions against yet another country in the Global South? 

With the midterms just ahead and the near certainty of Donald Trump’s bid for second term as president, Biden’s own  compass is going to be reset. Biden’s speech from the Roosevelt Room on Friday on deficit reduction projected the historicity of his “economic vision.” 

Suffice it to say that when Shoigu mentioned Ukraine’s “dirty bomb” to three NATO ministers in Europe, he was only echoing what some thoughtful Americans have been saying lately, namely, that the US’ vital interest in avoiding war with nuclear-armed Russia “may soon clash with the strategic war goals of Ukraine—i.e., full retrieval of Crimea and the Donbas,” as Patrick Buchanan, the influential ideologue of the Republican Party, wrote in the American Conservative magazine over the weekend. 

For sure, there is a waft of fresh, soft scents in the air. Does it presage an early spring? But to be a devil’s advocate, any suspension of the grand Russian offensive at this point may stir up a hornet’s nest in Moscow. Perhaps, that also forms part of the Anglo-American game plan.  

Click here to read the author’s personal blog

Sri Lanka: Politics beyond 22

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8 mins read

“You are in the end – what you are.” ~ Goethe (Faust)

22 is not perfect. Far from it, perhaps light-years far. Yet, in a season of defeats and setbacks, it is a win for Lankan democracy, and for those Lankans who would be free citizens rather than obedient subjects or terrified children waiting for the next saviour.

The passing of the 22 (officially 21) came hard on the heels of another democratic victory. The Supreme Court effectively killed the deadly Rehabilitation Act. If President Wickremesinghe or the Rajapaksas dreamed of using the Act to punish past dissent and discourage future protests, that dream is now dead.  

The two wins demonstrate that however flawed or even dysfunctional the Lankan political system might be it’s not broken. It can be built on, improved. The better kind of ‘system change’, the sort that harms less, roots deep, lasts long.

By 2014, the Rajapaksas had disembowelled every single democratic institution in the country, from the highest court to the lowliest pradesheeya Sabha. Only periodic elections remained, a heads-we-win-tails-you-lose game the family believed it had mastered. Wrongly. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidency and democracy made a comeback. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration removed the executive’s mailed fist from the collective back of the judiciary and paved the way for more institution-building than any previous administration via the 19th Amendment and the Right to Information Act.

Electoral defeat also revealed the ordinary clay in the Rajapaksa makeup, diminishing the shock-and-awe effect created by the war-victory. High King Mahinda and Supreme General Gotabaya were downsized to normal size, for a while. The memory of that reduction had faded by 2018, but not dead. In 2022, as normal life collapsed under the cumulative weight of shortages and queues, that memory would return. Without its liberating effect, the peaceful revolt of the middle class which constituted the first inspiring phase of the Aragalaya couldn’t have happened.

Thus the importance in the death of the 20th and the safe birth of 22nd, especially if ‘system change’ is a real goal and not just a radical-sounding slogan or an excuse to scuttle reforms. The next step is its speedy implementation. What was done to the democratising 17th Amendment by the PA and the UNP mustn’t become the fate of 22: death by non-implementation. Having taken the sensible step of backing the amendment, the SJB and the JVP should focus on getting the constitutional council and the national procurement commission up and running. That is of far greater democratic consequence than holding local government elections, an exercise which will cost billions and change little.

The composition of COPE, COPA, and the Peoples’ Council has caused much handwringing and derisive laughter. Deservingly. But almost all the undesirables nominated to those bodies were elected by the people in 2020; more worryingly many would be re-elected thanks to the preferential vote system. A new electoral system is as much of a democratic (and anti-corruption) necessity as abolishing the executive presidency.

President Wickremesinghe’s decision to set up a committee to map a new electoral system may – or may not – be a ruse to postpone elections. Either way, it opens up a path to a desirable and popular goal. If the proposal is a Wickremesinghe-bluff, the Opposition can surely call it by coming up with reform blueprints which combine the best features of the PR and first-past-the-post system? Pertinently, what is the Opposition’s stand on the Election Commission mandated campaign finance legislation awaiting cabinet nod? Surely enacting that piece of legislation should be as much of an oppositional priority as calling for elections?

The Quotidian Rot

In the 19th century, there was an American political organisation called the Know Nothing Party which fared well electorally for a while. A nativist entity (not in the Native American but in the WASP-supremacist sense) it was anti-Black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic. That party is now gone and mostly unremembered, but its spectre survives and thrives across the world. From the US to India, from Italy to Sri Lanka, know-nothing (and learn-nothing) voters and politicians are making choices that invite chaos.

US humorist Andy Borowitz asked, “What happens when you combine ignorance with performing talent?” and answered, “A president who tells the country to inject bleach” (Profiles in Ignorance: How America’s Politicians Got Dumb and Dumber). Or a president and a political family who take over a functioning economy and run it to the ground.

Mr. Borowitz divides ignorance into three stages, ridicule, acceptance, celebration. In Sri Lanka, we ridicule ignorance and accept it by voting the ignorant in. When hiring a driver, any sensible person would prioritise driving skills and experience over the width of a smile, the jauntiness of a moustache or the smoothness of a tongue. But the same person may act antithetically when deciding who should be at the national wheel for the next five years. After all, every Rajapaksa fault we decry now was fully or partly in evidence during their previous terms. Accountability is necessary not just for politicians, but also for the people who vote them in and out. If our people fail to understand their culpability for their own plight, how can they be persuaded not to remake the same old mistakes?  

As Liz Truss’ tenure as the UK’s prime minister entered its 6th chaotic week, Daily Star, a British Tabloid, launched the lettuce challenge. Would the premiership of Ms. Truss last longer than the lifespan of an ordinary iceberg lettuce? The lettuce won. And perhaps saved our former imperial masters from going the Lankan way. Had we stuck to the parliamentary system, we could have got rid of the Rajapaksas without the murder and the mayhem (no, it wasn’t all poetic and peaceful; the lynching of two men is murder and the burning of scores of houses, irrespective of the unsavoury nature of many of their owners, is mayhem). Institutional guardrails matter, especially where Know Nothings hold sway.

The rot is not limited to the government. Sajith Premadasa recently held a cosy powwow with that doyen of ideological racism, Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekara, and his majoritarian-supremacist National Organisations Collective. According to the media unit of the leader of opposition, “Opposition leader elucidated the importance of not making further amendments to the 13th Amendment,” and, said that “There are no ethnic minorities, there are different ethnic groups, all should get together and rebuild the country.” According to the Sinhala version, the opposition leader, “will not agree to any proposal that will lead to the fragmentation of the country by empowering the 13th amendment.” No ethnic problem, no need for a political solution: wasn’t that the Rajapaksa mantra too? The 13th Amendment equates division, wasn’t that the abiding cry of the most virulent of racists? Is this an attempt to shift to a Gotabaya-lite position and win with Sinhala votes only?

Mahsa Amini, Nika Shakarami, Sarina Esmailzadeh: three names amongst many unnamed victims of a struggle that began with a simple demand, the right to not wear a hijab.

Lankans probably look with a sense of complacent superiority at the events in Iran. But the rallying slogan of the Iranian schoolgirls, telling clerics to get lost, is valid here as well. After all, we too are plagued with clerics who try to impose their will on secular matters they know nothing about, from economics to sex education, often with distressing success.

            Iran’s ongoing uprising, with its stirring cry of Woman, Life, Freedom, began when a young Kurdish woman died in the custody of the Morality Police. We don’t have a morality police, but morality policing is not unknown here, including on matters sartorial. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre, a coat-and-tie clad top state official tried to make sari-wearing mandatory for female public officials. Banning first year female students from wearing trousers seems to be a fairly standard component of the orgy of cruel and unusual activities that passes off as ragging in Lankan universities.

The dean of arts faculty of the Peradeniya University is on record saying that students studying in the English medium are banned by the Students Union from using common facilities such as the canteen. Universities in Sri Lanka are not havens of democracy, open mindedness, and intellectual curiosity but deserts of intolerance, tyranny, and backwardness. Ragging is both a symbol of that mindset and its progeny. And all this by student unions and organisations under the control of the JVP and the FSP. The two parties can end this barbarism with one command (inner-party democracy is more alien to them than it is to their bourgeois counterparts). They haven’t, yet. In the universities where the two parties hold sway, even simple acts of dissent like opposing ragging is a punishable crime. The Rajapaksas are not the only problem we have.

On the need for deals

The petition filed by the Transparency International against the decision makers of the current disaster, starting with Gotabaya, Mahinda, and Basil Rajapaksa, has been granted leave to proceed by the Supreme Court. The case will hopefully cast some much needed light on who ordered, who enabled, and who consented to what in making this avoidable tragedy.

The 2019 November unfunded tax cut was the first outpost on that road to disaster, the error that made every other error necessary. Repairing that mistake is a necessary step in rescuing the economy without imposing even more burdens on the already overburdened poor. Will the Opposition, especially the economically more sensible SJB, propose constructive amendments to tax proposals instead of taking the easy way of damning the whole? One obvious need is to increase the tax-free threshold from the proposed 100,000rupees per month to at least 150,000rupees per month, to cushion the lower middle class and small businesses. Rates for upper brackets can be increased to make good the loss. (The GMOA is threatening strike action, true to form. Since most of that trade union’s members would not have become doctors without our free education system, their opposition to direct taxes is particularly despicable).

What is morally indefensible and politically dangerous is to increase taxes – any taxes – without touching the innumerable privileges enjoyed by the political class. The opposition can make a deal to combine tax increases with the drastic pruning of these giveaways – the pension system, duty free vehicle permit racket, giving official residences to all ministers and an official vehicle to all elected representatives, to mention but a few. Not likely, since the one subject on which the entire political class is agreed (from the UNP to the JVP, from the Rajapaksas to the TNA) is the sacrosanct nature of these unearned and unmerited privileges.

In her poem Working on the World, A Revised Improved Edition, Polish poet and 1996 Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska, approaches her utopia of a good life and a good death in stages, starting with “fun for fools and tricks for old dogs.” Striving for incremental changes is more effective than dreaming of or chasing utopias. Given where we are, no improvement, however minute, should be scoffed at. Foreign remittances have gone up in August and September. Litro is making profit again and reducing prices. The Welisara Magistrate Court has ruled to provide legal protection to a young lesbian woman from the persecution of her parents (and the Welisara police). Women parliamentarians across the aisle have prepared an amendment defining anyone under 18 as a child. The Orwellian attempt to use the police to gather information on Colombo residents has been abandoned. To a drowning nations, straws can spell survival.

Our descent into economic disaster did not happen overnight. Our emergence from that abyss cannot happen overnight either. A parliamentary election might help that long climb or it might not. How an election impacts on the crisis would depend on the percentage of citizens willing to let facts rather than emotions decide their vote. If even 10% of voters cleave to the Rajapaksas (the real figure is likely to be double) despite their culpability for our common plight, an election is likely to worsen rather than alleviate the crisis.

 A fragmented parliament, and the resultant horse trading for power and influence while hunger soars and poverty deepens, can sunder hope in the democratic system. Once popular faith in electoral solutions breaks down, the Sinhala masses are more likely to seek salvation not from the JVP or the FSP, but from the military, and the monks, their brothers in blood and faith.

The saga of 22 shows that Ranil Wickremesinghe is not a Rajapaksa clone. Had the  opposition put personal rancour and political needs aside and worked with Mr.  Wickremesinghe once he became the president, a better 22 and other reforms could have been possible. Who can doubt that post-election every party currently in opposition will make whatever deals possible to gain a larger share of the power-pie? Better to make some deals now with the Wickremesinghe government, not for the sake of power, but to promote the sort of political and economic reforms that would help Lankan democracy and Lankan people survive the crisis, and perhaps even emerge a little stronger.

Sri Lanka: Political Prescription to 22A

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3 mins read

Following article is based on the speech made by the author at the parliament during the second reading of Twenty-Second Amendment to the Constitution Bill

It was expected that this Bill would restore the essence of the more progressive 19th Amendment.  But unfortunately, centralisation of power around a single individual still exists. The checks and balances that were expected in a meaningful manner have not been included. The Independence of the public service, transfer of power to Parliament, checks and balances that could curtail the immense powers of the President, transfer of powers between President and Prime Minister are missing. Fundamentals of public finance and accountability too are missing.

Some of the offending areas are the President holding portfolios, appointing Ministers without the advice of the Prime Minister, President’s discretion to dissolve Parliament early, ability to control or influence 7 of the 10 members of the Constitutional Council thereby undermining the independence of the instittutions to which appointments are made through the Council.

But whatever the shortcomings and discrepancies are this Bill is a step in the right direction. To vote against it would be to perpetuate the present system. In arguing for perfection we should not turn out to be the enemy of the good.

No doubt advantages and disadvantages were envisaged at the time the Presidential System was introduced in 1978.The advantages trotted out at that time were

  1. Quick decision making
  2. Presidential discretion in Appointments. The appointees are directly responsible to the President.
  3. The whole Country elects the President and therefore entire Country is the Electorate.
  4. Fixed tenure of office which thereby ensures stability to the country.
  5. President above Party Politics and therefore insulated from Party Politics.

On the other hand the disadvantages are as follows-

  1. Prone to dictatorship or abuse of office being dangerous to the democratic process.
  2. Separation of powers can cause delays in the execution of government programs if executive-legislative relations are not properly managed. Therefore friction among government organs was contemplated. 
  3. Lack of flexibility in Tenure of office. A Parliamentary system could act according to circumstances and be flexible.
  4. Very expensive to operate. The Parliamentary system was considered to be more cost effective. The President’s power to spend directly creates opportunity for lack of fiscal discipline and even all forms of corruption.
  5. Due to the absence of Party discipline unlike in a Parliamentary system, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature is prone to disagreements and less easy to manage. With the Government Party now being of one hue and the President of a different colour this possibility is even more plausible.
  6. Presidential lobbying can encourage corruption.  Suppose certain groups within the Governing Party decide to join the Party of the President there can be misuse of power by the President.

We have seen the contradictions that emanated due to lack of understanding between the President and the Legislature during the time of Madame Chandrika as well as during the Yahapalanaya government.

Therefore concentration of power in a single individual can have innumerable implications.

But it was thought that a strong Executive could bring benefits to minorities. The President if he wanted to, he could with his unfettered powers bring relief to the problems of the minorities. But how far that would be possible would depend upon the personality of the President. So far Ranil has not catered to the voice of the chauvinists and the champions of ethnocracy. 

The transitional provisions in the Bill allows the present incumbent to continue until the full term of office of the present Ninth Parliament. Therefore as a person somewhat acceptable to non-Sinhala Buddhists also he has an opportunity to take up matters of importance for the future of this Country.   As I understand them, they are –

  1. Repayment of National Debt through proper fiscal management. The way we diplomatically manage the International Community is intrinsically interwoven with this problem.
  2. Take cognisance of the recent UN Resolution with only seven Countries standing by Sri Lanka and commit the Country to conform to the expectations of the World Body. The Country’s supporters among the International community have steadily decreased every year and the next time I expect China too to abstain from voting for Sri Lanka. Our bravado statements have only exposed us as to who we are.
  3. Knowing the nature of the Tamil Ethnic problem and the long history of the Sri Lankan Tamils extending beyond 3000 years in this Island, it would be better for the Country if the President could solve our problem once and for all times by granting total devolution of powers to the North and East of Sri Lanka in order that all communities could travel hand in hand forward within a United Sri Lanka.

I would submit that the Transitional Provisions of the Bill has given the opportunity for the incumbent President and the members of the present 9th Parliament to work out solutions for our long-standing problems fully and effectively.

It is my studied opinion that a confederation would be the ideal system of Government for this Country. 

But before the present Constitution is changed the services of India would be paramount due to their responsibility in getting the Thirteenth Amendment into our Constitution. Any attempt at the arbitrary replacement of the present Constitution with a new Constitution could deprive the Tamils of even the limited powers granted under the Unitary Constitution by the Thirteenth Amendment. Therefore in the formulation of a new constitution for Sri Lanka, the services of India would be sine qua non as far as the future of the Sri Lankan Tamils in Sri Lanka is concerned.

Sri Lanka: “Saving” the Economy

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5 mins read

The economy is shrinking

The economy can be likened to a train engine pulling carriages up a hill.

The engine represents the wealth-generating component of the economy, which is the private sector. This is because the existence of the private sector depends on profits, and since profits are an increase in value over costs, the private sector is always a surplus to the economy. The carriages, on the other hand, are in the government sector. Though this sector is important, it relies on private sector resources to maintain its size.

Despite the efforts of the engine to pull the carriages, the train has stopped moving forward and is now sliding back down the hill. This is the Sri Lankan economy in recession. Currently, there is a lack of foreign investment and the local private sector is the only means to stop the slide.

The government sector is doubly burdensome

The government obtains private sector resources through inflation (money printing), or seizes resources through taxation. What resources the government sector consumes becomes unavailable for the private sector to use. Thus the government sector is doubly burdensome to the economy, as on the one hand its weight must be pulled along by the private sector, and on the other hand, it is starving the private sector of valuable resources needed for growth.

In order to stop the slide and start to inch up again the first priority is to reduce government expenditure. Just as the current size of the government sector is doubly harming the economy, a reduction in size will provide double the relief. It will have the effect of both lightenings the carriages and increasing the size of the engine.

The importance of savings

The main resource of the private sector is savings. All economic growth takes place when entrepreneurs in the private sector make capital investments from savings. It is therefore vital to note that savings is the source and lifeblood of any economy, and the encouragement of savings translates to the encouragement of the economy.

What is savings

Savings come from underconsumption. By saving, the individual forgoes spending money today for some future date. In addition to improving discipline through thrift, savings also helps to prepare for unforeseen events such as medical emergencies, job losses, natural disasters and so on.

If the individual deposits money in a bank (as is often the case) the bank is able to lend that money to entrepreneurs for investment. Bank deposits make the savings of individuals available to the wider public, and in so doing more easily facilitates economic growth.

If the individual saves money outside of the banking system, such as by keeping it under a pillow, the economy is still improved. This is because prices of goods and services are a function of money in circulation. When money is removed from circulation, prices will correspondingly fall.

In the following sections, the negative impact of economic policies on savings will be discussed in brief.

Individual income taxes must also consider expenses

The income taxes for companies are on profits (i.e. income after expenses), but the income taxes for individuals have no relief from expenses (e.g. medical, food, rent etc.).

This creates a situation where an individual with high expenses may have to use savings to pay for income tax. This is unfair and particularly damaging to employees and fixed-income earners.

The income tax law should therefore be amended to take account of expenses and be consistent with corporate tax law. This will benefit savings in society.

Corporate taxes and income taxes are a double whammy

Private sector business is facilitated by profit margins, i.e. the percentage difference between the selling price and the costs. Corporate taxes are one such cost to businesses.

If the tax increases so must the selling price in order to maintain the profit margin, or the business will cease to exist.

Thus corporate taxes are simply an indirect tax to consumers. The government has now increased corporate taxes. This is counterproductive as that cost, when passed on to employees or fixed-income earners, diminish their ability to save.

Employees and fixed-income earners are in effect, doubly taxed as they must pay both the corporate tax and income tax.

The impact of marginal taxes on savings

If income increases so also does savings ability. The government must therefore incentivise earning higher income.

The current policy of higher marginal taxes can cause individuals to refuse higher salary in favour of other non monetary benefits. This is so that they can try staying within a lower tax bracket.

The policy also contributes to the brain-drain to foreign nations where an individual may be better able to hold on to their earnings.

Though marginal tax policy is common globally it is counterproductive to economic growth as it influences the wrong behavior in employees and discourages savings.

Income taxes are counterproductive

Due to the aforesaid reasons income taxes are counterproductive to the economy. They are a burden and cost to business and individuals, difficult to administer for the government and substantially hurtful towards employees and fixed income earners.

The government would therefore do well to abandon this means of income completely and focus on the consumption tax (e.g. GST) as a means to earning what it needs.

How interest influences savings

The incentive for individuals to deposit money in banks is the interest rate. If inflation is higher than interest, savings is discouraged and consumption is encouraged.

Interest rates are related to money availability. The more money banks hold, the lower the interest must go. A society that is unable to save will have high-interest rates reflecting the scarcity of saved money.

Central bank (CBSL) printing discourages savings

In Sri Lanka, the savings interest is relatively high when compared to what is global, but it not as high as inflation (measured at about 50% in June). Sri Lankans are therefore being encouraged to consume and not save.

The reason why interest is low (in relation to inflation) is because banks are indirect recipients of free money printed by the central bank (e.g. through public sector deposits).

In order to raise interest rates and encourage savings, the central bank must stop printing. This will create money scarcity in banks, which will cause interest rates to exceed inflation naturally.

Capital controls

The government has implemented capital controls which prevents individuals from holding significant amounts of foreign currency. Holding wealth in foreign currencies is particularly attractive now due to central bank-induced inflation.

These controls have the unintended consequence of discouraging Sri Lankans abroad from transferring their savings to local banks. Foreign remittances are therefore not taking place as they should.

The government should remove capital controls in order to encourage remittances.

Conclusions

The government is adopting common traditional methods to restore the economy. These methods are not universally applicable and in the context of Sri Lanka will fail. The government must revise its stance and think out of the box by focusing on savings as a priority.

Savings are the lifeblood of the economy. In order to improve savings the government must reduce expenditure first. In addition the policies of income tax, marginal tax, money printing and capital controls discourage savings and must be revised.

As a means to address budget deficits taxes have been increased. This will have the effect of diminishing the strength of the (already weak) engine thereby causing the slide down the hill to become uncontrolled.

As a consequence the LKR may lose all of its value and hyperinflate. The economy will lose a substantial portion of its remaining vigor. The brain-drain will reach unprecedented levels hitherto unseen, and food starvation of a broad segment of society can become reality. The government must therefore reverse this policy before it’s too late.

How Not to Run the World

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6 mins read

Leaders are inevitably hemmed in by constraints. They operate in scarcity, for every society faces limits to its capabilities and reach, dictated by demography and economy. ~ Henry Kissinger, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy

The Current Situation

Dr. Kissinger goes on to say in his latest book: “Any society, whatever its political system, is perpetually in transit…leaders think and act at the intersection of two axes: the first, between the past and the future; the second, between the abiding values and aspirations of those they lead”.

In world affairs, we seem to have reached what Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist called the Third Promethean Moment – a moment in time that destabilizes and radically changes the world around us. The two preceding such moments were when the industrial revolution met capitalism, and States rose to confront the emerging power of Russia in the Baltic region.  In this third Promethean Moment, which resonates Lenin’s statement that there are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen, brings to bear the need to question what we euphemistically call “the rules based international order”, where the operative question is whether there is any one or any entity, or for that matter any concept or principle running the world.

Up until now, at least in bits and pieces, there was a concept running the world, which was the rules based international order.  It worked, insofar as the world adhered to this phenomenon, but in the past months and weeks it seems to have faded into oblivion. Take for instance, the latest condemnation in the United Nations of Russia’s annexation of certain parts of Ukraine – a sovereign country. On 12 October of this year, The United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution – which is nothing but the result of political compromise and which is destitute of legal legitimacy or enforcement powers –  calling on the international community not to recognize any of Russia’s annexation claims and demanding its “immediate reversal”. The Resolution was supported by 153 of the UN’s member States while 35 States, including China and India, abstained. Many African States also abstained, seemingly to avoid friction in their trade ties and to indicate their policies of non-alignment.

One could well ask: is this how to run the world?  Richard Haas, Head of the Council on Foreign Relations in the September/October 2022 issue of Foreign Affairs says: “On the one hand, the world is witnessing the revival of some of the worst aspects of traditional geopolitics: great-power competition, imperial ambitions, fights over resources. Today, Russia is headed by a tyrant, President Vladimir Putin, who longs to re-create a Russian sphere of influence and perhaps even a Russian empire. Putin is willing to do almost anything to achieve that goal, and he is able to act as he pleases because internal constraints on his regime have mostly disappeared. Meanwhile, under President Xi Jinping, China has embarked on a quest for regional and potentially global primacy, putting itself on a trajectory that will lead to increased competition or even confrontation with the United States.

But that is not all—not by a long shot. These geopolitical risks are colliding with complex new challenges central to the contemporary era, such as climate change, pandemics, and nuclear proliferation. And not surprisingly, the diplomatic fallout from growing rivalries has made it nearly impossible for great powers to work together on regional and international challenges, even when it is in their interest to do so”.

The Problem

The United Nations, with all its well-meaning diligence in confronting world problems, has its own inherent structural issue. On the one hand, Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter gives the Security Council the power to intervene militarily or non-militarily in order to preserve peace in any part of the world.

However, there is a snag. Nayomi Goonesekere, a Thomas Buergenthal scholar and former judicial fellow at the International Court of Justice, writing in Berkeley Journal of International Law addresses the problem head on: “Deadlock in the United Nations Security Council (the Security Council or Council) due to the veto power of its five permanent members obstructs the ability of the United Nations (the UN) to effectively address atrocity crimes. The procedural failures of the Security Council have led to the escalation of crisis situations around the world”.  The Security Council is comprised of 15-member member States (five permanent seats and ten rotating non-permanent seats). However, the Charter accords the veto power to only the five permanent members: the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China.

Ms. Goonesekere cites Article 27 paragraph 3 which provides that all matters of the Security Council pertaining to non-procedural matters must be made by “an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring vote of the permanent member”, meaning that any draft resolution in the Security Council on a non-procedural matter that is supported by nine or more members of the Council can be vetoed by a single permanent member (the permanent members are  China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

A Solution?

Authors Dani Rodrik and Stephen M. Walt, also writing in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs suggest a framework for a “better rule based international order” that would comprise four categories of binding agreement between States. “The first category—prohibited actions—would draw on norms that are already widely accepted by the United States, China, and other major powers. At a minimum, these might include commitments embodied in the UN Charter (such as the ban on acquiring territory by conquest), violations of diplomatic immunity, the use of torture, or armed attacks on another country’s ships or aircraft.

The second category includes actions in which states stand to benefit by altering their own behavior in exchange for similar concessions by others. Obvious examples include bilateral trade accords and arms control agreements.

When two states cannot reach a mutually beneficial bargain, the framework offers a third category, in which either side is free to take independent actions to advance specific national goals, consistent with the principle of sovereignty but subject to any previously agreed-on prohibitions.

The fourth and final category concerns issues in which effective action requires the involvement of multiple states. Climate change and COVID-19 are obvious examples: in each case, the lack of an effective multilateral agreement has encouraged many states to free-ride, resulting in excessive carbon emissions in the former and inadequate global access to vaccines in the latter. In the security domain, multilateral agreements such as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have done much to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. Because any world order ultimately rests on norms, rules, and institutions that determine how most states act most of the time, multilateral participation on many key issues will remain indispensable”.

Conclusion

It seems inexorable that the defective United Nations structure will change or even be revised drastically.  It may even morph into a new entity given the geopolitical events that are making the Third Promethean Moment a compelling stimulus for radical changeOne of theprotagonistsof this change is very likely China which is spreading its tentacles throughout the world. Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and an expert on China says in his book The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the US and Xi Jing Ping’s China that  China will likely proceed towards “ creating its own network of new multilateral institutions outside the framework of the post 1945 UN and Bretton Woods system. While Xi has not described specifically what a future international order of the CCPs (Chinese Communist Party’s) choosing would ultimately look like, he has made plain that he does not intend China to simply replicate the current US led international order.  Rather, China will seek an order much more conducive to its political, ideological, and economic interests”.

Before this comes to pass something must be done.

In 2017 United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres initiated a reformation process for the Organization, the political aspects of which have the aspiration to reach the overarching goals “to prioritize prevention and sustaining peace; enhance the effectiveness and coherence of peacekeeping operations and special political missions and move towards a single, integrated peace and security pillar”. This seems a distant reality as inequality, both geopolitical and economic, has polarized nations and led to serious threats to the core essence of peace and security – the sovereignty of States and its inviolability.  Asia is inadequately represented, and African States have been excluded from permanent membership of the Security Council. 

This imbalance, when broken down shows the Western Europe and Other Group (WEOG) now accounting for three of the five permanent members (France, the United Kingdom, and the US). There is only one permanent position for the Eastern European Group (Russia), one for the Asia-Pacific Group (China), while Africa and Latin America remain destitute of representation. This has to be seriously looked into. Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs says “one possible way to resolve the problem would be to add at least four Asian seats: one permanent seat for India, one shared by Japan and South Korea (perhaps in a two-year, one-year rotation), one for the ASEAN countries (representing the group as a single constituency), and a fourth rotating among the other Asian countries”.

Additionally, the African and Latin American countries would also have to be considered. This might be just the first step.  The second step would require a realistic look at the equity of Article 27 (3) of the Charter of the United Nations which has been already discussed.

India reconfirms enemy-status

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3 mins read

Indra Mani Pandey. Remember the name. He’s India’s Permanent Representative in Geneva. He’s no novice in matters diplomatic, having joined the service more than 30 years ago. He would have been old enough even before that to know what’s what in Indo-Lanka relations, if he was inclined at the time to educate himself about international relations and in particular South Asian affairs.

So, to cut to the chase, when someone like Pandey says something about Sri Lanka, we need to take note. He has explained why India abstained on the vote against (yes) Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions and thereby has told us how India sees Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan issues and Sri Lanka’s future. We must thank him for being forthright: ‘we are grateful, Indra, for the honesty!’ The cheers stop right there, though.

Pandey waxes, not too eloquently: ‘India has always been guided by the two fundamental principles of support to the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, dignity and peace and unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka.’

Always? Really? Why then did India arm, train and fund separatist terrorists? Was that to strengthen unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty? India was clearly intent on destabilising Sri Lanka. Indeed India was a major part of the problem. And, thereafter, we had the problem-creator (or problem-enhancer, if you want to be generous) stepping in to resolve the problem. Indra is a funny guy, folks. India is a funny country, one might say, except that there is nothing funny about doing everything possible to prolong an unnecessary conflict, directly or indirectly paving the way to death, destruction, dismemberment and displacement of a magnitude beyond calculation. Three years before Indra entered the service, India stepped in to effectively bail out the terrorists.

Yes, the Indo-Lanka Accord. Indra knows or has learned about it at some point, for he talks of the 13th Amendment. More waxing sans eloquence: ‘While we have taken note of the commitments by the government of Sri Lanka on issues of implementation of the commitments in the spirit of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, meaningful devolution and the early conduct of provincial elections, we believe that the progress towards the same remains inadequate.’

Right. Here goes. The 13th Amendment was imposed on Sri Lanka at gun point by India. Rajiv Gandhi bragged at the time that it was the beginning of the Bhutanization of Sri Lanka. That’s a weird understanding of unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, right? Let’s talk about commitment though.

India reneged on her commitment to disarm the terrorists. Sri Lanka had to do India’s job and it took a further 22 years. India should shut up about ‘commitments’ especially since India has enjoyed the advantages scripted into the Accord all these years, even after getting a BIG ‘F’ on the one thing India was supposed to do.

How about devolution? Well, on paper it’s not a bad thing, except of course that the relevant territorial demarcations rebel against demography (almost 50% of Tamils live outside the Northern and Eastern provinces), history (lines were drawn by European invaders arbitrarily) and economy (the Western Province’s contribution to the economy is a massive slice and if one pushed the logic of ‘devolution’ to any reasonable conclusion, other provinces will remain relatively impoverished). As for provincial council elections, none of the diehard devolutionists (well, they are really federalists or separatists) have agitated for them to be held over the last several years. Let’s not forget that the Northern Provincial Council couldn’t even spend monies allocated. All it did was to give legitimacy to an Eelam Map that symbolised just one thing: attempted land-theft by one particular ethnic group.

Aspirations. Indra talks about them. He has to, since it’s one of the two ‘fundamental principles of support.’ Tamil aspirations, someone should tell Indra, was essentially a desire to annex two-thirds of the coast and half the land mass for a little more than 5% of the population (considering almost half the so-called ‘Eelam Tamils’ live outside ‘Eelam’. Do the math, Indra/India. Maybe an Indian analogy would help; it would be like Muslims in India aspiring to have control over a territory equivalent to the sum of Rajastha, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. That’s an equivalency the likes of Indra would dare not consider.

Yes, we need peace. We need reconciliation. Such needs are the inevitable outcomes of conflict-end. Fixing these to exaggerated grievances and out-of-this-world aspirations and tying it all to a constitutional amendment obtained by a bully is unacceptable. Ridiculous, in fact.

Indra sweetens the apology by talkie of India’s provision to relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka and assistance provided this year to mitigate the economic crises. Well, thank you. Very much. Still falls way short of compensation India ought to pay for all the miseries unleashed on Sri Lanka by hegemonic, arrogant and moronic Indian leaders though. Indra should know, because lately India has been belligerent in demanding reparations from Britain. The histories are different of course, but costs are costs, aggressors are known and if justice is about redress then India owes much and talks not at all about all this.

So, in sum, Indra played a typical Indian card in Geneva. A lot of poppycock and hardly disguised enmity. Not surprising.

Of MP’s and Markets in Britain?

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531 views
3 mins read

Pound Sterling has “skidded” by more than one US Cent to below $1.10 after the announcement that the Bank of England was pulling out of its intervention in extending its £65 Billion emergency arrangement to prop up the pound, beyond 14 October 2022. But, it will intervene, if found necessary?

MP’s in Parliament were also relieved after the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt. Hon. Kwasi Kwarteng announced he was “rushing forward” his Debt Cutting Plan almost a month earlier than planned. This is in a bid to reassure jittery markets following weeks after his “Fiscal Event Statement,” which he made on 23 September 2022. 

The markets may be calmed when the Chancellor sets out more details about how he “intends to manage or massage the public finances”.

We are told, he will then release the forecasts on the State of the Economy from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) by 31 October 2022. 

Supply-side Economics

Supply-side economics, now also named “Trussonomics” by journalists, is based on the idea that the supply of goods and services within an economy is the main “driver of growth”. For many laymen, it is based on the idea that targeted tax cuts are more effective than general tax cuts to boost a falling economy, along with further post-Brexit deregulation of financial services. 

Many will know this same theory was tried out in Sri Lanka, of lowering tax rates to boost government revenue, through higher economic growth during the years of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. I need hardly state that it faltered and failed. It benefitted none other than the rich, who got away with paying fewer taxes, while those others who should have been liable, got away without, using the known excuses, only to us.

With markets in command today, there is little that the Bank of England or for that matter any Central Bank can do, like what our own Central Bank of Sri Lanka did until recently by “Quantitative Easing” (Q.E). We know the Bank of England dare not print more money for circulation. 

What are the options available?   

Every new government wants to better the previous government “testing out” innovative ideas, to curb inflation. But how much of it is achievable?

The Truss Government has repeatedly stated that what it wants is “delivery”. That “it’s plan will work”. We all know it is “doable” in normal times, but need I say these are not normal times? It is well known that governments as much as its citizens can take recourse in the fact that these are turbulent times, requiring the tried and tested, even though innovative ways are necessary, but take longer. 

Commentators are all ganging up on the Truss Government, perhaps, as a woman, they “think” she can be manipulated. But still, others know, “she is not for turning,” Some MPs of her party are at her throat now, because she rewarded those loyal who stood by her and may I say appeased others who contested her. Apparently, she has won over the voters in the Conservative Party in the country, but not her own MPs who “think of none other than the next election” and don’t see her leading them “up the hill” to victory. 

P.M. Liz Truss has been entrusted with a poisoned chalice. Besides, she has upset both President Joe Biden with her stance on Northern Ireland and of course President Putin. Like in Sri Lanka, you cannot please all the people all the time.

By trying to stimulate the British economy at a pace it is not ready, she has got a coloured Chancellor, to take on “more than he can chew and renegade on his fiscal statement”. Besides, she has got a Home Secretary, SuellaBraverman, to repel migration, who for what reason we don’t know, has criticised migrants from India. This has rightly angered India and according to reports (unverified), UK’s Trade Deal negotiated by Boris Johnson is on the verge of collapse.

Now, who knows, the Brits will be easily placed to blame others for all the blunders, including the IMF for chastising the Government for its intransigence.

The Brits, as far as I know, will always have a way out strategy, to get out of the mess. It was all planned well in advance not to have the OBR oversight along with the Fiscal Statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now the OBR will try to undo his overly anxious and ambitious plans to save the situation. Alternatively, there will be another “fallback strategy” as a diplomatic cover-up to the war in Ukraine. Who knows, they have a plan for the production of armaments, during the extended “Cold War with Russia?

OPEC Plus Decision to Oil Production: Wrong in Letter and Spirit

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2 mins read

OPEC Plus, which is a group led by Saudi Arabia and include Russia and other oil exporters in the “Plus”  or expanded version, has now announced its decision to cut crude oil production to the extent of 2 billion barrel per day.OPEC Plus claims that such a cut in oil production is necessary, as the global crude oil price has dropped to about 90 USD per barrel from around 120 USD per barrel three months ago.

It is necessary to remind OPEC Plus countries that the price of 90 USD per barrel is not a low price and several buyers of crude oil in a number of developing countries already find it extremely difficult to pay the purchase price of 90 USD per barrel.   

The attitude of OPEC Plus countries clearly highlights their arrogance that their cartelization of crude oil production, will leave the world with no choice other than succumbing to their price pressure.

 Obviously, such a decision to cut crude oil production by OPEC Plus countries should be condemned as a reflection of the exploitative mindset of these oil-producing countries, with the least concern for the problems of the buyers and importers of crude oil. Such an approach of OPEC Plus is nothing but a crude and exploitative trading outlook, with the least sense of responsibility towards the global cause and plight of the crude oil importers.

The world economy, particularly that of the developing countries, is just slowly recovering from the negative impact of the COVID-19 crisis and there is a  real threat of a global recession happening in the next few months due to the slowing down of the global economy.  Certainly, the oil cut move of OPEC Plus countries is not good for the global economy.

It is surprising that OPEC Plus countries do not realise that when the global economy suffers, they too cannot escape from the consequences.

It is astonishing that the OPEC Plus countries have not been able to visualize that there would be consumer resistance for their exploitative method of cutting crude oil production and forcing short supply in the global market.

In August 2022, OPEC Plus countries are said to have missed their production target by 3.58 billion barrels per day, as several countries were already buying well below the existing quotas. This has been largely due to their inability to pay high prices in the global crude oil market.  In such a situation, if the global crude oil market would shrink due to consumer resistance, it would upset the economy of the OPEC-plus countries, whose major share of income has been only due to the sale of crude oil.

Already, there is a huge global campaign against the use of fossil fuels produced from crude oil and natural gas, due to global warming impact. Many countries in the world including high crude oil-consuming countries like India and China have pledged that they would target zero emissions at a specified time in the coming years.

Already, huge global efforts are seen to develop alternate fuel and feedstock such as green hydrogen, apart from a high focus on boosting the production of renewable energy such as solar and wind power. Alternative eco-friendly fuels such as algae biofuel are also receiving considerable attention by the scientific community and technology initiatives to optimize the production of biofuel are now being carried out at a feverish pace. With the growth of biotechnology and fermentation technology, new process routes are being developed to produce biochemicals that would not involve the use of petroleum feedstock. The immediate example is the efforts to produce methanol from municipal solid waste in Canada and other countries.

While curtailing crude oil consumption in a big way is a pre-condition for achieving zero emission in the world, the OPEC Plus countries are unwittingly accelerating the process of curtailing consumption of crude oil in the world by cutting down the production of crude oil that would lead to high price in the global market.  After the announcement of oil production cuts by OPEC Plus countries, the price of crude oil in the global market has already started showing an upward trend.

It is necessary that OPEC Plus countries should read the writing on the wall and reverse their decision to cut their crude oil production. Otherwise, in the long run, it would be seen that OPEC Plus countries could be the real losers.

It appears that OPEC Plus oil countries have bitten off more than what they can chew.

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