3 August, 2021

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Development Within The Frame Of Democratic Norms

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The appointment of Basil Rajapaksa as Finance Minister comes at a time when the country’s economy is in shambles and large numbers of people are enduring hardship. His formal entry into the government, and the authority vested in him through a heavy load of government departments, has given rise to the hope that there will be greater rationality in government decision making in facing the economic challenges. Imports have been restricted and the entirety of the country’s foreign exchange reserve is committed to repaying foreign debt. It is necessary that there should be an influx of foreign exchange. The two key economic challenges that the new minister faces is to find new sources of loans and to preserve the export markets the country currently has. It appears that the reliance on Chinese finances alone, which was once thought possible, has reached its limits for both economic and political reasons.

Minister Rajapaksa’s appointment suggests that the policy followed by the government since the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 will be changing. Minister Rajapaksa is believed to have a greater receptivity to the concerns of the Western bloc of countries which have been disapproving of Sri Lanka’s growing political and economic dependence on China with whom they have a strong rivalry. During both the period of war and its aftermath, Minister Rajapaksa was the government’s focal point in meeting with international donors and multilateral agencies with regard to relief, rehabilitation and recovery issues. As the brother of both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, he will be a trusted interlocutor in navigating the process of change. In doing so it will be interesting to see the changes he makes from the past when large infrastructure loans were taken for projects with very poor returns.

While addressing the economic challenges, the new minister will also have to deal with the present downside of political decision making. His appointment as Finance Minister was accompanied by another event that also took political centre stage. This was the breakup by police of a peaceful protest by a civil society group including an icon of free education, Joseph Stalin, head of the Ceylon Teachers Union. The protestors, including elderly women and religious clergy, were arrested by the police on grounds of violating Covid health guidelines. When the judge refused to send them to a distant quarantine center, the police forcibly carried them off and they were virtually thrown into buses to be transported to an army camp in the North. Arresting and detaining persons who are exercising their peaceful right to protest sending them to quarantine has a chilling effect on the freedom to dissent which is fundamental to democracy.

Similar undemocratic actions have quelled other protests too, such as those against the ban on chemical fertilizers which is threatening to destroy small scale farmers and force them to sell their land. The government needs to accept that recent demonstrations carried out by vulnerable communities relate to their unmet needs which creates insecurity and causes mistrust. The lament of plantation workers in tea estates, the anger of farmers who suffer loss of their crops due to hasty decisions of the government with regard to importation of fertilizers cannot be brushed aside as being manipulations of opposing political actors alone, but they include those who voted for the government as well.

Meeting CSOs

Ironically, during the past several days, government leaders have been receptive to meetings with members of civil society in the aftermath of the EU parliamentary resolution on Sri Lanka. The EU parliament’s resolution that calls for a withdrawal of the tariff concession, though as a last resort, has sent a shock wave through both the government and the country’s business sector as it could have very deleterious economic consequences. Support from civil society organisations could stand the government in good stead, both by lobbying among the international community and by creating awareness among the general population of the course of action that the government has to follow if it is to salvage the country’s economic fortunes.

Among the issues that the CSOs have presented to the government are matters relating to the post-war reconciliation process that go beyond the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The EU parliamentary resolution specifically mentioned the PTA and the need to do away with it. The government has appointed a committee to formulate amendments to the PTA or to devise an alternative law which both fulfills international standards and ensures national security. However, the focus on the PTA by itself is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the EU requirement for continuation of the GSP Plus concession. The GSP Plus is given as an incentive to countries that are genuine in their intentions to uphold human rights and improve the living conditions of their people.

The 27 international agreements that Sri Lanka has ratified and needs to implement for purposes of the GSP Plus are wide ranging and include human rights, labour rights, environmental protection and also governance, including corruption which has been a mega problem in this country for decades. In terms of these agreements, civil society groups, such as the Ceylon Teachers Union play an important watchdog role. In their meetings with the government, the civil society members called on the government to protect human rights defenders, ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, surveillance, insecurity and not threaten them with reprisals. Currently NGOs have been placed under the Defence Ministry which can create an impression that the government considers CSOs to be a national security threat instead of being part and parcel of the democratic system.

Sacred Right

It should be noted that the EU parliamentary resolution is only one of four that has been passed against the government in the past six months. The other three are the UN Human Rights Council resolution on post-war transitional justice, the Ontario parliamentary resolution on genocide and the pending US Congressional resolution on the lack of forward movement in finding a political solution to the longstanding ethnic conflict. The best way to address these concerns, which are being kept alive in foreign capitals by the Tamil Diaspora, is to recommence the reconciliation process in earnest in addition to paying all round attention to human rights concerns. The present time, when the country is led by a government that has credibility as a nationalist one, and the opposition and international community is ready to support, would be the best time.

At their meetings, the CSOs have called on the government to, among other matters, implement the 13th Amendment in full and conduct provincial council elections immediately, ensure structural safeguards for the Human Rights Commission, the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations to operate effectively and independently and investigate and, if warranted, prosecute alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for longstanding emblematic cases. Apart from seeking alternatives to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the government needs to find convincing answers to these issues.

While CSOs engage constructively with the government they need to play their watchdog role as well. At the base of democracy is the right of people to dissent and when they do so peacefully they need to be protected. As stated by the Bar Association, public protest straddles three important fundamental rights in the constitution – the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of peaceful assembly and the freedom of association. Public protests also strengthen the freedom of thought which was entrenched as a fundamental right in the constitution. Whether in Western nations or in Eastern ones such as Japan and South Korea, these are akin to sacred rights, as much as they ought to be to us. Systems function best when there are checks and balances which requires a more sophisticated understanding of democracy and its frame.

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Latest comments

  • 17
    0

    Democrazy ??? Development ??? long lost concept Jehan Perera.

    • 3
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      Chiv,
      Democracy was robbed from the people in North and East by Tamil terrorists led by megalomaniac Prabhakaran. After Ranil Wickramasinghe handed over nearly one third of the country on a platter to Prabhakaran and devolved power, expectation was that Tamils will get a democratic rule and development will follow. Unfortunately, what Tamils got was completely the opposite of what they expected. There was no democracy, no peace, no respect for human rights and no development. Killings went on as usual. At the end, Rajapakshe regime had to take action to liberate Tamils in North and East from the clutches of Tamil terrorists and restore peace and democracy.
      —-
      “Democrazy ??? Development ??? long lost concept…”

      • 5
        1

        EE
        VP no more 12 yrs pass by where is country now,you forgot to mention SJV….Vaduukodai……….
        Fact is it’s not Ranil’s given in platter,couldn’t face the resistance,it was backed by India it’s open secret,
        Sonia and the west decided to finish off the LTTE,these Thadias claim as champions but they let it be,our head couldn’t even face deserter fled as far as he can to US now his son new grand in safe heaven,look at the state of the country

      • 7
        0

        Eagle Blind Eye

        “Democracy was robbed from the people in North and East by Tamil terrorists led by megalomaniac Prabhakaran. “

        Don’t be stupid, unlike Mahinda and his brothers Prabaharan was not a megalomaniac but a Psychopath just like Gota.

        ” Unfortunately, what Tamils got was completely the opposite of what they expected.”

        True Tamils were subjected to war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations all because Mahinda robed the 2005 presidential elections from Tamils due to LTTE’s vote rigging in favour of Mahinda for which Mahinda paid VP 165 million rupees.

        Where did he get this kind of money?
        Is HLD M still sitting on your head?

    • 4
      1

      Crazy demos going on in most part of the country on aspects,to stop that two traps ate in place either PTA or quantrine……from south to Mullaitivu don’t know whether they have privileged to phone Weerasekara and ask for their own clothes………..
      Developments ……underage prostitution is on hot topic in town…..
      The involvement is all sort …case may be closed,and charge the girl for fabrication………

  • 15
    2

    I have not the least know Basil s education even if he entered the parlaiment from the backdoor
    becoming the minister of Finance..
    Mahinda Rajapakshe and him as the minister of finance along with Wandibattaya Cabral brought irrepairable damages to srilanken economy. By 2014, it was read that a growth rate of 6.5 % or something similar to that were documented however, this was not a real growth since no any new jobs and industrial developments seen during that period. However, loans taken to go for those white elephant project like Mattala and Hambantota or the like were the reasons to show that a growth was there.
    :
    Going back to past of this island, the days of Ronie De Mel as minister of Finance made records in the history. : Compared to the kind of great ministers, Basil is believed to be the least qualified minister to be the minister of finance. However, it has now become the family business with so called Mahasangarathnaya being silent. For some reasons, not a single voice would come up against powerful Rajaakshes. Rajakshes wear white but not a single person in that brutal family is proved to be a real people s friendly politician. ALl what they have been doing is fooling the nation again and again. Unfortunately for us, majority of this country would remain as as ” easy targets” of the vicious politicians.

    • 3
      8

      leelagemalli,
      “By 2014, it was read that a growth rate of 6.5 % or something similar to that were documented however, this was not a real growth …”
      —-
      Dumbo, if it was not real growth do you think organizations like ADB will accept those figures. ‘Yahapalana’ Government brought it down to 2.3% by 2019. What a great achievement by Ranil Wickramasinghe and his ‘Royal Gang’ who bragged that they know how to fix the economy. This Government has to deal with the consequences of mismanagement of the economy by ‘Jadapalana’ dong keys.

  • 12
    2

    Jehan, I recommend you reading today DM article written by Ranga Jeyasuriya on the same subject titled “BR’s catch 22 situation”. It is about the rotten family autocracies we have had since independence which lead to BR,s return. Here are some caveats 1) Rajapaksas are occupying all key positions except may be Speaker and Chief Justice 2) Hype of GR and SLPP was harnessed through whipping up fear psychosis, anti minority dog whistling and vague economic policies (why do you’ll think GR kept stupidly giggling, when ever questioned on economy and revival, prior to elections) 3) BR enters the fray as the govt has made a mess, SLPP underlings say, with an aura of authority that “he has seven brains” ( OMG) but Basil is no Raguram Rajan. He confronts not just a crumbling economy but also a dogmatic rule of his siblings. Probably his “seven brains” might be of little use when his hands are tied.

  • 7
    3

    What happened with the Basil to the parliament and finance ministry is not change in policy but strengthening the power of Rajapaksa family or another kind of cheat to convince international masters. Basil Rajapaksa means more bribes going to happen with China and Western countries. China and Western countries are happy to compete each other to put Sri Lanka under their control and make Sri Lanka e beggar state.
    Development in Sri Lanka is impossible as long as the Tamils and Muslims believes that they are part of Sri Lanka. Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism do not wants to consider Tamils, Muslims and Christians as Sri Lankans.
    Buddhist Sinhala has to decide which side they want to be? China or Western side?
    Gota Family and Basil Family on the side of USA. That is why they still not willing to give up USA citizenship. You may think that Gota has given up his US citizenship but the reality is that he can join his family any time as they are US citizens. Even Mahinda family will get US citizenship if Buddhist Sinhala go against them.

    • 3
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      Ajith,
      “Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism do not wants to consider Tamils, Muslims and Christians as Sri Lankans.”
      —-
      Repeating the usual BS!
      There is no such thing called Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism. Sinhala Buddhists accommodated Dravidians who came to work for colonial rulers in their country when they were abandoned by colonial Masters. Sinhala Buddhists accommodated Dravida Muslim refugees from Hindusthan in their country when they faced persecution by Portuguese. However, the descendants of Dravidians came to Sinhale to work for colonial rulers did not want to become Sri Lankans although they were given citizenship in this country and wanted to grab a part of the land of Sinhalayo and Vedda Eththo to create a separate State using a bogus claim ‘Traditional Homeland’, declared war against Sinhala Nation and slaughtered Native Sinhalayo for three decades. By resorting to terrorism, Muslim extremists also slaughtered Native Sinhalayo.
      Sinhalayo did not invite Tamils and Muslims to their country or bring them to their country. Tamils and Muslims who are unhappy with the decision taken by their ancestors to settle down in Sinhale are free to return to their ancestral homeland across Palk Strait without grumbling. Those who are willing to live with Sinhalayo in a Unitary State without talking about a ‘separate State’ or a ‘Caliphate’ are welcome to stay.

      • 6
        3

        I don’t respond to wild animals who do not have a brain to understand or differentiate between human and wild animals.

  • 2
    2

    After Basil Rajapaksa was appointed Finance Minister, it has been reported that the Sri Lankan government has agreed to provide the Trincomalee port in the Eastern Province on a five-year lease to the United States for $ 3,000 million. This has been confirmed by top political circles in Colombo. But the Sri Lankan government has so far said nothing. It is said that the US will lease the Trincomalee port from the Sri Lankan government as one of the strategies to ensure the security of the Indo-Pacific region centered on China in the post-May 2009 environment. According to top political sources the talks took place while Basil Rajapaksa was in the United States. It is in this context that the patriotic national movement, which played a major role in the election of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as President, has announced the lease of the Trincomalee port to the United States. Through this report, the Secretary of the Patriotic National Movement, has exposed a behind-the-scenes trade agreement between the Sri Lankan government and the Trincomalee port and the deal would be signed by a US-based company with an investment value of $ 3,000 million by which the US company has proposed to carry out an oil refinery project near the Trincomalee port.

    • 0
      5

      AR
      Are you happy for the master the US or sad for the vassal up north?
      Is not 3 billion is a slightly better deal than the ‘paltry’ 0.48 billion under MCC?
      No counter bid like in Indira Gandhi’s time?

      • 2
        0

        Are you not ecstatic that China got Ambaanthotai for mere circa 3 billion USD on far more better 99 year lease within perpetually extensible deal structure.

        China might bid too.

        If China offers more money and less conditions, it must go to China by all fairness of US touting of rule based world (not that I am in favour of either).

        • 0
          1

          KA
          “Are you not ecstatic…?”
          If I am, I should have declared happiness when ‘Good Governance’ made the deal.
          In fairness to MR, he opposed the idea, and made a public statement.
          *
          Why did the US or EU or India think of getting there even before China was considered?
          White elephant? I would not pass judgment on that yet.

          • 2
            0

            Government selling parts of their beloved lanka to China is being discussed worldwide as it is going to change the geopolitics in the Indian Ocean. But it didn’t become a big issue in Sri Lanka. On the other hand even a rumour that the government is planning to lease Trincomalee to USA elicited a big backlash. This shows the interesting mindset of the Sri Lankans. This contrast in the reaction s needs analysis.
            The guess is that the government’s rumoured proposal to lease Trincomalee to USA is to a appease them. They are justifiably upset with Sri Lanka for changing the geopolitical equation in the Indian Ocean.
            USA is the leader of the Western democracies. Today Western democracies are the only countries which value human rights, rule of law due process and natural justice. Therefore Tamil people must wholeheartedly welcome USA’s involvement in the Indian Ocean.

            • 2
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              I missed to mention one other important matter in the value system of Western democracies. They greatly value individual freedom.

    • 1
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      AR,

      Does it not show that Hindia is hamstrung with Sori Sinhala Lanka even in relation to peacefully getting a port like ECT, Trinco oil depot etc.

      It also shows that US has to directly intervene to salvage Hindia in this region, and US has lost confidence on Hindia’s primacy to manage this region geopolitics.

      Is this not what the Hindia HC bravado to TNA meant by “we (Hindia) know how to handle China”?

      How can you then say Hindia is in a position to invade the Island and sustain the invasion ?

      I have written about the near impossibility of such a situation as a response to your comment and many did not like it. However, that is the reality.

      The US resolutions are to create the leverage against Sori Sinhala Lanka.

      The Hindian HC’s big mouth talk of making big investments in the North and East is all about this development, which is all about aiding Sori Sinhala State one way or another.

      Hindia (US and the West go along with Hindia), as usual, buying and providing time and space for structural genocide of Tamils in the pretext of protecting and improving Tamils with the façade of so called, beig-shredded 13-useless, and it is not pretension anymore.

      • 0
        1

        KA
        “It also shows that US has to directly intervene to salvage Hindia in this region, and US has lost confidence on Hindia’s primacy to manage this region geopolitics.”
        *
        If that is true, would not the QUAD soon return to the TRIAD that it was without a dead weight to carry?

  • 2
    0

    Basil is the band-aid solution to the gaping economic wound created by The Family. He may be the better of them, but yet, does Motherland really want to be held at ransom by the Rajapaksa US$$ billions? Sinhala Buddhists, your survival is based on democratic norms (as said by the author), global awareness, and minority contribution.

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