26 January, 2020

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Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency: Some Negatives, Positives & Challenges

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

For all intent and purposes, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (GR) recently concluded state visit to India, his first as Head of State is considered a success. A one on one meeting scheduled for 15 minutes had lasted one hour. During this time, both leaders have supposedly found common ground and established a personal rapport, so essential in relations between countries, especially between countries with a history of thorny periods.

The newly elected Sri Lankan President, in his inaugural speech stated, “we want to be neutral and stay out of conflicts amongst the world powers.” 

While in India, he reiterated his intention to renegotiate the 99-year lease with state-controlled China Merchants Port Holdings which would have no doubt pleased his hosts.

The Editor of The Hindu, Ms Suhasini Haider, sought clarification on the issue of Hambantota Port. GR stated “I believe the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota. After all, these are not like hotels or a terminal, but to give control of a port or an airport or our harbors is different.” 

It is heartening to note, the new President does recognize the need for Sri Lanka to be in control of its Ports, Airports and other strategically important assets. It must apply across the board to all such projects awarded not only to the Chinese but also to Indians, Americans and any others. The Sri Lanka Navy manages the security inside the Hambantota port. 

Not too long ago, Petroleum Corporation officials visiting the Trincomalee oil storage tank farm to survey the 15 or so tanks leased out to Lanka IOC Plc, Indian Oil Corporation’s subsidiary in Sri Lanka. They were chased away by LIOC officials, the reason being approval was required from their Delhi Head Office. GR must make sure, such mistakes are rectified and never repeated.

The recent public announcement by GR of the 99-year Hambantota Port lease agreement being a mistake on the eve of his departure to India to say the least was a blunder. Firstly, it negates his announcement at Ruwanwelisaya “we want to be neutral.” Secondly, China is the world’s second most powerful nation in the world with a population of over 1.4 billion. A public démarche of the intention to further renegotiate an already renegotiated agreement by a leader of a country of 21 million souls is an affront to China. If necessary, the way around the issue would have been to discreetly take up the issue with the Chinese leaders during a visit to China. Such a visit to the nation’s largest investor, highest creditor and all-weather friend is due sooner than later in the name of being neutral. 

The President may not be aware of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s demand during a political rally for the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) forthwith. Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who felt slighted stubbornly refused to comply during his term of office. To comply with Ranasinghe’s demand would have been political suicide for Gandhi. 

Furthermore, the new government is virtually begging for investments. Demanding the revision of already finalized investment projects sends all the wrong signals to prospective investors. Sri Lanka’s reputation as an investment-friendly country was tarnished since the trashing of the agreement with Emirate Airlines in 2008, all the way through Colombo Port City and the initial Hambantota Port agreement.  

Prime Minister Modi has offered a credit line of USD 400 million for infrastructure development and a further USD 50 million to deal with terrorism challenges. Monies drawn down from a credit line must be paid back, often with interest. The terms of the credit line are not known. However, what it means is, Sri Lanka can draw down up to the specified amounts for capital goods, Consulting, Advisory Services, Report Preparations etc. It is customary to restrict the facility to Indian firms. They will determine Suppliers, Contractors, Prices etc. Sri Lanka must eventually repay the full amount. 

The Indian credit line is no comparison to the USD 480 million American Millennium Challenge Corporation grant requiring no repayment. 

The rapport established by the two leaders during their first meeting is a good start. It now needs to be followed up with more positive progress. 

GR’s gesture of announcing the release of Tamil Nadu fishing boats apprehended by the Navy as a goodwill gesture received no reciprocity. Modi made a two-sentence reference to the issue during his state banquet speech. He spoke of the issue “affecting the livelihood of fishermen” and the need for a “humanitarian approach.” Meanwhile, the direct and indirect loss incurred by Sri Lanka due to poaching by Indian trawlers was estimated in 2015 at USD 61.5 million, 2% of the GDP of the Northern Province and still climbing.      

The Yahapalana government initially attempted to repair relations with India damaged by the previous Rajapaksa administration, with numerous appeasing gestures. Nevertheless, it did not take long to realize India’s limitations, China’s economic strengths and deep pockets. Sri Lanka ended up signing the 99 years Hambantota Port lease agreement to the utter consternation of the Indians. 

Despite all the current back-slapping, bonhomie and congratulations all around, Sri Lanka must take a realistic long-term view on how best to manage its foreign relations.

Since Independence, Sri Lanka has not encountered disputes with any country in the region other than with India. It will be no different in the future.  

Sri Lanka must consider the day when Narendra Modi is not the Prime Minister. Also, to be considered is a day when a weak government in the center is in a coalition arrangement with a political party from Tamil Nadu. Priorities and many other considerations could change in such an eventuality. 

Never again must she find itself with no friends especially in the UN Security Council as it once did in 1987 after the infamous food drop.

During the interview with the Editor of The Hindu, asked if the Troika (three-man coordination team) concept to manage Indo – Sri Lanka relations as done during the 2010-2015 Mahinda Rajapaksa regime would be revived, he responded in the negative. “Well, at that time there was a necessity because of the conflict. But now I don’t think it is necessary as we can work through the Foreign Ministries” was his response.

Compliments are due to President Rajapaksa for his decision. Between 2010 and 2015, the management of foreign relations was two centered. One center was the Foreign Ministry headed by an incompetent Minister and a Monitor alien to the subject. The other was the President himself and his Secretary at the President’s office. 

Matters became worse in the next four years with three Ministers holding office in four years.  

It was compounded by a Foreign Secretary with questionable loyalties pursuing his private agenda till October 2018. The Prime Minister was also making decisions, and at times, the former Finance Minister. The former President made occasional statements more often than not craftily claiming ignorance.  The Speaker, having appointed the former Foreign Secretary as Foreign Relations Advisor too waded into foreign affairs. The appointment was a historical first.  

One hopes, GR’s decision will succeed in ensuring Foreign Relations is handled strictly by the subject ministry under his direction. The Foreign Office currently headed by an able Foreign Secretary and with 58% of our foreign missions headed by career officers is well poised to execute the new President’s agenda keeping interlopers at bay. 

One of the upcoming foreign affairs challenges is the UNHRC periodic review meeting in March 2020. A decision on requesting a revision of Resolution 30/1 would be required soon. Will the Indian warmth and goodwill shown during GR’s recent visit extend to supporting Sri Lanka in such an initiative? 

Back at home, GR has made the following positive remarks, well received by the general public.

“But I am clear that we have to find ways to directly benefit people there through jobs and to promote fisheries and agriculture. We can discuss political issues, but for 70 odd years, successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened.”

He said the full devolution of powers as promised by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1987 could not be implemented “against the wishes and feeling of the majority community.”

“Anyone who is promising something against the majority’s will is untrue. No Sinhala will say, don’t develop the area, or don’t give jobs, but political issues are different.”

With these few words, GR has spoken more sense than both Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe have spoken in the last decade. He is spot on in saying, the Sinhalese community will not object to developing the North and giving Tamil people employment.

GR’s simplicity and lack of ostentatiousness have earned him many plaudits. Simplicity does have a charm of its own. That said, certain occasions such as formal welcome ceremonies with a guard of honor and state banquets do call for a certain degree of formality. Both the Indian bureaucracy and the military lay great emphasis on customs, traditions, etiquette, norms and forms on such occasions. The attire of both Indian President and Prime Minister reflected their conformity. 

The public is full of praise for GR’s decision to continue living in his house outside Colombo. He supposedly travels in a convoy of fewer than five vehicles and stops at signal lights. These are populist but dangerous gestures. As he implements unpopular yet badly needed reforms, he will earn the wrath of many. SWRD Bandaranaike was felled by a member of the Saffron brigade, a group that played a decisive role in his revolution. The last thing this country needs is a Presidential assassination.  If the convoy stops at signal lights, the President is unnecessarily exposed to danger. If it travels daily at high speed with sirens blaring, he becomes a public nuisance. 

The more practical and pragmatic option for our President would be to move into the President’s House after converting a small area as private quarters as done by his Indian counterpart. It will also have necessary security equipment and save the state of unnecessary expenditure.      

The Indian President’s official residence Rashtrapati Bhawan is in a 130-hectare premises in Delhi and consists of 340 rooms. President’s residential quarters consist of a small section consisting of a few rooms.  

Indeed, a concept worthy of emulation.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    2

    CT
    Rajeewa types:

    “President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s (GR) recently concluded state visit to India, his first as Head of State is considered a success.”

    Of course it was a success given that Gota received a charitable contribution of $550 Million from Modi.

    “The Indian credit line is no comparison to the USD 480 million American Millennium Challenge Corporation grant requiring no repayment. “

    True, however I wonder whether Sri Lanka has paid back more than $1.15 billion line of credit (with or without interest) that India provided during the war and more after the end of the war.

    • 5
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      Native
      Are you a retard? It is not US$ 550 mil but US$ 400 mil +US$ 50 mil which makes US$ 450 mil. Everybody knows, a line of credit is not a charitable contribution but a soft loan requiring repayment. Jayaweera has properly explained how it works for the benefit of the Indians. Why should Sri Lanka pay back anything? The US$ 1.5 billion credit line you talk about is like petty cash when an intelligent person thinks of the damage done by India. How much do you think Sri Lanka could have saved if Vadamarachchi operation was completed in 1987 halted by India? What about the millions of dollars taken by force for decades by your relative poaching fishermen from Tamil Nadu each year? Work out the maths. Sri Lanka should not pay back one red cent.

      • 1
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        Eagle Blind Eye

        “Are you a retard? It is not US$ 550 mil but US$ 400 mil +US$ 50 mil which makes US$ 450 mil.”

        Please read :
        India announces $400 million line of credit for infrastructure in Sri Lanka
        https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/
        November 29, 2019
        ……
        ……
        Excerpt:
        The Prime Minister also said that the two leaders had decided to utilise the $100 million credit line earlier announced for setting up solar projects in the country.

        ..
        “a line of credit is not a charitable contribution but a soft loan requiring repayment.”

        When did this island of beggars repay Hindian Loans?
        Would you or Rajeewa care to find evidence for repayment?

        “How much do you think Sri Lanka could have saved if Vadamarachchi operation was completed in 1987 halted by India?”

        It was said at the time Hindians came to help JR who earlier requested them to deal LTTE and his government was likely to deal with growing JVP threat. JR couldn’t face both fronts.

        “What about the millions of dollars taken by force for decades by your relative poaching fishermen from Tamil Nadu each year? Work out the maths. Sri Lanka should not pay back one red cent.”

        What poaching by your relatives got to do with me?

        Read this stupid man unless you are European descendant:
        Common ancestry of Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils – DNA proof
        “West Eurasian haplogroups among the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils and Vedda population groups with a longer history in the island suggest early migration of women carrying these haplogroups into the country. Our data led us to conclude that contemporary Sri Lankans share very close maternal ancestors and that ethnicity is created by linguistic, religious and cultural differences rather than by genetic differences.”
        – Prof. Kamani Thennakoon, University of Colombo.

        https://sldna.blogspot.com/2019/02/common-ancestry-of-sinhalese-and-sri.html?

  • 5
    0

    How to put a gag on idiot screaming?
    /
    God help us

    • 2
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      Nilame

      “How to put a gag on idiot screaming?”

      Stuff pillow in your mouth.

      “God help us”

      Sorry God is too busy saving Gota, Mahinda, Mahasangha, Weerawansa, ….. Shavendra, Kamal, ……

  • 1
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    Evry one seeking citizenship with US not with China no one likes american invovement as we have seen some party obtained signures for no MMC, SOme day americal is going to ask a. US. government officials were forced address your either with us or aginst as, then the US citizens add Strengh to nation.

  • 1
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    I would like to comment only on the simplistic approach in the choice of residence and other habits. Clearly GR was a victim of the Piththala Junction bomb attack and he knows that he is considered the source of crushing the “Tiger Spirit” in defeating the LTTE militarily. I am informed that as Defense Sec he used to change hotels on a daily basis when he was outside the country as a security precaution. Then why different now? I am told that some “Pohottuwites” who were yearning for the “perks” find this laying of rules by example is “HORRIBLE” and disappointed. If it is that bad that is the first battle GR has to win. Clearly if there are ominous signs of a rebellion GR can say “I have my own value system for the country for which I got elected and if you want to run riot I will step down and be out of politics and be damned with you fellows”. Then Parliament has to elect a new President. That could be a reason why he would not like a move that would change his life style much. Further the spirit of the UNP too my have sensed this in advance and that is why in an apparent deference to public opinion the PM resigns. If they wanted to respect the public will they should have agreed to a prompt dissolution of Parliament. NO! LET US SEE HOW GREED WOULD SET IN DECAY AND DIVISION. The carrot is to hand over the executive power promptly so that internal strife would set in. If the ultimate envisaged step down takes place with this Parliament in existence then UNP which has a “majority” can get the Presidency over a platter.

  • 0
    2

    Local govts are mess now. In the upcountry, One local govt was divided into two because, Mano Ganashan wanted it so. Local govts should unpoliticized and become apolitical. People should be elected to local govts mostly based desire to do voluntary help, to help the area (see so many youth I heard during their free time, are beautifying the parapets. Then very good ones should be allowed to come to the parliament. Provincial councils should be dissolved. A governor can stay for a province to looks after the president’s need. governor should be supportive to president but not one who lost the election. 13th amendment is disastrous to Sri lanka. But if it were removed, that would create more problems. Delimitation and modifying would solve almost every problems from Tamils. 15th amendment must go back to 12.5% and not 5%. That was a disaster by R Pemadasa. See National list MPs. that is there to appoint all the corrupts and vultures to the parliament. PResident should have the ability to get a few (mostly one person) because of specific requirements).

  • 3
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    I think Ms. Haider (aka Haidar) is only the diplomatic editor of The Hindu, not its editor-in-chief.

    GR is saying 13th amendment is now part of the constitution and then saying he can’t implement certain rights. If the constitution in fact already includes land and police powers, he is essentially violating the constitution.

    Presidents and all subordinates take an oath to uphold the constitution
    So if what he says is true, GR would be committing treason, do you get that, Mr. Jayaweera?

    What is the punishment for treason? Why should an upstanding citizen of Sri Lanka care about majority/minority views on that?

    • 1
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      Agnos
      *
      Let us first talk of the 6th Amendment before the 13th Amendment. All those contravening the 6th Amendment are guilty of treason.
      *
      As for the 13h Amendment, the treasonous act is in having the constitutional amendment passed in Parliament at gunpoint. MPs were housed at The Lanka Oberoi, taken in buses escorted by the army and made to vote. That is treason
      *
      Did you not think of that Agnos?

      • 3
        1

        Rajeewa Jayaweera

        I have not seen any evidence to confirm The Lanka Oberoi incident therefore I would be grateful if you could cite the reference, not Kamalika’s her story. Even if Kamalika’s story was true, there was no compulsion for them to vote this or that way, if they had back bone, self respect and dignity. Please note in the subsequent parliamentary elections UNP won 110 seats out of 196.

        That must say something about the voters, MPs, and the state. The MP’s were free to amend the bill if they had the ……. Everyone who criticised 13th Amendment have benefited from it including JVP, the harsh critic, which went onto destabilise the state precisely for this reason, now seem settled down and its members are enjoying the perks it brought along somewhat semblance of devolved power.

        However if it was treachery why did not G L Pieris, and a plethora of other patriotic smart legal eagles did not notice it, protest about it and attempt to change/amend it with home grown schedules or abolish it completely between 2005 and 2015?

      • 3
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        Rajeewa, there cannot be double standards. If you can contravene 13th amendment, then you have the same right to contravene 6th amendment also. Similarly 6th amendment was passed with Tamil MPs under house arrest following the 1983 riots organised and executed by the then government. Is this too not treason. If a country is persecuting its citizens on the basis of their ethnicity, it is perfectly accepted for another country to intervene and safeguard the lives and properties of the victims. So Indian intervention and providing a solution for Tamils to live in dignity and safety from the marauding Sinhala racists cannot be termed treason. Can you cite a single country in the world which has opposed the 13th amendment. If you cannot grant justice to Tamils because Sinhalese do not like, then you cannot cause injustice to Tamils because Sinhalese want it. Sri Lanka has been gently reminded to carry out some thing which is within international norms. It is international intervention that brought justice and peace to Bosnia, East Timor and South Sudan. This is needed to keep Sinhala intransigence under check and deliver justice and peace to Tamils.

      • 0
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        Mr. Jayaweera,

        My memory of the 6th amendment is that it made it illegal to speak of or advocate for a separate country. Because this was an infringement on free speech, any decent supreme court would have struck it down as unconstitutional.

        But not so in Sri Lanka, where the supreme court justices themselves fall prey to chauvinism. It would be valid to bring a law banning groups from taking up arms to overthrow a government, but the people who do so were prepared to fight and die for their causes; it was in fact what happened in the end; thousands of them were killed..

        Regardless, the 13th amendment had nothing to do with separation. JRJ signed the accord devolving more powers to the regions. There was no gun pointed at him. Despite pressure from J.N Dixit, JRJ could have chosen not to sign it. But having allowed the 1983 pogroms against Tamils on his watch, he had no moral highground; Sri Lanka was, rightly, isolated internationally in the aftermath of July 83. There were thousands of Lankan Tamil refugees who fled to India, and by virtue of that fact, India had a legitimate interest in SL’s internal affairs at that time.This was the background in which the Indo-Lanka accord was signed. If you think JRJ committed treason, you could have taken it up with him; you could have fasted unto death in front of his home. But how was it a violation of the 6th amendment?

        [ contd.]

        • 1
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          Agnos

          Hindians could have easily divided the country however simply because they didn’t need to do it. Not that they were too weak, scared, stupid, ….. they couldn’t separate it but as far as the Hindians are concerned Sri Lanka is a Sinhala State of Hindia. Full Stop.

      • 0
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        Part 2:

        The people who were willing to fight against the SL regimes, far from taking an oath to uphold Sri Lanka’s constitution, argued that SL constitution was illegitimately drawn, without the consent of the majority of the Tamil speaking people. The armed struggle by them was consistent with their principles.

        I am talking about the Tamil citizens who didn’t advocate for separation, and wanted to live within a united Sri Lanka where their rights would be constitutionally protected.

        But presidents who take an oath to uphold the constitution are bound by it, and are committing treason by violating it.

        • 1
          0

          Agnos

          “argued that SL constitution was illegitimately drawn, without the consent of the majority of the Tamil speaking people.”

          The 1978 constitution like the 1972 one, never been approved by a people’s vote or in a referendum, was passed in the parliament by 140 donkeys out of 168.

          The so called Dayan’s majority of the majority was not allowed to vote for the final document,
          THE CONSTITUTION OF THE DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST REPUBLIC
          OF SRI LANKA 1978.

  • 3
    1

    Gothabayas Presidency ha only Positives for all Sri Lankans ( CRIMINALS) . Look at the evidence

    1) Presidency has given the elected president by 52% hardcore Racists Immunity from CRIMINAL charges for 5 years. He may die before facing Justice
    2) Brig. Priyanka entitled to diplomatic immunity during the incident: SL. His act was CRIMINAL and that is why he was charged by the Felham Majstrates but he escapes Justice because he is a ” Hardcore ” Sinkalam

    What a Privilege enjoyed by Sri Lankan ( 52%) Criminals . It speaks volumes .I ask every Decent Sri Lankan both Sinhalese and Tamil to send evidence to Western Governments and the UN.

    • 3
      1

      Apart from staying in his own house and a smaller motorcade stopping at traffic lights,

      22 Nov. limits Cabinet to 15
      27 Nov. orders posters, banners etc to be removed from all walls, electricity cables, lamp posts
      27 Nov. huge cuts to Capital Gains, Debt service tax etc to stimulate growth
      30 Nov. no pictures of himself, PM or anyone else in Government buildings, airports, only the state emblem
      1 Dec. bans begging on trains
      7 Dec. local artists start painting cleansed walls sponsored by local businesses following a FB post
      7 Dec. new Bill to control money lending
      8 Dec. extension of Port area by 269 hectares finally finished
      8 Dec. Muslim appointed head of State Intelligence

      All excellent ideas. Yahapalana did F all for years. I am sure the president will not let Gnanasara and other thugs ruin his reputation, he will even keep the sickly MR in check. But nothing is good enough for the terrorist diaspora because they want to see Sri Lanka fail, that is all they care about.

      • 0
        1

        Please Don’t make moronic statements. None of the Tamils living abroad in exile want the country as a whole to fail you, idiot. We all have relations living there and we yearn to come back there and live out the rest of our days, provided the country is governed well under a true democratic condition. I am now seventy-one years old and have seen the decline of a nation in that time through bad governance. I can’t see it getting better any time soon.

      • 0
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        EA
        “the terrorist diaspora because they want to see Sri Lanka fail”

        They don’t realize it but, they are cancer to Sri Lanka

  • 1
    1

    Native.
    Thanks for that link on the DNA studies.
    How on earth do you find time for all this reading and research?
    By the way Rajeewa is advising President Gotabaya on his security!!! Traffic lights and all.

    • 1
      1

      Plato

      As I am not an expert on DNA I keep myself confined to the abstract, conclusion and the evidence. On other matters I try my best to delve deep into the subject matter. If there is a will there’s a way.

      Rajeewa is motivated by his dislike for Hindians, Tamils in general and Sri Lankan Tamils in particular. He is also well known for his selective memory and interpretation of events, which a section of the Colombo chattering class believes to be brilliant.

      If I am not mistaken his father was very close to late Kamaraj.

  • 0
    0

    To All Tamil and others who commented above I am a 75 year old pensioner . I joined public service service in 1966 through a competitive exam I have studied in govt. sinhla schools at the beginning and later joined St. John Bosco’s , Hatton ,1952, then Gampola Zahira 1954 St. Thomas’ Matale 1957 had the opportunity to study with Tamil, and Muslim students and in public service had worked with Tamil Gentlemen like Mr. M.Rajendra, S.T, MR. K. Sittambalam,Director of Finance, General Treasury Mr. P. Kanakaratnam, Commercial secretary Sri Lanka Embassy in Tokyo and Mr. N.M.M.I. Hussein, Muslim, at Foreign Ministry and there are many others regrettably since those days I have met only two gentleman at IAEA in Vienna what is happening to our Tamil community where are those who loved us like family members when will such good times come back

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