22 June, 2021

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Reclaiming & Regaining Sri Lanka

By Mylvaganam Sooriasegaram

Mylvaganam Sooriasegaram

In order to put the records right, it is necessary to state emphatically at the very outset that the creation of the economic, political and social crises, which pushed the present Rajapaksa family lead government into submission to China’s tempting rescue offer, was not only the creation of the present and previous Rajapaksa regimes but principally the creation of the UNP lead governments since 1977.

The transition from essentially a democratic, independent, stable and largely inclusive country to the present ‘democratically’ elected but dictatorially run, subserviently China dependent and ethnically, religiously and socially divided country, can be attributed to the following governance choices taken since 1977.

1. Introduction in 1978 by JR Jayewardene of a constitution providing an Executive Presidency System with draconian powers vested in the President without checks and balances. This has been made even worse under the present President. Experience everywhere shows that once you go down this road return to democracy is a far cry although that is what we should aspire for. 

2. The adoption again by JR Jayewardene of a western imposed neoliberal market driven economic policies in place of the previous essentially sound socio political economic system, which served the needs of Sri Lanka better 

3. Again it was JR who actively engaged in ethnically and religiously divisive policies alienating, repressing, discriminating and provoking the minority ethnic communities into taking unwisely of course arms against the state. Ethnically biased standardization policy in university admissions, state instigated violence such as burning down of Jaffna Public Library, 1977 riots and 1983 riots against the Tamils, can be cited as examples of such alienation and provocation.

4. Allowing this war to prolong for 30 years and ending the war in 2009 without even addressing the very causes of that war, leaving Sri Lanka again vulnerable to ethnic unrest cannot be considered as good governance. Sri Lanka was subjected to Sinhala youth uprising in the South in the seventies and then unwisely an armed struggle for a separate Eelam from late eighties, which consumed nearly 40 years out of the 71 years of post-independent Sri Lanka. So the country was misgoverned and could not progress from 1977 onwards.

5. The so called accelerated post-war infra structure reconstruction and economic development since 2009 also spelt disaster. Endless and reckless borrowing and spending on badly chosen priorities with no return for the borrowed capital invested coupled with unprecedented and widespread corruption at all levels of government bankrupted the country, precipitating in the present crisis. 

The government was thus forced into passing the Port City Legislation. This would have happened even under a UNP Government. The aim of the author at this stage is not to pile up allegations against the government over the spilt milk but to explore how to limit or minimise the damages and more importantly how to reclaim and regain Sri Lanka for the present and future generations of Sri Lankans.

Although the size of the Port City Development is area wise miniscule (2.69 Sq.km) in comparison to Sri Lanka’s size (320,000 Sq.km) and the lease period is limited only to 99 years, the scale of economic and other operations that will take place in the Port City will simply dwarf everything else in Sri Lanka put together. This is where the danger lies for Sri Lanka. 

We need to pay attention to two important areas. Firstly we must agree with China to control and manage the operations within the Port City in ways mutually advantageous to both Sri Lanka and China. Secondly we must have a new strategy of governing Sri Lanka in the long term interests of Sri Lankan people and this strategy must be discussed publicly, openly and transparently and popularly accepted. 

Now let me dwell upon the key areas of my concern from Sri Lanka’s perspectives.

Foreign investments in the Port City must not be aimed at bleeding the country using our cheap labour without technology transfer and at least with a small share of profit for investing in the rest of Sri Lanka. This is one way to avoid more borrowing. At least a small number of Sri Lankans should be in the board of directors of all companies operating within the Port City. This will assist the smooth transfer of the Port City back to Sri Lanka after 99 years. We must remember this is how India developed their industries, particularly their M/C and car industries and other heavy industries, through collaboration agreements for up to 20 years with British and Japanese companies with joint management and board of directors, permitting almost unrestricted technology transfer. 

Neither private universities nor medical tourism must be permitted within the Port City to prevent brain drain from mainland to Port City. Otherwise all our university professors, lecturers, medical consultants and specialists, educated from primary school all the way up to university and beyond at public expense, will cross over to the Port City to work at twice or even 3 times their current salaries thus destroying our highly esteemed free university education and our free National Health Service, the two jewels in the crown of Sri Lanka. This will be nothing but treachery to our own university students who will receive inferior education and to our people needing healthcare who will only receive low quality service because our best academics and professionals have been drained away by bribing.

We are an agricultural and fishing country and because we have failed to invest and develop these very lucrative areas we were importing our food needs rather than being a net exporter. The current corona epidemic has also taught us the need to be at least self-sufficient in food. Any money borrowed must be wisely spent in increasing our agriculture and fishery production to satisfy our food needs and for exporting. This is our top priority. We can easily do this because we have the human resources, water resources (good rainfall, perennial rivers, tanks and irrigation canals), fertile agricultural lands, University Agriculture Faculties, Department of Agriculture, Agrarian services departments, and Agriculture Research Stations all idling or under-utilized and we have unlimited marine resources as well.   

No more borrowing to spend on prestigious projects like Hambanthotta Port, Cricket Stadium, Expressway, none of which are generating revenue for the country, not even enough revenue to pay back the interest on loans secured! This is almost planned bankruptcy of the country!

Develop our public transport system and make it into an integrated transport system connecting bus, rail, water, sea, air and bicycle transport plus of course safe walking.

CTB presently has only 5600 buses, private bus operators have only 20,000 clapped up buses for the whole country of 21.7 million people. This is disgraceful to say the least. But we have foolishly and lavishly spent huge amounts of our Dollar reserves to import 7.3 million private vehicles and clog up our roads, import all the fuel needed to burn and drive those vehicles and pollute our atmosphere. Why are we giving car permits to MP’s, doctors, university lecturers etc. and making the country bankrupt?

We have only 1450 km of railway lines, 323 railway stations in the entire country, more or less what was left behind by the British Colonialists in 1948 even after 72 years of independence! This again is shamefully disgraceful.

Our economy cannot grow without efficient public transport. More time spent by working population to travel from their homes to their work places means less production for the country and less work-life balance for working people. We must build this into our economic modelling.

Skilled and unskilled work opportunities in the Port City for our workers with an element of technology transfer must be negotiated with China. This will cut down the number of men and women desperately seeking low paid jobs in the Middle East under slavish working conditions, leaving their family and children unattended and go astray.

The government must negotiate with China or India or Japan to set up a few solar panel manufacturing factories outside the Port City under collaboration agreements, enabling technology transfers as well. Similarly Dairy farms and other food processing industries can be started. These will create many jobs for our men and women and our economy and GDP will grow.

So we must think positive and work towards developing agriculture, fishery, light industries, food processing industries, IT industry, public transport, education and technology transfer and root out corruption in the public as well as the private sector.

For a start clean up all the corporations (CTB, CGR, Petroleum Corporation, SriLankan Airline, Gem Corporation, Sri Lanka Cricket Board etc. into profit making corporations, following the COPE recommendations. The Government must start governing without wasting time and public funds. They must create well trained and disciplined workers and staff, who should all be given their job descriptions, duties and responsibilities to abide by as well as paid satisfactory living wages and good working conditions with union rights. Civilized employment practices must be put in place. Otherwise economy cannot grow. This article is aimed to encourage public discussion on vital issues of survival and to constructively engage and influence those in power. 

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Latest comments

  • 14
    4

    It is true that JRJ is one of the main fundamentalist responsible for the problems of this country we cannot under estimate the contribution made by the SWRD family and Rajapaksa family in destroying this country.

    • 5
      3

      Mylvaganam Sooriasegaram

      “The transition from essentially a democratic, independent, stable and largely inclusive country to the present ‘democratically’ elected but dictatorially run, subserviently China dependent and ethnically, religiously and socially divided country, can be attributed to the following governance choices taken since 1977.”

      This country since its independence in 1948 was not an inclusive country, if I could remind you the major laws and practices prevailed and enforced strictly before 1977, for you to jog your memory, 1948 Citizenship Act, disfranchised voters of mostly up country Tamils, 1958 Sinhala only official language Act, Land development in the East, the Elephant Pass barrier and adjoining police/military camps, Standardised University entrance (not the principles but the practices) recruitment policies and practices to state employment particularly to the armed forces and police force, Sinhala Siri, Very stupid stagflationary Economic policies of early 1970s, ……. working, living, socio economic conditions of upcountry Tamils, ….

      It doesn’t mean JR was the Father Christmas.

  • 6
    3

    Soori,
    Jayewardene was a late comer in the game. This is what Sant Nihal Singh of the Baltimore Sun wrote in the Modern Review in October 1928, referring to moves by leaders of the Ceylon National Congress to deny the vote to the Plantation Tamils:

    “I, whose aid was sought and freely given in behalf of the Sinhalese who, through no fault of their own, suffered during those terrible times, view with gravity the storm that persons of the same mentality and temperament are trying to create. Their methods are the same to-day as they were thirteen years ago. They are stirring up religious prejudices and reviving historic animosities in 1928 just as they did in 1915. Only the Indian in their midst—and not the ‘Tambi’—is the target of their malignity, which may recoil upon them as it did during the last decade.”

    It shows how blind we all were.

    • 1
      1

      Rajan Hoole,

      You have given only a little information of what happened before 1928 when leaders of Ceylon National Congress made moves to deny the vote to the plantation Tamils.

      Could we trace the origin of communal politics to 1915 or to even earlier period?

      Why not elaborate with details of stands taken by then leaders on this vexed communal issue?.

      We are under the impression that this issue propped up in 1948 when D.S.Senanaike was the prime Minister in the newly independent Ceylon.

  • 4
    3

    It’s very good article. But only by this author, most of the other intellectuals also published articles in Colombo Telegraph about this subjects for long periods of times, but biggest question is in this country no one cares about anything about in this country. It’s a waist of time to write articles about this matter

  • 6
    4

    You have forgotten that the MV Pearl and MV Diamond Maritime Disasters in Sri Lanka are part of the US Hybrid maritime trade war on China and its BRI partners.
    The Cover up of these disaster is being done by a former colonial power the Dutch company Smit Salvage.
    There is a petition that $5 billion compensation is sought for this disaster but the compensation from the owners of this ship should be $500 billion.

    The same Rogue State and crashing empire that was behind the CIA owned and ISIS claimed Easter SUnday 2019 disaster which also put the country in lockdown as now is being the MV Pearl and MV Diamond disasters. The Local agent was a political crony of the Jarapassa family Hettiarchchi who should be put behind bars alsong with the US citizen Rajapakse brothers.

  • 1
    1

    It’s very good article. But only by this author, most of the other intellectuals also published articles in Colombo Telegraph about this subjects for long periods of times, but biggest question is in this country no one cares about anything about in this country. It’s a waist of time to write articles about this matter

    • 1
      1

      Intellectuals cannot rule a country only idiots can, until the whole country is burned to ashes by Xpress Pearl’s, misadventure, supported by the Colombo Harbor and Port City?.

  • 7
    2

    Agreed but ” who will beĺl the cat ” ???

  • 4
    1

    Dear Soori,
    A very timely article
    The entire country is suffering due to bad governance and incorrect development strategy for a very long time with no end in sight.
    Our violent swings at periodic elections had not brought us any redress!
    Only back to square one!
    Everything is rotten in this country of our birth. No patch work will rectify these shortcomings
    Our own destructive blame games will not solve or the past should not be allowed to drag us further down.
    We need to think out of the box.
    We must have faith in our own people because our people are decent and honest ready for hard work and are an asset and further descend could be arrested.
    Whither revolution?

  • 4
    2

    …. ‘without even addressing governance choices taken since 1977. leaving Sri Lanka again vulnerable to ethnic unrest’.
    .
    Dear Mylvaganam Sooriasegaram,
    You start your history of ‘transition from essentially a democratic, independent, stable and largely inclusive country’ from governance choices taken since 1977.
    .
    Your, ‘the governance choices taken since 1977, without even addressing the very causes of the war’, leaves me in a quandary.
    1) What were the causes of that war?
    2) When did that ‘war’ begin?
    .
    If the ‘war’ had begun prior to 1977 – which would be factual- why begin the narration with choices taken since 1977 only.

    • 6
      0

      Dear Nathan.
      Agree with what you say. But more importantly I see the article as an attempt to let-off the Rajapakses in its initial opening remarks.
      …”The transition from essentially a democratic, independent, stable and largely inclusive country to the present ‘democratically’ elected but dictatorially run, subserviently China dependent and ethnically, religiously and socially divided country, can be attributed to the following governance choices taken since 1977……..
      If things grew gradually bad, the Rajapakses made it a fine art to use the loopholes and the “victory” to do everything as they pleased by the 18A and now the 20A, and destroyed any semblance of democracy.
      It is not anything new to blame the system to cover up the “perpetrators” in any situation. It is more about how you handle it for the good or use it for other personal benefit.

  • 4
    2

    Robbery of the well stacked foreign
reserves by late Madam Sirimavo in 1977
JR
    The worst racial riot and slaughtering
of innocent men , women and children by burning then alive.
JR
    Burning the Jaffna Libary
JR.
    Beginning of spreading hate & racism
JR
    Driving the Country into war for 30 years JR
    Handing over the nation to Indian
military.
JR.
    Can go on and on .
=========
btw , Yahapalana had the majority and towards the end of its term , Past President Maithripala openly offered his full cooperation to abolish the excutive Presidency , but Present opposition leader MP.Sajith Premadas
vehemently objected.
why ?
    I wish to end my comment here.
This government may not be perfect,
No government which has alliance of different parties can run smoothe.
    The members of any Alliance will always try to intimidate the government.
    The biggest blunder was the choice of alliance and giving into flawed advice of single race 2/3 government, not vetting the capabilities.
    At least the present government has not tried to hide the financial situation of the country.
Main opposition dont want to talk abour it because of future votes.
    When the whole world is almost economically bankrupt and running on their reserves ,except China which is the only country loaded today .

  • 4
    2

    1.as others commented here the root cause goes well beyond JRJ time.
    2. No more borrowing to spend on prestigious projects like Hambanthotta Port,
    Prestigious? you meant to say white elephant
    3. we don’t know how successful Port City will be in attracting investment from countries other than China.
    Have you been to Hambantota ….you get this strange eerie..feeling driving around Hambantota …
    will Port City also turn in to a Ghost City ?
    4.are you really sure all our professionals will dump Sri Lanka for Chinese Port City…the Port City is also expected to create peripheral jobs in the rest of Colombo if not Sri Lanka?
    5. What will be the impact of the X-Press Pearl n the Port City. It is gradually sinking dangerously close to port city. The oil and Nitric acid will start to leak and if it drift towards port city is it game over for China’s defence post and the Port City?

    • 7
      3

      R
      “The oil and Nitric acid will start to leak and if it drift towards port city is it game over for China’s defence post and the Port City?”
      *
      If it does, it will answer many a prayer on these pages.

      • 1
        0

        China is praying too and shitting and sweating that the oil slick and nitric acid doesn’t drift towards the port city. However one Sri Lankan minister famously said the worse the disaster the higher the compensation they can claim. Is The minister is casting doubt over attracting investment in the port city. No country other than China is rushing with a blank cheque.?

        • 0
          1

          R
          It is your forecast that I commented on.
          Are you having second thoughts?
          *
          I am not interested in silly utterances by any minister. There is plenty on these pages to amuse me.

          • 0
            1

            SJ – I am not interested in what you are interested
            so fxxx oxx

            • 1
              0

              Poor R,
              So you are back to your polite self.
              Can I greet you with “same to you”?
              No, I am not rude enough for that.

  • 5
    1

    Dear Author,
    ….The government was thus forced into passing the Port City Legislation. This would have happened even under a UNP Government…….
    Again an apology to the Rajapakses. Originally R’s wanted to give freehold 20Ha to China but UNP converted this to 99 year lease.
    UNP’s “Port City Legislation” would have been completely different. They had legislation prepared but the R’s changed it so badly that the SC ruled one third of it was ultra vires of the constitution. This is how the R’s systematically did this – first 20A rushed and Port City Act rushed.
    However the remedial measures suggested are good but then who will listen ?

  • 4
    1

    No one denies There was racial attacks before JR , but those were localized incidents, but yes must be condemned, but never was such a well organized attack by goons , thugs ( mind you , a small % of the thugs were none northern non eastern Tamil, but Tamils belonging to another group, small group of Muslims and a Borha outcast who was A drug addict ,were part of the organised Tamil genocide of JR) But not by ordinary Sinhalese ; Tamils of none Northern &eastern ,Muslims or The Borhas.
    The goons were hand picked by the powerful government and each mob were given The voters list to do the job..
    Sri Lankans suffer from a kind of convient amnesia , they forget past when it is convenient for them to harp on present as long as it fits into their
    bias.

  • 3
    1

    We are making such a hoo ha about the latest Express Perl ship disaster , though it’s nice to see lot of people have woken up from their slumber and become great warriors of the environment, but we must update ourselves while continuing to demand every action that can be taken to do the maximum to minimise the damage.

    Every single Ocean, river, lakes, water supplies are fully contaminated with toxins from oil spills , dumbing of all sort of dangerous toxins and it’s going on everyday everywhere but we don’t see it so we do not protest , yet we been drinking the water using filters marketed with zero prevention , eating
    marine food , the vegetables and fruits with casinogic chemicals.
    we never complained and we keep consuming , because the entire would population have no other alternative , vegan or non vegan we can’t escape the toxins we consume, most countries won’t admit , every single country has certain percentage of acid in the rain, our people think only whites get skin cancer and eye damage from the sun that has it’s ozone damaged.
    Everyone of us at risk of skin cancer black or white , We Sri Lankans thinks its just being cool to wear sunglasses that is how shallow we are and it’s time everyone wears one in high peek sun and make wearing sunblock on the skin a everyday use .

  • 5
    1

    The author of the article has alluded to the 99 year lease that has been given over some of the Port City Project land. However, like many others, he has made no reference to the parcel of land, also part of the project area, which has been given to the Chinese, freehold, to be held in perpetuity. Admittedly, the land area involved here is small but the implications of this grant of land are quite significant. Will SL have any control over it? Does this in effect, represent a case of SL ceding part if its territory?

    • 1
      0

      Fred
      Kindly do a fact-check.
      What I have is:
      “According to the consultations of the new Government, no land will be granted on a freehold basis, and all the lands will be on a 99-year lease basis. If the Government does not require these 20 hectares, the company may obtain the land for another 99 years,” the Cabinet decided on Monday.
      (from https://www.ft.lk/article/559037/Cabinet-approves-renegotiated-Port-City-agreement-with-China)

  • 2
    1

    Sri lanka has been ruined by all dishonest, intransigent and self serving politicians of both sides , who wish to hold on to power until their demise unlike in the western countries. What good the people of the county achieve by electing the same culprits over and over again.? A case in point is , although Voters in the last Election booted out a big party, along with its leader , who is now trying to come back as a nominated member of Parliament. In such a Parliamentary incorrigible system how could Ministries, Government Departments ,State Corporations etc be manageable according to Financial rules and regulations and Cabinet Circulars ectc.

    • 0
      0

      “self serving politicians of both sides”
      Which both sides?
      There are more than a pair of two sides around.

  • 0
    0

    once in a while there is a fair and balanced article. and This and Dr Ranjan Philipps articles fall into that category.

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