26 October, 2020

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Sri Lanka Retreats Into The Dark Ages

By Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena –

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena

As lights are dimmed over Sri Lanka following prohibitively crushing electricity hikes, the enveloping darkness is menacingly symbolic of the crisis which our society is facing.

This is even as the politically privileged siphon off massive amounts of money for useless extravaganzas, including an airport in the deep South to which overseas airlines are reportedly suspending operations, not long after a grand ceremonial opening. Wastage on luxury cars and other expenses associated with the upcoming Commonwealth summit is all part of the same excruciatingly painful pattern.

Indeed, we appear to be coming uncannily close to Uganda-like madness in the age of Idi Amin, minus the famously hyped cannibalism. Dissent is crushed or petrified and the economy groans under the unbearable weight of increasing debts by government entities to state banks. Verily, it does not take a soothsayer to predict our dismal future.

Lack of proactive thinking by the opposition

As part of this general chaos, the main opposition United National Party added more grist to the mill of its gleeful detractors by announcing that abolition of the Executive Presidency would not form part of its constitutional reform proposals. Instead, the powers vested therein would be curtailed. Moreover, somewhat peculiarly combining some features of the earlier ceremonial version of this Office, it has been proposed that the incumbent would need to step down from active politics (Daily Mirror Online, Thursday 16th May 2013).

It is predictable that the UNP, under this leadership, would be reluctant to give up its claim to the Presidency which it birthed but which, since then, has been found to be so disastrously wrong for Sri Lanka. This once mammoth party is now fundamentally crippled in terms of its political credibility. Its careless abandonment of a campaign plank that has substantive political resonance is therefore unsurprising.

Reacting to the Government’s diversionary tactics

Certainly this Government remains uniquely privileged in that its opposition (political party as well as general civil society) can only react weakly to each diversionary tactic advanced by it rather than proactively provoke the ruling party. In that sense, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is an extremely successful ploy to divert attention from corruption, mismanagement and creeping militarization of the governance process.

The BBS indeed stated a few days ago that it would step into the streets with canes to take action against traders who, as they said, ‘inappropriately’ display the message of Vesak through cards, lanterns or the like. Such claims would have rightly been dismissed as the lunatic fringe if not for the patronage that this group enjoys at the highest political levels. Vesak is the traditional festival of lights symbolizing the purest inner serenity which Buddhism signifies.

Against this, the imagery of rowdy monks brandishing canes in order to mete out summary justice to unfortunates who offend their notion of what is ‘appropriate’ is anathema. So we are to assume that it is the BBS which will decide, in their infinitely perverted wisdom, that a particular action is religiously ‘appropriate’ or not? There are, of course, laws dealing with such matters and courts of law to adjudicate into relevant disputes. But these seem mere irrelevancies under this Government.

Retreating from protecting liberties

In any event, the law has been stripped of all meaning. Courts are retreating from previously steadfast protection of individual liberties and advising moreover that disputes between persons and government institutions should be settled between themselves. The public’s role in regard to the abdication of the Court’s constitutional role is a matter that we will return to later. As an ousted Chief Justice is further humiliated before a Bribery and Corruption Commission which turns a Nelsonian eye meanwhile to the gargantuan corruption by government politicians, we retreat to the Dark Ages, metaphorically as well as literally.

Generally, (though this has been historically challenged as being too sweeping a generalization), the Dark Ages denotes a period devoid of intellectual reason in early medieval Europe, where critical thinkers were scarce on the ground. Blind religious dogma dominated thought. In contrast, the Renaissance which followed brought a burst of exuberant rationality accompanied by religious and cultural freedom, relatively speaking.

Totally inappropriate use of the PTA

But Sri Lanka appears to have little reason to look forward to a Renaissance of its own. And those who remain naively surprised by the arrest of Muslim politician Azath Salley under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) must be reminded that leftist political activists of Sinhalese ethnicity were among the first persons arrested after the PTA was enacted in 1979. Down the years, the PTA was excessively abused, not only in relation to individuals of Tamil ethnicity suspected of terrorism but also in regard to Sinhalese and Muslim dissenters. In bolder times, we had the Supreme Court authoritatively intervening in such instances.

In one particularly egregious case for example, the arrest and detention of a senior customs officer was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Court on the basis that there was no reasonable suspicion established of any unlawful activity on his part, (Weerawansa v Attorney General ((2000) 1 SLR 387). The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had merely informed the Defence Minister, (then President Chandrika Kumaratunge) of willfully false and unreasonable conclusions, thereby misleading her into issuing the warrant. The Court found that there was no independent exercise of judgment by her.

Utilising solid precedents uniformly 

These are solid precedents that need to be uniformly applied regardless of the political colour of the establishment. And relevantly to public scrutiny of the judicial role thereof, a friend sent me a message last week conveying several interesting questions advanced by a reader of this column. One of these questions which is immediately relevant here, is as to whether a judicial order can be discussed in the public domain on its legal merits/demerits without fear of contempt charges? These are issues that have been examined previously in detail in these column spaces. Suffice to reiterate however that fair and reasonable critique of judgments is very much part of the democratic process. Openness of adjudication processes buttresses the maxim that ‘justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done’ and promotes three important aspirational attributes of the judiciary, namely, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness. Public scrutiny of the judiciary constitutes moreover a democratic check on judges who exercise public power.

Dispelling ignorance through reason

Yet while judgments may be scrutinized, scurrilous and unwarranted attacks on the judiciary are prohibited. And in deciding these questions, competing interests of an individual’s right to critique the judgments and the judiciary as against the collective need to safeguard the administration of justice, are carefully balanced. These are salutary principles that were sought to be incorporated into a Sri Lankan Contempt of Court law some years ago. This law has yet not seen the light of day. Yet India has such a law. Public criticism of judgments in that country as well as in Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh is robust. It is only Sri Lanka which lags behind, yet again.

In conclusion, it must be said that the Dark Ages was dispelled only by reason and intellect. By this, I do not mean dry and infertile preoccupations around the conference table but rather, the exercise of vibrant intellect that leads to practical challenge of the political and religious orthodoxy, without personal agendas.

Sri Lanka needs such men and women of unrelenting bravery in these dark times. Perhaps then, with time and resoluteness, our Renaissance will dawn. Or at least, we can hope.

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Latest comments

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    Mugabe’s Zimbabwe appears to be a more striking example than Uganda – lead by that other lunatic Idi Amin. Amin behaved like a chimpanzee and brought disgrace to his country. The more educated and articulate Mugabe, for many decades longer, designedly creamed off the wealth of his once prosperous land to reduce it to paralysing bankruptcy – from which it will take generations to recover, if ever. Inflation in Mugabe’s basket-case country runs into the millions in percentages. Real inflation in Sri Lanka is kept under control by the intervention of the Central Bank. One more round of a triumphalist hoax of a Victory Parade is not going to keep the people under leash or indefinitely mislead. They are bound to see the woods from the trees – sooner than later – a reality that may not be in the calculations of the Rajapakses.

    Senguttuvan

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      You fool how dare you write nonsense about the Amin Dada Oumee, you are almost soaked in reading western propaganda and relate the same in CT too like a copycat brat.

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    The ousted Chief Justice is being investigated by the Bribery Commission,on a complaint filed by an unknown person.
    If any citzen or groups of citizens file complaints on politicians who a)have not declared assets b)are seen to have assets, and incur expenditure disprportionate to their known incomes,will the Commission investigate?

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    Surely Ms Pinto doesn’t read PM Rudrakumaran’s communiques.

    Our beloved Kings managed to steer clear of the “Dark Ages” and avoid the inhabitants the need to feed on tunnel rats.

    Now ours is a Middle Income Nation.

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      K.A.Sumanaskera:
      There you go again with your MONUMENTAL RUBBISH!
      Why don’t you publish some statistical information to back up your “middle income” bullshit?
      “Average incomes” are more than deceptive when 1% of the population (does the Rajapaksa family even amount to that?) is siphoning off 90% of the budget and the rest of the 99% are eking out an existence. In case you don’t understand what is being stated, if one guy earns a million rupees and the other guy only a thousand, the average income will be 550,000 rupees. That is the kind of idiotic “statistic” that you are quoting here. Your economics is that of your masters who are going to import Rolls Royces and hundreds of Bimmies for a get together of the rulers and ruled of the British Empire. However, that was obviously the kind of “logic” you applied when you ripped off the suckers who believed in your “housing schemes.”

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    Myth Promoters, Myth Flower and Myth Subscribes.

    Certainly this Government remains uniquely privileged in that its opposition (political party as well as general civil society) can only react weakly to each diversionary tactic advanced by it rather than proactively provoke the ruling party. In that sense, the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is an extremely successful ploy to divert attention from corruption, mismanagement and creeping militarization of the governance process.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbgVV2ql5MM

    Uploaded on Sep 18, 2009 as quoted
    “I don’t post news clips anymore, but in this instance I could not help myself, because this guy is my new hero. Frank Schaeffer is someone that should be a household name for those of us who see fundamentalist evangelicals in the right wing for what they really are!!”

    The same should be said about BBS. Not much different.

    One follows the Christian Myths.

    The other follows the Buddhist Myths, and Monk Mahanama Myths.

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    It seems the carnival is coming to end due to economic reasons. There is limit to which the regime can extract money from the people to support its waste, corruption and extravagance. True it has been able to suppress the media, judiciary and opposition, but finally the economic principles cannot be manipulated or manufactured.

    The economic blow will hit the people where it hurts most, on the stomach, and with that will come the realisation that they are being taken for a ride. Come November there will be another splurge of the peoples money on a next to useless CHOGM, just to boost the ego of the corrupt ruler. The regime may find it hard to justify the Rolls and BMW’s it proposes to buy when people are at rock bottom.

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      Well, the Rolls and BMW’s will be put to “good” use by the three rowdy rugby playing sons of Hitlerpaksha!!

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    Dark era was under JR-Jayawaradana had been created many tragic situation in Sri Lanaka people since 1977 to 1994 by ruling party of UNP.
    That Dark era has come to end after 2009 May of defeated terrorist war Sri Lanka by State leadership of MR Government.

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      Sirisena:
      You are very obviously as illiterate as those you serve!

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    K P-J,

    Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of intellectuals who have been crying in the wilderness for so many years (and particularly in the last 4), and continue to do so.

    Addressing “intellectual” audiences won’t help as these tend to be drawing-room discourses at best.

    What we need is a resurgence of grass-roots awakening and mass protests initiated by a credible leadership (alas, lacking at the moment).

    Added to oppression, both corruption and nepotism are pervasive in the body politic. This scourge can be removed by educating the masses at grass-roots level, creating wide-spread awareness and mobilising visible protests.

    People need to stop moaning, and start reacting visibly within the available democratic space.

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    cant we make up for the losses of CEB if we stop Himin Lanka – who needs that?

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    Idi Amin – becareful of words you use dear – You and Thisaranee should be gratefull to HE the MR that you are still alive
    while Lasantha is ling gone

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    Kishali Pinto-Jayawardena,

    The dark age commenced with your close relation (grand father?) J R Jayawardana, who was voted in to power by the people to usher a ‘Dharmishta Yugaya). It ended as an ‘Adharmishta Yougaya’ by his role as the President & Commander in Chief, in allowing the thugs to kill innocent Tamil civilians and burn their houses. He was also responsible for preventing the opportunity of JVP and LTTE sympathizers to be elected in to the Parliament, through the use of a referendum. This resulted in the JVP insurrection and the war waged by LTTE for thirty years.

    JRJ is the designer and builder of our Constitution, which gives the President power far exceeding the powers of the Presidents of USA & France. The power given to the President to appoint or influence the appointment of the Chief Justice, resulted in the appointment of Sarath Silva as the Chief Justice, overlooking distinguished judges like Mark Fernando. His controversial judgement that members of parliament elected in to power by the supporters of UNP can crossover without losing the seats, has resulted in the Government having a 2/3rd majority in the Parliament. Your relation who is the Leader of the United National Party contributed to the crossover by his poor leadership skills. Now we have the most powerful elected president in the world!

    As for electricity charges, the maintenance of the electricity charges up to 90 units unchanged, cushioned those living below the median income level from the price increase. The poor consumers in New Delhi pay Rs. 8.34 per unit while a consumer of up to 60 units in Sri Lanka pays an all inclusive charge of Rs. 7.35/unit. There is no free lunch anywhere!

    The present government must be given the credit for the construction of the 900 MW Norocholai coal power plant and in a few weeks the 500 MW Sampur power plant. Restructuring of the CEB as well as the restructuring of the economy is required to maintain satisfactory GDP growth with continued reduction of poverty. As for restoration of all democratic norms, it will be a very difficult task to unscramble the scrambled egg prepared by your grandfather.

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      Kishali,

      My apologies to you if you are from the N U Jayarwardena family and not the family of J R Jayawardena. Keep writing.

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        Truth, check your facts first before you accuse anyone of unwanted grandfathers and the like. The Pinto-Jayawardenes are from Kotte * read Cyrus Abeykoon on that family, available in the Public Library – and have no connection to either that old fox, JR Jayawardene or to NU Jayawardene.

        Make your comments about a piece of writing looking at its points rather than at so called family connections – which anyway turn out to be funny and misleading.

        Also, for your information, it was not JR Jayawardene who appointed Sarath Silva but Chandrika Kumaratungha. Tut, tut….

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      Truth:
      I have never seen a more inappropriate pseudonym!
      Apart from anything else, as inaccurate and stupid as it is, your trying to hang on Kishali the tag of being J.R.s Grand-daughter is simply an OUT AND OUT LIE which certainly sets the tone for the crap that you trot out in the name of “analysis” of some kind.
      You really should pull your head out of your posterior before you launch this kind of amusement!

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    Kishali Pinto and Thisaranee Gunasekera have been regular writers to the CT.They not only simply writes what come to their minds at the spur of the moment but carefully crafts their well reseached articles that no one can disprove.The term dark ages came from the European context which Kishali explains in detail.The early middle ages saw the Church and the King usurping the rights of the people and making them subservient to the Establishment.Before people began to rise against the tyrany of the Establishment there were thinkers,philosophers,poets and writers who inspired and enlightened the people about their subjugation and promoted the will to rise up.In Latin America, Asia and Africa peoples movements were directed against the Imperialists.But not all Freedom struggles brought freedom to their countries as modern history reveals.Independent Sri Lanka is an ideal role model for exclusive governance which marginalises it’s ethnic, religiuos minorities to the detriment of the entire population.Once again Sri Lanka needs men and women whose wisdom will pave the way to a United Sri Lanka.These learned men and women are found in organisations as the Judiciary BASL,FUTA and other professional and trade unions.They are sure to rise slowly and steadily.

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      Very good Sunila Mendis!

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    why dont you be the first to start reacting MNZ – and have the guts to put your name – that is needed, right, if public reactions are being suggested. Lets start the ball rolling…

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    One fellow was predicting “lights out” from the comfort of his home in Australia a few weeks ago; now Kishali has jumped on the bandwagon (or what is left of it). It is the battle cry of a dying breed, as within a decade, renewable energy will firmly establish itself and “power cuts” will be non-existant.

    The comparison to Uganda is overblown. Idi Amin was illiterate. He chased the foreign nationals out of Uganda, whereas MR has encouraged Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Indian investment. Finally, Amin had a master plan to conquer all of Africa. It was his attempted invasion of Tanzania that led to his ultimate downfall. MR is not an imperialist.

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      Lester:
      …rides again. The same hobby horse dropping the same horse…t!
      Is there no end to your stupidity?

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      “Idi Amin was illiterate. He chased the foreign nationals out of Uganda…” Those whom Idi Amin expelled were legally nationals of Uganda. He only helped looters within his proximity to steal their homes, possessions, resources and so force. What he then did was to destroy the very economic and services base of prosperous Uganda. All this was because the Ugandans of Indian origin then frustrated his
      efforts to entice a beautiful Sindhi lady the madman coveted. Those who followed Idi Amin, like Musseveni, had to plead for the return of these useful citizens. The Govt was forced to offer compensation, but as to be expected, much of it were stolen by Uganda officials handling the process. On many occasions over the years I noticed, in London, Ugandan Govt officials trying to get back Indian know-how to build the shattered economy. I am told they have appealed to Delhi to help them as well.

      Senguttuvan

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        Yea read the Senguttuvan’s original source of information on the controversial man Idi Amin and Uganda, detailing the as-you-think-fit theory by a far sighted idiot who is unable to scream a dream.

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    Sri Lanka is not retreating into the Dark Ages! It is advancing towards that. With the electricity crisis looming large overhead less and less lights will be burning in the coming days and anticipated cash inflow of the CEB will never be a reality for a country advising the people to save on electricity while at the same time hugely increasing the tariff to make up for massive losses.This syndrome will inevitably leave the economically stagnant populace to willingly swallow the less bitter pill of switching off more and more lights day by day. CEB will ultimately have to succcumb to losses unrecovered as a result Dark ages await in the uncertain future we advance into.

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      It is not the economy that takes a country into the Dark Ages, but the mindset of the larger society. That is why Saudi Arabia, despite its large GDP (comparable to that of the United States), is 1000 times less productive than National Socialist Germany. Let us take these economic indicators with a grain of salt. GDP, for example, does not indicate how the goods were produced, only the monetary value of the aggregate. Infant mortality rate? Extreme situations like war aside, the infant mortality rate is actually much higher in the West, given the rate at which women down birth control pills in addition to the number of abortions (both legal and illegal).

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        I did not mention the literacy rate. These days, being able to just read and write, with no other skill has no practical value. But the literacy rate is still used as an economic indicator, especially in the analysis of developing nations.

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          Lester:
          For once you’ve said something accurate particularly since you are a living example of what “literacy” can amount to.

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            @ Apochi,

            Your inability to pick a cogent user id says enough. Out of curiosity, what does the exclamation point stand for? Mental dirrhea?

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              *diarrhea

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    [Edited out]

    PTA is apporpriate and shall remain in place waiting for the traitors and the Diaspora to land.

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    Dear Madam,

    NICE TO READ YOUR ARTICLE.. YOU ARE ONE OF GREAT JOURNALIST ..

    AND I SAW A VIDEO TODAY WHICH IS REALLY MAKE US , AS A SRI LANKAN, NERVOUS AND ASHAMED….

    I NEED TO SUBMIT TO YOU THIS VIDEO LINK AND YOU HAVE TO WRITE A ARTICLE ABOUT THIS ..PLEASE MADAM..

    NATIONAL FLAG TORN AND SET FIRE BY SINHALA.BAUDHA THUGS..

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhEHDO2ybBQ

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    kishali pinto [Edited out]

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    I suggest that the government lower the prices of candles so that the likes of Pinto can enjoy the rest of their lives in candle light. reading their garbage is a waste of our valuble time.

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