Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why nations must remember

"A tombstone is a memory made concrete. Human memory is the ladder on which a country and a people advance. We must remember not only the good things, but also the bad, the bright spots but also the darkness. The authorities in a totalitarian system strive to conceal their faults, and extol their merits, gloss over their errors and forcibly eradicate all memory of man-made calamity, darkness and evil. For that reason, the Chinese are prone to historical amnesia imposed by those in power. I erect this tombstone so that people will remember and henceforth, renounce man-made calamity, darkness and evil."

Yang Jisheng, Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962

I have just started reading this book, the first Chinese account of Mao's Great Leap Forward. As a member of the Communist Party and a long standing journalist with China's Xinhua news agency he has used his position to collect materials from restricted archives detailing the famine.

Banned in China, the book was published in Hong Kong and has gone through eight editions in its original two-volume Chinese version. This translation is an adapted version of the two-volume Chinese original.

I also think there is a message here that all Sri Lankan's need to reflect on. We have been fed a diet of propaganda over the last decade that has seeped into the subconscious. We need stop and reflect, to start thinking again.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Dr. Radhika Coomaraswamy - Beyond Genocide

Radhika Coomaraswamy has written an excellent piece that should be read and digested by all Tamils, particularly the politicians and the diaspora.

Unfortunately this has been misunderstood by many. Even more thoughtful commentors such as Charles Sarvan  still view the argument from an academic or legal perspective- the very thing that Miss Coomaraswamy argues against.

What is necessary is an assessment of the real ground situation in Sri Lanka, what is happening and what may practically be expected to happen. 

There is a new Government in Sri Lanka which has started to take some positive steps towards Tamil issues. They may be small, but remember that they have only been in office for about 50 days and that they are a rather shakey coalition who are under attack by extremists and elements of the former regime.

The resolution passed by the Northern Proncial Council and similar pressure tactics can be used to by the extremists to undermine and overthrow the new Government.

The recapture of the Sri Lankan state by the extremists will lead to an immediate crackdown on all liberals and harsh repression of all minorities. The extremists are smarting from defeat which they are blaming squarely on the minorities.

If they ever come back to office they will extract a painful vengence from those who helped eject them-particularly the Tamils but also the Muslims and the liberal Sinalese who were associated with this Government.

A return of the extremists will mean:
1. No movement whatsover on any war crimes or any other inquiry. Sri lanka will go the way of Zimbabwe or North Korea rather than submit to an international inquiry.
2. Further suppression to eliminate any future threats, real or imaginary, from the Tamils and minorities .
3. Vengence - which will be coupled with (2) above, in order to extract punishment for ejecting them from office. This can take many different forms, you can let your imagination run on this.

Overall things will be infinitely worse for all Tamils and all minorities.

Why then are they doing stupid things that can see the ejection of a more moderate Government?

In whose interests is this? For the diaspora Tamils, living overseas it may make seem like a fine opportunity to strike. For the Tamils living in Sri Lanka it will be a disaster.

In trying to redeem the dead, they condemn the living.

Remember that it was Prabhakaran who elected MR To power in 2005, by preventing Tamils from voting. The moderates were ejected and extremists installed because it seemed like a good strategy. What a brilliant idea that was.

We saw how that ended up. Ten years later they want to follow the same strategy? Have they learned nothing, absolutely nothing from history?

The new Government has signaled good intent and taken steps in the right direction. They have shown willingness to engage so by all means engage, but don't rock the boat. Give them some space to manoeuvre.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rethinking logic: The mysterious world of Dayan Jayetilleka

Dayan Jayetilleka, erstwhile diplomat and academic has lately been engaged penning paeans to the former regime. This has drawn in criticism from a number of sources which he has responded to.

In his latest response he is tying himself in knots trying to find reasons to discredit his critics. His arguments are fundamentally flawed but he cleverly throws together unrelated facts to draw empathy from Mahinda's supporters while confusing others.

Let's try to look at what his has said here.

He claims that none of his critics wrote a full length article against either the LTTE or Wjieweera and attempts to claim the moral high ground on the basis that he did. Of what relevance is this?

If his critics were supporters of the LTTE then their opposition to MR may be viewed as mere carping by supporters of a defeated foe. Is this the case? Does the fact that none wrote against the LTTE immediately turn them into supporters of the movement? Even if they were supporters of the LTTE, does that fact automatically invalidate any arguments being raised now?

It does not, but this seems to be his reasoning.

Going on in the same vein, a piece espousing the military defeat of the LTTE, in support of the military or opposing Western attempts to stop the war by the critics of DJ would absolve them of their sins. Naturally, DJ having done both claims the high ground.

Is this valid? Why should the military solution be the foregone conclusion, the only solution? In the final months it may have appeared to be so, but could the war have ended earlier with a similar final outcome if a surrender had been arranged? This is only speculation but until we realise the full cost we are not in a position to weigh the balance.

DJ however, firm in his convictions and blind in his belief has all the answers on justice, legality and morality.

He confesses that power and the state must be placed above rights and Governance. That to my mind is the essence of fascism and its cousin communism as espoused by DJ's models from Mao to Stalin and his latter day reincarnation Putin, whose centralisation of power in Russia has come for much praise from DJ.

Stalin and Mao, strong, charismatic leaders are appealing subjects for study by students in distant lands. For the unfortunate populace who perished by the millions under these monsters things were not quite so appealing and we'd rather not have our own Big Chief back, thank you very much.

Notions of power and sovereignty are important only to rulers, what matters to their subjects is justice and governance.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On the slow action by the GoSL in dealing with corruption

Serendipity put up a good post on this vexed subject that drew a very good comment from an anonymous contributor. It says a lot that people need to understand and I've reproduced it below:

Comment 1:

Making good on Elections promises is not easy, when you use the due process rules of law, which the previous govt. did away with. It simply takes time. In the case of MPs and their families it is the same like when a Policemen are taken in, fellow officers also think long and hard, and until there is a cast iron case they don’t take action at the same speed as for us mere mortals. That is not an excuse but there are things that can easily and not easily be proved in a court of law.

Take the case of Al Capone the notorious gangster, he was in the end indicted on MAIL FRAUD as that was more easily proved over the real crimes he had committed, due to witness tampering etc.

Remember our Parliamentary Gangsters have the best lawyers at their disposal, and there is nothing worse than the case failing in Court after all the obvious evidence. Think about it you lose respect for even the law then!

Under Gota’s Law, Duminda would have been locked up immediately, and would have been shot dead, whilst trying to run away, when he was taken to a spot where drugs would be found. Under Maithri’s law, the witness protection bill only just passed in Parliament last week offering a modicum of protection for those who are willing to testify against Duminda!

Then you have Govt. MPs who will also be implicated if Duminda squeals, you have his brother Raynor helping the Govt. and thereby seeking some respite, and then you have the evidence. It looks now that investigations are looking into the source of funds in the 60 bank accounts. Then under what law do you arrest him? It is how they hide their dirty deeds that make it difficult.

Then we have a Police and CID that is actually incompetent in finding financial fraud, and exchange control violations, so prosecution takes time.

THE PUBLIC IS IMPATIENT – Ranil will be voted out of office due to this impatience – and we are back to square one.

Who do we blame Ranil or the public? Or even the 100 day Govt! It is a real catch 22 if you are intelligent, and a no brainer if you have been brought up under the Rajapakse way of doing things and thereby have become their slaves without our realizing it. Think about it!
 Comment 2:

To me above all the Rajapakses destroyed Sri Lanka’s environment in their 10 year rule, more than the British did in 150 year rule. That is not reversible whilst most other actions can be reversed through time. So I am a member of the public that votes on that basis, though I blame the Sirisena family too for their complicity in the environmental destruction.

I am afraid that due to public impatience, and elections in the offing, the Govt will take kneejerk decisions in bringing these crooks to book to please the public but in reality allow them to escape from the worst excesses using their legal rights and legal advice.

Some Countries have taken decades to find stolen money, and in the case of the Philipines, the Marcos billions took decades to find and repatriate. It is no different in the Rajapakse case as all their loot is recycled through their proxies like Dammika, Nimal, Ashok, Sumal and others, which make it very difficult to find. So their sons can say the Rs20M watch collection is NOT theirs but someone elses! It is typical that the sycho sycophants of the Rajapakse Regime are relishing this inability to find the loot! Saying none exists.

It is important the full extent of theft is disclosed to the public, and educate them that it is NOT easy to find it in a day, to make them understand reality.
Comment 3

Make no bones about the excesses of the Rajapakse Govt. It is clear as night follows day, and unbelievable that people cannot realize how he has completely destroyed Sri Lanka. You only have to look at his own Hambantotata, ruined beyond imagination, and let it be a lesson to all.

It is the word that Ranil a friend of Rajapakse’s for 40 years gave him upon leaving TT that bugs me, as he promised to protect his family!

If roles were reversed I doubt we could say the same, as one is a bandit, and the other whose word is his bond. Two different animals from two different worlds who happen to be friends. Perverse too because in politics Rajapakse destroyed Ranil’s credentials.

In this game of poker called politics, you have the nuts cases in the public, who think on their arses and in the end a minority of arses can determine the fate of a nation whether we hand it to crooks or crooks with a more altruistic intent!
The key point is the rule of law, which disappeared under the previous administration. Everyone must start off with the presumption of innocence, just because information is received a person is not automatically guilty. Even to take someone into custody it is necessary to be able to charge them. The fact that a car or a luxury house is uncovered is not enough, it will be necessary to first prove ownership and then go to a more difficult level of proving that these were bought from the proceeds of bribery. For that it would be necessary to investigate the various deals done and then trying to trace where money was paid. There is a short guide here, which the gist what it takes to prove bribery.

This calls for, at a minimum forensic accounting skills and specialised legal expertise, which I doubt are in plentiful supply here. Wisely, they are seeking assistance from the World Bank to investigate, but all this takes time.

To some extent I think the Government has been overwhelmed by the mountain of corruption that is being unearthed-it was so widespread and blatant that people are simply tipping off the Government. The assets are being seized but gathering proof that will stand up in court is the problem.

People also need to realise that this is not the only problem that the Government needs to tackle.

They need to tackle this while trying to run the normal administration, fix the crisis in international relations, try to sort out some of the mess in public finances, all the while looking over their backs-with MR and the gang playing spoilers, especially within the SLFP.

A daunting task, that I would not wish on my worst enemy. Lets hope they can stay the course.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sri Lanka's new foreign policy

Indi had posted a good summary of the change in Sri Lanka's foreign policy. I wrote this as a comment, responding to Sach's questions. Sach was sceptical of the postponement of the OHCHR report and was worried about the security of the country. He hoped that under MR, Dayan Jayatilleka would run the foreign ministry.

The reason for the postponement is because there is now some commitment to improving human rights.

These rights did not exist in Sri Lanka. Bharatha Lakshman, Khuram Shaikh, Nihal Perera, the worker in Katunayake, the fishermen in Chilaw, the people of Rathupaswela :these were just some of the people who were murdered and whose families could get no justice. The questions raised by the UN are with the war and the Tamils, but the same issues affect all of us, even if you may not have realised it. The people listed above probably did not either-until they were affected.

Therefore addressing questions of human rights is a priority. MR campaigned for this in 1989 when he went to Geneva. The situation now is no different.

The LLRC was set up under MR but it was supposed to be just an eyewash to fool the international community, whcih is why very little was implemented. Now that there is a committment to improving the rule of law and human rights we have got some leeway.

Have you forgotten that Dayan was kicked out by MR a long time ago? Sajin Vaas was running the show. Dayan is now singing MR's praises because he wants to come back.

You are worried about security ? What about KP, Karuna, Pillayan and Douglas who were running amok under MR? Are you saying that every single refugee is a terrorist?

To get to the root of the issue - the way to solve problems permanently is to address the causes. People who are angry may take up arms - the solution is not to keep the boot at their throats but to look at their grievances.

Lobbying does happen but there doing the right things goes a long way. Sri Lanka did not pay lobbyists in the past, it was only due to the mismanagement that this was the only thing left to try-and it was not even working.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who was worse JR or MR ?

Sbarrkum had put up a post comparing JR and MR. This is my take on the question.

It is a tricky question, undoubtedly JRJ's regime was a turning point, he set the stage for autocracy and escalated the conflict to the level of a real war.

But what of MR, the man who took the maximum use of JR's constitution and then made it worse, via the 18th amendment?  After the conflict ended he expanded the draconian PTA, which now incorporates the key provisions of the emergency regulations, so that we are now effectively under permanent emergency regulations.

What of his dismembering of the judiciary?  JR started it but it is at a whole new level now.

What of MR's stoking of new inter-religious tensions? Against the Muslims and Christians. New tensions were created out of nothing. International pressure resulted in the genie being placed back in the box, but trust between communities is fractured.

We still do not know what happened in the last few months of the war. Even I have been surprised by what is emerging on corruption. Who knows what will emerge on the war?

We may have to wait awhile before we can assess the real legacy of MR, so a favourable comparison with JR may be premature.

Fortunately it appears that both of these are now in the past, perhaps we may hope for a better future?

Related posts here and here.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Presidental election 2015: Assessing the candidates

Some people, while acknowledging the shortcomings of the present administration are still doubtful about voting for the common opposition candidate. They wonder if there will be real change, the new man may not make the constitutional changes promised, so we end up with the same situation as before. They also worry that the infrastructure projects may stop. How can we assess the candidates?

A study of the manifestos is not very helpful, the two don't seem very different, even the President has now promised to reform the constitution. In any case they are a list of promises, what we need to know is if they will be implemented. 

The election campaign may offer us a clue, since it is recent and ongoing. We have witnessed a wave of violence, the abuse of state resources and violations of election law. The list is longer than in 2010.  (See lists of incidents compiled here and here). To no great surprise, the majority of victims of the abuse have been the opposition. Despite repeated provocation the cleaner campaign by the opposition is welcome and sends a positive signal.  

With regard to improved governance since the opposition candidate has not occupied positions of real power or influence we don't have much of a track record to go on. This is similar to the situation in 2005 when the President was first elected, he was a largely untested quantity.

However the opposition is a coalition which includes the constituents of the UNF Government of 2002-2004 which took significant steps to improve governance. The 17th Amendment which gave a measure of independence to the judiciary, police, the public administration and the elections commissioner was passed under their watch. They also passed the fiscal responsibility act which improved transparency.

Therefore there is a positive record to go on, which the candidate has pledged to support. Indeed the common pledge to reforms is the main factor that unites the disparate members of the coalition drawn from across the political spectrum. Having done it once before we may take it that the UNF will support these reforms.

What of the other members? Amongst the opposition are those who have in various ways felt the direct abuse of power (Sarath Fonseka and Hirunika Premachandra to name two) and therefore have real incentive to see reform. What if Sirisena simply buys over/ignores his partners and tries to hang on to power?  To an extent it boils down to personal dynamics.

The real beneficiary he reneges will be Sirisena, everyone else in the coalition will be the loser. If there were just a couple of players a backroom deal to renege or abandon the promise of reform in return for a slice of the spoils is a possibility. With a larger group it will always prove to be more difficult, especially when it involves strong personalities and players with a deep personal interest in it. Overall I reckon there is a good probability that the reforms will be pushed through.

The reforms of 2002-4 were passed through the usual parliamentary process, not smuggled through as  an urgent bill, which was the case with the 18th amendment and the expropriation act. Along with the impeachment of the Chief Justice and the expansion of the PTA these are the most significant political acts by this regime. Parliamentary checks have been subverted by cross-overs (47% of MP's are now with the executive) and other means. Overall we have seen a significant centralisation of power under the current administration. Given this record the new found interest in reform by the President sounds like election propaganda, like the reduction in prices of electricity and fuel. What is more worrying is the trend- towards ever greater centralisation of power and subversion of proper process. 

In terms of the infrastructure projects there have been concerns raised about costs and people wonder if the new Government will stop these projects, especially since some contradictory statements have emerged. It is worth noting that the Southern Expressway was actually started in 2003 under the UNF government. It was finished in 2011 and the President took all the credit. I don't think there is a serious issue with necessary infrastructure with the opposition but the financing will be different. The Southern Expressway was funded by the ADB and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and cost far less per km than the Katunayake Expressway.

The debate on governance and the rule of law is esoteric but the consequences are very real, very fundamental. It was only six months ago that we had an outbreak of racial violence, the culmination of many smaller incidents. Preceding this was violence in Rathupaswella, Katunayake  and Chilaw which form a troubling pattern, symptomatic of the breakdown of the rule of law. Why do they keep recurring? Is it because people can get away with it? A call to the right person and the police will not investigate, the courts will not convict ? Are certain people untouchable?

In isolation they may be ignored, but taken together they form a dangerous, disturbing trend that calls for arrest. Things tend to get swept under the carpet and after a while we forget about them. Because we have not been directly affected we can allow ourselves to be lulled into a state of dangerous complacency. 

So what do voters have to assess the candidates? The record of the incumbent is clear. Clearer still is the need for reform. Will the contender stick to his promises?

In my own assessment I think there is a fair probability that he will.

Further Reading:

For an excellent critique on the decline of the judiciary see Nihal Jayawickrema's piece here.