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How does Corruption affect Economic Growth?

How does Corruption affect Economic Growth?

By Chamindry Saparamadu

(The author Chamindry Saparamadu is a lawyer and an international development consultant. )

Corruption is the abuse of public power for personal benefit or for the benefit of one’s family, friends, clan, tribe, party etc. (Tanzi 1998). Across the world, regardless of the size and type of economic system in place, accusations of corruption have caused governments to fall and prominent politicians including Presidents and Prime Ministers to lose their office.

Scholars and economists have long argued that corruption negatively affects economic growth (Mauro 1995). I argue that corruption can retard economic growth through several channels including

 Misallocation of public expenditure

Corruption, especially political or grand corruption, is often tied to capital projects. Since commissions paid out by enterprises to public officials to win investment contracts are tied to project costs, an incentive is created for larger projects which carry higher commissions in absolute terms (Tanzi and Davoodi 1997). As such, corruption is likely to increase the number of capital projects undertaken in a country.

However, empirical investigations have shown that an increase in the share of current expenditure has positive and statistically significant growth effects. By contrast, the relationship between the capital component of public expenditure and per capita growth was established as negative; the standard type of capital expenditure commonly undertaken in developing countries, such as capital, transport, communication etc had either a negative or insignificant relationship with economic growth. Productive expenditures can become unproductive when used in excess. In contrast, higher current expenditure, components such as Operations & Maintenance (O&M) expenditure was associated with higher economic growth. (Devarajan et al 1996)

Nevertheless, corruption induces a misallocation or excessive allocation of resources to unproductive capital projects. This explains why in so many poor countries, governments would rather spend their limited resources on infrastructure projects and defense, where corruption opportunities are abundant, than on education and health where these opportunities are much more limited (Shleifer and Vishny 1993).

  • Reduction in Private Investment

Corruption affects private investment, by creating an unpredictable climate wherein investors are not guaranteed a return on their investment.

When corruption becomes endemic, it can threaten the basic rule of law, property rights and enforcement of contracts. An investor needs assurance that his money will be returned. Such assurance is dependent on the existence of a sound and well- functioning legal system and an independent judiciary to adjudicate disputes relating to investments (Azfar et al2001) .

Unraveling the East Asian Paradox

Paradoxically, the East Asian countries depicted a positive correlation between high rates of investment and growth with relatively high levels of corruption.

In unraveling this paradox, Campos et al (1999) argue that different corruption regimes have different effects on investment. They categorize countries into,

         a. Those with high levels of corruption and low predictability;

         b. Those with high levels of corruption and but greater predictability;

        c. Those with low levels of corruption and high predictability

East Asia’s puzzling economies fell in the second category above, as corruption in many of such economies were seemingly well organized rendering a very high degree of predictability (Campos et al 1999).

When corruption is more centralized, that is, a system in which, there is a single public official, who can decide on awarding franchise, the degree of uncertainty about the possibility of actually obtaining the franchise, upon payment of bribes, is much lower. Conversely, in situations in which corruption is decentralized, that is, when several government officials have a veto power over a firms’ application, but none have absolute power to grant the franchise, the degree of uncertainty or unpredictability is higher. In the second situation, firms will invest lesser than in the first situation. (Shleifer and Vishny (1993)

The East Asian miracle economies, with high levels of corruption, attracted higher levels of investment compared to other developing countries, simply due to that reason (Campos et al 1999). As a result, compared to most developing countries, the East Asian countries have grown faster. Nevertheless, their economies would have grown even faster if they were in the third category, that is, low levels of corruption and high predictability, which invariably would have attracted more investment than the first and the second categories (Campos et al (1999))

  • Misallocation of Talent

Corruption can also hamper economic growth through a misallocation of talent.

In general, the attractiveness of an occupation to talent is determined by three factors, the size of the market, returns to scale and the compensation contract (how much rents on their talent can be captured). In many countries, rent seeking rewards talent more than entrepreneurship does.

The type of activities that most talented people choose can have a significant impact on the allocation of resources. Investment in unproductive human capital such as, building up connections and rent seeking, referred to as ‘political capital’, is socially unproductive (Lui 1996). Investment to acquire political capital competes for resources that could be used for investment in productive capital. Such diversion of resources to non-productive political capital lowers the economy’s long term growth rate (Lui 1996).

It has been found that a 1% improvement in the level of corruption is associated with a 0.27% point increase in the growth rate of GDP per capita through encouraging human capital accumulation. (Kim et al 2010).

  •  Productive Inefficiencies

It is a well-established principle in economic theory that free market/competition as an organizing principle, economizes the allocation of resources. Efficiency criteria would guarantee that the most efficient project would be chosen because it maximizes profits.

However, when public officials exercise discretionary powers, often, the decisions with regard to selection of firms could be based on informal criteria such as friendship, kin relationships, common political backgrounds as well as the capacity of parties to pay bribes rather than on efficiency criteria. Such a system will not reward productive efficiency but will reward only moral unscrupulousness or the capacity to build relationships/friendships with public decision makers. Hence, firms can come out on top irrespective of their technical inefficiency. (Della Porta 1997),

Since the key to a country’s economic development lies in the destination of resources for productive investment, the exclusion of efficient firms from the public sector impose significant long term costs. (Della Porta 1997).


Convincing evidence is found to establish the pervasive impact of corruption on the long run economic growth of a country. Governments across the world fall short of achieving the desired levels of economic development as genuine efforts are not taken to deal with this systemic problem. If governments are serious about long run growth, tackling corruption needs to be prioritized at the top of any policy maker’s agenda.

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'A culture of political quietism prevails over us ' - Dharmasena Pathiraja

This article is reproduced as a tribute to the memory of legendary filmmaker Dharmasena Pathiraja who passed away on Sunday 28, January 2018 at the age of 74.

In Sri Lanka, the '70s represented the rising tide of the revolutionary idealism and the sadistic brutality embodied by the State. The social and cultural fabric - fragmented by ethnic and class disparities - provided the breeding grounds for political discontent and radical activism. The disillusioned youth in the south stormed the bastions of power sending giant ripples across the subcontinent while the young men and women in the north drifted away from the 'mainstream' to confront the deep-seated racial injustices head-on.

In 'The Wretched of the Earth', Fanon wrote 'The colonial world is a world cut in two. The dividing line, the frontiers are shown by barracks and police stations'. The post-colonial Sri Lanka continued to be a society cut in two, where the frontiers were redefined and galvanized along new lines of oppression. The '70s pushed these hidden borderlines onto the surface.

Dharmasena Pathiraja's arrival epitomized this radical rupture with the past. He pioneered a powerful new genre in film making by capturing and creatively exposing the underlying political currents of the changing social landscapes. As one observer vividly puts it, Pathiraja's arrival re-defined 'a socially conscious 'Other' to Lester James Peries' gaze on bourgeois idealism'. His unconventional approach made him stand out from the rest, laying the foundations for a new school of filmmakers.

Dr Pathiraja, in an exclusive interview with the JDS, spoke to Manjula Wediwardane about his work, politics and contemporary cinema.

JDS: Recently, a young Sri Lankan filmmaker, said that “producing a war film is the dream of every film director.” Let me start the conversation by asking your comments on such views. Also, what do you think about the so-called 'Sri Lankan War Cinema' in general?

Dr Dharmasena Pathiraja: As I do not know in what context the other filmmaker made this comment, I cannot comment on its validity. Yet I can say this. War is a horrible thing and war is not there for filmmakers to make films. War happens when negotiation between people and authorities break down, or when social cohesion is shattered. One could make films about that, to capture the problems in modern politics. If you look at the war film genre in general, these films glorify violence. They are generally xenophobic or ultra-nationalist. They glorify militarization and male domination. That is the ideology of war films. If one is to make a film about war, it has to be about the people, people’s heroism, women as they contest male power and male domination within the masculinist ethos of war.

JDS: But instead of such serious attempts, we can only see two prominent tendencies. One is focused on reinventing a fictional past on the basis of "Mahavamsa" while the other trend trying to reinterpret the 'ethnic problem' in the context of 'war victory'. How do you reflect upon such trends?

Pathiraja: There is a culture of political quietism prevailing in the country today, particularly in the cultural sphere. Filmmaking is a mass medium and this political quietist trend is most evident in contemporary filmmaking. Looking to history, particularly as a glorification of the past as a Sinhala Nationalist/Buddhist one, which the political power of the regime is based on, is ideologically and politically very dangerous. This trend of making historical films may not last because the films that belong to this genre have not made any real impact on the cultural makeup of the people. Yet, filmmakers see this genre as a safe bet. The narrowness of this vision is detrimental to filmmaking. Filmmaking is an act of courage on many fronts: Politically, socially and financially. I hope we are able to produce courageous filmmakers who are willing to look at contemporary history and the past in the eye and deal with it honestly.

JDS: What do you think about the close collaboration between the state and the filmmakers?

Pathiraja: If you are talking about state support for films, I am not against it. Filmmakers need to demand support from state funds for filmmaking. This would free us from the vice-like grip of the market. But this support has to be completely free of political interference by the state in any form. This would make for a healthy climate of filmmaking and filmmaking culture would thrive then. If a filmmaker embarks on making films as a part of state propaganda machinery, then we are doomed, and sadly, that is happening amongst us today.

JDS: Since you made your first Tamil film 'Ponmani' in the late '70s, the Tamil people have gone through unimaginable horrors and sufferings. The social fabric in Jaffna now lies in tatters. Looking back, how would you view 'Ponmani' now?

Pathiraja: Ponmani heralds the era of violence/political violence that takes over the society of Jaffna in the ‘70s. Ponmani is about women, family and caste and hints at the non-viability of the Jaffna middle-class economy in the time to come. Though at the time I did not realize this, looking back at it today I see how prescient it is. There was something waiting to happen, and that something would be violent. The violence would be from outside, but importantly, from inside too.

This is a good time for Tamil films and I hope there is support for it. There is a developing space for films in Tamil, but how that space would be utilized is a question. There should be more cultural and political dialogue between all the different communities in Sri Lanka, in this post-war era, and that dialogue would create a space for collaboration as well.

JDS: But still the Tamil society is battling to come to terms with their harrowing experiences and they have hardly recovered from the shock. Whatever may be the intentions, don't you think it is too early - perhaps even wrong in a moral sense - to intervene and interpret their lives in our terms?

Pathiraja: I don’t think anything is too early for anything. But what we need is in-depth understanding and collaboration. I don’t think we should get stuck in binaries of Sinhala/Tamil and or Sinhala/Muslim/Tamil. Yet I can see what you are driving at. It is not the Sinhala perspective that is at fault here. It is the lack of understanding of where the Sinhala perspective fits into the overall scheme of things.

pathirajaFor instance, where does the Director as a Sinhala person figure in the film itself, within its coding? This is an important aspect.

To put it more simply, it is important to have an in-depth understanding of the society one is working with, the material. When I did Ponmani, Rajadurai’s story grabbed my attention. It was a very simple story, but I saw the depth of it. One has to feel strongly for the people, what is happening to the people, overall, have a strong social commitment, to be honest with oneself. This means one develops an intimacy not only with the people but also with the issues, the material. A combination of this intimacy with the people as well as the politics of the people would make you see that there is an organic link between the people, the issues, and the place. This takes time and time is important.

JDS: Your last film “In Search of a Road” drew considerable attention from many viewers as a serious attempt to explore the geographical and emotional terrains of war-affected regions in the island. What was the reaction of the Sinhala viewers?

Pathiraja: 'In Search of a Road' is not about Tamils per se. It is about the political life of Sri Lankans as ethnic politics and the Sri Lankan state as it impinged on the lives of the people. We were a three-member team of researchers and all of us brought our memories into the research and the script. Our research was driven by memory or personal engagement with events in the past and in contemporary times. This was our strength. When we did research, there was a personal investment. I had large amounts of footage at the end. The film went through multiple versions. What was important was a vision that we carried through the film about the dialogue between all sections of the people. We had an extensive dialogue with different segments of the people, displaced and living in the middle of an intense war.

The most important thing in 'In Search of Road' is about the links between the north and south; both socially and politically. The political links overlap and counter the social and economic links. In trying to trace these links over a 100-year period of history, as ethnic consciousness intensifies and the marginalization of minorities intensifies, leading to violence and war, in the end, I wanted to look at how people coped and how this has impacted on the people. It is the antithesis of a war film. Recently at a screening in Zurich, one of the spectators said, what a quiet film it is. And it is that inner quietness that we need as opposed to the pomp and pageantry of the war films.

The film has been screened in post-war Sri Lanka and continues to make an impact. Interestingly, it evokes different emotions and thoughts among different communities, Northern and Eastern Tamils, and Muslims, upcountry Tamils and the Sinhala people in the south. And all those feelings are important to engage with.

JDS: You belong to the first generation of political filmmakers in the country, who pioneered a new approach in the early '80s widely known as the 'Left Bank Cinema', which was named after Rive Gauche in the French new wave. Do you see any possibilities of reviving such a tendency?

Pathiraja: It would be good to revive a left bank cinema in Sri Lanka. There are so many budding filmmakers who are experimenting with form and content today. And they show a certain kind of sophistication in technique and in the visual medium. But for the most part, I feel there is a lack of a strong commitment to social change in those films. I wonder whether this has to do with our dependence today on film festivals. But this question has to be explored further. So, I too am in search of an answer as to how we can form a film movement that is not prescriptive, that nurtures innovation and experimentation both in form and content, and yet remain politically committed to questioning the status quo, the establishment.

JDS: In most of your films, the 'silence' is used as a form of expression. What do you intend to express through your silence at this time?

Pathiraja: I am biding my time. I have a few good scripts, but in this time of the domination of market forces, compounded by the fact that the space for filmmaking has shrunk and has become increasingly conservative, I must say, that when I do make my next film, it would be an outburst.

 Source : JDS Sri Lanka

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How Sri Lanka, a Growing Drug Trafficking Hub, Is Fighting Drug Abuse at Home

How Sri Lanka, a Growing Drug Trafficking Hub, Is Fighting Drug Abuse at Home

By World Politics Review

 On Jan. 18, authorities in Sri Lanka destroyed $108 million worth of cocaine seized from a single shipment in the port of Colombo, which is a growing hub for international drug trafficking.

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Police officers carry a haul of seized cocaine sack to be destroyed under judicial supervision in Katunayake, Sri Lanka January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte.

While Sri Lanka does not appear to be a final destination for many of the drugs transiting the country, drug abuse has spiked in recent years, prompting the government to launch ambitious measures aimed at mitigating, and possibly eliminating, drug use by 2020. In an email interview, Sunimalee Madurawala, a research economist at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka, discusses the country’s current drug policies, how they have evolved and the challenges ahead.

WPR: What are the central components of Sri Lanka’s approach to combating drug use?

Sunimalee Madurawala: Sri Lanka’s approach is enshrined in its National Policy for the Prevention and Control of Drug Abuse of 2005, which was amended in 2016. Several of the amendments were incorporated to strengthen the laws against the production, smuggling, trafficking and use of illicit drugs in the country, in order to address both international drug trafficking and health issues, such as HIV and AIDS among drug addicts. The new policy framework also seeks the active involvement of different stakeholders—government institutions, the private sector and other agencies—in combatting drug abuse and illicit trafficking in Sri Lanka.

The central government agency is the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, or NDDCB, which was established in 1984. The NDDCB has a vast purview and wide-ranging powers, including formulating and reviewing national drug policy, coordinating the activities of relevant agencies, crafting treatment, rehabilitation and education programs, conducting studies and coordinating with regional and international organizations involved in drug control activities.

Various branches of the national police handle actual drug enforcement. The principal legal statute regulating drugs is the Poisons, Opium and Dangerous Drugs Ordinance of 1935, a colonial-era statute that has been amended several times over the years. Sri Lanka is also a signatory of major international conventions related to drug abuse and trafficking, such as the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

WPR: How significant is drug abuse in Sri Lanka, and how have efforts to combat it changed in recent years?

Madurawala: The NDDCB reported that there were 79,378 drug-related arrests in 2016. Although this was a slight decrease from 2015, the number was way up from 2012, when there were 47,926 cases. Out of the total drug-related arrests in 2016, 35 percent were for heroin and 60 percent were for cannabis. The NDDCB reports indicate that abuse of psychotropic substances is also becoming a significant social and health problem. Although these are controlled substances, they are widely reported to be available on the black market.

Drug abuse has huge economic and social implications in Sri Lanka, a country of around 21 million people with a minimum wage of just $2.50 per day. Sri Lanka’s daily consumption of drugs reportedly amounts to almost $3 million—a huge burden to the economy and the finances of individual households. In 2016, the total number of people treated for drug abuse was 2,355. Furthermore, the total number of drug-related imprisonments in 2016 was reported to be 24,060. More than 90 percent of those who were imprisoned were men, leading to many negative consequences, such as poverty due to income loss for families and broken homes.

President Maithripala Sirisena launched an island-wide drug prevention campaign called “A Country Free of Intoxicants” in 2016, part of his Presidential Task Force on Drug Prevention that has the ambitious goal of gradually eliminating the overall consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. The task force formulates joint initiatives, implements and supervises the national drug prevention program at the grassroot and national levels, manages the financial provisions allocated for drug eradication and distributes educational materials. A special program led by the police and all three branches of the military aims to further strengthen preventive measures taken by the government.

WPR: What are the challenges facing the government’s aim of drastically reducing, or even eliminating, drug use by 2020?

Madurawala: Sri Lanka is not a producer or manufacturer of illicit drugs, with the exception of cannabis. It is, however, an important hub for international drug trafficking, including opium and heroin. This is mainly a result of the country’s strategic location, especially on important maritime and aviation shipping routes, for drugs originating mainly in India and Pakistan. Fighting against illicit drug trafficking is a challenge for Sri Lanka because of its lack of resources, both financial and human. More needs to be done in terms of capacity-building and training officers to counter the drug trade. Sri Lanka’s coast guard, for example, was only created in 2007.

Domestically, the government needs to allocate more money to the rehabilitation of drug users and reintegration programs for the victims of drugs. Youth prevention is key, too. According to the NDDCB, around 20 percent of illicit drug users in Sri Lanka are between the age of 19 and 25, and 38 percent are between the age of 26 and 35. It is also a widely known that large-scale drug dealers evade the law with the support of politicians and others with influence.

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Japan Claims a Stake in Sri Lanka’s Ports

Japan Claims a Stake in Sri Lanka’s Ports

By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Sri Lanka earlier this month was the first by a Japanese foreign minister in 15 years. Governmental confirmation of Sri Lanka’s first liquefied natural gas (LNG) project came during Kono’s visit, when the prime minister’s office revealed that an MoU was to be signed with Japan to build a Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU). The FSRU and LNG terminal project will be a joint venture by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority with both Japan and India. The LNG terminal is to be located within Colombo port – one of the busiest ports in South Asia and an important trans-shipment hub in the region.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK described Kono’s visit as being “part of Japanese government’s plan to promote cooperation for port expansion projects.” The low-profile visit concluded with a tour of Colombo port, and Japanese media did not hesitate to place it in the context of Japan’s concerns over China’s growing maritime footprint in the region. Before the port visit, according to NHK World, Kono told reporters who accompanied his delegation that “China is increasing involvement in port development in Sri Lanka,” and that “projects to build ports and other infrastructure should be open to any country.” The remark flagged Japan’s concerns over China’s major role in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure development, especially the Chinese-built, Chinese-run Hambantota port in the south.

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Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano with the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana. (Image: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

 Japan’s concept is “to develop free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region as an international public good,” Toshihide Ando, deputy press secretary of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a briefing with a selected group of local journalists in Colombo. Asked about the status of talks with regard to the eastern port of Trincomalee, the development of which Japan has indicated interest in, he declined to comment.

The increasingly anxious interest shown by Japan and India in investing in Colombo and Trincomalee ports would seem to be related to concerns arising from Sri Lanka’s recent finalization of the lease of Hambantota port to a Chinese company that holds a majority stake. The apparent loss of sovereign control over the port, strategically located near major East-West sea lanes, has led to fears that it may become a Chinese military base, in spite of Sri Lanka’s assurances to the contrary. “We want to ensure that we develop all our ports, and all these ports are used for commercial activity, transparent activity, and will not be available to anyone for any military activity,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was reported as saying in Tokyo last April.

With China being seen as a common enemy, Japan’s strategic interests have begun to converge with those of the United States and India, and a closer strategic partnership has evolved among the three. Japan now participates in the Malabar naval drills with the United States and India, and uses the same rhetoric, with terminology like “Indo-Pacific” to refer to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, blurring the boundaries.

Japan has always been generous with aid to Sri Lanka and is a major development partner. During Sri Lanka’s war years, Japan was one of the four co-chairs of the peace process; when the Western co-chairs threatened to cut off aid, Japan reassured Sri Lanka that it would not follow suit. Japanese envoys never fail to recall the speech made by Sri Lanka’s former president, J. R. Jayewardena, at the San Francisco peace conference in 1951, where Sri Lanka came to Japan’s defense. Then-Finance Minister Jayewardene quoted the words of the Buddha, saying “hatred ceases not by hatred but by love,” and asked that no reparations be exacted that would harm Japan’s economy. “The Japanese still remember that this speech supported Japan’s return to the international society after the WWII,” Kono said in a written interview with the state-run Daily News ahead of his visit.

Against this backdrop, Japan’s interest in investing in Sri Lankan ports would normally be seen as a welcome development. But with India a partner in the proposed joint venture, and given the evolving strategic landscape, it would now appear to be embedded in a larger trilateral project of countering Chinese influence. This could mean there is a hidden cost — in that Sri Lanka risks being unnecessarily drawn into a big power conflict if there is an escalation in tensions between China and the United States and/or India.

In tracking Japan’s role in shaping the regional security architecture, analyst Brian Kalan’s observation two years ago in Southfront would seem relevant. “The only question is how Japan will decide to utilize their naval power in the coming decades,” he said. “Will it be used in the pursuit of ensuring their independence and peaceful relations with their regional partners, or in the self-destructive pursuit of U.S. hegemony in the region?”

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya is a Colombo-based independent journalist, a correspondent for the New Internationalist and columnist for the Daily Mirror.

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How a Sri Lankan international hero became a taxi driver in UAE

How a Sri Lankan international hero became a taxi driver in UAE

Suresh Pattali

Filed on February 9, 2018

 When I flagged down a cab in the mad morning rush to keep a medical appointment, little did I know it would be a journey into the plebeian life of a forgotten national hero. Buckling up in the front seat of the Emirates Taxi cab, my prowess to identify different races seems to have worked.

"Which place in Sri Lanka are you from?"

The driver, a middle-aged Sinhalese, was taken aback by the quick-shot query. "Kandy, sir. Why?"

"Where exactly in Kandy?"

"Nawalapitiya, sir. And you are from?"

"From Kerala, India."

"So, you know PT Usha and Shiny Wilson?"

"Of course, they were newsmakers of yesteryear, but I never got a chance to meet them. Why?"

"I knew them in their prime, sir. I also knew Bahadur Prasad Singh, former Indian middle distance runner. He was a good friend."

"Wow! But how? Did you chauffeur them around?"

"Sir, I too was an international athlete. Sri Lanka's middle distance runner, with international gold and silver medals under my belt."

The exchange happened in less than a minute. Then there was silence. Except for our long sighs rising over the vroom of the engine. My destination and hospital appointment suddenly took a back seat. I'm sitting next to a person who once upon a time, was the pride of a nation. The journalist within me wanted to ask, 'What on earth are you doing here?' If life is a tragicomic musical, here is a living protagonist who would fit the bill of the tragic hero. Something in my gut told me I had no reason to disbelieve him. Innocence was writ large on his face. The story of Lalith Prasanna Galappaththi, odd man in the family of two sets of twins, reeks of the neglect and indifference that retired heroes typically face in the cruel world of sports in the subcontinent. He is a decorated athlete who brought laurels to the island nation and is still running the marathon of his life. One that brought him no rewards. No miles to conquer, no medals to win, no records to break, Lalith - married with two children aged 16 and 14 - still has the passion burning inside him.

For the next couple of hours, I was like a kid listening to a bedtime story. Eyes wide open.

Lalith had just finished his A Levels from Anuruddha College, when the desire to shape up kicked in. One fine morning in 1991, dressed in a Sri Lankan jersey gifted by athlete Ajith Dharmasena, he set out on a jogging routine. An acquaintance quizzed him about the ethics of wearing the national colours. "The day will come when I will wear the colours for the nation." He fought back the tears of embarrassment with the pledge, and never looked back. Training under coach Norbert Perera and later under Janze Dissanayake, Lalith tasted his first win when he took home gold in a 20-km cross country run in his village. A couple of district-level honours later, Lalith won his first national-level title - he placed third in the 3,000 metre steeplechase. That's when Dissanayake realised his middle distance potential and made him concentrate on the 1,500- and 800-metre races. The turning point came in 1995 when he set a 1,500 metre national record with 3 minutes and 46.2 seconds in the South Asian Federation Games selection meet.

The son of a grocer, and training under veteran national coach Dervin Perera, Lalith made his international debut by winning gold in the 1995 and 1996 Malaysian Open Championship. The same year, he won another gold in the Indonesian Open Championships and a bronze in the South Asian Federation Games in Madras. What followed was a relentless rain of titles and medals in 14 international meets till he pulled out injured from the Sri Lankan Olympic squad in 2002. Lalith said he is thankful to his sponsor Deshamanya Lalith Kotelawala, founder of Ceylinco Insurance, who was magnanimous enough to give him cash rewards every time he brought in a medal.

Despite the fame, life for Lalith has been a race to nowhere. During the competition period he was offered a job with the Sri Lankan Air Force where he was employed from 1993 to 1998 without taking part in any action. The year 1999 witnessed two milestones - a job as middle distance coach with the Ministry of Sports and wedding to his childhood heartthrob. Life only got harder with a paltry pay of 20,000 SL rupees. Living in Colombo as part of the job - with no facilities such as housing, insurance, transportation etc - made life more miserable which forced Lalith to quit the pensionable job to seek out greener pastures. He bears no ill-will, but the thought that life would have been rosier had he chosen a different path crosses his mind when he sits behind the wheel in the UAE. Lalith is grateful to the Emirates Cab management for his present job.

Coming on a visit visa in 2012, the former athlete found a bellboy's job with a hotel apartment in Bur Dubai where he worked till 2014. "My life is a sum of simple math and a little logic. There is no space for big dreams in it. In Colombo, I was getting 20,000 rupees. With the UAE job, I send home around 100,000 rupees. Period." Taking a break for one year, Lalith was back in 2015, this time as an Emirates Taxi driver in Abu Dhabi. With a college-going daughter and son to take care of, fate has not given him a choice except to slog over 15 hours a day. "I love my country. It's a paradise. But politicians are not interested in taking good care of sportsmen who are the ambassadors of the nation. Heroes are at the end of the day conveniently dumped into oblivion."

Lalith, whose favourite athlete is former American sprinter Carl Lewis, doesn't think he is a spent force. He runs at least twice a week to keep himself fit. "I still have a burning desire to go back to the field in different roles. I have the knowledge which I had acquired as a middle distance coach in Sri Lanka. I wish I could land the job of a coach with one of the clubs or schools in the UAE. That's my ambition. This county is now a global educational and sports hub which, I am sure, could have some space for me as a coach. I can deliver," says Lalith.

Moment that haunts him forever
Looking back, Lalith Galappaththi feels that all the memorable moments from his 11-year-long running career were shattered by a single tragic incident. Famed Sri Lankan Olympic marathoner KA Karunaratne was killed along with Highways and Road Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle and 12 others when an LTTE suicide bomber attacked a marathon opening at the western district of Grampaha, about 25km from Colombo.

"It was the saddest moment in my life. I had been associated with him for over 20 years. It was shocking that one of our best sporting talents was lost to a mindless act of terror," says Lalith.

He says making friends with Indian runner Bahadur Prasad and receiving a medal from the then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa are some of the memorable takeaways from his sporting days. "I met Bahadur at various meets. He was working for the Indian Railways and I with the Sri Lankan Air Force. He won a bronze at the Bangkok Asian Games while I lost in the second round. We got along well. I also had the opportunity to interact with PT Usha and Shiny Wilson."

Training under veteran coach Dervin Perera, who was also former president of the Athletic Association of Sri Lanka, was a great achievement. "He was one of the most successful athletics coaches in Sri Lanka. Both Olympian Susanthika Jayasinghe and I trained under him. That's when I made friends with Susanthika."

He holds close the friendship with Sugath Thilakaratne, Olympian and the 1998 Asian record holder in 400 metres. "He is one of my best friends. We both come from the same village area in Kandy. Sugath is also former president of the Sri Lanka Athletic Association."

"Had I got a chance to train under Dervin in my initial days instead of the divisional coaches made available to me, the story of Lalith Galappaththi would have been different."

Who is the Indian politician Lalith likes the most? "Former prime minister AB Vajpayee and former president APJ Abdul Kalam. Among Sri Lankan politicians, former president Mahendra Rajapaksa is his hero.

Source : The Khaleej Times

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An Interview with Sri Lanka’s C.V. Wigneswaran

By Taylor Dibbert

C.V. Wigneswaran is the chief minister of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka and a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA).

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Maithripala Sirisena became president three years ago. What are the principal challenges for people living in the Northern Province?

No doubt the earlier environment is no more. Democracy, to a great extent, has returned. But our expectations have not been fulfilled. Over sixty thousand [acres of] private and state lands are still occupied by the armed forces nine years after the end of the war. The armed forces are in many places, cultivating and taking produce while owners await the return of their lands.

The state lands are mostly forest lands. Valuable timber are being cut and taken away, but we know not by whom. Elephants have been deprived of using their traditional corridors and they are entering civilian land and destroying crops, etc. Young women-headed families in the Vanni are not safe from human predators. Police refuse to take complaints directed against the armed forces.

Our fishermen who have been traditionally using discernible areas for centuries as their fishing grounds have now been deprived of the same by fishermen brought from the south with the protection given by the armed forces. In Nayaru in Mullaitivu [district] and other areas permanent living quarters are being built for these illegal immigrants into the Northern Province.

Lots of our tourist resorts have been taken over by the armed forces. They run many such resorts and take the proceeds. Buddhist temples are being erected in or around them and false history is propagated about Sinhalese being the original residents in areas such as Mathakal – now renamed Patuna in Sinhala. All name boards and notice boards there are in Sinhala.

It is made out that Sinhalese occupied these areas originally and the armed forces are bent on claiming the northern lands for the Sinhalese. The Sinhalese never ever occupied the north and east in large numbers. The Buddhist remains were left by Tamil Buddhists.

Our trade has been taken over by many a relative of the armed forces. Many Sinhala shops adorn the A-9 road from Vavuniya to Chavakachcheri.

They have recruited young Tamil girls at a high salary to conduct preschools for children. The teachers are given drills and allied military exercises and also given uniforms. The people often ask whether they are comfort girls. Preschool education is a subject for our education department.

The army cannot interfere in our matters. But who would question them? Our communications are often ignored. We could possibly go to court. But, knowing the Sri Lankan environment, what if the court declares for security reasons (whatever that may mean) in favor of the armed forces?

In the field of administration there is a three-tiered administration going on in the Northern Province. One by the governor, one by the district secretaries and their officers (both agents of the central government), and lastly by us – the people’s elected representatives.

We are not taken into confidence in the formulation and implementation of projects in the Northern Province. We are informed if it suits them. They use our officers to get their things done and often set up stories that we are incapable. Recently my office was given awards by the president for coming first among eight hundred-odd offices throughout the country – including all ministries of all central ministers and departments. The charge that we are incapable and inefficient nevertheless is kept going by powerful interest groups.

We are charged for returning money back to the center without doing our projects even though we have fulfilled all our commitments and expect three hundred-odd million [Sri Lankan rupees] from the central government out of the budget for last year due to us by December 31, 2017. Our contractors await this payment having finished their work.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has not been withdrawn even though promised to the United Nations and others. Lots of suspects taken in under the PTA continue to be in incarceration without the filing of indictments. If filed trials are postponed for years, they languish in jail and our appeals to the president and others fall on deaf ears.

Nothing has been done to alleviate the suffering of those who lost their dear ones taken into custody by the armed forces even though according to international law it is the duty of the armed forces to explain what happened to those taken into custody by them.

The recruitment of Tamil-speaking policemen has only been in words. Still, over ninety percent of the police in the Northern Province happen to be Sinhala-speaking. Complaints are still made by people in a ninety-five percent Tamil-speaking province to Sinhala-speaking policemen. If it is to be taken down by a Tamil policeman, the complainant has to wait for hours.

Let me stop at this. There are many other challenges.

Will the north remain heavily militarized for the foreseeable future? Are you surprised that there’s been so little progress in this area?

The idea is to keep the armed forces forever. So the army has come up with a brilliant idea. Let us help the local population by building up houses and toilets and whatnot and earn the approval and appreciation of the people. Then we could continue to stay here forever. Mind you it is the same soldiers who brutally killed, maimed, raped and plundered our people earlier who have now taken a new avatar. I must congratulate the present army commander, Mahesh Senanayake, for formulating this scheme. He knew we would not deprive our people of housing and other amenities coming free from the army since we lacked finances to do them ourselves.

So long as a unitary constitution remains we would not be able to oust the armed forces. The government is finding many ways to avoid giving us a federal constitution. Unless federalism brings us powers to decide on our security and well-being, the armed forces will continue to occupy our territories.

Colombo seems deeply unserious about implementing a credible and comprehensive transitional justice program. What’s your take?

Colombo is conscious that they fooled the British and the minorities in Ceylon [the former name of Sri Lanka] when they ousted the British saying they would look after the minorities in a husband-like manner. They took over all powers wielded by the British after the British left and started to show their true colors.

Transitional justice entails, inter alia, devolution of power plus punishment of war criminals. The government does not want to share the power they usurped for themselves when the British left with the minorities, especially the Tamils and they do not want to punish the offenders who committed war crimes – including torture, rape, plunder and acted brutally, calling them heroes instead.

Do you think the government would ever be serious in furthering the transitional justice process? They are good at talking. They will go on talking and the world community and Tamils would be fooled again and again.

In terms of other countries’ engagement with Sri Lanka, many nations – including the United States – have enthusiastically embraced the Sirisena administration. Does this exuberant, congratulatory approach encourage reform?

They did three years ago. I wonder whether they feel the same way now. Maybe they have no alternative now. But certainly they are disillusioned by the lack of progress shown by the Sirisena administration. Their exuberant, congratulatory approach did not encourage reform. The Sinhalese leaders are members of a majority community suffering a minority complex. That complex will not allow genuine reform favoring the minorities, especially Tamils. Reform in the sense of transitional justice could only be obtained by pressure from the international community.

Do you have any predictions regarding the forthcoming local government elections?



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People will not vote for nepotism - Prime Minister

With campaigning for the local government elections winding up midweek, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe spoke exclusively with the Sunday Observer about the big questions facing the nation in Saturday’s poll.

The Premier who leads the United National Party – the leading constituent in the ruling national unity alliance, said, a silent revolution has unfolded over the past three years in Sri Lanka since his Government took office, with major democratic, economic and welfare gains for the citizen, the scrapping of an exploitative electoral system and efforts to bridge the gender gap in political representation.

Unperturbed about the political threats from the Rajapaksa-backed fledgling SLPP, the Prime Minister said, he welcomed the contest against the former President because it would remind people of the struggle fought and won democratically in January 2015. “I think this country’s decade of darkness under President Rajapaksa is not easily forgotten. It is not so easy to forget the brutality, nepotism and unbridled corruption of that dark era. It was a time when Sri Lanka faced an existential threat – whether it would remain a functioning democracy, or, slide into authoritarianism. I think the people of Sri Lanka recognized that threat in January 2015 and overwhelmingly endorsed democratic rule over tyranny and repression,” Prime Minister Wickremesinghe noted in his interview.

He expressed confidence in the electorate as his party faces next week’s poll, saying, the Sri Lankan people would never vote for tyranny, repression, nepotism and corruption over democracy, freedom and the promise of real economic prosperity.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Why do you think the people of Sri Lanka should trust in the UNP to deliver at this local government election?

A: The very fact that this local government election is one of the most peaceful in recent memory is a case in point. This is not a chance phenomenon. There is a reason for this. For decades, politicians have talked about electoral reform. This Government delivered on it. The rotten preferential system has been scrapped and anyone can contest the local council elections today because competition has been limited to a ward rather than an entire local government area. This has not only brought local politicians closer to their constituencies, which was the old way, but it has dramatically reduced the need for massive and expensive campaigns that attract contributions from various unscrupulous elements. When this system works, it will result in a sea change in the country’s political culture, freeing the politician from interest groups and agendas, and making him or her truly accountable to their constituents.

We have also ensured that for the first time 25% representation of women in a party’s nomination list has been made mandatory. These are big steps in the right direction, as we seek to perfect our democracy, but they are silent revolutions that have happened.

When you don’t hear of election violence or walls pasted with posters, just as when you pump a full tank of petrol or buy a cylinder of gas at cheaper prices you may not necessarily think of the UNP. But, all this was possible because of the sound policies we have pursued. From Gal Oya to Mahaweli to the Mahapola Scholarship scheme, to Gam Udawa and Janasaviya these great community and welfare projects are part of the UNP’s legacy. Today, this Government has provided free medical insurance to all schoolchildren and offered life-saving cardiac medical equipment completely free of charge at Government hospitals. There is so much left to do, but there is no question, the UNP is a party that always delivered, whether at a national level or at a local level.

Q: Are you concerned about the rise in popularity of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa?

A: I have complete faith in the long-memory and the intelligence of the Sri Lankan people. I don’t subscribe to the theory that Sri Lankans have short memories. I think this country’s decade of darkness under President Rajapaksa is not easily forgotten. It is not so easy to forget the brutality, nepotism and unbridled corruption of that dark era. It was a time when Sri Lanka faced an existential threat – whether it would remain a functioning democracy or slide into authoritarianism. I think the people of Sri Lanka recognized that threat in January 2015 and overwhelmingly endorsed democratic rule over tyranny and repression. Even with all state power at his command, and rampant abuse of state resources at the January 8, 2015 election, Mahinda Rajapaksa was unable to defeat the courage and will of the Sri Lankan people. I doubt anyone has forgotten how he and his family ran this country.

One brother terrorized the country. Journalists were killed, protestors shot dead and media organizations set on fire. Another brother pilfered the country’s resources. People have not forgotten that his sons were having night races outside the sacred Dalada Maligawa. A brother-in-law who had no educational qualifications was tasked to run the national carrier and ran it to the ground. A plethora of friends, relatives and cronies were appointed to every feasible government position. People are not fools. While there will naturally be some incumbency fatigue in any democracy, the intelligent Sri Lankan electorate will never intentionally choose terror, tyranny, nepotism and corruption over democracy, freedom and the promise of real economic prosperity. And of course, democracies are flawed and must be perfected. That is our duty, to move towards a more perfect democracy. But, there is no question of going back to brutality and repression.

Personally, I am glad Mahinda Rajapaksa and his clan of miscreants have decided to contest these local government elections. It will remind people of what we all defeated in January 2015 and at what risk to life and limb we struggled against the Rajapaksa regime.

Q: What do you say to the accusation that some in the government are blocking investigations into corruption and other crimes under the Rajapaksa regime?

A: This is simply not true. One of the promises we made to the people in January 2015 was that we would re-establish the rule of law. This is a promise we have delivered on. The Rajapaksa years were marked by the fact that the law of the jungle prevailed. The war hero Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka was dragged out of his office like an animal and put in prison like a common criminal, after frivolous charges were brought against him.

In that case, legal proceedings happened at lightning speed. But no one will argue that the process was just or that due process was followed. The whole country knows that General Fonseka was jailed for the crime of contesting the presidential elections in 2010. If President Rajapaksa had won in 2015, many of those fighting against his candidacy may have suffered a similar fate.

We cannot do things that way. We cannot constitute political witch-hunts just because we want to see justice served as quickly as possible. This Government has given the law enforcement agencies total carte blanche to investigate and bring to book any persons who have been operating outside the law, whether they were members of the former regime or even if they are presently in office. This is the fundamental difference between the Rajapaksas and the Government that followed their defeat. People who have committed crimes will pay a price, irrespective of their politics.

This is the governance the people asked for when they defeated the Rajapaksas in 2015. They did not ask for witch-hunts and quick fixes, but for justice to prevail. The law must be allowed to take its course.

Q: You mentioned that the government has approved draft legislation for a special High Court to try mega corruption under the former regime. Some would say the move is coming late in the day. How quickly do you expect at least the high profile corruption cases to be brought to court?

A: Sri Lanka saw unprecedented levels of corruption by the ruling family between 2005-2015. When the head is so rotten, the body stands no chance. Once we took over in 2015, getting to the bottom of the corruption cases was a priority. At the same time, we needed to be cautious that these investigations were not conducted like political witch-hunts and that due process was followed every step of the way. It is remarkable that a newly established police unit to probe financial crimes has been able to conclude investigations in more than 400 cases. It is a priority for this Government to ensure these cases are expedited. But, just as important as speed is the need to get the process right, so there can be no allegation of bias or malice against political opponents. At the same time, it is understandable that people are losing patience and are eager to see justice served against those who have misappropriated the people’s money. I am hopeful that this new High Court on Corruption that has just got approval from the Cabinet will help to expedite the backlog of cases, since it will have specific jurisdiction over complex financial crimes and misappropriation of state assets. Rather than waiting years for a case to be completed, our hope is that the new High Court on Corruption can conclude cases within six months.

Justice was the promise of Yahapalanaya and we remain committed to living up to this promise. But, the people also want to see justice so I am hopeful that within the year some of the large scale corruption cases will be tried and concluded.

Q: How do you address the accusations of corruption under this administration, especially the Bond issue?

A: The fact that there has been accountability with regard to the Bond issue is the best example that can be given for the success of the Yahapalanaya government. During the Rajapaksa regime there was daylight robbery of resources of this country. We recall the Greek bond scam, the hedging deal, Krrish and the outright sale of Galle Face. That regime ran Sri Lankan Airlines to the ground. Political loyalists could literally get away with murder and rape and proximity to the ruling family gave them immunity from prosecution and facing up to those crimes. The economy was in the vice-like grip of Basil Rajapaksa and other cronies, to run as they pleased. There was no such thing as accountability for any of these crimes.

Think about how vastly different things are today. Checks and balances have been put in place and democratic institutions and law enforcement arms strengthened. No country has been able to root out corruption entirely, but the main thing is, the rule of law is in place and people will be held accountable for those crimes, no matter who they are. With regard to the Bond issue for instance, I went before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry investigating the problem. As did other Ministers. There is no precedent for this, when a serving Prime Minister has willingly gone to testify before such a Commission. That process is now moving forward.

It has always been our position that the UNP will not protect anyone responsible for financial misconduct. Let justice and accountability take its course. In fact, even within our party these checks are in place. The Thilak Marapana Committee which went into the findings of the Bond Commission, recommended that the Assistant Leader of the UNP refrain from holding office until his name is cleared. This is Yahapalanaya or good governance and this government can be proud that for the first time in our country’s post independence history, the democratic checks and balances have been established to ensure that no one is above the law.

Q: How do you foresee going forward with the Yahapalanaya government, with the President being critical of the UNP in recent weeks?

A: We must not forget that the election of President Maithripala Sirisena was a watershed moment in our history. He was not elected by only the SLFP or the UNP but by all forces that desisted tyranny, one family rule and state terrorism. For the first time, the UNP, SLFP, JVP, the parties representing the Tamil and Muslim communities all came together to save our democracy. The situation was dire. We forgot all our ideological differences and came together to protect our motherland from tyrannical family rule. We prevented Sri Lanka becoming Zimbabwe. As a result of that election, Maithripala Sirisena is our President. We will work with him and ensure that we deliver on the promises that we made on January 8, 2015. While we have come a long way, there is much more to do. The patient is out of the coma but not yet ready to be running a marathon. But, we will get there. I believe, we need to constantly strive to perfect our democracy. This battle cannot be won in a single day. It is an incremental process, and we must plod on, and chip away slowly at the old prejudices and political culture that holds us back. I believe, President Sirisena is equally committed to this journey towards a more perfect, less flawed democracy. But, we must remember this is not an easy task – many of the ghosts of the past are lurking in the shadows, ready to drag us back into the dark days.

Q: Where does constitutional reform process stand at the half way point of your Government’s tenure?

A: The current constitution-making process is the most transparent and democratic endeavour undertaken since independence. In 1947 we were given a constitution by the departing colonial regime. In 1972 and 1978 the winning political party with an overwhelming majority enacted constitutions with hardly any participation from other stakeholders. In both the Republican Constitutions (1972 and 1978) the minority parties, especially, the Tamils boycotted the process. Today, the situation is different. For the first time in our history the two main political parties have joined together to make a constitution that suits all of us in the 21st century. The country’s main Tamil party and all the Muslim parties are very much on board and are negotiating in a credible and reasonable way. This will be a constitution for all the peoples of Sri Lanka and I am determined to see it through, as is President Maithripala Sirisena.

As a country about to celebrate 70 years of independence we must collectively reflect on whether we have done justice to ourselves by failing to enact a constitution that meets the aspirations of all our people and treats all citizens equally. Finally, we have an opportunity to achieve this. It is a special window of opportunity and my view is that we must not let it slip away. All peace loving people of this country must unite to see this through. There have been many lost opportunities over history, and we must not allow a handful of extremists to engage in fear mongering in order to derail and sabotage this process. I am confident that 2018 will be a historic year for many reasons and I hope, one of these major milestones will be the drafting of a new constitution for Sri Lanka which will acknowledge the rights and freedoms of all our people.

Q: Where does the reconciliation process stand vis-à-vis the government’s pledges to its own people as well as the international community?

A: Since January 2015 the government has taken many steps to heal the deep wounds that prevailed in the country. This is a long process that could take generations to fulfil completely. All major political parties, both in the North and South have contributed to the divisions that caused the civil war. We must learn from these mistakes. Playing into ethnic divisions, riling passions may be great politics, but it is disastrous for a country. We must desist from such petty politicking because so much is at stake. To go down that path again is not only to open this island out to the potential of future conflict, but also to ensure stunted economic growth and development.

True reconciliation has to happen in our hearts. That is what all the current processes that are underway really aims to do – to heal the hearts of our people. That is why they are domestic processes. No internationally imposed process can achieve real reconciliation after a civil conflict. That is why we have taken ownership of these processes. Even the recent Geneva resolutions were co-sponsored by Sri Lanka. We demonstrated to the international community that we were undertaking these commitments not due to international pressure but because it is the right thing to do for us as a country striving for lasting peace. Our government has worked to strengthen the human rights framework. Today, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is an independent body with commissioners who are confident and strong and with whom the Government has never dared to interfere. We have established a Missing Persons Office and allocated funding for that Office to commence work. Legislation is in the works for other mechanisms that will also take the reconciliation forward, including compensation and reparations for those who have suffered from the long war.

None of these are happening because of international obligations, but because they are important steps in the process to healing the wounds of war and prevent a recurrence of violence. This country must never again experience the blood-letting and strife that has plagued two generations. Let’s not forget Sri Lanka has seen several bouts of extreme violence since independence. The war in the North and East, the 1971 insurgency and the 87-89 bheeshanaya. If we do not address underlying causes for these bouts of extreme violence, our future generations are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

True reconciliation is not just the Government’s task. It’s also up to the people, because we all have a stake – we all have much to lose if we fail in this endeavour.

Q: Will the UNP contest the next parliamentary and general elections on its own or with a coalition?

A: The UNP remains the strongest political force in the country. We sought a national unity government not because we couldn’t form a government of our own after the August 2015 election, but because we believe Sri Lanka is at a unique moment in history where we can rise above petty party politics and do something truly great. When the two main parties in the country who have always been rivals, and always sabotaged each others’ agendas come together the opportunity to radically change a political culture and a system of governance comes about. Consensus is necessary between the two parties to tackle big issues, like drafting a new constitution or accelerating development and economic growth that was stunted for decades because of the war. The people have waited so long for an economic dividend and for lasting peace. As responsible politicians it is our obligation to try to deliver this to our citizens, even if it meansforging unconventional alliances, that can appear to be rocky or tenuous at times. The mandate of the people in 2015 was crystal clear in my opinion. The people wanted unity rather than division. They wanted statesmanship rather than petty politicking. This is what we are trying to deliver.

For the moment, we are not focused on the next major election. Once local government elections are over there is work to be done. When the time comes to decide on how to contest national elections, the UNP will make its decision in consultation with all stakeholders. For the moment, we are focused on the job at hand – which is governance.

Q: Who will be the UNP’s candidate for the 2020 Presidential election, if the current constitution remains unchanged in respect of the Executive Presidency?

A: This question will arise only if the Executive Presidency is not abolished, but our focus now is building the economy and increasing its growth, improving infrastructure facilities and developing the health and education sector. We are focused on reducing unemployment, improving exports and trade ties that will bring dividends to the people. You must understand, when we took over the economy in 2015, it was in shambles. The extent of the trouble we could not tell the people, because it would result in a hopelessness that would be devastating to the national psyche.

With the greatest difficulty, we have resuscitated this patient who was on life support as it were. Day by day the health of the economy is improving. But, given the situation we were in, people cannot expect miracles. Over three years, the people have experienced a reinforcement of their democratic freedoms, and borne witness to the strengthening of democratic institutions and systems that restore power to the citizen and perform the necessary checks on those holding public office. But as I said before, there is much work left to do here too. We have a constitution to draft. We have to heal the wounds of a brutal war. So we are not like other governments always wondering about the next election. We are trying to be a different type of government. One that will think rather of the next generation.

Source : Sunday Observer

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Sri Lanka doesn’t need more American bear hugs

The U.S. and Sri Lanka held their second Partnership Dialogue in November. The first took place in Washington, D.C. in 2016. This one was held in Colombo. The meeting didn’t seem to feature any big surprises – which means that it was a missed opportunity for U.S. foreign policy.

The predictable joint statement deals with trade, aid, economics and maritime security, among other topics. It’s about emphasizing how robust U.S.-Sri Lanka ties are at this point and ignoring what’s really happening in the island nation.

There are also references to rights, justice and the UN Human Rights Council resolution that Sri Lanka cosponsored in 2015. “Sri Lanka and the United States recalled their co-sponsorship of a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017, reaffirming Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in pursuit of lasting peace and prosperity.”

ms ramy Regrettably, a lot about the joint statement – including the above-mentioned words – aren’t remotely connected to reality. To begin, Colombo is committed to neither reconciliation nor accountability (for alleged wartime abuses). And, Sri Lanka is obviously insincere about that Human Rights Council resolution; in fact, Colombo has spent the past two years largely ignoring the commitments pertaining to it.

'US will continue to partner'

The joint statement also mentions that “bilateral security sector cooperation continues in parallel with Sri Lanka’s ongoing reconciliation, rule of law and judicial reform efforts. This also includes U.S. support for demining, joint military engagements, human rights training of Sri Lankan officers, and visits by ships and military officials.”

At the dialogue, remarks made by U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Shannon were disappointing as well. “Today is a great day for the U.S.- Sri Lanka relationship. As the government of Sri Lanka moves ahead with its reforms to promote justice, accountability, reconciliation, and human rights, the United States will continue to partner with Sri Lanka to foster economic development and advance equal rights and opportunities for all persons in this great nation,” Shannon noted.

Three years into President Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure, American officials seem unable to accept reality or reconsider U.S.-Sri Lanka ties anew. Colombo is deeply unserious about reconciliation; we know this because even smaller efforts to reach out to ethnic Tamils haven’t happened. More generally, rather modest reform benchmarks are not being met.

Security cooperation

Furthermore, the flurry of increased U.S.-Sri Lanka security cooperation is an especially bad idea—because such activity ensures that legitimate security sector reform won’t come anytime soon. Recent Associated Press reporting has reiterated that sexual violence and the torture of ethnic Tamils continue to be big problems. (The alleged perpetrators are Sri Lankan security personnel.)

It’s good that the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the presidency in 2015. But Sirisena’s administration shouldn’t be able to rely on relativism, fears of a Rajapaksa resurgence or false promises and continue to be celebrated by countries such as the U.S. The reality is that Sri Lanka’s reform agenda is in shambles.

In terms of American policy, heightened pressure over human rights and governance issues may come from legislators on Capitol Hill. That’s undoubtedly vital but, absent new ideas and changes from the Trump administration, congressional pressure alone may not matter all that much. Besides, this isn’t about tinkering at the margins of the U.S.’s existing bilateral framework. What’s sorely needed is a bold re-examination of how best to engage an administration in Colombo that’s fallen remarkably short of expectations.

In recent times, Western appeasement and American bear hugs have not encouraged reform in Sri Lanka. Continuing with the current approach is bound to produce similar results.

Source : JDS Sri Lanka

taylor dibbert16 January 2018
By Taylor Dibbert

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Reality check in Sri Lanka

Reality check in Sri Lanka

By Meera Srinivasan

Sri Lanka’s local government elections, scheduled to be held on February 10, have elicited the interest of a national election, and with good reason.

This is the first time the country will go to the polls in about three years since the President Maithripala Sirisena–Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe combine rose to power promising “good governance”, giving voters a chance to say what they think of the performance of the government they elected to office.

Further, the two coalition partners in government — Mr. Sirisena-led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) — are contesting the island-wide local polls separately, with their campaigns laying bare the deep fissures and insecurities within the coalition government.

Inevitably, the outcome will impact the future course of the government in the remaining two years of its term, with much of the work on the promised constitutional reform and post-war reconciliation remaining only on paper. Going by the mudslinging on the campaign trail, it is clear that the elections will most likely leave the country’s first national unity government, formed by two traditionally rival parties, considerably weaker.

Focus on corruption

Amid severe criticism of his government for taking little action against corruption during his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term, Mr. Sirisena has pegged his campaign to an anti-corruption crusade, chiefly targeting the SLFP’s senior coalition partner in Parliament, the UNP. The President’s attacks have grown shriller after a presidential commission of inquiry (CoI) held a former Central Bank Governor, handpicked by the Prime Minister, responsible for a loss of 11,145 million Sri Lankan rupees to public institutions following a major bond scam at the apex bank, in 2015. The CoI also accused former Finance and Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, a close aide of the Prime Minister, of corruption. On Tuesday, it was decided that Parliament would debate two different reports on the bond scam and other serious acts of fraud and corruption on February 6, four days before the election.

Justifying Mr. Sirisena’s pre-poll rhetoric, his supporters maintain that it is no surprise, given that he is competing with the UNP. For the purpose of this election, he has donned the hat of the head of the SLFP and engaged in mass politics, with no compulsion to sound statesmanly in his campaign. His attacks have irked many UNP-ers, especially the backbenchers who have not missed an opportunity to retaliate, though the Prime Minister has shown restraint. What has also given more fodder to the UNP camp critical of the President is his recent move to seek clarification from the Supreme Court on his term limit and his ambivalence about the executive presidency.

Three-cornered fight

The challenge for the two parties does not end there. Mr. Rajapaksa and his supporters, basically a faction of the SLFP and others who call themselves the ‘Joint Opposition’, are campaigning for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), or Sri Lanka People’s Front. His brother Basil Rajapaksa, a prominent member, is known to be an efficient organiser.

The SLPP has become the de facto political vehicle of the Rajapaksas, though Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had earlier resolved to topple the government in 2017, remains a member of the SLFP that Mr. Sirisena, his former cabinet colleague and now arch rival, leads.

In effect, the local government polls present a three-cornered contest, with the President and Prime Minister fighting each other, despite being coalition partners in the national government, and the Rajapaksa-backed SLPP threatening to eat into the SLFP’s vote share.

While it remains to be seen whether the bond scam will cost the UNP electorally, or if Mr. Sirisena’s apparent inability to garner more support within his party will weaken his position, what will certainly matter is the government’s failure to deliver on many counts, be it on the new Constitution aimed at a political solution to the Tamil question, assurances on war-time accountability, jobs to unemployed youth and the spiralling costs of living gripping the urban and rural poor.

Forgotten issues

Though the leaders are contesting local government polls, they are in fact gearing up for a bigger fight, so much so that key local issues such as illegal sand mining, deforestation, irrigation and drinking water hardly figure in the ongoing campaign. The widely read local weekend paper, The Sunday Times, reported that unemployment is a chief concern not only in the war-affected north and east but also across other provinces, despite the Prime Minister’s grand promise of a million jobs.

For a government facing enormous pressure within and outside, the fact that the Rajapaksas, who retain considerable support in the island’s southern districts, are seeking to capitalise on the incumbent government’s shortcomings makes matters more difficult. It is in this context that the UNP and the SLFP have to take a decision, following the local polls, on the likely renewal of their memorandum of understanding signed when they formed the government.

Mixed bag

This is not to say that the story of the forthcoming local polls, in which about 16 million citizens are eligible to vote, is entirely about a brewing political crisis. It does offer some promise, especially after the government enacted a law mandating 25% representation of women in local government bodies, prompting many women community leaders to contest. This is also the first time that Sri Lanka will follow a mixed electoral model whereby 60% of members will be elected by the first-past-the-post system and the remainder through closed list proportional representation.

All the same, it is a high stakes election as UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim, who is also a cabinet Minister, noted recently. “Elections have consequences — and sometimes they are dire,” he warned, reminding voters of the “era of darkness” under the previous regime.

A scenario where Mr. Rajapaksa stages a comeback, would be the government’s own making. In the last three years, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration has left the people of Sri Lanka, including Tamils, with fewer reasons to remain hopeful. Despite the initial promise and some welcome initiatives, disillusionment and frustration pervade the electorate. Busy fire-fighting to manage frequent tensions within, the ruling coalition has had little time for the good governance it promised.

Undoubtedly, the political stakes are high for all parties and the actors in this election. But the leaders would do well to remember that the stakes are higher for the people.

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What do we need? "Laundromats" or a "Clean house"?

What do we need? "Laundromats" or a "Clean house"?

kusal 80Kusal Perera

05 January, 2018

The Bond Scam Report isn't out in public domain. Yet with much pre-publicity on President Sirisena making a public statement on the report on Wednesday (January 03) evening, quite a large number it seems have listened to him on air and later through the internet. What the media plays around with are bits and pieces picked from his pre-recorded statement that was aired on all TV channels. This was a carefully written Sinhala statement that tried to position him as a decent, non-partisan national leader, with the tactful mention about PM Wickramasinghe's responsibility and former Finance Minister Karunanayake's complicity.

Public response, especially in social media, was of two minds. One applauded and appreciated the work of the Presidential Commission of Investigation (PCoI) and the stand taken by President Sirisena in taking up the issue of corruption without "politics" and being firm. The other, while agreeing it was necessary, was also quoting petty issues (those with populist flavour but nothing serious) against President Sirisena, posing the question when this country would be "corruption free". They sort of hinted if President Sirisena is "clean", the whole country would be clean. That was mostly by those wondering flies that hurried to land on the post-January "anti-Rajapaksa" dining table. Those who are very comfortable with the Wickramasinghe brand of politics that pushes for further liberalising of the economy, giving the "Filthy Rich" more and better space for wealth and income accumulation.

Duplicity in public sentiment was no real indicator of what politics is in this public statement by President, made at the start of an election. In less than 24 hours, in a "dug in" exposure, the website "EconomyNext" said on 04 January afternoon, "President Maithripala Sirisena's office has put out several versions of his bond commission statement in an apparent attempt to soften the blow to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his party."

The "EconomyNext" also said, "The President's website carried the first translation and later swapped it with the new version which was once again amended bringing back-references to Ravi Karunanayake but without including Wickramasinghe's name". Next day, Minister Faizer Mustapha in a media intervention took pains in clearing PM Wickramasinghe of any wrongdoing.

The Bond scam is not just about the UNP and its elite leadership. The argument that President Sirisena was not in favour of Arjuna Mahendran being nominated as Governor CB of SL stands negated after he agreed with PM Wickramasinghe and appointed Mahendran as Governor CB of SL. It means that he compromised with PM Wickramasinghe to have Mahendran in order to have a government that accepts and accommodates him. It is for that single reason he had then Leader of the Opposition and the UNP, Ranil Wickramasinghe sworn in as PM an hour after he was sworn in as President on January 09 (2015).

With no change of government, constitutionally D.M. Jayaratne with a majority should have continued as PM after the 2015 January presidential election. Constitutionally Wickramasinghe was not qualified to be sworn in as PM with only 47 MPs and far less than the required minimum number. The Constitution requires the President ensure he appoints as PM one who commands a majority in parliament which means a minimum of 113 MPs.

Sirisena though elected President was in a major dilemma. Having defected from SLFP and contesting against the SLFP presidential candidate, he had to bank himself on the UNP that could not establish a government. As president Sirisena, therefore, fished out the most rustic in the Rajapaksa government to fill in the blanks for a UNP led government. Thus appointment of Arjuna Mahendran as Governor CB of SL was an extension of that political compromise. These political compromises cannot and should not be answered with a-political legal arguments. President Sirisena thus cannot claim total innocence after politically compromising for Mahendran's appointment.

The Russian warship deal that was directly under President Sirisena and then the 03 billion rupee Spectrum deal that had ICTA boss Muhunthan Canagey forced out also prove there are very much complicity and political compromise between the two major partners in government. A warship was no priority to be purchased by revitalising a Russian credit line that by then had lapsed. It wasn't accepted as necessary hardware by the Naval high command. The navy had 02 brand new warships provided by China and India. Why then did President Sirisena present a cabinet paper as Defence Minister to purchase this Russian warship and why did not the Cabinet of Ministers and the PM reject it? On the 03 billion rupee Spectrum deal, how and why did the TRC that comes directly under the President, sell frequencies to Maharajas without calling for tenders? In this modern world, frequencies are "public property" no government or State agency can sell. Frequencies have to be rented or leased on short-term through public bidding. Revenue from frequency rentals is public money. Therefore public should know who bought how much frequency for what duration and at what price. Why is the UNP not asking for investigations? Their Telecom Minister perhaps has a finger if not a hand in it. There is complicity everywhere and in everything between all parties in this government.

The governing system that "free market economies" puts in place is such, Commission Reports however accurate and complete, ultimately depend on further investigations and prosecution by the State. In free market economies these State departments are not left "independent". It was AG who was summoned to parliament by the Speaker to have the ruling that all Amendments to the Local Government Elections Act at the third reading could go with only a two-thirds majority and without a public referendum. According to the PM's statement on the present Bond Scam Report, the AG had been provided with the COPE Report 01 year ago to take appropriate action. He is now given the Bond Scam Report by the President.

It is the prosecuting agency that filed charges against former Secretary to the President Weeratunge and TRC Chairman Pelpola under Section 386 of the Penal Code instead of indicting them under the Public Property Act for misappropriation or misusing Rs.600 million of public funds. The difference being, under the Public Property Act, misuse or misappropriation of public money is a non-bailable offence whereas it is not under the Penal Code. In most instances, State prosecuting agencies know how to prosecute big dealers with minimum or no damage

There was heavy speculation former Secretary to Ministry of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would be arrested when FCID made submissions to the Colombo Fort Magistrate's Court on misappropriation of public funds estimated at Rs.65 million for the construction of his father D.A. Rajapaksa's memorial monument, in Weeraketiya. Buddhist monks met with President Sirisena to request that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa should not be arrested. The Appeal Court has ruled he should not be indicted under the Public Property Act. His anticipatory bail application was allowed and thus prevents the FCID from taking any legal action against him. The temporary stay order was extended for the third time on 15 December. That perhaps is what is meant by an independent judiciary in a free market economy.

Forty years of the free market economy as in all other countries have redefined the role of the State. The State is no more the regulator and monitor of economic activities. Thus its role as implementing agent of government policy has also changed drastically. In a free market economy, the State is turned into a facilitator, promoter and also into a custodian of private investment. The State hierarchy thus sits with governments (politicians) to formulate policy and legislation that encourage, promote, facilitate and safeguard private investments with as many incentives as possible.

With the State repositioned that way to play for the free market economy, the theoretical definitions of the "State" and the "Government" have got blurred to the extent, they are seen as one and the same. It means, it is not only politicians who are in tow with the "Filthy Rich" that grows politically powerful, but also the State at policy and decision-making level. That includes not just the top administrators, but also prosecutors and judicial officials as well.

In short, in a free market economy that allows the free growth of a new "filthy rich" urban collective, corruption becomes inherent at every level of governance and across State and society too. That, in turn, creates a new lifestyle and an urban culture that stands on heavy consumption. It is the urban middle class that gets dragged into this new high consumption lifestyle that demands unending supplies of money. This vicious cycle does not allow the urban middle class to think in terms of reshaping this "economic model" into a more decent, all-inclusive "development model".

There thus is a serious absence of a discourse for alternatives in national terms. We are now left with very narrow, small-time options for quick 'washing and drying' of dirty politics. It is thus about amending few laws and punishing a culprit or two that is now offered as "independent" recommendations. No one is questioning the competency and credibility of the present politicians and this parliament in legislating better laws. With all mainstream political parties run by the "filthy rich", can they and will they? Will this prosecuting authority including the AG's department and this judiciary be efficiently independent than what they are with new laws provided to them?

This is nothing more than what the old Sinhala idiom හොරාගෙ අම්මගෙන් පේන අහනවා (Asking the rogue's mother to read the fate) plainly say. These Bond Scam Commissions, PRECIFACs, FCIDs and the rest are all about moving with "Laundromats" with different branding. What we need is a paradigm shift that can provide a new and alternate system to keep the house permanently clean without regular visits to "Laundromats". That discourse needs to be kick-started, before the rest of this society falls apart.

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Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary; to arrest or not: analysis

Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary; to arrest or not: analysis

Economy Next

January 30, 2018

Our political correspondent examines how Sri Lanka's ex-defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has avoided arrest despite being implicated in the murder of Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and several other crimes.

Economy Next political correspondent says both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe may want Gotabaya to remain a free man, but the two leaders have different reasons for not making the high profile arrest.

President Maithripala Sirisena last week confirmed rumours that circulated in Colombo late last year that he had intervened to prevent the arrest of former top defence official of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.

Speaking to senior editors, Sirisena for the first time admitted he saved Gotabaya despite having repeatedly denied he ever blocked the prosecution of the one-time de facto head of state under brother Mahinda.

For President Sirisena, Gotabaya Rajapaksa could be a useful ally to rally hard-line Sinhala-Buddhists within the splintered Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and eventually to secure the leadership of the party.

Even though Sirisena is nominally the leader of the SLFP, he knows that a majority of SLFP members of parliament and the rank and file are with his predecessor Mahinda.

However, Sirisena could use the plethora of criminal cases pending against Gotabaya to twist his arm into supporting him (Sirisena). Support from Gotabaya could help Sirisena win over the hardliners within the SLFP.

Gotabaya has emerged as a symbol of hard-line Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism and his association with the extremist Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) of Ven. Gnanasara is well-documented.

Any truck with Gotabaya will cost Sirisena the support he received from the two main minority groups, the Tamils and the Muslims, but for Sirisena the most pressing issue is the leadership of the SLFP.

A drubbing at the February 10 local council elections could make Sirisena more desperate to cut a deal with Gotabaya and other hardliners in the Rajapaksa faction. That is probably why he announced last week that he is ready to ditch the UNP and form an SLFP government if all SLFP MPs stood behind him.

Sirisena justified interfering in the imminent arrest of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November last year saying that he did not want any action taken without a water-tight case prepared by the Attorney General.

Sirisena made it clear that he had no faith in the dossier prepared by the AG's department and wanted private senior legal experts to re-examine the case file before proceeding to indict Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

With Sirisena pulling the handbrake with both hands, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has left the island last month and is conspicuously absent from his brothers’ local election campaign.

For Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too, not arresting Gotabaya Rajapaksa could be a blessing in the long run.

Wickremesinghe is hoping to run for the presidency in 2020. Any split in the main opposition SLFP could only help Wickremesinghe. To perpetuate a division within the SLFP, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa factor could be vital for Wickremesinghe and the UNP.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is a divisive figure. Many SLFP stalwarts such as Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne and several other seniors believe that their positon in the party could be undermined by the former defence secretary.

Groups that support Gotabaya Rajapaksa target the SLFP’s Maithripala faction more than the UNP. For Wickremesinghe, the challenge is to keep the SLFP split going till 2020 and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is an important cog in that strategy and for that he must be free to deepen the divisions within the SLFP.

There have been allegations that Wickremesinghe’s Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, had a cosy relationship with Gotabaya Rajapaksa and that he too may have helped him evade arrest.

Political sources say former President Chandrika Kumaratunga has openly criticised Ratnayaka for the very slow progress in prosecuting Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Minister Rathnayake's brother Kavan Ratnayaka is also known to be a close associate of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa has also secured interim court of appeal orders preventing the police from arresting him for the misappropriation of state funds to build a memorial for his late parents.

However, police investigators said there was nothing to prevent them from taking Gotabaya Rajapaksa into custody in connection with several other more serious crimes, if not for political interference.

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Free Speech Murdered in Maldives

By Aaquib Khan

More than three years ago, in August 2014, Ahmed Rilwan disappeared after being abducted at knifepoint. Aside from his abductors, no one knows whether he is alive or dead — perhaps buried on one of Maldives’ 1,200 islands or thrown into its famous blue water.
If Rilwan is alive, shackled somewhere in a tiny cell, his abductors may have already told him about the brutal murder of his close confident and good friend, Yameen Rasheed, in April 2017.

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Sri Lankan civil society activists and exiled Maldivian nationals residing in Sri Lanka protest Yameen Rasheed's murder outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka (May 8, 2017). Photo Credit: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena.

Political unrest, radicalization, and the intimidation of journalists and human right activists have plagued the island nation in recent years. Some politicians are even suspected of hiring gangsters to issue death threats – or worse. Rilwan’s disappearance and Rasheed’s murder are just two signs of the increasing danger of religious or political dissent in Maldives.

Maldives: Torn Between Democracy and Autocracy

An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Maldives was long a sultanate. In 1953, after a period as a British protectorate, Mohamed Amin Didi, the first president, abolished the sultanate temporarily. He led the country to progress in education and women’s rights. But these transitional years were interrupted by turbulent events. In 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became president and led the country into a dictatorship. Political opponents were crushed under his regime.

The pendulum swung again in 2008, when several political parties came forward to contest Maldives’ parliamentary elections. Mohammad Nasheed, a historian and journalist and a strong critic of Gayoom, became president.

However, Nasheed was forcefully ousted in 2012. Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of Gayoom, took over as Maldivian president in 2013. Yameen moved to crack down on dissent, whether opposition parties or media criticism.

Since Yameen came to power, the media has been under increasing threat in Maldives. Journalists who speak against government corruption or religious radicalization are now confronting radical violence, harassment, and defamation lawsuits in the light of a controversial law passed in 2016. As a result, Maldives stood at 117th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 Press Freedom Index. The detention of journalists and activists is common practice to restrain critical voices. Worse, those who express dissent could face extralegal abductions or even violence.

In one high profile case, Afrasheem Ali, a religious reformist and member of Parliament, was brutally stabbed to death in October 2012. The same year, a journalist named Ismail Rasheed, nicknamed “Hilath,” was attacked. The attackers slashed his throat, but he survived because a vital artery was missed by millimeters.

Ahmad Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed

In August 2014, Ahmad Rilwan, a prominent independent journalist with the news website Minivan News (now Maldives Independent) who frequently wrote about secularism and religious extremism, disappeared. Later, police found he had been abducted at knifepoint. There was reason to believe that he was kidnapped by members of Kuda Henveiru, a violent group in Malé. The government was reluctant to investigate the case too deeply, which led some to suspect a state-supported attempt to silence those who criticize the government or radical Islam in Maldives.

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Rilwan had adopted moyameehaa, which translates as “madman” in Dhivehi, as an online pseudonym. Rilwan explained the choice himself: “the one who speaks rationally will be considered a madman when living among an irrational people.” He was right.

Rilwan’s abduction cannot be seen an accidental crime. It is an attempt to shake the secular, liberal, and progressive image of the country. Enforced disappearances are nothing new in South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka all have long records of enforced disappearance cases. In each country, institutionalized impunity has ensured that almost no one is brought to justice for human rights violations in such cases. Sadly, the same proved true in Maldives.

Rilwan and Yameen Rasheed had been close friends. Rasheed left no stone unturned in seeking justice for Rilwan’s abduction. For three years, Rasheed questioned the administration, wrote extensively, and organized protest marches against the disappearance of his friend, but Rilwan’s whereabouts are still a mystery.

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Rasheed with a poster of his friend, Ahmed Rilwan, who was abducted in 2014

A young IT professional, Rasheed was a social media activist. Through his blog, The Daily Panic, he presented bitter but factual observations of the daily politics of Maldives. Rasheed used The Daily Panic as a platform to, in his words, “satirize the frequently unsatirizable politics of Maldives… also it provides a platform to capture and highlight the diversity of Maldivian opinion.”

Rasheed was pained with the increasing Islamic radicalization in the country and could not keep himself from speaking against it. That led to the first death threat against him in 2011. He also did not remain silent after the alleged coup against President Nasheed in 2012. Through his blog, he fought to keep democracy free from autocracy.

In one of his blog posts, Rasheed recalled Rilwan once told him Islamism was a “tool to prey on the young and vulnerable who became foot soldiers in a political power struggle between corrupt forces – one made even more distasteful to him because it invoked the name of God and employed it for the basest of human desires.” His friend’s abduction made Rasheed speak against religious radicalization and politicization of religion even more vocally. For this, Rasheed received several death threats. He reported it to the police, but to no avail.

In a tragic case of irony, ten days before when Rasheed himself was brutally murdered, he shared a Facebook post in remembrance of Mashal Khan, a journalism student from Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, Pakistan who was lynched to death by a mob of students who accused him of posting blasphemous content online.

On the night of April 23, soon after returning from an award ceremony in London, Rasheed was murdered in Malé, the capital of Maldives. He was stabbed in the stomach, chest, neck, and head several times. He was declared dead shortly after being taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

According to critics, the investigation into his murder was misdirected. His murder scene was tampered with; evidence was displaced. Police tried to prevent Rasheed’s family from making public calls for justice, which raises questions as to authorities’ seriousness in pursuing the murder case.

Throughout South Asia, ideas and opinions challenging religious doctrines have not been tolerated. In this, Maldives is no different from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where proponents of moderate and secular ideologies come under widespread criticism, and often meet with violent ends. Rasheed and Rilwan, along with many others, became the victims of such extremism. More worryingly, the violence was supported by militant groups and even politicians, who spread the idea that secularists are anti-Islam.

For those Maldivians who staunchly believe in democracy, individual freedoms, and justice, these are dark days.

Aaquib Khan is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Bombay, India.

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