Will the puritans – Media and Central Bank – now step forward and cast the first stone at Sakwithi Ranasinghe?

Sakwithi Ranasinghe is virtually crucified. Stable gates are tightened. That should make everybody happy – at least till next such event. Time to wipe out the entire episode from mass reminiscence and move to cricket, if not Kilinochchi.

So this might be my last post on Sakwithi. (BTW, I will appear in TNL’s Bihidora on Wednesday 9.30 pm to speak on the subject.)

Nalaka Gunawardene disrobes the media prostitution. The very media now chastise Sakwithi sir, once willingly slept with him to build his larger than life image. Media moguls could have been a bit more discretionary on advertisements to minimize the damage. Apparently they did not care and the gullible mice followed the Pied Piper. So how ethical is it for media to wash its hands and shed crocodile tears now? (Ironically, ‘Lankadeepa’ of Sept 28 simultaneously brands D. K. Udayasiri of Sakwithi’s ilk as a bogus or ‘hora’ investor in its lead news, and carries a half page ad for him inside!)

Let me take on the other puritan – The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

I do NOT – repeat NOT – blame Central Bank for not playing the role of the regulator, it isn’t. Central Bank ‘s mandate is limited only to supervise registered finance companies, and Sakwithi sir was not within that category. He should have been taken care by the Police, but what use blaming a force headed by an IGP who expects video clips from rape victims? I hear few SPs and ASPs are among those who were taken for a ride by Sakwithi sir. I am not surprised.

I blame Central Bank for a different reason – creating the breeding ground for Sakwithis.

It is simple arithmetic. Inflation is as high as 25-30%. Maximum interest commercial banks pay for fixed deposits is 16-18%. Registered finance companies go a little further but still cannot catch the inflation demon. So even a fifth grader can figure out if you leave your money at a bank, by the end of the year you are worse off.

Investing in real assets is the only intelligent option to beat inflation, but not everyone is wise. Plus there are issues with real assets. Lands do not come in customizable sizes and gold is difficult to protect. So when Sakwithi says he offers Rs. 4,000 per month for a deposit of Rs. 100,000 (that is about 50% annual interest) they jump in without thinking twice.

It is not that they are greedy. They are made to run non-stop for mere survival. When the formal financial sector cannot address their needs they turn for informals. Sakwithi Ranasinghe, strictly speaking, might not have been a crook- he could have been an investor who failed by taking risks too high. (not that I endorse it) An interest rate of 50% is not as high it seems for an investor in construction industry. Minus inflation it is about 20% and building material prices escalate at a higher rate.

If Central Bank thinks they can stop Sakwithis by placing advertisements in newspapers and exposing few like him once in a while they are badly mistaken. It is like trying to control Dengue by killing mosquitoes. No matter how many killed, mosquitoes will be there as long as their breeding grounds exist. So do risky investments.

None other than W. A. Wijewardene, the very Deputy Governor of Central Bank, recently equated ‘Inflation’ to ‘terrorism’. If so, Sakwithi is a suicide bomber. Sheer vigilance is necessary, but not adequate to prevent him. Death of one suicide bomber does not prevent others. It is a larger game. Whether it likes or not Central Bank should take the inflation bull by its horns, sooner than later. Unless it does so, there is little use in blaming Sakwithi Ranasinghes.


Former president Dingiri Banda Wijetunga bids farewell to the nation

Former president Dingiri Banda Wijetunga has passed away around 9.30 this morning (Sept. 21st) at Kandy General Hospital, after a prolonged illness. He was 86.

Mr. Wijetunga became the third executive president of the country on May 1, 1993 after the death of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. He served as President till November 12, 1994.

He was also the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka from March 3rd, 1989 to May 7th, 1993.

Mr. Wijetunga was born to a middle class Sinhala Buddhist family living on the outskirts of the then Udunuwara Parliamentary seat in the Kandy District of the Central Province in Sri Lanka. On completion of his secondary education he joined the Co-operative Department as an Inspector.

He closely associated with veteran politicians like George E. de Silva and A. Ratnayake. A. Ratnayake who was then Minister of Food and Co-operatives in the D.S. Senanayake Cabinet took him as his Private Secretary.

He joined the United National Party in 1946. He entered Parliament for the first time when he successfully contested the Udunuwara electorate at the 1965 general election and quickly made a reputation for himself as an excellent Member of Parliament who constantly worked for the welfare of his electors. In terms of meeting the needs of his constituents, he was considered the most effective MP in that Parliament.

He lost the Udunuwara electorate in 1970 but was returned to Parliament in the 1977 UNP landslide, being appointed Cabinet Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the J.R. Jayewardene administration. During this regime Wijetunga functioned in various ministerial capacities holding the portfolios of Posts and Telecommunication, Power, Highways and Agricultural Development.

He served briefly as the Governor of North Western province in 1988 before returning to Parliamentary politics a few months later. In the last general election he contested he secured the largest number of votes in the Central Province.

Mr. Wijetunga became acting President in 1993 till Parliament convened to elect a successor to the slain President in terms of the Constitution.

The amiable Wijetunga was elected unanimously by Parliament to complete the remainder of Premadasa’s term. The humble Kandyan farmer was sworn in as the fourth executive President of the country on May 7, 1993.

In a moving farwell speech to Parliament Wijetunga cited Shakespeare’s oft-quoted line “Do not be afraid of greatness, Some men are born great, Some achieve greatness, And some have greatness thrust upon them.”

As president, Wijetunga set about his work in his own simplistic, inimitable fashion. After the authoritarian Premadasa, Wijetunga ushered in a more political free era.

His rule also coincided with the rise of Chandrika Kumaratunga within the ranks of the SLFP. For some of the elite the daughter of two Prime Ministers was a refreshing contrast to the humble village peasant in President Wijetunga.

His rather hawkish approach to the ethnic conflict also made him unpopular especially among the minorities who traditionally backed his party.

After a decisive defeat in the Southern Provincial Council Election in 1994, he dissolved parliament in August that year, in a desperate bid to stem the rising wave of popularity of Chandrika Kumaratunga.

However the party was defeated in the hustings and Wijetunga graciously appointed Kumaratunga as Prime Minister. Even though under the constitution, Wijetunga was bestowed with wide powers, he wisely chose not to exercise much authority, letting the Prime Minister manage the affairs of the country.

He relinquished office in November 1994 after Kumaratunga was elected President by an unprecedented majority.

Sources: Wikipedia and Lankadissent.

J R Jayewardene: 102th Birth Anniversary of the father of modern Lanka

Junius Richard Jayewardene (September 17, 1906–November 1, 1996), famously abbreviated in Sri Lanka as JR, was the first executive President of Sri Lanka from 1978 until 1989. He was a leader of the nationalist movement in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who served in a variety of cabinet positions in the decades after independence. Before taking over the newly created executive presidency, he served as the Prime minister of Sri Lanka between 1977 and 1978.

J.R. Jayewardene, who was the eldest in a family of 11 children, was the son of Hon. Justice Eugene Wilfred Jayewardene KC a judge of the Ceylon Supreme Court. He was schooled at Royal College, Colombo where he played for the cricket team, debuting in the Royal-Thomian series in 1925. He became a lawyer after attaining a distinguished academic record at the University College, Colombo and later at the Colombo Law College.

Jayewardene did not practice law for long, however. In 1938 he became an activist in the Ceylon National Congress (CNC), which provided the organizational platform for Ceylon’s nationalist movement (the island was officially renamed Sri Lanka in 1972). He became its Joint Secretary in 1940. He was elected to the colonial legislature, the State Council in 1943.

After joining the United National Party on its formation in 1946, he became Finance Minister in the island’s first Cabinet in 1947. He played a major role in re-admitting Japan to the world community at the San Francisco Conference.

Jayewardene’s acute intelligence and subtle, often aggressive political skills earned him leading roles in government (1947-1956 and 1965-1970) and in opposition (1956-1965 and 1970-1977). In 1951 Jayewardene was a member of the committee to select a National Anthem for Sri Lanka headed by Sir Edwin Wijeyeratne.

As Finance Minister in D.S. Senanayake’s government, Jayewardene struggled to balance the budget, faced with mounting government expenditures, particularly for rice subsidies. His 1953 proposal to cut the subsidies – on which many poor people depended on for survival – provoked fierce opposition and the 1953 Hartal campaign, and had to be called off.

No government gave serious thought to the development of the industry as an economically viable venture until the United National Party came to power in 1965 and the subject of tourism came under the purview of the Minister of State Hon. J. R. Jayewardene.

The new Minister Jayewardene saw tourism in a new dimension as a great industry capable of earning foreign exchange, providing avenues of mass employment, creating a manpower which commanded a high, employment potential in the world. He was determined to place this industry on a solid foundation providing it a ‘ conceptional base and institutional support.’ This was necessary to bring dynamism and cohesiveness into an industry, shunned by leaders in the past, ignored by investors who were inhibited by the lack of incentive to invest in projects which were uncertain of a satisfactory return. The new Minister Hon. J. R. Jayewardene considered it essential for the government to give that assurance and with this objective in view he tabled the Ceylon Tourist Board Act No 10 of 1966 followed by Ceylon Hotels Corporation Act No 14 of 1966.

This was the beginning of a new industry ignored by the previous governments but given a new life by Minister J. R. Jayewardene. As a result today tourist resorts exist in almost all cities and today an annual turnover of over 500,000 tourists are enjoying the tropical climes and beautiful beaches of Sri Lanka not to mention the enormous amount of foreign exchange they bring into the country.

In the general election of 1970 the UNP suffered a major defeat, when the SLFP and its newly formed collation of leftist parties won almost 2/3 of the parliamentary seats. Once again elected to parliament J. R. Jayewardene took over as opposition leader and de-facto leader of the UNP due to the ill health of Dudley Senanayake. After Senanayake’s death in 1973, Jayewardene succeeded him as UNP leader. He gave the SLFP government his fullest support during the 1971 JVP Insurrection (even thou his son was arrested by the police without charges) and in 1972 when the new constitution was enacted proclaiming Ceylon a republic. However he opposed the government in many moves, which he saw as short sighted and damaging for the country’s economy in the long run. These included the adaptation of the closed economy and nationalization of many private business and lands. In 1976 he resigned from his seat in parliament in protest, when the government used its large majority in parliament to extend the duration of the government by two more years at the end of its six year term without holding a general election.

Jayewardene won a sweeping election victory in 1977 to become Prime Minister. Immediately thereafter, he drew up a new national constitution which created an Executive Presidency with drastic and unchecked powers, and, on its adoption into law, became, in 1978, the first Sri Lankan Executive President. He moved the legislative capital from Colombo to Sri Jayawardanapura Kotte. He opened the heavily state-controlled economy to market forces, which many credit with subsequent economic growth but also with the greater divisions in society.

On the economic front, Jayewardene’s legacy was decisive. For thirty years after independence, Sri Lanka had struggled in vain with slow growth and high unemployment. Since Jayewardene’s reforms, the island has maintained healthy growth despite the civil war.

Jayewardene married Elina Rupasinghe, with whom he had two sons. One of his sons, Ravi Jayewardene was an officer in the Sri Lanka Army and went on to be a presidential adviser on security.


As Buddhists, should we further milk local Talibans?

No doubt that Buddhism is the most flexible, tolerable and nonviolent religion in the world. Some of its pillars, known to Buddhists for more than two and half millennia, such as ‘ahimsa’ (nonviolence), ‘samanathmatha’ (equality) and ‘upekhaka’ (indifference) constitute the very basis of civilized life.

The same thing can be said about the sea too. It is vast, calm and deep. Still there can be tsunamis.

The first wave of so called ‘Sinhalese Buddhist’ talibanic tsunami hit us in 2003 – in the immediate aftermath of the demise of Ven. Gangodawila Soma thero. Racism and ethnic hatred are not uncommon in Lankan society but there were no precedents for the abuse of religion for political purposes at such low level. Not even in 1956, with the liberal unleash of chauvinism under the opportunistic leadership of S W R D Bandaranaike.

To give credit to those who deserve it, Ven. Soma thero has always been reluctant to jump to the mud hole of politics. Perhaps he realized it was not his forte. Perhaps he was not dreaming for a Mercedes Benz. In the non-materialistic universe of Ven. Soma thero the place for a Bhikku was at a higher orbit – not so close to earth. So he kept out of politics, leaving it for mortal souls like ourselves.

The politically motivated JHU Benz-wallahs were the opposite. Seeing the opportunity they jumped immediately –like bunch of pariah dogs jump for a bone or bitch under heat. They could win nine seats in the 2004 General Election – a significant number for a party born yesterday – but little did the apolitical upasaka ammas who voted under a kind of religious giddiness know what was in for them.

Ever since it was a bumpy ride. Benz-wallahs broke every possible rule in the book. They sold car permits, abducted their own colleagues, threw ‘parusha vacha’ and ‘pisuna vacha’ not only at political enemies, but also at others belong to different factions. Staged few dramas like the event at Sharuk Khan’s show. (Poor Sharuk! He never returned!) During a ‘fast unto death’ (rather fast unto hospitalization) event at Kandy JHU cheevaradharis behaved like common thugs in closing down the shops.

Still there is something called ‘karma’. We saw it at work when some of them got their testicles massaged by the good doctor Mervin Silva reminding us ‘ditta dhamma vedaniya karmaya’.

All this would have been fine. We would have been enjoyed the comedy if not the believers of other religions were unnecessarily brought in the middle of all this.

Christians and Catholics were the first victims. Overnight even the Sinhalese Christians became non-indigenous; non-Bhumiputra, ‘arrived yesterday’ outsiders. All Christians and Catholics were the target for handful of conversions that have been carried out by few non-traditional and small Christian groups. The madness knew no limits. Only God would have known how many churches have been burnt down ever since.

Then the Muslims. Courtesy of JHU , poor in Ampara were denied shelter simply because of their belief. When thousands of Muslims were unceremoniously chased off from Glennie street there wasn’t anybody even to raise a voice.

Things would not have been so deplorable if not for the Kurrakkan uncle – the opportunists’ opportunist – who saw nothing wrong in riding this racist wave for his own political gains. The outcome was catastrophic. The level of racism unleashed at the 2005 Presidential election was incredible. The divisions in society caused deep wounds, which will never be healed. All these because of the greed of one individual – to make his the royal family of Lanka.

The recent incidents in and out of the Supreme Court too are the continuation of the same drama. What Taliban wants it clear. They look for a discrimination that treats them better than the rest of the society. Muslims chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’ is not tolerable; but noise pollution by temples is not only acceptable but welcome as well. No, we do not want to stand for anybody. We are supreme and above the law. See where they are leading?

As Buddhists, how long are we going to tolerate this Taliban mafia? Shouldn’t it high time that we stand up and say we are tired of all this nonsense and that as Buddhists we do not expect to be treated better than the rest – rather we do not want anyone else mistreated?

These are questions we should ask ourselves as Buddhists, Sinhalese and Sri Lankans. It is not a question of a political party. It is a question of our common future. The damage caused by these extremists to the Lankan society is no means small. We already live in a highly divided society thanks to all racist forces that divided us ever since 1956. Isn’t this the time to use our brains and not our hearts?

Are Buddhist monks above the law of the land? (A lawyer’s/Buddhist’s point of view)

Supreme Court is not exactly the place show solidarity. However, if somebody opts to do so, nothing will stop them.

In the aftermath of 1971 insurrection, a group of (old) JVP hardcores demonstrated their loyalty to the party by rising not at the entry of the judge, but of their supreme leader Rohana Wijeweera sahodaraya the great to the court room. They were promptly banned from observing the subsequent proceedings.

Last Friday, the history repeated. A group of Buddhist monks saw no need to rise for the judges – who on an earlier date have ordered the remand one of their ilk. They were asked to leave the room to return, but that direction went unheeded.

Anuradha Ratnaweera, a fellow blogger, who maintained a deafening silence when Buddhist monks were tear gassed, baton charged and physically assaulted till they vomit by the Sri Rohana Janaranjana Rajapakse regime few months back, for conducting a peaceful unarmed protest, now sees this incident as an insult.

He questions whether Bhikkus should be made to rise at the entry of (lay) judges.

Let me try to answer, as a lawyer and a Buddhist.

Firstly, our feudal beliefs only make us think showing respect to another makes one inferior. That is not so. In Western universities professors sometimes address their students ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Government officials address every citizen respectfully. That does not make them any inferior.

Secondly, one rises at the beginning of the court proceedings to show respect not to the judges – but to the judiciary. Shouldn’t we show some respect to the body that we trust to offer justice?

Thirdly, everybody has a domain. It is stupid to expect the same level of respect outside that domain.

Let me take an example from the President Mahinda Rajapakse himself. On one New Year occasion (when the country was not at such a mess) we saw him offering ‘bulath atha’ and kneeling down in front of his elder brother Minister Chamal Rajapakse according to the traditional Sinhalese customs.

Why don’t we question the appropriateness of the Executive President of the land kneeling down in front of one of his own ministers?

The simple answer is although he is the President in one domain, the moment he comes to ‘Maha gedara’ for New Year celebrations, he becomes another member of the family. In that domain he is expected to show respect to elders, irrespective who they are.

Similarly, the court is not the domain of Bhikkus. The court does not see the differences between priests and laymen. (That is why no white sheets cover their chairs) So in the same manner that any judge is expected to remove footwear at the entry of the temple (that is irrespective of his/her religion) a Bhikku is expected to rise when the judge enters. If any Bhikku does not want to do so, he can remain at the temple and save the trouble.

Interestingly, Buddhist monks normally follow a ‘trick’ to avoid any confrontation. Instead of staying in the court room, they enter the room after the judge(s) take chairs. That circumvents any conflict between the religion and the law.

This incident, to say the least is a bad precedent. It should not have happened. Nobody says laws are perfect. They are made by imperfect human beings. Still this is not the way to protest a law.

After all, the Ministry of Environment is headed by the lay leader of a very much pro-Buddhist, pro-Bhikku political party. If they do not like the noise pollution laws why not put some pressure on the Ministry to change them?

(PS: One point I fully agree with Anuradha is his observation that the judgments should not be based on the behavior of the public in the court room.)