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Sri Lanka: Island of Thousand Errors

You can only have a foreign exchange shortage if you're trying to fix the price of that foreign exchange. A government that doesn't know this … well, perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised that they're also having problems with debt

by Tim Worstall

The government of Sri Lanka is showing an alarming lack of knowledge over how the international economy works. Which seems fair enough since they've recently shown an alarming lack of knowledge of how a domestic economy works too.

For example, they decided that the entire country's farming sector should go organic. Well, okay, that can be done — but then they were astonished at the idea that there was less food being produced. They didn't realise that fertiliser and land are substitutes for each other. For any given amount of food produced you can use more land and less fertiliser or vice versa. If you use less fertiliser and no more land then there will be less food.

They're also complaining about a shortage of foreign exchange — this is not something that can happen. There can be a shortage of foreign exchange at a price, of course, the solution to which is to change the price. Just to make this obvious, there is no shortage of $10,000 an ounce gold; there's a vast surplus of it. There's a desperate shortage of $10 an ounce gold. Which is why the gold price is about $2,000 an ounce. The same is true of foreign exchange. All that needs to happen to have as much foreign exchange as is desired is to change the number of Sri Lankan rupees they're willing to pay for it.

Or as we, who have read our economic textbooks, can point out, you can fix the price of something but not the quantity, or the quantity but not the price. If you try to fix both, then you'll get none at any price.

You can only have a foreign exchange shortage if you're trying to fix the price of that foreign exchange.

A government that doesn't know this … well, perhaps we shouldn't be all that surprised that they're also having problems with debt. They borrowed more than they can pay back and it's not hugely difficult to understand why people aren't willing to lend them even more.

So, we know all of that and the Sri Lankan government seems not to. Which does mean that we are more qualified to run Sri Lanka than that government is, but unfortunately that's not how international affairs work out. Fun as the concept of Bangladesh acquiring a colony is, they don't let us do that sort of thing any more. 

However, there is something a little more subtle here too. Sri Lanka is complaining about how the bond and debt ratings companies are making things more difficult. S&P, one of the three major credit rating companies, dropped their estimation to what is effectively junk. It's a great big red warning sign saying: “Don't Lend Here.” Or at least that's the way that the Sri Lankan government is taking it and that's not really true.

It is true that certain investment funds cannot invest in bonds that are labelled junk. But there are plenty more that can. All this official announcement does is change that technical matter at the margin. There's still plenty of money out there if the price was right.

For the truth is that the ratings agencies don't, in fact, determine who will lend at what price. Their ratings are, in fact, a follow-up to who is lending at what price. Those credit raters are followers of the market, not leaders of it.

So, to use this example, people are not going to stop lending to Sri Lanka because S&P has changed the rating. It's much more true to say that S&P has changed the rating because people will not lend to it. It's exactly the worry that people won't lend more, to pay off the old borrowings, which makes Sri Lanka risky to lend to. S&P is just registering this fact rather than causing it. 

The effect of this is important, for it means that it's not the credit rating agencies that are causing Sri Lanka's problems. They are noting the problems, yes, perhaps even broadcasting them, but they're not creating them. The Sri Lankan government is doing that all by itself with its own economic policies.

And let's be honest about this, complaining about someone else noting your mistakes isn't very grown up, is it? But that is what the Sri Lankan government is doing.

Tim Worstall is a senior fellow at the Adam Smith Institute in London

Pakistan’s National Security Policy Signals to India’s

It reflects, albeit partially, the thinking of the sizeable constituency in Pakistan that realises the importance of a stable relationship with India is in its own interest

by Sharat Sabharwal 

Pakistan has released the public version of what is billed as its first-ever National Security Policy (NSP). It stipulates, inter alia, economic security as the core of national security, an expansion of the economic pie, supplementing geostrategy with geoeconomics, making Pakistan a trade and connectivity hub, curbing extremism and terrorism, and inculcating a culture of introspection and pragmatism in defining national security interests. An impressive wish list indeed for a national security state. However, the devil will lie in its implementation.

The elephant in the room is Pakistan’s adversarial posture towards its much bigger and better-endowed neighbour — India. This, together with the primacy of its army, the growing and unaccountable defence expenditure, low resource mobilisation, a crushing debt burden, entrenched economic interests, extremist violence, and ethnic fissures accentuated by Punjabi dominance, largely accounts for Pakistan’s woes. The country, while counting increasingly on its nuclear arsenal for its defence, retains its obsession to keep up with India’s conventional military capability. The NSP mentions the “growing conventional force differential in the region,” but is silent on how the increasing defence outlays are to be tamed. One cannot see the Pakistan army giving up its India bogey — the mainstay of its primacy — and its business empire anytime soon.

Expanding the economic pie is an uphill task on account of vested interests draining the national treasury without contributing their due share to it and dampening economic activity by violence and terrorism. Pakistan’s growth rate remains very low, decent growth having been registered mainly during phases of large external aid inflows.

The NSP expresses the wish to improve relations with India, but places “a just and peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute” at the core of the bilateral relationship. This has been in essence the publicly articulated Pakistani position over the years. Given the ground realities, the only feasible peaceful solution to Kashmir will have to be non-territorial. The backchannel (2004-07) deliberations on the issue represented an important step in that direction. However, Pakistan did not show the courage and sagacity to take them to their logical conclusion. This begs the question: Does Pakistan want a mutually acceptable solution to Kashmir or use it as a perennial hostility plank against India? Things have since moved on with the withdrawal of the special status of J&K, China’s deeper involvement in the illegally occupied territory of “Gilgit-Baltistan” and its aggressive moves in eastern Ladakh.

Pakistan has pruned down its initial demand of reversing India’s August 5, 2019 move to the restoration of statehood to J&K and no change in the area’s demography. The restoration of statehood may come in due course, but no government in India would like it to be seen as a response to a Pakistani demand. There has been no mass influx into J&K to change its demography in a significant manner — something that Pakistan has done to the parts of J&K under its illegal occupation. Unless Pakistan takes a pragmatic approach to Kashmir and relations with India to promote the larger goals mentioned in the NSP, the conclusion that it sees Kashmir as a perpetual stick to beat India with will be inescapable.

Pakistan’s emphasis on geoeconomics without trade and transit links with India is an empty slogan. The access provided to China to the Makran coast is the only important economic linkage Pakistan provides. Pakistan can become a meaningful transit hub only by providing linkage, together with India, between Central/West Asia and beyond on one side and Southeast Asia and beyond on the other. However, it has continued to deny transit to India and blocked intra-regional connectivity in SAARC. Instead of addressing these issues, the NSP describes Pakistan’s eastward connectivity as being “held hostage to India’s regressive approach”.

The withdrawal of the MFN status by India in February 2019 was justifiable only as a retaliatory move. It did not have the potential to influence the calculus of Pakistan’s security establishment (Pakistan’s exports to India are less than 2 per cent of its global exports) and raised the cost of imports from the next-door market for the Indian consumer. Pakistan took an even more short-sighted step by suspending trade with India in August 2019 which would hurt its economy more than India’s. A move last year to permit the import of Indian cotton, cotton yarn and sugar was scuttled quickly by the Pakistan government. The Pak daily Express Tribune, quoting an official source, mentioned recently that trade could be normalised if there was progress in dialogue. The term progress is undefined, though I would expect Pakistan to revise its stand on trade at some stage under pressure from its business and industry.

Due to encouragement by politicians and the army for their selfish ends, including the perpetration of terrorism in the region, religious and sectarian extremism and the accompanying violence are deeply entrenched in Pakistan. Repeated attempts to regulate the madrasa education system and counter Pakistan’s rogue terror groups have come a cropper.

The aforementioned factors rule out any dramatic results of the NSP by way of an enduring change in the internal and external orientation of the Pakistani state. Because of stiff resistance by vested interests, any positive transformation will inevitably be a gradual process. However, we need to take note of the NSP for two reasons: First, it is a sign of Pakistan’s growing challenges, particularly economic, in continuing with its old policies; and second, because it reflects, albeit partially, the thinking of the sizeable constituency in Pakistan that realises the importance of a stable relationship with India in its own interest. Going forward, these factors should present us with opportunities to improve the relationship beyond the ceasefire restoration of February 2021 by way of resumption of trade and the upgradation of diplomatic representation, especially having senior interlocutors in each other’s capital. Whatever Pakistan’s problems, a calmer western front also suits us in focussing on the Chinese challenge.

The writer is former High Commissioner to Pakistan, and is the author of the forthcoming book, India’s Pakistan Conundrum — Managing a Complex Relationship

The Buddha’s approach to Governing a state

Rev. Ananda’s lucid presentation quoting original discourses of the Buddha should be an eye-opener to both the rulers and the citizens alike. The Buddha’s message to rulers had been that they should treat all people, irrespective of their origin, ethnicity, language, caste, or religion, equally and impartially. This is what is lacking in the modern world, including Sri Lanka. But if citizens become more informed, both rulers and religious centres will amend their ways to avoid these pitfalls

by W A Wijewardena

A useful discussion on Buddha’s approach to government

Last week, two erudite Buddhist monks, Rev. Galkande Dhammananda of the University of Kelaniya and Rev. Dr. Uduhavara Ananda of the University of Colombo in their Poya Day discourse series discussed an important and timely topic for contemporary Sri Lanka. That was how the Buddha’s teachings could be used for governing a modern state (available here ). Rev. Dhammananda, in addition to teaching at the Kelaniya University, functions as the director of the Walpola Rahula Institute of Buddhist Studies, an outfit started by the erudite Buddhist monk by the same name. 

Buddha did not want to intervene in political affairs

One may be puzzled how the Buddha being a great personality who came up with the path to end suffering of all beings could involve himself in governing a state. During his lay life, he was a prince and an heir to a kingdom. He may have personal experience in how his father, King Suddhodhana, ruled the kingdom. But after renouncing all this and becoming a wandering ascetic and later the Buddha, he should not have an interest in becoming a politically alive person. 

At the beginning of the dialogue, Rev. Ananda clears these doubts in his viewers. He says that the Buddha’s mission was to help people to seek final release from suffering by following the path he has shown. During the Buddha’s time, there were two types of governments in India: absolute monarchies and republics. The rulers of both had paid homage to the Buddha and sought his advice on numerous matters concerning the administration and governance of a state. 

The Buddha’s response has been to lay out an ethical code of governing a state which would help the ruler as well as the ruled. Other than this advisory service, the Buddha did not involve himself in ‘king making’ or ruling a state through a king. This was the practice adopted by his disciples too. Hence, what the Buddha has said about governing a state is an exception to the substance of the main dhamma he has preached. Rev. Ananda says that matters found in Buddhism in running a state should be read in this context.

The Buddha posited evolutionary theory long before Darwin

How has the state come into being? This was a question posed to Rev. Ananda by Rev. Dhammananda. Rev. Ananda drawing on the Aggañña Sutta in the Diga Nikaya (available here) gives a detailed elaboration of how the state and its ruler came into being, according to the Buddha. This is completely in contrast with the accepted wisdom at that time under Vedic beliefs that the state and the ruler were a creation of an almighty god. 

Since the king or the ruler had been created by God and he has derived his powers from God, it was generally accepted that there was nothing wrong in his acting like a god. But the Buddha’s version, according to the above discourse, was that both the state and the king evolved into form over many thousands of years. Some 19 centuries later, Charles Darwin posited the same in his evolutionary theory. 

According to the Buddha, the state as we know of it today evolved after the human beings were evolved. After human beings were evolved from gatherers of rice to cultivators of paddy, there were thefts of paddy by some unruly elements. When this became unbearable and the agriculturists could not spend time to eliminate those thefts, they elected the most suitable person as ‘Maha Sammatha’ or one elected by popular vote to resolve these issues. 

Taxes were the payment for king’s services

As payment for his services, the agriculturists agreed to share a part of their crops with him. This is the origin of the modern-day taxation with only one difference: Those days people shared their crop with Maha Sammatha willingly because they received an equivalent service in return. Therefore, there was no attempt by anyone to evade the payment. But today, it is an involuntary payment and there is no guarantee that an equivalent service is delivered to them by the government. Therefore, there is every incentive for people to evade the payment. 

This ruler was called Maha Sammatha because he was elected by popular vote. Since he worked in the field or kshetra, he belonged to Kshatria caste. When he started adjudicating these issues to the pleasure of people, he was called Raja or people pleasing man. As such, he does not derive powers from God but from people. Therefore, the king is not above other people, but one among them. He has to use those powers justly, independently, and impartially, as being laid down in an ethical code, called the Dhamma. 

But the Buddha did not present it to rulers to intervene in the political affairs of those states, says Rev. Ananda. Those rulers had the habit of paying homage to the Buddha and seeking his views on different aspects of lay life. In answer to those queries, the Buddha came up with the ethical code that was universal at that time and is universal even today. The Buddha and the Sanga who are his disciples were simply advisors to rulers if they sought their advice.

The ruler draws power from people and not from parental heritage

Rev. Ananda’s description of the ruler, according to the Buddha, is very important today. He says that the ruler being the person popularly elected by resorting to the democratic principles of the contemporary society does not enjoy absolute powers. He should rule the state according to the Dhamma or the ethical code and if he breaks those principles, he has no right to remain as the ruler. Quoting another discourse of the Buddha, Chakkavatti Sihanada Sutta (available at: here), Rev. Ananda says that the ruler does not inherit the kingdom as a right from his father. He gets it if he performs the duties of kingship in accordance with the ethical code of the people. This code says that the ruler should apply laws equally to all the people in the state, a principle known as the Rule of Law today. 

The ruler should never apply the law partially, namely one law to his friends and another law to his opponents. This is an inviolable code. Any ruler who violates it is not entitled to be the ruler of that state. But when it is applied to modern Sri Lanka, it is found that there is multitude of laws being applied by the rulers: one rule to family members, another to close associates, a vicious law to enemies etc. What this means is that though Sri Lanka is claimed to be a Buddhist country ruled according to Buddhist principles, in practice, what is being done is exactly the opposite of what the Buddha has taught.

The ruler should follow established laws

The code of ethics which the Buddha has recommended to rulers will help establish a Dharma Rajya or a State governed by fair, just, and impartial laws. According to Rev. Ananda, this code could be found in different discourses. However, all of them can be summarised to four basic principles of fairness, justice, and impartiality as the main functions of a ruler. The important requirement is that these functions should be performed by rulers by following the recommended code of ethics and not by violating the same. In modern language, he should deliver them in accordance with the laws of the country. 

In the first place, the ruler should provide protection to the nation from invasions by foreign elements. Second, within the state, crimes should be properly managed by following laws and not by using illegal methods. This is important for modern-day Philippines and Sri Lanka. 

In the Philippines, the ruler has ordered that drug addicts should be eliminated by killing them openly in streets violating the legal protection available to citizens. In Sri Lanka, it is a common occurrence that those linked to the underworld gangster groups are shot dead by Police when they are taken out to show concealed weapons. Such things cannot happen in the administration of crimes according to the Buddha’s teachings. That is because after arresting a criminal, the ruler and his officials should deal with him in accordance with the accepted code of ethics or established laws. 

The third function of the ruler is to implement economic development measures to improve the material wellbeing of people. The fourth function requires rulers to seek advice from all religious leaders, shramana-brahmana, and not from Buddhist religious leaders only. And what the ruler should inquire from those shramana-brahmana is what is good and what is bad for the proper governing of a state. Rev. Ananda says that this purpose is different from the purpose of visiting religious places by rulers today. Those visits are marred by the need for self-glorification or seeking the help of those in charge of the religious places concerned to wash off one’s dirt. Rev. Ananda says that the religious leaders too have an obligation not to become a yielding hand to those orchestrations of crafty rulers.

Listen to bad advisors and adopt bad economic policies

The Chakkavatti Sihanada Sutta, according to Rev. Ananda, highlights failed economic policies of rulers. In this Sutta, the king finds that his country is marred by a wave of robberies and thefts. His advisors tell him that people resort to such criminal activities because they have no means of living. If funds are supplied to them to start income earning self-employment enterprises, the king is told, that they would stop such activities. 

Taking this advice, the king opens his treasury and distributes free money to robbers to start new enterprises. After some time, the robbers realise that if they commit more robberies and thefts, they can get more money from the king. Therefore, instead of thefts and robberies decreasing, they in fact start rising. Such human behaviour is known in modern economics and ‘moral hazard problem’. It is a bad economic policy implemented by the king consulting bad advisors.

Good advice leads to good economic policies

In the opposite, Kutadanta Sutta (available here) highlights the nature of successful economic policies, according to Rev. Ananda. 

In this Sutta, Brahmin Kutadanta had asked the Buddha how he should perform the sacrifices of animals correctly. The Buddha in reply had narrated the story of King Mahavijita who had reigned a kingdom a long time ago. This king also had wanted to make a great sacrifice of animals to improve the welfare of people. But the sacrifice needed additional money which could be raised only by increasing taxes. When he asked his advisor Brahmin how to raise taxes to perform the great sacrifice, the learned advisor gave the correct advice to the king. He had said that in the kingdom, there had been robbers who had been in the habit of robbing farmers and therefore they are unable to pay additional taxes. Therefore, while tackling the problem of robberies through normal legal means, the king should improve the earnings of the farmers too. 

To do this, the advisor had told the king that he should provide all facilities to farmers like providing them with seeds, fodder for animals and facilities for trading of agricultural products. The public service should be improved by providing foods and higher wages to public servants so that they can deliver these services to farmers and traders efficiently. When people start working hard, the king’s revenue also will increase. There will not be a necessity to perform the big sacrifice because people are now happy with the improved economic conditions. This is a successful economic policy because it targeted not the robbers but the people who are actually at work in the field. It is also based on sound economic advice. 

Overnight organic transformation: Bad advice?

What this means is that rulers should consult good advisors and not bad advisors. Bad advisors will ruin both the state and the ruler. But the good advisors will help the ruler to make the state prosperous, improve the living conditions of people, and establish his power not by coercive laws but by people’s votes. An example of how bad advice can lead to catastrophic results is found in Sri Lanka’s recent attempt at converting its agriculture to organic farming overnight. Had it been implemented over a period with necessary facilities provided to farmers, it would have been a successful economic policy. 

Gilgamesh Problem in Buddha’s teaching

Intervening in the discussion, Rev. Dhammananda had observed that the government and religion should be separate from each other because they have two different objectives. The government should seek to improve the worldly life of people. The goal of the religion is to help people to search for the meaning of life beyond this worldly life. Hence, when the rulers and religious leaders begin to depend on each other, the result will be the establishment of two corrupt institutions, the government and the religious centres. Both will then ruin the lives of people. 

This problem has been referred to as the Gilgamesh Problem by two leading economists, Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson in a recent book titled ‘The Narrow Corridor’. The Gilgamesh Problem refers to 4,200-year-old Sumerian epoch in which the despotic ruler Gilgamesh was violating all principles of human rights for his personal benefits. The citizens who could not bear this injustice any longer complained to their chief deity Anu for redress. Anu’s solution was to create a double of Gilgamesh by the name of Enkidu to counter his every unruly action. 

This is similar to the modern day ‘checks and balances’ introduced to constitutions of nations. But after some time, both Gilgamesh and Enkidu realise that if they get together, they could improve the welfare of both. As a result, instead of helping the people, the solution became a problem. The same Gilgamesh Problem occurs when the religious leaders and religious centres get together to advance their personal goals. 

Citizens should be more informed

Rev. Ananda’s lucid presentation quoting original discourses of the Buddha should be an eye-opener to both the rulers and the citizens alike. The Buddha’s message to rulers had been that they should treat all people, irrespective of their origin, ethnicity, language, caste, or religion, equally and impartially. This is what is lacking in the modern world, including Sri Lanka. But if citizens become more informed, both rulers and religious centres will amend their ways to avoid these pitfalls.

(The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com.)

Sri Lanka: After Gotabaya, the deluge?

Oppositional disarray was one of the logical reasons that made Mahinda Rajapaksa go for an early presidential election in 2014. The potential for a Rajapaksa defeat had been building up slowly, at least from 2011.

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Slip slidin’ away

Slip slidin’ away...” ~ Paul Simon 

No astrologer in Sri Lanka reached such dizzy heights as Sumanadasa Abeygunawardane. He predicted for the Rajapaksas the future they wanted and was rewarded with power and riches at public expense. 

When the ‘royal astrologer’ foretold that the next half century would belong to the Rajapaksas and that Mahinda Rajapaksa, after a fourth and perhaps even a fifth term, will be succeeded by a son or a brother, he was reinterpreting in cosmic terms the reality the Rajapaksas were creating on the ground. The prediction made soon after winning the Eelam War was the first hint of the coming of the 18th Amendment. 

The 2015 defeat derailed this dynastic project but didn’t destroy it. The journey resumed with renewed vigour with Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s spectacular victory at the 2019 presidential election. It seemed as if the Rajapaksa dynasty was here to stay for a long time, just as Sumanadasa Abeygunawardane had predicted.  

During the run up to the presidential election, Basil Rajapaksa, in semi-jocular vein, referred to older brother Gotabaya as a terminator (of corruption). Terminator seems the most fitting political sobriquet for President Gotabaya. A trail of ruins would be his presidential legacy. The most consequential amongst them may well be the Rajapaksa dynastic project. 

President Gotabaya seems to be occupying a Sri Lanka in a parallel universe, a land rapidly moving not towards economic bankruptcy, institutional dysfunction, and social collapse but prosperity and splendour. Brothers Mahinda and Basil would be more in touch with reality, more cognizant of how close to disaster the familial project is. If they have any consolation in these hard times, it would be the chaos in the oppositional space.

Oppositional disarray was one of the logical reasons that made Mahinda Rajapaksa go for an early presidential election in 2014. The potential for a Rajapaksa defeat had been building up slowly, at least from 2011. But it became a reality only after the fractious opposition gathered into a broad anti-Rajapaksa front. This oppositional coalescence provided the stage on which mounting economic woes and dissent within the governing coalition could develop into a massive electoral defeat for the Rajapaksas. 

Today Sri Lanka is facing an economic collapse unprecedented in her modern history. Cracks are forming within governing coalition from top to bottom. In the latest in a string of grassroots level defeats, the UNP ousted the SLPP to gain power in the Lahugala Pradesheeya Sabha. At the heights of their unpopularity in late 2014/early 2015, the Rajapaksas were objects of fear. Today they are objects of hate and ridicule.

The situation is propitious. Oppositional unity is the only missing ingredient. 

The of 2015-2019: the need for an honest assessment

Mahinda Rajapaksa, unlike brother Gotabaya, is believed to have the pulse of the people. That does not stop him from indulging his outrageous whims in a distastefully insensitive manner, as the recent trip to Tirupathi in a private jet demonstrates. 

Had this private jet incident happened during the previous Rajapaksa rule, the story would have had a stillbirth or succumbed to infanticide. Traditional media had been silenced and alternate spaces hemmed in with legal and illegal measures (such as the banning of several websites, including the Colombo Telegraph). The illegal (and thuggish) impeachment of the chief justice and subsequent cooption of the upper judiciary rendered any relief via courts a near impossibility. The Rajapaksas enjoyed total impunity. 

Perhaps Mahinda Rajapaksa too occupies a slightly different reality, not a parallel universe, but the past. Perhaps he thought he could junket in a private jet with total impunity because the story would never become public knowledge. But thanks to the vibrancy in the alternate media spaces, the story exploded, forcing the Rajapaksas to scramble for excuses and explanations. 

Most of the constitutional and institutional achievements of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration have been rolled back. But the psycho-political ones remain and have expanded. One example suffices. During the first Rajapaksa rule, no cartoonist dared to draw Gotabaya Rajapaksa. When a newspaper made a harmless quip about his wife, the editor was summoned to the CID and the subeditor responsible for the funny caption interdicted. While Defence Secretary Rajapaksa was a no-go zone for humorists, President Rajapaksa has become their daily fare. The Rajapaksa defeat and their years out of power freed minds and stiffened backs. The radical break between 2015 and 2019 is the reason for today’s vibrancy of alternate media, especially social media.

The Rajapaksas’ ham-handed attempts to silence critics are boomeranging. When villagers of Meemure complained to a You Tube channel about officials not implementing promises made by President Gotabaya during his Gama samaga pilisandara (Conversation with Village), the police were sent to question them. That attempt to cow the villagers into silence bloomed into another news story, this time about Rajapaksa intolerance and repression. According to the internet, there is to be a police inquiry about the ‘hooting- incident’ outside the milk powder outlet in Jubilee Post. If the inquiry is actually held, its sole achievement would be to confirm that irate customers queuing for the milk powder queue did hoot at the president. 

Most of this vocal expression of dissent, this derisive laughter would have been possible if the 2015-2019 democratic hiatus did not happen,

Recently, President Gotabaya complained that the opposition speaks as if it was never in government. He has a point. The attempt to create a Chinese wall between the opposition of today and the years of 2015-2019 is both unrealistic and unintelligent. Even at its very worst, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration was far better than the Gotabaya-Mahinda-Basil-Namal rule. It would make more sense to come up with an honest assessment of the previous administration, owning its successes, admitting its failures, and explaining what concrete measures would be taken to evade the errors and build on the achievements.

Currently, the Southern opposition is busy turning itself into a ‘circular firing squad’ (a phrase coined by Barack Obama). The reason is its obsession with a presidential election which will not be held until late 2024. No thought is being given to the possibility of using intervening non-national elections to weaken the Rajapaksas regime beyond the point of recovery. After all, the Rajapaksas’ not-so-stellar performance at PC polls provided one of the earliest hints about their growing electoral vulnerability. This was particularly evident in its squeaky victory at the Uva PC poll, thanks to an energetic campaign by Harin Fernando and the UNP. Today’s opposition has a far greater chance of giving the Rajapaksas a serious drubbing in a PC or LG poll, provided its various components can find some common ground. This is impossible so long as various leading figures of the Southern opposition remain obsessed with the presidential election.

The Rajapaksas have lost the floating voter, but their base remains, attached to the ruling family by the glue of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism and minority-hatred. While the floating voters have abandoned the Rajapaksas, they have not embraced any opposition party in sufficient numbers. A segment may back some oppositional candidate at the next presidential election. Many may abstain, driving down the turnout. A low poll may decide the election in Rajapaksa favour.  

Opportunities and dangers

The Gotabaya-Mahinda-Basil-Namal rule has almost unmoored the system. The unthinkable has become normal every day realities. The exceptionality of this regime-failure is creating unprecedented opportunities for transformative change. 

Take the presidential system, or rather its quasi-monarchical version that operates here. The disaster that is the Gotabaya presidency is the clearest possible warning of the danger of placing unlimited and untrammelled power in the hands of one individual. Lankan presidential system was created not to fulfil a national need but to satisfy the long held ambitions of one individual. JR Jayewardene’s boast about lacking the power only to effect a sex change was indicative of the hubristic infantilism that would drive him error to crime and back in an unending vicious cycle. 

Now is the time to renew the discussion about the presidential system, to initiate a rational dialogue about a system of governance that is suited to national needs rather than to the ambitions and vanities of individual politicians. 

Gotabaya Rajapaksa tries to blame all his failures on the pandemic. But the original sin of his regime was his disastrous tax policy. His tax cutting fiesta caused massive erosion in the tax base between 2019 and 2020. For example, replacement of the compulsory PAYE tax with a voluntary APIT system led to a 42.2% decrease in the direct tax base while increasing of the registration threshold for VAT caused a 71.8% decline in the indirect tax base (https://publicfinance.lk/en/topics/erosion-of-the-tax-base-a-33-5-decline-in-registered-taxpayers-from-2019-to-2020-1638797962). If the seminal role played by this tax policy in the subsequent disasters is not understood, the necessary corrective measures would not be instituted even by a post-Rajapaksa administration. 

Pulling Sri Lanka out of the economic morass of Rajapaksa creation would entail massive burdens, whether we go to the IMF or not. A critical question is how these burdens should be apportioned. Or to put it another way, who would be forced to gulp the bitter core of the pill and who would make off with the sweet coating. This would be determined to a large extent on where and how income increases and cost cutting happen. 

For example, how should a post-Rajapaksa administration rebuild the tax base denuded by the Rajapaksas? Should the easy way out be taken, by relying mostly on indirect taxes? Or should a future government address the difficult challenge of creating a more just tax regimen by lessening the extreme imbalance between direct and indirect taxes? In cost cutting where should the axe fall most? If the defence budget is left untouched or allowed to grow, if the mania for showy infrastructure projects (with their potential for huge kickbacks) continues, the cuts will have to come from areas such as education and health etc.  

If the already overtaxed low income owners are burdened still further, how will that impact on political stability? If critical social spending is slashed in order to keep the bloated military budget intact, how would that impact on educational and health prospects of future generations?   

Martin Luther King once warned about politicians who feed their constituents with “the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism” (https://www.vogue.com/article/roy-moore-martin-luther-king-this-week-washington). As a number of recent incidents (from holding the state Wesak festival in Kuragala to the tragicomic affair of the ‘church bomb – the police initially offered a ‘Muslim mastermind’ and are now blaming a retired physician of catholic faith) indicate, the Rajapaksas will rely on the race card to stay in power. 

The racist vote is not a canard. These are ordinary Sinhala-Buddhists who do not necessarily gain anything material from Rajapaksa rule. They still remain loyal to the Rajapaksas, because their true aim is a Sri Lanka where the minorities are kept down, literally. They are the Lankan equivalents of Make America Great Again crowd. This constituency is a global phenomenon. They hark back to an imaginary golden past, when the country was made in their own preferred image. This constituency is unhappy with democracy, prefers a strong leader, a king or a Hitler.

This constituency cannot be won over by pandering so Sinhala-Buddhist supremascism. As long as Mahinda Rajapaksa is living, it will stay with the Rajapaksas. Post-Mahinda, this constituency is likely to fracture. Some will stay with the remaining Rajapkasas. The more ideological others will seek extra-racist alternatives. It is from this segment the impulse and drive for coup solutions will emerge. 

Just as a post-Rajapaksa future (assuming that the opposition can cease drawing daggers against each other until the Rajapaksas are really gone) presents unprecedented opportunities it also contains equally unprecedented dangers. If the opposition fails to provide a viable alternative to the Rajapaksas before and after polls, it may open the flood gates to a truly elemental force that is more extremist and intolerant than even the Rajapaksas.

My Reading on President’s Policy Statement

The President's policy statement has nothing to show that he regrets the past. It has nothing to show he welcomes a reconciliatory future. He enumerates what he has done so far, which have not saved this Country from facing bankruptcy.

by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran M.P.

Much was expected by way of reconciliatory statements from the President vis- a- vis the Tamils. Only advice we got from him was "Forget your people! Come and join me to do development work".

2022 years ago a person who died on the cross said certain prophetic words- "Man does not live by bread alone" he said. The President wants us to leave our kith and kin, leave those who voted for us, leave those who are awaiting their freedom from Sinhala hegemony in the North and East, leave those who have lost their lands to Government Departments and the  Armed Forces and join him to take bread to our people! He thinks the 3000 years of culture and civilization of the Tamils of the North and East of Sri Lanka could be purchased by bread alone. He thinks if the Tamils are forced to live within an occupied territory, if they are deprived of even the existing feeble political rights, if they are sufficiently terrorized, if they are stifled and starved, the Tamils would sell their birthright to a pot of porridge! Maybe the lack of political experience is showing on His Excellency!

His policy statement has nothing to show that he regrets the past. It has nothing to show he welcomes a reconciliatory future. He enumerates what he has done so far, which have not saved this Country from facing bankruptcy. He has not even a word of thanks for those who have come forward to help the Country at this critical hour. Maybe he felt a word of thanks to anyone other than those of Huaren descent might irk the latter. While the President and his ilk have been terrorizing the minorities in this Country he seems to be himself terrorized by thoughts of Huaren wrath!

Let me state here and now that the World acknowledges the fact and so too, many educated and concerned Sri Lankans among the Sinhalese, that Sri Lanka faces today the unprecedented state of affairs bordering on the brink of bankruptcy due to the unresolved ethnic problem. Nearly a fifth of the Country’s wealth is utilized even today for so-called security and to pamper the Military. The Thirty Years’ War was due to the reluctance on the part of our majoritarian leaders to resolve the ethnic problem. But the President refuses to accept that this Country faces an ethnic problem and identifies that the Tamils face an economic problem only. He is like the proverbial cat which closes its eyes and believes the World is in darkness! His inability or refusal to identify the existing ethnic contradictions signals the  fact  that peace and prosperity would be far-fetched dreams in this Country for many years to come. Even a College student would know that this Country suffers today due to the unresolved ethnic contradictions. But the President believes by giving some economic sops, the Tamil speaking people of the North and East would be satisfied.

If there is an existing political problem the most prudent, positive and scientific way would be to identify the problem, study it closely, find out why it cropped up and find an appropriate solution to it. Our beloved President refuses to identify an existing gigantic ethnic problem staring on his face and seeks a solution to a non- existing ethnic economic problem. In this Country the majority  community as well as the minority communities both suffer due to the wrong economic policies pursued by successive governments up to now. The Tamil speaking who are the majority in the North and East suffer as much or more as the Sinhalese and others economically.  But they are steadfastly eager for the resolution of their political problem which the President refuses to acknowledge. This does not augur well for the future of this Country.

There is no doubt that from the time of Independence the Tamil speaking People of this Country have been suffering. Land grabbing in the North and East from even before Independence, disenfranchisement of a segment of Tamils who contributed to the prosperity of this Country, foisting of the Sinhala language in areas which had a very miniscule presence of Sinhalese in 1956, militarization of the North when the Tamil speaking people agitated against discriminatory laws, standardization in higher education to prevent Tamils entering higher echelons of education, staging of successive pogroms which killed and maimed many a Tamil including infants brutally killed and women raped which sent their kith and kin abroad seeking better pastures, have all been transgressions committed by successive Sinhala majority governments in terms of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC).The genocide in Mullivaikal was a continuation of this process. 

Still such offences are being perpetrated in the North and East. Land grabbing by Government Departments with help from the Military without conforming to proper land acquisition procedures in terms of the Law, expropriation of Resources  of the North and East  through agents and hirelings, displacement of Tamils from their areas of traditional occupation and settlement of People from outside the North and East in those areas, depriving our fishermen from earning their livelihood in their traditional areas, holding over 65000  acres of State land in the Northern Province to house a massive Military in the area, are all contrary to the provisions of these two Covenants. Many such activities still continue. Not wanting to recognize all these activities, calling upon us the Representatives of the Tamils to join him in furthering economic activities only go to prove that these high handed activities are certainly going to continue in the North and East.  Maybe with renewed vigour and vitality.

I call upon the International Community including India to take note of this state of affairs. The President calling upon the elected representatives of the Tamils to sink their ideological differences to join him in economic activities, raises many suspicions. 

Our People have suffered greater economic difficulties in the past during and after the War. Yet none of us relegated our political aspirations a second place and promoted economic regeneration as our primary concern. Even during the past 12 years our People have elected a majority of representatives who stood for their political rights. But not recognizing the aspirations of our people the President has asked us to jettison our political claims and join him in economic activities. In other words he wants us to act contrary to the aspirations of our People.

We know the economic problems of our People. We know where this Country is heading economically due to the wrong economic policies of the past. We are already exhorting our People to work with self -reliance towards self -sufficiency in their needs. 

But if the Government genuinely cares for our People and introduces economic projects beneficial to them we would no doubt cooperate with the Government to help implement their projects beneficial to our People. But let not the President believe that any one of us would forget the political aspirations of our people and play ball with him to commit treachery upon our People.

Let me end by saying that the President cannot for long close his eyes with regard to the urgency to bring about reconciliation among the various communities in this Island.

If the President and his government are going to be serious in ushering in a period of peace and reconciliation, first and foremost they should 

1. Immediately halt all actions and activities that are being systematically 

undertaken by the Archaeological department, Forest department and Wild Life department and some other departments with the sole objective of destroying the ethnic and cultural character and demographic composition of the Northern and Eastern provinces and thereby prevaricate and re – write history. 

2. Abrogate the much abused Prevention of Terrorism Act.

3. Free all Tamil speaking political prisoners presently behind bars under the provisions of the draconian PTA.

These are the inescapable pre – requisites for any meaningful reconciliation programme that could precede any constitutional process to draw up a new federal constitution for our ‘Democratic Socialist Republic’.

Justice C.V.Wigneswaran, Member of Parliament, Jaffna District


The 5G Issue and Responsibility for Aviation Safety

Principles of State responsibility from a general context, and the various theories appurtenant thereto, which doubtless apply to the subject addressed in this article, have been addressed in some detail elsewhere

by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne in Montreal

When in doubt, hold your altitude; nobody ever collided with the sky.

The Issue

On 19 January 2022 AT&T and Verizon started turning on their 5G service around the United States using newly acquired wireless spectrum in what's known as the C-band, thereby sparking a conflict of interest between the providers and the State. 5G is the next generation of wireless service, which is expected to increase network speeds and make them more responsive.

On the one hand the providers were interested in activating the 5G high-speed networks for their customers as the two telecom giants had reportedly spent $67 billion (collectively)  on C-Band licenses and had planned to launch new 5G service in early January  in many U.S. cities.  On the other hand, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – the United States regulator - warned that signals from telecom towers could interfere with key equipment in airplanes: “Because the proposed 5G deployment involves a new combination of power levels, frequencies, proximity to flight operations, and other factors, the FAA will need to impose restrictions on flight operations using certain types of radar altimeter equipment close to antennas in 5G networks”.

One media report stated: “At issue has been the possibility of interference with aircraft radio altimeters, which operate on the high end of the C-Band frequency. The altimeters measure the distance between a plane and the ground and are crucial for landing in low-visibility conditions like heavy fog, snow and rain and at airports near physical hazards like mountains or bodies of water”. A radio altimeter, or radar altimeter, is used to measure the distance from the aircraft to the terrain directly beneath it. It is used primarily during instrument approach and low level or night flight below 2500 feet. The radio altimeter supplies the primary altitude information for landing decision height. It incorporates an adjustable altitude bug that creates a visual or aural warning to the pilot when the aircraft reaches that altitude. Typically, the pilot will abort a landing if the decision height is reached and the runway is not visible.

Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, writing in Forbes says: “on December 30, Airlines for America, a trade group representing the airline industry, filed an emergency petition asking regulators to temporarily block the deployment. The petition cited an airworthiness directive issued earlier this month by the FAA, which deemed it unsafe to rely on cockpit safety systems in the presence of 5G transmitters in the C-Band. The agency warned that the 5G rollout would cause major inconveniences for the flying public. “These limitations could prevent dispatch of flights to certain locations with low visibility and could also result in flight diversions.”

It was reported that there was significant concern on the part of airlines operating into the United States: “the signals could disrupt aircraft altimeters used for landing in poor visibility, major international airlines, including Emirates, Japan Airlines and ANA, started canceling flights involving Boeing-made planes to several major US airports”.  This action would have resulted in more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers being subjected to cancellations, diversions, or delays.

CNN reported that in 2020 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) had warned: "[A]ny failures or interruptions of [radar altimeters] can ... lead to incidents with catastrophic outcome, potentially resulting in multiple fatalities." The airlines affected claimed that Europe had successfully obviated the problem of interference to aircraft equipment caused by 5G installations and that this approach could have easily been replicated in the United States. AT&T, with Verizon concurring, said: “We are frustrated by the FAA's inability to do what nearly 40 countries have done, which is to safely deploy 5G technology without disrupting aviation services, and we urge it to do so in a timely manner." The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – responsible for the safety of aviation in 31 European countries - had said : “The technical data received from EU manufacturers offers no conclusive evidence for immediate safety concerns at this time. At this time, EASA is not aware of any in-service incidents caused by 5G interference."

The matter stabilized somewhat, when on 20 January FAA approved 78% of the U.S. commercial aircraft fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G in the C-band. “The 13 cleared altimeters are found on a variety of commercial aircraft, including eight Boeing and eight Airbus models, as well as some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets”.

The Responsibility

One has to begin with international treaty.  Article 28 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) devolves responsibility on the State to provide inter alia in its territory, airports, radio services, meteorological services, and other air navigation facilities to facilitate international air navigation, as well as to adopt and put into operation the appropriate standard systems of communications procedure, codes, markings, signals, lighting and other operational practices and rules. Annex 15 to the Chicago Convention (Aeronautical Information) provides that  each State has to provide an Aeronautical Information Service (AIS) which will ensure that aeronautical data and aeronautical information necessary for the safety, regularity or efficiency of air navigation are made available in a form suitable for the operational requirements of the air traffic management (ATM) community, including: those involved in flight operations, including flight crews, flight planning and flight simulators; and the air traffic services unit responsible for flight information service and the services responsible for pre-flight information.

Annex 10 to the Chicago Convention (Aeronautical Telecommunications) in Volume I, provides an international Standard on the ground and flight testing of radio navigation aids.

 The Annex divides aeronautical telecommunication services into four areas: aeronautical fixed service; aeronautical mobile service; aeronautical radio navigation service; and aeronautical broadcasting service . Standard 2.6 of the Annex is on interference and provides that before authorizing tests and experiments in any station, each administration, in order to avoid harmful interference, is required to prescribe the taking of all possible precautions, such as the choice of frequency and of time, and the reduction or, if possible, the suppression of radiation. Any harmful interference resulting from tests and experiments are required to be eliminated as soon as possible.  Standard 5.4 of the Annex stipulates that the station addressed by an aircraft being subjected to an act of interference (of whatever nature), or first station acknowledging a call from such aircraft, are obligated to render all possible assistance, including notification of appropriate air traffic services units as well as any other station, agency, or person able to facilitate the flight.

Principles of State responsibility from a general context, and the various theories appurtenant thereto, which doubtless apply to the subject addressed in this article, have been addressed in some detail elsewhere (for instance, in the author’s article on exogenous interference with air navigation appearing in Air & Space Law). Article 28 of the Chicago Convention and the two Annexes discussed above) places responsibility squarely on the State to provide air navigation services, including radio and meteorological services.  Therefore, safety of air transport must remain the ultimate responsibility of the State concerned and should not be compromised by political or other considerations.