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Saudi regime likely to formalize ties with Israel

During President Biden’s visit to Middle East this month

by Latheef Farook

Autocratic and oppressive Saudi regime, not the people, is likely to formalize its age old secret ties with Israel during United States President Joe Biden’s forthcoming visit to Middle East between July 13 and 16.

This is not something unexpected of Saudi Arabia which has been having close ties with Israel for long and had been participating in all US-European and Israeli wars against Muslim countries. Implementing US-European and Israeli agenda Saudi itself waged wars on Muslim countries killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and destroying their infrastructure.

However formalizing ties with Israel is bound to have unpredictable consequences. Because Saudi Arabia, as the land of Islam, is loved by Muslims worldwide. However the House of Saud, installed in power by former British Imperial Power and Zionists in the aftermath of World War 1, remains the most oppressive regime does not represent Islam.  

Recognizing Israel which occupies Jerusalem, Islam’s third most important holy city, and it’s never ending atrocities on Palestinians, bound to have serious repercussions.  Formalizing ties with Israel is the price that the House of Saud will be paying for removing its isolation in the global scene ever since Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed.  

Khashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered by a group of Saudi agents inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.In 2019, a UN investigation concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was a “premeditated extrajudicial execution”

 In march this year the Prince Salman killed 81 people in a single mass execution .The deaths provide a glimpse at what Saudi justice looks like, in complete violation of Islam,   now that Prince Salman has been emboldened by Western governments that have failed to hold him accountable for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as well as numerous other crimes and abuses.

Saudi officials completed the mass execution privately, and its refusal to allow aggrieved families to bury their loved ones speaks volumes about the absolute power and fear with which MBS intends to rule the country when he becomes king.   

According to a BBC report by Raffi Berg, when Joe Biden was campaigning for the presidency in 2019, he vowed to make Saudi Arabia "the pariah that they are" for killing Jamal Khashoggi.   

US intelligence agencies concluded that   Prince Salman had approved an operation to kill Khashoggi.  Soon after Mr Biden took office, the White House said the new president intended to "recalibrate" the relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Since then Saudi regime has been isolated . Saudi regime has agreed to formalize its relations with Israel in return to come out of its isolation. Getting Saudi regime to formalize ties with Israel will be a great achievement for Biden- a strong supporter of Zionism and Israel. 

As a prelude to coming out of his isolation Prince Salman recently visited Egypt at the beginning of a regional tour which also took him to Jordan and Turkey.  A Turkish court closed the case into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on 17 June, 2022 five days before Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Ankara.

However Khashoggi’s fiancée  Hatice Cengiz  said Prince Salman is still a murderer. 

 According to London based Middle East Eye “.The crown prince would offer full normalization with Israel, and in return, he would expect Washington to commit its military resources to defend Saudi Arabia. 

One important variable is lost in this difficult equation: namely, long-lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, who continue to exert grassroots pressure on Israel while paying a high price in human lives lost under occupation.   

Meanwhile Madawi al-Rasheed,   a British citizen of Saudi origin and   a Visiting Professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science had this to state;

 Saudi Arabia is using normalization with Israel as a bargaining chip to regain its privileged position in Washington. With the war in Ukraine and rising global energy prices, Crown Prince Salman is engaged in negotiations from a position of economic strength, but political and military weakness.

Recent news about serious,  secretive high-level talks with Israeli officials suggests it is only a matter of time before Saudi Arabia officially announces the success of these discussions, possibly during the expected visit of US President Joe Biden to Riyadh .

Saudi Arabia has a great deal of economic leverage in this situation. Amid fuel shortages and rising oil prices, the crown prince is capitalizing on Saudi Arabia’s much-needed oil resources.  Bin Salman knows that oil can be used as a weapon to put pressure on the Biden administration to rehabilitate his own image and reverse the policy of selective engagement, without giving him full recognition in Washington. 

 Stream of propaganda

Saudi Arabia’s normalization with Israel can be the prize to appease critical US voices that have pressured Biden to boycott the crown prince as punishment for his many reckless policies and abuse of human rights, including the war on Yemen and the authorization of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Israel is no doubt helping to rehabilitate the crown prince’s image, as its far-right think tanks and lobbies in Washington have increased their propaganda with a view to improving bin Salman’s image. It is ironic that Israel is now Saudi Arabia’s greatest propagandist in Washington.  

Bin Salman never misses an opportunity to remind his domestic and international audiences that he does not object to normalization with Israel.

In reality, it is impossible to independently assess Saudi public opinion on the matter, given the level of repression faced by those who transgress or criticize bin Salman’s policies. In this regard, Biden’s visit to Riyadh may be a crucial symbolic gesture; in return for more oil, the crown prince wants Biden to end speculation over his own future among a divided royal family. 

Militarily, the crown prince also remains very weak without the US, which has historically responded to Saudi Arabia’s military vulnerabilities with ad hoc support, rather than a long-term security pact.    

'We feel betrayed': Activists say Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia is a breach of values.US president can still leverage his visit and call for reforms in the kingdom, activists and rights groups say

 Meanwhile in a June 3  article  New York based columnist Umar A Farooq had this to state; Saudi activists and rights groups have condemned the upcoming visit of  President Joe Biden to Saudi Arabia, saying the president is betraying his values by meeting with Crown Prince  Salman, who has been accused of rights abuses including murder, torture and the killing of civilians in the Yemen war.

Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic who is also the son of jailed Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda, said he and other Saudi activists felt "betrayed by Biden”. “President Biden came into office promising accountability for the crown prince's reign of terror. But with one fell swoop, Biden is gambling all hope of justice for MBS's countless victims like my father," Alaoudh told Middle East Eye.

"It was salt in the wound when Trump bragged about 'saving [MBS’s] @$$.’ But how is Biden any better if he kisses the ring of this murderer, this torturer, this war criminal and autocrat?

"If Biden gives him the US meeting MBS so desperately wants, the bloody handshake will send a clear message to tyrants everywhere: you can always count on America to betray its values and reward bad behavior."

The Project on Middle East Democracy said on Twitter that the planned visit "is a slap in the face to activists, dissidents, women human rights defenders, journalists, & everyday citizens - in Saudi and abroad - who have been imprisoned, disappeared, and murdered". 

The Enemy is at The Gates in Bangladesh

 Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not sit by and do nothing. Stand up and be counted, speak up against evil and speak out against evil people and their sinful deeds.

by Anwar A. Khan

We demand knockout punishment by the Bangladesh government for those bestial sub-humans.

Some so-called Muslims made a mighty onslaught from 2012 to the middle of 2022 to our hard-earned ‘secularism’ in 1971 by which we graved the two-nation theory of 1947 in Bangladesh. During this period of time, the mayhem and carnage carried out against the Hindu community in Bangladesh is deplorable and outrageous.

File Photo

It seems that humanity and earth are doomed.

But beneath the surface something very positive is happening. The mass awakening of humanity has increased because of these enormous violations of human rights and lockdown that allowed people to reflect on and research topics that they wouldn’t usually do.

Having keen interest about the third-rater felons - Jamaat-e-Islami since my boyhood, I visit the holy places by choice on a regular basis to assess their actual activities and I am compelled to say these are all hellish creatures – so-called Muslims, sub-humans – anti-Islamists – anti-humanity and so on. In other words, they are nothing, but the worst criminals. They teach their students according to their own constructed religion to become the violent terrorists to implement their own so-called agenda in Bangladesh.

But Bangladesh was created in 1971 for people of all religions or sects of religions to live to together in peace and harmony, and I had been to the battle field in 1971 for the same purpose, but these perpetrators are now combat-ready to annihilate people of other religions or sects of religions who want to live with us to together in serenity and concordance.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), the mass-murderers of 1971, is the wealthiest business organisation in Bangladesh. It has many killing squads under so many fictitious names which are working under the cloak-and-dagger of NGOs. Hefajat-e-Islam is one of the murdering progenies of JeI which uses the name of our holy religion – Islam to allure people to come to their flexure to make Bangladesh, once again, with so many public places of execution of our people, as they did to us in 1971. 

Pakistan’s horrendous killing outfit ISI has got a very strong ties with JeI to carry-out dreadful activities using Islam to destabilize Bangladesh according to their volition to impose their own and deceitful brand of Islam on us which shall have to be sent to the outfall at a far-off grime place.

Pakistan High Commission (PHC) in Dhaka is also involved in all badly activities in collusion with JeI in Bangladesh. PHC is the den of ISI and JeI. Bangladesh government should immediately put PHC + ISI under their strong scanner to catch those malefactors to face virile punishment.

The government should also break-down their money channels, confiscate all their properties and take full control of their business entities to block up these perpetrators eternally.

In the spectral realm, we are all at war and the enemy is fierce. Reality is that our enemy, the devil, is a formidable one. We had so many years of experience in tempting, destroying and taking people out of our presence.

But as big as our enemy is, we are even bigger. Because of what we did on the cross for us, we now share in its victory and can fight the enemy with a determination to win. We fight for us and equip us to win.

In times of battle for the just cause, temptation, accusation, deception and condemnation, we must equip us with our kind words to fight against the forces of evil and push back the plans of the enemy. 

He who dwells in the shelter of the highest will abide in the shadow of humane Bangladesh which we attained in 1971. Our refuge and our fortress are our country in whom we must trust. For that glorious Bangladesh of 1971 will deliver us from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. It will cover us with its pinions, and under its wings we will find refuge; its faithfulness is a shield and buckler. We will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.

Put on the whole armor of the 1971 Bangladesh, that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For, we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the religious bigotries, against the communal forces, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the anti-Bangladesh liberation forces of evil in the country.

Be watchful. Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

So much of the history of the struggle between good and evil can be explained by Edmund Burke's observation. Time and again those who profess to be good seem to clearly outnumber those who are evil, yet those who are evil seem to prevail far too often. Seldom is it the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good men and women are willing to stand up and fight for what they know to be right. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in country after country including Bangladesh.

We have no chance to stand idle by and mere spectators. The evil forces sit on the sidelines instead of actively participating and working for the good. If good wins, they join in the celebration though they did nothing to produce the victory. If evil wins, they will complain long and loud though their own apathy helped produce the undesirable result.

When good men and women do nothing, evil triumphs. Evil, sin and sinful men and women must be opposed.  People must command those who are good, not just to avoid evil, but actively oppose it.

We are to not only to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but also reprove them.  Those who do nothing about sin and evil, help the sin and evil to prevail. One who is silent when there are those around him in sin becomes a partaker with them.

The silence of the people speaks volumes of their indecisiveness and inaction. Their failure to stand up, speak up and speak out permitted wicked and evil people like anti-Bangladesh liberation forces to run rampant.

Those who are not actively and vigorously fighting against evil are helping evil to triumph.

Today, there are preachers who fail and refuse to meet the real foe, refute error and fight the enemy. Instead, they have turned to viciously savaging their own people. They are filled with bitterness and hatred and they maliciously attack, slander and misrepresent people of other religions.

While the conduct of some so-called Muslims is shameful, what about those supposedly good people who do nothing? Those stand on the other side and do nothing, but watch as their brothers and sisters of other religions are being slandered, slaughtered and devoured, they cease being innocent bystanders and idle spectators. Their failure to act not only allows evil to triumph, but makes them just as guilty as the spiritual cannibals they refuse to reprove and rebuke. 

Do not allow evil to triumph. Do not sit by and do nothing. Stand up and be counted, speak up against evil and speak out against evil people and their sinful deeds.

It’s time to rise up and stand up against these evil and communal forces – anti-Bangladesh liberation forces.

Bangladesh believes itself exceptional, the greatest and noblest nation ever to exist because of its long-standing struggles for upright cause, a lone champion standing between the capital of democracy and the terrorists, barbarians, and other enemies within and outside the country. One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error. I propose to take our countrymen's claims of Bangladesh’s exceptionalism seriously, which is to say I propose subjecting our country to an exceptional moral standard. 

This is difficult because there exists, all around us, an apparatus urging us to accept Bangladesh’s innocence at face value and not to inquire too much. And it is so easy to look away, to live with the fruits of our history and to ignore the great evil done to us using the name of Islam.

The world in which we live would benefit greatly if men and women everywhere would exercise the pure love of people to people, which is kind, meek, and lowly. It is without envy or pride. It is selfless because it seeks nothing in return. It does not countenance evil or ill will, nor rejoice in iniquity; it has no place for bigotry, hatred, or violence. It refuses to condone ridicule, vulgarity, abuse, or ostracism. It encourages diverse people to live together in Bangladesh’s love regardless of religious belief, race, nationality, financial standing, education, or culture.

Standing up for what's right is always the best thing to do. Transformed people transform the culture while standing boldly against evil.

As long as someone remains standing with a noble heart, there will always be a way for good to triumph over evil.

Bangladesh is best when we are actually standing up to evil in our world. And when the morally reprehensible axis of ISI-Jamaat-Hefazat-Jamaat-e-BNP, make no mistake about it, is an evil in the world of Bangladesh.

We are standing face to face with the barbarians. The enemy is no longer outside but inside the country and paralysed, is incapable of spotting the real enemies. It stammers, overcome by its own moral disarmament, and is giving up: this is the time to seize the reins. Present society is an accomplice to the evil that is devouring it.

Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.

We have lost too much, but we have not lost everything. And we have certainly not lost Bangladesh, for we will stand with you – people of all religions or sects of religions for as many tomorrows as it takes.

-The End –

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

Sri Lanka: These Putrid Consciousless Buggers Live Happily Ever After

But people are asking, when will this Gang of Four robbers be held accountable for their irresponsible decisions?

by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Most living in Sri Lanka feel like they have got into the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali. The ferocious punches thrown regularly are taking their toll, with most either on their knees or on the canvas. The final punch that will knock us out seems inevitable, but the question is when?

The pounding started initially with queues to buy milk powder for children, which then got extended to buying cooking gas, then to long power cuts, and now to queues extending several kilometres to buy petrol, diesel, and kerosene. Along the journey of suffering, we have also been penalized with hyperinflation. The saying “it never rains but it pours” seems so accurate.

The country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe of a magnitude not previously experienced. Most foreign commentators say, “Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since 1948.” In a release, the World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization, stated, “An estimated 4.9 million people – 22 per cent of the population – are currently food-insecure and require humanitarian assistance. Reduced domestic agricultural production, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the local currency have caused food shortages and a spike in the cost of living, which is limiting people’s access to healthy and affordable meals. The economic crisis will push families into hunger and poverty – some for the first time – adding to the half a million people who the World Bank estimates have fallen below the poverty line because of the pandemic.”

The latest WFP assessment reveals that 86 per cent of families are buying cheaper, less nutritious food, eating less and, in some cases, skipping meals altogether. Before the economic crisis and the pandemic, malnutrition rates across Sri Lanka were already high. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan women and children suffered from far higher rates of malnutrition than most other middle-income countries: 17 per cent of children aged under five were too short because of stunting, and 15 per cent were too thin for their height (wasted). The current economic crisis will likely aggravate this further.”

The peaceful uprising, predominantly by the youth referred to as the “Aragalaya”, and the violence that erupted on May 9 resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Thankfully, quite a few unsavoury characters are no longer in the cabinet and have remained mainly underground, although a few are making occasional media appearances to test the waters. A few less savoury but still abject failures of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime have managed to get back into the cabinet. It is a paradox that a person who led his party to political oblivion and lost his seat is now the Prime Minister. So much for the will of the people!

However, my article is about the architects of our economic Armageddon. In a previous article, I identified them as Nivard Cabraal , P B Jayasundera , S.R. Attygalle and W D Lakshman and referred to them as the Gang of Four (G4). I have consistently advocated for the G4 to be charged and prosecuted for their actions that I would call criminal.

I am glad that recently a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition has been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) seeking appropriate action against those responsible for the prevailing economic crisis in the country, including the G4. One must hope that the SC will commence hearing the case on a priority basis and arrive at a verdict as soon as possible because most people I talk to say, “These fellows should be taken to Galle Face and be mercilessly whipped!” Although I don’t subscribe such drastic action, I understand their anger.

A few weeks back, the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) called the G4 for a hearing to ascertain the reasons for the economic collapse. Unfortunately, I have not been able to view the entire proceedings of the hearing as only a 15-minute video is available on YouTube. In that clip, Nandalal Weerasinghe, the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in an apparent snide remark aimed at Attygalle, said, “Responsible Government officials should refrain from engaging in politics and that the difference between a politician and an official should be properly recognized.”

It must be recalled that Attygalle was appointed as the Treasury Secretary in haste by the Mahinda Rajapaksa(MR) administration during the short-lived constitutional crisis in 2018. Some will also remember how MR immediately appointed Kapila Chandrasena as the CEO of SriLankan Airlines but had to quickly rescind the appointment due to public backlash. It was only subsequently revealed that Chandrasena’s wife had been paid US $ 2 million by Airbus as a bribe.

The belief is that many of the appointments made by MR appear to have been based on friendship and loyalty as opposed to competence. Therefore, it might be difficult for Attygalle to convince too many that he is not politically aligned with the Rajapaksas.

When questioned about the tax cuts that resulted in a significant loss of revenue to the government, Attygalle said that due to the commencement of the covid pandemic, it was not possible to pass judgment on whether the experiment of reducing taxes was correct. However, it does not need an Einstein to predict that a country grappling with a chronic budget deficit and a balance of payments crisis would get into severe economic difficulties due to such irresponsible decisions.

I highlighted my concern over several of the tax proposals in an article written by me called “Sri Lanka’s Tax Conundrum” published in the Sunday Island of January 12, 2020. Although I am no economist, my two and half decades of working in Sri Lanka, mainly as a Chief Financial Officer in several hotels, manufacturing and retail businesses, have given me sufficient knowledge and exposure to raise concerns.

The tax cuts entailed the reduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 8% from 15%, reduction of corporate tax for manufacturing companies to 18% from 28%, abolishing the 2.5% Nation Building Tax, the increase in the taxable supply threshold for VAT from Rs. 12 million to Rs. 300 million, the increase in single-person tax-free allowance to Rs. 3 million from Rs. 1.2 million together with significant widening of tax slabs and reduction of rates resulting in the highest rate coming down to 18% from 24%.

All these changes were done with no projection of how much tax revenue will be lost. Neither was there any comment about how the government intended to bridge the revenue deficit. It was all so reckless and irresponsible.

The international credit rating agency, Fitch Ratings, reacted immediately and, in a release, stated that tax concessions granted are “credit negative” and revised the outlook on Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to Negative from Stable.

These agencies are independent and skilled in their assessments. However, our Treasury Secretary (Attygalle) and the Central Bank Governor (Lakshman) released statements sharply rebuking the Fitch statement. In fact, in a TV chat show, he accused the international credit agencies of being politically biased and being part of an international conspiracy against GOSL! Furthermore, every subsequent downgrade of our credit ratings drew a sharp rebuke from Attygalle, Lakshman and Cabraal, questioning the motives of such downgrades.

For those of us who had engaged credit rating agencies on behalf of the companies we worked for, such criticisms were not valid and were downright stupid. Given the critical role that international rating agencies play, commonsense dictated that even if there is disagreement, there was a need for a far more diplomatic engagement and consensus building than releasing strongly worded rebukes and questioning their motives. The arrogance and the stupidity of the G4 are stunning.

In addition, in their infinite wisdom, the GOSL also decided that the PAYE tax at source previously collected from employers and Withholding Tax (WHT) from interest income paid by banks and financial institutions to individuals should be abolished. To say that this was a stupid and irresponsible decision is being polite.

In my article of January 12, 2020, I published a table from the Department of Inland Revenue Performance Report for 2018 setting out statistics of low compliance by businesses and individuals when filing their tax returns from 2013-14. I stated, “In such a scenario, expecting individuals to be compliant with their tax returns and payment of quarterly tax is being optimistic.”

I believe the architect of the above changes was none other than PBJ. When he was the Treasury Secretary during the period 2010 – 15, at many private sector forums, he said, “I have told the IRD to stop worrying about collecting PAYE taxes as the collection is so small.” However, he also stated, “If government servants are exempt from income tax, why should the private sector employees pay tax?” The end result was that many of us had our income tax files closed by the IRD, which was way back in 2011!

The decision to print money under both Lakshman and Cabraal led a former deputy governor of the CBSL to state that “Lakshman has turned the CBSL to a printing press.” It is believed that the G4 and others in charge of economic policy were disciples of the highly controversial Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Many independent economists raised concerns and predicted that such action would lead to hyperinflation. Abraal arrogantly refuted these concerns.

The Island of April 27, 2021 quotes Cabraal as follows “State Minister of Money and Capital Markets Ajith Nivard Cabraal said yesterday that there was no relationship between money printing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the depreciation of the local rupee in the foreign currency market. Minister Cabraal commented while responding to questions during an interview on Swarnawahini television. When asked whether the value of the Sri Lanka rupee showed a negative correlation to a surge in money printing by the Central Bank as the Opposition claimed, the state minister replied, “Generally, people say it may be because they don’t know. The issue is when those that claim to be in the know of these matters also say the same thing.”

The G4 also pursued a policy of keeping interest rates well below the inflation rate. This was purported to encourage borrowing. This ludicrous policy resulted in depositors being able to negotiate higher rates for their US Dollar deposits than for their LKR deposits! One of the first actions of the new Governor was to increase the treasury bill interest rates significantly. It is a tried and tested formula to raise interest rates to curtail demand and reduce inflation. Currently, the world over, nearly all central banks have resorted to this policy. It seems that G4 are the only exception.

The decision to peg the Lankan Rupee to the US Dollar at 200 for a considerable period against the advice of many independent economists and bankers has had a debilitating impact on our economy. Undoubtedly, this has resulted in a burgeoning black/ grey market where the rate differential was significant. In addition, this has led to a substantial decrease in the receipt of remittances by Sri Lankans working overseas and also by exporters who may be keeping the funds overseas in anticipation of a devaluation. We all are fully aware of the pain now endured by a lack of dollars in the country.

Having held on to the US Dollar to LKR 200 for too long, the Monetary Board under the chairmanship of Cabraal recklessly let go of the peg resulting in a steep depreciation of the LKR by nearly 80% over just two months. This was despite the IMF’s explicit warning that any peg relaxing needs to be done carefully and systematically. A couple of members of the former monetary board have stated that Cabraal unilaterally decided to abandon the peg. This is being disputed by him, claiming that it was a collective decision. Whether it was collective or unilateral, Cabraal needs to bear complete responsibility for this reckless decision that has upended the lives of millions of our people. Lastly, I must say that my personal opinion is that the members of the Monetary Board who objected to the policy decisions of Cabraal should have resigned and made their reasons public at the time. To claim that to have resigned would have been cowardly is unacceptable.

Cabraal has recently released several public statements in which he has attempted to exonerate himself. He has stated that even now, the exchange rate is being pegged, and money is still being printed. Yes, no doubt. However, the damage done in the last two years is so immense that it is impossible to stop the rot immediately. As the saying goes, it is like riding a tiger and not being able to get off. That is the country’s predicament.

I believe the COPF meeting ended with another scheduled follow-up meeting. There has been no news of any further deliberations involving the G4. I doubt whether anything of value emanates from these deliberations. In the last couple of months, the Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) reviews, Chaired by Professor Charita Herath, have made headlines over how poorly the state-owned enterprises are being administered and managed. However, for me, they are just theatrics as most such disclosures have been included in the Auditor General’s reports of such enterprises and have been in the public domain for quite some time. It is just that no one bothered to read such reports.

Undoubtedly, the G4 need to be charged and prosecuted for bringing this country and its people to its knees. Our lifestyle has been taken back several decades. As stated in the WFP report, millions of our people will starve and be malnourished. The youth of our country, referred to as the future, do not see any future, and most are in a mad scramble to leave the country.

The President, PM and the Cabinet are equally responsible for this dastardly state of affairs. Still, for me, the G4 bears the greater responsibility in that, as so-called experts, they failed, and their failure is due to sheer arrogance and their reckless decision to experiment with the lives of millions of people.

For me, the comment made by MP M A Sumanthiran when addressing the G4 at the COPF meeting is relevant in meting out punishment to those responsible for the current situation in our country. He said, “The former minister of finance Mangala Samaraweera, who was a fashion designer and not an economist, predicted in October 2019 that the tax proposals of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as set out in his manifesto would result in an express train to bankruptcy, default and a Greek-style financial crisis.” He rebuked the G4, saying that their so-called expertise in economic management could not foresee what a fashion designer was able to!

That is precisely my conclusion too. This is a man-made disaster, and it is a travesty of justice that those responsible are still not behind bars whilst the people of this country are on their knees.

Sri Lanka: What is Course of Action in the Moment of Need?

The government is unable to offer fresh ideas, or present an alternative course of action, as it struggles to survive politically, rather than reform economically.

by Ram Manikkalingam

The social and political uprising is currently stuck. President Gotabaya’s appointment of Ranil Wickremasinghe as Prime Minister (PM) has enabled the President to continue to stay in office, while shifting responsibility and pressure onto the new PM. Meanwhile, the economic crisis is intensifying, as Sri Lanka has run out of money to pay for food, fuel and medicines. This economic crisis can either lead to a petering out of the protests – as day-to-day needs take precedence in people’s lives over protests – or it can lead to the rallying of protesters and more pressure on the government.

International financial institutions (IFI) and bilateral lenders have expressed willingness to help the government, but they are holding back. They believe the government is neither stable nor capable. Indeed, depending on how you count it, this is the third or fourth government we have had in the past couple of months. With only one seat in parliament – his own – it is hard to see how the current Prime Minister can be anything other than a stopgap measure by the party of the President to cling to power.  Even if this government lasts, it would be too weak to carry out the stringent economic reforms that the IFIs are likely to impose on Sri Lanka.

The government will also be unable to offer fresh ideas, or present an alternative course of action, as it struggles to survive politically, rather than reform economically. Caught between the economic pressure of IFIs and lenders, and the political pressure of the protesters, the government is likely to cave into the former rather than the latter. This is because the former will only demand economic changes, while the latter will also demand political ones. The President and his party have demonstrated that they would rather wield political power over a weak economy, than live without political power in a strong economy. This tactic will, however, only aggravate the crisis, as a government considered corrupt and illegitimate by the people begins to impose austerity measures that lead to hunger, a loss of livelihoods and an increase in inequality. This not only risks an economic catastrophe, but also a political one, if social unrest erupts and the government resorts to coercion to control it.

There are currently piecemeal efforts at addressing these challenges scattered amongst the protesters, parliament and the president. Protests continue on a daily basis in Colombo and across the island. These protests call for Gotabaya Rajapaksa to go home. Most are independently organised involving students, professional associations and neighbourhoods. Some are linked to political parties like the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP), and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). Meanwhile, the parties in parliament are pursuing a watered down version of constitutional reform, with minimal changes to the current president’s powers.

While the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are pressing for more substantive changes, the President’s party (the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna – SLPP) is using its overwhelming majority in parliament to scupper these efforts. These political manoeuvres prove the very point of the protests, that the current institutional set-up is stacked against any kind of serious reform effort. Finally, the President is engaged in negotiations on debt restructuring with the IMF and seeking a moratorium on its payments to other lenders. He has hired legal and financial advisers to help the government deal with it.

The challenge is to link these three disparate processes together, and use the social protests, the economic pressure and the political momentum to enact serious reform. As long as Sri Lanka has a weak and unstable government, no foreign government is going to assist Sri Lanka. And Sri Lanka will continue to have a weak and unstable government as long as there is no political reform.

The challenges to political and economic reform

There are three challenges to uniting the different efforts for change. First, the protesters are publicly refusing to talk to parliamentarians on the grounds that all politicians are corrupt. While this is a good rallying cry to generate opposition, the reality is more complex. Moreover, such a position makes it hard to create institutional change, since it is these institutions, whether we like it or not, that enjoy international legitimacy and official recognition. Privately some of the protesters have evinced interest in engaging with political leaders. It is important to find a way for the protesters to enter a dialogue with key parliamentarians. This is critical to bring pressure to bear over parliament to enact serious constitutional reform.

Second, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa must resign from office.  It is the only way he can salvage any legacy he may have. If he announces a deadline of six months, this will shift the political reform conversation in a positive direction. It will also enable him to fulfil his ambition of not leaving as a failure, but as someone who has put Sri Lanka on the path to reform. Most importantly, from his point of view, it will enable him to play a role in future reform, rather than simply act as an obstacle to such efforts.

Finally, the IFIs – the IMF in particular – are caught in a bind. They are restricted to placing economic conditions on a country. But economic reform cannot be effective in Sri Lanka, without political reform. They can clearly see that Sri Lanka’s travails are directly linked to the political hold one family has had over the country. They will have to address this issue if economic reforms are to stick. To do this they must press for anti-corruption measures, taxation of illicit income, and a reduction of wasteful public expenditure.

The challenge in the coming period will be to combine political pressure from the protesters, institutional pressure from parliament and financial pressure from IFIs to enact political reform.

Next steps

Form a “Shadow Government” that includes political parties, social movements and professional associations. This shadow government should have leaders from all sectors. It can build on the Westminister tradition of a “shadow cabinet”, but rather than limit this cabinet to parliament, those seeking substantive reform can broaden the base of the “shadow government” by including key social and professional leaders. The shadow government can put out practical programmes in key areas, such as finance, education, defence, agriculture and health, among others. These programmes should provide constructive criticisms of the government’s plans and where there are no such plans, provide draft plans. The SJB, TNA and the JVP can initiate the formation of such a “Shadow Government”.

Reach a Social and Political Agreement that includes social protesters, political leaders and members of parliament to pressure the government into real political and economic reform. This would include agreeing to work on economic restructuring, ethnic co-existence and political reform. While the social protests and the parliamentary opposition have expressed their views in multiple fora, they have yet to come together to do so in a coherent and cogent position that includes steps that the country as a whole must take. Leaders in the protest movement and key members of parliament who have the trust of the people, can work together to come with such a social and political agreement.

Form joint committees of citizen’s groups, political groups and MPs to engage the international community, friendly governments, international lenders and the IMF in a discussion on debt restructuring and economic reform. These committees can also come together to form a Standing Committee on the Economic crisis (SCEC) to act as a crisis centre to present plans and ideas in the short, medium and longer to address the economic crisis and ensure humanitarian assistance to Sri Lankans struggling to survive.

The above steps can take place in parallel and converge at a later point.  They do not have to be sequential, but can re-enforce each other as they are taken.  Membership in these different processes can overlap, but need not be identical. This would permit a broad coalition of activists, political leaders and professionals to come together to provide a more just and decent future for all Sri Lankans. 

(The author is a Visiting Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam)

A Woman’s Right to Terminate Her Pregnancy

In the absence of scientific agreement on the viability of a fetus, the question remains whether abortion should be a matter of public morality or private morality.

by Ruwantissa Abeyratne in Montreal

“I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born.” ― Ronald Reagan

Up until recently, the decision handed down by the United States Supreme Court nearly fifty years ago in Roe v. Wade stood - that State governments did not have the power to criminalize abortions.  A few weeks ago, the same court decided that, whether to criminalize abortions or not should be the purview of individual States.

Roe v. Wade was the result of an appeal lodged in 1969 and pleaded before the Supreme Court by 25-year and single woman, Norma McCorvey, who appeared before the Court as "Jane Roe", challenging abortion laws in Texas that prohibited abortions on the ground that abortions were unconstitutional, except in cases where the mother's life was in danger. Henry Wade, the district attorney for Dallas County defended the anti-abortion laws of Texas before the Supreme Court.

Ms McCorvey who was pregnant with her third child alleged that she had been raped and the applicable laws in State effectively precluded her from procuring an abortion, forcing her to give birth. But the case was rejected and she was forced to give birth.

The Supreme Court heard the appeal in 1973 where Ms. McCorvey and a 20-year-old woman from the State of Georgia argued that abortion laws in Texas and Georgia did not comport with the United States Constitution as they infringed a woman's right to privacy.

In the recent decision overruling Roe, Justice Samuel Alito is reported to have conveyed the decision on behalf of the Majority : “ Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences”.

The right to an abortion has been polarized as a political issue in the United States unlike in other countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, where the former has taken a similar pro-choice approach but under the overarching principle that decision making was left to individual State legislatures.

The latest ruling by the Supreme Court, giving States the authority to prohibit abortions, has generated an outcry throughout the world in Europe, far away Australia and elsewhere in the world. In the United States pro-choice advocates  are spread throughout States as the decision overruling Roe encouraged thirteen states which already had "trigger laws" that come into effect upon Roe v Wade being overturned. There are other States that have retained old laws which  banned abortion prior to 1973 on their books and these laws could be revived and enter into force.

Amnesty International is reported to have said : “People will be forced to give birth. They’ll be forced to seek unsafe abortions. This is the outcome of a decades-long campaign to control the bodies of women, girls, and people who can become pregnant”. Former President Barack Obama is reported to have reacted against the decision saying the Supreme Court: “"relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues—attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans”.

The opposite view is reflected in former Vice President Mike Pence’s words : “By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has given the American people a new beginning for life and I commend the Justices in the majority for having the courage of their convictions."

 The Supreme Court has overruled its own decisions several times in history, one example being the striking down of segregation laws in the 1953 decision handed down in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education which obviated segregation in schools. That having been said, when courts follow precedent at common law (judge made law) it gives governance and the Rule of Law a sense of predictability and infuses confidence and a sense of stability in the people.  The complaint against the latest decision overruling Roe is that the Judiciary has taken the United States 50 years back, as one protester said: “50 years ago the right given to my mother has been taken away from me and from my children”.

Leaving philosophy and ethics aside, a basic look at the debate brings to bear two incontrovertible truths. On the pro-choice side of the argument, no one can deny that women have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies. On the pro-life side it is implicitly claimed that this is mere casuistry as another human life is involved which no one can tamper with or terminate. Any such interference and termination of pregnancy would be tantamount to murder.  In both points of view, the debate  boils down to two words – fetal viability.  In other words, the ability of a fetus to survive outside the uterus.

In their article in Encyclopedia of Forensic and Legal Medicine (Second Edition), 2016 P. LefèvreF. BeauthierJ.-P. Beauthier, say “[I]t is generally accepted that a 28-week-old fetus that doesn't need resuscitation is viable. However, according to WHO, fetal viability is possible after 20 weeks of fetal life (22 weeks of amenorrhea). Anthropometrical characteristics as well as clinical parameters of fetal age estimation are of high importance”. On the other hand, G H Breborowicz   in his article Limits of fetal viability and its enhancement says: “there is, at the present time, no worldwide, uniform gestational age that defines viability. Viability is not an intrinsic property of the fetus because viability should be understood in terms of both biological and technological factors”. 

In another view published in The New York Times on 28 November 2021 Adam Liptak, in his article Fetal Viability, Long an Abortion Dividing Line, Faces a Supreme Court Test says: “Fetal viability is generally considered to begin at 23 or 24 weeks gestational age: by 23 weeks, 55% of infants survive preterm birth, while approximately 60–70% survive by 24 weeks”.

Admittedly, women face grave logistical problems in having to travel, at great expense,  from a place which criminalizes abortion to a more liberal place which allows abortion often across states which are hundreds of miles apart, and from country to country. In many instances, abortion is only provided in private clinics where most cannot afford to procure an abortion.

There is an interesting socio-economic theory formulated by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in their book Freakonomics: “So how did Roe v. Wade help trigger, a generation later, the greatest crime drop in history? As far as crime is concerned, it turns out that not all children are born equal. Not even close. Decades of studies have shown that a child born into an adverse family environment is far more likely than other children to become a criminal. And the millions of women most likely to have an abortion in the wake of Roe v. Wade – poor, unmarried, and teenage mothers for whom illegal abortions had been too expensive or too hard to get  - were often models of adversity. They were the very women whose children, if born would have been much more likely than average to become criminals”.

In the United States in particular, polarizing the abortion debate has largely been the purview of conservatives and liberals where the former is pro-life, and the latter is pro-choice. Professor Michael Sandel of Harvard University opines: “Notwithstanding their claim to be neutral on the moral status of the fetus, liberals … cannot defend the right to abortion without implicitly denying that the fetus is a person”.

The bottom line in this debate is whether the issue is one for public moral discourse or individual moral discourse: whether the decision of a majority of nine Justices of the Supreme can be imposed on an entire country.  In other words, whether deciding on whether abortion should be allowed or not should be based on there being a public moral legal responsibility on the State or the judiciary.  In the absence of scientific agreement on the viability of a fetus, the question remains whether abortion should be a matter of public morality or private morality.

Do not allow your lands to remain fallow

 We need to change the direction of the present crisis to our benefit.

by Justice C.V.Wigneswaran

Two days ago a woman aged about 30 years was seen fallen on the road close to my residence here in Nallur.  An elderly lady saw this and immediately brought it to the notice of my Police Security. Initially those around her including this elderly lady gave water & something to eat to revive her. They brought her to my residence. On inquiring we were told she was married, her husband was blind in one eye and he was unemployed. They had a one and a half year old child. She had set out to find employment that day. She had not eaten anything that morning. She had fainted. We helped her with adequate provisions and sent her home. 

The elderly lady had spent all the money in her purse amounting to Rs.300/= on this woman. The fact that people around an affected fallen person came forward to jointly help her, speaks well of our people.

But this type of unfortunate incidents could happen more and more in the future. Thefts and robberies may increase. Especialy cycle thefts would take place in a big way.

Therefore there is an urgency on our part to plan for the future. Who is responsible for the present crisis, how they should be punished, how we could ease our long term financial impasse are questions to be relegated to the backseat and how we should solve the difficulties our people face today should be the question that should come over to the forefront. 

We need to change the direction of the present crisis to our benefit. Already in 2018 our party had identified self rule, self reliance and self sufficiency as our goals. In politics we were to agitate for self rule, socially and individually we advised people to act from the standpoint of self reliance and economically we were to work towards self sufficiency. While working towards self rule politically, we decided to induce our people to stand on their own feet and work with self confidence and self reliance. We are requesting our people to reach self sufficiency economically in the North and East working with self confidence. What we said then is what all Parties are now repeating. 

We Tamils have a heritage, a culture and history of our own. Poetess Auwaiyar said “Not to step into the garden of those who do not respect us, is worth a crore”. Thus it is a sheer waste of time to respect the Sinhala Governments who do not respect us and expect them to help us. We need to learn to protect us and nourish us ourselves. We should be ashamed to hold begging bowls before others. We should learn to respect our own selves and act with self reliance. 

To be self reliant is to have faith in our selves and make or obtain all what we need ourselves. During the time of the Tigers we were self reliant. After the war we have got used to holding the begging bowl before others. The culture of today is to expect everything from others. What will the government give us, what will the NGOs give us, what will the Donors give us, what will the Diaspora provide us are our expectations. It is sad that generally we do not think how we should improve our lot ourselves.

If you ask me how I am viewing our present predicament I would say we all stand perplexed and immobile today. But we must come out of this stupor to engage ourselves in self reliant activities. We must allow the adverse circumstances that have engulfed us to make us think and act with self confidence towards success. We need to learn to act unitedly. For example four neighbours could fill their vehicles with fuel individually but each could take turns to give the other three lift in their vehicle thus saving fuel and building up camaraderie among neighbours.

Our youth of today, males and females, must learn not to waste their precious times but think of ways and means to discover or invent new gadgets and things. We must try to improve our organic fertilizers to get a yield of our crops comparable to those yielded by inorganic fertilizers. We could research into alternative and cheaper modes of travel and transport. 

Necessity is the mother of invention. We have many a need today. How to fulfill our several needs using newer and modern means should be our concern. We must stop blaming the government and others for our adverse circumstances and start thinking as to how we should meet the challenges that have beset us.

I would therefore say I view our present situation as a God given opportunity to improve ourselves. As far as we are concerned we have built home gardens, we have planted on the excess land surrounding our office area and we have taken land on lease to cultivate many crops. Several months would elapse before our conditions improve. Therefore we must act now with determination to avert hunger, famine and diseases in the near future.

Do not allow your lands to remain fallow. Plant on them! Borrow from Banks even to convert your bare lands into fertile lands that provide succour to us. 

Let me pray that the present impasse do help us to engage ourselves to work for self rule, self reliance and self sufficiency.

Justice C.V.Wigneswaran is Member of Parliament representing the Jaffna District