Back to 500BC.
Two Nations-Hot- News
Charity Organizationsjoin us enabling the poorest of the poor toimprove their own lives
join us enabling the poorest of the poor toimprove their own lives
Friday, December 15, 2017
By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne-2017-12-14
We hear the noise from all sides that politicians are corrupt and all are bandits of one kind or the other. The explanation is that is the nature of the game. Politics is a game played by corrupt elements. It is as simple as that. The telling line is this: 'Power consists of making others play your version of their reality'.
Accordingly all politicians are automatically in a trap. One is not free to break out of this; hence they all become corrupt – that is the end of history. However, in this country in the past there were politicians who did not rob in any way, but spent their own money to serve the policies of their Government. This was true for all kinds of politicians; liberals, conservatives and Samasamajists. Even the most conservative politician did not take public money for private expenditure. Today things have changed. Now, one has to subjugate others so that others play the game as you wish. Even the moral law of end justifies the means cannot be applied. Because this definition of power can have applications outside the classical associations of power, i.e. the State, the military, use of force, visible subjugation and hierarchies. Authoritarianism is not only about keeping people out of decision-making processes, imposing arbitrary laws and creating and forcing people to practise a culture of impunity. There is also a soft and non-intrusive kind of control which persuades a different kind of inhabitation, claiming that is the cultured way of living.
However, is it not false to say that there is no god or a vile set of big bad men out there plotting the dimensions of common living, but society does get structured in ways that are more likely to produce the outcomes preferred by the powerful? The structures as well as those located in arm-twisting positions within them, not only define the parameters of resistance for the most part, but act in a fascistic manner arousing racism and religious sectarianism. Of course rupture is not impossible, but remains to be done by positive intervention. While laws and guns can obtain obedience, the more insidious instruments of subjugation are those which are so 'goes-without-saying' that few will even question why or how they came-without-saying. There are hidden appreciations and assumptions that creep in. It is also called taking things for granted, in the worst sense of that term.
We inhabit realities which we believe or are led to believe are not only unchangeable but are proper or at least the best they could be. Or do not we throw our hands up in aristocratic resignation, convincing ourselves that even our best efforts would not change anything; because they come from heroic ancestors. I am not saying that all conformities are enslaving; a certain code of ethics, for example, can be necessary, one could argue, to maintain 'social coherence and keeping separation and break up', out.
A conscious choice
It would be quite alright if it was a conscious choice, but for the most part people are ill-informed and less given to reflecting on the 'things-as-they-are'. It is one thing to make sure one doesn't step on tyranny's foot because one knows the consequences.
But it is quite another to give that foot a wide berth because 'that's-how-it-should-be'. If one takes some time to analyze the last 100 acts, i.e. from the expression that materialized on face at a given moment to choice of sari and the use of certain words to address others, one will know that we inhabit 'rule-universes' as though it was second nature to do so in the ways we do.
Not all authoritarians and dictators arrive with a big placard and comprehensive communications. Nor do they come with a campaign claiming tyranny and demanding acquiescence on this account. The use of one word instead of another, the choice of voice over silence or vice versa in specific moments, the preference for this friend's company and not that of that friend's, none of these things are totally innocent although we might brush such claims off as 'nonsense'. The most pernicious of tyrannies are not those which we do not have the strength to resist but those which we embrace on account of ignorance and greed for higher connections. While laws and guns can obtain obedience, the more insidious instruments of subjugation are those which are so goes-without-saying that few will even question why or how they came-without-saying.
It is also called taking things for granted, in the worst sense of that term. We inhabit realities which we believe or are led to believe are not only unchangeable but are proper or at least the best they could be. Or we throw our hands up in resignation, convincing ourselves that even our best efforts would not change anything. Let us repeat. Not all authoritarians arrive with a big placard and a comprehensive communications campaign claiming tyranny and demanding acquiescence on this account. The use of one word instead of another, the choice of voice over silence or vice versa in specific moments, the preference for this friend's company and not that of that friend's, none of these things are totally innocent although we might brush such claims off as 'nonsense'.
The most pernicious of tyrannies are not those which we do not have the strength to overthrow, but those which we embrace on account of ignorance and fear of heritage.
By C. A. Chandraprema-December 14, 2017, 9:45 pm
The decision to accede to the Optional Protocol of the International Convention against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was taken by the yahapalana Cabinet on 14 November 2017. The decision was implemented soon afterward on 5 December and it will come into force from 4 January 2018. Despite the gross inefficiency that this government has demonstrated in the day-to-day running of this country, they have demonstrated incredible in efficiency in implementing anything that gives the Western powers a handle over Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. The latest move made in this regard is acceding to the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture. In order to understand why acceding to the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture is inimical to Sri Lanka one has to understand what the Convention against Torture is about.
Bottom of form
The International Convention against Torture has the undeniably laudable objective of preventing torture which is defined as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him information or a confession or punishing him for an act he has committed or is suspected of having committed." Who can object to such a laudable objective? However, the Convention against Torture restricts its application only to State actors and to public and military officials. No non state actors are affected by its provisions. This is a serious limitation in a country like Sri Lanka, which has had terrorists groups controlling parts of the country and significant parts of the population. The Convention against Torture has the effect of acting as a stricture on the armed forces while the terrorists were exempt from its application.
In this era of terrorism one would think that the most effective way of preventing torture would be to make the International Convention Against Torture applicable to anybody who has another person in his power – regardless of whether the person exercising power is a state actor or not. Ideally, the Convention Against Torture should apply even to a plane hijacker who has people in his power even for a few hours. What happens because of lopsided laws like the Convention Against Torture is that the armed forces of the State will get hauled up for the graver offence of torture while a terrorist who does the same or worse will get hauled up if at all, only for a lesser offence like ‘assault’ and that too only in instances when crude physical torture has been used. Physical torture that leaves no marks or psychological torture by terrorists will never even make it to a charge sheet.
Under the provisions of the Convention against Torture, every member state is required to make torture a separate criminal office which will apply only to the police and armed forces and other forces of the state. To make things worse, the Convention specifically states that "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be cited in mitigation of any violations. Furthermore, the provisions of the Convention against Torture give foreign countries that are member states of the Convention the power to arrest former or serving state officers suspected of committing torture in any other member state. What this means is that officers of the state will be hunted not only by their own government but the governments of foreign countries as well whereas terrorists will not be hunted either in Sri Lanka or overseas for committing torture.
Torture is never used
Acolytes of Pottu Amman can never be brought to justice under the provisions of the Convention against Torture. Sri Lanka acceded to the Convention against Torture in January 1994 at the tail end of the UNP government. Sri Lanka should never have acceded to this Convention at that moment in time. However, the unfortunate reality is that most nations sign these international conventions without thinking through their implications properly. The most celebrated instance in this regard is the 1998 arrest of the former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet under the provisions of the Convention against Torture to which Chile had acceded to in 1987 when he was in power.
The substantive requirements of the Convention against Torture are fairly pedestrian and are matters that any civilised society and especially a democracy will practice as a matter of course without having to enter into an international convention. The parties to this Convention are required to ensure that all civil and military public officials having custody of persons be educated about the prohibition on torture, and to keep under systematic review interrogation rules, and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any arrest, detention or imprisonment, to investigate any complaints of torture, and to ensure that the complainants are not intimidated and that the legal system provides redress to victims of torture as an enforceable right and finally that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in legal proceedings. One could loosely say that such provisions were in operation in the Sri Lankan legal system one way or another even before the Convention against Torture was signed. The Convention against Torture also envisages the setting up of a Committee against Torture made up of representatives of member states to investigate allegations of torture in member states. All member states are required to co-operate in such investigations. The Committee may designate one or more of its members to make a confidential inquiry and to report back to the Committee and this may entail a visit to the country concerned. Once the Committee has completed the inquiry, their findings and their observations will be submitted to the state party concerned. The proceedings will be confidential and the Committee will include a summary of its findings in their annual report only with the agreement of the member state concerned.
There are two important provisions in the Convention against Torture to which Sri Lanka has mercifully not acceded. A member state has the option of declaring that it recognizes the competence of the Committee against Torture to receive and consider communications by one member state that another member state is not fulfilling its obligations under this Convention. Fortunately, Sri Lanka had not acceded to this provision which would have given foreign countries a direct handle over Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Acceding to this particular provision would have enabled a foreign state to write directly to SL saying that there are allegations that SL is not fulfilling its obligations under this Convention and SL will be obliged to explain things to that foreign country. If the foreign country is not satisfied with the answer provided by SL, it can take the matter before the Committee against Torture and the Committee in turn can set up an ad hoc conciliation commission to resolve the matter.
Any dispute between two or more member states concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention which cannot be settled through negotiation shall, be submitted to arbitration. If the arbitration does not work the next step is to take it to the International Court of Justice!
Hogtying law enforcement
One can only imagine what would have happened between 1994 and 2009 if SL had acceded to this provision. There is a similar provision where a member state has the option to declare that it recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from individuals in member states who claim to be victims of torture. In such instances the member state would have to submit an explanation to the Committee and the Committee in turn can convey its views to the member state concerned. Though there is a proviso saying that the Committee can consider such communications only if the individual concerned has exhausted all available domestic remedies, there was an exception to this rule which said that the Committee can consider such applications if the remedies are ‘unreasonably prolonged’ or ‘unlikely to bring effective relief to the person concerned’. Had Sri Lanka acceded to this provision in 1994, the LTTE would have been able to bind the armed forces hand and foot with complaints to the Committee against Torture.
The potential negative effects of the Convention Against Torture were mitigated to some extent by the fact that the SL government did not make the two declarations mentioned above which would have enabled other countries to sit in judgement over Sri Lanka and for individuals in Sri Lanka to be able to make complaints directly to the Committee Against Torture. The enabling legislation passed at the end of 1994 to make the provisions of the Convention against Torture applicable in Sri Lanka were also more realistic than the Convention itself. Act No: 22 of 1994 made torture a separate non-bailable criminal offence punishable with a prison sentence of between 7 to 10 years and a fine. Most importantly, its application was not restricted to officers of the state but to citizens of Sri Lanka and non-citizens who are within the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka. The enabling Act also provided for the extradition of a foreigner suspected of committing torture outside the jurisdiction of Sri Lanka to his own country or another country asking for his extradition etc. The question now is what the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to which Sri Lanka has just acceded requires us to do. The primary objective of the Optional Protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. For this purpose, a Subcommittee of the Committee against Torture is to be established. Each member state is also expected to set up at the domestic level one or more national preventive mechanisms. The members of the Subcommittee of the Committee against Torture will serve not as representatives of their countries but in their individual capacity to ensure independence. Members of this Subcommittee will visit member states and make recommendations to the relevant governments. They are also supposed to maintain direct, and if necessary confidential, contact with the national preventive mechanisms and offer them training and technical assistance.
Member states that accede to the Optional Protocol are expected to give the Subcommittee access to places of detention and provide unrestricted access to all information concerning the number of persons deprived of their liberty and the places of detention and unrestricted access to all information referring to the treatment of those persons as well as their conditions of detention; as well as the opportunity to have private interviews with the persons deprived of their liberty without witnesses, as well as with any other person who the Subcommittee on Prevention believes may supply relevant information. Furthermore, the Subcommittee is to have the liberty to choose the places it wants to visit and the persons it wants to interview. Objection to a visit to a particular place of detention may be made only on urgent and compelling grounds of national defence, public safety, natural disaster or serious disorder in the place to be visited that temporarily prevent the carrying out of such a visit.
Unrestricted access for foreign powers
The existence of a declared state of emergency as such shall not be invoked by a State Party as a reason to object to a visit. No authority or official shall order, apply, permit or tolerate any sanction against any person or organization for having communicated to the Subcommittee on Prevention or to its delegates any information, whether true or false. The Subcommittee will communicate its recommendations and observations confidentially to the State Party and, if relevant, to the national preventive mechanism. If a member state refuses to cooperate with the Subcommittee the Committee against Torture may, make a public statement on the matter or publish it in the report of the Subcommittee on Prevention.
The national mechanisms that are to be set up under the Optional Protocol have to be granted functional independence and the necessary resources by the member states. These national mechanisms are to have unrestricted access to places of detention and information and exercise all the powers the international Subcommittee is entitled to. Moreover, the national mechanisms are to have the right to have unrestricted contacts with the Subcommittee of the Committee on Torture, to send it information and to meet with it and no sanctions can be applied to anybody who provides information, whether true or false to the national mechanism. Thus by acceding to this Optional Protocol, what we have done is to agree to give a body functioning under the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner unrestricted access to all places of detention in Sri Lanka and to provide them with all such information regardless of the situation prevailing in the country and to set up local mechanisms which can maintain direct links with the international Subcommittee and feed information to foreign parties without any restriction.
The question is whether we need foreign parties to be nosing around in Sri Lanka and maintaining fifth columns in this country at this point in time? The hasty accession to this Optional Protocol shows that if these foreign powers are unable to get in through the front door, they will enter through a window or even a chink in the roof. A special fund set up within the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights of the UN finances the activities of the Subcommittee of the Committee on Torture. This special fund is financed through ‘voluntary contributions’ made by governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Western governments provide funding to UN bodies that is tied to particular projects. Needless to say the Sri Lankan project will receive plenty of funds. This is the first physical intrusion into Sri Lanka that the foreign powers have managed to make since the yahapalana government came into power.
Previous attempts to bring in foreign judges, investigators and prosecutors fell by the wayside due to stiff public opposition. The attempt to use the Office of Missing Persons as an entry point also failed because the provision that would have given the OMP unrestricted power to enter into agreements with foreign parties was dropped also due to public opposition. Now the government has signed this Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to give their foreign masters an opportunity to intervene directly in Sri Lanka.
Featured image courtesy Reporters Sans Frontieres
Under the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 and 2015, government brutality and censorship towards the media in Sri Lanka reached new levels. This was to the extent that in the Reporters Without Borders’ Index of Press Freedom it was ranked 165 out of 170 countries in 2015 (up from 115 in 2005) of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. Furthermore, in 2014 the island was declared the fourth most dangerous country in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ global index of journalists murdered with impunity.
LeN editor reveals a wealth of information in the interview with a British Broadcasting channel (video)
(Lanka-e-News - 14.Dec.2017, 11.45PM) A discussion was held between Lanka e news editor Sandaruwan Senadheera and Kalpa Palliyaguru of Sinhala broadcasting channel that is operating from Sheffield, Britain. The video footage of the discussion is at the end of this report.
The editor who made a statement for the first time after the second ban imposed on Lanka e news revealed graphic details of how Lanka e news came into being ; who is the main accomplice in Ekneliyagoda murder ; why the source of information cannot be revealed; how common candidate Sirisena who should be a Butterfly metamorphosed into a Bat ; the background to the current LeN ban ; the future of Flower bud group , and many other issues.
Video footage is hereunder
by (2017-12-14 21:52:19)
by (2017-12-14 21:52:19)
Last week I challenged the powers that be to walk the talk on media freedom. Because it had become increasingly obvious that only murder and mayhem separated the present dispensation from the previous regime.
Once in power all politicians feel the sharp thorn of the Fourth Estate’s disrespect. It is the same independence of spirit they encouraged and endorsed when they were in opposition. There is only the signal difference that where once the military jackboot of a government grown fat on the spoils of war stamped out all dissent with ruthless efficiency, a far more effete administration that has succeeded it in more ways than one – but is no less annoyed at a refusal of some segments of the press to pursue peace without honour – merely grouses in private, grumbles in public, and mutters maybe not so idle words about media conspiracies.
By Uditha Devapriya –December 15 2017
It’s convenient now and then to root our collective, national incapacity for something, anything, in our (real or imagined) feelings of cultural inferiority. Not just convenient, but also justifiable, given our harrowing trysts with colonialism. But what is convenient and justifiable emotionally and in terms of rhetoric isn’t always what is true and what should be true. That is why we have to move on, though not at the cost of forgetting what decades and centuries of black-and-white exploitation left us with: a ramshackle economy which never took off thanks in large part to the inability of the colonial (and post-colonial) bourgeoisie to transform it into an industrialised society. Our bourgeoisie are modernists only when it comes to their ability to emulate superficially the Occident. They’ll probably be surprised to learn that Anagarika Dharmapala, whom they vilify using all sorts of expletives and what-not today, was more of a modernist than them.
I believe that a firm engagement with history, its pluses and minuses, its flattering and less than flattering facets, is what makes for the blooming and nurturing of a cultural sensibility. In Sri Lanka that sensibility never really endured for long, considerably owing to the fact that we are, after all, still a post-colonial society. Our filmmakers and artists are wont to describing our society as post-war, but in this they are only partly correct: neither the war, nor the efforts made at building bridges after the war, can conceal the inexorable culture of apathy on the one hand and elitism on the other hand which our bourgeoisie continues to stand for. And affirm. The emergence of an alternative education system in the late 70s and 80s is, I rather suspect, a good indication of that culture. For the fact of the matter is, and I am being quite blunt here, that the rise and proliferation of private, international schools was a vague result of the emergence of a swabasha education sector after 1956. The one necessitated the other through English.
It has been said of the Israel that its founding fathers (and mothers) were idealists, while those who were chosen to lead it after their demise were the realists. I suppose the same can be said of other incidents in history, including the founding of the United States, with the truism that ideals are always tempered by disenchantment. The aborted project that was 1956, which we can trace to the writings of Dharmapala and also, faintly, in the Buddhist Renaissance brought about by the Theosophists, empowered one generation, a generation who were already vassals to an education system which privileged entrance to the Civil Service as the only mark of distinction in society that mattered. The irony is that our elite sent their children to Oxford and Cambridge for the sole purpose of entering that Civil Service, and not for anything that was nationally, economically, productive. (Part of the reason why P. de S. Kularatne returned to Sri Lanka to act as Principal at Ananda College was his realisation that the British were less interested in the Civil Service he himself hoped to enter than his own countrymen.)
The rift which existed before 1956 was largely economic but also determined by language, specifically English. In his book on the LSSP, Working Underground, Regi Siriwardena observes that in colonial society the latter sometimes overrode the former to such an extent that even the middle class, bereft of privilege and occupying an intermediate position between the haves and have-nots, were able to rise socially. A revolution, cultural or political, is decided at the outset by this intermediate class, who enjoyed the benefits of a median position without the inhibitions and deficiencies that visited the elite and the multitude equally. Siriwardena became our foremost critic, translating our cultural sphere to the patrons of the Lionel Wendt and our English Departments despite his inability to wield Sinhala, the language of the 1956 revolution, properly. But this intermediate position wasn’t filled only by those who spoke and wrote in English. It was also filled by the rural and the urban Sinhala Only bourgeoisie. They would elect Bandaranaike as the idealists, while their children would become the realists.
The dichotomy between the ideal and the real in our cultural and political spheres this point reveals is important because, carried away by the world of social empowerment that the Bandaranaike government promised would open to the Sinhala Only bourgeoisie, the idealistic elders educated their later-to-be pragmatic children in the vernacular, forgetting, or choosing to ignore, the fact that what transpired in 1956 was the substitution for the hitherto existing class discrepancies of a more insidious form of elitism. The social rifts which prevailed until then were bottled up, repressed in fact, until what resulted was a culture of envy (as I pointed out last week). A key element of this new culture of envy was the inability of those who had been promised rice from the moon to comprehend the alternate space that the English intelligentsia carved for themselves here. The latter lacked the numbers, but what they lacked in numbers was compensated for by their sway over policy. They became, in short, the policy elite: Michael Young’s technocrats.
And in seeing the hegemony that these new elites and their offspring wallowed in, the empowered ones found themselves quickly to be disempowered and disarmed. They were the insurrectionists who had felt betrayed by a largely obsolete left movement. They attempted to abort elected governments in 1971 and 1988, the former largely drawn from our universities and the latter from the rural, political South. (It’s interesting to note here that many of those who led the 1971 insurrection, and were later rehabilitated, remained JVP’ers while partaking of the NGO sphere that invaded the country in the eighties. Some of these former insurrectionists have today become apologists for whatever government spouts their rhetoric of federalism and devolution.) Being largely rural and pragmatic they would have realised the follies of their elders who had elected for swabasha in 1956. Being insurrectionists they would have confused the follies of their elders for an excuse, on their part, to discern each and every organ of the State – including the judiciary and the education sector – as an arm of a rightwing status quo.
Pusat Komas accounts manager Faribel Maglin reads out Lena Hendry’s message to reporters after the activist withdrew her appeal over her conviction.
| December 14, 2017
Lena Hendry says she has lost faith in the judiciary and would rather fight for another cause.
KUALA LUMPUR: Human rights activist Lena Hendry has withdrawn her appeal over her conviction for airing an uncensored documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war in 2013.
In a message to reporters after the High Court struck out her appeal, the former Pusat Komas programme director said she decided not to pursue it as she had lost faith in the judiciary.
“The charge should not be brought against me at all, and prosecuting me under censorship laws was done in bad faith,” she said, adding that she would rather fight for another cause.
Her message was read out by Pusat Komas accounts manager Faribel Maglin.
Lena is currently doing her master’s degree in applied human rights in England.
Earlier in court, her lawyer New Sin Yew told Justice Mohd Sofian Abd Razak that they had written to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to withdraw her appeal on the conviction under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act, and RM10,000 fine imposed by the Magistrate’s Court in March.
“We withdraw our appeals on condition that the deputy public prosecutors also withdraw their appeal against the RM10,000 fine,” he said.
Deputy public prosecutor Zalina Awang told the court the AGC had agreed to withdraw its appeal after examining Lena’s case.
New said Lena had decided not to pursue the case as she did not want a criminal charge hanging over her while she was studying.
“She made a decision to move on as it would be time-consuming if the appeal proceeds.
“There may be a likelihood of increased fine or sentence,” he added.
The Magistrate’s Court fined Lena RM10,000 on March 22 after finding her guilty of airing “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, a documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war which lasted for 26 years.
She committed the offence at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce Hall on July 3, 2013.
Lena paid the fine and was initially freed from the film censorship charge in the Magistrate’s Court at the end of the prosecution’s case last March.
However, the High Court overturned the acquittal and ordered Lena to enter defence for her charge.
“There are two ways to acquire the niceties of life. The first is to produce them; the second is to plunder them. When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorises plunder and a moral code that glorifies it” – Paul ValeryFriday, 15 December 2017
Very few of today’s readers are aware that Winston Churchill was one time the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1924-29), a position comparable to our Finance Minister. At the time, Great Britain was perhaps the largest economy in the world, the centre of a global empire on which it was claimed the sun never set. Much of international trading and financial transactions were London based then.
This proximity to power, trade and money of course did not mean that the Chancellor of the British Exchequer automatically became a wealthy person. One of the striking features of the British Empire was its public service (broadly inclusive of its legislature and the judiciary) ,both in Britain as well as its far flung colonies, which, by and large retained its integrity and lustre; a system that later provided the model for the now independent colonies.
Having left the Conservative party to join the Liberals in 1904, Churchill re-joined the Conservatives in 1924 now under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin commenting wryly, “Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat!” Baldwin made him Chancellor of the Exchequer. Churchill was not cut out for the humdrum of State finance. It needed an epic, the far more dramatic setting of a World War to bring out the inherent genius of the man in full measure.
As to the minutiae of high finance, he pretended no mastery. When the suggestion was made to return to the Gold Standard at the pre-war parity (WW1 1914-18), Churchill gave ear to a wide range of opinions for and against, once even arranging an all-night discussion between the two sides to thrash out the pros and cons. Many government officials were for the Gold Standard while there was strong opposition from important quarters, including the economist John Maynard Keynes.
Although the 1925 decision to return to the Gold Standard was initially popular, it soon proved to be an unwise move, resulting in huge loses to the industries and the larger economy, with adverse global consequences. Churchill regretted the decision as one of the biggest mistakes of his career.
Keeping the home fires burningThere was very little mixing of public office and private interests. All his life, Churchill had to work hard to keep his home fires burning; mainly writing, an occupation which later earned the redoubtable Englishman a Nobel Prize in literature. The famed Churchillian taste for all things good, the richness of his dining table was legendry, ensured a home fire that burnt fast and furious.
A typical dinner at Chartwell, his country home is described thus: “Dinner, the day’s main event is scheduled to be served at 8.30. He may reach the drawing room at 8.45. It is lunch (partaken lavishly early afternoon) on a far grander scale, with more guests, of greater distinction, silvery buckets of iced champagne, Churchill presiding in his grandest manner, and several courses. Among the foods likeliest to be served are clear soup, oysters, caviar, Gruyere cheese, pate de foiegras, trout, shoulder of lamb, lobster, dressed crab, petite marmite, scampi, Dover sole, chocolate éclairs and, of course, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Clemmie (Clementine, his wife), who knows his preferences, has briefed the cook on what is to be on the menu.
“If he has been in London recently, different versions of his latest witticisms have been repeated in the clubs of Pall Mall and St. James’s, in drawing rooms of the West End and the city counting rooms. Asked now to confirm them, he nods as he gropes for a match or the stem of his wineglass, pausing occasionally to correct a verb or alter syntax. He tells of how crossing Parliament Square, he ran into Lord Londonderry, his cousin and frequent adversary. Londonderry hoping to drive home a point had asked him, ‘Have you read my latest book?’ Winston chortles his reply, ‘No, I only read for pleasure or profit’.
“It is difficult to keep up with a host who can set such a pace. Nevertheless, the dinner is not a one-man show; guests have been invited for lustre, not servility.
“The talk was by no means confined to politics; it ranged over history, art and literature; it toyed with philosophical themes; it visited the past and explored the future. Sometimes the conversation was a ding-dong battle of wits and words between say, Winston and Duff Cooper, the verbal pyrotechnics waxed hot and fierce, usually dissolving into gales of laughter. Frequently he would recite ‘Horatius’, and this was very popular with the children.
“All his guests meet his conversational standards: ‘the man who cannot say what he has to say in good English cannot have very much to say that is worth listening to!’
“After the ladies have left, men gather around him for port, brandy and cigars, he will sit around till 10PM, or later, talking of great political issues of the past, battlefields of his youth, strategic innovations of the American Civil War (1861-65)-Churchill can re-enact any battle in that war, from Bull Run to Five Forks, citing the troops engaged on either side, identifying the commanders, describing the passage of arms, the aftermath.
“It is 11PM; Churchill sees his overnight guests to their rooms and as they retire, begins his working day. Only after entering his employ will Bill Deakin discover to his astonishment, that Churchill lacks a large private income, that he lives like a pasha, yet must support his extravagant life with his pen. The Churchill children are also unaware that, the family literally lived from book to book and from one article to the next. Clementine who knows, prays that each manuscript will sell. Luckily, they all do, the editors and publishers, both in Britain and America, pay him the highest rates. His output is prodigious.” – ‘The Last Lion,’ William Manchester
Sri Lankan way of looking at thingsThis was a man, who before becoming Prime Minister in 1940, was not only once a Chancellor of the British Exchequer, but also at various times, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty (1911-15), Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, in addition to several other high appointments in the government and the armed forces. In 1915, after resigning from the Cabinet, Churchill volunteered; going to the Western Front to face the fearsome German barrages as a middle order military officer.
For us in this country, with vastly different experiences and expectations of holders of public office or even what is considered ‘manly’ or ‘gentlemanly’ conduct for that matter; it is difficult to comprehend either a person or a career such as of Churchill. A Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister resigning in order to go to the trenches to do battle for King and country is unthinkable in our context. His physical attributes and even the mental make-up will only make a Cabinet Minister a burden to the fighting men.
On the other hand, if dressed in immaculate white; in bearing, spuriously humble; in mentality, sly; in skills, mediocre; in attitude, vulgar; and protected by a large posse of soldiers, we might say with awe, behold a man!
In such a culture, cunning is taken for intelligence, commonness equated with affability, a petulant effeminacy seen as toughness, sentimentality interpreted as empathy and irresponsibility hailed as decisiveness. With this way of looking at things, it is no surprise that a thug is seen as a hero, a financial sharper as an economic wizard and nepotism as dutiful conduct!
Keeping the wolf away from the doorOnly a few years after serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill was struggling to keep the wolf away from the door. Sometime in 1936/7 he received an unwelcome letter from the Editor of Evening Standard terminating his long term contract for “divergence” of policy , including the then prevailing appeasement of Nazi Germany. In 1938, the blow fell when recession hit the Wall Street, where Winston had lain his reserve. Stock prices plummeted so swiftly, and so deeply, that his broker told him that his American investments had been wiped out and that in fact, it was worse, he owed the brokerage firm 18,000 Pounds.
It appeared Churchill had no choice, his beloved home Chartwell and its 80 acres will have to be sold. He would have to quit parliament to make money as a writer, lecturer, and/or businessman. He discussed with Clementine plans for economising; “Told Sarah (daughter) I will give her £200 towards expenses, fuel for Chartwell to be delivered in five ton batches of £ 11, the wine has been very strictly controlled and little drunk” and finally he wrote on a note of triumph “I am not taking Inches (valet) with me abroad!”
Clemmie knew that the little saved by leaving his valet behind would shrink to insignificance beside his Riviera expenses. Experience has taught her that budgets did not work with the Churchill family, the reason, although he would never have acknowledged it – he was the family spendthrift.
Ruin was only averted by the intervention of a few devoted and well-heeled friends and admirers, who made financial arrangements that enabled Churchill to commit himself fully to the cause of challenging the Nazi menace while they managed his portfolio. It was only a financial reprieve, a loan, and not a gift; Churchill was to repay in time with the money his books brought him.
The tragedy of our timesThe public offices that Churchill held during his life, in Sri Lanka are considered finger-licking good prospects for earning commissions and kick-backs. High Office is an opportunity, not to take your valet abroad at your expense, but for the whole family to see this big wide world at public expense. The holders of high positions in Sri Lanka end up not only much richer for the effort, but leave behind institutions they touched sullied, diminished or demoralised.
Churchill was an Englishman, of a time and of a history. He gave his best to his country, its institutions and its cause. This is something we cannot say of many of our leaders. That is the tragedy of our times, and perhaps, even climes.
SriLankan Airlines: Marching Orders Served To Chairman Dias, CEO Ratwatte And Directors By Airline’s Alliance Of Unionsauthor: COLOMBO TELEGRAPH-December 12 2017
Whilst blaming their Chairman Ajith Dias, Chief Executive Officer Capt. Suren Ratwatte and the entire Board of Directors for their incompetence, the Alliance of Unions of SriLankan Airlines collectively sent in a letter stating that they have no confidence and trust should the current Senior Management of the airline be retained after 31st March 2018.
The letter which was also copied to President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, selected Government Ministers and the newly appointed Committee to look into the restructuring of the airline, was in response to letters Chairman Ajith Dias and CEO Capt.Suren Ratwatte had sent to all staff earlier, issuing them a soft warning of the imminent closure of the national carrier.
Chairman Dias’ letter to his staff further reiterated that this process will commence on the 11th December 2017, with a preliminary report to be submitted by the 20th December 2017, as the entire way forward of the airline needs to be completed by the 31st March 2018. Thereafter the letter stated that the Government of Sri Lanka will not be able to fund the national carrier using tax payer funds.
Further it went on to accuse them of shielding their predecessors of blatant malpractices committed in the past, despite a comprehensive investigation being carried out by Lawyer J.C.Weliamuna and his team in February and March 2015, who recommended that the former Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe and CEO Kapila Chandrasena should face public prosecution. This is besides the naming of many existing employees who are also currently shielded, such as Head of Human Resources Pradeepa Kekulawela, who were responsible for aiding and abetting malpractices and fraud in the past.
The letter went on to highlight that there are also dealings which could itself be a conflict of interest for a Director in any company. This statement has a direct reference to Rakhitha Jayawardena whose recent appointment as an Executive Director to oversee the lucrative In Flight Catering Operations of the airline that also supports the airline’s In Flight Duty Free business. His appointment which was done recently in a hushed manner, is still unknown to many employees. Besides this appointment Jayawardena is also the current President of a mega Duty Free operator that caters to multiple airlines across Australasia. The lucrativeness of the airline’s In Flight Duty Free business recently saw the airline being robbed off millions in US Dollars, when the business was outsourced out of tender procedure to Phoenix Duty Free Services (renamed Duty Free Partners) and run by Rumesh Dilan Wirasingha and Raju Chandiram between 2012 to 2017.
Whilst going on to blame Chairman Dias, CEO Ratwatte and the entire Board of Directors, the letter also stated that the airline was used as a center piece by the current Yahapalanaya Government in their political campaign especially in pulling off the Presidential Election in January 2015 and the General Election in August 2015 over the former Rajapaksa regime.
Colonel R Hariharan-Dec 13, 2017
China gaining operational control of the Hambantota Port marks yet another strategic milestone in furthering president Xi Jinping's ambitious 21st century maritime silk road. The Chinese control of port infrastructure and assets already acquired in Gwadar in Pakistan and Djibouti (Horn of Africa), has strengthened its position in the Indian Ocean.
India's inability to respond in time to arrest China's growing power in Sri Lanka, particularly after then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa's ascent, is the flip side of the tale. During the Eelam war, India could not meet Sri Lanka's request for supply of arms due to strong opposition from Tamil Nadu, and China stepped in to meet the demands.
Hambantota is not the only strategically important infrastructure project to be completed with Chinese aid. Others include the Colombo container terminal expansion and the Colombo reclamation project overlooking Colombo port, a vital hub of India's shipping.
In 2006, I availed an invitation to meet Rajapaksa on issues affecting Sri Lanka. When I asked him why he offered the Hambantota project to China instead of India, he laughed and said that he had invited India first. When India didn't respond for nearly a year, he approached China. I later learned that India did not respond as the project was not economically viable.
India's assessment has proved correct as both the Hambantota port and the Mattala airport are losing money. But strategically, India's decision had proved costly. China took the risk of making huge investments in economically unviable projects, to ensnare Sri Lanka into a US$8 billion debt trap and leverage it to draw the island nation within its strategic orbit. China has shown that taking economic risks for gaining strategic advantage is what grand strategy is all about. After Hambantota proved a burden on Sri Lanka economy, China is enacting as the saviour by agreeing to the debt-equity swap on Hambantota project, while gaining control of it.
In July 2017, Sri Lanka signed an agreement with the state-owned China Merchants Ports Holdings Company (CMPort) which agreed to pay $1.12 billion for 85% share of Hambantota port for 99 years. After a hue and cry was raised at home over the unfavourable terms of the agreement, Sri Lanka renegotiated it, under which the CMPort (85%) and Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) (15%) became partners in the Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) to develop the port into a commercially viable asset.
India had been watching with concern China's control of the port as it legitimises its strategic presence within India's sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe after coming to power had tried to balance the relations with India, which were skewed in favour of China, under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In response to India's strategic concerns, they had assured that Hambantota port would not be permitted to be used as a military base.
Hambantota International Port Services Ltd. (HIPS), owned by HIPG (58%) and SLPA (42%), is, however, taking over common user facilities in Hambantota port including port security. This would indicate the near impossibility of excluding the Chinese from port security activities. But, can a small country like Sri Lanka do much, if China rides roughshod over its objections to gain military advantage in times of Sino-Indian military confrontation?
China is now gaining not only a military advantage but also a commercial edge in South Asia. When the China-Sri Lanka free trade agreement (FTA) comes through, Chinese business will be capable of using India's FTA with Sri Lanka to gain backdoor entry into Indian markets. China has sprung a surprise by signing an FTA with Maldives, a country till now dependent on India for almost everything. When China's FTA with Sri Lanka and Maldives fully bloom, Chinese goods flooding South Indian markets, is a real possibility. It is time India took a hard look at its military and commercial strategies as the Chinese behemoth is breathing down its neck.
(The writer served as the head of intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka)