25th April, 2004 Volume 10, Issue 41
Lanka in the quagmire
of a financial crisis?
The French Revolution (1789-1799) brought about radical changes in both society and governance in France and Europe, but failed to establish democracy, despite the introduction of democratic ideals. The revolution ended the French monarchy – supreme rule by French kings and strengthened the middle class. The revolution was fought to establish liberty, equality, and fraternity. It began with an acute financial crisis in France.
French society was divided into three categories: The clergy, the nobility and the peasantry, called the first, second and third estates respectively. The first and second estates did not pay state taxes which had to be borne by the third estate which comprised the peasants and the working class but were socially not recognised as they belonged to the third estate.
Judging from the present political trends and the polarisation of political forces, it appears that we in Sri Lanka too are on the brink of a revolution. Like the French prior to the revolution we too are in the quagmire of a financial crisis.
We cannot survive without foreign funding to undertake any minor or major development project without aid from donor countries. We cannot even bridge our annual budget without special grants from the IMF. Our foreign reserves are depreciating against the rising dollar whilst our local revenue too is showing a downward trend.
Our taxation policies only give benefits to local and foreign investors whilst our super rich evade paying taxes but receive various benefits and the top notch professionals too evade paying legitimate taxes. Against this drop in revenue our recurrent expenditure on salaries, pensions and subsidies is rising annually. Are we on the brink of a revolution? If so for whose benefit?
Is it for those below the poverty line, the unemployable, unproductive, downtrodden, third estate who depend on Samurdhi handouts and other Social Service Department monthly payments?
Our economy has been ruined by the dishonest working class who are only highlighting their demands and welfare needs by doing the minimal work and engaging in various rallies, protests marches, lunch time work-to-rule sit outs and sabotaging work which no government has the guts to rectify. Only a few foreign investors will open any factory in Sri Lanka as the labour force is dishonest and will demand a percentage of the profits in addition to other welfare benefits.
Can a French style revolution solve our problems and make us economically stable?
Maha Sangha showing the way to a Dhamma Rajya?
From the beginning of the post-independence era, bhikkhus of repute played a role to help bring major political parties to power. That is to say, with the help of the ennobling qualities they possessed, they successfully convinced the Sinhala Buddhist masses to part with their cherished possession, the vote, for the sake of party politics.
Many renowned bhikkhus such as the late Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha, Kotagama Vachissara, Walpola Rahula, Malevana Gnanissara, Meetiyagoda Gunaratna, Devamottawe Amarawansa, Mottunne Indrasara, Medagoda Sumanatissa and others, made great sacrifices to enthrone political parties of their choice, hoping such efforts will help the dawn of a national and Buddhist revival. But alas, all that proved to be in vain, as succinctly explained in the autobiography of Ven. Henpitagedera Gnanaseeha.
We are all aware how individuals (and successive governments) brought to power with the help of bhikkhus, did a volte-face each time, to dance to the tune of the Western powers, vested interests, non-Buddhist establishments and the ‘indispensable’ minority groups; the king-makers, to the exclusion of the Sinhala Buddhists, the sons-of-the-soil.
There have been innumerable agitations, protests, petitions, sathyagrahas, death-fasts, and the like, to secure the rights of the Sinhala Buddhists, but nothing ever seemed to have helped them. They continued to remain leaderless and helpless.
Our President is reported to have said recently that she will confer equal status on all religions, quite oblivious of the fact that Sinhala Buddhists constitute 76% of the island’s population. Despite the fact that it is the responsibility of the government to protect and foster Buddhism as enshrined in the constitution, unethical conversions of impoverished Sinhala Buddhists have increased by leaps and bounds. Pleas and protests of the Buddhist populace and the Maha Sangha to contain this menace have fallen on deaf years. The Buddhist Commission report seems to have died an unnatural death.
Our history is thrown into the dustbin, and those who conspired to commit this ghastly crime, are writing their own version of our history. Under both governments, large scale drug trafficking, money laundering, murder, rape, arson, organised banditry and extortions, and in parallel with them, insecurity, instability, poverty and want increased and the gap between the poor and the rich widened to unprecedented levels.
Worst among them is the northern LTTE insurrection. Both governments take great care to project it as an "ethnic conflict" and deceive the people, while helping the LTTE to consolidate their positions in their "traditional Tamil homelands." Both parties talk of federalism to the LTTE under a "united country" instead of a ‘unitary state,’ which is what it is. The present government seems to have forgotten the pledge they gave to protect its unity, integrity and sovereignty, to misleadingly talk of a "united country." Sri Lanka has never been divided before!
Ignored by successive governments, our glorious Buddhist culture and the religion have fallen prey to a host of vultures. With the help of the ‘idiot box’ our culture is being debased by a variety of persons who seem to have an axe to grind with it. Our archeological sites in the north and east are being bulldozed and defaced and Buddhist places of worship and temple lands, which have no protection at all, are encroached upon.
To give leadership to the leaderless Sinhalese Buddhists, to protect their religion, preserve their culture and history and above all their identity, and to lay the foundation for the establishment of a Dharma Rajya, where people of all faiths and ethnic groups can live as equals in harmony, unity, without fear and in dignity, the Maha Sangha has come forward at this decisive hour. It is not yet another political party, but a spiritual force to show us the way leading to the Dhamma Rajya.
Money for jam!
Jam, according to the Oxford Dictionary is defined as "conserve of fruit and sugar boiled until thick" and colloquially, something easy and pleasant to deal with? As such, jam should be thick and something that can be easily spread on a slice of bread.
It is regrettable that a giant department is marketing a gelatinous substance at an exorbitant price and has the audacity to call it jam. It is with much effort that this ‘jam’ can be knifed on to a slice of bread. Thereafter, it just cannot be spread. So slivers of jam have to be scattered on the bread. The problem doesn’t end there. When you lift a piece of bread to your mouth, the slivers fall on to your plate if you are lucky!
The cost of producing this ‘jam’ must be minimal because it is fruit juice made to set with gelatine. This substance masquerading as jam is clear whereas a fruit conserve cannot be so.
Is there no quality control of the products that are marketed today? Is there no law to safeguard the consumer?
Open letter to President Kumaratunga
From day one since you assumed the position of President, the people of this country heard only your preaching of a righteous rule and the momentous faults and misrule by your political opponents especially the UNP. You forget that from the day your father misled the people of this country, through your mother’s misrule and blunders committed with the Leftists, this country was in all respects ruined.
Whilst you accuse the UNF government of misusing public property, government vehicles and funds of the Lotteries Board for political work you have been the worst culprit in this respect.
With your expressed or implied permission your former Presidential Security Chief Nihal Karunaratne with 12 security men were charged in the Kandy High Courts on several counts during the 2001 election.
Please see to what extent you are using peoples’ money as your presidential votes given for legitimate purposes for illegal use.
In addition you use the President’s House which is your official residence for political purposes and to promote your political propaganda. You know that you have no legitimate right do so and to use people’s funds to provide eats, refreshments and use the President’s Fund to provide awards and hand outs to persons of your political hue in the guise of performing your official functions. I am sure the constitution does not provide cover or your advisers do not have sufficient cover to interpret the constitution in the manner in which it has been done.
Cowardly act by ‘Hawkeye’
I refer to your letter which appeared under the heading "Bhikkhus must now take to cricket". I do not know the sex of "Hawkeye", but I strongly feel it should be a hermaphrodite (being of neither sex), as it does not have the writer’s name.
This note in reply to so called Hawkeye’s unethical letter is merely to put the record straight.The interest of Muslims,Tamils and others are well represented in parliament whilst the Sinhala Buddhists of the leading parties are killing each other instead, and as a result Buddhists are left with no representation on their behalf.Whether or not politics is for bhikkhus or for clergy in general is an issue to be addressed separately. However, even at this eleventh hour may this be an eye opener to Sinhala Buddhist politicians to analyse reasons as to why bhikkhus were reluctantly compelled to take this bold decision.
You have venomously tried to make a mockery of this sacred religion and the bhikkhus, and this I am certain will not be entertained by the majority Sinhala Buddhist public of this country. At a time when our nation is desperately in need of lasting peace let us not try to stir a hornet’s nest, but instead inculcate peace and harmony between different ethnic groups.
Ranjaka de Mel
Haven for the retired
I was happy to read the news of a resort complex for pensioners being constructed within the Kelaniya divisional secretary’s area. All of us live in an age of stress and strain and such a move will certainly be a great boon to pensioners. Reaching old age and retirement are inescapable certainties in one’s life. Pensioners are drawn from the whole island. Only a minute percentage live in Colombo and the suburbs.
Whenever pensioners from outstations arrive in Colombo for whatever reason, they are compelled to pay exorbitantly for their board and lodging. Due to poor medical facilities in outstations decrepit pensioners are forced to reach Colombo intermittently for medical specialist consultations. In such circumstances they are compelled to be in Colombo for short spells. In modern times money is deified and the long cherished values are a thing of the past. Pensioners with a meagre income certainly cannot compete with the rich and elite. For them life is weary. A little concession here and there would make them happy and ease their burden of existence.
It is suggested that the maintenance and upkeep of the resort be handed over to a social service organisation like the Kelaniya YMBA under the supervision of the divisional secretary. Reasonable charges could be levied on a non-profit basis. Such a course of action will certainly benefit poor pensioners.
The second Buddhist reawakening?
Blessed are the monks who have taken to politics. This appears to be the second mass response of the Sinhala Buddhists to unite as a single, singular force in order to safeguard their ancient heritage. It is quite apparent and stands supreme as a beacon of hope, that our civilised way of life manifests, in contrast to the mass murder, mayhem and internecine feuds that prevail in large measure in countries that follow other faiths.
It is a shame that 85% of the population, mainly the rural folk, have been subjugated by a mere 10% of the elitist class – the English educated (Westerni-sed oriental gentlemen) who hold key positions in the bureaucracy of state and in the management of commerce.
To enlighten the reader, the first revival took place way back in the mid 19th century spearheaded by such dedicated stalwarts as Anagarika Dharmapala, Migettuwatte Gunanada Thera and Colonel Olcott, to mention a few. The first historically recorded case of political martyrdom was staged by the monk Wariapola Sri Sumangala who ripped down the British flag and burnt it, only to be shot dead on the orders of the governor.
Incidentally Viscount Torrington who goes down in history for his sacrilegious act of ordering the cutting down of Bo trees in Colombo and the hill- country was misguided, being a novice in social diplomacy. Subsequently as an appeasement to overcome the wide public resentment and revulsion the Sacred Tooth Relic was handed over to a Buddhist prelate in 1847. This, however, did not quench the burning fires of nationhood resulting in the Matale rebellion; and Gunananda Thera in defiance campaigning for the planting of more Bo trees throughout the country.
A monk doesn’t seek or require state motor cars to take his nil; another for ‘bodyguards’ as he has overcome the fear of death. As he partakes of a lonely one substantial meal, the heavily over-subsidised canteen can be done away with and arrangements made to have parliamentary sessions in the afternoon. It is envisaged that a minister monk will dispense welfare benefits and social development equitably, seeking the advice and guidance of committees of experts for matters that are temporal, not inspired as it were by divine insight.
The first and foremost thing expected of the Maha Sangha as a guiding force would be to demolish and destroy the ineptitude and ineffectual lip service of the Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapters.
So let us hope at least for the next five years this country – our motherland — will be free of corruption, free of malpractice, free of hegemony, free of expediency, free of nepotism to enable us to wake up in the morning feeling fine – to breathe the fresh air of freedom.
"For forms of government, let the monks decide."
Dr. Jaya Tissa Gampati
The 15th death anniversary of Neeta Freeda Karunatilake fell on March 26. Mrs. Karunatilake was born on April 2, 1907 and passed away on March 26, 1989 at her son’s residence. She had no illness as such and was quite hale and hearty, sturdy and healthy at the time of her sudden death.
She had very remarkable mental faculties and was very alert and an inspiration to all. She was very strict in her manners. She read the daily papers without the aid of spectacles until the time of her death.
She was cremated at the General Cemetery, Kanatte in the presence of a large gathering.
The President and Prime Minister and clergy of all religions paid their last respects at her residence at Alfred Place.
Her husband Ariyaratne Karunatilake who predeceased her had retired as office assistant of the Land Settlement Department.
Neville was educated at Trinity College, Kandy, and the three daughters — Doreen, Merle and Annette at Bishop’s College, Colombo, where they passed the A Levels.
The son entered Peradeniya University and after graduation was employed as an economist. Later at the Central Bank he obtained the MSc at the London School of Economics. Thereafter, he joined Harvard University for the MA, MPA, MBA and finally obtained the PhD. from the London School of Economics. He is regarded as a leading economist of the east.
Mrs. Karunatilake was a very pious and devout lady. She contributed lavishly to Buddhist causes and helped her less fortunate relations. At the time of her death most of her household effects had been donated to Isipatanaramaya, Colombo.
Her children, the late Doreen was married to me, the late Merle to Gunasiri Weerakoon, retired Commissioner of Labour and consultant and Annette to Lakshman Gomes who recently retired as principal of Royal College, Colombo.
A sangheeka dana was held on March 26 at the residence of Dr. Neville Karunatilake, her son.
May she attain Nibbana.
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