All SLTB and private passenger bus drivers must possess a special driving certificate issued after a special training provided by the Department of Motor Traffic (DMT) with effect from June 1, Motor Traffic Department Commissioner General Jagath Chandrasiri said today.
This would be along with the driving licence, he said.
Addressing media at the DMT head office the Commissioner said the Gazette notification related to passenger transport had been issued on February 6, 2016.
Accordingly all the drivers, who transport passengers, should obtain the special certificate issued by DMT.
Three-wheeler drivers and school van drivers would be trained in the second stage.
The department had taken this decision to streamline the driver discipline and to reduce road accidents, he said.
“The special training had already been given to all Sri Lanka Transport Bus (SLTB) drivers. So far, 17,000 drivers of private buses had been given with the help of the Transport Board and the National Transport Commission (NTC).
“From June 1, bus drivers should have the new certificate to drive passenger buses,” he said.
“Newly issued driving licences will have ‘PT’ printed on them to indicate that the driver had obtained the special training. Others should possess their licence and certificate with them,” he said.
“Bus drivers who don’t have the certificate will not be allowed to take to the wheel. From last August 1 this process is in effect. It is an essential certificate for the traffic Police to check during an accident,” Mr. Chandrasiri said.
He said the bus drivers were trained in the first stage of the special passenger transport driver training programme while three-wheeler drivers and school van drivers would be trained in the second stage. (Chaturanga Pradeep)
The World Bank has officially distanced itself from the controversial Central Bank bond scam committed by ex-Governor Arjuna Mahendran citing that they are not aware of the international best practices to accurately calculate the potential loss in the case of the past bond auction.
In a letter addressed to M. S. B Ekanayake, Secretary to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on December 7, 2016, the World Bank Country Director to Sri Lanka Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough referring to the letter sent by Ekanayake dated November 18, 2016 said, “Regarding your request for comments in the above mentioned letter, we are not aware of international best practices to accurately calculate the potential loss in the case of the past bond auction. Accurately quantifying the loss would require knowledge of the actual cost of the bond placement under non-competitive allocations (a necessary counterfactual). In our view that counterfactual cannot be accurately calculated on an ex post basis as it depends on the marker conditions on the auction date.”
Despite the World Bank officially distancing itself from the controversial treasury bond scam which reportedly resulted in the country losing Rs. 1.6 billion, several State-owned publications including the Sunday Leader newspaper which is now run by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake and Arjuna Mahendran’s Son-in-law Arjun Aloysius wrongfully reported the story saying that the World Bank had claimed the government had not suffered any losses as a result of the bond issue. “The World Bank was of the opinion that the government has not suffered any losses as a result of the bond issue. Wickremesinghe had submitted to the World Bank all details pertaining to Treasury bond transactions in Sri Lanka. The World Bank had praised the government on the actions taken to control debt and its tax reforms proposals,” the Sunday Leader story published today (January 29, 2017) said.
The two page letter by the World Bank country director also said that with the GOSL’s efforts and collaborative support from the World Bank, the IMF, will no doubt held enhance transparency and competition in the government and corporate bond markers, improve public debt management and bring Sri Lanka in line with international good practice.
Meanwhile, an economic expert said that the World Bank artfully got away from being a supporter of the scandalous bond transaction; under the conditions which it has laid down in the last sentence of paragraph 2 of the letter which says, one can easily calculate the potential loss; on the day of the first bond transaction, the market price of 30 year bonds was available which is a non-competitive bond price and except Perpetual Treasuries, all other dealers including NSB bid at that price.
“Even the Bank of Ceylon (BOC) bid at that price (that is, Rs 120 per Rs 100 bond) when it had submitted bids for Janashakthi Insurance (Rs 500 million) and Kalutara Bodhi Society (Rs 8 million). But the very same BOC after 10.57 am had bid at Rs 90 per Rs 100 bond on behalf of PTL in three bids: one Rs 3 billion, and the other two Rs 5 billion each. Harsha de Silva read this letter in Parliament and the government has shamelessly prostituted World Bank into this issue. If the government is interested, it can ask itself why it sold a bond that could have been sold at Rs 120 per Rs 100 bond for Rs 90 and incurred an opportunity loss of Rs 1500 million (that is: [(5000)/100]30 )in a single transaction. It is not World Bank at error but the government which has used an explanatory letter from World Bank for its own petty political gains,” he said.
Meanwhile a senior official at the finance ministry said that it was very unfortunate how the government has dragged the World Bank into this bond scam soup. “The government is so desperate that it will hand on to any straw in its attempt to float instead of drowning. This is a very sad situation,” the office told Colombo Telegraph.
An Auditor General under fire by political authorities
The Auditor General of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, a position created by its Constitution, has been of late at the receiving end from political authorities. It is reported that his performance has been subject to severe criticism by Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, followed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in Parliament recently.
Alarmed by these ominous developments, the Editor of Daily FT had written a very strong editorial urging the civil society to protect the Auditor General and warning the public of the possibility of being treated to a toothless National Audit Commission.
Auditor General’s crime
What is the crime committed by the Auditor General? He had submitted a report on the bond transactions conducted by the Central Bank during 2008 to 2016 on the request of the Finance Minister and furnished a copy of the report to the Acting Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Public Enterprises or COPE simultaneously. However, the Auditor General has gone even beyond that as it is revealed now.
Acting in the interest of the full public disclosure which is what the present Government had promised to the electorate at the general elections by promising to deliver economic democracy, he has posted his 190-page-long report to the website of the Auditor General’s Department so that it is now a document available in public domain. The beauty of such publicly available documents is that no politician can misquote it to hurl unfounded accusations against their political enemies.
Finance Minister’s request is not according to law
Minister Ravi Karunanayake has requested for the report in question in terms of the powers vested with him by Section 43(2) of the Monetary Law Act or MLA. This section relates to reports which the Minister might request the Auditor General to complete on the accounts of the Central Bank.
However, the report sought by the Minister relates to the bond transactions and therefore, the Auditor General is not under obligation to furnish it to the Minister. Yet, in view of the national interest which the subject in question has evoked, the Auditor General has chosen to oblige the Minister.
A wealth of information previously not in public domain
The report has furnished a wealth of data on the direct placements made by the Central Bank during the period under reference when issuing Treasury bonds on behalf of the Government. Though the Auditor General has not done any conclusive research analysis on the direct placements, because he has looked at them from the point of view of an auditor, such data can now be used by other researchers to do the same.
Further, these data can be used to examine the validity of the charge made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a statement delivered in Parliament immediately after the first bond scam of 27 February 2015 that the previous Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal had been guilty of using direct placements which PM had misquoted as private placements to favour his friends and a handful of cronies.
Direct placements as a method of issuing Government bonds
What are direct placements? It is simply a mechanism of issuing Treasury bonds or bills directly to primary dealers at a predetermined interest rate (or equivalently at a predetermined price) instead of issuing them on the basis of competitive bids received from them through an auction. A government which is concerned about the interest cost of its public debt may use either of these methods alternatively or in combination to derive the maximum benefit for itself. It can happen in relation to domestic borrowings as well as to foreign borrowings equally.
Even present Government uses direct placements when making foreign borrowings
For instance, in the case of foreign borrowings, a Government may choose to issue sovereign bonds by calling competitive bids from prospective investors. Such investors are allowed to submit bids within a specified period allowing the Government to build the borrowing book and the Government may choose the appropriate cut-off interest rate at which it would issue bonds at the margin. The competitive atmosphere prevailing in the book building process is expected to give the best rate structure to the Government.
If the prevailing interest rate structure is not favourable to the government, it may, instead, directly place the order with some selected banks or selected investors and ask them to lend money to the government. The Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake’s much-publicised claim of borrowing $ 2 billion from an unknown Belgian lender was such a direct placement.
The recent decision of the Government to raise a syndicated loan from some selected banks is another such instance. No one can blame the Government for going for such direct placements because the Government as the borrower has the right to choose the best available market or the best available rate structure or the both.
Direct placements in the domestic debt market
This is equally valid for domestic loans too. The Central Bank in this case as the fiscal agent of the government will see to that the government gets the best bargain from the market. If it feels that the auction method is the best, it would go for auctions; at the same time, if it feels that the direct placement is the best method, it would choose that option. Similarly, if it feels that the best is a combination of both, it will go for that too.
The 2001 World Bank-IMF Handbook on Developing Government Securities Market has observed that most countries have preferred to use a combination of these methods as the most practical approach but has warned that it should be practised consistently without shocking the markets (p 165). The consistent policy is the adoption of a preannounced method of placing Government bonds directly with prospective investors with regard to the rate at which they have to invest their moneys in bonds.
Direct placements are not a demon but a servant
As this writer had argued in a previous article in this series, direct sales which were started by the Central Bank in 1997 when it introduced the primary dealer system is not a demon but a servant, well serving the Government to raise money at the lowest costs and maintain interest rates at a stable level. Hence, any finance minister or a government should have welcomed it.
Despite this, apparently being misinformed by some interested parties within the Central Bank, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe had castigated the direct placement system which he misnamed as ‘private placements’ in the statement he made in Parliament referred to above.
Said the Prime Minister: “Records confirm that private placements had become a norm rather than an exception. In just one instance in 2013, Rs. 16 billion worth of five-year bonds were sold through auction at a yield of 10.9% and thereafter Rs. 76 billion of the same bond were sold through private placements at a HIGHER yield of 11.42%. Who stood to benefit from such acts? The answer is obvious.”
Prime Minister misinformed?
It appears that the Prime Minister has been informed by an interested officer in the Central Bank that it was a crime to issue five-year bonds in 2013 at 11.42% through direct sales. What the Prime minister had not been informed is that the prevailing market rate for an 8.0% – five-year bond was much higher at 11.63% in January 2013 and 11.45% in March 2013.
Hence, if the bonds had been sold at 11.42% under direct sales, it would have been at a beneficial rate for the Government since the bonds in question had been sold above the prevailing market prices. Those who had bought the bonds at those prices could not have made a profit immediately as alleged by the Prime Minister since the bond prices had remained at around the same low level almost throughout the year.
Dealers can make money if bonds have been issued at low prices
Any party subscribing to direct placements could make money only if such direct placements have been made at interest rates pretty much higher than the prevailing market rates or equivalently at pretty much lower prices than the market prices. Thus, if they buy these bonds at bargain prices, they could immediately profit by selling them at higher prices to other parties who are interested in acquiring such bonds. But if the bonds have been issued at around the prevailing market prices, there is no prospect for them to make big money through sales.
Thus, it is the responsibility of the Central Bank, when making such direct placements, to choose interest rates or prices close to the prevailing market rates. But, if they have failed to do so, then, the allegation made by Prime Minister in Parliament is substantiated. However, for lack of detailed information on such bond deals, there was no way to verify the claim made by the Prime Minister that such placements have been shoddy and corrupt.
Findings of the Auditor General: Bonds placed at higher prices
The report submitted by the Auditor General has for the first time brought to public domain the detailed information relating to the direct placements made by the Central Bank during the nine-year period from 2008 to 2016. In conclusion, the Auditor General has remarked that 57% of the direct placements made during this period had been done at yield rates below or around the prevailing market rates and such yield rates had been desired from the objective of bringing the minimal cost to the Government (p6).
What does this mean? It means that a large volume of such bonds have been issued at prices above the prevailing market prices thereby bringing a good debt yield to the Government, on one hand, and preventing the initial buyers from reselling them at higher prices and making huge profits, on the other. Also, according to the Auditor General, the cost to the Government has been lower in the case of the direct placements than under the auction system.
What does this mean? It means that primary dealers have been trying to push the interest rates up under the auction system as foreseen by the former Governor A.S. Jayawardena when he introduced the direct placement system with EPF in 1997 as a check on such activity. The Auditor General has also observed that evidence to suggest that such direct placements have been made without the approval of the Monetary Board had not caught his attention (p 4).
Two matters for the attention of both PM and FM
There are two other observations made by the Auditor General which should receive the attention of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister. One is that the former Governor Arjuna Mahendran had scrapped the direct placement system in February 2015 on his own without getting the approval of the Monetary Board. In hindsight, it can, therefore, be concluded that his arbitrary decision against the wise counsel of the officials of the Public Debt Department has helped one of the primary dealers, Perpetual Treasuries, to make huge profits by buying Treasury bonds at ridiculously low prices.
The other is that the Perpetual Treasuries which had been a giant in the Treasury bond market since the first bond scam in February 2015 had in fact been one of the small dealers in the market prior to that. In the period from April to October 2014, it has participated in the Treasury bond issues with small amounts ranging between Rs. 100 million and Rs. 200 million. But since February 2015, its participation in the market has been in billions allowing it to make profits amounting to Rs. 13 billion within a matter of just 18 months. This is not a fact that the Prime Minister as a politician dedicated to establishing a clean government and the Minister of Finance as the keeper of the public purse could ignore.
Evidence does not show that bonds have been sold to cronies
The evidence presented by the Auditor General does not substantiate the allegation made by Prime Minister in Parliament that direct placements made prior to February 2015 have been made to help an exclusive group of cronies. The list provided by the Auditor General for each of the years since 2008 as recipients of bonds under direct placements include all primary dealers without exception.
Further, direct placements have been made at or around the prevailing market interest rates thereby preventing any particular primary dealer from making profits at the expense of other primary dealers. Hence, it appears that the Prime Minister has been misinformed by an interested official of the Central Bank and it is in the interest of the good governance Government to initiate an investigation into such misreporting, leading to an erosion of the reputation of the government.
Government should not blind its third eye
The Auditor General is the third eye of the Government as this writer has argued in a previous article in this series. If the Government deliberately blinds that eye, it would do so to its own peril.
Establishing equality in society, even within a broad spectrum, has always been a theoretical enigma since Plato’s time or even before. Eric Fromm called this effort ‘standardization of man.’ For this purpose, More in the early 16th century invoked a kind of a utilitarian theory based on pleasure in his Utopia, but ‘pleasure in moderation.’ He derived his equality principle also from natural justice and argued ‘no man should seek his own pleasure to prejudice others.’
More’s ideas have a contemporary relevance, whatever the intermittent weaknesses, as Oxfam has revealed that eight billionaires in the world today have more wealth than half of the world’s population. The effort to build reasonable social equality in Sri Lanka in contemporary times came with the philosophy of Sama Samaja (equal society) which is now almost abandoned for political expediency.
With the above few introductory words, we turn to know what More exactly said on this matter by publishing Chapter 5 of ‘Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)’ by Laksiri Fernando. This is part of a series to celebrate the five hundred years of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (December 1516) courtesy of Colombo Telegraph and Sri Lanka Guardian. The publication link to the original is https://www.createspace.com/4688110
A COMMUNIST SOCIETY
“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is call equality.” ~ Erich Fromm
Utopian society is based on a certain philosophy; justice and equality being the main corner stones. Nonetheless it is not dogmatic but pragmatic. According to More, there are various arguments on moral issues among the Utopians that are freely discoursed. The society however is based on a general agreement on what they have achieved (or could achieve) concerning ‘on what the happiness of man consists of.’ According to More, “They inquire into the nature of virtue and pleasure; but their chief dispute is concerning the happiness of a man, and wherein it consists? Whether in some one thing, or in a great many? They seem, indeed, more inclinable to that opinion that places, if not the whole, yet the chief part of a man’s happiness in pleasure.”
“Yet they do not place happiness in all sorts of pleasures, but only in those that in themselves are good and honest.”
Pleasure in moderation is the concept. There is no clear social contract theory pronounced in More’s social philosophy like what advocated by Thomas Hobbes or John Locke later in England. But society is seen as a natural evolution of man’s effort to pursue happiness which leads to different forms of societies. Utopia is the ideal form of society which is based on a moral and an ethical foundation which is just and equal to every member of society. For this purpose “they make use of arguments even from religion, notwithstanding its severity and roughness” but their main disposition is to be based on “natural reason, since without that they reckon that all our inquiries after happiness must be bit conjectural and defective.” “They also observe that in order to our supporting the pleasure of life, nature inclines us to enter into society,” More argues.
Utopians derive their equality principle (or Sama Samaja) from natural justice “for there is no man so much raised above the rest of mankind.” No one can be the favourite of the nature, More argued. The nature places all on a common level. “Upon this they infer that no man ought to seek his own conveniences so eagerly as to prejudice others.”
More apparently found it difficult to give a rational or more sophisticated explanation to equality. What is most symbolic about Utopian equality is their dress or housing. Compared with many other sophisticated propositions by More, this appears to be quite immature and stereotypical. Utopians wear similar garments without attention to fashion or beauty. What is wrong with ‘fashion or beauty’ is difficult to understand in More’s socialism. It looks like that he advocated an unnecessary ‘uniformity’ in socialism. This is what it says.
“Throughout the Island they wear the same sort of clothes without any other distinction, except what is necessary to distinguish the two sexes and the married and unmarried. The fashion never alters; and as it is neither disagreeable nor uneasy, so it is suited to the climate, and calculated both for their summers and winters. Every family makes their own clothes.”
In preparation of their clothes very little work is spent on them and they wear causally, and they last several years. They wear one type for work but when attending public events, “they put an upper garment, which hides the other” and these are all of one color. They wear the same for the summers and the winters and their concern is only for cleanliness. Then More criticizes the practice in other places and says, “while in other places, four or five upper garments of woollen cloth, of different colors, and as many vests of silk, will scarce serve one man; and while those that are nicer think ten are too few.” But in the case of Utopia it is different “every man there is content with one, which very often serves him two years. Nor is there anything that can tempt a man to desire more; for if he had them, he would neither be the warmer nor would he make one jot the better appearance for it.”
The above may appear completely ‘out of fashion’ today. People may like, especially the younger generations, different fashions and different clothing. Garment industry is one of the largest in the world employing millions and millions of workers especially from the Third World. In a system of capitalism, the abandonment of the garment industry might spell disaster for those workers and the countries that they live in.
But there is also an economic plus and a social logic in what More says. If people are satisfied with the basic needs and if unnecessary industries are abandoned or scaled down, then the work time that people need to spend in society is less which could be utilized for more and more intellectual development. There are people even in our present day society who prefers simple and sometimes uniform garments. They only change the fashion occasionally.
Another symbol of equality in the Utopian society is housing. All houses are the same with equal facilities. More was describing a situation in the city. “Their buildings are good, and are so uniform that a whole side of a street looks like one house.” They were adjoining the streets of ‘twenty feet broad,’ for a carriage to drive. “There lie gardens behind all their houses and these are large but enclosed with buildings that on all hands face the streets.” “Every house has both a door to the street and a back door to the garden.” This is very much similar to the townhouse system in many Western countries today and the “backyard gardens are of particular importance to leisure, pleasure and day to day crops of fruit and flower.” As More said,
“They cultivate their gardens with great care, so that they have vines, fruits, herbs, and flowers in them; and all is so well ordered, and so finely kept, that I never saw gardens anywhere that were both so fruitful and so beautiful as theirs.”
There is also an element of emulation and competition between the inhabitants to keep their gardens well in order and useful. “And this humour of ordering their gardens so well is not only kept up by the pleasure they find in it.” It is also “by emulation between the inhabitants of the several streets, who vie with each other.” Moreover, “there is indeed nothing belonging to the whole town that is both more useful and more pleasant.”
But in respect of the architecture of the houses, they were rather monotonous like the dress. There is an argument in Utopia that houses should be built for generations. “The building or the repairing of houses among us employs many hands, because often a thriftless heir suffers a house that his father built to fall into decay,” More argues. “It frequently happens that the same house which one person built at a vast expense is neglected by another, who thinks he has a more delicate sense of the beauties of architecture; and he suffering it to fall to ruin, builds another at no less charge.”
At the same time there are instances where More acknowledges that there should be improvements and even aesthetic considerations in respect of housing. He says that “they were at first low and mean, like cottages, made of any sort of timber, and were built with mud walls and thatched with straw. But now their houses are three stories high.” According to this latter description, the fronts of them are faced with stone or plastering. They also use great quantities of glass for decoration of windows. They glaze their windows and decorate with thin linen cloth oiled or gummed to both prevent wind and to allow free admission of the light. There are some innovative aspects too. “Their roofs are flat, and on them they lay a sort of plaster, which costs very little, and yet is so tempered that it is not apt to take fire, and yet resists the weather more than lead.” Most interestingly, between the walls of lined houses they use the space to throw in their rubbish, perhaps for the time being for the community collection later.
Utopia is mostly a communist society. They lived together, worked together and most of the time ate together. “Every city is divided into four equal parts,” as we have discussed before, sometimes called a town and “in the middle of each there is a marketplace.” That is where they supplied their produced to the public consumption, and that is where they obtained their goods for the private or family consumption. First, the community halls are served for their necessary provisions. Then “no man is hindered to carry provisions home from the market-place; for they know that none does that but for some good reason.” A town is divided into several sections or quarters and the houses are situated along the wide streets. In the middle are their common dining halls.
“In every street there are great halls that lie at an equal distance from each other, distinguished by particular names. The [Magistrates] dwell in those that are set over thirty families, fifteen lying on one side of it, and as many on the other. In these halls they all meet and have their repasts.”
They have community dining at these places, but anyone can choose to have their own meals at home if they so desire. “Both dinner and supper are begun with some lecture of morality that is read to them; but it is so short, that it is not tedious nor uneasy to them to hear it.” In addition, “It is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak; at which none are obliged to appear but those who are marked out for literature; yet a great many, both men and women of all ranks, go to hear lectures of one sort or other, according to their inclinations.”
At the hours of diner and supper, the whole community being called together by the sound of trumpet. Then they meet and eat together, except those who are in the hospitals or lie sick at home. What is important is the rationality that More attributes to this common eating. “It is both ridiculous and foolish for any to give themselves the trouble to make ready an ill dinner at home, when there is a much more plentiful one made ready for him so near at hand.” These halls are run by every family taking tasks in turns. “All the uneasy and sordid services about these halls are performed by their slaves; but the dressing and cooking their meat, and the ordering their tables, belong only to the women.” Here comes again the use of slaves, though convicts, for ‘uneasy and sordid’ tasks and women for cooking!
More however explains quite in detail the meticulous way that everything is organized in these common dining halls. “They sit at three or more tables, according to their number; the men sit toward the wall, and the women sit on the other side, that if any of them should be taken suddenly ill, which is no uncommon case among women with child, she may, without disturbing the rest, rise and go to the nurses’ room, who are there with the sucking children, where there is always clean water at hand, and cradles in which they may lay the young children, if there is occasion for it, and a fire that they may shift and dress them before it.” They are all extremely health conscious. All facilities are supplied to care for the sick, children and the ailing.
Order and Care
Every child is nursed by its own mother under normal circumstances. However, if serious sickness does intervene then in that case the Philarchs’ wives come into the picture. They find a nurse quickly, which is no hard matter. There are competent ones in nursing that offers to do so cheerfully. They do it as charity and “so the child considers the nurse as its mother.” He further explains the arrangements and it is an interesting scene that he pictures.
“All the children under five years old sit among the nurses, the rest of the younger sort of both sexes, till they are fit for marriage, either serve those that sit at table or, if they are not strong enough for that, stand by them in great silence, and eat what is given them; nor have they any other formality of dining.”
The description goes on. The arrangements at the diner hall are well orderly and systematic. “In the middle of the first table, which stands across the upper end of the hall, sit the Philarch and his wife; for that is the chief and most conspicuous place.” Then “next to him sit two of the most ancient” to mean the most elderly. “If there is a temple within that community, the Priest and his wife sit with the Philarch above all the rest.” Then in rest of the tables “there is a mixture of old and young, who are so placed, that as the young are set near others, so they are mixed with the more ancient.” The purpose is clear as “they say was appointed on this account, that the gravity of the old people, and the reverence that is due to them, might restrain the younger from all indecent words and gestures.”
“Dishes are not served up to the whole table at first, but the best are first set before the old, whose seats are distinguished from the young, and after them all the rest are served alike. The old men distribute to the young any curious meats that happen to be set before them, if there is not such an abundance of them that the whole company may be served alike.”
Thus, old men are honored with a particular respect and it is not clear whether this derives from ‘feudal’ values or socialist. As explained before, both dinner and supper are begun with some lecture of morality. But thereafter “old men take occasion to entertain those about them with some useful and pleasant enlargements. But they do not engross the whole discourse so to themselves, during their meals that the younger may not put in for a share. On the contrary, they engage them to talk, that so they may in that free way of conversation find out the force of everyone’s spirit and observe his temper.”
“They dispatch their dinners quickly, but sit long at supper; because they go to work after the one, and are to sleep after the other, during which they think the stomach carries on the concoction more vigorously.”
There are aesthetic values cultivated among the people, and “they never sup without music.” There is always fruit served up after meat. While they are at table, some burn perfumes and sprinkle about fragrant ointments and sweet waters. This is very much similar to Hindu or Asian practices. In short, they want nothing that may cheer up their spirits. They give themselves a large allowance that way, and indulge themselves in all such pleasures as are attended with no inconvenience. That is the way of life of people who mainly live in towns as described by More. But in the country, where they live at great distance, everyone eats at home.
The most important characteristic of the Utopian society is peoples’ social and moral satisfaction; and all were content with whatever they had. They all were employed and engaged in some useful labor. “They content themselves with fewer things.” And as a result, “there was great abundance of all things among them” as it was explained in the previous chapter. The Magistrates never engaged people in unnecessary labor, “since the chief end of the constitution is to regulate labor by the necessities of the public.” The most important was the system that allowed “all people as much time as is necessary for the improvement of their minds, in which they think the happiness of life consists.”
More argues for equality very strongly saying that by nature there are no differences and all are place on the same level playing field. There are no favourites of nature and in fact rejects the theory of survival of the fittest. In other words, he supports a system where ‘all those that belong to the same human species’ are ‘placed on the same level of work, comforts, pleasure and happiness.’ But that level can be a reasonable social band and not a uniform line or a point as More advocated. There can be reasonable differences.
But he argued differently. “Upon this” he infers “that no man ought to seek his own conveniences so eagerly as to prejudice others.” Therefore, More thinks that laws ought to be kept which people have consented without oppression or tyranny “for distributing those conveniences of life which afford us all our pleasures.”
Marriage and Family
Utopian social practice is not to have free love/sex or women as common property. This is largely a misconception about communism or what More advocated. The society is based on family and marriage and what More seemed to advocate is rather conservative practice compared to many societies today. A prominent place is also preserved for the males than the females.
“As their cities are composed of families, so their families are made up of those that are nearly related to one another. Their women, when they grow up, are married out. But all the males, both children and grandchildren, live still in the same house, in great obedience to their common parent, unless age has weakened his understanding and in that case, he that is next to him in age comes in his room.”
In Utopia, the family is more or less a self-contained entity. Every family attends to its necessities unless given by the community. “Every family makes their own clothes” without depending on dress makers. The families are regimented as do the cities. Utopians are very concerned about the population balance. “Any district should become either too great, or by any accident be depopulated, provision is made that none of their district may contain above 6,000 families.” The concept of family is also different, not completely dependent on the same parenthood. The children could be exchanged. “No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it. But there can be no determined number for the children under age. This rule is easily observed, by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them.” If that were possible one could speculate whether new forms of family or marriage were possible as advocated by the gay and lesbian movement today. Most probably More would have approved it, if he were living today.
“But to return to their manner of living in society, the oldest man of every family, as has been already said, is its governor. Wives serve their husbands and children their parents, and always the younger serves the elder.”
The family is Asiatic in nature. “The whole Island is, as it were, one family,” More has already said.
Care for Health
Utopia gives priority for health. “They take more care of their sick than of any others,” More says. The sick are “lodged and provided for in public hospitals they have belonging to every town four hospitals.” The hospitals “are built without their walls, and are so large that they may pass for little towns.” “By this means, if they had ever such a number of sick persons, they could lodge them conveniently, and at such a distance, that such of them as are sick of infectious diseases may be kept so far from the rest that there can be no danger of contagion.”
“The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick,” More assures. At the same time the services are superb. “Those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skillful physicians.” And also “that as none is sent to them against their will, so there is scarce one in a whole town that, if he should fall ill, would not choose rather to go thither than lie sick at home.”
According to More, the system takes special care of “those who are taken with fixed and incurable diseases, they use all possible ways to cherish them, and to make their lives as comfortable as possible. They visit them often, and take great pains to make their time pass off easily.”
More also takes up the issue of euthanasia. When someone “is taken with a torturing and lingering pain, so that there is no hope, either of recovery or ease” and after taking all other measures they can contemplate the ending of their life at will, “if they themselves want to end their lives.” That is also only after if the Magistrates and Priests are convinced that “they are now unable to go on with the business of life, are become a burden to themselves and to all about them, and they have really outlived themselves.”
Utopia, however, did not approve people committing suicide. “So if any man takes away his own life without the approbation of the priests and the Senate, they give him none of the honours of a decent funeral, but throw his body into a ditch.”
Education and Intellectuals
Education took an equal prominence in More’s scheme of a new society. It is not only education, but knowledge with practice. Children are instructed in agriculture “partly by what they learn at school and partly by practice.” In schools “they being led out often into the fields, about the town, where they not only see others at work, but are likewise exercised in it themselves.” What is available in Utopia is more than mere formal education; it is a system of complete intellectual life.
More has been talking about an intellectual class in Utopia, sort of elite, although it is not that elaborate. This appears to be an influence of Plato who talked about ‘philosopher kings’ and a special role for the intellectuals in his Republic. According to More, this class however is not privileged but serving the society on equal terms as others. In Utopia, even the Philarchs, and that means the bureaucrats, ‘though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work,’ because by their example they may excite the industry of the rest of the people.
But there is an exception. An “exemption is allowed to those who, being recommended to the people by the Priests [and selected] by the secret suffrages of the Philarchs.” They are the intellectuals or the trainee intellectuals. They are exempted from labor, for a period, that they may apply themselves wholly to study. They are selected very carefully. There are two ways of selecting them. Some are selected from those who have “an extraordinary capacity and disposition for letters.” Others are selected, from proven interest in intellectual pursuits even later in life on the basis of their willingness and capacity. However, “if any of these falls short of those hopes that they seemed at first to give, they are obliged to return to work.”
They are not selected from any particular family or class. “And sometimes a mechanic, that so employs his leisure hours, as to make a considerable advancement in learning, is eased from being a tradesman, and ranked among their learned men.” It is out of these groups of people that they choose their ambassadors, their priests, their Archphilarchs, and the Prince himself. This is supposed to be different to what was in practice in England during the 16th century.
But the learning and studies of others are not neglected. Strangely, More has forgotten to mention about their schooling system in any detail except few references. However it is mentioned that “they have all their learning in their own tongue.” More says “which is both a copious and pleasant language, and in which a man can fully express his mind.” It is lingua franca in that part of the world as “it runs over a great tract of many countries, but it is not equally pure in all places.” It is possible that his imagination was Sanskrit or Pali. As we have already mentioned, it is ordinary to have public lectures every morning before daybreak in their community halls at which none are obliged to appear. It is perfectly voluntary. Yet it indicates the importance given to the intellectual life in Utopia.
There is another merit, for them to be a knowledge society. “They do not in all things agree among themselves,” both mundane and philosophical. Not only on “the causes of the saltiness of the sea, of its ebbing and flowing” but also on “the origin and nature both of the heavens and the earth; they dispute of them, partly as our ancient philosophers have done, and partly upon some new hypothesis, in which, as they differ from them.”
 Erich Fromm, The Art of Living.
 Dress is another example for the argument that More was talking about a tropical Island, Ceylon at that time. He said the ‘same sorts of cloth’ could be ‘calculated to suit both for their summers and winters.’
 One may argue that More’s Utopia came closer to what Pol Pot tried to practice in Cambodia or the other way round. In the enforced community living in Cambodia, a person was given one pair of trouser and a tunic which could be collected from the dormitory.
 More placed great attention to ‘mixing young with the old’ believing that otherwise the young might go astray without the gravity of the seniors. This description also appears when he talks about attending temples.
 However there is contradictory evidence. Erasmus refers to a lost dialogue where More was in support of ‘community of wives’ as advocated in Plato’s Republic. Tommaso Campanella also advocated a ‘community of wives’ in his The City of the Sun (1602).
Recently I was asked to suggest a good tagline for Independence Day. The selling point was the main theme engendered by February 4, freedom. Such taglines, however, are notoriously difficult to come up with, so after days of thinking and scribbling, I was given an idea to pursue: instead of freedom, we’d opt for a different theme. That theme would be the perennial problem we encounter every February: the fact that we take our own Independence Day (and what it stands for) for granted. Put simply, our collective indifference. Needless to say, I loved it.
In the United States of America, schoolchildren are taught about Constitutional Law and the Founding Fathers through illustrated and easy to read guides. There are simplified versions of the Declaration of Freedom, annotated for the common reader, which are never out of print. Classrooms are littered (for the lack of a better term) with posters designed by students centring on what they think about Independence. Broadway directors turn the lives of the Founding Fathers into veritable musicals and Hollywood, time and time again, feature them as heroes. The last time I checked, Abraham Lincoln had become a vampire hunter.
What does independence mean for us, given that a few days from today we’ll be celebrating 69 years of it? Is it freedom or nidahasa, or is it what it literally means, svadinathvaya? If the latter is true, we have no reason for pride. We are not completely independent in the sense that we are part of this accursed reality (which we must acknowledge) called globalisation, but despite that a country can still claim self-sufficiency by realising its potential and making its leaders work for its people. In other words, independence is not just about nationalism and rhetoric, it’s also about working for the broader citizenry, eschewing ethnicity and faith. Unfortunately, we have not even achieved that.
Politically we have allowed our rulers to tinker with the democratic process. If 1956 signified a congruence of liberalism and ethno-nationalism (a paradox, certainly), it didn’t continue because of the structural flaws of a system that, to this day, entrenches the power of the privileged. Economically we have progressed from having Singapore use us as a model to having Singapore as a model. Culturally we are yet to claim an identity of our own, in part because our nationalists are tragically a hybridised lot, disdainful of Westernisation in public and enamoured of it in private.
All of this naturally begs the question: what SHOULD svadinathvaya entail? Do we take it literally and repudiate globalisation, or do we enjoy the latter while hypocritically celebrating self-sufficiency? The West, with the recent intrusion of rightwing political parties, is seeing a return to mercantilism and the form of capitalism that subsisted during the Industrial Revolution (indefensibly and manifestly privileging the pursuit of money over everything else). Does this mean that the East should follow suit?
The answer, I feel, will not be found by resorting to politics. It will be found by resorting to literature. I am thinking here of Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire (“The Home and the World”), which explores the rift between cosmetic nationalism and sobriety. The former, personified by Sandip (the nationalist), results in the destruction, while the latter, personified by Nikhil (the rationalist), results in progress. If we obtain an analogy here, we can surmise that the history of this country, after independence that is, has more or less been driven by the rift between the Sandips and the Nikhils in our Parliament and government.
To be sure, a country’s destiny can’t be reducible to what goes on in those two institutions, but given the structure of privilege we’ve let our representatives wallow in, there’s no point in claiming that power exists in the periphery. We can’t have the cake and eat it too, after all. If we elect idiots, we shall be ruled by idiots. That’s democracy for you today.
To this end, it’s pertinent to remember that a great many people of this country believe that independence was given to, and not won by, us. A rather crass generalisation to make, particularly since it trivialises those who actually fought for our freedom, but spot on if we relate it to the moment of independence, i.e. February 4, 1948. It doesn’t take one much time, after all, to read the likes of Kumari Jayawardena and conclude (rather depressingly) that most of those touted as heroes today were less concerned about achieving complete independence than about ensuring that the White Man handed over his mantle to the pukka sahib.
There’s no point dwelling on the past if we don’t anchor it for the future, no less a person than Martin Wickramasinghe informed us. But there’s no point thinking of the future without thinking of the past, a point that Wickramasinghe emphasised as well. If we decry English as a privileged tongue while secretly indulging in that same privilege, if we teach OTHER children to cherish the game pasale while ensuring by hook or crook that OUR children are admitted to elite institutions, where’s the freedom we should be embracing? Where’s the past we should be celebrating and the future we should be bracing ourselves for?
Forget that. Take another issue. How many of us are bothered to think about our history? How many of us are rooted enough to appreciate our methods of irrigation and our ancient civilisation without either degrading them as inferior or ballooning them as the greatest in the world? The former sentiment is echoed by the cosmopolitan, the latter by the cosmetic nationalist. If we are to claim independence, neither individual will do. And yet, we can concede that both of them have called the shots here, often clinching power and more often than not retaining power.
Should we stop hoping, then? I don’t think so. 1956 was a failed experiment, in that it won us neither the nationalism nor the liberalism its leader(s) espoused, but it happened nevertheless. Much of the foundation for a deshiya samajaya, let’s not forget, was laid with the revolution it wrought, so much so that not even the paradigm shift brought about after 1977 was enough to erode it. As Gunadasa Amarasekara aptly pointed out, our political structure, flawed as it is, was and is capable of throwing out a firm-footed and rooted nationalist leader. If we wait long enough, and if bad times worsen even more, that leader will not (I believe) be hard to enough. Not easy, yes. But not impossible either.
When Mahagama Sekara penned “Me Sinhala Apage Ratayi”, he was not writing about the Sinhala Buddhist identity per se. He was writing of the Siv Hela, the races that originally inhabited this island, whose heritage precedes even that of those who rant and rave over ethnic supremacy today. And yet, we are wont to trashing it as a chauvinist work of art. When Sunil Ariyaratne penned the Janaraja Geethaya, better known of course as “Api Okkoma Rajawaru” for our true independence day (May 22, 1972), we became the deciders of our own destiny, collectively and individually. The “we” was symbolic and telling: all of us, not just the majority. We should be forgiven for erring over Sekara’s immortal song, but we should not be forgiven for thinking that claiming independence (svadinathvaya) culturally has always been coterminous with claiming ethnic supremacy.
One final point. We were a matriarchal society before the British invaded us. We didn’t institutionalise patriarchy. The British did. Much of what can be considered as puritanical today, in our society, can be traced to laws drafted by the Victorians. To confuse the one for the other, to either conflate our identity with outdated Puritanism OR reject our puritanical strains on the (perceived) shortcomings of our country, is therefore wrong. To become free and independent, I believe we should do away or at least reform these laws. Otherwise, we will continue seeking shelter in artificial legal constructs to defend what is misconceived as our identity.
On this week of independence, therefore, let us resolve. Let us come with a proper tagline. Let us therefore wish, “Don’t just celebrate freedom, enjoy it!” Or to put it in a better way, “Love freedom.” If there is an advertisement for February 4, that’s the copy and tagline we should put out. For all to see
The following is a commentary on an article written by DBS Jeyaraj in which he exposes the overseas LTTE network’s plot to assassinate TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran in two instances: December 12th of 2016 and January 13th of 2017. The plot to assassinate Sumanthiran, however, did not succeed or materialize due to certain unforeseeable circumstances.
Never forget, the LTTE overseas network is still alive and well. Had the LTTE succeeded in killing Sumanthiran, it would have unleashed a full restoration and strengthening of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The assassination would have resulted in greater military presence in the North. The assassination would have weakened the Tamil moderates and strengthened the Sinhala hardliners. Owing to the political climate in the aftermath of the assassination, it would have allowed the government to quickly sweep through constitutional reforms, almost without any opposition. All these outcomes are precisely what the LTTE overseas network wants! The LTTE network wants to reignite harsh government oppressive policies against Tamils, and Sumanthiran’s assassination may have resulted in the Sri Lankan government imposing such policies. The LTTE network can then turn to the Tamil diaspora and say, “look at the terror the GOSL is causing.” The LTTE diaspora network has the rationale that even the smallest sense of normalcy and peace in Sri Lanka between Tamils and Sinhalese is counterproductive to the goal of gaining a separate state!
The LTTE overseas network, time and time again, is willing to reach their goal of a separate state even if it means carrying out actions which would result in the brutal oppression of Tamils, who are the same people the LTTE network claims to protect! The LTTE overseas network is nothing but a bunch of sadistic idiots!
This assassination plot, however, was partially foiled by an ex-LTTE member in the North who refused to carry out such an assassination, citing that if the assassination plot is carried out it would be detrimental to the wellbeing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Subsequently, the ex-LTTE member reported the assassination plot to the Sri Lankan authorities. This is a reminder that an overwhelming majority of the ex-LTTE members are good and decent people who only want to live in peace.
January 31st is Neelan Tiruchelvam’s birthday. We must remember the virtues championed by Neelan Tiruchelvam, a man of integrity and peace. In Parliament, on June 15th 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam said that we must “celebrate life”, we must be “fiercely committed to protecting and securing the sanctity of life, which is the most fundamental value without which all other rights and freedoms become meaningless…despite all the difficulties, there needs to be a concerted effort to develop a negotiating framework that can command the widest possible support. Such a negotiating framework must include at least minimal acceptance, by both sides, of the norms and standards relating to international human rights and a determination to restore peace, normalcy, civil society and democratic governance.” One month later, on July 29th 1999, Neelan Tiruchelvam would be assassinated.
Colombo Telegraph now has access to a letter sent by the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds based in Boston, USA which states that the Trustees have decided to reduce the funds allocated to both Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai and Uduvil Girls’ College for the first quarter of the year 2017 by 20%.
This letter, signed by The Rev Richard H. Huleatt, the President of the Trustees of Jaffna College Funds, was emailed on the 5th of January to the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India The Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah, the Chairperson of the Boards of Directors of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College.
Failure on the part of the two schools to submit the audited financial statements for 2015, violence unleashed on the students who were protesting against the appointment of the new Principal at Uduvil Girls’ College last year, the administrators’ failure to hold those who were involved in the violence accountable, threats of physical harm and punitive measures, recruitment of under-qualified teachers to both schools in the recent past, abuse and misuse of power and the funds sent by the Trustees , intimidation and manipulation of the teachers and the board members placing their personal interests above the welfare of the students and the school are among the reasons cited in the letter for the reduction of funds to these two educational institutions in Northern Sri Lanka.
The Trustees in their letter copied to 19 individuals including the Chief Minister of the Northern Province Justice C. V. Wigneswaran, the Education Minister of the Province Mr. T. Gurukularajah, the Principals of the schools and members of the alumni all over the world insist that 9 major reforms ensuring transparency and fairness in the areas of administration, financial reporting, and recruitment of teachers and officers be implemented before the 30th of June 2017. These reforms include independent audits of the funds utilized by the schools and internal controls, prudent and open nominations for persons to serve as directors, appointment of qualified officers and teachers, disclosure of related party transactions, avoidance of cronyism and nepotism, and regular meetings of Boards and Committees, followed by public reports of deliberations and decisions. The letter notes that the changes that they require are “consistent with governance and reporting standards that are accepted and implemented by well-run organizations worldwide, including educational institutes”. The Rev. Huleatt also observes that for the Trustees “to act responsibly as fiduciary, [their] beneficiaries should provide [them] with transparent financial reporting, demonstrate responsible governance practices, communicate cooperatively with [them]”.
Irregularities in Governance and Administration
The Trustees have requested the two Boards to send them the audited financial statements for the year 2015 and a letter detailing the steps taken by the Boards to implement the reforms proposed by the Trustees by the 15th of March 2017 and noted that failure to do so would result in the reduction of the payment for the second quarter of the year 2017 as well.
The letter also states that the Trustees arrived at the decision to reduce the funds allocated to the two schools based on credible reports about serious irregularities in the governing bodies and administration of the schools that they received from various constituents of the school community and discussions they had in October 2016 with the alumni associations of the schools, parents and teachers of Uduvil Girls’ College, senior church officials of several Christian denominations, the Governor of the Northern Province and the Minister of Education of the Province.
On the 15th of January 2017, Sunday Times reported that the Chairperson of the Boards The Rt. Rev. Dr. Thiagarajah had called the letter “a very high handed act”[i]. Even in his Charge for the 64th Session of the Jaffna Diocesan Council of the Church of South India in November 2016, the Bishop alleged that the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) Global Ministries and Jaffna College Trustees “cling blindly to their need for privilege and status in their dealings with [them]”[ii]. Quoting the Bishop, the news report that appeared in Sunday Times says that lawyers are in the process of preparing a response to the letter. The Bishop also alleged that someone with vested interest was behind the letter and that the Boards’ lawyers were drawing up a defamation case. The newspaper also notes that among the counsel is Attorney-at-Law and Jaffna District MP M.A. Sumanthiran.
Almost all the members of the two Boards except Mrs. Savithri Sumanthiran (Methodist Church), wife the TNA MP M.A Sumanthiran and Ms. Vijula Arulanantham (Anglican Church), a close legal associate of Mr. Sumanthiran are members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. Among those who represent the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, some belong to the same family or are closely related to one another. For instance, Bishop Thiagarajah (Chairperson) and his wife Dr. (Mrs.) Thayalini Thiagarajah and his brother Rev. Dr. Gunalan Thiagarajah are on the Board of Directors of Jaffna College. While Bishop Thiagarajah is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College, his wife Dr. (Mrs.) Thiagarajah is the Manager of the School. Both The Rev. Dr. D. S. Solomon, Principal of Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai and his brother-in-law Mr. R. M. Ratnarajah serve on the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College. Mrs. Sujani Rajathevan who serves on the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College is a close relative of Dr. (Mrs.) Thiagarajah. Bishop Thiagarajah is also the Manager of Jaffna College.
The letter sent by the Trustees states that the two “Boards of Directors are over-populated by members of the same inner circle rather than representatives of key constituencies such as parents, faculty and alumni”. The letter also notes that “the joint occupancy of several official positions at each college by the same person(s) leads to an unhealthy concentration of power that unchecked can undermine the educational mission”.
In explaining to the media in September about the process followed during the selection of the new Principal for Uduvil Girls’ College last year, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College Bishop Thiagarajah described Mrs. Savithri Sumanthiran and Ms. Vijula Arulanantham as two ladies who have contributed a lot to the area of education in their respective Churches (between 6.17 – 7.00 mins in the video).[iii] Aware of TNA Parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran’s involvement as legal advisor in the legal disputes that the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India has been facing for several years, especially after a major split in the Church over the consecration of The Rt. Rev. Dr. D.S. Thiagarajah as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese in Chennai, India in 2006, some parents and alumni of Uduvil Girls’ College wondered if Mrs. Sumanthiran’s membership on the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College was tantamount to conflicts of interest.
The parents and alumni also wanted to find out if Mrs. Sumanthiran and Ms. Arulanantham were appointed to the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College based on recommendations by the Methodist and Anglican Churches respectively. Since the Bishop invoked the Methodist and Anglican Churches in his communication with the media, they argue that it is important that the two Churches clarify whether or not they had any involvement in the appointment of the duo to the Board of Directors of Uduvil Girls’ College. The minutes of the Uduvil Girls’ College Board dated 6 February 2016 states that Mrs. Sumanthiran and Ms. Arulanantham would serve on the “Search Committee” for the appointment of the new Principal in their capacity as members of the College Board who represent “the wider Christian community” in the country. Ms. Arulanantham also serves the Board of Directors of Jaffna College as its Vice Chairperson. The Bishop and his wife ardently campaigned for the electoral victory of Mr. Sumanthiran in the parliamentary elections held in August 2015 on social media.
The Trustees of Jaffna College Funds in their letter to the Chairperson of the Board of Directors insist that the Boards of Directors of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College adopt a conflict of interest policy for the Board with required annual reports by each director. They have also required annual disclosure of related party transactions for each member of the Board. The letter delineates a related party transaction as “one in which a director derives a financial or other personal benefit from the college that could result in divided loyalty between service to college and his/her own personal interest”.
Corruption in the Church
In the meantime, the National Company Law Tribunal in India, in November 2016, removed all the office bearers and directors of the Church of South India Trust Association (CSITA) on alleged charges of misappropriation and appointed a retired judge of the High Court to look into the affairs of the organization. Bharani Vaitheesvaran reports in The Economic Times that the Church of South India Trust Association, a Chennai-headquartered charity organization that runs schools, hospitals, and earns predominantly through rental income from lands has been facing charges of alleged fraud and misappropriation of funds for about a decade now.[iv] Citing the CSI synod website, Global Christian News states that the CSITA has obtained a stay order passed by the National Company Law Tribunal.[v] The Church of South India is the second largest Christian church in India, after the Roman Catholic Church, with 24 dioceses across the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, including one in Jaffna Sri Lanka. Well-wishers of Jaffna College and Uduvil Girls’ College in Jaffna note that all required steps should be taken to protect the schools from the corruption that the Church of South India is mired in.
While Uduvil Girls’ College is a Church school, Jaffna College was envisioned as a non-denominational Christian institute by its founders. Schedule B in the 1894 Founding Ordinance of the College unambiguously states that the institution “shall be conducted as a Christian College, whose directors and instructors shall be members of any denomination of Protestant Christians”. However, all members of the current Board of Directors of Jaffna College except two (one of them is the representative of the alumni who does not have to be Protestant Christian as per the constitution) are members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India. The constitution of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College approved at the Semi-Annual Meeting of 12-08-1989 states that the Jaffna Diocesan Council of the Church of South India shall elect six members of the Board of Directors, of whom one shall be the Bishop of the JDCSI (Article VI.2). The constitution does not state that the rest or the majority of the Protestant Christian members of the Board should also be members of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church.
Changes to the Jaffna College Board Constitution
A document titled The CONSTITUTION of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College (as approved at the Meeting of the Board of Directors on February 26th, 2015), which is now doing the rounds online, states that the Bishop of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India shall be the Chairperson of the Board by virtue of office in a clause (Article IV – b) that according to many may weaken the non-denominational character of the school. The constitution approved in 1989 which did not have any such clause makes it clear that the Chairman of the Board is elected annually from the Board of Directors (Article XII). A by-law in the 1989 constitution that required the Principal to preside over the Prize Day of the school has also been changed. Article XI in the other document where the duties of the Principal are mentioned does not say that chairing the Prize Day is the Principal’s duty.
In what many describe as an unprecedented move, the Chairperson of the Board of Directors presided over the Prize Day held in June 2015 and the Principal’s duty was limited to presenting the school’s annual report. In another unprecedented move, the Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors Ms. Vijula Arulanantham made comments on the report presented by the Principal. The Alumni who were observing the Prize Day were astounded by these events hitherto unheard of in the College’s history. Many members of the staff in what was interpreted as a sign of protest against these changes did not turn up at the Prize Day dinner.
We reliably learn that later at a meeting with the teachers of Jaffna College, the Vice Chairperson of the Board Ms. Vijula Arulanantham had told the audience there was nothing wrong in the Chairperson of the Board chairing the Prize Day as similar practices exist in CMS schools in Sri Lanka associated with the Anglican Church. The alumni and a section of the teachers found the justification given by the Vice Chairperson outrageous. They claimed it was wrong to unilaterally impose customs followed at other institutes on an independent Christian institute with its own traditions. Though some observe a connection between the content of constitution reportedly adopted in February 2016 and the Bishop chairing the Prize Day in June 2016, as there was no alumni representative present at the meeting held on the 26th of February 2015, it still remains a mystery to the alumni and the larger public if a new constitution was approved on that day. Silence has so far been the response to the requests made to the Principal by the Alumni for a copy of the new Constitution.
In a recent letter sent to the Board of Directors dated 25 November 2016, the Alumni Representative has expressed his surprise over the appointment of a Deputy Principal to the School on the 9th of November 2016. He also notes that no mention was made about this appointment at a meeting of the Board of Directors held nearly month before this appointment was announced. The letter also says that as per the 1989 constitution, there is no constitutional provision to appoint a Deputy Principal to the school, although the document purported to be the constitution adopted in February 2015 says that that Board of Directors “shall have powers of appointment and/or removal of the Principal, Deputy Principal(s) and/or Vice Principal(s) and other members of staff including instructors and officers” (Article V – b). The letter further says that Dr. (Ms.) C. V. Selliah and Mrs. Suganthy Vairasinghe who serve on the Board of Directors of Jaffna College informed the alumni at the Annual General Meeting of the Jaffna College Alumni Association in Colombo that no amendment to the previous constitution had been made.
The newly elected alumni representative to the Board of Directors in this letter has made an official request for the constitution that is currently in effect but is yet to receive one from the Board. The letter sent by the Trustees also requires the Board of Directors to send copies of bylaws and governing documents that are currently in effect and to make the minutes of all meetings of the Board public. The alumni hope that this requirement will also resolve the mystery surrounding the current constitution of the Board of Directors of Jaffna College. They also insist releasing the governing documents lead to transparency in matters related to the movable and immovable properties belonging to the school including lands.
Harassment of Uduvil Girls’ College Students
Kalaikathir, a Jaffna-based daily reported on Monday that no disciplinary action was taken on those who used violence against the students who launched a protest in September. The account also notes that that some of the teachers involved continue to act in a vengeful manner towards the children. Many note that the Trustees’ intervention happened mainly due to the bravery of the student protestors at Uduvil Girls’ College and their parents in September 2016. The students and parents brought to light some of the deep-rooted administrative problems that have been plaguing the institution for many years.
Commentators and old students of the schools also say that sustained efforts taken by the alumni across the world and activists in Jaffna in their quest for transparency and accountability in the administration of the two schools, the publicity given to the protests in September by sections of the media including Thinakkural and Colombo Telegraph and several social media platforms contributed to this welcome change in the Trustees’ approach to the Boards of Directors. That this constructive intervention on the part of the Trustees should lead to healthy changes in the schools is the expectation uppermost in the minds of many of the alumni and well-wishers of these two illustrious institutions all over the world.
Just days since the European Commission proposed the GSP + concession to Sri Lanka, the EU office in Colombo has already begun pressuring the Government to ensure it sticks to its commitments.
Sources said that since last week’s announcement by the European Commission, the mission in Colombo has already contacted relevant government officials seeking details with regard to the government’s implementation of obligations, which is part of the conditions if Sri Lanka is to obtain the GSP + concession.
In a tweet on Friday the EU Mission in Colombo also said it was ‘important’ for Sri Lanka to deliver on its commitments to regain GSP+.
The European Commission has proposed the GSP + concession provided the Sri Lankan government ratifies 27 international conventions in relation to human rights, good governance, labour conditions and environment protection.
A special delegation is also scheduled to visit Colombo to discuss matters with regard to the government’s progress. “The government must ensure all vital areas, specially on human rights and good governance are addressed. The EU is very serious, and mere rhetoric will not suffice, so based on the government’s progress covering these areas will it be decided if Sri Lanka will obtain the concession or not,” a source said.
A meeting is scheduled between government ministers and officials mid this week where matters in relation to the international conventions will be discussed at length.
In a statement issued on January 11, the European Commission proposed that a significant part of the remaining import duties on Sri Lankan products should be removed by the European Union in exchange for the country’s commitment to ratify and effectively implement 27 international conventions on human rights, labour conditions, protection of the environment and good governance. “These one-way trade preferences would consist of the full removal of duties on 66% of tariff lines, covering a wide array of products including textiles and fisheries,” the statement said.
Sri Lanka had already benefited from GSP Plus in the past, but in 2010 the EU decided to stop the preferential treatment for Sri Lankan imports due to the failure to address reported human rights violations in the country during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s term. In 2015, following the change in presidency, the new government applied for GSP Plus in July 2016 and the Commission’s assessment has concluded that it met the GSP+ entry criteria set out in the EU regulation.
With the publication of Chapter 3 of ‘Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka),’ the key question we are raising is whether his outline of a socialist society is possible today? My answer is yes; if not immediately, eventually. It does not need to be exactly in the way Thomas More outlined 500 years ago, but in its essence and in main principles. A major problem that we are confronting today is many of those who are called ‘Socialists’ have given up that struggle for various reasons.
The Left in Sri Lanka or elsewhere should not give up the socialist struggle for political expediency, or for the sake of modernization or fancy ideas of technological/managerial transformation. The struggle for democracy is important, but even that is not a reason to give up socialism. On the other hand, democracy is the surest path to socialism unlike the misguided attempts of building socialism without democracy by the so-called communist movements.
Here we are celebrating the five hundred years of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ (December 1516) by publishing the chapters of ‘Thomas More’s Socialist Utopia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka)’ by Laksiri Fernando (CreateSpace, 2014) every Sunday until the book ends, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph and Sri Lanka Guardian. This will allow anyone who wishes to read it, sooner or later, free access to the book. The publication link to the original for those who wish to obtain a printed copy is https://www.createspace.com/4688110
What is published today is Chapter 3 of the book titled ‘Utopian Political Economy.’ Along with other chapters, it is an outline of a socialist society. We can see how far we can get socialist inspirations from Thomas More for today’s world. This is Part V of the series as we have already published chapters 1 & 2 in addition to the Preface and the Introduction.
UTOPIAN POLITICAL ECONOMY
“Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interactions, the relations within which these individuals stand.” – Karl Marx
THE POLITICAL ECONOMY of Thomas More’s Utopia is a system of agrarian socialism combined with good governance at least in the economic sphere. As we have already discussed, based on a ‘dream island,’ very much similar to Ceylon in its geographical and physical makeup, More was describing a well-planned harmonious social system where men and women, and all sections of society, work and live in equality and happiness with few laws and congenial governance.
However, More obviously was not in a position to completely transcend the social practices or institutions of his time or the country that he came to know about. He talked about a ‘Prince’ as the head of the political system and ‘slavery’ took a milder form as a method of criminal punishment. Nevertheless, many of his propositions were remarkably futuristic, the practice or advocacy of them is common today although there can be doubts whether the overall ‘socialism’ that he talked about ‘without any property’ could be at all put into practice. More himself was not sure, and perhaps that was the reason why he titled the system as Utopia. According to some, it meant ‘good, but no place’ in Greek.
More advocated a society of equality without social classes, exploitation or poverty. That is something possible to achieve within a reasonable social range, without vast disparities but rewarding those who do or contribute better. It was a society of plenty. His political system was partly ‘liberal’ with few laws but an orderly government. The highest officers worked with the people. He advocated a ‘six hour working day’ and perhaps one of the first to stand for gender equity at least in some form. Some of his other innovative ideas were related to ‘euthanasia,’ ‘rainwater harvesting,’ and ‘urban-rural harmony.’ He even talked about incubation of farm chicken which was not known or practiced at that time.
With an extensive welfare system, he gave priority to health and education. Intellectual pursuits were highly acclaimed. His system was almost a ‘knowledge economy.’ Although he gave priority to ‘freedom of choice’ what he terribly missed was ‘individual privacy.’ Anyone could walk into anyone’s home. It was ‘transparency’ taken into a far extreme and ‘transparency’ into personal life. As More said, “All men live in full view.”
Written as a fiction and/or ‘report of a traveler,’ there were many inconsistencies or contradictions in the text of Utopia. They could also be the result of bad translations and/or subsequent editing. The initial text was written in Latin, edited mainly by Erasmus of Rotterdam, the well-known and eminent Catholic theologian of that time. There cannot be any doubt about that input. The first English translation was by Ralph Robinson in 1551 and then an edited version in 1556. Thereafter, there had been many editions, excluding and then including several initial sections back and forth, largely adding to the confusion. Perhaps More himself anticipated different interpretations of what he wanted to say.
Utopia is a small island of around 25,000 square miles with about six million adult population. There are 54 districts in the Island with an equal number of main cities, Amaurot being the island’s capital; “all large and well built: the manners, customs, and laws of which are the same.” As More further says, “He that knows one of their cities knows them all; they are so like one another, except where the situation makes some difference.” The distance between one city and the other is about 24 miles and the remotest is not that far, a man can go on foot in one good day.
A District comprises a main city divided into four sections or towns and the surrounding country. The cities are contrived in the same manner depending on the ground conditions. “None of their [Districts] may contain above 6,000 families.” They have a system of one third of the families going to the country from the city, every year, and living and working there for two years. Therefore, at a given time, the population distribution is about one to two between the city and the country. That is how the balance and harmony between the rural and the urban is maintained and the political economy is run.
The extended family is the basis of the society, the size of which, according to More, is around ten to sixteen adult members. “Their women are not married before eighteen, or their men before two-and-twenty.” “Their women, when they grow up, are married out; but all the males, both children and grandchildren, live still in the same house, in great obedience to their common parents.” This again sounds like traditional Ceylon although there were marriage arrangements during childhood. “There is a master and a mistress set over every family.”
“But to return to their manner of living in society, the oldest man of every family, as has been already said, is its Governor. Wives serve their husbands and children their parents, and always the younger serves the elder.”
In that sense, the society is hierarchical on a family basis; quite Asiatic in nature.
The main base of the Utopian economy is agriculture and “no person, either man or woman, is ignorant of it.” “They are instructed in it from their childhood, partly by what they learn at school and partly by practice; they being led out often into the fields, about the town, where they not only see others at work, but are likewise exercised in it themselves.” People consider themselves rather as tenants than landlords, as there is no private property. Here is a model for any country to emulate today; linking school education to surrounding farming activities and cultivation. Some of the aspects of this system of school education linking to farm activities are practiced in countries like Japan today.
“They have built over all the country, farmhouses for husbandmen, which are well contrived, and are furnished with all things necessary for country labor. Inhabitants are sent by turns from the cities to dwell in them.”
About three families related to each other live in one farmhouse like a large extended family. In the city, a family is about ten to fifteen and when three families are sent to a farmhouse, a ‘family’ in the country has not fewer than forty members and two salves who are spending their sentences. “These husbandmen till the ground, breed cattle, hew wood, and convey it to the towns, either by land or water, as is most convenient.” More has a very broad conception for the institution of family. It is not a nuclear family. It is not merely the extended family either. There are voluntary aspects to the family which will be explained in the next chapter when we would discuss the Utopian society.
There are some features in the farming system, peculiar to Asian societies, using oxen instead of horses for work. As it says, “They breed very few horses…for they do not put them to any work, either of ploughing or carriage, in which they employ oxen; for though their horses are stronger, yet they find oxen can hold out longer; and as they are not subject to so many diseases, so they are kept upon a less charge, and with less trouble; and even when they are so worn out, that they are no more fit for labor, they are good meat at last.” Most interesting and innovative is the incubation system for chicken breeding.
“They breed an infinite multitude of chickens in a very curious manner; for the hens do not sit and hatch them, but vast numbers of eggs are laid in a gentle and equal heat, in order to be hatched, and they are no sooner out of the shell, and able to stir about, but they seem to consider those that feed them as their mothers, and follow them as other chickens do the hen that hatched them.”
It is clear from the above description that ‘artificial incubation’ was not in practice in England at that time, where More was living. Otherwise, there is no reason to call the ‘manner very curious.’ Most probably the information came from the Philippines or any other Southeast Asian country but not from Ceylon. They were the earliest to practice artificial incubation according to some sources.
Besides agriculture, there were trades. Both agriculture and trades were common to them all except when some people were relieved temporarily for other tasks. “Every man has some peculiar trade to which he applies himself, such as the manufacture of wool, or flax, masonry, smith’s work, or carpenter’s work; for there is no sort of trade that is not in great esteem among them.” Although wool is mentioned, there is no mentioning of any sheep. The description further explained how the trades were organized.
“The same trade generally passes down from father to son, inclinations often following descent; but if any man’s genius lays another way, he is by adoption translated into a family that deals in the trade to which he is inclined.” Therefore, there was no compulsion in selecting a trade, and it was largely done by choice. This was like a guild or a loose caste system. The transfer from one family to another for the learning of a new trade was done by the magistrate with the consent of the father of the initial family and the adopted family. Therefore, the family was not a static or a rigid institution.
“And if after a person has learned one trade, he desires to acquire another that is also allowed, and is managed in the same manner as the former. When he has learned both, he follows that which he likes best, unless the public has more occasions for the other.”
What worked finally was a balance between private choice and public interest. The pride and commitment to labor was the most important part of their political economy. But Utopia was far from being an oppressed society in terms of labor. “They do not wear themselves out with perpetual toil, from morning to night,” More assures. Their life style is orderly and systematic. They divide “the day and night into twenty-four hours, appoint six of these for work; three of which are before dinner, and three after. They then sup, and at eight o’clock, counting from noon, go to bed and sleep eight hours.” There is choice in all these yet giving priority to public interest and some ethical considerations. Utopia is also governed by a particular value system.
“The rest of their time besides that taken up in work, eating and sleeping, is left to every man’s discretion; yet they are not to abuse that interval to luxury and idleness, but must employ it in some proper exercise according to their various inclinations, which is for the most part reading.”
More was imagining a system where people only work for six hours a day. It is possible for the following reasons. First, “if those who work were employed only in such things as the conveniences of life require, there would be such an abundance of them.” Second, if people do not consume more than the conveniences of life require, then “the prices of them would so sink that tradesmen could not be maintained by their gains.” Here he referred to prices as in a system of capitalism. Otherwise there was no price mechanism or ‘pricing formula’ in Utopia.
Thirdly and finally, “if all those who labor about useless things were set to more profitable employments, and if all they that languish out their lives in sloth and idleness…were forced to labor, you may easily imagine that a small proportion of time would serve for doing all that is either necessary, profitable, or pleasant to mankind, especially while pleasure is kept within its due bounds.” More repeatedly said about ‘conveniences of life require’ and ‘keeping pleasure within due bounds.’ He also used the terms ‘necessary and pleasant to mankind.’
Then he said, “This appears very plainly in Utopia, for there, in a great city, and in all the territory that lies round it, you can scarce find 500, either men or women, by their age and strength, are capable of labor, that are not engaged in it.” It was a system of full employment. Even the officials and the people’s representatives “though excused by the law, yet do not excuse themselves, but work.” Those who are not directly engaged in labor are the Priests. But he also noted that “the time appointed for labor is to be narrowly examined, otherwise you may imagine, that since there are only six hours appointed for work, they may fall under a scarcity of necessary provisions.” The supervision of labor is a task of the Magistrates or the political system, where the Magistrates themselves did not idle.
There is a very clear labor theory of society although More was not an economist. In Utopia, none is idle like in a capitalist society, and neither “employed in any fruitless labor.” Therefore, he said “you may make the estimate how much may be done in those few hours in which they are obliged to labor.” He also added that “needful arts among them are managed with less labor than anywhere else.” “And thus, since they are all employed in some useful labor, and since they content themselves with fewer things, it falls out that there is a great abundance of all things among them.”
System of Trade
There were two aspects to their trade: internal and external as in the case of any other country, but both are peculiar. Their system of internal trade or exchange is simple but almost impractical in a modern society. This is what it says.
“Every city is divided into four equal parts, and in the middle of each there is a marketplace: what is brought thither, and manufactured by the several families, is carried from thence to houses appointed for that purpose, in which all things of a sort are laid by themselves; and thither every father goes and takes whatsoever he or his family stand in need of, without either paying for it or leaving anything in exchange.”
Near these markets there are other shops where all sorts of provisions are available, “where there are not only herbs, fruits, and bread, but also fish, fowl, and cattle.” The strange thing about this system of market was that things were freely available and heads of families go and fetch whatever they want but presumably not exceeding what they actually need. They don’t pay anything for the ‘purchases,’ or leave anything in exchange. This could happen only in a Utopia.
Although the ‘free market’ of the type that Thomas More advocated is not practical in the present world, there are many other aspects and principles which are relevant today in the context of uneven wealth and distribution. It is said that in their Great Council in Amaurot, “once a year, they examine what [cities/districts] abound in provisions and what are under any scarcity, that so the one may be furnished from the other; and this is done freely, without any sort of exchange.” As this is done per their plenty or scarcity, and supplied from one another; “so that indeed the whole Island is, as it were, one family.”
Even without the Council equalizing the needs of cities or districts, the Magistrates themselves consider the matter that necessary things are provided to the people. “When they want anything in the country which it does not produce, they fetch that from the town, without carrying anything in exchange for it,” it is said. Further it is stated that “the Magistrates of the town take care to see it given to them.” The Magistrates generally met in the town once a month on the festival day. On the other hand, “When the time of harvest comes, the Magistrates in the country send to those in the towns, and let them know how many hands they will need for reaping the harvest; and the number they call for being sent to them, they commonly dispatch it all in one day.” Therefore, there was perfect cooperation between the town and the country on all matters of the political economy.
The second aspect of trade is external. After “they have thus taken care of their whole country, and laid up stores for two years, which they do to prevent the ill-consequences of an unfavorable season, they order an exportation of the surplus of corn, honey, wool, flax, wood, wax, tallow, leather, and cattle; which they send out commonly in great quantities to other nations.” The most interesting aspect of this exportation is what they give to the poor in other countries.
It is said that “they order a seventh part of all these goods to be freely given to the poor of the countries to which they send them, and sell the rest at moderate rates.” Here is the foreign aid in nutshell. There is no record whatsoever that foreign aid was practiced in any country before. Although Utopia is primarily an imagined country, More pronounced the concept of foreign aid most probably for the first time in the recorded history. It is also important to note that his recommendation for aid was one seventh of the goods traded and that means little over 14 per cent of trade.
Utopians also imported in exchange of what they exported. They are few things that they need at home it says. They of course bring a great deal of gold and silver that they hardly use. It is reported that ‘they hardly need anything but iron.’ Utopian economy is also a rich one with considerable surpluses. “By driving this trade so long, it is not to be imagined how vast a treasure they have got among them: so that now they do not much care whether they sell off their merchandise for money in hand, or upon trust.” They are mostly given to the poor countries free. This is how international philanthropy is advocated along with socialism.
It is clear that the Utopian political economy that More outlines is not possible to implement completely under modern circumstances. That is not probably what even More wanted to mean. He was basically visualizing a system as an extreme or an ideal example taking some information from, in my opinion, from the Asiatic system and/or ancient Sri Lanka, and adding his own views on the subject for a ‘good commonwealth.’
In the process, there are instances where he contradicted himself on the subject and left ambiguities. For example, when he says “wives serve their husbands,” he contradicted his main principle of gender equality that he tried to establish in the manner of living, economic activity and in family life. But “children serving the parents and young always the elder” has some validity even today with reciprocity. Instead of the word ‘serving,’ ‘respect’ might be the more appropriate term. This resonate some versions of the Singalovada Sutta of the Buddha as we have noted before.
It is also clear that if a country, a party or a leader attempts to implement such a scheme by force it could be more disastrous than the existing system of capitalism. This is what largely called Dystopia. That is what in a way happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot (1975-79) and to a great extent in many communist countries. Pol Pot completely abolished private property. The personal belongings only limited to a toothbrush. In collective farms, the black tunic should be collected from the store, and a plate and a spoon from the dormitory for eating. There were major differences as well. Under Pol Pot people were forced to the rural areas from the cities. The institution of the family was abolished, and people had to work for long hours. Those are not advocated or practiced in Utopia.
Utopia is a humane society. The main thrust is to abolish social inequalities as much as possible, eradicate poverty and establish human happiness to all. As I write this summary, there is a TV discussion in the ‘Sunrise’ program on Australian Channel 7 about extreme exploitation of workers in Foxconn factories in Taiwan and China. Foxconn is a multinational company which supplies 40 per cent of electronic items particularly IPhones and IPods for Apple with billions and billions of annual profits. But workers are paid barely a ‘dollar a day’ with long hours of ten to twelve. This is what More wanted to change through a new system.
 Karl Marx, Grundrisse, 1858.
 Anyone who reads through the original text in Part II of this book would realise that Raphael is the person who gives the narrative of Utopia. But it is in fact Thomas More speaking through Raphael. They are More’s ideas and philosophy. Therefore, in these chapters the narratives are given as More related them for clarity and authorship, unless otherwise mentioned.
 Both the size of the country and the population are calculated on the basis of the figures given and they correspond with the 15th century Ceylon.
 Here it is obvious that More neglected the cultural and ethnic diversity of people. This is also evident in many other socialist thinkers.
 There is confusion perhaps in the translation; the term ‘city’ used to denote the district, at times using it interchangeably as town as well. To avoid this ambiguity ‘district’ is used instead of ‘city’ in [box brackets] wherever appropriate.
 John Maynard Keynes similarly advocated a policy of ‘full employment,’ in his The General Theory of Employment, Money and Interest, 1936.
 This is another reason to consider that island information came from Ceylon. It is also recorded that Utopia is rich in gems and pearls but not in iron.
 See Hanan Yoran, Between Utopia and Dystopia, Lexington Books, 2010.
The disquiet about the government’s commitment to deliver on its promises is now extending itself to those sections of the international community that gave their support to the government on the basis of its commitment to human rights and reconciliation. The sense of disenchantment amongst the general population is also getting more pronounced. The common factor is the failure of the government to deliver on its promises. With regard to the general population it is the continuing failure to deliver economic development that directly benefits those who depend on governmental largesse to get them out of poverty. It is also the ineffectiveness of the government’s anti-corruption programme that is reflected in the failure to take cases through to their conclusion.
However, with regard to the international human rights community, and Western governments, the focus is more on the slow pace of reconciliation initiatives that have an impact on those who have long been victims of the conflict. This sentiment is not confined to the international community but also includes the ethnic minorities who are beginning to feel more convinced that their interests are being neglected by the government in order to cater to ethnic majority sentiment. They are even beginning to see overtly hostile intent in actions such as the presidential declaration that extends forest cover (Wilpattu) to areas in the North that have been sites of traditional settlement by the ethnic minorities, in this case primarily the Muslims, prior to their displacement by the war.
The negative reception extended by members of the government to the report of the Consultation Task Force on reconciliation mechanisms has added to the sense of disquiet within the international community and ethnic minorities. The government-appointed Task Force obtained submissions from the general public, many of whom were directly affected by the three decades of war. The Task Force focused its findings on the commitments made by the government to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in October 2015. The government’s commitments included setting up four new reconciliation mechanisms, namely a truth commission, an office of missing persons, an office of reparations and a special court to try war crimes. The government also pledged to make the laws more human rights-friendly and to demilitarize the former war zones of the North and East.
The Task Force recommendations have met with the support and appreciation of the international human rights community and the ethnic minorities. The recommendations seek to meet international standards. The report itself provides material that is invaluable in terms of concepts and cases that could be used for a public education campaign. However, the lukewarm if not negative response from those in the government is clearly visible. The problem that the government seems to be having is that the Task Force recommendations do not correspond to the general sentiment in the ethnic majority Sinhalese population. This is especially true of the recommendation that there should be international participation in the proposed special courts, with its provision for foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators. The adverse media focus on the hybrid court structure recommended by the Task Force has deflected public attention away from all other recommendations.
The Task Force recommendation of hybrid courts follows its observation that there is a near total lack of confidence in the Tamil polity and in victims of human rights violations in the impartiality of the Sri Lankan judicial system where it concerns the security forces. There are several cases where the defendants who were members of the security forces have been acquitted by the courts. The most recent example is the case of assassinated Jaffna parliamentarian Raviraj. The security forces are today routinely described as war heroes by government and opposition leaders for having won the war. The issue is whether the judicial system can ignore the factor of ethnicity unless state institutions, including the judicial system, are reformed to ensure justice in the context of a multi ethnic and multi religious society.
The challenge for the government will be to take the recommendations of the Task Force and implement them in a manner that is politically viable. The government’s hold on power is stable so long as the two main coalition partners, the UNP and SLFP, are in agreement. The difficulty that the government seems to be having is that it needs to persuade the SLFP component of the government, which is now headed by President Sirisena, to go along with politically controversial decisions that are taken in regard to inter-ethnic relations. Where constitutional reform is concerned, the SLFP has already stated its position in a conservative manner. They have said that they will not go beyond the unitary state and are not in favour of ratifying constitutional change through a referendum which reduces the scope for reform. The government’s continual postponement of local government elections over the past two years is an indication of its reluctance to face the electorate at this time.
On the other hand, any failure on the part of the government to deliver on its promises can also be politically costly to it in the longer term. The government has to be cognizant that its candidate won the presidential election in January 2015 due to the wholehearted support given to it by the ethnic minority political parties and voters. The support of the ethnic minority parties can also be important in those instances where the two major political parties are in opposition to one another. At the present time, these two parties, the UNP and SLFP, are in coalition so the importance of the ethnic minority parties in order to secure a majority in parliament is not there. However, this situation could change in the future. The ethnic minority vote also becomes very important during a presidential election, when the entire country votes as a single electorate, and every vote counts as witnessed at the presidential election of 2015.
The failure of the government to deliver on its promises can also be costly in terms of international support. The government is on the verge of obtaining the GSP Plus tariff concessions from the EU which it lost six years ago. It is reported that 50,000 jobs in the apparel industry alone were lost as a result. The finance minister has said that regaining the tariff concession will mean an additional income of Rs 2 billion to the country. While the European Commission, which is the administrative arm of the EU, has recommended the restoration of the GSP privilege, this has to be ratified by the EU parliament, which is a political body. If the EU finds that the government view on the implementation of the Task Force report corresponds to the critical views that have emerged from within the government so far, it can lead to a political decision being made in Brussels that will be adverse to the grant of the tariff concession.
In this context there are two campaigns that the government has to speedily embark upon. The first is to persuade the international community that the government’s dominance over the polity is by no means an assured fact. The government needs to constantly take the majority of people with it, especially with regard to measures that are controversial and arouse deep seated emotions. This is no easy task when nationalist forces are waiting in the wings for a takeover. The second campaign for the government to undertake would be with the general population, to persuade them that the recommendations of the Consultation Task Force on reconciliation mechanisms are in accordance with the government’s commitments to the international community. The government needs to convince the people that these commitments are in the best interests of the country. This may not be as difficult as it seems, because most people do want justice and reconciliation to be the heritage of all.