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Saturday July 20th, 2024

Discrimination against minorities what is the endgame?

#Stopforcedcremations – Demonstrations against the forced cremations of Muslims who die of Covid have popped up across the North and East

ECONOMYNEXT – Parliamentarian Harin Fernando’s now-famous speech delivered last week was, in many ways, a reflection of the deep anguish religious and ethnic minorities are dealing with the overtly discriminatory attitudes of the authorities.

In his role as the enfant terrible of the Samagi Jana Balavegaya, Fernando spoke primarily of the fallacy of the government’s slogan of “one country one law” and drew the ire of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself.

But Fernando also went on to make a more important point that the religious and ethnic minorities have to accept a subject-hood under the Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian rule in this country.

He told Parliament that “when (Cricketer) Fairooz Maharoof hits a six, we all applauded, when Mutthiah Muralidaran took 800 wickets we lit firecrackers, but could either of them be appointed captain of the national Cricket team? The answer, he said is ‘No, because of their ethnicity.”

“We are all Sri Lankans who have different beliefs. I am a Roman Catholic Sri Lankan and (pointing to Justice Minister Ali Sabry) you are a Sri Lankan Muslim.”

This subject-hood is being reinforced by none other than the Catholic Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith who has said that Buddhism is “the greatest gift that Sri Lanka has received” when he spoke at the Payagala Buddhist temple on January 2.

He has on previous occasions too, implied that we the minorities must live under the benign Buddhist tent totally accepting the subject-hood of the Roman Catholics to the Sinhala Buddhist state.

Constitutionalist Dr Asanga Welikala recently commenting on the detention of leading lawyer Hijaz Hizbullah tweeted that he is a victim of “institutionalized discrimination.”

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Riling up the Tamils

Bulldozer tears apart war memorial in Jaffna/Twitter.com

Students of the Jaffna University, Human Rights activists and political leaders have been protesting throughout the weekend, the destruction of a monument for the people who died in the separatist war, erected at the University.

The monument, built by the University Council in 2019, had been bulldozed on the orders of Vice-Chancellor Prof S Srisatkunarajah who says he was “pressured by the University Grants Commission (UGC)” to do so.

Columnist Ananth Palakidnar told EconomyNext that the structure, dubbed the Mullivaikkal monument, had no reference to LTTE fighters nor did it glorify them.

“It only remembered those who died in the final fighting, which included a number of students in the University,” he said.

The UGC Chairman, Senior Prof Sampath Amarathunge in a statement released on Saturday said the monument was removed because it is not “suitable for the Sri Lanka of today and tomorrow.”

He added that the memorial “could be a barrier to peace between North and South,” emphasizing that Sri Lanka’s universities now have a healthy mix of students from all regions and all ethnicities and religious backgrounds.

While the authorities may seek to indicate unity amongst the people, this incident only helped bring disparate Tamil political groups together to protest the destruction of the monument.

Palakidnar observed that “it has given these activists a cause again.”

It also caused the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress to call on its supporters across the North and East to stand together with their Tamil brethren and oppose the destruction of the monument.

However, by Monday the University authorities appeared to have second thoughts and the Vice-Chancellor has promised to rebuild the monument. Whether this is a ploy to stave off the wave of protests or not, is a matter left to be seen.

Muslims pushed to the wall

The most egregious example of minority bashing that we are experiencing right now is the issue of the compulsory cremation of the remains of people who die of Covid 19.

Despite assurances by expert committees that the virus cannot spread when the affected individual dies, and the WHO guidelines permitting burial, and close to 200 other countries burying their Covid 19 dead, Sri Lanka will not budge.

Various “Expert Committees” have been appointed to advise the government on the cremation issue and as far as the World Health Organisation, the College of Community Medicine of Sri Lanka (CCPSL) and the Committee led by Prof Jennifer Perera are concerned burial is safe.

Prof Malik Peiris, a world-renowned expert on the virus has pronounced that once dead, a cadaver cannot transmit a virus and Prof Tissa Vitharana, a member of the current administration agrees.

Vitharana too is a well-known Virologist, who has headed institutions in Edinburgh, Melbourne and the Medical Research Institute in Sri Lanka. Despite all that, he claims he has never been consulted on managing the pandemic.

For Muslims to whom burying their dead is of utmost importance as part of the duties toward the dead, this attitude of the government is deeply traumatizing. They now seem to have reached the end of their tether, where an unflinching government continues to ride roughshod over the pleas of the Muslims. Their attempt for relief through the Judiciary never got a hearing.

For a short while, it seemed the government was waffling and groping in the dark, having run out of ideas even as the pandemic shows no signs of abating. The one thing that is clear is the devastating effect it has had on lives and livelihoods, and here too the government seems to ignore the plight of daily wage earners and low-income families who are placed in lockdown and complain they have little or no access to getting their daily needs.

In North America, the term waffling means someone is struggling to make a decision with no clue what to do.

At the beginning of the pandemic, no less a person than Dr Anil Jasinghe said burials would not be an issue. However, soon after a Gazette notification said only cremations will be allowed. This is not an issue that affects only Muslims, as for all communities that follow Abrahamic religions, burial is the accepted method. Cremation was permitted for Catholics only in 1963 and only under special circumstances.

Those of Abrahamic faiths such as Muslims and Christians believe in the resurrection “on the day of judgement” and therefore place much importance in ensuring that bodies are buried intact.

For those of the animist tradition, usually among aborigines, including the Veddas or to use the Hindi term Adivasis of Sri Lanka returning one’s body on death to Mother Earth is an offering where the remains will help a new life flourish.

What seems to be happening is that the administration is unable to stand firm against an onslaught from the majority Buddhist groups, who helped the government to win power, and is now vehemently opposing burials.

That is baffling, as the people believed they were electing a strong and decisive leader, one who led the nation to victory in the war against separatist forces. What’s more, the administration has the backing and advice of those described to be the brightest minds in the country, members of Viyath Maga.

There are two current situations where ethnic and religious minorities are now compelled to accept subject-hood. The Muslims like it or not they must cremate those of their community who succumb to Covid 19, while the Tamils cannot memorialize their dead. It seems that a benign attitude towards remembering the dead is applied only to Sinhalese.

In her most recent pronouncement in Parliament, Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said that the Prof Perera-led committee was “not official and the decision has to be made by the main committee headed by Pathologist Dr Channa Perera.” This, despite there being a letter issued by the Secretary of Health, appointing the Perera committee!

“When faced with such a serious pandemic situation we cannot take actions based on the social or political feelings of groups, but have to be guided by science,” she said.

But the science, according to the three main professional bodies, the CCPSL, the Perera committee and top international experts including the WHO runs against the Minister’s decision. What’s more, the Perera –led committee is made up of eminent scientists.

Such deliberate disregard to scientific opinion is yet another example of institutionalized discrimination Welikala talks about.

Such anti-minority policies and actions need an explanation. Why is the government hell-bent on creating more discontent when it is already battling the negative effects of the pandemic, a failing economy and rising unemployment?

Supporters of the administration, university lecturers no less argue that it is far more important to save the living than the dead. They insist the virus will contaminate water while overlooking the many instances, where the living have been placed in danger when attending political gatherings and funerals and most recently the jostling crowds wanting to get their hands on the ‘miracle paniya.’

Of course, it goes without saying that the current government and all those in their ranks are masters in the art of distracting the masses!

Another question is whether ultra-right-wing supremacists are influencing policy.

For most people who are looking for answers are trying to figure out the government’s end-game. Where is it headed with this?

Last week, Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Hilmy Ahamed told EconomyNext that he believes the government wants to “radicalize the Muslim youth and push them to do something rash.”

An unsettling thought indeed!

For his part, Ahamed says he has pleaded with Muslim parents to talk to their children and to pray that such a situation could be averted.

In the case of the University memorial, protesters have been calmed down, for now, with a promise of building a new one. Then why demolish the other in the first place?

All in all, it is clear this administration supports the idea of subject-hood of the other. What it plans to gain, is left to be seen.

(Colombo, January 11, 2021)

By Arjuna Ranawana

Comments (3)

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  1. MdC says:

    Maybe the Buddhists are in want of more land, cemeteries, to sell to the new colonizers funnelling yuan to their greedy masters?

  2. Sam says:

    Very good analysis of what is happening in Sri Lanka.

    All Sri Lankans will pay the price if this trend continues.

  3. M.A Sona says:

    Please understand this is the country of the Sinhala, by the Sinhala for the Sinhala. We accept others also like our land and may want to stay with us. But let there be no doubt who owns this country. Many wars have been fought to take our land from us, but we have prevailed. Various foreign-funded NGOs like EconomyNext better be careful with what they say

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  1. MdC says:

    Maybe the Buddhists are in want of more land, cemeteries, to sell to the new colonizers funnelling yuan to their greedy masters?

  2. Sam says:

    Very good analysis of what is happening in Sri Lanka.

    All Sri Lankans will pay the price if this trend continues.

  3. M.A Sona says:

    Please understand this is the country of the Sinhala, by the Sinhala for the Sinhala. We accept others also like our land and may want to stay with us. But let there be no doubt who owns this country. Many wars have been fought to take our land from us, but we have prevailed. Various foreign-funded NGOs like EconomyNext better be careful with what they say

Jayampathy Wickramaratne PC, responds to President on constitutional article 83

ECONOMYNEXT – Jayampathy Wickramaratne, President’s Counsel had responded to a statement made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe that Article 83 (b) of the constitution which has reference to a six year term was left alone not due to any ‘lapse’ on his part.

A Cabinet sub-committee headed by Premier Wickremesinghe was appointed to oversee the Nineteenth Amendment process.

The changes to the Constitution, were made by a team of legal officers of which he was member, overseen by a Cabinet sub-committee headed by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of 49 political parties and organisations headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thero at Viharamaha Devi Park, in which he pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency altogether,” Wickramaratne explained.

“However, the very next day, he signed another MOU with the Jathika Hela Urumaya, in which he pledged not to make any constitutional change requiring a Referendum. Mr Sirisena’s election manifesto also stated that no constitutional reform necessitating a Referendum would be initiated.”

The Attorney General also made sure that there were no changes that required a referendum, he said. As a result Article 83 (b) was left as it was.

The full statement is reproduced below:

On President Wickremesinghe’s statement that not amending Article 83 was a lapse on my part

The President stated in Galle on 19 July 2024 that not reducing the upper limit of the term of the President and Parliament from six to five years while preparing the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was a lapse on my part due to my inexperience.

I wish to set the record straight.

Presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena signed a memorandum of understanding with a group of 49 political parties and organisations headed by the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thero at Viharamaha Devi Park, in which he pledged to abolish the Executive Presidency altogether.

However, the very next day, he signed another MOU with the Jathika Hela Urumaya, in which he pledged not to make any constitutional change requiring a Referendum. Mr Sirisena’s election manifesto also stated that no constitutional reform necessitating a Referendum would be initiated.

Soon after being sworn in, President Sirisena appointed Mr Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. Constitutional affairs was Gazetted as a subject under Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. A Cabinet sub-committee headed by Premier Wickremesinghe was appointed to oversee the Nineteenth Amendment process.

The five-member team that prepared the initial draft comprised three retired officials who had served in very senior positions in the Legal Draftsman’s Department, myself and another lawyer.

The entire drafting process was carried out on the basis that the Bill should not be placed for approval at a referendum, in keeping with President Sirisena’s electoral pledge. While the terms of the President and Parliament were proposed to be reduced from six to five years, the upper limit of six years was not touched as that would require a Referendum.

Article 83 of the Constitution mandates that a Bill that seeks to amend or is inconsistent with particular Articles listed or the said upper limits would be required to be passed by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and approved by the People at a Referendum.

It is essential to note that Article 83 itself is included in the list of provisions requiring a Referendum. The several drafts prepared were all shared and discussed with the Cabinet sub-committee.

The draft finally approved by the Cabinet sub-committee was then sent to the Legal Draftsman, who took over as required by law and made some changes. It was then sent to the Attorney-General, who took the view that certain clauses, especially some that reduced the powers of the President, would require a Referendum. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had several meetings with the Attorney General to discuss the matter. I participated in one such meeting. Several changes had to be made to the Bill because of the Attorney-General’s position.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe presented the Bill to Parliament. When it was challenged in the Supreme Court, the Attorney-General argued on behalf of the Government that no provision required a Referendum. The clauses that the Supreme Court held to require a Referendum were either amended or withdrawn in Parliament.

In light of the above, I regret that President Wickremesinghe has thought it fit to place the entire blame on me for not reducing the upper limits of the President’s and Parliament’s terms.

I reiterate that the entire amendment process was based on avoiding a Referendum following President Sirisena’s pledge at the Presidential election.

(Dr) Jayampathy Wickramaratne, Presidents Counsel
20 July 2024.

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Sri Lanka banking system foreign assets turn positive in May: analysis

ECONOMYNEXT – Net foreign assets of Sri Lanka’s banking system turned positive in May 2024, official data showed, amid a steady reduction in the negative reserve position of the central bank helped by the current interest rate structure and domestic credit.

In May the combined net foreign assets position of commercial banks and the central bank was about 311 million US dollars by May, up from a negative 178 million US dollars a month earlier, central bank data show.

It was made up of positive 1.9 billion US dollar foreign assets position in overseas banking units and a negative 811-million-dollar position which gave a positive NFA position of about 1.13 billion US dollars for banks.
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The central bank still had a negative position of about 821 million dollars by May, down from about 4.5 billion US dollars in last currency crises triggered by deploying liquidity tools (printing money) to cut rates.

The central bank has been collecting reserves for several months, except in June after a confidence shock from the flexible exchange rate and some injections made to keep rates down.

Analysts have warned that under flexible inflation targeting, where there are anchor conflicts, external imbalances will re-emerge when private credit recovers and money is printed to cut rates.

Printing after giving Reserves for Imports

Sri Lanka’s central bank ran up a negative foreign assets position, by spending dollars borrowed from the International Monetary Fund and from other central banks including in Bangladesh and India as well as domestic banks and spending them to suppress market interest rates and finance imports.

An ‘age-of-inflation’ (or age-of-BOP-deficit) central bank that spends reserve for imports, simultaneously prints money into banks, injecting excess rupee reserves to maintain an artificial policy rate, preventing the outflow of real resources to other countries being reflected in bank balance sheets.

The printing of money after spending reserves, or the sterilizing of an outflow, allow banks to give loans without deposits and trigger forex shortages.

To collect foreign assets, a central bank has to do the opposite, and sell its domestic asset portfolio down against dollars purchased from banks, at an appropriate interest rate, which will moderate domestic credit.

Modern IMF-prone reserve collecting central banks are able to mis-target rates beyond their reserves mostly with the aid of Central bank swaps.

Sri Lanka’s central bank also borrowed reserves from domestic banks through swaps, in a somewhat similar operation to the way Lebanon’s central bank borrowed dollars to show reserves instead of buying outright against domestic assets.

Borrowed Reserves

Central bank swaps were invented by the Federal Reserve to mis-target rates and avoid giving gold reserves as macro-economists printed money to target growth in the 1960s and the printed dollars boomeranged on itself from other Bretton Woods central banks that focused on stability.

RELATED Central bank swaps symptomatic of Sri Lanka’s IMF return tickets and default: Bellwether

By March 2022, before rates were hiked, negative reserve position of Sri Lanka’s central bank was around 4.0 billion US dollars.

The negative position worsened to around 4.5 billion US dollars by the third quarter of 2022, helped by credits from Reserve Bank of India, which allowed Sri Lanka to run arrears on Asian Clearing Union balances.

In addition to the swaps, Sri Lanka also had borrowings from the International Monetary Fund which contributed to the negative foreign assets position.

The IMF borrowings came from serial currency crises triggered in the course of money printing to enforce rate cuts and target growth (potential output) and generate twice to three times the level of inflation found in monetarily stable countries through ‘flexible’ inflation targeting.

The external sector started to balance only after ACU credits were stopped. It has since been turned into a swap and the central bank is paying it down steadily in the current interest rate structure.

Related Sri Lanka repays US$225mn to Reserve Bank of India in first quarter

Sri Lanka was unable to use a People’s Bank of China swap to mis-target rates and boost imports its use was barred after gross reserves fell below three months of imports.

Private and State Banks

Sri Lanka’s private and state banks also had negative foreign assets for many years, due to lending to the government through US dollar Sri Lanka Development Bonds and other credits. The dollar loans to the government were financed in part by foreign credit lines.

As downgrades hit the country, and forex shortages worsened from flexible inflation targeting/potential output targeting, banks could not renew their credit lines.

Some banks avoided rolling over Sri Lanka Development Bonds. After the default and debt restructure, they were repaid in rupees leading to banks covering their open positions. The dollars are banked abroad, leading a net foreign assets position.

An improvement of net foreign assets, reflects an outflow of dollars from the domestic economy to foreign accounts, similar to repaying debt for building foreign reserves.

The foreign assets position of banks excluding the central bank turned positive in February 2023 and reached around a billion US dollars by the year end and has remained broadly stable around those levels in 2024r.

RELATED Sri Lanka bank net foreign assets turn positive: analysis

The stabilization of the NFA position in banks may allow the central bank to collect more foreign reserves than earlier, analysts say, at the current interest rate structure as long as money is not injected overnight or term injections to mis-target interest rates claiming inflation was low.

Any confidence shocks from the ‘flexible’ exchange rate or liquidity spikes, would also reduce the ability of the central bank to collect dollars and lead to mini ‘capital flight’ style episodes from importers and exporters. (Colombo/July20/2024)

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New constitutional amendment a ‘necessary revision’: Sri Lanka President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s President has said a proposed amendment to the country’s constitution was a ‘necessary revision’, which would not result in a postponement of elections.

“In 2015, we proposed a new constitutional amendment,” President Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying during a ceremony to open a court complex in Beligaha, Galle on Friday.

“Typically, I would have assigned this task to K N Choksy, a lawyer.

“However, since he had passed away, the responsibility fell to lawyer Jayampathi Wickramaratne. He was unable to make the necessary revisions. This oversight is regrettable, and I apologize to the nation for it.”

President’s Counsel Wickramaratne has explained that the leaving out Section 83 (b) of the constitution was a not an “oversight” but it was a result of instructions received from the then administration to avoid making changes that required a referendum.

President Maithripala Sirisena in his election manifesto has pledged not to make changes that required a referendum, and the drafting team was told not to make changes that would require a referendum.

Related Sri Lanka’s 6-year Presidential term: problem in drafting 19th amendment explained

Meanwhile President Wickremesinghe said the move to change the constitution should not lead to a delay in elections.

“Our country has upheld democracy since 1931,” he said. “Protecting democracy is crucial. The upcoming election is on schedule, with the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court confirming that it should be held within the specified timeframe, and we support this directive.

“Some critics argue that democracy is at risk during certain crises. However, our constitution, judiciary, and political system have worked to advance and protect it. The most significant threat to our democracy occurred in 2022, yet we have continued to progress through consensus.”

Sri Lanka became the first country in Asia and Africa to grant universal suffrage in 1931, Wickremesinghe said.

“Unlike in the United States, where some states did not extend voting rights to Black people, Sri Lanka is unique for maintaining democracy continuously since then.

“Despite facing wars and rebellions, Sri Lanka has preserved its democratic system, and democracy has remained intact despite numerous challenges.”

Sri Lanka got universal suffrage under British rule.

In Sri Lanka, power transitions smoothly and without conflict after elections, the president said, “a testament to the strength of our democratic process. Despite various debates and issues, democracy has never been compromised.”

Opposition parties and lawyers have charged that the legal process involving changing the constitution could potentially delay the upcoming Presidential elections.

“Article 83 of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is hereby amended in paragraph (b) thereof, by the substitution for the words “to over six years,”, of the words “to over five years,” the gazette notice issued on the orders of Wickremesinghe says.

Download bill 523-2024-bill-constitution-EN

There is a discrepancy in the Article 83 with reference to a six year term, while the rest of the constitution, refers to a five year term. (Colombo/July19/2024)

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