The 75th independence day was celebrated on a grand scale at Galle Face Green. This was with the participation of the armed forces and other cultural troupes depicting the country’s heritage.

Though there was pomp and pageantry, there was also a forlorn emptiness in the whole series of celebrations which were held amidst an indignant public outcry. This is because the people are struggling through the most difficult socio-economic times following independence from the British yoke.

What are we trying to tell the world when a large slice of the population is reeling under abject poverty and unable to meet their ends? President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s justification for forging ahead with the celebration, despite it going against the public mood and purse, is to demonstrate to the world that Sri Lanka is capable of celebrating its own independence. If not, the world will say that Sri Lanka is not capable of celebrating even its independence, Wickremesinghe is on record as saying. To ensure the celebration takes place without hiccups, the police were pushed to obtain a court order to prevent peaceful protests from taking place at several locations in Colombo.

Regardless of the glimmering white paint that adorned its surface, the government was described as a tomb filled with emptiness. The picture which is painted of the government is a gloomy one that is unresponsive and unable to help its citizens in need. It highlights the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor and makes it difficult for those in poverty to succeed. The stark reality is that the government was groping in pitch darkness, unable to find a proper direction.

Given the current circumstances, it is encouraging to see how smart leaders from other countries have acted diligently.

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan has cancelled that country’s independence day celebrations scheduled for Friday, December 9, 2022. Instead, she directed that the budget is used to build dormitories for children with special needs.

The 61st independence day event was to cost $445,000.  Tanzania’s Minister of State, George Simbachawene, announced that the money had been disbursed. He said instead of having parades and other national celebrations, the East African country will commemorate independence day by having public dialogues on development. “The debates and conferences will be preceded by various schedules for regional and district leaders to carry out social activities in different areas, including cleaning hospitals, schools, elderly homes, and groups with special needs,” he said.  Tanzania’s independence day celebrations are usually marked with pomp and state banquets.

Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, W.A. Wijewardena, highlighted the Tanzanian President’s decision to cancel independence day celebrations in 2022. Sharing a news report, Wijewardena said in a Twitter message that it was a timely lesson from an East African leader.

This, however, is not the first time Tanzania has cancelled celebrations.

In 2015, then-President John Magufuli cancelled celebrations and diverted funds towards the building of a road in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. In 2020, he did the same and directed that the budget is used to buy medical facilities.

The current president, Hassan, is Tanzania’s first female head of state. Decades before she rose to higher office, she worked as a development officer in the Zanzibar government. She was also a project manager for the UN’s World Food Programme and later the executive director of an umbrella body governing non-governmental organizations in Zanzibar.

She also previously served as a minister for youth employment, women, and children and has spoken publicly to encourage Tanzanian women and girls to pursue their dreams.

If Sri Lanka adopted the example set by the Tanzanian president, it would benefit the Sri Lankan population in the long run.

The massive allocation for independence day celebrations, some 200 million rupees according to the government’s own estimate, also drew the ire of the Catholic Church. It announced in advance that it would not participate in the celebrations. Many political parties were also in truck with them.

The media spokesperson for the Catholic Church posed a pertinent question. In a country which is economically bankrupt due to itsinability to pay foreign debt installments, in a country where nearly thirty percent of the people are starving, in a country where thirty-three percent of children under the age of five are malnourished, in a country where many people are losing their jobs, in a country where small industries are collapsing, in a country where the law and order has collapsed, where human rights are being blatantly violated without restraint, where the liberties of the people have been severely restricted by the misuse of laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act to suppress the fundamental rights of free speech and peaceful protest of the people, in a country that has failed to provide 24-hours of uninterrupted electricity even during the A/L examination period, and that has put the lives of patients in danger by not being able to provide necessary medicines and other health facilities, what freedom can be proudly celebrated at a cost of 200 million rupees? he asked.

The Catholic Church has a genuine grievance with the government following the 2019 Easter Sunday attack on innocent worshippers in their churches. The main tragedy was that the government has not shown any interest in unraveling the truth behind it. The former president was trying to shirk his responsibility by blaming the bureaucrats who worked for him until the Supreme Court imposed a heavy penalty on him. Now he has changed his stance to extend an unqualified apology to the Catholic community for the carnage on Easter Sunday. He says that the Supreme Court penalty on him is because of the criminal negligence of the bureaucrats.

The Catholic Church had reservations about the former president’s announcement and declined to accept it. This is because the government may not proceed with further investigations into the matter to reveal the actual plot behind the incident. By announcing his candidacy for the next election, President Sirisena has by far become a laughing stock among the people. He was a one-off president elected especially to rid the country of the Rajapaksas, but Sirisena himself reversed the effort by sacking his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2018 in a constitutional coup with the help of his archrivals in the 2015 Presidential elections.

Despite expressed opposition from many quarters, President Ranil Wickremesinghe continued with his resolve to showcase Sri Lanka’s proud history to the rest of the world. His government made elaborate arrangements in many provinces to celebrate the landmark 75 years of independence.

Meanwhile, US under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was in Sri Lanka to mark 75 years of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the United States. In a media conference, Nuland urged China to help Sri Lanka by providing adequate guarantees for debt restructuring to obtain International Monetary Fund (IMF) relief.

The United States wants China to provide credible and specific assurances to the IMF along with other creditors to help Sri Lanka unlock a $2.9 billion bailout, Nuland said.

Sri Lanka entered into a staff-level agreement with the global lender last September but needs financing assurances from key bilateral lenders China and Japan before disbursements can begin.

India, the third largest lender, submitted its financing assurances to the IMF last month.

“What China has offered so far is not enough.” “We need to see credible and specific assurances that they will meet the IMF standard of debt relief,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told reporters.

“We, the United States, are prepared to do our part.” Our Paris Club partners are prepared to do their part. India has made strong commitments that it will provide credible assurances that the IMF is looking for.

The Export-Import Bank of China has offered Sri Lanka a two-year moratorium on its debt and said it would support the country’s efforts to secure an IMF program.

“We want to see an IMF program as quickly as possible.” “That is what Sri Lanka deserves; that is what Sri Lanka needs,” Nuland added.

Against this backdrop President Wickremesinghe and the government are saddled with many issues, including the holding of the local government elections without impediment. Besides, they are also facingdifficulties with the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. During the visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to the country in January, he too stressed the importance of holding provincial council elections and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution as per the agreement stipulated in the Indo-Lanka agreement signed in July 1987 between former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene.

Last week Wickremesinghe informed the All Party Leaders’ Conference on Reconciliation that the Cabinet of Ministers was agreeable to implement the 13th Amendment.  The sting in the tail was that he also said it will be implemented until the party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment. By taking this position, Wickremesinghe, who knows there will be opposition from party leaders to the implementation of the 13thAmendment, was effectively putting the ball in their court.

The 13th Amendment has already been incorporated into the constitution, but its implementation has been delayed for years. In its current status, hard core Sinhala nationalists appear to be satisfied to hold those provisionssuch as land powers and police powers in abeyance without incorporating it in the provincial statute book. As President Wickremesinghe argues, those provisionscannot be withheld forever. He said they should be implemented or got rid of and if anybody isopposing the move, they could very well bring a private member’s bill to Parliament to scrap it. He went on to say that under the present circumstances the government will implement these provisions, come what may. The President said he will make an announcement to that effect at the ceremonial opening of Parliament on the 8th of February.

The Sinhala nationalist and a section of the Buddhist clergy were up in arms over the announcement of the President to implement in full the provisions of the 13th amendment to the constitution.

Ven. Athureliye Rathana, Gevindu Kumaratunga, and Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara opposed the move openly at the party leaders’ meeting. Weerasekara, opposing the release of land close to the Palali Airport now occupied by the armed forces, argued that LTTE terrorism could raise its head at any time.Rajitha Senaratne of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) dispelled the fears, saying if we are to retain the land around the Palali airport then we should do the same thing in the South as well. This is because there were two insurrections in 1971 and 1989 in the South.Kumara Welgama also supported the move to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The meeting was boycotted by the leadership of the SJB and the JVP.

People believed the opposition was trying to sidestep the issue since it will be politically counterproductive for them. However, it seems to be nationally significant, and the contentious areas includes powers to alienate state lands and police powers to the provinces. The opposition should realize that they cannot be in hibernation without handling critical issues of national importance.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe emphatically said that no one would try to eschew separatism or rely upon a federal solution. Anyone in doubt could look at the judgment delivered by former Chief Justice Parinda Ranasinghe. He delivered a historic judgment and tilted the balance of the Supreme Court towards granting land alienation powers and police powers to the provinces.

The Buddhist clergy have said that this would stir up hornet’s nests and demanded a status quo on the security provided to Buddhist shrines andtemples in conflict areas. This has drawn criticism from others based on the principles of Buddhism derived from peaceful existence and non-interference. However the Buddhist clergy was adamant that they should preserve their heritage in the former conflict areas and for this to happen they believe they need the protection of the security forces.

In addition, the Tamil National Alliance also stated that they would rethink and reassess the loyalty they had to Wickremesinghe when he was Prime Minister. His change of stance from advocating federalism to unitary government has emotionally upset the Tamil National Alliance, which had some hope for a solution within a united Sri Lanka.

The TNA has advocated meaningful power devolution within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. However, it seems that they have been led down the garden path by successive governments.

The President faces a new problem with the Buddhist prelates rejecting the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. In a letter dated 2nd January, the chief prelates of the Malwatte, Asgiriya, Ramagnna and Aamarapura nikayas wrote to the president that devolvingland and police powers to implement the 13thAmendment fully, will pave the way forseparatism in the country. They said that taking steps which could lead to the collapse of the central government will evoke public displeasure and told the president to stand firm in the face of external pressure that may emanate from regional and global powers from time to time. This may force the country to cave in due to the current economic crisis it is facing. The only solace for the government now is the support extended by the National People’s Party (NPP) to fully implement the provisions of the 13th A.






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