A tragedy – The Island - The Island.lk

A tragedy – The Island – The Island.lk

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The full tragedy of over 400 home-trained nurses being declared unsuitable to work in the USA because of their lack of English proficiency has shocked all of us. Despite opposition by Sri Lankan chauvinists many of us have persevered in our attacks on the former stupidity of the Education policy of this country. Only FOUR out of four hundred applicants passed the English proficiency test conducted by the USA for applicants of nursing jobs abroad. This is a good measure of the sad, bad standard of English in our island.
Almost simulultaneously, we have a Booker Prize Award deservedly won by a Sri Lankan – but let this not make is feel any better. Shehan Karunatilake won the Booker award DESPITE, not BECAUSE, of the educational policy of our island. Then, recently, Kanya D’Almeida won the Commonwealth Essay Award and is now an established writer in English. But she won it BACAUSE a good English education in Sri Lanka helped her as she regularly acknowledges. She studied in the English medium.
This dichotomy reflects our tragedy. The ‘average’ Sri Lankan hasn’t a hope of ever getting anywhere in the International arena because the schooling given to Sri Lankans is so substandard and out of date … and in Sinhala or Tamil. (Tamil is at least spoken elsewhere but not Sinhala).In my unpopular opinion, it is the International Schools, Colombo’s Private Schools and Foreign Universities (which produced Kanya) which have kept a tiny percentage of our students capable of keeping up with the world. At the other end of the spectrum, I have a 19-year-old maid, who cannot even tell the time, albeit being bright and smart. She is from the Deniyaya area and barely attended school. She tells me there are many like her.
Let us face reality … an appallingly desperate reality …. Sri Lanka is not only bankrupt financially but is educationally bankrupt as well. The small percentage of well educated, English speaking Sri Lankans is no thanks to the system of Education given to us by foolish policy makers under stupid Ministers.
For once let us forget the word ‘Elite’ and try to bring ALL island schools up to the levels of the good private institutions in the country without bringing good schools down to government school levels ( as was done in the past). Schools left to their own devices somehow pull themselves up. I have seen small International Schools competing comfortably, with the better established International Schools of the TISSL group, after a few years of difficulty thus proving my point that it is possible to change the entire system if we set our mind to it.
Obviously, I believe in private education for those who can afford it. In fact, I think those who can afford it SHOULD be made to pay something to help a bankrupt nation. Free education has to be given of course, but it is being ridiculously and ineptly applied when we see that many cannot even take advantage of it.
Let the government take the advice of those who have nothing to do with the government and then implement those policies even against the views of those vociferous Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists who have so far decimated the educational policies of this once educated country.
Let us not fool ourselves. Being able to read and write does not make us 90% literate as we proudly announce every so often. Our youngsters are not really EDUCATED. Those 400 nurses are ‘educated’ Sri Lankan style but cannot compete in an international arena.
The usual noises are being made about great changes being made in the field of Education but so far neither have experts like Dr. Tara de Mel been even consulted, nor have there been any practical ideas about how Sri Lanka plans on upgrading the whole sorry system.In the face of this tragedy, can we not awake from our long and unearned slumber.
Goolbai Gunasekara

WHT without waste and worry
The weaker side of democracy

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The present draft tax proposals states that the introduction of With Holding Tax (WHT) would be only an advanced deduction, and the Payees will be subjected to file Tax returns each year and make the balance payments, over and above the WHT percentage, if they are liable to do so. In effect, all those whose income will be more than the tax threshold, will be forced to open Tax files and submit tax returns hereafter.
What a wasteful expenditure! Were the officials aware of or did it occur to them, the substantial administrative costs to be borne by them for this complicated exercise? Also, the unnecessary hassle for the tax liable public in filing returns, which easily can be avoided. It would have been simpler, practical and most appropriate for the government to use the existing banking system and its facilities to make the tax deductions, which could be made foolproof by fixing higher WHT rates on interest income, and making it a final tax?
The government would earn much higher revenue without incurring even 10 % of the anticipated administrative costs, and the hassle of monitoring. To avoid deduction of a higher percentage on low income earners a slab system could be introduced; to be applied on the basis of a declaration by the depositor, confirming his total income does not exceed an agreed amount.
By this method the hassle of opening tax files by all and sundry, filing returns, monitoring payments, and substantial admin costs could be avoided. Moreover, through the banking system these collections could be done much more effectively, and with the introduction of the unique identities as proposed will leave no room for defects, errors or irregular declarations.Over to the experts to consider these thoughts in a more professional manner!
RTD – Colombo


By: B Nimal Veerasingham
During my middle school days once a month on the last period of the last Friday we had a session called ‘Students club’. I was not sure whether it was part of the general curriculum or simply school specific, but it was a forum or meeting we all looked forward to. I somehow felt it has some connotations in conducting business collectively for a group of people, somewhat a practical extension of the subject ‘Civics’, which as we know is the study of rights and obligations of citizens in society.
Student’s Club
Now, to start with, the session was not exclusively for our class, but another class usually one grade higher or lower was added to the same session perhaps to encourage a variety of groups and not necessarily the people you usually interacted to get together and agree upon common goals. That was very evident right from the very beginning as an executive committee had to be elected. In other words, if you wanted to become a board member you needed the votes from across your familiar line as well. The process provided familiarity and opportunity to all in the art of convincing, negotiation, grandstanding, assertiveness, fairness, equality, likability etc.
Once the board was elected it had the responsibility for preparing the agenda for the upcoming sessions till the end of school year. The agenda primarily involved performances by individuals selected. The performances as far as I could remember though could be seen monotonous was hilarious and chaotic at times, pumping adrenaline. The segments or expected performances were mostly divided into general news section, sports news, cinema songs, songs in other languages, jokes, instant speech on a subject, scientific achievements, historical notes, etc… The assembly by popular vote assign or select the performers or presenters, the only guideline being not to assign the same for the same task repeatedly. Nobody has the right to refuse once assigned. The presentation would take place on the platform where usually the teacher’s desk and chair are but removed now.
Though this exercise seems fair and equitable we were ignorant to understand that all are not equipped with the same talents. There were classmates who hardly hum any music but were asked to sing a cinema song. For them songs mean the kind of classical couplets found in the school textbooks. There were others who struggle in their own language but were expected to sing in a language other than their own. Of course, some created their own gibberish versions and called it Hindi. There were others who thought they were telling jokes but hardly anyone laughed. In sports news once one did refer to Garfield Sobers but for many Sobers is no different from Sundaralingam. As per procedural order when a presenter is not up to the assembly’s least expectation, he was brought down from the platform in humiliation by high clapping ambush by the audience, most on feet.
We just wanted to have a good time at the expense of others. Welcome to our first taste of democracy in action.
Plato and manipulators
About 2,300 years ago the Greek philosopher Plato understood the gravity of democratic process. His ‘Republic’ is considered the cornerstone of Western thinking and ethics behind its political progress. But Plato looked at the democratic process’s darker side, considered by him as mere manipulators who lacked expertise performing circus to the ignorant by swinging popular opinion. His memory was fresh as to how his mentor and friend Socrates was put on trial by the so-called democratic citizen-prosecutors on charges he was corrupting younger minds, before being jailed and executed.
When democratic process allows popular spinsters to manipulate masses to acquire illicit benefits or abuse of power for their personal gain, the word corruption starts singing in high pitch from the rafters. As we know corruption erodes trust and weakens democratic institutions, hampers economic development, and further exacerbates inequality, poverty and social division. World bank lists how corruption impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs. It also categorises how countries capable of confronting corruption use their human and financial resources more efficiently, attract more investment, and grow more rapidly. It promotes transparency, open contracts and asset disclosure standards to counter corruption getting embedded.
IMF goes one notch above as it explores a new approach framing corruption as an economic problem that staff must systematically assess, discuss, and address if it is distorting the economy. It is a grand experiment in the ability to pursue anti-corruption reform even in the absence of a government’s political will.
Corruption is often systematic and organised, a crime that crosses borders and betrays people and democracies, the UN Chief Antonio Guterres said recently at a special UN session addressing corruption. It steals trillions of dollars from people all over the world, usually from those most in need, as it siphons off resources for sustainable development, he added. When powerful people get away with corruption, citizens lose trust in their governing institutions and democracies become weakened by cynicism and hopelessness.
While all unanimously agree that corruption at any level steals the hope and future of ordinary citizens, democracy need to be strengthened by way of identifying weaker links, to prevent or identify culprits who mask themselves at times in nationalistic fervor. Arthur C Clarke once said that ‘you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a free will and a benevolent higher power who protects you from yourself ‘. An educated or awakened public’s involvement is paramount in making the kind of society they want to live in.
Brexit and experts
In the name of open reflection of a democracy, we know how a popular vote in one of the strongest democracies UK, failed its people. It was one of the most famous quotes from one of the hardest fought political campaigns Britain has ever seen. “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts,” UK Cabinet minister Michael Cove said on prime-time TV before the Brexit referendum when questioned on advice of experts. His convoluted response did not do any justice but an injustice to the transparency badge, democracies should have been proud of. Now, six years later UK is trailing behind all the G7 countries in real wages, GDP, inflation, and projected growth, summarized in a popular headline ‘Yes, Mr. Cove, the experts were right about Brexit’.

Unchecked political authority
Nineteenth century author Robert Ingersoll once said ‘Most people can bear adversity. But if you want to know what a man really is, give him power’. During our school days in the 70s and 80s tutories were springing up and taking root as part of delivering education chain. For many of us at that time power means simply earning power and education and to some extent tutories provided a gateway. Nobody knew the margins but there was competition among the tuition centres. Word went out to an all-powerful politician that a particular tutory was influencing students more on maths and physics, notably on excesses by politicians. That is enough for the politician to raid the tutory along with his goons and demanded all to show allegiance to his leadership failing which he will get the centre shut for promoting subversion. He suggested that the management and students organise a generously advertised public meeting in front of the tutory at their expense to honour him, with a lavish dinner followed. He provided the menu and the music group that will entertain the evening.
As when the music group took the stage the politician made a request for the first song and the group readily agreed. It was a song from an old Tamil movie, lyrics analogising a scene where the snake that huddles the all-powerful Lord Shiva’s neck greets or queries the wellbeing of the Garuda or hawk/eagle. The eagle responded calmly saying that everything would be fine when everyone is in their respected place. Being at the opposite sides of the food chain, the Eagle’s response highlights the snake’s current unusual superior abode with the Lord of creation and destruction.
After the devilled prawns, mud-crab curry dinner and the clear liquid flowed, the politician and his inner circle went home singing praise to themselves, while the students went home empty stomach losing their parent’s hard-earned money, they pitched in.
To this day the politician’s choice of the first song that evening, continues to be a mystery. In reality, he could be juxtaposed to the snake, as protected and unaccountable political authority invigorate abuse of power and perpetuates corruption.
Plato and manipulators, UN and IMF, Brexit and experts, snake and eagle, politician and corruption?
These are all part of the relevance theory, processing relevant stimuli with little effort.
Abraham Lincoln once proudly proclaimed, ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth’. It has not perished and will not perish but requires greater scrutiny with accountability and transparency at the forefront through active involvement by the people.

By Daya Gamage
Sri Lanka enacting the Twenty First Amendment to its Constitution, among other provisions, barring her citizens from holding elective office if a person is simultaneously a citizen of another country, meaning no dual citizen could get elected to the highest position of the land, Executive President, or the national legislature, the parliament.
However, no law prohibits a Sri Lankan citizen – with dual citizenship – from holding office, other than elected, in a political party or organisation, public office with government compensation, or prevents such a dual nationality holder to engage in politics or civic duties.
In Sri Lanka, this issue is broadly concentrated to elective office but has ignored the reality that a dual citizen, without being in an elective position, is capable of influencing national agenda through his or her position within the governing body or the political party which is responsible for that governance. This influence could be from the nation this person is holding the foreign citizenship to advance that foreign country’s interests in the policy structure of the other nation.
The issue of dual citizenship emerged during the past seven-eight years in Sri Lanka revolved round a single person: Basil Rajapaksa – a dual citizen of Sri Lanka and the United States – of the governing Rajapaksa entity or his influence in the political structure and national policies associated with it. Any skepticism of American influence in Sri Lankan national issues is largely ignored in the process.
Prior to 1967, dual citizenship was not permitted in the United States. However, the U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one nationality or another. A U.S. citizen may naturalise in a foreign state without any risk of his or her U.S. citizenship.
The issue came in the United States after 9/11 attack on the American soil – especially among lawmakers and policymakers in Washington, D.C., whether the federal government should legislatively declare – for the first time – dual citizenry illegal. The culmination of this debate was the open session of the sub committee on Immigration and Border Security of the Committee of the Judiciary of the U.S. House of Representatives on September 29, 2005 summoning academics and experts for testimony.
What came out of the Special Session was most interesting: and at this time when dual citizenry has been focused toward one single individual, the message emerged from the Congressional Session can be attributed to the entire Sri Lankan nation, her political formation, and the decision-making process.’
What is the message?
Accepting dual citizenship advances U.S. national interests on a global basis. Many dual citizens will remain politically active in their homelands even after they become Americans.
What was deliberated at the U.S. House Session was that through dual citizenship the United States at that moment enjoyed a direct voice in the politics of other countries. The Congress did not mean that such individuals will crudely do the bidding of the United States in those countries, but such individuals as Americans will surely work to sustain and entrench constitutional democratic systems in their countries of origin and that many U.S. interests could be served. It was further noted that having absorbed America’s political traditions in the process of becoming Americans, dual citizens will be able to put them to work back home. That serves America’s national interests in advancing the global cause of democracy, among many other things, it was noted.
Peter J. Spiro, Professor of International Law at the University of Georgia Law School who served as Director for Democracy of the staff of the National Security Council told this Congressional Session (Quote) Participating in the affairs of another country does not categorically preclude responsible participation in the affairs of this one. Dual citizens can be responsible participants in both countries of nationality. Dual citizens can also, perhaps even more clearly, remain informed participants in multiple polities.
From a national interest perspective, dual citizenship presents a tool in solidifying the global reach of our constitutional values. A naturalising alien who gives up his or her original citizenship is limited in the extent to which it is possible thereafter to influence the political processes of the homeland. But that seems counterproductive to the American national interest insofar as we may want him to exercise such influence. Naturalising aliens are likely to absorb American democratic mentalities. If they maintain dual citizenship, they will be able to put those democratic tendencies to work back home. (End Quote)
The vital pronouncement in Prof. Spiro’s testimony was “A naturalising alien who gives up his or her original citizenship is limited in the extent to which it is possible thereafter to influence the political processes of the homeland. But that seems counterproductive to the American national interest insofar as we may want him to exercise such influence”.
The dual citizenship process is well connected to America’s foreign policy, its defence approaches in foreign countries and other interests such as trade, commerce and investments.
The American policy goes beyond to further strengthen all the above through its elective bodies, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
To be clear in U.S. law, there is no prohibition against dual nationals serving as elected Members of the U.S. Congress – both the Senate and the House. The only qualifications for serving in Congress are age, being a U.S. citizen for at least nine years for the Senate, and living in the state you represent at the time of election. However, the president is constitutionally required to be natural born.
Through dual citizenship the United States benefits in many ways. Currently a (Republican Party) candidate for the US Senate in the State of Ohio Dr. Mehmut Oz is a dual citizen of the U.S. as well as Turkey. The mid-term elections are schedule for November 8 and if he is elected – it could be – in the interest of the strategic ties between the two nations.
Turkey is a key NATO Ally and critical regional partner, and the United States is committed to improving the relationship between the two countries.  It is in the U.S. interest to keep Turkey anchored to the Euro-Atlantic community.
Turkey is an important U.S. security partner.  Turkey has been a valued North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Ally since 1952.
If elected, Senator Oz could be useful to Washington to move forward spelled out by the new U.S.-Turkey Strategic Mechanism, announced in early April 2022, as a step forward.
Keeping the ‘dual citizenry’ open, the United States looks forward to enhance its economic-strategic interests abroad. After all, Sri Lanka is strategically located in the Indo-Pacific region to which the United States focused since 2006 – when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State declaring the US policy of ‘Pivot to Asia’ – to strengthen its hold.

(The writer is a retired Foreign Service National Political Specialist of the US Department of State attached to its diplomatic mission in Colombo)

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