Monday, October 31, 2022

No comments  |  

Are dual citizens a bad lot?

By Gamini Abeywardane

With the passing of the 21st amendment to the Constitution the issue of dual citizens holding key political positions has come to the public domain again. Unfortunately in our country greed for political power, rivalry and ill-gotten money appear to be playing a key role behind the scene and as a result there is no genuine public discussion on the matter. The majority of those who make public utterances on this issue do so, on those lines and not on what is good for the country at this point of time.

The allegations are that the restrictions imposed target individuals, but it need not be the exact case as many countries have continued to maintain such citizenship restrictions for long due to a variety of reasons.

 A key issue here is the question of loyalty to the country of origin when one has taken an oath of allegiance to another country. This could be sensitive in certain circumstances when such a person is sitting in a high position with much discretionary power.

There have been instances of nationals of one country holding important positions in another country even without dual citizenships when that person is most qualified and there are advantages for the country employing such person. Mark Joseph Carney, a Canadian economist and a former governor of the Bank of Canada was appointed the governor of the Bank of England in 2013 and served till 2020. Another example is John Exter, the American economist who founded the Central Bank of Ceylon and became its first governor. They were appointments selectively made for very valid reasons.

If one wants to argue in favour of dual citizenship holders there are so many examples, but the question is whether a country should allow a dual citizen to hold a vitally important position like a legislator, the prime minister or head of state. Most countries do not allow such things.


Our closest neighbour and comparable democracy India does not allow holding Indian citizenship and citizenship of a foreign country simultaneously. In terms of Article 9 of the Constitution of India any person voluntarily acquiring the citizenship of a foreign country will be relinquishing the Indian citizenship.

They have a scheme called Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) which only allows people of Indian origin and their spouses to live and work in India indefinitely, but does not grant the right to vote in Indian elections or hold public office.

Although India does not allow dual citizenship at all, they have introduced this system to get the best out of overseas Indians who want to come and work in India. As of 2020, there were around six million holders of OCI cards among the Indian Overseas diaspora.


Australia is also strict in their citizenship laws and native or ‘born and bred’ Australians cannot obtain the citizenship of another country without losing Australian nationality. However since they are a country which has been enjoying the benefit of immigration for decades they allow the immigrants who obtain Australian citizenship to retain dual citizenships in their countries of origin if it is allowed by such countries. But the Australian citizenship laws expressly prohibit foreign nationals and dual citizens from sitting in the parliament. Section 44 of the Australian Constitution bars foreign citizens and dual citizens from sitting in the federal legislature.

However in this issue Australia seems to be alone compared to other major immigration countries like the USA, Canada, and New Zealand, in prohibiting its citizens from taking out another citizenship. The UK, it appears, has long promoted dual citizenship. In these countries having a dual citizenship is not a disqualification to be a legislator or to hold any other position.

Singapore despite its much liberal economic outlook has long maintained restrictions on citizenship. Anyone obtaining Singapore citizenship has to renounce citizenship in his or her home country as they do not recognize dual nationality.

 The major argument in favour of dual citizenship is that it makes sense in a world of economic globalisation, instant communications and vastly increased personal mobility. However with regard to dual citizenship there is no general consensus among countries. Some countries allow dual citizenship; some prohibit it while others recognize dual citizenship in some form.

However it appears that most countries have restrictions arising from government policy and preferences which again depend on their own circumstances. There is no universal rule to say whether dual citizenship should be allowed or even if it is allowed whether that category of persons should be given the right to sit in the legislature or hold high political positions.

National identity and sovereignty

A key factor that has gone into consideration in this matter seems to be the core issue of national identity and sovereignty and security.

Powerful countries like the US and the UK have no such issue because no country can interfere in their internal politics so that they can be quite liberal with citizenship issues. Similarly migrants are unlikely to outnumber the natives in those countries.

The sensitivity of these issues will be paramount where foreign interferences are dominant in internal politics of a country and it can be worst when a country has economically collapsed.

The decision of the Sri Lankan government to ban dual citizens from sitting in the parliament in the latest constitutional amendment has to be viewed against this background.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

No comments  |  

Eran proposes vital first step to eliminate corruption in politics


By Gamini Abeywardane

Samagi Jana Balawegaya Member of Parliament, Eran Wickramaratne through a private members bill, has presented a very timely and forthright proposal which will address the core issue of corruption in the country.

Wickramaratne in a Twitter post says he presented this bill in furtherance of public interest seeking to amend the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No.01 of 1975 echoing the demands for change and accountability.

According to him first, it seeks to remove the archaic secrecy provisions within the Act to keep it in line with the obligations of disclosure under the Right to Information Act and the principle of maximum disclosure.

Second, he says the bill seeks to ensure that electoral candidates will submit Asset Declaration’s with their nomination papers.

Third, the bill has included the country’s President also in the list of individuals to whom this law applies. Currently there is no requirement for the President to declare assets.  

Fourth, the bill ensures that asset declarations are routinely examined and verified at a central authority – the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).

Fifth, the bill supports law enforcement to pursue asset recovery in the case of stolen assets. This has been specifically included to address the demands from the Aragalaya to recover stolen assets.

Wickramaratne says that if we are to eliminate or minimise corruption, the example needs to be set by the executive arm of the government. He calls upon all present and past Presidents, Prime Ministers and Cabinet Ministers to join him in voluntarily making a public declaration of assets and liabilities.

This is a vital initiative to bring about the transparency and accountability which is a key demand of the Aragalaya and all other right thinking and honest people who want to see a better Sri Lanka.

These reforms, if ever introduced, will restore some confidence in the system of government we have. However it is doubtful whether the move will garner support from the current set of corrupt politicians

Sunday, August 14, 2022

No comments  |  

We need strong diplomacy to stay out of geo-politics of the region

By Gamini Abeywardane

With the latest controversy over a scheduled visit of Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5, which India claims to be a spy ship, to Hambantota, Sri Lanka has been dragged into the centre of a tussle between China and India. The matter got even more complicated with Sri Lanka officially asking China to defer this naval visit in the face of severe opposition from India.

The matter however got resolved at least temporarily after several days of negotiations Sri Lanka government had with the relevant stakeholders -- China, India and the US. However all the signs are that Sri Lanka will continue to suffer similar diplomatic headaches unless the country finds a way out of the geo-politics of the region.

There was a similar incident previously in 2014 though it did not escalate to this level when India officially protested to the government of Sri Lanka over two Chinese submarines separately docking in a Chinese built terminal in the Port of Colombo.

In the eighties President J R Jayewardene’s close ties with the United States and poorer relations with India and the growth of LTTE’s terrorism in the northern Sri Lanka resulted in a tense situation with India.

The final outcome was almost forcible entry of Indian forces into the country and eventual signing of the Indo Lanka Peace Accord which also had a clause preventing the Sri Lanka soil being used by any third party in a manner prejudicial to India’s national security interests.

All this is clear evidence that we have mismanaged our regional affairs particularly the relations with our closest neighbour India. The issue has a long history with intermittent invasions from India with Chola Empire once extending its tentacles up to the northern parts of Sri Lanka.

Some of these issues got compounded with tacit support extended by India at one stage to separatist groups in northern Sri Lanka who also received military training in India.  In the face of such developments often there had been suspicion between the people as well as leaders of the two countries.

That’s one side of the story but there are many reasons why Sri Lanka should maintain a very cordial relationship with its closest neighbour.  The historical link from the arrival of Prince Vijaya and subsequent spread of Buddhism into Sri Lanka from India are sufficient reasons for the two countries to have strong relations with each other. In that sense India is our closest relation with whom we share a wealth of historical, religious and cultural legacies.

That way Indo - Sri Lanka relations have to be something of a special nature which goes beyond a normal trade or commercial relationship. On the other hand China is an emerging great power with whom Sri Lanka has had long relations particularly commercial links from the fifties and a great friend that we can never afford to lose. China also has come to our aid during our difficult times such as during the bitter war with the LTTE in the north and east and subsequently helped us in many infrastructure projects.

However managing and balancing our relations with these two countries have become difficult for Sri Lanka in the face of growing tension between India and China. China’s entry into Sri Lanka in the last two decades through investments into ports, airports and the Port City has led to India’s suspicion over possible use of some of these facilities to the detriment of her own security interests.

Given our geographical location and economic involvements we cannot stay clear of this issue and it is important for us to keep our development options as a maritime hub without succumbing to pressures of either India or China. Our future success will depend on how well we can resolve this issue.

The situation becomes further delicate as Sri Lanka is currently in a deep economic mess and we need the assistance and the cooperation of both India and China as partners of economic development.

All this is closely linked to China’s revival of the ancient Silk route in which Hambantota Port is a vital link and its natural for China to assert her rights which she says is all about freedom of navigation in the high seas and call at a port is part of that. It’s a larger regional issue beyond the capacity of Sri Lanka to resolve.

Balancing these two factors requires the best of diplomatic skills. Diplomacy with much professionalism and political maturity on the part of our leaders is a vital necessity for Sri Lanka and it will become more so in time to come. Only a neutral but proactive and clear cut and transparent foreign policy with emphasis on strategic regional and global affairs will help the country to avoid facing unwanted issues in the future.

Strengthening our economic relations beyond India and China is vital in our efforts to become an international maritime hub and Japan is an important first step in that direction. Then the next step has to be involving the British, European and US investors in vital sectors such as shipping and power and it is only by doing so Sri Lanka can extricate itself out of this Indo Chinese power struggle. Sri Lanka needs to emerge as a maritime service centre for all and not just for India and China.  

What we see today is exactly what happens when leaders deal with a country as it is their personal property ignoring the vital diplomatic a strategic implications. First you work with China to the exclusion of India and when there are repercussions you try to work with India to the exclusion of China and there is no diplomacy at all.

Playing one country against the other has its limitations and there is a greater risk of losing both friends at the end. What we need is a regime of professional diplomacy with transparency in all our external relations with full involvement of trained diplomats and lessor involvement of politicians.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

No comments  |  

There cannot be a better time to change Sri Lanka’s electoral system


By Gamini Abeywardane

The much debated issue of constitutional reforms has surfaced again with the widespread belief that Sri Lanka needs a system change. This is the result of the worst ever economic disaster the country has experienced in its contemporary history. It is a welcome development that the people of our country have finally realized the futility of blaming the colonial past for all the ills of our society.

Now there is unanimity that post-independence populist and opportunistic politics is the root cause of the calamity that has befallen on the country. The frustration of the people is amply displayed by the hatred and displeasure they have heaped on all 225 members of parliament in equal measure. It makes it obvious that the current electoral system has to be overhauled if we are to have the kind of parliament that people want.

The proposed 21st amendment to the constitution is an essential first step towards the political reforms that the country needs at this juncture. Piece by piece approach is certainly better as it is not practicable to introduce all the necessary reforms in one piece of legislation. The next most important constitutional amendment is electoral reforms and should be done before the next election, either presidential or general.

These reforms should go hand in hand with other essential economic reforms because there is no point in trying to rebuild the economy without removing the root causes for its collapse -- concentration of political power in one individual leading to corruption and electoral system that encourages corruption.

Moreover the current parliament and its political formation with bitter experiences still fresh in the memory, is best suited to introduce such major political changes in the interest of the country. The reform of the electoral system will also pave the way for abolition of the executive presidency if the majority of the people wish for it. Either way electoral reforms are a must because it is an undisputed fact that the current proportional representation (PR) system has largely contributed to bring down the quality of our parliamentarians and consequently the image of the whole country in the eyes of the world community.

The much maligned PR system of voting has discouraged the good and the educated from entering politics both at national and local level. In the earlier first-past-the-post system, a good man with some reputation could always aspire to enter the Parliament with a reasonable amount of campaigning within his electorate which is geographically not a vast area.

The campaigning or canvassing in such an area could be done without much cost and if the candidate is from the same electorate it became even easier because the person is already known in the area. With the introduction of the PR system the electorate has become larger and now it is one whole administrative district.

Campaigning in such an area is not possible without a colossal amount of money and unlike in the early days soon after independence, now it is the corrupt that have more money and inevitably the honest and the educated are not able to compete with such people and win an election.

In such a situation it is not fair to blame the people for electing corrupt men as members of parliament especially in a scenario where political parties continue to include corrupt men in their electoral lists. The faulty system which provides little room for good men and women to enter politics finally gives the people little choice. The parliament we have today may be the worst that this system can ever produce and that is why people have gone to the extent of branding all its 225 members as rogues even ignoring the fact there are a few honest men among them.

The poor quality of the elected representatives has contributed in large measure to the current plight of our nation. Mismanagement and economic chaos is inevitable when parliament does not have enough educated, honest men who can actively participate in debate, discussion and policy making.

Now the elected politicians have brought down the country economically to its lowest possible level since independence turning a once prosperous country to a nation of beggars. We should strike the iron while it is hot and there cannot be a better time to change the electoral system. It should certainly happen before the next election whatsoever.  

Saturday, June 19, 2021

No comments  |  

Reforms: A silver lining in dark clouds of politics


By Gamini Abeywardane

Despite bad news from pandemic, politics and ship wrecks, a horizon of good news is visible in the area of long-delayed economic reforms. Amidst many issues, the government seems to be determined to go ahead with reforms in several sectors --- petroleum, electricity and gas, for the start which can be expanded.

The burden added to the economy by state owned enterprises (SOEs) has been a major obstacle for the economic progress of the country for a long time. Many efforts to reform them, with the exception of telecom and insurance sectors, have failed in the past amidst stiff resistance from the trade unions and short sighted politicians who backed them for petty electoral gains.

Fiscal Management Report 2020–21 of the Ministry of Finance reveals that 31 out of 52 state owned enterprises have incurred an overall loss of Rs 10.4 billion during the first 8 months of 2020. It is just a tip of the iceberg and it is more than obvious that its necessary to reform the state owned enterprises and even the entire public sector itself, if we are to economically progress.

Ceylon Electricity Board, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, Sri Lankan Airlines, SLTB, Lanka Sathosa, State Engineering Corporation, HDFC Bank and the state owned TV channels Rupavahini and ITN were among the institutions which incurred heavy losses, according to the Finance Ministry.

It is common knowledge that many of these SOEs have no commercial purpose, are riddled with corruption and mismanagement, political interference and consequent lack of professionalism. So much so several years ago an incumbent finance minister referred to the worst of them as a set of monsters swallowing the country’s economy.

But none of them had the political courage to take on the mighty task of reforming them. They instead looked at the immediate political expediency of keeping them as they are, though they very well knew the long term economic disasters such mismanaged entities could bring about.

Despite many pressures from the interested parties to keep these entities under state control, a change of heart by the incumbent Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration is a welcome signal for all those who wish to see some economic progress in our country.

The government last year formed Selendiva Investments, a company fully owned by the Treasury. Selendiva Investments has already created a subsidiary which will be a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to raise capital for the development of three hotel properties: Grand Hyatt Colombo, Colombo Hilton and the Grand Oriental Hotel (GOH). Two more SPVs are to be formed later, one for a real estate cluster and another for the creation of a ‘heritage square’.

The new SPV will infuse funds into a subsidiary created last year under Waters Edge called Waters Edge Recreation Ltd which will build and operate mixed development projects on identified Urban Development Authority-owned or acquired lands around Colombo and also the Jaffna International Coordinating Centre.

Once the first cluster raises capital for Selendiva, it will proceed to the next clusters which will include the historic General Post Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cey-Nor land at D R Wijewardene Mawatha and the Gaffoor building in the Fort.

This is supposed to be a part of a grand scheme led by the Urban Development and Housing Ministry to follow Singapore’s famous Temasek Holdings model to get the best returns from the state owned assets.

In 1974, the Singapore government established Temasek Holdings to own and manage state-owned enterprises and initially 36 companies directly managed by the government were placed under its control. Today, Temasek is one of the largest government owned entities which has transformed state owned enterprises into financially strong and viable institutions.

Then there is the proposal to amalgamate Litro Gas and LAUGFS Gas supposedly to resolve the debt issues of both companies while transferring the management of the LPG sector to the private sector. Currently both companies are having high debts to the banks as a result of operating with prices controls by the government which is not a sustainable situation any more.

The government has also decided to amend the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Act ending the state monopoly of import, refining and   marketing, supplying, producing, mixing and distributing of petroleum products. This is another important development as it is high time the government gradually moves out of the petroleum business which has become a highly political issue.  

A proposal by the United States-based energy company M/s New Fortress Energy (NFE) to acquire 27% of the shares in West Coast Power (Pvt) Ltd (WCPL), owner of the Kerawalapitiya Yugadhanavi power station is another noteworthy development as such investments are much needed in the power sector.

The matter is currently on hold due to objections from the CEB Engineers’ Union, but these are important developments that have to take place sooner or later because a complete restructuring of the power sector is necessary to resolve the country’s future power issues while it will rid the treasury of the burden of financing CEB’s losses.

The developments of this nature are naturally opposed by the trade unionists, workers and politicians with populist tendencies who hardly care about the economics involved in these developments. For many decades we have been perpetuating inefficiencies, corruption and cronyism in the name of popular votes and survival of politicians and now it’s time some hard decisions are taken for the future well-being of the economy however unpopular they may be.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

No comments  |  

Aflatoxin issue: An ideal platform to set up an effective food administration

By Gamini Abeywardane

The recent brouhaha about contaminated palm oil and the harmful effects of aflatoxin became the subject matter of political debate overshadowing its actual relevance to the health of the people. It also became a platform for a kind of trade war between local coconut oil manufacturers and palm oil importers.

Many were talking about the need to punish the culprits and politics behind it while there was hardly any discussion on finding a permanent solution to perennial issue of toxic and other harmful content in food and food ingredients.

It is necessary to punish those who have knowingly imported or distributed edible oils which are contaminated and harmful to the health of the people. Yet far more important is to have a stronger legal and institutional mechanism akin to the Food and Drug Administration in the US to deal with this issue.

Over the years there has been a lackadaisical attitude towards the quality of foodstuff sold in this country and the general perception has been that with right influence one can bypass all the institutions that are responsible for maintaining the quality standards in this regard.

Food security is obviously a part of the national security and this probably may be the best opportunity for the authorities to look at the issue seriously and to come up with a proper solution.

The issue surfaced through palm oil received country much attention because of the wide media coverage, but it encompasses a range of things which includes locally made coconut oil, imported and locally grown fruits and vegetables, confectionaries, bakery products and many other food items available in the local market.

Some of these food items are not subjected quality control while even those requiring Sri Lanka Standards (SLS) may not be always safe for consumption because of the weaknesses and loopholes in the quality control certification process.

Therefore it is clear that while more stringent legislation is necessary; the existing system also has to be strengthened leaving no room for unscrupulous traders and producers to misuse it through corrupt means.

According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

In other words not only should the people have economic access to sufficient food they should also be safe and nutritious and therefore if the available food is not safe for consumption there is no food security.

Food safety refers to routines in the preparation, handling and storage of food. Safe food handling practices and procedures should be implemented at every stage of the food production life cycle if we are to curb health risks and prevent harm to consumers.

It is a well-known fact that the rules and regulations with regard to food security are very stringent and effectively administered in the US, UK, the European Union and other developed countries like Japan while they are poorly administered in the third world countries.

Now the issue has come to the public domain in a prominent manner the government should seize the opportunity to lay the foundation for an effective quality administration system covering all types of food and food ingredients that are available for sale in the market. Like national security it’s a subject that cannot be compromised in the face of popular politics.

Friday, February 14, 2020

  |  No comments  |  

Referendum, an ideal way to formulate national policies

Provision for referenda is a major democratic step in the 1978 Constitution. It can be used very effectively to find out the opinion of the people on vital national issues. The irony is that ever since its introduction it has not been used for the intended purpose. Instead the very man who introduced it, President J R Jayewardene used the referendum in 1982 to extend the life of the Parliament without holding a general election.

By Gamini Abeywardane 

The idea of using the constitutional option of holding a referendum on a nationally important matter came from none other than President Gotabaya Rajapaksa this week. It was when he said he was ready to hold even a national referendum to change the higher education policy to make it suitable for the country’s modern needs.

The occasion was when he met Vice Chancellors of the national universities along with members of the University Grants Commission to discuss the issues relating to reforms in higher education. One of the major current issues is the non employability of particularly arts graduates passing out of the universities due to lack of vital skills needed in the job market.

The issue is a long standing one probably coming down from late sixties, but none of the ruling politicians ever made a genuine effort to sort out the problem. They all have been talking about the abstract idea of higher education reforms and appointing committees to make recommendations while practically doing nothing to sort it out.

With change of medium of instruction and expansion of university education following political and social changes that began in 1956 a new problem arose when the country started producing arts graduates beyond its requirements.
Most of them were qualified in subjects that had practically no relevance for available jobs while they lacked the minimum skills in vital subjects like the English language and information technology. The net result was although the private sector had opportunities they were not ready to employ these graduates.

We cannot afford to go on producing large numbers of non-employable graduates at public expenses. Obviously the system needs major reforms if we are to progress as a country. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fortunately seems to have correctly understood the issue and also identified the possible solutions without much loss of time.

He had suggested teaching these undergraduates information technology and a foreign language to make them suitable for the employment market. Probably a subject like management also can be included in addition to a main art subject that a student can select.

This is probably the most simple and practical way of resolving the issue although there is likely to be opposition from the traditional academic types.We as a country will not be able to progress unless we introduce some revolutionary changes in our system of education.

As suggested by the President referenda can be used as a way of finding out the opinion of the people on such issues so that whatever the policy changes introduced can be permanent and long lasting, unaffected by political changes.
Provision for referenda is a major democratic step in the 1978 Constitution. It can be used very effectively to find out the opinion of the people on vital national issues. The irony is that ever since its introduction it has not been used for the intended purpose. Instead the very man who introduced it, President J R Jayewardene used the referendum in 1982 to extend the life of the Parliament without holding a general election.

Nearly four decades later it is a salutary development that a leader has thought of using it for nationally important issues. It’s a useful method developed in the Scandinavian countries in order to find the people’s opinion on important matters.
Going one step further, it can be much beneficial if the mode of conducting a referendum can be made easier and less costly with modern technology. Since a referendum is a non-binding one it could be conducted even through the internet. That way the concept of referenda can be used effectively to develop permanent policies on all our national issues.
Often the ideas promoted by political groups are not necessarily the opinion of the people, but eventually they are implemented by fooling the politically active sections of the people causing damage to the country in the long run while the majority of the people observe in silence. So-called revolutionary changes in our university system in the sixties are a classic example and that is where the root of the today’s problem is.