Time for Upcountry Tamils to come together By N Sathiya Moorthy

Barring his followers, no one really got to know about the lead of the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) of Upcountry Tamils, Mano Ganesan, abstaining from what passed off for an all-party conference called by President Ranil Wickremesinghe the other day, to discuss and discourse on the ‘National Problem’. No, it is not the economic issues that continue engulf the nation a year after it all began as a rude and unbelievable shock. Instead, it was all about the original ‘National Problem’, namely, the ethnic issue, though no one uses that phrase in that or any context any more.

Mano Ganesan said that they were boycotting the all-party meet because it was not addressing the concerns of the Upcountry Tamils, and instead focussed exclusively on what remains to be focussed on the ethnic issue relating to the Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) community. Well said, but there is no guarantee that Mano would say such things again and again and again – and chart out a future course of action aimed at the government and the national polity taking the Upcountry Tamils’ cause into reckoning.

It is not unlikely, and mostly likely, his followers too seem to have concluded that Mano Ganesan boycotted the talks because the mainline Opposition SJB too stayed away. Yet, whatever news flowed out of the boycott, it was the SJB’s abstention made the news, and naturally so. Barring a few Tamil newspapers in Jaffna, which looked also at the Tamil politics of capital Colombo, not many reported Mano, even as much as they have done with his periodic statements, which invariably commented on the ethnic issue more than the Upcountry Tamils’ problems.

No, it does not mean that Mano Ganesan has not spoken about his clan. Rather, he has commented on every micro issue that is of concern for the Upcountry Tamils. But overall, his voice was heard more on larger issues, or rather, what others thought as larger issues, where the Upcountry Tamils were deemed to have little or no say.

Twine shall not meet

Maybe, the late veteran Saumiyamoorthy Thondaman or Mano’s late father V P Ganesan, who charted out their own limited courses that was confined to the Upcountry Tamil cause. Thus, Thondaman Sr told off SLT leader and ITAK founder, S J V Chelvanayagam, to mind his business and let him mind his. The logic was simple. The SLT polity was fighting for rights, the Upcountry Tamils were fighting for survival, physical and political. The twine shall not meet, seem to have been his conclusion.

Yes, that’s true. The post-Independence government began their first year in office as far back as 1948 by disenfranchising the Upcountry Tamils and rendering them stateless, for which the pre-SJV kind of SLT too extended its support. Even without it, there is the historic, ‘cultural’ issue of the Upcountry Tamils being the late-comers from the south Indian State of India. In comparison, the SLT people would tell the nation’s Sinhala majority and also the international community that they were a part of the nation’s being from the very beginning. In India and to Indians, they would say that they had umbilical cord links that cannot be cut off.

But in reality, then and now, it has more to do with castes and political power from the side of the SLT, and of jobs and incomes for the Upcountry Tamils. Like the SLT community, the Upcountry Tamils did not lose their well-being to the constitutional rights and political powers, of which the former wanted more and the latter lost even whatever little they have had.

Problem of perception

The problem with the Upcountry Tamils is a problem of perception of its divided polity, and their priorities. After Thondaman Sr, his nephew, the late Arumugan
Thondaman did not measure up, nor could he keep the community united under the larger CWC flag. His ways and waywardness caused constant splits in the party, hence in the community, too, and the results are there for everyone to see.

When not long ago, Mano Ganesan joined and the young inheritor to the CWC flag, Jeevan Thondaman, there were hopes of most, if not all Upcountry Tamil parties, joining hands even if they did not merge. Those hopes have since been belied, or have at least taken a back seat.

So much so, no other Upcountry Tamil leader seems to have congratulated Jeevan becoming the youngest cabinet minister, not only from the community but also from the country as a whole. Among them were many who had done so when he quit the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa government.

Maybe, it is time veterans like Mano Ganesan, who too has years of politics ahead of him, join hands with the young Jeevan-Senthil duo, and reunited the community and polity to its historic strength. And Mano has to take the initiative as others would be reticent if not diffident, for obvious reasons.

Post-war, when some Good Samaritans tried to bring them all together, that was when Thonda too was around but the present-day duo was not anywhere in the picture, the inherent differences were set out as one of perception and programme. The CWC, like the Tamil-speaking Muslim parties, had concluded since the days of Thondaman Sr, that to obtain benefits for their people, they have to work with the government of the day, not certainly against it.

Failed miserably, yet…

To them, protests against the government was different from protests against estate owners for higher wages. Though some of it has since changed, the underlying spirit has remained. Against this, Mano and the rest had long since concluded that they had to fight for their rights, say, like their SLT brethren, who in the heart of hearts possibly did not consider them as one, then and since.

Did such an initiative flow from Mano Ganesan having to depend on the substantial number of SLT voters in his parliamentary electorate, for him to win/retain his seat in Colombo district? Yes-and-no is the answer. However, his efforts to combine both to identify himself as much a leader of the SLT community in the national capital, which has no SLT party or MP to call its own, have failed miserably, despite repeated attempts. Yet, Mano is not the one to easily give up, not on this count.

In simple terms, Mano Ganesan cannot hope to ride two horses at the time – fill the vacancy at the community’s top on the one hand and arguing the SLT’s case, both inside and outside Parliament, eyeing their votes in his electorate. Last year’s episode where he was called in to sort of arbiter intra-SLT dispute over the latter writing to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. SLMC’s Rauff Hakeem too was similarly roped in.

Both got a bloody nose after someone out there in the SLT told in so many nice words that it was the community’s internal problem, and no just the majority Sinhalas but also other Tamil-speaking community leaders like Mano and Rauff had no business or place in their scheme. Short of being told, not to try and fish in the troubled waters, they were believed to have been told to quit without complaining.

Decent thing to do

The two leaders obliged, not because there was the LTTE-like threat, but because that was the only decent thing to do. A more decent thing would have been for the two not to have got involved in the first place.

It is thus anybody’s guess why Mano did not talk to his SLT compatriots about the plight of the Upcountry Tamils, for enlisting their support. The plain and simple answer is this: One, they are unable to resolve their one internal crisis and then find a political solution in talks with the government over the past several decades.

Two, they would rather go to New Delhi and other global capitals with their woes, but have never ever really approached the Upcountry Tamils and the Muslims – after Thondaman Sr had sort of rebuffed SJV. Plain and simple, the SLT is telling the likes of Mano Ganesan to take care of his community’s issues and not to bother them with his owes, nor interfere with their own problems and concerns.

But then, Mano has offered his voice more frequently and louder, in the cause of the SLT community, the Sinhala masses (‘Aragalaya’ protests, for instance but that wasis not he only one) and everything opposed to the government of the day. His voice is being heard, yes, but has anyone heard him enough, leave alone listened to him?

Thereby hangs a tale, and that is also the bane of the Upcountry Tamils in political terms, today.

(The writer is a policy analyst & political commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: sathiyam54@nsathiyamoorthy.com)

Govt. to submit proposal to postpone LG polls

The government has drafted a proposal to get the Election Commission’s consent for a postponement of the local government polls for a specific duration, highly placed sources said.

The proposal will be made known on February 10, when the Supreme Court takes up a petition seeking an order to postpone the election.

The reasons cited for a postponement include a lack of funding, difficulty in providing police protection, shortages of fuel and electricity, an inconclusive delimitation process and the newly-passed act to regulate election expenditure.

The government proposal is expected to be submitted to the Election Commission in open courts with a request to put off the LG polls for a specific duration.


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Govt. Printer yet to receive Gazette to commence LG election process

The Department of Government Information (DGI) says that the Gazette notification to commence the Local Government (LG) Election process, with the signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission, has still not been sent to the Government Printer for publication.

However, the dates have been fixed to hold the 2023 Local Government Election on March 09.

When inquired by Ada Derana, a spokesperson from the Election Commission stated that there is no such requirement for the members of the Election Commission to send a Gazette notification to be published regarding the LG election process.

Furthermore, the Election Commission stated that the relevant Gazette will be issued by the District Returning Officers and that it will be issued in the next two days.

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Death threats to Election Commission members: Police say phone calls made from abroad

Sri Lanka Police says investigations have revealed that the death threats to the members of the Election Commission via phone calls have been carried out from a foreign country.

Police Media Spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has initiated an investigation regarding the relevant phone calls.

Three members of the Election Commission have received death threats through phone calls so far, and they have made complaints to the Police regarding the threats.

Furthermore, SSP Nihal Thalduwa mentioned that preliminary investigations have been initiated in accordance with the received complaints.

The Election Commission member M. M. Mohamed, had received death threats over a phone call on January 27, to resign from his position in the Commission.

Meanwhile, Commission Member S. B. Diwaratne, who received such threats earlier this month, was also reportedly threatened once again the same day, demanding the same.

On 18 January, two members of the Election Commission, namely S. B. Diwaratne and K. P. P Pathirana, hadreceived death threats, demanding that they resign from their posts, following which an investigation has already been launched by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).

They were also provided with the required police protection upon informing the Chairman of the Commission in this regard, while the CID also inspected their residences, and recorded statements from those related.

Moreover, speaking at a press conference held yesterday (Jan. 28), Executive Director of the People’s Action for Free and Fair Election (PAFFREL) Rohana Hettiarachchi noted that all three threats had been made using the same phone number.

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SriLankan Airlines defaults on bond

SriLankan Airlines has in theory defaulted on its $ 175 million international bond following its failure to complete the creditor consent solicitation process to obtain approval to defer coupon payments by 12 months before 25 January.

SriLankan was required to make the coupon payment for its $ 175 million Government-guaranteed bond due in 2024 by 25 December 2022. However, in early December 2022 it commenced a consent solicitation process to obtain bondholder approval for a deferment of the coupon payments and a waiver of ongoing events of default for a 12-month period.

It was reported that SriLankan Airlines had initially hoped to complete the consent solicitation process by 16 January before the end of the 30-day grace period to make its coupon payments expiring on 25 January.

However, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, a senior official from the Ministry of Finance confirmed that SriLankan Airlines had to date failed to complete its consent solicitation process and that negotiations were still ongoing. He further revealed that no coupon payment had yet been paid to the bondholders.

“SriLankan Airlines has not paid the coupon payment yet and it is also yet to obtain a final decision (from the creditor consultation process). This is how things stand as of now. I believe it has not made the coupon payment because negotiations are still ongoing,” he explained.

In its announcement on 22 December 2022, SriLankan Airlines sought the consent of its bondholders over three proposals. Firstly, SriLankan asked for approval to defer two coupon payments due on 25 December 2022 and 25 June 2023 to be paid in full on 25 December 2023.

Secondly, investors were requested to approve a temporary 12-month waiver of events of default under a second proposal. Thirdly, bondholders were requested to allow a revision in the bond agreement to allow investors holding not less than 50% of the total principal bond amount to instruct the bond trustee to rescind and annul any notice given to the issuer to accelerate the bonds following an event of default.

All attempts by The Sunday Morning Business to contact SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage and Minister of Ports, Shipping, and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva regarding the creditor consultation process proved futile.

While in theory SriLankan has clearly defaulted on its $ 175 million Government-guaranteed bond due in 2024 (ISIN iXS2010609662) with an annual coupon payment of 7% payable semi-annually, it is still possible that the airline may be able to avoid defaulting officially if the creditor consultation process is successful and the bondholders agree to waive the event of default for a 12-month period.

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business previously, Manjuka Fernandopulle, an Attorney-at-Law specialising in sovereign debt restructuring and complex capital market transactions, stated that the decision of the airline bondholders with regard to the proposals forwarded by SriLankan Airlines would be based on whether they believed that SriLankan would be able to pay the amount due to them by December 2023 following the deferral of coupon payments or if they believed they would be better served by joining the creditor group consisting of the Government’s ISB holders in order to restructure the airline bonds together with the other bonds of the Sri Lankan Government in the ongoing debt restructuring process.

“The question before the airline’s bondholders is whether they are better off varying the terms of the bond and deferring the coupon payments or whether they are better off joining the creditor group of the Government’s ISB holders. Their decision will be based on the assurances provided by SriLankan Airlines regarding its ability to make the payments following the deferral. If they feel that they will get nothing from SriLankan even after the deferral, they will consider entering the creditor group consisting of the Government’s ISB holders and receive a restructured bond issued by the Government of Sri Lanka,” he explained.

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President to intervene on Chinese debt restructuring?

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected to open a line of communication with Chinese Government leaders in order to finalise the ongoing debt restructuring negotiations with Sri Lanka’s key bilateral creditors including China, The Sunday Morning learns.

The delay in finalising Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring programme, especially with the key bilateral creditors – Japan, India, and China – has also resulted in the delay in moving ahead with the proposed Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, India was the first among Sri Lanka’s creditors to officially communicate to the IMF its support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and financing programme.

Japan last week also expressed support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring programme through the Paris Club, leaving only China to make an official statement on the matter.

The Export-Import (Exim) Bank of China recently sent a letter to the Finance Ministry stating that it supported Sri Lanka’s EFF with the IMF and that China could offer a two-year debt moratorium.

A highly-placed Government source told The Sunday Morning that the IMF had however informed the Sri Lankan Government that the Chinese proposal was not adequate to proceed with the fund’s planned programme.

“The IMF has been very clear on its expectations on the debt restructuring programme and it has said that in relation to bilateral creditors, it should be a uniform programme for all such creditors. India and Japan have understood and agreed. But China has not responded as expected,” the source noted.

“China has so far not supported the debt restructuring programme,” the source added.

When asked if President Wickremesinghe would reach out to Chinese Government leaders to reach a consensus on the debt restructuring issues, the Government source explained that the Chinese Government was continuing to direct the Sri Lankan Government to negotiate with the Exim Bank of China on the issue of debt restructuring.

“The President will therefore intervene this week to open a line of communication with Chinese Government leaders in order to reach an agreement on debt restructuring,” the source observed.

“Everything is hanging in the balance until China comes around,” the source noted.

It is also learnt that Paris Club is expected to release a statement this week extending support to Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring programme.

The Paris Club, it is learnt, has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium and 15-year debt restructuring for Sri Lanka, which will provide the country adequate time to get its financial issues in order.

According to the source, several countries outside the Paris Club like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have also agreed to support Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring programme.

It is in such a backdrop that Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe had told a foreign media outlet that he was hopeful of completing debt restructuring negotiations in the next six months.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to visit Sri Lanka

Former Secretary General of the United Nations and Chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka on February 06, President’s Senior Adviser on Climate Change, Ruwan Wijewardena said.

Ban Ki-moon, who is coming to Sri Lanka at the invitation of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, will sign several agreements related to sustainable development in Sri Lanka as well as related to climate change.

The former UN Chief is expected to hold discussions on the climate change university proposed to be established in Sri Lanka.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed to establish an International University on Climate Change in Sri Lanka with the support of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in order to enable students from any country in the world to engage in educational activities.

Former UN Secretary General is scheduled to meet with President Ranil Wickremesinghe on February 7.

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U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland to visit Sri Lanka

The United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland will undertake an official visit to Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Qatar next week.

The Department of State announced that Under Secretary of State Nuland will travel to Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and Qatar from January 28 to February 3, 2023.

During her visit to Sri Lanka, Under Secretary Nuland will mark the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Sri Lanka relations which coincides with Sri Lanka’s 75th anniversary of Independence.

Under Secretary Nuland will also offer continued U.S. support for Sri Lanka’s efforts to stabilize the economy, protect human rights, and promote reconciliation, the State Department announcement said.

In Nepal, Under Secretary Nuland will engage with the new government on the broad agenda of the U.S. partnership with Nepal.

While in India, the Under Secretary will lead the U.S.-India annual “Foreign Office Consultations” which cover the full range of bilateral, regional, and global issues. She will also meet with young tech leaders.

And finally, in Qatar, the Under Secretary will discuss global issues under the framework of the U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue.

“She will also engage counterparts on Qatar’s critical support for the relocation of Afghans with ties to the United States and our bilateral arrangement on the protection of U.S. interests in Afghanistan,” the statement added.

Death threats again on Election Commission members

Another member of the Election Commission has reportedly received death threats over the phone last night.

Commission member M.M Mohammed, had been threatened to resign from his post.

Also, Election Commison member S.B. Divaratna who received death threats earlier had received death threats once again yesterday.

Earlier, the Criminal Investigations Department had launched investigations after Commission members K.P.P. Pathirana and S.B. Divaratna were threatened with death if they did not resign from the Commission.

Accordingly, armed police officers have been deployed to provide security to the residences of those two members.

Police said M.M Mohammed reportedly received a threatening call last night while S.B. Divaratna received a threatening text though Whatsapp.

Police said steps were taken to provide necessary police protection to the election commission members.

Prelates implore President to maintain camps in North, East for security

The three Chief Incumbents sending a letter to the President has informed that it is appropriate to maintain the army camps in the vicinity of the temples in the Northern and Eastern provinces as they are for the security of those areas.

This letter has been issued under the signatures of three Mahanayakes Most Ven. Thibbotuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala Thera of the Malwatu Chapter, Most Ven. Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera of the Asgiri Chapter, Most Ven. Dodampahala Chandrasiri Thera of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Chapter and Most Ven. Makulewe Wimala Thera of the Sri Lanka Ramagna Chapter.

In their letter, they have informed the President that it is appropriate to deploy the security forces personnel assigned to the security and development of Buddhist shrines of special historical importance in the North Eastern provinces as well as other provinces of the country as per the need.

Due to the terror situation that lasted for more than three decades, the Buddhist monks of those provinces sacrificed their lives to protect the historical Buddhist shrines in the northern and eastern provinces. The security forces have been doing a great job for the preservation and maintenance of the historical shrines in the North Eastern Province since then and till today by providing support to the monks who work in the temples.

Currently, there are no Buddhist villages located near Buddhist shrines in the North Eastern Province. Even though a very limited group of contributors work in the vicinity of some temples, many such people who are not rich enough to maintain and feed the temples are provided help by the Maha Sangha who resides in this area.

Also, in the past periods, special contributions were made by the three Armed Forces for the protection and development of temples of special historical importance in other provinces of the island. Withdrawal of security forces from these shrines will hamper development works.Therefore, it is advisable to deploy the security forces personnel assigned to the security and development of the Buddhist shrines of special historical importance in the North Eastern provinces as well as other provinces of the island as per the need of the situation.

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