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If the opinion polls prove correct, President Clinton will do a "Boris Yeltsin" leaving poor Senator Bob Dole another over-ambitious Gennadi Zyuganov. Yes, Bill Clinton is sure he will have a second term, the dream of every American politician who makes it to the White House. He is so certain of victory that he has a new target, not Bob Dole but the Congress, which is dominated by Dole's Republicans. Clinton would like to see a House that is more evenly balanced, if the Democrats cannot really take control.
But the focus of this column is American foreign policy, the policy that is of the world's sole superpower. What however is power? What are its sources? Since the age of Athens and Sparta, statesmen understood power to mean economic and military strength, wrote Prof. Joseph Nye, Director of Harvard's Centre for Science and International Affairs. How do we measure power in a fast-changing world? A good assessment, he says, should go beyond traditional geopolitics. What is the metric of power? His own answer is that one must distinguish power over other countries from power over outcomes. What we watch today is "power diffusion" rather than "hegemonic power".
The current confrontation with tiny Cuba is an interesting case which in my view has dramatised the loneliness of the sole superpower not because it can match the strength of the neighbouring colossus but when it did stand up to American punitive action, other nations, including Washington's closest allies, rallied to Cuba's defence. Of these, the most defiant was the European Union, a continental organisation which not only illustrates regionalism, a current trend, but economic power, and in that sphere, a strong rival of the US.
It all began in February when the Cubans shot down two US light aircraft which Havana said were in Cuban airspace, and thus violated international law. The Americans rejected the charge. But more importantly, a new law, the Helms-Burton Act was rushed through the House. (The law is named after the sponsors in Congress). In the first follow-up action, the US warned a Canadian company, Sherritt International. Directors and Executives of this large mining company were told that they and their families would be barred from the United States. But there was a carrot too. There will be no restrictions whatsoever if Sherritt International announced that it would "disinvest in Cuba" The firm had on its board Sir Patrick Sheedy, the former chairman of BAT Industries and Mr. Rupert Pennant-Rea, former Bank of England deputy governor. It was hardly a surprise when the U. K. Trade secretary, Mr. Ian Lang told the press that Britain was "under growing pressure to retaliate against US companies unless the so-called Title III provision was suspended" wrote Guy de Jonqueries of the F.T.
Already however the U. S. had planned to extend the law to two other "outlaw" states, Iran and Libya.
The European Union proposed that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) should discuss the new law with the Clinton administration, which of course was correctly understood by US analysts as a calculated move to prepare the ground for a formal protest under the WTO's rules on trade disputes. The anti-American 'protest movement gathered strength with other countries also criticizing the Helms-Burton law. Among the new members were Canada, the largest neighbour, and Australia, a staunch friend. Finally, we saw Japan, an economic colossus and a leading rival, "express concern".
The first sign that the Clinton administration had taken the gathering protest seriously was a report that lawyers were studying how the punitive measures could be restricted or soften; for instance, by applying the law only to those firms that invested in new or expanded activities on the island.
The Canadian Ambassador in Havana, Mr. Mark Entwistle made no attempt to conceal his contempt. He called the Helms-Burton law a "blunt political instrument" whose proposed range looked "so broad as to include everything but the proverbial sink".
Up to 1/5/95 over two billion US dollars had been invested by foreign companies, in 212 projects.
Is Cuba the last "red" bastion? Yes and no. It has become more and more pink. But its nationalism remains as strong as ever, and for a partriotic people deeply committed to the defense of their country's independence, this nationalism is often defined in terms of the huge neighbour, historically a big bully. In the first forty eight hours of my week's stay in Havana, three Cubans, not all young journalists, repeated the old prayer: "Dear God, pity poor Cuba, so far away from you and so close to the United States"!
Both Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, accomplished tacticians and when the occasion arose, brilliant speakers and demogogues, "Recent speeches by Cuban President Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, the defence minister, often containing ideological language reminiscent of the revolutionary 1960's and 1970's have created an impression that Cuba's embrace of foreign capital and market-oriented reforms is not only less than enthusiastic but could, in some circumstances, be rolled back...." Of course, that is precisely the argument presented by the E. U. which honestly welcomes the economic changes, and by countries like Canada and Japan. As foreign investment and private enterprise play an increasingly larger role, socialism will be abandoned except perhaps in the orations of the Castro brothers.
However the American election has cast a long shadow. Though Mr. Clinton was opposed to the Republican move against Cuba in the form that it took, he could not reject it completely. More than his rival Senator Robert Dole, the President knows that he should not alienate the Cuban-American community which has strong bases in two American states, Florida and New Jersey. Clinton now has a 2-point lead in New Jersey besides, "Florida is a must-win state for Dole" reports Stephen Fidler.
Events of the past two weeks could not have better highlighted the senseless stupidity of the censorship currently being imposed on the press. In the absence of proper channelling of news, rumours were rife. As the sister paper of The Sunday Times, The Midweek Mirror commented editorially.
The way the censors and Defence Ministry media officers handled the Mullaitivu battle since last Monday only added insult to the dead. No casualty figures were given till Saturday. The whole world knew what was going on. But in Sri Lanka only the gossip lines were allowed to operate.
Other incidents illustrated the shortsighted and singularly inept manner in which the censor operated. The Lankadeepa carried a story of a single soldier who had survived the Mullaitivu debacle by climbing on top of a coconut tree. The soldier described how the LTTE had attacked the camp, and subsequently how a convoy of Pajeros had arrived at the camp under heavy guard to survey the devastation. The Lankadeepa which had not sent the story to be reviewed by the censor was subsequently sent a letter of warning. Other news papers which carried the same story escaped unscathed however.
The censorship regulations themselves include a broad range of issues regarding which news have to be first subject to the red pen of the Competent Authority. They include any material regarding any military operations, the procurement of supplies and arms by the forces. The deployment of troops or personnel or the use of equipment by the forces. Subsequently, the regulations were amended to include any statement pertaining to the official conduct or performance of the head or any member of the forces. It is interesting that information put out by the LTTE is not included within the range of restricted issues. However, LTTE figures regards the casualty rate at Mullaitivu put out last week had also been censored.
Most of the time, those who are given the power to censor do not seem to be aware of the regulations under which they operate.
"It all depends on who goes through the copy. Though the Competent Authority has the power to censor copies, he delegates the task to persons under him, sometimes the publicity assistants do the censoring." remarks a senior journalist.
Censorship regulations were first imposed under the PA Government in the latter part of 1995. Subsequently, the censorship was lifted but was reimposed in April 1996 prior to the Riviresa II military operations. The regulations imposed in April are stricter than the previous laws, imposing a prohibition and not merely a restriction on reportage of 'sensitive military information'.
Both the nature of the regulations and the manner in which they are operated has been subject to criticism at the highest levels. It has been pointed out that the stated objectives behind the censorship, namely the protection of military operations and the prevention of communal disharmony are not being achieved. The first reason is of course bunkum. It is laughable that government media pundits could ever argue that the LTTE with all access to international news through its sophisticated network of offices throughout the world could be affected by the publication or non-publication of local news. The second reason put forward loses credence day by day. If the Sri Lankan people have a propensity to violence, it would have flared up last week. That it did not happen points to the fact that July 83 though significant in itself as one of the darkest moments in our national consciousness, should be laid to rest.
In any event as has been pointed out time and again the manner in which actual news becomes sensationalised due to rumours is more likely to lead to a situation of panic and uncertanity. What the prevailing censorship actually achieves is only further confusion in the minds of people struggling to come to terms with what is happening within the country.
"Past and present censorship practices have been arbitrary, erratic and in violation of the public's right to know. They have also been in violation of international standards of freedom of speech" states R.K.W. Goonesekere Committee Report on Media Law Reform, using unusually strong language.
If the Government feels that it is imperative that censorship on news of some kind be imposed the time is long past for a good look to be taken as to how a rational and effectively proper censorship practice is implemented. It should be noted that international law does permit censorship to be imposed on news in times of national crisis. The censorship must however only be "to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation".
It must be found to be "necessary" to protect national security among other things. The present manner in which censorship is operated in Sri Lanka exceeds these limits. In its recent publication titled "Silent War; Censorship and the Conflict in Sri Lanka" Article 19, the well known human rights monitoring body has analysed the nature of Sri Lankan censorship and pointed out numerous examples where the censor has cut text on subject that fell outside the already broadly-phrased regulations.
"Some of the cuts appeared trivial but some had very serious human rights or humanitarian implications; some contained no obvious threat to national security; some were of material already published locally or abroad; some were of information already well known to the general public; some appeared to be intended to restrict information reaching the Sri Lankan public about important public issues or criticism of government policy" says Article 19.
Both Article 19 and the Media Law Reform Committee has strongly recommended that present censorship practices should be completely revamped to be modelled on the lines of the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. These principles on censorship were formulated by a group of experts in international law, national security and human rights after a study conducted in South Africa. The Johannesburg principles stipulate that censorship could be imposed only if the government can demonstrate that it is prescribed by law and is necessary in a democratic society to protect a legitimate national security interest. The burden of demonstrating the validity of such restriction lies with the Government.
By "prescribed by Law" it is meant that the censorship laws should be accessible, unambiguous, drawn narrowly and with precision so as to enable individuals to determine whether a particular action is unlawful.
In Sri Lanka, emergency regulations that impose censorship are published only in the Gazette. The Media Law Reform Committee has recommended that all emergency regulations that restrict freedom of expression be also published in the Sinhala, Tamil and English newspapers.
The principles specifically outlaw censorship practices that are aimed at protecting the government from embarrassment or exposure of wrong doing or concealing information about the functioning of its public institutions. In this context, that part of the censorship regulations that now totally "prohibit any statement pertaining to the conduct of the Head of the Forces" could be criticised as being far too wide. The link between such conduct and national security concerns is not clearly spelt out.
If the government remains obstinate about putting into effect a more enlightened censorship policy, despite its avowed intention to be the flag bearer of a new and vibrant media set up, perhaps media activists and action groups can look to the courts for relief. It is unfortunate however that in the one and only instance where censorship was challenged before the Supreme Court, the attempt proved abortive with the Court refusing leave to proceed. Two circumstances could possibly have led to the Court adopting a conservative attitude. At that time, the war had intensified in the North and the Court clearly showed its reluctance to become involved in such explosively political issues during a time of national crisis.
"The impugned censorship has been imposed in the context of a civil war. Its validity has to be construed having regard to the reality of the current situation" declared the Court. Meanwhile, the petition itself had a distinctly political flavour with onetime UNP Minister Wimal Wickremesinghe being the petitioner.
Dr. Wickremesinghe argued that the censorship stifled legitimate discussion of government policy in relation to military matters. He also objected to the selective censorship indulged in by the Competent Authority who adopted one rule with regard to the state media and another rule for the private media. The state newspapers were allowed to engage in self censorship unlike in the case of the privately owned newspapers. In many instances, news items that the independent media were not allowed to carry blithely circulated in the state newspapers. Dr. Wickremesinghe stated that as editor of the "Janajaya" newspaper, his right to freedom of expression and publication and to equality before the law had been infringed.
The Supreme Court was however unsympathetic. "The petitioner has not made a prima facie case" came the ruling.
The Court was of the opinion that the regulations do not impose a blanket censorship with regard to sensitive military information, for though the regulation gives the Competent Authority that power, he exercised this power with discretion and not automatically. As there is no total ban against publication of matters relating to military operations therefore, the regulations cannot be challenged, the Court said. The mere fact that some newspapers are allowed to practise self-regulation is not sufficient to state that the regulations are discriminatory, it added.
This summary dismissal of what otherwise might have been an important opportunity to define the limits and nature of censorship is a pity. Perhaps if more specific instances of clear abuse of the power of the Competent Authority had been cited, the petition would have had a better fate. In any case, rejection of the petition in the "Janajaya" case does not preclude media activists from approaching the Supreme Court again. The time may be opportune for a second attempt to be made.
It is evident that Revenue receipts upto June 30,1996 have not been as expected by the Government. According to the press release of the Commissioner General of Inland Revenue, the performance of the economy is on course. He has apparently based it on the tax collections upto end June 1996. The significant increase of Rs. l,092 million for six months in 1996 over the same period in 1995 has come from the Defence levy, entirely due to the change in the rate from 3,1/2 percent to 4,1/2 percent and not on growth. Income tax on personal and corporate income has also yielded an increase of Rs. I,476 million in l996. The tax is largely based on l995 growth. Overall the tax collections have been up by 9 percent. This is not even keeping pace with the inflation! If one takes past elasticitys, income tax should grow by 22 percent and turnover taxes by 13.5 percent, if the economy is growing at 5 percent with a GDP deflator of l0 percent. Is this happening?
According to the Central Bank statistics, imports have slowed down by 4 percent during the first quarter of 1996. Significant imports have taken place only on account of generators and petroleum products. Turnover tax collections on imports have declined due to large scale waiver of duties and turnover tax on plant, machinery, equipment, rice, sugar, dhal, dried fish, fish and wheat, etc. Increased turnover tax collections have come largely from cigarettes, liquor and petroleum products. These will not point to higher economic growth. The emerging budgetary picture is very depressing. Bureaucrats say that Treasury has now become real MISERY. Expenditure in the first quarter has increased by 19.3 percent while revenue has increased by less than I percent. This gap in financing is widening by the day. Downturn in economic growth will reduce overall tax receipts and a financial crisis is looming large!
Deputy Minister of Finance had indicated that the Treasury will receive an inpayment of Rs.21,000 million under lending minus repayment operations in the estimates. This is shown in Table 72 of the Central Bank Report of 1995. It is now more than clear that proceeds from privatisation will not reach even Rs.4000 million by the end of the year. There is this big hole! On top of this, supplementary provision of Rs. 10,000 million is needed for defence expenditures.
It may even exceed this sum. Therefore the hole will be even bigger and perhaps a financial crisis is unavoidable. The Presidents announcement to curtail subsidies and transfers is a step in the correct direction. What is required is targeting welfare expenditures. The million dollar question is whether politicos will permit the pruning proposed by the President.
Market expectation is that the huge bulge in expenditure has to be financed by bank credit/or printing money. Accordingly the interest on Treasury Bills has begun to climb upwards. Interest on 3 months Treasury Bills has moved upto 16.12 percent, and on one year Bills, the rate is 16.4 percent. High finance cost is bound to slow down investments. In point of fact, textile and apparel exports recorded a marginal increase of 1.7 percent in the first quarter; leather and rubber products grew by only 0.7 percent. Our salvation seems to be with the workers working abroad. They sell their bodies and remit their savings home. This is being used to finance the gap in the Balance of Payments and to import Mercedez, BMW, Pajeros and other luxuries. If not for them a dollar wall cost around Rs. 100.
The recent tax hike on cigarettes and liquor is an attempt to cover a huge hole. This will be an impossible task. Government think tank seems to have gone bankrupt. Sri Lanka will be at the top of the table of countries in the world where the tax on tobacco is highest at 83 percent, pushing Denmark to second place.
Changes in the tax rates on liquor and cigarettes have been made too often and these changes have virtually rendered the demand for these articles somewhat elastic. It is an accepted economic law that demand for cigarettes and liquor is in elastic. These are called De Merit Goods. Unlike milk which is considered a Merit Good and therefore is not taxed and even subsidised. Therefore, from a social point of view there is a case to impose heavy taxes and discourage consumption of liquor and tobacco. It is possible to reap more and more revenue by raising the tax. But one has to remember that people who are addicted to liquor and tobacco, consider consumption of these articles as essential even as salt in their food. Therefore, there is a limit to this tax and a Government should not exploit sinners since greater percentage of the consumers are workers and peasants.
They need a shot of arrack after a day's heavy work and a pull. A government committed to protect their interest and welfare should not drive a knife into their belly. The recent increase in the tax on cigarettes will mean that a worker has to pay Rs. 3/75 for a Bristol fag which is the popular variety. Government collects Rs. 3/10 on a cigarette as excise duty, tobacco turnover tax, defence levy, imports duty on packing materials, etc. This is an unbearable burden. See what is the burden in our neighbouring countries.
The average price of a stick in India in terms of Sri Lankan Rupees is Rs. 1/25 and in Pakistan it is Rs. l/80. The standard of living of a worker in these two countries is comparable or even higher than in Sri Lanka having regard to the prices of food items. It will be seen that the poor are called upon to bear a disproportionate burden of the war effort and to maintain the government and its other wasteful activities. This appears to be totally unacceptable and will soon lead to catastrophic social consequences. What a tax and what a price in Sri Lanka!
The other question that may be asked is whether the recent move was wise or counterproductive. There are reports in the press that foreign cigarettes are now being smuggled and sold at or around the same price of local ones. A conservative estimate is that around 300 to 500 million cigarettes are filtering into the market through the airport, seaports and containers. It would have been better to strengthen enforcement and recoup the revenue that is being lost, say at least Rs.1000 million rather than resort to desperate price hikes. One could assume an initial drop in sales due to change in price by about 10 percent at least over the next 6 months. The Governrnent is bound to lose on 250 million cigarettes around Rs.750 million. Additional revenue by the tax increase will be Rs. 1.250 million for 6 months. Overall, the net gain will be Rs.500 million. This is likely to be more than offset by smuggling and increased use of substitutes like beedies and cigars. It is estimated that beedi consumption is now close to 6,000 million sticks and also there is an ever expanding consumption of light cigars. These are not taxed on the premise that they are consumed by the poor. Increasing the nominal tax levied on these items even by a small amount can rope in millions. Why is the government reluctant? Does the Govemment think only the rich smoke cigarettes. Today, it is a pathetic sight to see three workers sharing a punt. They say a Veytex share cost only Rs.2/50 but a cigarette costs Rs.3/75! What a tragedy!
An open letter from V.L. Wirasinha to the Hon. G.L. Peiris
Dear Mr. Peiris,
Reading the report in The island of 22nd May, of your meeting in London with Jeremy Hanley, British Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, I was neither amazed nor amused, but certainly unhappy: you still had and continue to have ? your wheels churning the accustomed muddy rut of Sinhala Buddhist racio religious chauvinism. And you are well and truly stuck!
Riviresa III, we learnt, and so did Mr Hanley, has resulted in the entire Jaffna Peninsula being brought under government control, and that has, in turn, further strengthened the Sri Lanka government's resolve to implement a political solution to the ethnic problem. Earlier the resolve was strong but not strong enough, and needed further strengthening ?
But you did not tell Mr. Hanley of any new initiative the government was adopting, or any change of heart you had had. Hence my inference about your continuing in your rut. If you had taken my advice you would have amended your basic proposal.
Well, resolve has long been there, it has now been strengthened! Splendid, but are you sure yourself - I have to keep coming back to this that you know what the political solution basically has to be? Let me tell you, since it is by no means clear that you know. It has to be a democratic republican solution, not a yahoo, would be republican solution it cannot be a top monkeys bottom monkeys, top dog under dog solution, with a foremost place provided for any race or religion or crusader mock up or racio religious group. Keep Lemuel Gulliver well in mind.
That, Mr. Peiris, is fundamental; and the sooner you realise it the better it will be. Tamils, I am sure, will not be cajoled by carrots or jellabies or other creature comforts or goodwill visits which, welcome in themselves and happily to be acknowledged, are rights restored, not bonanzas by grace of the government they remain farther than the farthest Hebrides in addressing the main point. The reason will become clear as I proceed.
You might as well remember that the Ceylon Tamils are a community that is proud of its self respect. That legitimate pride is the explanation of the attraction that the cry of Eelam has had for them in the face of repeated discrimination against them by the Sinhalese, the explanation of the ascendancy of the LTTE in spite of its enormities against even the Tamils themselves, with Il Duce's abominable fascist contempt of democracy and of the sanctity of human life.
It is utterly quixotic to hope to gain Tamil support for your devolution proposals when they continue to include the foremost place for Buddhism in the Constitution, barbed now with your assurance to the Buddhist hierarchy that the Government will be required to consult the Supreme Council of the Buddhists and implement its proposals for the advancement of Buddhism. The existing prohibition of inland fisheries is ominous foreshadowing of the extent to which non Buddhists may be coerced if you have your way.
From the time I appeared before the Interview Board at the Ceylon Civil Service Examination in 1935 I have urged with all my (admittedly puny) might the compelling need for education of the entire people in Democracy, as Lincoln understood Democracy. Even if Lincoln had feet of clay" as some assert, he had a head of gold, his assertion was pure gold, extolling "Government of the people, by the people, for the people". All the people, not only, in Sri Lanka, Sinhala Buddhists or Sinhalese only or preferentially. And whatever shortfall or backsliding there has been in the United States of America or elsewhere could not and cannot alter that fundamental Lincolnian truth, which, for all his greatness, Pericles could not attain to on account of his being a prisoner of the Athenian empire and the existing institution of slavery, which he apparently was content with.
The Donoughmore Constitution enabled, and tacitly recommended, the sharing of power at the highest level, the Board of Ministers, even among all communities. But Sinhalese Smart Alecs frustrated that possibility.
With that contretemps in mind, The Soulbury Commissioners provided in Article 29 (2) of their Constitution specifically against communal discrimination. But our home bred Smart Alecs were too smart for Soulbury and Co. as welI. First Indian and Pakistani British subjects resident here felt the jackboot, Later S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike of Sinhala Maha Sabha fame, having earlier advocated a federal state! thrashed the Sri Lankan Tamils with his "Sinhala only", and Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Colvin R. de Silva, trading, one with the other, Nationalisation of Estates etc. for a Sinhala Buddhist Renaissance, omitted Soulbury 29 (2) from their new "Collective Property" Constitution! Then you could drive a coach and four through "democracy"!
But there still was restraint, even with the dictator, Jayewardene. The foremost place for Buddhism (Sinhala Buddhism) has remained largely innocuous (except for the ominous prohibition of inland fisheries), just as Christianity, the established religion in Great Britain and the United States of America, has been, in those countries, for generations.
Now You have arrived, Mr. Peiris, like an Iranian fundamemtalist fundamentalist in Sinhala Buddhism, with the fancied funadmentalism of the Kandyan Convention of popular imagination, drummed up far beyond what the official text contains, to give teeth, so to express your intention, to the foremost place provision ! The Smart Alec nonpareil is here and now! You recognise him ?
Ever heard of John the Baptist, Mr. Peiris? He realised early in life that, when you had done wrong, the sensible course let us put it no higher than that was to repent, to admit the wrong doing, make the best amends possible, apologise to the person(s) wronged, and get back on track. The Sinhalese leaders and most of the led have, instead of so doing, wandered off, accusing the British of having adopted divide et impera policies, facilitated, with conspiracy by Americans, provision of more and better education for Tamils, and favoured them in public service appointments. Ample justification, without a pinch of salt, for kicking and bullying them, from before 1933!
In his editoral of 20th March, 1996 the Editor of The Island accurately, firmly and adroitly hit the nail on the head, the very nail I had for decades been hitting on the head! With anazing perspicacity he had come to realise that the big political issue now on, the proposals for devolution of power, is all about religion and race" the ipsissima verba of an undoubted creator and leader of public opinion!
I have rapped Peiris logic in the proposed constitutional changes. What logic Aristotelian logic demands, primarily, given Democracy as the desideratum, and essential for communal harmony is, here in Sri Lanka, the scrapping of the "foremost place for Buddhism" (= "Sinhala Buddhism), and re adoption of Soulbury 29 (2). Since those measures do not appear . I now recognise myself from the trend of popular discussion to be practicable without prior widespread education in the content of democracy and the fostering of appropriate attitudinal change among the majority of the people, we have to be content, for the present, merely with ridding ourselves of the existing dispensation of an Executive Presidential system, and radical change in proportional representation, but with the "foremost place remaining innocuous.
That has to be followed straightaway by a thorough going, unflagging educational drive for understanding of, and allegiance to, democracy, including repudiation of the heresy of My Party, right or wrong. When my party is wrong I do not support it. What we in fact have is a "Reductio ad Absurdum of Party Politics". Progress in the education desired might continuously be kept under review, and devolution considered along with scrapping of the "foremost place" provision and adoption afresh of Soulbury 29 (2) betimes, when we have become more like, shall we say? the Swiss in enlightened tolerance.
Yours democratically disgusted with you,
I have read in the Press on 26th May that you have repeated your logic in Germany. You don't give up, do you ?
Whom next? You might suitably have joined the inaugural Airlanka fight to South Africa with a copy of the Kandyan convention and a copy of the map of Ceylon facing page I of the University of Ceylon History of Ceylon Vol. 3 in your satchel. Having arrived there, you could have met Mendela, the greatest living democrat, and persuaded him, with the aid of the documents mentioned, of our great good fortune in having in you an authentic image of himself. If you go hereafter, you might take along a copy of this letter too. You see I am helping you all I can.
The greatest need of Buddhists - of Sinhala Buddhists - is to move out of their muddy rut on to the firm level ground of universal Siddharatha Buddhism, with emphasis on Maithriya. May all beings, including you and Sri Lankan Tamils be well and happy!.
Salaams and Vanakkam!.
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