March 12 1997 was a dark day when personal power was used to subjugate not only national laws but also to subvert the international environmental obligations of this nation. On this day, the President of Sri Lanka Mrs. Chandrika Kumaranatunge issued a directive under emergency regulations which stated that neither the national Environmental act no.47 of 1990, the Urban Development Authority law no.41 of 1973, the Nuisance Ordinance (chapter 230), nor the Criminal Procedure Code Act no.16 of 1976 “shall be in force or effect in so far as they relate to the generation of power and energy”. The public was never consulted and the move seems to stem from the insistence of the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) the national power generating authority to override any environmental or social concern over their operating procedure.
This unilateral action by Mrs. Chandrika Kumaranatunge acting as the President of Sri Lanka, to suspend all national legislation pertaining to the environment and public safety in matters of power generation, heralded a new and somber period for both social and environmental rights. Power generation to feed the insatiable appetite for cheap power by foreign investors became a national priority. In terms of public health and environmental concern, this became a period of disenfranchising the democratic process by executive order. The poisonous seed sown then continues to yield, its bitter fruits even today
Internationally this action points to the impunity demonstrated by our ‘leaders’ towards their global responsibilities. Sri Lanka is a signatory to many international conventions and protocols, a case in point being the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), we have signed and ratified it. But what does this mean if in the interest of power generation all obligations under the convention can be relegated? Further, Sri Lanka is obliged to report to the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), as well as to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) have we ever reported that all environmental safeguards have been nullified by presidential decree? Of course not! An example of the fiction still being presented to the world by the bureaucrats is illustrated by an example from our 2008/2009 report to the MDG, under MDG #7 We answer the (target) question 7B, What progress have we made ‘To reduce Biodiversity loss, by 2010? as ‘Satisfactory Progress’. Satisfactory progress? Ask any Sri Lankan with a modicum of knowledge as to how our biodiversity has progressed in those years!
Unfortunately such impunity has also gone unaddressed by the international organizations concerned. Soon after the odious presidential decree of 1977, the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) agreed to supply Sri Lanka with money to develop a national program on environmentally safe power generation. The implementation of this project in a scenario where all environmental laws are suspended for power generation brings into question the credibility of the GEF process in Sri Lanka and undermines the hard work of a multitude of Sri Lankan citizens who created and framed the national environmental legislation.
The impunity demonstrated then has grown into a veritable monster today. We are a state unaccountable to the global responsibilities that we have committed ourselves to maintain. As we prepare for our role at the Global Environmental meeting Rio + 20. We are moving rapidly from being a Carbon sink to a Carbon emitter. Burning ever increasing and expensive fossil fuels, to power the ‘idiot development’ of today. Even the reflective day of Vesak, has been turned into massive carbon emitting circus today. In this context, it might behoove us to examine the stand of other nations claiming to be Buddhist and globally responsible, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, in the lead up meetings to Rio +20 has categorically stated, “Bhutan will always be a Carbon sink.”
In his recent statement in reference to Bhutan’s contribution to Rio+20, he noted, “ We need to re-think our entire growth based economy so that we can thrive more effectively on our own resources in harmony with nature. We do not need to accept as inevitable a world of climate chaos and financial collapse “. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka we have a cacophony of ‘economic-growth-is-development’ sycophants who cry for the acceptance of the current economic status quo, fearful of change and asking someone else to make the first move.
Well, someone has. The Hon Prime Minister of Bhutan also states “ Economic growth is mistakenly seen as synonymous with well- being. The faster we cut down forests and haul in fish stocks to extinction, the more the GDP grows. Even crime, war, sickness and natural disasters make the GDP grow, simply because these ills cause money to be spent”. I wonder if our ‘leaders’ can ever realize such fundamental truths.
As we ready ourselves for Rio+20, who will represent us? Will those attending present the public with what we, as a nation will present? Or what our national stand will be? Or will some nameless bureaucrat or dense politician mouth some meaningless platitudes and use the opportunity for travel and shopping?
Desire; as the Buddha has said will always lead to pain. No Nation claiming to be Buddhist can promote consumerism and desire as development. Now that another Buddhist nation has shown a lead will we support this brave call for a change? Or will we always be a nation of hypocrites, merely voicing Buddhism as a cover for our ills and misdeeds and never demonstrating any action to conform to the values and ideals set out by the Buddha?