Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Embark

Animal Welfare in Sri Lanka

This article was published in Ceylon Today on July 30 2020

A lady reported that a household near her home had a pedigree dog locked up in a kennel for two years. The animal was severely emaciated and living in its own excrement. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the dog had, in fact, been locked up for six years. It was not a pedigree dog. The family considered it as such because it was not a street dog and money had been paid for it. The son of the household had been determined to own the dog even though the previous owner had not wanted to part with it. He forced money on the man and took the dog. The son then moved out of the household and left the dog behind. He is now living elsewhere and has another dog. The womenfolk of the household were afraid the dog would run away so they kept her locked up. They were afraid she would get pregnant and could not afford or did not think of sterilisation. They did not want her defecating all over the place so they did not feed her much.

When concerned citizens reported the case, Embark (a charity which is part of the Otara Foundation. Otara Del Gunawardene is a successful businesswoman who founded the Odel chain of shops and now devotes her time to charitable causes) sent one of their vans to rescue the dog which is called Lassie. She was very weak but the women said, “Be careful. She will bite”. She did not bite but licked her rescuers. The women were shocked that Lassie responded with affection when shown kindness. They had obviously never tried it themselves.

The case has attracted a lot of attention on social media. The last time I looked there were over 7,000 views on Instagram. Otara wrote: “make a difference and help to awaken those who don’t understand how horrendous such acts of cruelty are for innocent animals.” People were quite naturally horrified at Lassie’s suffering. One comment was, “Karma will give them crippled children or grandchildren.  Sickening evil humans”.

This is what Embark reported: “Hi, Lassie is doing well. We visited the hospital yesterday. She is a lovely dog, very friendly and always wants a pat on the head. She has no major issues at the moment, they suspect some eye condition, a cataract most probably. We will have to wait a few more days to actually know what other issues she has. But all in all, she is happy and free.”

It was strange to observe that the people responsible for Lassie’s prolonged suffering did not seem to be evil people even though over a period of six years they had been doing evil things. I have noted a tendency for Sri Lankans to join with foreigners to condemn Sri Lankans as particularly cruel to animals. Generally speaking, Sri Lankans seem to me to be guilty of negligence and ignorance rather than active cruelty. It is not too different from what we encountered in Ireland. I could write reams about examples of cruelty to animals in the UK and Ireland. Dog-fighting has become a spectator sport in England. There are puppy farms in Ireland. I was once involved in a case where a man in Sussex reacted to his neighbours’ complaints about his barking dog by cutting off the dog’s testicles and nailing them to the neighbours’ front door. I have not the space here to indulge in too much whataboutery concerning cruelty to animals in other countries. More detail can be found here.


Despite the large numbers of dogs roaming the streets in Sri Lanka, one rarely sees dogs that have been run over, even by our notoriously maniacal hopped-up bus drivers. The road from Midleton to Cork was littered with dead foxes, indicating that Irish drivers were not interested in avoiding them and might even have been aiming at them. There are so many good people in Sri Lanka campaigning for animal welfare and so many people working hard at the practical tasks of feeding and sterilizing and rehoming abandoned dogs.


There are many aspects of animal welfare in Sri Lanka that are in need of improvement. Perhaps the most important is for the media to help create a culture of responsible pet ownership. My tutor at Manchester University, Louis Kushnick, taught me something that I have never forgotten. Some people argue that you cannot use the law to stop people being racists. You can use the law to modify their behaviour. Their attitude does not really matter. Rules and regulations are important because even if you cannot stop people hating animals you can stop them causing animals to suffer. You may not change attitudes but you might change behaviour. The Sri Lankan Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 is ineffective mainly because its sanctions have never been updated. The maximum fine is only Rs100 (41p or 53 cents). The authorities have tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving heinous cruelty to animals.

On January 14 2020, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said he had informed the relevant authorities to take any necessary action to put an end to animal cruelty. He said he was shocked to hear of incidents reported from around Sri Lanka of horrific displays of cruelty to animals. In June 2006, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s website proudly carried a letter from Monika Kostner in Germany: “Mr President, let me congratulate you on the path that you have chosen. Please continue pursuing it. I greatly welcome your pledge to bring stringent laws against cruelty to animals. Do not give way to those political forces and vested interests, which are keen to continue the outdated, cruel treatment of animals. After all, they are living and feeling creatures.” Despite resistance from some of his underlings, President Rajapaksa continued to insist that street dogs should not be killed. Former President Sirisena, when he was Minister of Health, made a statement in Kalutara on January 6, 2012, that he had decided to revive the policy of killing street dogs “in the traditional way”. The “traditional way” is a very painful process. Dogs undergo immense suffering after the poison is injected, sometimes writhing in agony for hours, jerking with muscle spasms and frothing at the mouth. Mahinda Rajapaksa has stood firm against the slaughter of street dogs.

As long ago as December 2007, I wrote: “another encouraging development is that an Animal Welfare Bill has been gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill by the Venerable Athureliye Ratana Thero MP. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards for the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.” One of the objectives of the bill was to raise community awareness about animal welfare and to foster kindness, compassion, and responsible behaviour towards animals.

My optimism was unfounded. The Animal Welfare Bill, fourteen years later, has still not become law. Mahinda Rajapaksa is now prime minister and is clearly still interested in dealing with cruelty to animals; Gotabaya Rajapaksa is now president with a good deal of authority and support (last November he won the presidential election with a majority of 52.5% on a turnout of 81.52% – the highest ever); eldest brother Chamal Rajapaksa is now minister with responsibility for animal welfare. Let us hope that after the parliamentary elections, there will be no further obstacles to making the Animal Welfare Bill the law of the land and the brothers will achieve justice for animals in Sri Lanka. May I be optimistic again?

Community awareness is the most important aspect. It is the moral duty of every citizen to report examples of cruelty to animals that come to notice. This is not snooping or being a busybody. It is vigilance, awareness, what in today’s parlance is called ‘wokeness’. It is empathy and living an ethical life.






Philanthropy – the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel?

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday October 8 2014.

I am not sure who originally came up with the phrase “Philanthropy – the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I first encountered it in an article published in October 2012 by the novelist Howard Jacobson on the subject of Jimmy Savile. Savile used his reputation as a philanthropist to sexually abuse children. I recently encountered a use of the phrase in a book by James O’Toole: Creating the Good Life: Applying Aristotle’s Wisdom to Find Meaning and Happiness, published in 2005. James O’Toole is the Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver. O’Toole shows how a range of people embarked on quests that led them closer to achieving a good life based on awareness and values rather than riches and fame.

Aristotle: “To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”


I recently became embroiled in an argument on Facebook about Otara and Odels. Someone who thought he was supporting my point of view wrote that Otara should be spending her philanthropic funds on people rather than dogs. Compassion is not a zero-sum commodity. Anyone who loves animals is likely to have empathy for people. People who are cruel to animals – GW Bush, Jeffrey Dahmer, Fred West, Prabhakaran- are likely to be cruel to people. A friend of mine who is engaged in practical hands-on animal welfare was sceptical when Otara embarked upon Embark, predicting that it was a publicity stunt. I chided her for her cynicism but there has been criticism of how Embark operated. We will see how it goes now that Otara has more time to personally supervise it.


Noisy Philanthropy


I do have issues with celebrity philanthropy. The late Paul Newman raised $150m for various good causes. He explained a dilemma: “One thing that bothers me is what I call ‘noisy philanthropy’. Philanthropy ought to be anonymous but in order for it to be effective, you have to be noisy. Because when a shopper walks up to the shelf and says, ‘shall I take this one or that one?’ you’ve got to let her know that the money goes to a good purpose. So there goes all your anonymity and the whole thing you really cherish”.


Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics

When I was working with my cynical friend on an animal welfare campaign, her daughter had the brilliant idea of approaching ethical philosopher Peter Singer for support. Peter Singer has a motto: “make a difference”. He certainly made a difference to the way I live my life. Way back in the 1970s, I read articles by Singer in the New York Review of Books that made me see things in a radical new light. His subsequent books Practical Ethics and Animal Liberation reinforced the message of the articles. Singer argued that the boundary between human and “animal” is arbitrary. He popularized the term “speciesism”, to describe the practice of privileging humans over other animals. I was rather disappointed when Singer asked me to remove his name from my mailing list. He was not interested in giving painless direct help for the welfare of animals by simply lending his name.

Outsourcing Compassion

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Singer argued that it is morally indefensible that some people enjoy surplus abundance while others starve. When one is already living comfortably, a further purchase to increase comfort will not have the same moral weight as saving another person’s life. Singer claims to donate 25% of his salary to Oxfam and UNICEF. He acknowledges that there are problems with ensuring that charitable donations are effectively spent.

In Joseph O’Neill’s latest novel, The Dog, the main character, X, is concerned about the working conditions of construction workers in Dubai. He deals with his concern by paying 37% of his gross salary to Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch. This sounds like a big sacrifice but it is a comfortable way for X to delegate his conscience. O’Neill makes blatant the bad faith of Singer’s thinking. Singer’s method of giving means that it does not matter whether the money does anything to relieve suffering or poverty but it certainly boosts the giver.


Bono – Mrs. Jellyby in a Ten-Gallon hat

Novelist Paul Theroux has noted the similarity between the secular saint known as Bono and the philanthropic Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’s Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby tries to save starving Africans by financing coffee growing, making pianoforte legs for export and bullying people to give her money for those purposes. Theroux wrote in the New York Times on December 15 2005: “There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment.”

Bono says at U2 concerts, “We don’t want your money, just your voice.” Bono wants you to give the government your money in taxes and spend it for him. Bono’s ONE organisation wants Western governments to spend tax dollars on development and aid programmes. Many voices, those of William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo the most eloquent among them, have argued that aid does more harm than good to the countries receiving it.

Theroux taught in Malawi as a volunteer Peace Corps teacher 45 years ago and knows the country well. Despite large amounts of financial aid, Malawi “has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.” “I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens.”

In 2008, Bono’s ONE Campaign raised $14,993,873 in public donations — of which only $184,732 (or just over one percent) was distributed to charities. More than $8 million went to salaries for executives and employees at ONE.

In 2008, New Internationalist readers chose Bono as their Artful Dodger of the year. For many years, Bono’s home country of Ireland had not taxed the income of “artists”. Then the Government decided to set a cap of $200,000 a year – a fortune for most artists, but not for U2. Ireland is still a corporate tax haven and Bono would have done well enough had he decided to stay home. The Netherlands offered a more attractive deal, because of its link with offshore tax-havens in the Antilles. It seems that Bono wants ordinary people to pay through their taxes for his causes but does not want to pay tax himself.



I was one of those caught up in the mass hysteria generated by Live Aid in 1985. I responded to Bob Geldof’s exhortations to pay up to save the starving Ethiopians. Live Aid turned Geldof from a has-been pop performer into a global charity superstar. Not everybody was impressed. World Music champion Andy Kershaw wrote of the Wembley concert: “It became clear that this was another parade of the same old rock aristocracy in a concert for Africa, organised by someone who, while advertising his concern for, and sympathy with, the continent didn’t see fit to celebrate or dignify the place by including on the Live Aid bill a single African performer.”

Alex de Waal estimates that the relief effort may have cut the death toll by between a quarter and a half. However, critics say that NGOs were complicit in the Ethiopian government’s “resettlement” of 600,000 people from the north while enforcing the “villagisation” of three million others. Donor governments and mainstream relief NGOs turned a blind eye while government officials raided refugee camps. This was a totalitarian scheme masquerading as a humanitarian effort. The conservative estimate of those dying en route is 50,000. MSF’s (Médecins Sans Frontières) estimate is double that. Asked about allegations that 100,000 had died in the transfers, Geldof said, “in the context [of such a famine], these numbers don’t shock me.”

Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s poorest countries. Whilst making a fortune for charity Geldof has also shown an aptitude for making himself rich. One of his companies, Ten Alps Communications is Britain’s fastest growing media, entertainment and marketing company. The company deals with some unsavoury allies, creating “branded environments” for BP, Glaxo Smithkline and Microsoft, and even the British Foreign Office. When Geldof tried to relive Live Aid with Live8, Nestlé, BAE Systems and Rio Tinto sponsored some of the concerts. Nestlé has been accused of benefiting from the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa by selling more milk substitute products; Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining corporation, has been condemned for human rights and environmental abuses; BAE Systems, according to Mike Lewis of the UK’s Campaign against Arms Trade, is “fuelling conflicts across Africa”.

Many people involved in the Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign were not happy with Geldof. He chose to hold Live 8, without consulting the MPH organisers, on the same day in 2005 as the main MPH demonstration in Edinburgh, stealing most of the media coverage. Geldof praised Tony Blair and GW Bush for saving millions of African lives and promoted the Washington Consensus of free trade, foreign direct investment and privatisation.


 As with Live Aid in 1985, Geldof was criticised for not including any African musicians. At the final press conference that concluded the G8 summit in Gleneagles, the South African activist Kumi Naidoo acted as spokesperson for Make Poverty History gave the coalition’s verdict that: “The world has roared, but the G8 has responded with a whisper.” Geldof turned on Naidoo in front of the assembled media, attacking his statement as “a disgrace”. African civil society representatives went on television afterwards to make public statements dissociating themselves from Geldof’s remarks.

Andrew Carnegie was a practical philanthropist. He knew how to make money and he knew how to use it effectively. Carnegie established charitable organisations that are still active nearly a century after his death and he set the template for other philanthropists through his well-written thoughts on the theory and practice of charity. Carnegie urged the wealthy to provide for themselves and their dependents and then make it their “duty” to use the rest of their funds for their communities. He warned successful men who failed to help others that “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” Modern day rich givers like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have expressed a Carnegie-like wish to divest themselves of their wealth.


This echoes The Buddha’s aphorism about the wealthy man who enjoys his riches without sharing, digging his own grave. Those of us who are not wealthy would be advised to give directly to those in need rather than outsourcing to huge corporations or overweening rock stars. Make a difference to the poor not to the rich.


Julie MacLusky

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