Separating the wheat of good governance demands from the chaff
The new government has the unenviable task of not only delivering on their promises and getting ready for the upcoming parliamentary elections, but managing expectations of instant resolution of past injustices which seem to flow unceasingly at this point in time.
It is in this context that certain opportunists, who should really be exposed as rascals, come in to confuse and divert the efforts of the already overloaded Commission Against Corruption setup by the new administration. It is important that the commission setup a filtering mechanism to sift out the real wheat from the chaff that consists of these rascals, so that its time can be most fruitfully be used to deal with real corruption.
One such instance I have been made aware of is made by a man by the name J. C. Ahangama to whom many of us gave much credence during the early days of Sinhala UNICODE development – the way to encode Sinhala uniquely in the digital sphere. We later realized however that his ulterior motive in opposing the proposed method was a patent he had pending for a scheme that he himself had ‘invented’. To the technologically minded, his ‘scheme’ was nothing more than a transliteration scheme, of which presently there is an abundance, between English and Sinhala. Though sharing his initials with one of the true leaders of the democratic movement in Sri Lanka, this wolf in sheep’s clothing
is trying to make a mockery of the entire process of good governance reforms that the new administration is trying to establish, by alleging that the Sinhala UNICODE already establish under the patronage of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka and accepted as the standard by the Sri Lanka Standards Institutions (SLSI), ISO and the UNICODE Consortium, was in some way suboptimal and therefore should be investigated!
Ahangama’s initial argument was that UNICODE was a scheme forced on us by foreign multinationals and that we should not bow to their standards. Over the years however he has realized that this line of argument was not tenable as the entire IT industry adopted UNICODE as the standard for encoding all languages of the World. He subsequently made his ‘scheme’ convertible to UNICODE, no doubt after convincing some gullible donors for funding.
He also appears to have made his argument sound more technically sophisticated by referring to his scheme’s efficiency over the direct encoding of Sinhala UNICODE, claiming that his scheme only uses a single byte for encoding characters whereas Sinhala UNICODE takes two per character. This itself is an attempt to confuse the public since, in his scheme multiple Latin characters are required to encode a single Sinhala character!
At the heart of this so called ‘son of the soil’ (who nevertheless has chosen to live outside Sri Lanka most of this time) argument is that Sinhala should be encoded so that if a particular computer does not posses a Sinhala font, it would at least be readable in English! Why English? Why not Tamil or Chinese for that matter? This appears to be a slip that shows his allegiance to his new found home in the US. Thus his argument is that all Sri Lankans should learn English first, so that they can transliterate their own Sinhala language using these English characters! This he calls is a more nationalistic way of doing things rather than ‘bowing down to the West and adopting their standards’.
Being part of a Local Language Working Group that precedes the existence even of the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (which did most of the facilitating surrounding the Sinhala UNICODE effort together with the Universities of Colombo and Moratuwa), I can state categorically that most of its members worked on this project owing to their love of the language and the nation and as a national service. I’m sure ICTA would be open to being audited on how much was spent on the entire Sinhala UNICODE initiative and it would make Ahangama look silly. Being at least a significant stakeholder in the recent movement for democracy and accountability, something Ahangama cannot claim to any extent even though sheltered by being at a distance, I also feel justified to call on the public to condemn efforts such as these to discredit good work done in the past, so that we don’t end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Finally, I wish Ahangama good luck with his funding sources even if this particular cheap attempt at jumping on the corruption-‐allegation-‐bandwagon fails miserably, because he’d need a lot of it to convince the SLSI, ISO, UNICODE and then the major platform vendors such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Oracle, that his proprietary scheme is better than the current Sinhala UNICODE scheme for encoding Sinhala. Oh I almost forgot, he’d also have to face the wrath of tens of thousands of Sinhala speakers and users, many of whom owing to Sinhala UNICODE were able to actively take part in the social media revolution that caused some of the unexpected results of the last election!
Just for interest I typed Ahangama’s name (both as ‘Jayantha Ahangama’ and ‘ජයන්ත අහංගම’) and realized there were only 6,760 results for the English but 35,200 for the Sinhala – just a minor testimony to the success of Sinhala UNICODE to date).
University of Colombo School of Computing