President’s Gama Samaga Pilisandarak
By Dr D. Chandraratna
Trying to place President’s Gama Samaga Pilisandarak (PGSP) in a scientific perspective of public policy making is timely. One of the stated objectives of the Presidents election manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity’ is to create a village-centered development of our predominantly agriculture-based rural economy. The President has pledged to achieve a four-fold objective: a productive citizen, a happy family, a virtuous, disciplined and just society and ultimately a prosperous country. A laudable project worthy of comment and analysis.
President Rajapaksa believes that to achieve this broad objective, he must clearly identify the problems faced by the rural population, which constitutes about 70% of the population in Sri Lanka. It is well known that people in rural areas have suffered for far too long as national development goals are stymied. Given the fact Sri Lanka has an executive presidential system of government it must be understood that decisions that the executive President makes supersede all other decision centres. It is no secret however, that political decisions are tied up with ideology, party politics, group interests, vote banks and the survival of regimes. But in this paper we will leave the ideology and rhetoric aside and examine only the facts, evidence, ends and means only.
Ideal methods of policy making; the end points of a continuum
At the outset it is necessary to contextualise the exercise within the science of policy making in public affairs. Policies are a web of executive decisions made to overcome problems that people in society face in their day-to-day lives. These can be arranged on a continuum from the complex to the simple. At the complex end lies the oldest model, based on the theory of decisions expounded by the management guru Herbert Simon; it is called the Root Method or Comprehensive Rational model, where policy decisions are made after a laborious weighing of all alternative courses in terms of optimum results, costs, and many other value positions. Obviously, this is absolutely necessary in national issues and problems which consume a vast amount of national resources and are costly in nature. Infrastructure projects such as transport systems, communication systems, river and waterways, energy supplies etc., fit in with the comprehensive method of policy making. Governments issue white papers and appoint commissions, task forces and professional consultant bodies before such are undertaken because of the vastness in costs and liabilities. The most important fact is that the country as a whole must realise the value and necessity of such vital state projects. In Sri Lanka, it is a matter of regret that some costly projects such as the Mattala airport and the Hambantota Port have come under criticism because the national implications have not been professionally argued. The author is of the view that both were valuable projects in their own right and if only the relevant Ministry at the time had followed though the correct professional procedure in public policy-making, the projects may have had a different outcome.
In other countries, projects of that magnitude go though extensive weighing of alternatives, open professional debates and university research centres arguing about costs, benefits and opportunity costs of the nation’s limited resources. Science has to be put before ideology because haphazard interventions in national policy or grids or systems can be deleterious.
The opposite method at the other end is called incremental policy making, for as the name suggests it is limited in scope and applicable to small time projects with little or limited national implications. These appear solutions to residual ills, minor dysfunctions of national policies, which need remedial outcomes. Hence, such measures are called disjointed, piecemeal and also having incremental outcomes, benefitting a few at the margins. The fact that they are disjointed invites numerous criticisms. But their positives will be explored first.
This is the method of policy making that the President has taken up as a speedy solution to the numerous problems faced by the rural peasantry in Sri Lanka and his entourage has selected the most backward of villages as the points to touch on.
In fairness to the President, it must be stated at the outset that we do not consider this as a ploy on the part of the President to escape the political overload that he has inherited from years gone past. Ever since the gradual dissipation of efforts by governments since Independence, to kick-start the village economy as the mainstay of the national development strategy, the dividends have been sub-optimal. The colonisation schemes, village expansion schemes, financial assistance to tenants were only partially successful. We do remember the 10-year plans, five-year plans, Operations rooms, Planning Ministries but the results have been poor. The President will succeed to the extent that his advisors keep him informed of the successes, and especially failures of the efforts in the past. The President’s officials must not be a bunch of ‘yes men’ leading the President up the garden path.
Transparency in respect of both means and ends is the path to success. People are not unaware of the fact that politicians are in the habit of recommending such incremental stop-gap policies as a way out to avoid political embarrassment, hoping for a temporary respite. Bottom-up policy making has its positives but its limits and usefulness must be properly grasped.
President’s Gama Samaga Pilisandarak –– the context
Before we evaluate what the President has so far addressed, we must note the following facts about our broad policy field. Sri Lanka has nine provinces, 25 districts, 318 divisions and 14,022 Grama Niladari areas or villages. The country, consisting of 14,022 villages, is demarcated into 196 electorates. For 196 electorates there are 225 Members of Parliament to advance the welfare of all 14022 villages. Given the electoral system these members of Parliament represent not electorates, but districts. They are elected on the proportional representation system of voting. Hence no one at the Centre is responsible, theoretically at least, for any of the problems in any particular village.
Having identified that the PGSP is located at the incremental end of public policymaking we need to put it in an analytical perspective.
It is fair to surmise thus far the President has in his encounters identified and sometimes attended to some of the following major issues identified by the President inter alia: shortage of lands and water for agriculture and houses, unavailability of deeds for lands, inadequate health and transportation facilities, shortages affecting school and other educational issues, inaccessibility to drinking water, elephant-human conflicts and difficulties in marketing.
We are also aware that around 30 precent of the total households in rural societies in Sri Lanka live below the poverty line. Moreover, nutrition surveys conducted in the recent reveal a high prevalence of malnutrition among those in rural areas, which may have been caused by chronic poverty.
There are particular issues in some villages, which we will leave out in this paper.
The Analysis: Plusses and Minuses
I will use a famous textbook in policy making by Hogg and Gunn (1984) to follow through with the Presidential initiative. Let us start with the positives of the PGSP.
This move in the President’s opinion is for the top policy maker to ascertain the real situation in the village, which any text will title as an issue search. The pertinent question to ask is why these concerns do not come up on any agenda paper. Basically, it may be that those affected have no voice because organised interest groups with power and influence drive the issues that get priority. In a poor country, this should come as no surprise. The electronic media of late have had a number of programmes as an agenda-setting exercise with limited success but their main objective was to embarrass the local politicians and bureaucrats. The president also has an interest in attending to their immediate concerns before they could intensify in the future creating more headaches for him. Seeing the problem first hand gives the first policy maker in the country a view of the issue plus the complexities and need for ameliorative action.
The other positive from the perspective of the villager is the immediacy of solution, as resources can be mustered straight away by the President, which otherwise takes long years noting the plethora of departments and other bodies that are involved.
Sri Lanka is one of the highly bureaucratised countries with a public service ‘surplus to requirements’ and running the gauntlet is beyond the capacity of villagers. For example, to regularise a land permit, I was told by a one-time Land Commissioner, one has to have approvals from 23 odd government and semi government organisations. Things are unbelievably complicated by the number of authorising bodies. It took me 12 years after occupation to obtain the deed to my apartment from a government department in Colombo, and that too after two costly court cases. Bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency! Let us not talk about it. No wonder that the people awaiting the arrival of the President were sadly disappointed last week by the cancellation of his visit at the last minute.
In this bottom-up policy initiative there are many pitfalls that we can list straightaway. The President can visit only a few villages and those that are neglected can be politically ‘not with him’. Secondly, the problems are the same in most villages and it will be pointless wasting the time of the President because he will reach the saturation point very soon. He will realise that there are better and efficient mechanisms, given the resources, which can attend to these problems. What the information tells the President is that the issues, being common to many of the fourteen thousand villages are crying out for a national plan of action. Hence we wonder whether it is it the enormity of the issues that strained the limits of those who had power before, causing this neglect? Was it lack of insight, proper understanding, ministerial inexperience or the fear of realising the complexity of the interrelationships between issues or sheer lack of resources that caused this oversight?
The President cannot visit all villages and the solutions he instantaneously gives can be counterproductive. The furore over the environment and forests is a classic case where the Presidents instant solutions have become the weapon in the hands of an environmentally conscious middle class youth on whose bandwagon the opponents of the government are taking a joy ride.
The President will face similar catch-22 situations, which adversely affect his popularity. Incremental policies at the margins by themselves do not achieve much.
Sri Lanka failed in the bottom-up policy development due to many reasons and I can only highlight briefly a few for lack of space. The inefficient and lethargic conduct of the public institutions, the way our peoples representatives are elected without responsibility for particular localities, over 8000 politicians, the haphazard manner in which ministries are created for politicians (Foreign Affairs coupled with Lotteries!), the total lack of coordination between departments, the corruption of public officials, the inability of law to punish those who flout the law, the misuse of power and influence, the non-use or decay of coordination mechanisms such as Divisional, District and Provincial coordinating committees, and the lack of nexus between Provincial Councils and local authorities and many more. The political solution proposed by way of Provincial Councils has become a dead weight. Generally, we are an over governed society and as such the use of modern scientific management for policy implementation is non-existent.
An article appeared in your paper the other day by our colleague Ranjith Soysa from Australia about the successes of China in eradicating poverty in a matter of decades by comprehensive social policy planning which Sri Lanka can learn from. A white paper on poverty alleviation, which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries was mentioned therein. ‘Sri Lanka should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and follow its guidelines if a national comprehensive policy is to be implemented.
China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty––a miracle in human history. But China achieves success because it is a planned centrally and the ideology is driven with strict, rigidly enforced rules, but whether we, being overly democratic, can enforce such discipline in a country noted for a poor work ethic is any one’s guess.
Hogwood,B.W & L.A.Gunn (1984) Policy Analysis for the Real World, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
D.Chandraratna, Making Social Policy in Modern Sri Lanka (2003), Vijitha Yapa, Colombo.
Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic
This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.
Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.
Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.
Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.
During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.
It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.
Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.
Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.
After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.
This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.
Dip Corps Plum Job? I don’t think so!
I was reading an article in the papers the other day saying that the Attorney General (soon to retire) had turned down a “plum job” (interesting and archaic term) by refusing to go as the High commissioner to Canada. In the days when terminology such as “plum job” was used indeed any member of the Diplomatic Corps was considered elite. They usually came from people who had got degrees with a class and preferably a 1st class, and I believe they had to get through a tough civil service exam as well. Before they reached the top post of High Commissioner (if they came from the service) they had to spend many years learning the ropes. A few High Commissioners were appointed from among civil service retirees in other fields and if so, their role was largely ceremonial with the other staff in the embassy handling the actual policy matters.
Ever since the advent of “Kukul Charlie” to Scandinavia as H/C, during the R. Premadasa regime, this worthy actually had a mini chicken farm in the premises of the embassy, and slightly before that the actions of A.C.S. Hameed as the minister of foreign affairs during the J.R.J. regime.The Dip: Co: has degenerated into a mess. Most of the staffers are political appointees and even the progeny of Ministers and MP draw salaries from the embassy, to fund their overseas studies. Everybody seems to be running his or her own little racket to supplement his or her foreign currency incomes. Many of them don’t even come back when their terms are over. The Ambassador’s main role seems to be a taxi driver or to use modern terminology Uber driver for vising VIP’s and their assorted relatives.
Is it a wonder that the incumbent Attorney General chose to decline an offer of this sort? An offer that would have consigned him to oblivion (as seems to be what happens to all able-bodied, intelligent, and capable people in the Pearl) and to top it off, dealing with the freezing conditions of the Canadian winter. This is a blatant attempt to sideline a capable professional who is perceived as a threat to the government as he seems a bit of a maverick and his penchant to toe the line cannot be guaranteed. Now, instead of appreciating constructive criticism and the actions of a professional guided by his knowledge and ethics, the increasingly military regime wants order followers. Extensions of terms come very easily to those characterless wimps who fill and overflow the ranks of government employees! In this case, a “kick upstairs” seems to be what the powers that be require. I guess the inherent and ever-present guiding light of jealousy among his peers, keeps organisations such as the bar association from protesting these actions? I am sure they will find an excuse all covered in legalize. I fear Mr. Livera will have to carve his own path through the morass of muck that is the Pearl at present.
What demoralises me further is that editors of newspapers and even so-called “journalists” write and publish such articles when they are well aware of the true reasons and facts. Then again, I have read articles quoting government financial “geniuses” saying that printing money will not be detrimental to the economy and even some ministers saying that devaluation of the rupee simply means more money coming in from Middle Eastern remittances and a better lifestyle for the beneficiaries! I was even sent a link by a friend to a published article saying Sri Lanka has done a better job than New Zealand to maintain a low Covid death rate. Of course, the link came with the words “Ammata Siri” from a friend of mine!
On the subject of Covid, I am told the predictions for the Pearl based on statistics put out by American Universities, are dire. Now, I know that those ruling the country firmly believe that Sri Lanka is the centre of the universe and anything said by anyone other than themselves is utter rubbish. BUT I see an opportunity here … this is the time to form a “war cabinet” to overcome this catastrophe. Kick out all the idiots who are simply drawing huge salaries, and gadding about in flash new duty-free vehicles. Send them to their electorates and tell them to stay there, travel by bus, mix with the populace, and do their JOBS. Cut their salaries by 75% and use that money to give benefits to those affected by the virus and resultant recession. Form a Cabinet of 20 (maximum) and concentrate on saving our country and her people so that we can live to fight another day.
I have heard rumblings of discontent among the ruling clan. The big cheese is apparently being hampered by the blue cheese (old cheese) and his direct decedents. Be that as it may there certainly are around 70% of those currently in government who can be sent home to their electorates. There are a handful of those in Opposition who may be able to do a good job in these circumstances if included in this war cabinet. There certainly is a foreign minister in waiting, who doesn’t even have a parliamentary seat at present. The current sitting of parliament is said to cost an astronomical figure per sitting. Close it down and have cabinet meetings at Temple trees or TT as is the current local parlance. Another huge saving that can be distributed among those daily paid labourers who have no way to feed their families at present. Use the Parliamentary cooking facilities to make lunch packets for the needy.
There are opportunities even among this present and perceived chaos. All it takes is the will of a strong leader who is prepared to think outside the box. The current president certainly has the powers, but does he have the will? The country certainly thought he had done when they gave him that massive majority!
Vaccine need and experts vs political power
Manna from the skies and the drop of water to a man dying of thirst is for most now a jab in the upper arm which will hopefully keep at bay the dreaded omnipotent, omnipresent Covid 19 virus. It seems to be getting more virulent especially in poorer countries. But countries with massive daily numbers of those ill with C19 and large numbers dead, are fast returning to near normal e.g. USA. A young man who hibernated for the last fourteen months is away on holiday in the Big Apple – a separate State from his. And take it from Cassandra whose age, experience and potent gut feeling qualify her to judge situations, the improvement is due to President Biden’s leadership against that of Trump. Kudos go to Biden mostly for his selection of experts in relevant fields heading various government departments; selected solely on merit and matching the need; not considering relatives, sycophants, ethnic origin of the selected Americans. And he is totally receptive to expert advice. Judge his Secretary of State – Antony Blinken – a polar difference from big brash Mike Pompeo, in the mould of Trump. See how Dr Antony Fauci speaks now to the American media as shown us by CNN. He is confident; knows he is respected and trusted as Chief Medical Advisor to the President and also Director of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases while with Trump he nearly had his head cut off for making statements about the pandemic contrary to what Trump wanted to hear. In this context why Dr Anil Jasinha was transferred as Secretary, Environmental Ministry, is still a mystery, since we Ordinaries do not believe it was a promotion. He did magnificently well, with the Army Commander and others in minimising the damage of the first C19 wave.
Many in Colombo are due for the second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. When will it be given? We were lulled to complacency being told some time ago that the second dose was safely stored in time for vaccination three months after the first. Now we find the medical department’s cupboards are as bare as Mother Hubbard’s as regards the A-Z vaccine and there’s begging going on for the WHO to shower enough of this vaccine on poor Siri Lanka. Threatened is a cocktail of merrily mixed AstraZeneca with Sputnik or the Chinese vaccine. We all shout: No thank you!
We do sympathize with the government battered on all sides and reduced to begging. We appreciate what is being done, but go mad when we hear statements like “Development must go on” when development is a speedway to Ratnapura and purchase of helicopters.
Many approve of the move to lockdown regions and Grama Sevaka divisions and now even provinces since locking down the entire country is really too drastic a measure even though it will reduce mass infection.
Wise experts give of their expertise all the time.
The major issue that confronts the government at present is imminently losing the battle of the Covid 19 pandemic. Next, of course, is the mess of the second vaccine for which blame lies on the government. Then the fast-declining economy and solutions thereof, one solution being import of tourists and asylum given to those fleeing India. For this obvious blunder, blame is squarely on offshoots of the government like hoteliers, travel agents and leading the lot, Udayanga W with his Covid barrier-breaking influx of ‘ballooned’ tourists from Ukraine, one of the worst affected countries. The ‘balloons’ burst no sooner they landed in Paradise and were taken traipsing around Resplendent Sri Lanka.
Another disturbing situ inaugurated by the Prez himself is the fertiliser issue – his overnight banning of chemical fertilisers, to save farming community from kidney disease and win laurels as first country to ban such. Misfiring. Tests have shown the use of these fertilisers is not the cause of KDC. More damning: the sudden ban with no substitute organic fertiliser in large quantity will badly affect our primary cash crop and from the next Yala harvest itself our stomachs will rumble with hunger pangs and the poorer will surely starve. Nothing must be done with the sweep of the pen or the gush of words of command.
And here is Cassandra’s bone which she picks with the government. Experts abound in this country of intelligent people. They are not, apparently, consulted before decisions are made. As Prof, Rohan Rajapakse writes in his article Ban on agrochemical: where are we heading? in The Island of 11 May: “Three eminent scientists, namely Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha, Prof O A Ileyperuma and Prof C S Weeraratne have effectively dealt with the repercussions of the ban on chemical fertilizers.” (He gives their credentials in full). Prof Rajapakse goes on in his article to the sphere of pesticides and warns about that too.
No politician or army high-up nor even the Prez knows it all. So experts must be hearkened to, to serve the country and save its people.
Have you noticed as Cass has that the Minister of Sports and Youth is seen at very many meetings and exhibits involvement in fisheries, the environment, even the economy; far extended from his sphere of sports and youth. Latest sighting (Tuesday May 11) was him on TV news inspecting the marvelous hospital constructed in a couple of days by hard working, skilled young men. It will be manned mostly by young girls, nursing Covid 19 patients, at risk to themselves. So, Cass praises this young minister for being so interested in the welfare and well-being of the Ordinaries – we the people of Free Sri Lanka. A sports writer in the gossipy column on the last page of The Island of 12 May, gave him a paragraph, not complimentary like Cass’ paragraph (this). Also, we do not approve at all of exercise equipment being set up in villages. The villager has enough exercise in his farming and his spouse in house and garden work. Such centres, said to be open air, will only attract gawkers in their numbers, and laughter. Of course, someone will make money.
Dire danger of military in power
The youth of Myanmar are demonstrating to the entire world what the consequences are of military men ruling countries. Pro-democracy leader Daw Suu Kyi was given one term of half governing the country as Counsellor; the second time she and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory. She worked with the army leaders and going along with them – a la the Rohingya – was derided as a Nobel Peace Laureate.
The November 8, 2020 elections gave her Party a bigger majority. Then power was snatched off her and she was held hostage god knows where. (She suffered long years of strict house confinement after her first victory.)
The youth of the country rose up for democracy and for Suu Kyi being released. Listening to excerpts of conversations with two fighters for democracy – male and female – on BBC, Cass was overwhelmed with a fifty-fifty, long lasting spurt of emotion: sorrow and admiration for these young uns. Bless them and may they win the battle for a right of every human being – freedom from oppression and dictatorship. But these kids are being shot at with live bullets and more than fifty (if remembered correctly) are dead. Why-oh-why are base men so greedy for power?
The young of Hong Kong also fought unrelentingly but they were imprisoned and not killed deliberately. Their battle is against the growing power of China where a dictator resembling a military man rules supreme.
A bright spot
In media, whether print or visual, we long for news with optimistic effect to drive away, even temporarily, the doom and gloom that envelops us. Cass had her descending-to-depression spirits uplifted by watching a video clip of the Queen declaring the new Parliamentary sessions ‘open’.
Here was the mid-90s Sovereign walking steadily with her eldest son beside her and reading her speech about what ‘her government’ and ‘her ministers’ would do for the country in a steady voice with steady hands holding the script.
Top on this list was fast recovery from the pandemic followed by environmental, health and educational betterment. She hid signs of emotion that would have battered her because for almost seven decades she came in with her beloved Philip by her side at this ceremony.
Cass took courage from this marvelous woman.
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