by Austin Fernando
Many criticisms are directed at the Ministry of Foreign Relations (MFR) (previously Ministry of Foreign Affairs -MFA) for alleged operational failures. Incidentally, the successes of MFR are not spoken much, not for want, but that is life!
For example, currently, there are criticisms against the ‘withdrawal threat of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+)’, and the March 2021 UNHRC Resolution. Even previously we have heard criticisms against Yahapalanaya over ‘co-sponsoring the UNHRC Resolution- 2015.’ The Mahinda Rajapaksa government faced criticisms over the handling of UNHRC Resolutions (2009-2013), and the withdrawal of GSP+. While some appreciated President R Premadasa for the Gladstone Affair, others criticised him. Criticisms were directed against President JR Jayewardene over the Falklands War issue. If looked at apolitically, every government has had its share of criticisms.
Constitutional Mandate for Foreign Affairs
It is appropriate to review the MFR/MFA operations through a constitutional prism. First, let us look at the fountain of power or the mandate for ‘foreign affairs.’ The Sri Lankan Constitutions maintained a centralised nature until the 13th Amendment introduced devolution and restructured administration. It demarcated the functions of the State. Accordingly, the functions of ‘Foreign Affairs’ in the List II- Reserved List were:
“This would include-
(a) Foreign Affairs: all matters which bring the Government of Sri Lanka into relations with any foreign country;
(b) Diplomatic consular and trade representation;
(c) United Nations Organization;
(d) Participation in international conferences, associations, and other bodies and implementing of decisions made thereat;
(e) Entering into treaties and agreements with foreign countries and implementing treaties, agreements, conventions with foreign countries.
In (a) above, two terms i. e. “all matters”, and “with any foreign country,” are important for MFR functioning. If the Constitutional intentions are to be satisfied, the MFR, other political and administrative hierarchies should adhere to this constitutional mandate.
The last few decades’ experiences show that adherence to these two ‘terms’ was seen sparingly. High political authorities have ignored these terms. We did not see any public outcry or even a restricted or nominal concern shown by the MFR, and its predecessors, against non-adherence, though occasional political outbursts happened. Examples for ‘outbursts’ were observed when the Indo- Lanka Accord was signed, UNHRC Resolution was co-sponsored, when the Indian Peace Keeping Force was invited, etc. These related to “international relations”, but with minute, or no stakeholder consultation before embarking. Looking at mandate (b), (d), and especially (e), obviously the role of the MFR spreads on a wide canvass.
Regarding mandate (c) the MFR holds sway. Many recent criticisms on (c) were on human rights, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, disappearances, reconciliation, returning refugees and repatriated workers suffering from COVID 19, etc. These have domestic political attachments and are complex
The list of violations of the 13A- List II stipulations is long. I recall a few experiences in my short service as a diplomat. (I have many more!)
Recent Foreign Relation Experiences
Following-up Agreements, Treaties, Conventions, diplomatic meetings are expected from the MFR. Coordinating with stakeholders inclusive of missions abroad, keeping them abreast of decisions matters. Does this happen? Yes, it happens in the breach. An example of default in information sharing by MFR was exposed when MFR requested the Delhi Mission for the proceedings and minutes of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegate meetings with Indian dignitaries while knowing that quite unconventionally none from the Mission accompanied the President! Really, the Mission should have requested them from MFR!
More seriously, I mention how decisions at President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s discussions with Indian dignitaries were followed. During the 40 days of service after the President’s visit until I was recalled, the Delhi Mission did not receive any follow-up directives on the visit. Is it the respect to PM Modi and interest shown toward India, the outcomes of the visit, or is it only the non-adherence of the mandate? Indians are a sensitive and sensible lot!
Though PM Modi offered a 450-million-dollar Line of Credit as “India’s full assistance in taking” Sri Lanka “in the path of rapid development,” MFR did not exhibit that urgency, rapidity, reflected from lacking public knowledge about Indian projects since this pledge. These are the criteria exhibiting the direction of the path of rapid development.
Anyhow, the bi-lateral concerns were never conveyed to the Delhi Mission either by the Presidential Secretariat or MFR, and hence there was no mission follow-up. The mission could not automatically know items to follow up, being absent at presidential deliberations. Nevertheless, the citizens must know the outputs/outcomes of PM Modi’s pledges. We do not hear of new project information, or even whether Sri Lanka has formally accepted the pledges. After twenty months of the visit, it is not the best outcome for relations building for the President with the closest neighbour, friend, sometimes called the relative, especially when Indians reflect President’s relationships with China. The MFR’s mandate accommodates such review and information dissemination.
Observing fast-moving Chinese projects, the Indians wonder whether the Modi Pledges have been relegated to the backburner, and preference is elsewhere. This is of security and political connotations to Indians.
To my understanding, only the Solar Alliance’s $100 million offered for solar power projects are being processed. Concurrently, ADB-assisted solar projects in the Jaffna Islands and other projects such as road construction, the de-silting of the Tissamaharama tank commenced after Modi’s pledges; they are carried by Chinese firms. Balancing the Indian concerns as regards the Chinese power project in the Jaffna Islands could have been easy if the Solar Alliance project had been used. (Yahapalanaya was also responsible for this delay.) Indian drone surveillance of our coastlines also would have been redundant.
For comparison, I quote another Indian experience. Having provided $ 1.4 billion assistance to the Maldives, Indians again focused on the Maldives, which has a population of 530,953 (2019), financing major infrastructure development that included a $100 million grant and $400 million new line of credit. Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar announced the creation of an air bubble with the Maldives to facilitate movement and the commencement of the cargo ferry service between the two countries.
The reason for such relationship-building by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was the Chinese- Maldivian bond, which perturbed India. For India, it should have similar concerns with us as well. When similar Indian responses are not observed under even worse circumstances, it makes one wonder why. When India delays finalising the US$ 1,000 million facilitation requested by our government while Indian-Maldivian relations expand, one asks why. Have we failed to reach the promised “very high level” bilateralism, enunciated by President Rajapaksa in Delhi?
PM Modi pledged $450 million when President Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited India. Our former Presidents visiting India did not experience this kind of generosity. PM Modi showed similar generosity to the Maldivian President (US $ 1.4 billion), Bhutanese PM (Indian Rs. 4,500 crores), on their first visits. This may have made President Rajapaksa state that “he would strive to take his country’s bilateral relationship with India to a “very high level”. I doubt whether his effort has reached fruition.
Shouldn’t the MFR be held accountable for non-adherence to its mandate?
The Maldives succeeded while we were haggling over the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT), the Trinco Tank Farm Project (TTFP), Mattala, etc. Maybe, the Maldives accommodated Indian development activities. I do not support endorsing every Indian project as demanded. It is not necessary. Yet, considering the Indian marketplace economics, it is appropriate to finding middle-ground as we did in the case of the Colombo Port City. Commencing negotiations with Indians on the Western Container Terminal is a positive response.
For comparison, Nepal received Rs. 2,802 crores from Indian Annual Neighborhood Financing – 2020 provisions (irrespective of the brewing Kalapani boundary dispute), while Sri Lanka received only Rs. 2,317 crores over a decade. A few days before President Rajapaksa visited Delhi, without any MFR direction, I brought the neighborhood financing viz. Sri Lankan receipts issue with the Indian hierarchy, and the Indians convinced of the need to assist us. Probably, the sum of $ 450 million reflected this thinking. The MFR must study the reasons and pursue action to attract Indians.
At the request of Dr. Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL), the Mission negotiated with Indian authorities a $400 million Swap, and the CBSL succeeded. To save Sri Lanka from being placed on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force, regarding money-laundering, the Mission intervened, and CBSL succeeded, not on MFA initiations, but the personal request of friendly Governor Coomaraswamy. Such rare interventions come under the purview of items (a) and (e) of the Mandate, but rarely used.
I would like to mention a lesson learned from PM Modi to prove how the Indians take foll-up action. In 2018, returning from the Maldives, he stopped over in Colombo, and the MoU 2017 would have been discussed. He sent a few officials, led by Dinesh Patnaik, Additional Secretary MEA to meet Colombo-based agencies. My understanding is that the MFA and my Delhi Mission had no role to play. This move or its outputs were never conveyed to the Delhi Mission. We learned it from MEA friends. This lack of cohesive adherence to items (a) and (e) of the Mandate by MFR and other stakeholders, bungles relations building.
MEA Minister S Jaishankar visited Colombo and met the representatives of the incumbent adminstration and demonstrated India’s interest and support. It was a total embarrassment to us to receive information about this visit from ‘Indian Express’ journalist Subarjit Roy, and not from MFR! True to MFA/ MFR tradition, no intimation was conveyed to the Delhi Mission Long live the ‘dead’ Mandates (a) and (e)!
Apart from the constitutional mandate formalities in foreign affairs are serious businesses so much so, in India, there are no shortcuts available to foreign envoys to access the higher levels of administration without approaching the MEA.
In Sri Lanka, we have observed all superior politicians and administrators meet diplomats without reference to the MFR/MFA. Indians probably do so selectively due to logistical reasons. Here, I experienced this due to personal attitudes toward the Foreign Office. The proceedings of such discussions at higher levels are not shared with the MFR. It prevents informed diplomatic decision-making. The tacit fault lies in those who permit direct access and refrain from reporting to MFR.
In India, a representative of the MEA always sits at discussions. At one-on-one meetings with the Prime Minister, for instance, such representation is absent. From the manner matters are pursued by the MEA, it is obvious that the contents of such discussions are shared with the MEA.
While MEA does not permit direct access to State Government authorities without MEA clearance, we have generally ambassadors directly dealing with our provincial authorities, which could create difficult managerial issues. During my tenure in Delhi, I remember a Governor of a Province, and previously even Chief Ministers showed keenness to deal with India and State Governments, which is ‘dangerous.’ Mandate (a) helps manage this issue.
MoU -2017- A Specific Study
I take the case regarding a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Sri Lanka and India in 2017 for economic cooperation, to prove how these Mandates default. I suspect the MFR pursued this MoU only as a reference to a Cabinet Memorandum, though it had much broader implications.
I may quote an issue from the MoU i.e., the Trincomalee Tank Farm Project (TTFP)– as a case study to prove where the silence of the MFA and general apathy and uncertainty of governments create problems even to successor governments. The TTFP had been an undecided issue before the 2017 MoU. The TTFP 2003- Agreement was followed by the government from 2011 to 2018, but dilly-dallying was observed throughout.
For the 2017 MoU Cabinet Memorandum, observations were submitted on TTFP by two Ministers, namely Ravi Karunanayaka, ‘noting’ the Memorandum, and Chandima Weerakkody on the structure of the Project. A ‘confirmed’ Cabinet decision was taken to sign the MoU with stakeholder consultation. But the signed MoU has detailed the Cabinet-approved MoU, though the Cabinet decision has drawn conditions (i.e., further “consultation”, and “separate Cabinet memoranda pertaining to the joint projects.”)
Conceptually, there are two major issues- i.e., the structure of the Project and land ownership. The latter is a crucial issue with Attorney General’s and Cabinet’s decisions showing mixed responses. On these, can someone challenge the legality of revisions in Section iv of the signed MoU? These could have been avoided through “stakeholder consultations” and “separate Cabinet Memoranda” as agreed by the Cabinet. These issues may rekindle negativity and delay finality.
I quote the Supreme Court’s LMS judgment that declared: “A pre-condition laid down in paragraph 1.3 is that an alienation or disposition of State land within a Province shall be done in terms of the applicable law only on the advice of the Provincial Council. The advice would be of the Board of Ministers communicated through the Governor, the Board of Ministers being responsible in this regard to the Provincial Council.” (Sri Lanka Law Reports  1 Sri L.R: page 172) Considering this status, I contend that the work steps applicable to Section iv of the signed MoU need review. If not, cannot Section iv be challenged on “procedural invalidity?”
Now that the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT), Mattala, the Sampur Solar Power projects (in 2017 MoU) have not been carried out, Indians will naturally pursue the TTFP vehemently. Financially strong parties coerce or intrude on allied economic issues through emergent openings. I am not a lawyer, and I contend that due to the country’s financial crisis, we have provided such an opening to India through TTFP. India may have deliberately strategised indecisiveness on the $1,000 million facilitation. It could resurface if/when Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa negotiates the financial facilitation. Can he also strategize negotiating on the quoted “procedural invalidities”?
To my mind, the TTFP could also become an economically exciting allied project. Unfortunately, this is not much discussed publicly. In the MoU 2017, Section v reads as “v. A Port, Petroleum Refinery, and other industries in Trincomalee, for which GOSL and GOI will set up a JWG by end June 2017.” These openings will allure renegotiation to reach middle ground, and newly negotiated terms to evolve paths to lessen political embarrassment and summon economic prosperity.
There may be other Missions and personnel with experience with non-adherence to the Constitutional Mandate. Such experiences and issues must be made use of by those concerned in executing the Constitutional Mandate for Foreign Affairs.
I have mentioned India because whenever Indo-Sri Lanka relations deteriorate, Sri Lanka faces political and diplomatic embarrassment, as we have experienced in 1987 during the conflict, in 2013, and 2021 at the UNHRC. Avoiding such situation is the “job” of the main Mandate holder, the MFR.
The battle against KNDU: Renewing our contract with the people
By Sivamohan Sumathy
The KNDU Bill is designed to single-handedly change the face of education in Sri Lanka. Since the ‘90s, successive governments have tried to roll back the gains of the Free Education Poliicy of 1945. The history of free education is not linear, nor is it without contradictions. It is implicated in the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, gender and the multiple vectors of violence of state and civil society. Despite and because of these very contradictions Free Education has come to represent and symbolise the often contradictory but powerful assemblage of social aspirations and social desires of the general body of citizenry, particularly the vast majority situated on the margins or near margins of society. Free education does not serve everybody equally, but over the years and across decades, it has come to represent the hope of a vast majority for a better place in society. For a populace that is increasingly disempowered, it opens up opportunities toward social mobility, limited as they are; and as or more importantly, becomes the ideological and political weapon of the vast majority in the struggle for justice, social justice and bid for a democratic pact with the state.
Privatisation, Corporatisation, Militarisation
The State university system is an integral part of the state apparatus. Successive governments, have attempted and, to some degree, succeeded in undermining its integrity from within, creating parallel systems of higher education that would be on par with it. Privatisation of higher education follows a two pronged plan; the creation of fee levying centres and bodies of education and the degradation of state universities through under funding and sub-standardization. The fortnightly Kuppi Talk column in The Island has consistently foregrounded the pressures exerted upon the state university compelling it to carry out multiple reforms that compromise on standards and force it to privatise itself. From the ‘90s onwards (if not before), spending on university education has steadily deteriorated and in the post war years spending on education has stayed under 2% of the GDP (Niyanthini Kadirgamar, “Funding Fallacies,” https://island.lk/funding-fallacies-in-education/). The Humanities and Social Sciences are the most affected as highlighted in the various contributions of the Kuppi Talk column. It is no accident that the most recent move toward privatisation from within and without takes place by fiat and through militarisation. Much has been written about the principles of militarised authority that the KNDU bill enshrines. I do not have to reinvent the wheel here, but want to note that by rolling back the gains of free education and its potential to empower people, the KNDU bill points toward a future of repressive technocratic governance and repressive exclusions of those who most desire education as the path to mobility.
While the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a few stuttering steps toward privatisation of education, at the turn of the new millennium one is witness to the onset of an aggressive campaign toward the the dismantling of the long cherished free education apparatus as we know it. I trace this historical trajectory in “SAITM: Continuities and Discontinuities” looking at the different impetuses behind the establishment of NCMC and SAITM, the ideological similarities notwithstanding (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=161915
Certain forms of privatised tertiary education have existed for a long time and have expanded in recent years, but to this day, the establishment of a fully-fledged private university has run into problems. Popular will stood in its way. But it is also a fact that the country simply does not have the infrastructural, intellectual and investment-capacity for a viable private university to take off. Private sector in fact is weak in Sri Lanka. In the post war years, the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, with S. B. Dissanayake as Minister of Higher Education spear headed a move to formalise private universities through an umbrella organization that would act as an accreditation council, bringing private and state universities on par and under the same purview and placing this purview within the ambit of corporate interests. In their eyes, Sri Lanka is to become an education hub, attracting foreign investment (“Education and its discontents,” ). The Yahapalana government is no better and blindly follows through on the privatisation plans of the previous regime with its Private Public Partnership policies, SAITM, and the degrading of Arts Education to some vague notion of soft skills development. The KNDU Bill was gazetted in April 2018 and was opposed by the academic communities and members of civil society. As with most corruption ridden neo liberal moves that render all aspects of life commodified, in this instance too, the state becomes an investor in privatised education. We hear that Bank of Ceylon and NSB have been ordered to pledge 36.54 billion rupees to KDU. (https://www.sundaytimes.lk/210725/business-times/kotelawala-uni-gets-over-rs-36-bn-from-boc-nsb-449828.html) If the rationale for privatising education is to ease the burden on the state, why does the state continue to subsidize these institutions? The logic boggles the mind.
The Democracy Call
From 2011-2012 the Federation of University Teachers’ Association (FUTA) launched the greatest challenge that the teachers had ever made to an incumbent government and in the post war era brought together diverse disgruntled forces under its slogan of Save State Education and the 6% GDP campaign. It brought together different groups and a wide range of actors together to formulate a response to the neo liberal forces that were riding rough shod over the needs of an anxious working and professional class. Its call for action was framed by the call to save democracy. However, in the Yahapalana years and after, the struggle for education lost its momentum. FUTA itself was riven from within, preoccupied by its members’ narrower preoccupations, diverse aspirations, and loyalties. Other disparate groups took up the mantle to fight against privatisation, some of which may not have developed in desirable directions.
Today, the bill threatens to become a dangerous reality. It is not just Universities that are threatened by the KNDU. School teachers led by their unions have jumped into the fray. Beaten by the crippling conditions of COVID 19, teachers and students are facing the dire consequences of years of underfunding in education. FUTA is joining the protest as a key player, a mighty powerful player, but not as the only player. As Shamala Kumar eloquently put it at a press conference called against the KNDU bill on 24 July, 2021, the struggle against the authoritarian bill is a struggle against the PTA, a struggle for working people’s rights, guaranteeing safety of working conditions in the informal sector, particularly women, and a struggle for democracy within the university, including raising one’s voice against ragging. University teachers, rallying forces under FUTA, are once again on the cusp of a decisive moment of the history of education in the country. Let’s defeat the KNDU bill together!
Sivamohan Sumathy is attached to the Department of English at the Univ. of Peradeniya
Condolences, warnings and admonition never to forget
Two great Sri Lankans have died and we as a country are much the poorer, and mourn their deaths. Manouri de Silva Muttetuwegama has vacated her long held position as a wise, consistent, fearless combatant for women and particularly those underprivileged, discriminated against, and helpless against forces of war and ethnicity that caused them suffering. Another noteworthy trait of the woman and characteristic of her work-ethic was quiet efficiency in going about her remedying, healing work with no fanfare and never seeking of publicity and praise. She was a lovely friendly person, always with a sincere smile lighting her face. Manouri served the country well and her daughter carries the torch.
Business magnate and media moghul R Rajamahendran, who used his money, influence and power to help the country is mourned, more so as he could have served his company Capital Maharaja Organisation and Sri Lankan media longer. The appreciation of him by Rex Clementine in The Island, Monday July 26, detailed the great good he did for Sri Lankan cricket. Teaming up with Gamini Dissanayake he literally fought for test status for our country, amply justified by teams of yore, one of which won the World Cup and another nearly did.
(Note: Cass uses the verb ‘died’ and the noun ‘death’ in preference to the softer, gentler ‘passing’, ‘passing away’ et al as she prefers the more real though stark word to euphemisms. Death is death.)
Never forget crimes committed
This is the thought that came to mind when coincidentally Cassandra, on 22 July watched the movie 22 July, almost a documentary on the 32 year old Anders Behring Breivik, who parked his bomb-laden van outside the PM’s office in Oslo; it killed eight people and caused utter damage, and then crossed to a summer camp on an island where he shot, point blank, the manager who welcomed him as a police officer but then wanted to see his ID, and a woman in authority. He embarked on a killing spree, which left 69 Youth League workers dead and many more injured. When the police arrived he tamely surrendered. At his trial he said he wanted to save Norway and Europe itself from multiculturalism, particularly naming Muslims, and that the killing of innocents was a wakeup call. His defence attorney attempted pleading schizophrenia but on hearing the awfully heartrending testimony of some of the young campers who escaped death but were injured grievously, he was found guilty on all counts and jailed in solitary confinement for more than two decades.
We, most fortunately have had no single mass murderer like Breivik and American school killers but murder most foul continues and may surface any time.
Cass’ thought was never forget terrible crimes committed on persons who were innocent or who were doing their duty. Yes, we as a nation must never forget these grievous crimes. The death of Richard de Zoysa stands out stark, but the police person who took him away from his home and his mother ‘for questioning’, tortured and killed him and dropped him far out at sea died gruesomely along with Prez Premadasa on May 1. Richard’s body washed ashore though weighted and dropped far out at sea. The person who probably ordered his demise too was killed by the same LTTE bomb. Thus, they paid for their heinous crime.
Others who murdered or ordered murders seem to live on powerfully and mightily. The gruesome murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is kept alive by his daughter, but to no avail. Never to be forgotten or forgiven is the killing of the young, harmless ruggerite whose only ‘crime’ was cocking a snook at those who thought they were superior. What the telling vine conveyed was that the rugger captaincy almost going to him had him tortured and killed. Again a coincidence or overconfidence brought to light the crime: Thajudeen’s body was placed next to the driving seat and his car pushed against a wall to fake an accident. It was all covered up. But people remember this murder, though no one shouts for justice for Thajudeen’s grieving parents.
When you question how come murderers and torturers seem to thrive, the answer is karma, Cass supposes. Maybe, the perpetrators suffer in the midst of utter luxury and in power. Maybe, even slightly, they are overcome with shivers of fright, but never remorse, we surmise.
Unanimously, we are all triumphant that the 15 year old Tamil girl’s death by immolation after prolonged rape in an ex-Minister’s home is being investigated. We hope it will move to correct, just conclusion.
Notes on news items
Highly commended is the article ‘Whither the Sangha and Buddha Sasana?’ by S M Sumanadasa in The Island of July 26. If you have not read it, and are a Buddhist, please retrieve the article and read it. It is spot on though gently written, very timely with so many protests going on, most headed by yellow robes. He starts by saying “As a keen observer …, I feel confident and justified in what I say…” Perfectly justified and every point made is valid. The majority of our Sangha strictly follow the 200 odd vinaya rules and render invaluable service to Buddhist lay people, to Buddhism, and the country, but the yellow robed bad eggs are truly rotten. The Sangha may only advise leaders and from a back seat. Sumanadasa queries why the Buddha Sasana Ministry and the Nayaka Theros do not stem the growing tide of indiscipline and reprehensible behaviour of men in Sangha robes. We ask the same. He states a truth that the death of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is really caused by the Buddhists themselves and some members of the Sangha.
An agreeing opinion by Piyasena Athukorale is in The Island, Wednesday July 29.
Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits by Dr L M K Tillekeratne appears in the same newspaper. Cassandra retorts: Oh goodness! Enough universities! What benefit when sane advice by university dons and experts in agriculture and related subjects have been completely ignored by the President, the PM, the Cabinet and others in power. They have still not rescinded or withdrawn the overnight ban on import and use of inorganic fertilisers. When famine stares us in the face after the demise of the farmer (the country’s so called backbone) through suicide or utter disgusted exasperation and loss of livelihood, we Ordinaries will have to suffer hunger pangs and malnourishment while those who ordered the very ill-advised and too sudden ban, will live on happily. Maybe, exotic food from around the world will be helicoptered to them!
Professor Channa Jayasumana, I was told, has said that the long awaited and longed for Astra Zeneca vaccine was delayed in transport to our land by the Olympic Games. Cass really did not know that these Games blocked air routes or interfered with air travel. Maybe, the Prof meant that the vaccine gifted (we seem never able to buy this absolute requisite) by Japan was stymied by the Games in Tokyo. He should know as he is a professor.
Why Cass mentioned this tale is because thanks to Professor Jayasumana, she increased her life span by ten years, rolling around choking with laughter (bitter though) at the explanation of why the A-Z Vaccine is so delayed.
Enough is absolutely enough
Please, whoever the authority is, stop that telephone message that comes in the three languages exhorting us to act with care during this period. I have forgotten the terms used in
Sinhala and English as I don’t listen when the message comes through, but they are synonyms of urgencies, calamities, crises; which last short spells of time, not months and months as the telephone message has been. This is parallel to the Sri Lankan habit of hanging bunting, posting posters but never bothering to remove them.
It is better the government just calls up protesters for meetings (even though it intends doing nothing) so that spreader of the C19 will cease or at least decrease. We stay home – telephoners – so why have we to suffer a double whammy – eternal message and risk contracting C19. We completely disapprove of teachers protesting en masse all over the country for salary hikes. Not done, not done at all during a country’s economic crisis.
Will we ever learn to put the country’s good and people’s wellbeing before our acts of self-seeking and selfishness?
Doing the right thing the wrong way
By Jayasri Priyalal
Nurturing nature is the right thing to do when mother nature is struggling to adjust to the manufactured damages taking their toll and challenging the mutual cohabitation of all living beings on earth. Feeding seven billion people with depleted natural resources and a degraded environment is a mammoth task for humanity. During the past ten millennia, homo sapiens have evolved to adjust and move ahead with their advanced cognitive abilities. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, there is ample evidence and warning signs to suggest that human beings have crossed the line in harming nature. Maintaining balanced biodiversity is advised by experts to mitigate natural disasters triggered by climate change.
Research in 2020 by the World Economic Forum found that $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – was moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services and is therefore exposed to ‘nature loss’, including tropical forests.
This article was prompted by the presentation delivered by Senior Professor Buddhi Marambe, Department of the Crop Science, University of Peradeniya, yesterday (24 July 2021). My special thanks go to the Peradeniya Engineering Faculty Alumni Association [PEFAA] for organising the timely event.
The learned Professor presented his arguments with facts and figures from authentic sources and clarified many myths about synthetic fertiliser and pesticides use in Sri Lanka. All Sri Lankans are truly indebted to all these professionals dedicated to improving our agricultural productivity in a scientifically sound manner, causing minimum impact on biodiversity. Sri Lanka’s ranking in the use of synthetic fertiliser and pesticides, and emergence above our competitors in the region on maintaining food security was an alarming highlight of the lecture.
The discussion heightened the public awareness of the proposed move by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, to ban the import of synthetic fertiliser and agrochemicals and switch to organic fertiliser. Professor Marambe dealt with points and forewarned the dangers of these short sighted policy directives that appear to have been formulated without sufficient consultations with experts dealing with agriculture, instead relying on ill-advised opinion makers, based on assumptions instead of scientific facts.
Recent developments in the country, mainly various draft bills, attempting to militarise higher education, attempting to dispose of the country’s iconic properties to attract investment, indicate the quality of advisors to the President. Those who teamed up with him as Viyath Maga experts appear to have misled President Rajapaksa.
At the webinar, Prof. Marambe revealed that he and other agricultural experts had been appealing for an audience with the President to explain the dangers of this policy directive, which entails long-term adverse repercussions to an agricultural economy. President Rajapaksa has come out with strong convictions on the benefits of using organic fertiliser and sadly lacks scientific evidence to back the perceived benefits and advantages of the proposed policy directive.
I am making a humble appeal to President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and his team of advisors to seek expertise from the experts and decide on the policy directives instead of counting on assumptions.
Fareed Zakaria devotes a chapter on why people should listen to experts and experts should listen to people, in his book ‘Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World’. He refers to President Donald Trump being questioned about experts he consults, during the 2016 Republican nomination campaign. Trump responded, “I am speaking with myself, number one because I have an excellent brain; my primary consultant is myself.” His idea to inject a cleaning solution to treat COVID-19 patients could have surfaced through this process of self-consultation. Trump ridiculed the experts in 2016 thus: “Look at the mess we’re in with all these experts that we have.” The rest is history; the mess he created during his tenure as the US President. These are useful lessons for many other political leaders.
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