by Rajan Philips
The government, rather the country, is in the grip of three mutually aggravating crises – involving public health, people’s lives and the economy. And every one of them has gotten critical. Covid-19 has morphed or mutated into a dreadful Delta scare. Even the suddenly impressive vaccine rollout is being outrun by surges in infections and deaths. If vaccination is picking up four paces, Delta is overtaking by eight paces and more. That is the reality.
Last Thursday, two major hospitals, the Ratnapura General Hospital and the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, “declared emergency,” apparently a rare occurrence in Sri Lanka’s medical history. The emergency situation is due to increases in Covid-19 patients, technically bordering on “a situation of Mass Casualty Incidents” and warranting emergency responses, according to the Deputy Director-general of Health Services, Dr. Hemantha Herath. Hospitals in the Western Province are also getting filled up even as they are running short of oxygen supply. For some time now, the Lady Ridgeway Hospital in Colombo has been struggling to cope with the influx of children infected by Covid-19.
The second crisis is the unrest among working people. This is more than a labour or trade union problem. The widespread unrest and ubiquitous protests are not part of the usual political muscle flexing. They are desperate signs of vast sections of people finding it impossible to get on with life. No one is suggesting that the government should creatively find ways to immediately restore normal economic life in the country. But everyone, except those who are close to the perks and fringes of power, is aghast that government leaders are pretending that they are in control of everything and that normality is just round the corner. Nothing can be more distant from the truth. And the truth is about the third crisis, which is the economic crisis. What the people are helplessly experiencing is the symptom of an economy that is in severe crisis. There is no point trying to hide it or to pretend otherwise.
Just like the crises, the government’s responses to them are also mutually aggravating. On the pandemic front, the President and the government have so failed to put together a permanent team of experts who will publicly tell the government and the people the unvarnished truth about the Covid-19 situation in Sri Lanka, and offer their advice on what everyone should be doing to control and contain the Delta spread as much as possible.
Friday’s news reports announced that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa convened a special meeting to discuss the current COVID-19 situation. Head of the COVID-19 task force Army Commander General Shavendra Silva, minsters, Director General of Health Services and several other experts reportedly took part in the meeting. Nothing much came out of it. The point is this is more political ad-hocism, and not a substitute for putting in charge a permanent body of experts.
The government after initially downplaying the severity of the pandemic crisis and prematurely celebrating victory over the virus, is now trying to use Covid-19 as reason to stop public protesting. At the same time, the government is ignoring universal medical opinion that has been pleading for the continuation of Covid-19 restrictions. People can see through when the government uses medical opinion as grounds for arresting protesters, but will not listen to medical opinion that calls for generally restrictive measures to contain the spread of Covid-19. People can also see that protesters are not flouting Covid-19 precautions and they are not ignoring social distance requirements.
People know that they are experiencing the same helplessness and frustrations that are driving protesters to picket lines. They expect empathy from the government. And they want the government to honestly engage with the protesters and establish a consensual framework for work and welfare in the middle of an out-of-control pandemic with no quick ending in sight.
The government’s economic management and messaging have been as bad as, or even worse than, its responses to the pandemic and to the people’s plights. The country is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in terms of self-inflicted revenue losses and diminishing foreign reserves, a falling rupee and mounting debt (domestic and foreign), and onerous debt repayment obligations. The people are going through the worst spell of severe hardships in living memory. In the midst of them all the government is stubbornly talking about some alternative way of economic management. What is being touted as the alternative way is not the outcome of any collective thought process and any co-ordinated implementation plan. Instead, it is a catch-all phrase to give context to knee jerk and uncoordinated responses to different problems as and when they arise.
Chinese alternative to IMF?
The abrupt switch from chemical to organic fertilizers in agriculture by presidential fiat is by far the most glaring case in point. A second, politically less dramatic but economically more consequential instance is the government’s stubborn reluctance to seek IMF help to tide over the current balance of payment (BOP) crisis. In vaccine parlance, this reluctance is a severe form of IMF hesitancy. No one knows if this hesitancy is backed up by any hope of getting a full BOP bailout from Beijing. Even less is known if the government has approached Beijing for a fully-fledged BOP help beyond periodical swaps. Known lesser still is what would be China’s response.
It would be rationally worthwhile for the government to at least consider Chinese help as an alternative to seeking IMF help. Although rational, it is not necessarily a prudent choice. The gossipy question is if there is any thinking at all within the government along these lines, assuming of course that thinking is going on in government circles. Equally, there has been no serious speculation among government critics that the government might be looking to China as a potential alternative to the IMF.
Ever since China started providing development assistance to emerging economies and developing countries, global watchers have become interested in China’s role as a counter to western hegemony over development assistance through the agencies of the World Bank (providing development assistance) and the IMF (securing financial stability and lending to tide over balance of payment difficulties). Although China’s development assistance (through the China Development Bank and the China Export-Import Bank) is more comparable to the activities of the World Bank, in recent years there has been growing “journalistic interest” in viewing Beijing as an alternative source to the IMF for providing financial support to developing countries.
James Sundquist, a Yale University doctoral researcher, has summed up this interest in posing the question: “Does Chinese finance in the form of loans and currency swaps substitute for assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), reducing that institution’s influence and opening more ‘policy space’ for developing countries?” His study based on data for 104 countries between 2001 and 2017 would seem to suggest that mostly countries that are “able to compensate China in means other than cash” are likely to consider turning to China to avoid the IMF. Non-cash compensation can be “repayment-in-kind with natural resource exports and geopolitical concessions.”
Sundquist selected four countries “for closer examination” to test his hypothesis. Sri Lanka is one of them. Angola, Zimbabwe and Mongolia are the other three. Angola is a resource rich country that received Chinese bailout and avoided the IMF. Zimbabwe, though nominally resource rich is practically resource poor because of its neglected and atrophied extraction infrastructure. China has not lent money to Zimbabwe because it is not credit worthy. Mongolia is resource-rich and China has been keen on offering assistance, but the Mongolian government opted to go along with IMF financial assistance and stabilization program. The apparent reason was to avoid too much bilateral reliance on China.
Sri Lanka is seen as a country that has received both development assistance and BOP assistance from China without possessing “resource guarantees,” because of its geopolitical assets. It would seem Sundquist’s research period preceded the Sri Lankan government’s current IMF hesitancy and did not quite assess the potential of Beijing becoming a total or the primary alternative to the IMF. But Sri Lanka’s current situation is more than a subject matter for research. It would be odd if looking to Beijing as an alternative to the IMF has not crossed the mind in the Rajapaksa government. The government speaks its mind on economic matters through half a dozen people. Everyone of them is dead set against the IMF. Six months ago, they were conventional IMF followers. But no one is mentioning Beijing as an alternative.
There are many factors at play. Until 20 years ago, there was no China and developing countries had only one place to go to, namely, the West and institutions dominated by the West. The entry of China has provided an alternative source and somewhat levelled the playing field. But only ‘somewhat.’ A part of that ‘levelling’ also includes the potential for ‘democratizing’ the operations of the World Bank and the IMF which are dominated by the US and its European allies. But China may not be all too keen about ‘democratizing’ anything anywhere. China’s development assistance and lending patterns are also totally driven by domestic reasons and for domestic purposes.
China’s external financial relations and operations are always “rooted in central government decisions” and are implemented only by “state-affiliated institutions.” China is not an incubator of private investors or a source of foreign direct investments. At the same time, China is not the inventor of financial diplomacy. The US and France, for example, have provided direct emergency financial assistance, bypassing the IMF, to countries in the Middle East and Africa, respectively.
Sundquist lists three key decisions taken at different times by the Chinese government, that apparently have influenced the ebb and flow of Chinese financial activities overseas. First, in 2006, came the decision to extend externally the hitherto domestic operations of the China Development Bank as a parallel to the World Bank. This decision was made “at a time of fractured political power in China,” according to Sundquist. The second was the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by President Xi Jinping even as he concentrated the powers of the state in the office of the President. The third key decision so far has been the roll back of the BRI initiative in 2018 to concentrate on the domestic economic situation in China.
Put another way, the rest of the world, especially countries that may want to look to China to avoid the west or the IMF, have no certainty whether or when China is going to keep its lending window open, and to what levels. There is also the concern over the lack transparency involving China’s assistance, that it ignores issues of domestic corruption and money laundering, and that it is more short-term oriented without long term sustainability.
Among Sundquist’s assertions based on his research are that “Chinese loans have indeed enabled some countries to avoid turning to the IMF and enabled others to negotiate deals with fewer attached conditions.” As his Zimbabwe case study has shown, “China has typically denied bailouts to countries without reliable sources of foreign exchange,” and has paid “attention to debt sustainability rather than trying to ensnare them in debt traps.” Overall, says Sundquist, “Borrowing governments will have to weigh the respective benefits of IMF and Chinese loans diligently. They will, however, be happy to have the choice.”
He further notes that “Since 2017, the pace of new loans has slowed, and China has begun to confront the problem of borrowers unable to meet their debt service obligations. It is entirely possible that as China’s position begins to resemble that of traditional Western creditors, it will begin to behave in a more similar manner to them and work more closely with the IMF.” Where does all this leave Sri Lanka? Is there a third way, that avoids both the IMF and China, to overcome the current balance of payment crisis? It is up to the government to clarify.
Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?
Dr B. J. C. Perera
MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)
Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.
In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.
In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.
Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.
We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.
In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.
There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.
However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.
Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.
Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.
However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.
As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.
For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.
All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.
If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.
Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage
By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake
The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.
Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.
The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.
There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?
Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.
Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.
Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.
In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.
Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.
There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)
(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)
Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link
Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.
Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC
Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”
The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.
Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.
Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.
As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.
The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.
New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!
Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?
Sharply contrasting persons
As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.
The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”
Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.
Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga
Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”
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