by Rajan Philips
The title is a mouthful. But that is the state of Sri Lankan politics now. Nonetheless, some saw a spark, and others a specter, when in December JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake told his Party convention and the country at large: “We are ready to take up the leadership of the country”. There is a swagger about the JVP now, justifiably after Mr. Dissanayake’s relentless probing in parliament, his exposé of the New Fortress Energy Agreement, and the growing media interest in the JVP and its electoral front, the NPP. But their detractors are questioning if what the JVP/NPP is showing is enough to vault it from three percent of the vote and three seats to even 30% and 75 seats, let alone 50% and 125 seats.
That is a fair question to ask. But it should not be difficult to see, except for those who are stuck with anti-JVP beams in their eyes, that the present JVP is not the same JVP of the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike in 1971, there is no Left in Sri Lanka for the current JVP to go far or ultra-Left. And unlike during its second coming in the 1980s, there is no Right in Sri Lanka for the JVP to go far-right and chauvinistic. Now, there is only the Rajapaksa regime that it is neither Left nor Right, but downright corrupt, incompetent to the core, and civilizational when convenient. The present regime is the singular marker on the political landscape that defines the relative positions of all its detractors and contenders, including the JVP.
As for Sajith Premadasa, he has higher numbers – 42% of the vote in 2019 and 54 seats in parliament; and so, goes the argument, he and his Party have greater entitlement than the JVP to reach 50% and 125 seats. Sajith’s proponents assert his paternal name recognition and take his readiness for granted, even though the younger Premadasa has not declared his readiness the way his father did, or Anura Kumara is doing now. He has, however, while celebrating “his 55th birthday in the North”, on January 12, has “urge(d) the present government to resign,” as Sri Lanka “needs new rulers who can take the nation out of the economic crisis.” Among the “many things to be done to get rid of the current national tragedy”, Mr. Premadasa has added, “the most important thing is to handover the nation to an able leader.” Who would it be?
Election, which election, or Referendum?
Where does all this leave the incumbent President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa? His term in office so far can only be described as “terrible two” (years). Even though he is not shying away from his record, the President blames everyone else other than himself for the state of his presidency and the plight of the country. He told newspaper editors when he met them before Christmas that he has three more years to helm the ship, or the situation, around. Since then, he has got wiser and wants two more years added to his term to compensate for the alleged loss of two years due to Covid-19. A simple question is how have Bangladesh and Vietnam, and other comparable countries who too have had Covid-19, been able to manage their economies well? In the case of Bangladesh, it is cash-rich enough to offer Sri Lanka currency swaps to tide over its forex shortfalls.
The President is now mulling over, as headlined by The Island on Monday (January 10), a proposition put to him by an anonymous young Sri Lankan at the Dalada Maligawa, “why a referendum couldn’t be conducted to ascertain whether the electorate approved him extending his first term by two years as Covid-19 deprived him of 2020 and 2021.” The President, according to his Media Division, complimented the young citizen that “he should be appointed an advisor to the President”! But even before the President could have the referendum idea clairvoyantly vetted by Gnanakka in Anuradhapura, his predecessor from Polonnaruwa has poured cold water on the referendum idea.
Indeed, the very next day after The Island’s main story, former President Maithripala Sirisena told the Daily Mirror that “it would be unrealistic for anyone to imagine the extension of the term of the present government by approval of people by referendum.” In his view, “the next parliamentary election would come first,” and given the country’s long history of government by alliance, the next government would be a different alliance with his SLFP playing a major role in it. All signs are the SLFP is on the way out of the Rajapaksa alliance, and it is no secret that alliance-brokers are trying hard for a Sajith-Sirisena political front. They have been together before in spirit, now they can be in person.
Now it is also different. Everything is different for that matter, and to some the Easter Sunday retribution clock is ticking on Maithripala Sirisena more than on anybody else. Mr. Sirisena would want a different government that includes him sooner than later. This present government gives him no protection. And he has zero prospect of being President again. A PM position in a new Premadasa presidency will be a good outcome, and he could do better than being a ‘name board’ PM, as the old Premadasa dig goes. But every plan has a snag. The preferred election for the Premadasa camp is not the parliamentary election but the presidential election. The brokers will have their work cut out. But they cannot quite determine which election would come first.
The JVP’s preferred election is also the parliamentary election. Sunil Watagala, the JVP Central Committee Member and Legal Advisor, told the Sunday Island (January 2) that the government has proved to be a failure and it should hold elections after dissolving parliament. That might lead to a new parliament and a different majority, but the President will remain until his term is over. That is the vicious cycle of the JRJ Constitution. For his part and for the SLPP, President Rajapaksa would have no election rather than any election. Hence his curiosity about the referendum option.
If only a referendum can postpone all elections with the people exercising their sovereignty in one fell swoop. But isn’t the President on course to have a different referendum for his new constitution? That, of course, is unless he evades it by amending the present constitution that requires only a two thirds majority and no referendum without going for a totally new constitution as promised. So, which election or referendum will it be? Parliamentary or presidential? A constitutional referendum or a ‘terminal’ one? Or two referenda in one and no election? Back to the 1982 future? President Jayewardene used to wish that Sri Lanka would have its own Kemal Ataturk – the founder of modern Turkey after the collapse of the old Ottoman Empire. The wag would say Sri Lanka has got its own Gotaturk.
Crazier and Crazier
Talking about the President’s new constitution, no one knows if it is still on track or has gone off the rail. The President’s constitutional project is not unlike his fertilizer fiasco in thought (or lack of it) and in action. But, fortunately, there is no physical devastation in the constitutional project. To put this in perspective, the 2019 presidential election was the first election in 25 years, since the 1994 presidential election, when the presidential system or the constitution were not on the ballot. Yet, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the first elected political leader without any prior familiarity with anything about the constitution, set himself up to deliver a new constitution wholesale, not just routine retail amendments. But like everything else about this government, the President’s constitutional project has turned into a spectacle. And this one in a court room.
Two prominent lawyer members of the Experts Committee that the President gazetted up to draft his new constitution, namely, Romesh de Silva and Manohara de Silva, are pitted on the opposite sides in the Yugadanavi fundamental rights case before the Supreme Court. Manohara de Silva is appearing for one of the petitioners challenging the government’s LNG contract with the American company, New Fortress Energy, while Romesh de Silva is representing one of the government respondents, the Ceylon Electricity Board. In a case that is shaking the very stability of the SLPP caucus and the Rajapaksa cabinet, not to mention the hallowed sovereignty of the country.
There is nothing wrong in two lawyers taking opposite sides in a court case. What is wrong is in the President’s appointment of lawyers from the unofficial bar to officially draft the country’s constitution. In times past, when propriety was premium, lawyers from the unofficial bar who worked on constitutional drafting or government business would take leave of absence from their private practice and accept temporary appointments in government. Not in the present regime. And stuck as he is on every front, the President is hardly in a position to present whatever draft that his committee may have prepared, let alone pursue its passage in parliament and a referendum.
While there is a great deal of esoteric chatter about constitutional changes, the people are agitated about their hardships and the very strong likelihood of their getting even harder. There is Covid-19 and the concern that the current calm might turn into another infectious storm, the way it happened in the last cycle. There is imminent food shortage and there are fears of mass starvation. Power cuts are looming and there is no crude oil to refine. There is no foreign exchange for anything and the Pied Piper of the Central Bank is fooling the entire cabinet that he can cash-swap Sri Lanka out of indebtedness without even saying IMF. The mystery of misfiring gas cylinders has become mysterious after the same-day firing and rehiring of the Chairman of Litro Gas. Things are no longer getting curiouser and curiouser. They are only getting crazier and crazier.
Resistance and protests have already surfaced across the country in every cross-section of society. There is no indication that the government is capable of providing any redress to the people on any matter that is hurting. All indications are that the government is clueless about anything and everything that come before it. The expectations are that people’s frustrations will spill over into street protests and agitations. The fears are also that the government might use mass agitations as excuse for a military crackdown. On the other hand, calling on the military might be a step too far and precipitate government collapse. There could be early elections, or there might be attempts to have term extending referenda. This is the backdrop in which Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Sajith Premadasa are staking their claims to take charge of the country. They have a long way to go, even though the present government is running out of road.
(To be continued)
Glimmers of hope?
Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?
What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.
‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.
‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.
‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.
‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.
‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.
Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.
Heartfelt hope of the many
The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”
Still utterly hopeless
Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.
Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.
Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.
Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis
By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse
(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)
There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.
The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.
1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.
2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.
3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!
4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.
Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains
We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened
1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.
2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.
3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.
4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.
Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.
1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.
2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible
3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:
Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.
Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.
Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.
Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.
Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.
Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.
Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.
Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.
1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers
All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.
The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of
India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and
There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.
Thomians triumph in Sydney
Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.
Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!
who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:
The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.
Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.
But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.
Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.
A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.
Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.
A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.
The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.
Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.
The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts. But the Thomians had other ideas.
The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable. Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.
It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.
Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.
The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.
In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.
Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.
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