By ROHANA R. WASALA
Few in the present government seem to understand that they are holding in their hands the hopelessly misshapen product – a generally weakened Sri Lankan state, that is, a country hamstrung in terms of its national security, economy, its internal cohesion, and external relations – left by the yahapalanaya molestation of the nation (2015-19), a critical situation compounded by the havoc caused by the extraneous hydra headed monster of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic with its protean forms.
The deformed baby is still awaiting emergency corrective surgery. But unfortunately, the handful of surgeons led by their determined head are being surrounded and choked by a swarm of quack surgeons, from whose concerns nothing seems to be further than what should actually be done to reassure the people, including particularly the sensible 6.9 million+ voters who reposed their trust in that head surgeon.
The administration must also similarly reassure the nation’s foremost spiritual leaders: the Maha Nayakes, the Cardinal, the Kurukkals, and the Moulavis, who together directly or indirectly encouraged the voters to elect him. The people never thought that the government would so soon come to be dominated by a set of politicians who believe that their survival depends on pleasing the minority of anti-majority extremists in different forms, and agents of Western hegemonic powers, in alliance with them, each directed by the narrowly nationalistic policies of their respective countries; willfully oblivious of or crassly indifferent to the real issues that Sri Lankans are struggling with, about which, in any case, they are least concerned in the best as well as the worst of times.
The Opposition SJB and the JVP elements have begun crawling, nay cruising, out of the woodwork, on the pretext of protesting against the temporary hardships caused by the well meant ban on the import of chemical fertilizers, and the proposed quite sensible Kotelawala Defence University Bill (which, if necessary, could be improved through meaningful discussion). What use are these purblind protests’ demonstrations? Their conduct is atrocious, insensitive, shocking, particularly in view of the generally destabilized state of the country suggested above, and the devastating disruptions to the general economy caused by the pandemic, and the deleterious environmental consequences and financial losses resulting from a dangerous cargo laden Singapore registered ship, mysteriously catching fire in the vicinity of both the eastern and western seaboards of the island. Besides, by behaving like perfect imbeciles, trade union activists are merely adding to the burdens of the health sector and security forces personnel, who are making such great sacrifices in the name of the country, uncomplainingly, in battling the Covid-19 pandemic. Their sacrifices and difficulties are invariably shared by their families, especially children. And what about the general populace who are undergoing such privations in their day-to-day life, finding it so hard to make both ends meet, but hardly ever complain as they understand the problems that the country is facing as a whole.
Some farmers complain they have a problem because of the lack of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, to which they have been accustomed over the past half a century. The claims of those farmers who are saying that their cultivations have been severely affected by the single cause of the alleged non-availability of chemical fertilizers are hard to believe. Previously cultivated land on which fertilizers had been used, cannot be expected to lose its fertility completely after one season. It should not be a problem to forgo the usual application of fertilizers temporarily, allowing the switch over to organic fertilizers next term. The farmers are probably not making truthful claims, at the behest of union activists. Anyway, according to agriculture minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage, there cannot be such a serious shortage, as all the chemical fertilizers required for the current season have been issued to the authorised outlets. Then, the farmers must be making false complaints, egged on by anti-government trade unionists and politicians. Or, if there’s a real scarcity of fertilizers, it must be due to hoarding. Why can’t the government go after the miscreants, if that is the case, and confiscate the hoarded fertilizers and distribute them among the farmers at a suitable price or just free of charge?
To my pleasant surprise, the answer to this question came from minister Aluthgamage. As Hiru TV News reported (9:55 PM/ July 14, 2021) he and his deputy state minister Sashindra Rajapaksa made surprise visits to the depots of two private fertilizer companies at Peliyagoda and Kelaniya, and found large stocks of fertilizers hoarded. Though these companies had the capacity to issue 700-750 metric tonnes of fertilizers a day, they issued hardly a half of that amount, helping create an artificial scarcity. The minister immediately requested them to issue the fertilizers forthwith. He ordered his officials to get the state fertilizer companies to buy those stocks at a suitable price and distribute them among the cultivators, in the event of the companies failing to meet his request. Addressing a meeting at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute (Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo), Aluthgamage said that the purpose of deliberately withholding fertilizer supplies and inciting farmers to agitate against artificial shortages, was to sabotage the success of the organic fertilizer substitution project of the government, which will be launched in earnest from the next season. (Anyone can see a link between politicians and private fertilizer companies behind these agitations.- rrw) There is money and business behind the protests, the minister said. The particular piece of news ended with a prominent JVP activist demanding that the government give the farmers their fertilizers and pesticides, and pay compensation for the damage already done by the alleged shortages!
Incidentally, something akin to this context is where it is said that the rice prices are controlled by a couple of big rice mill owners, some of them politicians connected with the present government. People would like the government to resort to some stern action — like taking over these mills and their hidden rice stocks, and handing over, to a state body like the Paddy Marketing Board, the job of husking the paddy and distributing the rice on a wholesale basis. It is up to the government to implement a proposal like this after appropriately considering its feasibility. That this is not happening shows the power that the private sector is wielding, not only over paddy cultivation and rice distribution, but on the policy makers. The 6.9 million voters and the spiritual leaders are waiting for the rulers to bring these mafiosi under control. They are still hopeful that the President will succeed even in other spheres of governance where dealing often replaces leading.
Meanwhile, some teacher unions are also reported to be on strike, which means that their members have stopped online teaching. Online instruction is expected to provide some help for the unexpectedly housebound children of the country. They are in that predicament as a result of the long interruption caused to the functioning of normal face-to-face teaching in schools by the Covid associated restrictions on movement. It is by no means an adequate stopgap solution for them, because, among other snags, internet accessibility is problematic in most areas. But teachers are still being paid their salaries. It may be true that there are long standing pay scale anomalies, and other job related issues that need to be addressed. But teachers should understand that this is not the time for urging the government to provide relief. Isn’t it their duty to help the authorities to put an end to the Covid crisis first?
However, according to media reports, their main complaint is against the Kotelawala Defence University Bill. They want it withdrawn, arguing that its passage will pave the way for privatising education, putting an effective end to free education. (The JVP has been flogging this dead horse for decades; it looks like they are not intelligent or creative enough to think of a better cause célèbre to ensure their political survival! I am sorry to see that minister Wimal Weerawansa also opposes the KDU Bill. Probably, he expects only to incorporate certain amendments in it before passing it. Weerawansa is one of the architects of the victory of the SLPP, and one of the very few best performing cabinet ministers. A Gotabaya government without him and Gammanpila is inconceivable.)
That stupid demand (i.e., to withdraw the KDU Bill) alone invalidates their struggle. Don’t they know that even in rural areas paid tuition supplements school instruction at every level? Don’t many of these teacher union members have a stake in that as an extra source of income? Are international schools providers of free education? How many of them are there? What are their tuition fees in terms of foreign exchange? Don’t large numbers of students go abroad every year to study not only medicine and engineering, which local universities don’t have enough capacity to make available to all the students who qualify to study in them, but also subjects such as accountancy that can be learnt at the highest level within the country? Not all the parents who send their children to study abroad belong to the ‘rich’ category. Private education side by side with free state education has come to stay and has become a current necessity. Private medical colleges are essential. There should not be any argument about that. Most ordinary people now know this. They don’t approve of the politically motivated disruptive activities of trade unionists.
These purblind politicking farmer and teacher union leaders have already earned a great deal of pent up public anger. It is bound to explode sooner or later. But the government has come to their aid, so that their irresponsible, mischievous conduct has got a semblance of decency. How? By forcibly, most likely unlawfully, quarantining them at the expense of the tax money paid by the already suffering general public, whom these wrong doers are holding hostage. That is not a good way of deterring their irresponsible behaviour or just punishing them for it. Minister Sarath Weerasekera, whom I admire as much as I admire Weerawansa and Gammanpila, is a loyal supporter of the President, and he means business. I trust both of them (GR and SW) equally. But I am sure that the President will never resort to or approve of ‘bull in a china shop’ strategies, which he can’t later defend!
Support move to generate electricity from garbage
There had been several letters in the press where the Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma, has enthusiastically declared to achieve 70% of power from Renewable Sources by the year 2030, without knowing the capability and the resources available with the CEB, and the time taken to provide transmission lines to connect the national grid, if international tender procedure is adopted or even otherwise.
I recall a letter sent to the press earlier, wherein I have stated, the garbage problem in Colombo is talked of as an urgent matter, but no action taken for over four decades, and the situation is getting worse day-by-day. The Colombo Municipal Council had once initiated action to set up an incinerator and there had been proposals from interested parties willing to undertake it, but for some unknown reason, these have been shelved by CMC or any other authority concerned.
A report submitted by an internationally famous foreign firm of consultants, Lahmeyer International of Germany, which produced a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy, touched on the possibility of setting up of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose – to eradicate the garbage problem and generate electricity.
What action the Ministry for Power or the CEB has taken is not known. It may be that the CEB has taken action to implement other recommendations and but did not pursue this matter with the CMC. The plant could also produce compost manure and reduce the foreign exchange spent on importing fertilisers. In this well compiled, meaningful and workable report, it is stated: “The incinerator plants use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder, grate, firing and air quality control system. Also, the required land area is greater.
“Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo area, and the amount of garbage collected annually could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is at present dumped on marshy lands in the vicinity of Colombo for the purpose of land reclamation, that practice caused environmental problems [i.e., smells and ground and surface water pollution.]
“The average heat content of the garbage is not exactly known, but based on the few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, the fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions] . This would be sufficient for generation of some 400Mw of power, and at the same time would contribute to the solution of Greater Colombo’s waste disposal problem. “
The aforesaid estimates were prepared in 1988 almost 33 years back, and the present amounts will be very much more, perhaps thrice, due to increase of population. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment may be around USD160 to 240 million at 1988 estimates.
If at today’s estimation at thrice the increase, then the production every day may be around 1200 Mw, which is far more than the 300×3 = 900 Mw. produced by the Norochcholai coal-fired project.
It is therefore suggested that either the Minister for Energy or the Minister for Agriculture, as Fertiliser Corporation comes under him, take up this matter with the Urban Development Authority or the Colombo Municipal Council to expedite it.
It should also be said that undertaking this project will also satisfy those who object to filling marshy land.
The government should give top priority to this project of producing electricity and fertilizer from garbage.
G.A.D. SIRIMAL [SLAS]
Retd. Former Asst. Secretary
Ministry for Power & Energy
A ‘painless shot’ from Army
When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.
At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.
Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.
The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.
The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.
I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!
What first class service!
To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.
My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)
Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.
On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health
Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.
I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted
The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.
From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.
In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…
None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.
The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.
Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?
As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!
Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara
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