THE WEEK THAT WAS
by Malinda Seneviratne
Fire and brimstone. That’s one way of talking about the week that has passed. Fire, on account of the tragedy that unfolded at the Mahara Prison, brimstone as metaphor for what was feared (but didn’t transpire) by way of a cyclone, Buravi. Of course we are still caught in the so-called Second Wave of the Covid-19 pandemic and a budget debate.
Let’s first get to the Covid-19 situation. As of December 3, total infections confirmed stood at 26,038 against 19,032 recoveries with 129 fatalities. As such, according to Epidemiology Unit data, there are a told of 6,877 active cases. The relevant authorities impose restrictions and, probably following careful monitoring, relax the same and even lift them completely. Colombo is clearly the hardest hit district. This has obvious implications for economic activity. Most institutions have opted to restrict numbers coming to work and have put in place work-from-home systems. Until when, however, is a question that no one can answer.
‘Let’s wait for the vaccine’ is, in a sense, a sign of resignation. The fact of the matter is that despite promising updates on multiple vaccines, there are none yet that the World Health Organizations have approved. Affordability will probably be an issue that will accompany availability. Meanwhile, as has been the case from the beginning of this story, it is best to assume that YOU ARE INFECTED or, if that’s a bit terrifying, to assume that YOU MAY BE INFECTED. So what do you do? Well, if you can’t stay at home, isolated, and indeed aren’t required to since you’ve not tested positive, limit travel, avoid public places, wear a mask as per mask-protocol, wash your hands and maintain recommended social distance. In short, follow guidelines.
That’s what civic responsibility is all about. Of course, not everyone is responsible. Forget civic responsibility, even basic civility is spat at (literally) by some. Yes, we are talking about the incident in Atalugama (yes, the very same village that’s acquired a poor reputation on account of Covid-19) where an infected individual spat in the face of a Public Health Inspector.
Gross, first and foremost. Irresponsible to the core, moreover. If someone is infected, knows it and knowingly acts in a way that could infect someone else that’s not just irresponsible but criminal. Given the nature of the virus and the possibility of death, it has to be treated as equivalent to ‘attempted murder’.
The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), which has been offering regular advice to the Government with regard to how the pandemic ought to be handled has, on behalf of health professionals, issued a dire warning. It is mulling ‘very serious decisions regarding the provision of services for people in the area.’
The GMOA is a trade union. It is made of professionals in the medical field. It has every right to air the grievances of its membership and to contemplate collective action in the face of any act(s) that put them at risk of any kind. The GMOA’s advice should be taken in good faith, but this doesn’t mean that decision-makers should take it as the last word on the matter. They have the qualifications to talk about viruses, diseases and treatment, but they are not experts on the social and economic entirety in which the pandemic is located and moves.
In this instance, it’s about protecting members from possible infection. Understood. However, to contemplate what is essentially the punishment of an entire community for the wrongdoing of a single member of that collective is morally wrong.
After the incident of a Covid-19 infected individual spitting in the face of a Public Health Inspector (PHI) in Atalugama in Bandaragama, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) said health professionals would have to take very serious decisions in future regarding providing their services for the people in the area. They claim, ‘no one in the village spoke against this person (the spitter)’ nor offered support to the PHI officers. That’s not crime enough for a deliberate denial of health services.
Let’s go to Mahara. The prison riots and the outcome brought back memories of ‘Welikada’ (2012 and 1983). This time around there wasn’t an armory for the prisoners to raid. The target was the pharmacy. There was unrest over PCR rests and here the blame falls squarely on the health authorities of the prison who were either ignorant or mischievous with respect to possible anxieties and alleviating the same.
How did it escalate to a point where arson took place, hostages were taken, prisoners attacking one another and a warranting of the use of force? At the end of it all, 11 persons were dead and over 100 wounded. A prison is all about security but insecurity was what was most evident in this incident.
Whether the victims were in prison for drug-related offenses, petty theft, brigandry or scamming the Central Bank is absolutely irrelevant here. No one subjected to a prison sentence would think he/she would enjoy luxurious accommodation, but neither would they believe they could die there.
The Government has taken responsibility. Inquires are under way. Those responsible for negligence or incompetence or both at every key point in the process need to be held accountable.
It is not illogical to move from prisons to courts, so let’s discuss judicial appointments. A few weeks ago, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated several persons to the Supreme Court. When the 20th Amendment was first proposed, the objectors raised questions about judicial independence. These objectors, nor surprisingly were ardent fans of the 19th Amendment. They applauded the Constitutional Council and decried the Parliamentary Council the 20th would replace it with. The CC was politician-heavy and even the non-politicians were essentially political pals of the then regime, in particular the Ranil Wickremesinghe faction of it. Meritocracy and seniority were shoved aside in favor of the ‘safe’ and ‘loyal.’
Six individuals have now been promoted as judges of the Supreme Court. They were the six most senior judges in line for promotion. A total of 14 have been appointed to the Court of Appeal. Eleven are senior judges of the high courts, two from the Attorney General’s department and the last from the unofficial bar who is in fact a former district judge.
Draconian. Hitler-like. Dictator. Military-mindset. Those were the tags pinned on Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Well, the president seems to have done an immense disservice to his reputation! His detractors, meanwhile, are in thumb-twiddling land on these appointments.
That said, the course of action chosen by Gotabaya Rajapaksa does not necessarily mean that someone else would do the same if in his place. Ranil Wickremesinghe, as Prime Minister, was ‘okay’ with the Near-n-Dear Mode. If he, or someone like him (and there are many in all political camps), was in Rajapaksa’s shoes, there’s no guarantee that meritocracy and seniority would be similarly affirmed.
The President, however, has set a precedent. A good one. Reason has bested emotion and self-interest. We should applaud. Related to all this is of course ‘The Constitution.’ A committee has been appointed to draft a new constitution. The public has been requested to submit recommendations. Well, there’s a set of recommendations which may require constitutional amendment that this committee headed by Romesh de Silva can wipe the dust off and use as a foundational text when deliberating on certain elements of constitutional amendment: The Sectoral Oversight Committee on National Security.
This committee was appointed in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019. The 17-member committee headed by Malith Jayatilleka, came up with many recommendations on 13 different subject areas which, in their minds, would ‘eliminate new terrorism and extremism,’ or rather threat of the same. It is all about streamlining matters, especially in key areas such as education, religion, media and defence.
The Report was released days before the expected dissolution of Parliament, i.e., on February 19, 2020. That could have been a coincidence. Dissolution was followed by Covid-19 related restrictions and then parliamentary elections. The document was the work of a previous Parliament, true. The movers and shakers of that parliament got creamed on August 5, 2020. Nevertheless, some of the committee members were returned. All this notwithstanding, we don’t have any report that can even come close to this in terms of taking cognizance of relevant factors and recommending corrections with a view to tackling the vexed problem of extremism.
Not all recommendations require constitutional amendment. A simple gazette notification would suffice for most of them to be put into operation. Others may require cabinet approval or acts of parliament. Some, amendment of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Law and the Waqf Law might require an amendment; no doubt interested parties will petition the Supreme Court to hear their objections. All that, for tomorrow. Today, it makes sense to use the report at least as the basis for conversation if not far-reaching restructuring of institutions and adjusting of processes to ensure reconciliation and peace.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in his election campaign, fervently pledged that he would work towards a system that affirms the notion ‘One-Country, One-Law.’ The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) used that slogan in the run up to the August elections. They need to make good on that pledge. They have 6.9 million backing them. In fact they have more, for if they use this Report as a base document for reform that aims for cogency in the law, the constituencies of the authors and the parties they represent would significantly swell those numbers. Let us not forget that Sajith Premadasa’s campaign also insisted that the unitary nature of the state would not be fiddled with. His backers also spoke the one-country-one-law language.
The report can be found online if you go to www.parliament.lk and look for ‘committee reports.’ It’s the one right on top. We recommend a close reading of that text.
Finally, we have the anticlimax. Buravi.
There was much anxiety on account of Buravi. It was heartening to hear that the Governor of the Eastern Province, Anuradha Yahampath, visiting villages considered to be at risk, advising them, offering help and instructing all relevant state agencies to be ready for any eventuality. The Disaster Management authorities were ready. Officials on the ground were on alert.
The devastation feared did not take place. One person has gone missing, four are reported to have been injured and over 12,000 persons adversely affected. The Disaster Management Centre (DMC) has released the following numbers: 2, 252 people in 3, 575 families affected, 15 houses fully damaged and 192 partially damaged. A total of 10, 336 persons in 2, 911 families have been placed in 79 safe locations Mannar, Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Vavuniya and Trincomalee districts.
The district-wise breakdown of the affected is as follows. Mannar: 7, 749 people in 2, 236 families; Jaffna: 2,986 people in 829 families; Killinochchi: 41 people in 10 families; Mullaitivu: 1, 149 people in 405 families; Vavuniya: 236 people in 74 families; Trincomalee: 91 people in 21 families.
What next? Provincial Councils? Ruling party politicians are making a bit of noise about PC elections. Maybe they are testing waters. It’s in their interest. Political consolidation is part of the story.
PC elections have been repeatedly postponed. This is not a good thing. The democracy-watchdogs, not surprisingly, haven’t uttered a word about this. Interestingly they also happen to be high on ‘devolution.’ Maybe they are punch-drunk. Maybe they were never sober or were unsighted by party loyalty and outcome preferences.
The 13th Amendment, which gave us PCs, was illegally pushed through. However, it is not part of the constitution. As such elections should be held. On the other hand, we are told that a new constitution is on the way. In that case, why waste time and money on maintaining this white elephant which was the issue of an ungainly union between Indian hegemony and a spineless regime way back in 1987? The intended beneficiaries, after all, aren’t lamenting the fact that they haven’t elected representatives to relevant PCs. Administration has not come to a standstill.
The drafters of the new constitution should consider these issues as well. We await word from them on progress made, what we can expect and when. We need to know what they propose to do with the 13th Amendment as well.
One week rolls into another and Covid-19 rolls along. We are relieved that Buravi’s bark was worse than its bite. We are alarmed that ‘Mahara’ happened. We are encouraged by judicial appointments. We remain wary, as is prudent, always.
THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX OF SRI LANKA
by R.J. de Silva, Attorney-at-law
In the distant past, there were many approaches to running civilizations. Cruel and ruthless dictators perpetrated assault on human rights, with impunity. The best known among these tyrants were ATTILA the HUN (AD 434-453 of present day Hungary ), GENGHIS KHAN ( 1206-1227 in Central Asia and China ), TIMUR ( 1370-1405 of modern Syria, Iran , Afghanistan) and QUEEN MARY alias ‘Bloody Mary’(1553-1558 in England ).
The combination of divine or absolute power and lack of contact with people made Dictators and Autocrats fascinating as well as terrifying. It is unclear if such characters suffered from mental illness as defined by current standards or whether their lives were marked by incidents that made them ruthless.
Hadenius and Teorell ( 2007 ) identified distinct dictatorships in monarchies, military regimes, one party regimes and restricted multiparty regimes. Studies have revealed that many dictatorial regimes, have democratic facades or some functioning democratic institutions, some holding regular elections and some having operational political parties and legislatures.
Dictatorships are a form of government in which all power remains in the hands of one person enjoying unlimited governmental power obtained by force or fraudulent means in sham elections. Dictatorships are often characterized by deaths or killings because of greed, hatred, pride and yearning for power. For instance, Hitler caused millions of deaths of Jews, Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians to forcibly change its culture and Idi Amin was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Indians in Uganda.
Autocracy is very similar to a dictatorship. Here too, the supreme power lies in the hands of an individual with some supported by a slavish political party. Autocrats use little or no consultation when making decisions and exercise independent authority over policies and procedures. Their decisions are not subject to any legal restraints. The system suppresses public debate and makes criticism of the government, a criminal offence.
Like in dictatorships, autocracies also use force and punishments to those who disobey the leader’s commands. Autocrats manifest in many ways in despotism, oligarchy and fascism.
In the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism (popular in the 18th Century Europe),a absolute monarchs enacted a number of changes in political institutions and enlightened governance. Most of the despots started their careers as “freedom fighters”. Many of them amassed wealth abroad while the world was in denial.
An oligarchy is a form of government where power is in the hands of a small group of elite people, holding wealth or family or military prowess. Oligarchies are where a small minority rules the government and exercise power in corrupt ways. Such governments are frequently ruled by prominent families whose children are raised and coached as oligarchy’s heirs.
Fascism is a political ideology that elevates the nation and race above the individual and advocates a ‘Consolidated Autocratic government’ led by a dictator under strict economic and social regulation while suppressing the opposition. Fascist administrations were seen in Italy’s Fascist Party under Mussolini ( 1925-1945 )and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party ( Nazi Party ) under Adolf Hitler ( 1925-1943). Interestingly, the majority of the modern dictatorial regimes refer to their leaders by a variety of titles such as President, King and Prime Minister.
The 20th and 21st Century dictators and autocrats ruled with tyrannical power and never tolerated dissent. Some of them were VALDIMIR LENIN ( 1917-1924 Russia ), JOSEPH STALIN ( 1924-1953 Russia ), BENITO MUSSOLINI ( 1925-1945 Italy ), ADOLF HITLER ( 1933-1945 Germany ), FRANCISCO FRANCO ( 1939-1975 Spain ), MAO ZEDONG (1949-1976- China ), IDI AMIN (1971-1979 Uganda), AUGUSTO PINOCHET ( 1973- 1990 Chile ), GEOGIS PAPANDUPOULUS ( 1967-1974 Greece ), COL MUAMMER GADAFI ( 1969-2011 Libya ).
Dictator led countries are also associated with severe poverty, repression, decreasing health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and rising mental illnesses. Eight of these brutal and repressive autocracies which caused poverty in their countries were : KIM JONG UN since 2011 ( North Korea- 40% poverty ), NICOLAS MANDURO since 2013 with his Presidency in dispute ( Venezuela – 82% poverty ) , BASHA AL ASSAD since 2020 ( Syria -82% poverty ), PAUL KAGME since March 2000 (Rwanda -39.1% poverty ), RECEP ERDOGAN since 2014 ( an elected President in Turkey- 21.9% poverty ), and NGUEMA MBASOSGO longest standing President in the world since 1979 for 40 years to date ( Equatorial Guinea -76. 8% poverty). Two of them – PIERRE NKURUNZIZA ( Burundi ) and IDRIS DEBBY ( Chad ) died in June 2020 April 2021 leaving 64.6% and 46.7% poverty respectively, in their impoverished countries. However, VADIMIR PUTIN (since 2000 Russia ) and XI JING PING ( since 2013 China ) are leading economic powers, but these two countries have also never tolerated dissent.
It is common to see dictators and autocrats appointing prominent members of armed forces in civilian positions and show disrespect towards the independence of the judiciary and freedom for the media. Such systems and their rulers show no concern for human rights or dissent. For instance in China, when a popular national movement for democracy was precipitated by Chinese youth and students calling for greater accountability, constitutional due process, freedom of the Press, speech and association drawing about one million people to the Tiananman Square and about 400 other cities, China’s Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping violently suppressed the movement in one day on June 4, 1986, similar to what happened in Rathupaswela in Sri Lanka, subsequently.
The suppression of the Pro- Democracy movement by the use of the army was followed by the wide spread arrest and deportation of foreign journalists and the strict control of the Press. In Russia, VADIMIR PUTIN, characterized his rule with endemic corruption, jailing political opponents, intimidating media freedom and free and fair elections. When Russia invaded Ukrain in February 2022, Putin ordered the arrest of thousands of its own citizens for protesting against the war. Tsarist minded Putin decreed that the independent media and journalists will be will be given 15 year jail terms if the cruel destruction of Ukrain’s infrastructure, historical monuments, hospitals and bombing civilian targets are reported to the Russian people.
Dictators and Autocrats are prone to create personality based autocracies surrounded by family members. Family bandyism weakened State infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2005. The Rajapaksa family based autocracy weakened the State, democratic practices and institutionalized corruption. Family members and lackeys of Iraq and Libyan leaders weakened the State apparatus of Iraq and Libya. The weakened States of Iraq and Libya were such that, it failed to produce nuclear weapons as planned, to meet the threat of Israeli expansion. Saddam Hussain ( Iraq ) appointed his son- in- law and notoriously brutal Hussein Kamil, to fast track the production of nuclear weapons. That resulted in scientists in Iraq intentionally further slowing down the programme and nicknamed it the “unclear power”.
In contrast, the tyrant Gadaffi ( Libya ) was surrounded by ‘yes men’ and female bodyguards and an ego trip as a result of which, had no inclination to produce scientists and engineers for the country capable of dealing with complex technicalities associated with the production of nuclear power.
Dictators and Autocrats are prone to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries. Chinese dictator XI JING PING despite being an economic power, is accused of subtle problematic debt trap diplomacy since 2018 in many poor countries in Africa and Asia ruled by corrupt and mismanaging leaders. PUTIN is facing credible allegations of gross violation of human rights in Ukrain and widespread calls for investigation leading up to a trial for war crimes.
Citizen tired of being oppressed and controlled made widespread demands for democracy and the creation of independent Nation States in Europe. Those revolutions popularly known as the ‘Peoples Spring’ in 1848, brought upheavals in Europe mainly due to the dissatisfaction with monarchies, which were at the helm of each country. The revolution started in Sicily and spread to France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, Austrian Empire, German Empire and the whole of Europe. Monarchies were replaced by Republics. Old leaders were forced to grant liberal constitutions.
Caught off guard, aristocracy and their allies plotted to return to power and many leaders of the revolutions went into exile. In the decades after 1848, little had changed. Many historians considered the “People’s Spring” a failure, due to the seemingly lack of permanent structural changes. Karl Marx, disappointed with the bourgeois character of the revolution, expressed the theory of a permanent revolution according to which the proletariat should strengthen democratic bourgeois revolutionary forces, until the proletariat itself was ready to seize power.
The Autumn of Nations between 1981 and 1991 (143 years after the political upheavals in Europe), brought down the former Soviet Union (USSR) which was beset with economic stagnation, mismanagement and excessive dogmatism of the Communist Party. It disintegrated USSR without bloodshed to endorse democratic reforms in their countries. Poland was the first to shrug off communism in 1989 after almost a decade of struggles. It was followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.
Another wave of pro- democracy uprisings began in Muslim countries such as Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain in 2010/2011. It was named the “Arab Spring” and started in December 2010 from Tunisia. However, not all the nations that witnessed such social and political upheaval changed for the better. Some of the very same leaders who fought for democracy in the Muslim world (and in many other parts of the world), presided over the gradual decline of democratic rule in their countries.
In Egypt for example, despite the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, authoritarian rule returned after the controversial election of Morsi in 2012 leading to a coup by his Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in 2013 and he remains in power till today. Libya, since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown violently in October 2011, has remained in a state of civil war with two opposing governments ruling separate regions of the country. The civil war that began in Syria with the Arab Spring has lasted for several years due to ISIS declaring a CALIPHATE governed by Islamic Law in North East of Syria. The ISIS has been effectively defeated, but the oppressive regime of BASHAR AL ASSAD continues with Russian support.
In modern times, generations have rebelled against dictatorships and autocrdacy and fought for human rights and respect for the Rule of law. DEMOCRACY is the method of rule most countries have begun to approve. Although democracy is vulnerable it is very resilient. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Democracy and violence go ill together. States that are today minimally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or if they must become fully democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent” and Langstone Hughes ( 1902 – 1967 ) wrote “Democracy will not come today, this year, not ever through compromise and fear. I tire so of hearing people say, let’s things take its own course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need any freedom when I am dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”
To be continued
My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment says Beyonce
Beyonce, shown attending the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, is slated to release a new album in July 2022
Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, r Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album “Lemonade,” Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.
Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, released her hotly anticipated album “Renaissance,” a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop
Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from “Show Me Love,” the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.
Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped “Break My Soul” to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who molded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.The megastar has indicated that “Renaissance” is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.
“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.
“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”
“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”
– ‘Expansive listening journey’ –
In the weeks preceding the release of “Renaissance” Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)
In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”
Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.
“Unique / That’s what you are /Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on “Alien Superstar,” which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in a sonic ode to voguing, the stylized house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.
That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.
On “Virgo’s Groove” Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on “Renaissance” include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.
– Album leaks, Beyhive stings –
Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularizing the surprise album drop.She later made waves by releasing “Lemonade” — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.
Since “Lemonade” she’s released “Homecoming,” a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song “Black Parade” — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.
That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winningest woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”
That’s poised to change with “Renaissance.”
The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a tracklist and polished social media fodder.But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.
Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”
“We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music,” the megastar told her fandom. “I love you deep.”–AFP
Are we to burn borrowed dollars just to cook a meal?
Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe
How many of the consumers who opt to use LPG for cooking, realize that they are burning the dollars borrowed with difficulty, just to cook a meal, while the use of LPG hardly brings in any foreign exchange? The reality is that while the country is struggling to raise the dollars even through loans to import adequate supplies of transport fuel, taking loans to import LPG, which will not result in any Forex earnings could hardly be considered ethical or a priority.
The CBSL data below shows the immense amount of dollars drained out of the country in the past years, purely due to the high powered promotions to coerce and trap the consumers to this non sustainable consumption.
With the escalation of world market prices and the depreciation of the rupee , the impact in rupee terms in year 2022, if we are to import the same quantities, would be much greater as estimated. The Governor of the Central Bank has quite rightly stated that
Sri Lanka will have to manage with available dollar inflows, not bridging finance: CB Governor
By Economy Next • Issue #391
However, the attempt by the government appears to be determined to continue this practice at whatever cost and detriment to the economy, to perpetuate a practice foisted on the people by unscrupulous officials, and thereby try and pretend that the gas queues are over. This has been achieved for the present, thanks to a further loan of $ 70 Million from the World Bank, to import 30,000 tons of LPG recently. Perhaps the daily visuals of the gas queues, that the electronic media took pleasure in broadcasting, may also have pushed the government to this short sighted move.
The other side of the coin is that, before the arrival of this load of LPG, while the empty cylinders remained in the queues, the people were absent. No doubt they sought and found alternative means of cooking their meals, albeit with less convenience than using gas. Obviously they would also have been helped in this by the intrepid efforts of many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who designed and manufactured cooking stoves to use either fuel wood or charcoal, which do not require any dollars.
The novel stoves are yet to be available in adequate numbers in the market, although the manufacturers are running long waiting lists. As such some consumers may have been forced to revert to direct use of fire wood, accepting the disadvantage of smoke and soot. But Sri Lanka has already introduced most acceptable models of cooking stoves to use wood and wood charcoal, devoid of any smoke and soot. These have proved to be acceptable alternatives to the use of gas stoves for the daily cooking needs, even in high rise apartments.
The reality is that the consumers have recognized the fact that the government or the officials cannot be relied upon to provide their essential needs, and their salvation lies in seeking indigenous alternative solutions themselves which have proven to be equally effective.
But shouldn’t this positive change have been noted by the authorities and fostered with the same vigour with which the use of the imported LPG was promoted? What about the media? They diverted their cameras to the petrol and diesel queues, obviously the emerging negative scene of news value.
The officials of the Litro gas company are heard to give assurances of continued supply of LPG in the future, while they admit the loan received is adequate for supplies up to October only. According to their web page their customer base exceeds 4,000,000. The consumption in 2020 was 437,000 tons, purchased at a cost of $ 236 Million. By now it would exceed 450,000 tons annually. How far would the $ 70 Million loan go at present day gas prices? What happens next? Are they hoping to get yet another loan, when the Ministry of Power and Energy is forced to restrict the issue of essential transport fuels to a minimum, due to lack of dollars? Isn’t this a willful deception of the consumers?
Therefore, the discerning consumers are well advised to consider the following points in their decision making for the future.
- = The import of LPG is possible only through loans which will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren
- = Continued dependence on LPG is a never ending problem and will need more and more loans with no chance of the LPG used leading to any foreign exchange earnings
- = The loans taken have to be repaid by the entire country ,while the benefit is enjoyed by only a limited section of the society, which is morally unacceptable
- = For those fortunate to get even a cylinder of LPG, adopting the already available options of stoves using either charcoal or wood , for the cooking of the main meals , would substantially reduce the monthly expenditure as shown below. This would preserve the LPG cylinder bought with difficulty, to be available for any limited usage in between and for any emergencies for many months
- = The consumers can be the drivers of the change which would reduce the demand for LPG and thus save the country millions of dollars year after year
- = This would create a significant indigenous industry whereby the millions of dollars sent out would flow to the local industrialists and rural communities supplying the charcoal and wood. Even a 50% reduction of the imports could result in a local industry worth over Rs 80 Billion annually.
These are indeed practical and worthwhile contributions to resolve a national problem. Are each of us ready to commit to extend the use of our LPG cylinder to last several months, thereby reducing the demand to 50% or even to 25% in the coming year? This should be considered a national duty by all of us.
Just to assuage any fears of deforestation, contrary to popular belief, Sri Lanka already has adequate renewable and sustainable biomass resources formally counted as over 12,000,000 tons annually, contributing to 50% of the total primary energy demand. Simultaneously, a practical program of social reforestation has to be encouraged where the user of charcoal, plants wherever he can, plants trees to compensate for the charcoal he uses. In this way the next generation will also be assured of their own sustainable supply with absolutely no impact on the forest cover. A plant that can be recommended is Gliricidia Sepium among others, which can be harvested in two years, and thereafter every eight months.
(The writer is past president of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka www.bioenergysrilanka.lk
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National Defence College of Sri Lanka
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About Rs 3 bn paid as OT during past few months
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