Connect with us

Features

Between Mahara and Burevi, amid anxiety and relief

Published

on

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.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Features

Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

Published

on

In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

Continue Reading

Features

At 80, now serving humanity

Published

on

Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

Continue Reading

Features

Health services face imminent collapse due to fuel crisis

Published

on

A file picture of a recent doctors’ protest

By 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 Pediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Our free National Health Service is something that brings succor to the poorest of the poor, as well as even the well-to-do, and everybody in-between. As a country and a nation, we are so proud of our health services. In fact, as a developing country, we have shown the entire world how much can be accomplished, even with our meager resources, and with so few facilities made available to us in our health facilities. Our healthcare personnel are second to none anywhere else on the planet, and they try to do their best, even under trying circumstances.

There are shortages of medicines, disposable articles and equipment in our healthcare institutions. It has really gotten worse during the current economic crisis. Yet, we have managed to rise above all that, innovate, beg, borrow and do our best for the patients who come to us. Generally, our health workers will not allow a life to be lost without a fight. A case in point is how these personnel, from the lowest-ranked to the highest, rose and fought tooth and nail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They worked without any worthwhile rest, even foregoing their meals when things had to be done to save lives. Our countrymen and countrywomen hailed us as their saviours, singing hosannas to all of them for so selflessly handling the crisis. The healthcare personnel showed results and they sacrificed many things and went through hell on earth, to save lives.

However, there is a looming dragon that is likely to inflict telling blows to cripple this hallowed service that is provided for our people. It is not due to shortages of drugs or equipment. Those can be handled to the very best of our abilities. The problem is due to severe human resource depletion that is the likely result of the current fuel shortage. It is a looming catastrophe, as large as life, where our healthcare personnel will not be able to get to their places of work, and they will not be able to respond to sudden emergencies, as there is no transport. The government, ministers and all other stupid politicians do not seem to realise this, and perhaps could not even care less about that. That is of course to be expected, as they have their agendas. They will somehow get their things done, but the people who suffer would be the poor who come to our hospitals.

However, the most distressing thing about this entire fiasco is how among our general public, the thugs, ruffians, desperados, those engaged in nefarious hoarding of fuel and all kinds of Mafias, are beginning to treat healthcare personnel at fuel queues and fuel sheds. Healthcare personnel are not asking for special treatment at fuel stations. They are an absolutely essential service, and all they are asking is for some fuel to enable them to attend to their essential service provisions. Even ambulances have to wait in queues, and are not allowed by the irate public to get priority for fuel.

A couple of weeks ago we saw in the news that a lady doctor driver was driven away from a fuel station by a mob. The most distressing thing about that entire episode was the bravado of a non-health staff lady driver, who shouted with powerful gesticulation of her arms that she had children in the car and could not make concessions to lady doctors. God forbid, but what if one of those children suddenly fell ill and the person to attend to them was the very same lady doctor who was chased away, and that person was not able to get to the hospital due to the lack of fuel?

Starting from Friday the 24th of June 2022, there was a lukewarm arrangement made to provide fuel to essential services, from certain designated fuel stations. every Friday. This was not communicated properly through all the media, and in very many places the public vehemently objected to this. The Borella junction Ceypetco fuel shed was one of the stations which were allocated for this purpose, where the essential services people, including healthcare personnel, queued up in their vehicles from around 6.00 am. The bowsers of fuel arrived only in the late evening, after a 12-hour long wait. There was hardly any security cover and virtually a free for all, with the sparse security personnel turning a blind eye to all the misdemeanors of the general public. There were loads of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers from the National Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, National Eye Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Castle Street Hospital for Women, who were in these vehicle queues, twiddling their thumbs and being forced to keep away from their places of work. No doubt, these hospitals worked with only minimal skeleton staff. All these hospitals have a collective staff strength running into very large numbers, all working in an absolutely vital essential service. In some outstation areas, the incensed public insisted on the healthcare personnel queuing up with the general public, even on that dedicated Friday, and at least in one area, the hospital had to be closed as most of the hospital staff had to be in fuel queues. For whatever it is worth, this writer has not been able to see his patients for more than a week due to lack of fuel.

Unless a proper system to provide fuel to essential services is implemented by this impotent government, this situation will go from bad to worse. Many hospitals will have to be closed, not due to strikes or trade union actions, but due to a lack of human resources to run the hospitals. Medical personnel will not be able to attend to emergencies, especially outside working hours, and many lives will be lost. Our inability to provide timely treatment could also lead to some patients being maimed for life.

So be warned, our people of our own country. Selfishness and scant regard for law and order on the part of the general public will lead to an unprecedented catastrophe. There will be riots inside and outside the medical institutions with damage to public property. Innocent lives will be lost and blood will necessarily have to be on the hands of the decision-makers and the powers-that-be.

Continue Reading

Trending