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Brandix made scapegoate

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It would appear that both print and electronic media, as well as the National Operation Centre for Prevention of COVID-19 ( NOCPCO), in the past few weeks have been relentlessly engaging in a vicious media campaign to place the origin of the second wave of COVID-19 at the doorstep of the Brandix garment factory, Minuwangoda, probably with ulterior motives. Reams of articles and electronic media news have gone to the extent of naming this second wave as a Brandix Cluster epidemic, suggesting that this particular garment factory is instrumental in originating and spearheading this epidemic, which has

now surpassed 2,000 mark. There have been hardly any articles or news in support of the company, except for the paper advertisements published by the Company stating their genuine stance intermittently, but media messages appear to have made a lasting impression among the public that the company in question is totally responsible for the origin and the spread of the virus. How far is it true and genuine!

It is in this unsavory background that Dr. B. J. C. Perera, Specialist Consultant Pediatrician, in a recent thought-provoking article published in The Island has narrated a balanced view and the true behaviuor of the virus. In a hard-hitting note at the commencement of the article, this learned physician says that Sri Lankans had a lackadaisical and complacent attitude over the virus, in that Sri Lankans totally disregarded lockdowns, curfews and quarantines in defiance of health guidelines for the last few months. However, all hell broke loose with the emergence of the so-called Brandix Covid cluster, initially with an infected factory female supervisor. It came to such a pass that the authorities had the audacity and blamed the company in question for installing and spreading the virus like a headless chicken. Sadly, it is now reported that employees of this manufacturing facility, over 1,000 and their associates, had inflicted the disease in lock, stock and barrel whereas the responsibility for neglecting this unfortunate situation should be placed before the respective authorities and not at the Brandix.

The learned Physician suspects that the blight was surreptitiously lurking around, not only within the factory premises but also within the adjacent villages and immediate environment, for some time before the emergence of the so-called Brandix cluster until the unfortunate victim was detected from the factory. This highly respected physician is of the view that the factory girls have been made scapegoats in this process. There have been fabricated ruses that the Brandix workers employed at their Visakhapatnam facility who were brought in three flights, and Indian businessmen who visited the Minuwangoda plant, would have brought this deadly virus en masse and the Company’s efforts to convince the authorities and the general public otherwise proved futile. The authorities have so far failed to ascertain the source of its origin and they are groping in the dark. Even now in the news telecasts, the authorities have the temerity to pinpoint that the latest detections are the associates of the Brandix family, which is not the factual position and this argument will have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Are we going to buy the argument that the detection of 49 Covid cases reported at the Peliyagoda Fish Market today and the Colombo Dockyard are the intimate associates of the Brandix cluster? Has the authorities heeded attention to the article in which it has conveyed a strong message that Brandix did not manufacture Covid?

How, Lt. General Shavendra Silva, a highly respected decorated officer and Head of the NOCPOC, justifies this stance at the cost of the damages inflicted to the reputation of the factory. He should have borne in mind that Brandix is an international brand that has generated foreign exchange to the tune of billions of rupees for the country, and provided gainful employment opportunities to the unprivileged female workers in remote villages. Surely, the Company would have been financial resources to the adjacent villages and towns by way of emoluments of the factory employees, and the quality of life of these innocent employees have had an appreciable impact after the factory was established at the Minuwangoda facility. It would appear that the NOCPOC totally lacked its vigour and direction with the removal of the former Director General of Health Services who successfully managed the first wave of coronavirus on a scientific basis. To add insult to the injury, the former Director of the MRI has also been removed on frivolous grounds at a time that both ends of the candle are burning at a faster pace.

An unfounded outcry initially doctored by the authorities that the visit of the Indian businessmen had led to the spread of the virus among the Brandix factory workers has now found no basis. That was an illusory stand that has now been rejected. Notwithstanding the firm assurance given by the Company that no Indian businessmen visited the factory, a wide publicity was given that their visit would have a nexus with the coronavirus. The Island, recently quoting a statement made by Industry Minister, Wimal Weerawansa has told at Parliament that not a single Indian national had been allowed to the country as an employee or any person to obtain technical assistance since the outbreak of COVID19, having verified facts from his ministry, BOI and the Controller of Immigration and Emigration. Health Minister, Pavithra Wanniarchchi too confirmed this stance at the Parliament.

Commenting on the social lives of the factory workers, Specialist Consultant Pediatrician, further contends that the factory workers are made to work in enclosed, air conditioned, virtually packed surroundings. Their lodgings are overcrowded, sometimes quite a number of them sharing a room. They are going through all that through necessity and certainly not by their own choice. They are just trying to make an honest living. They are working and living in environments that are the most favourable of conditions for human to human transmission of the coronavirus. This candid expression of this erudite scholar is food for thought for the authorities concerned. In view of what he says, the constant interaction of the workers with the public outside the factory premises, may have had a great probability of contracting the virus. That cannot be discounted at all. Should the Brandix be held responsible for their interactions with the society after working hours. There appears to be great possibility that few workers would have brought the virus to the factory from the outside environment, for which the management of the Brandix could not be blamed for. The physician says the virus could remain viable for even 28 days, especially on certain types of surfaces. As to how realistic these findings are in our hot and humid climes are not yet known.

Now, the virus has spread throughout the Gampaha District, the need of the hour is a committed compliance with health guidelines by the Sri Lanka people, and perhaps this is the only proven and tangible way to protect ourselves against contracting virus, as per the advice of the Consultant Pediatrician. There has to be an unwavering and steadfast effort on the part of the entire population of the country to abide by the rules of the health guidelines. Hence, the mode of government approach hither to adopted i.e. running with the hare and hunting with the hound, must be stopped. We would expect the authorities to extend its unqualified apology to the Bradix management for the humiliations it suffered, and help the company to rebuild its brand and reputation.

J.A.A.S. RANASINGHE

Productivity Specialist and Management Consultant

(These are writer’s own professional views with malice towards none. athularanasinghe88@yahoo.com)

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Opinion

Hector Francis Campbell Fernando

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A tribute to a father on his 110th birth anniversary

When my youngest brother, Gihan (GAF), as a boy of six years, was interviewed by Canon R. S. De Saram, the Warden, S. Thomas’ College Mount. Lavinia, prior to his admission to the College, and when he was asked what his father’s profession was, he had replied, ‘ He is a glass maker’. The Warden like many other members of the community had got his ’glasses’ from his one-time student, HFC, and knew what the boy was talking about. My father found this most amusing and related this to many friends and relatives. He knew that to many people he was indeed, simply a ‘glass maker’!

He was the first Ceylonese to qualify as an optician in the United Kingdom. He returned to Sri Lanka just before the second World War broke out. Until then this was a profession which was dominated by British nationals. Many young men who wished to be trained in the field of optometry, were apprenticed under him and went on to become big names in their chosen field. He never considered himself a businessman and refused to set up his own optical business. He considered himself a professional and was very proud of his profession. Kindness and skill, care and attention marked his service to his clients.

He established the Ceylon Optometrists Association, and became its founder president. The main purpose of this Association was to further the professionalism and standards of those in this field of work. The Association, I understand continues its good work even today.

My father and his four brothers attended S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. His love for Physics and optics in particular, he attributed to his beloved teacher Dr. R.L.Haymen, who went on to become the founder headmaster of S. Thomas’ Gurutalawa.

Born on 26th November 1910, he returned to his Maker on the 17th June 1962. It was too soon. I was just 15 and I had two brothers who were younger, and this was a time in our life when we would have really liked a father to be around. Both my sisters had left school, and one had just got into university, and all five of us found ourselves making huge adjustments to meet a situation that we had not imagined in our wildest dreams. But it was our mother who was devastated by the loss of a devoted husband. A teacher who never took any leave, she could not get back to work for over four weeks, such was the effect of this loss.

He was a wonderful father, who set high standards for us. Not once had he ever raised his hand against any of his children. Even when it came to simple things like how you dress, he insisted on standards, I had once slackened my tie knot and unbuttoned the collar button, (I was only 14), he saw me and he told us the story of how he had done this at school (those were days when senior boys wore tie to school), and his teacher, who also taught me English, Mr. V.P. Cooke, had made him stand in front of the class and told the other students, “Look at this chap, he is neither a loafer nor a gentleman’. The lesson was learnt.

Next to his profession his other love was the YMCA. He was a loyal member of the Colombo Association, and many were the occasions when we as a family trooped into the YMCA building for functions involving the family. He took a special interest in the Y’s Men’s Club of the Colombo YMCA. This was the service arm of the ‘Y’. At the time of his death he was serving his fourth term as President. He was held in very high esteem by all those with whom he associated, and I can do no better than to quote from an appreciation written by the then General Secretary of the Colombo YMCA, Mr. Lennie Wijesinghe, soon after his death.

“Hector is dead and with his death we of the Association have lost a loyal Active Member and a sincere friend. Our Y’s Men’s Club has suffered even a greater loss for he was its President. It was under his leadership that the Club achieved its present status in Y’ sdom. He carried himself with dignity wherever he went. It was not a cold dignity but one which was surrounded by the inimitable charm of a friendly personality. Indeed, this was one remarkable characteristic of the man. Nobody meeting him for the first time could think of him as a stranger. It would be correct to say that in such circumstances one was more inclined to look upon him as a dear friend. Such was the impelling force of the love that throbbed in him. Hector never gave himself airs. Simplicity was the very essence of his nature. And yet it was not of the ordinary variety, rather was it one springing from the depths of a kindly disposition. Nor was his spirit of service limited. It reached out to others wherever the need arose.”

May his soul rest in peace!

 

Eksith Fernando

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Opinion

Budget 2021: Need for ‘National Reading’

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, presented the nation’s 75th Budget, for the Year 2021, to Parliament, last week. Now we can witness different interpretations of the budget from economists, the business community, academics and representatives of civil society. Some argue, with their expertise in economics, and some can be seen with their understanding of society. Moreover, it can be seen that certain elements read this budget with their political ideology. Anyway, this is the time that Sri Lanka needs “National Reading” of the Budget.

This Budget is unique for a few reasons. First we need to “read” this by focusing on the current pandemic situation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Sri Lanka’s economy to shrink 4.6% this Year. This can be seen as the same as other countries. In May 2020, the Asian Development Bank announced that COVID‐19 could cost the global economy between $5.8 and $8.8 trillion.

And also, we should not forget the “Easter Sunday attack” which severely affected the economy of the country last year. Refer below for ‘’Reuters reports” on 18 September 2019.

“Sri Lanka’s economy grew at its slowest pace, in more than five years from April to June, government data showed on Wednesday, as the Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed over 250 people hit the island nation’s fastest-growing tourism sector. Accommodation, food and beverage service activities, which have been rapidly growing due to high tourist influx, fell 9.9% in the June quarter, compared to the same period a year ago.”

So, it is clear that the Sri Lankan economy is experiencing a “double blow” unlike other countries. There is a need for people to understand this situation. This is the time when people need to have a “National Reading” for the budget. Interestingly Dr. W.A Wijewardena, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of SriLanka, has vividly elaborated this context in his article titled “Budget 2021: Gota’s Third War, but forgive me, it is our war, too”. Accordingly, Wijewardena argued that ‘’Sri Lanka is at war today and it is Gota’s Third War. But it is not his war alone; it is our war too. We all should fight it with vigour, rigor, perseverance, and determination. The whole nation should help Gota by working harder, two or three times harder than before, to take the country out of the present economic malaise. That is the only source of progress. Without that, the Budget 2021 will only be another document with no practical relevance.” Hence there is a need for everyone to understand the real situation of the country.

People in this country need to understand this crisis. We did not expect either the Easter Sunday attack or Covid-19, which have done much damage to people and to the country as a whole. Now the time has come to get together as one nation and work towards the betterment of the country. Hence there is a need for everyone to “read” this Budget 2021, with the interest of the nation.

 

Professor NALIN ABEYSEKERA

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Opinion

Alternatives in the Transition from Capitalism

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Sumanasiri Liyanage (“Transcending Capital-Labour Relation:A Note on Social Entrepreneurship”, 10 November) makes an interesting point about “social enterprises”, co-operatives, worker-co-operatives and the like.

He argues that structurally, many of these enterprises are bureaucratic, and that “many social enterprises, having failed to make sociality their ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ characteristics, show a tendency for degeneration, putting aside their social characteristics and creating a strong permanent bureaucratic apparatus. The main concern of this bureaucratic apparatus is not profit, as in private enterprises, but ‘income’ as a revenue.”

There is a great deal of truth in what he says. In a capitalist system, social enterprises, by their very need to exist in that milieu, must look to profit. Indeed, as one participant in a recent online conference of worker-co-ops in the USA commented to me, they seem to be more concerned in their engagement with the capitalist system, rather than with expanding a socially-owned economy.

“Yes, I see the emphasis on ‘income’,” my informant tells me, “especially here as initial funding for co-ops,etc., comes from non-profit foundations that emphasise ‘entrepreneurship,’ also ‘social enterprise’ is just seen as for profits with some social mission, either corporate ‘responsibility’ or community contributions, or a social service abandoned by the State.”

However, exceptions to this rule do exist. My informant, who consults for worker-co-ops in the US, thinks that these are more concerned with social issues than with mere profit, although they do realise the need for surplus income, in order to survive and expand. Exemplifying this attitude, the newly-formed Rhode Island Political Co-operative, which won democratic primaries, as well as seven seats in the state’s General Assembly, and two city council seats, campaigned on socio-economic issues, such as a $15 minimum wage, the Green New Deal, single-payer healthcare, criminal justice reform, affordable housing, quality public education, immigrant rights, and getting money out of politics.

Liyanage should look at the problem as a Marxist. Historically, social change has taken place through the resolution of internal contradictions, but has been accompanied by the establishment of institutions which pre-figure the next social stage. In Hegelian terms, the transformation of quantity into quality.

In Europe, the transition from slavery to serfdom did not take place in a vacuum. For example, serf-based production emerged within the slave-holding Roman Empire, the collapse of which caused the transition to feudalism. Similarly, bourgeois institutions, such as banks and manufacturing concerns emerged in feudal society: joint-stock companies appeared (stillborn in the first millennium in China) in the 13th century in Europe. These proliferated within pre-capitalist societies, laying a transformative foundation until a cusp was reached, and the bourgeoisie seized power, carrying out a metamorphosis of economy, society and polity.

One could, realistically, expect a similar mechanism to occur prior to a transition to socialism. Indeed, the USSR, during the “New Economic Policy” period, encouraged the establishment of worker-co-ops and farmer-co-ops. Lenin believed that co-operatives, particularly producer-co-ops, held the key to building a socialist society. He wrote in 1923 (“On co-operatives”, Pravda, 26-27 May 1923) that the only task left was “to organise the population in co-operative societies.”

Apart from farmer collectives, Lenin also encouraged “Big Bill” Haywood, the US trade unionist, to set up the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony, which brought together American and European workers with Soviet ones in a giant worker-co-op: dissolved, unfortunately, in 1926. Hence, co-operatives, and particularly producer co-operatives, are part of the practical Marxist tradition.

The “father of socialism in Sri Lanka”, Philip Gunawardena, encouraged the creation of multi-purpose co-operative societies (MPCSs), both for the promotion of collective activity, and as potential units of rural democracy. During the 1970-75 United Front Government, several farmer co-operatives emerged in Sri Lanka, as well as a handful of worke-co-operatives (notably a steel-making co-op in Moratuwa). So the tradition exists on the Sri Lankan Left as well.

Of course, producer-co-ops by themselves cannot, as utopian socialists such as Robert Owen and Charles Fourier imagined, guarantee the transition to socialism (any more than the emergence of capitalist enterprises in pre-capitalist societies ensured the success of the bourgeois revolution). As both Marx and Lenin pointed out, the necessary condition for this transition lies in the class struggle.

However, these institutions may prove to be essential allies in the class struggle – their very existence contradicts the bourgeois idea of private property, as against collective property. “Under private capitalism,” Lenin pointed out, “co-operative enterprises differ from capitalist enterprises as collective enterprises differ from private enterprises.”

 

Marx (in his ‘Inaugural Address of the International Working Men’s Association”) had this to say about workers’ co-operatives:

“The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolised as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labour plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

On a practical level, the burgeoning Latin American “Solidarity Economy” movement has attempted to build alternatives to capitalist institutions, challenging capitalist property relations, as part and parcel of a class-based revolutionary process. Hence, rather than merely condemning actually existing worker co-ops as bureaucratically degenerated, commercialised enterprises, it may be more constructive to regard them as part of the solution to a transition from capitalism, and consider how these institutions may be reformed, structurally and ideologically, from within.

SAVITHRI GURUGE

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