By Dr M. HARIS DEEN
The front page headline item in The Island (12.11.2020), titled “Resumption of burials a high risk the country cannot afford to take”, ascribed to Member of Parliament Muzammil, shows his ignorance; he has caused a reprehensible affront on the Muslim community.
Muzammil’ss reasoning is unacceptable, when he says “that the country was struggling to cope with the corona pandemic and no one should be allowed to play politics at a time of national health emergency”.
Yes, not only our country, but many advanced nations, like the United Kingdom, the US,. Canada and European nations, and closer to home, India and Singapore, are also facing the spread of the pandemic. This has certainly not been attributed to theburial of victims rather it has resulted from failure of the people to adhere to preventive guidelines of personal hygiene and physical distancing. All other countries, including our closest neighbour India, a predominantly Hindu country, permit burial of not only Muslims who die of COVID-19 but all others. This is what the Sri Lankan Muslims are asking for. Refusal of this right amounts to a violation of accepted human rights norms but also denial of justice guaranteed by Article 10 of the Sri Lankan Constitution which affirms that – “Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice”.
There is no evidence from countries which had large numbers of COVID deaths, who were buried, that burials have caused ground water contamination or led to the spread of the virus.
Muzammil has emphasised that whatever the religious dictates and sentiments, the Sri Lankan Muslim community should adhere to specific instructions issued by the Government as regards the cremation of corona victims. Of course, it is true that Muslims are the only ones taking up the case on behalf of all, irrespective of faith, who desire burial as a dignified last rites. The large number of tombstones in every graveyard bears testimony to the fact that a majority number of people prefer burial to cremation.
Muzammil continues to play politics when he says he also believes Muslims have to be buried and support that position and adds ‘but the extraordinary situation on the ground makes my personal stand, on this matter, irrelevant’. What hypocrisy? He argues that ‘Muslim burials were done in accordance with Arabian customs which the Sri Lankan community would have to give up or face the consequences’. However, what he has failed to point out was that Muslims are not requesting that they be allowed to perform the rites following a death under normal circumstances. According to the edicts issued by Muslim scholars following deaths in wars and during pandemics the need for washing the body and shrouding it with white cloth can be dispensed with, and the body can be shrouded in sealed plastic and put in a sealed coffin approved by the government. All that is necessary is to sanctify the deceased with the prayer before burial.
Coming to the Muslims, they are themselves not helping their cause. A leaderless community, hounded by self-centred politicians, and deeply divided, has failed to present its case effectively. I certainly hope that saner counsel will prevail, and the process of amending the cremation bill, to permit burial, will succeed. In this respect, Muzammil has rightly said, “The Muslim community should speak with one voice on this matter.” Whether these sentiments were genuine or otherwise, I certainly support him on this point.
In many civilizations, traditions and religions— both ancient and modern —death is a mere transitional phase between one stage of life and another. Burying the dead is one way to ensure that the dead are accorded dignity and respect, and that the feelings of their living loved ones are considered. Throughout history, religions, traditions and cultural practices have influenced the ways in which the dead are managed, both in times of peace and conflict. Today, they continue to do so.
As for Muzammil’s comment on contaminations, I repeat what I stated from authoritative sources in my earlier article to allay fears of contamination stated by Muzammil:
Microbial and chemical contamination can also occur in cemeteries as a result of unmanaged, untreated and incorrectly sited sanitation services, solid waste, and wastewater which allows for the flow of microorganisms and contaminants into cemeteries.
In general, bodies that are treated and buried in correctly sited and constructed cemeteries do not pose a threat to public health and are not a source of pollution. The WHO guidelines clearly stipulate that to date there has been no evidence to suggest that individuals have become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who have died from COVID-19.
If conducted according to the usual recommended health and safety practices, the burial of a person who has died of C-19 should poses no risk to the environment or the people.
However, when sited properly and according to sound scientific judgment, cemeteries should protect surface water and groundwater from contamination, regardless of the cause of death.
To date there have been no reported cases of Coronavirus that causes COVID-19) being detected in drinking water, in either private boreholes or public drinking water systems coming from cemeteries. This can be related to the travel time that SARS-CoV-2 will need in order to remain infective.
So far, SARS-CoV-2 does not have a high level of persistence in the environment, due to it being an enveloped virus and can be eliminated effectively by water treatment, especially chlorination, and would pose a minimal risk to drinking water.
Save us from our govt.!
When watching daily news bulletins, on several local TV channels, one could observe two significant matters.
One is how Gotabaya Rajapaksa shamelessly meets foreign diplomats and officers of international organizations, who are well aware of the grave situation of the country, and also the prime reason for it.
Remember, as kids, how we hide from our parents, or teachers, when some small mistake happens – that is because we were ashamed, and afraid of punishment. And ther, too, it would have been only our own mistake, not by the whole family of ours!
Next is how the Police and armed forces are let loose on the men, women and children who have been waiting in queues for hours or days. The authorities are not finding ways to stop queuing or at least maintain some order at those places, but chastise the people, for electing as Basil Rajapaksa had said, a stupid, clueless president and an incompetent government.
The greatest disasters we have faced since Independence are the JVP insurrection, the LTTE war and the tsunami in 2004, and during those times the people were protected by then governments; now Sri Lankans have to struggle against the government, which is steadily throttling them to death.
Challenges, and need for an all-party govt.
Whoever wants to take charge, must first disclose how they are going to set about it. making statements that ‘WE WILL PUT IT INTO ORDER’ is not acceptable. Even SJB, the main Opposition party, hasn’t put forward at least an outline plan as to how they will set about it.
What did the current President promise? What did the current PM promise.? What are their results? Can the country afford more of such vague promises? Three months have gone and still there is no plan from any Party in Parliament. How can any country or institution assist one who has no plan?
Challenges are many and very unpopular decisions have to be made. Resistance from entrenched interests, such as trade Unions, including the GMOA, some corrupt business interests, political interests, mafias, monopolies, etc., has to be countered. Are they prepared to overcome them?
Why go far? Are they prepared to reduce the Parliamentary allocation substantially, and even reduce the number of MPS from 225 to about 150 – on par with countries of similar size, population, GDP, etc.
Parties trying to form a Govt. must first agree amongst them on their Plan, at least on the following:
(i) on their strategy to get Foreign Exchange to purchase limited quantities of fuel for essential services, food, medicines. and fertiliser for the next 6-9 months. Their strategy to increase exports, foreign employment and foreign investment so as to increase Foreign Exchange in the short and medium term. With current conditions it is futile to expect tourists to come to Sri Lanka.
(2) as to how to balance the budget. Are they unitedly prepared to close down or privatize CEB, CPC, AirLanka and Water Board, etc.? Budgetary Allocation for Defence is another, which has to be drastically reduced, the developed countries spend only 2 to 3 % of their GDP on Defence. What does SL do? Out of the Defence allocation, Navy must have the major component for they have to patrol the sea area, which is many times larger than SL land area. SL sea resources are at risk from illegal fishing, human smuggling and illegal dumping, etc.
(3) Are they prepared to close down unnecessary Ministries, Corporations, and Departments, most of which were created for the benefit of politicians, especially for Ministerial Positions.
(4) Staff levels in Ministries, Departments. Corporations that are to function, have to be drastically reduced, so that they could function efficiently and cost effectively. Reducing staff will also reduce the need for large office spaces, electricity, telephone cost etc.
(5) What are their plans to support and or rehabilitate the staff so retrenched.?
(6) Their plan for distribution of essentials? Rationing?
(9) Can they agree on a small, efficient and capable cabinet? Let not the country have too many Ministers and or Officials telling the country different versions, confusing the people as to which is correct, and that too hoping that at least one will be correct.
(10) How will they source the revenue? Are they prepared to increase the direct tax component to 60% or even 75 % for the present? The majority of the population have been badly affected due to the current crises. Their only crime being they misused their votes. They should not be burdened further with indirect taxes. To reduce their burden indirect taxes have to be the lesser component of the revenue, at least for the present.
(11) Can they do away with duty free cars, and all other special privileges given to some sections of the society. All Laws must be equally applicable to all. Other than the First citizen of the country, all others (be it state employees or Parliamentarians) must be taxed on the same basis as others.
All Parties joining must undertake that they will no longer do politics with these issues, nor will they withdraw from the interim govt when it undertakes unpopular decisions on above issues. They must all commit to swim or sink together.
None of those who served as Ministers in failed Governments, or who were Ministers in MR’s Govts which decided on vanity projects, should not be given Ministerial positions. Same should apply to those Parliamentarians who voted for the 17 ,18,19 and 20th amendments should be excluded, as it shows they neither have principles, nor care for the country. Corrupt and convicts too should be kept out. KNOWLEDGE AND CAPABILITY should be the criteria in the selection of the Ministers. Those who are unable to deliver within 3 months must be made to stand down.
To the party leaders who want to form the government, may I say, first divulge your plan to the country.
Please, do not tell the country that you have a better plan. You can afford to fail but not the country or its people at large!
Fuel tokens, a big farce
The Minister of Power and Energy who covers a very responsible Ministry, was selected by the President probably due to his membership of the ‘Viyath Maga’, has undoubtedly proved to be a very inefficient Power and Energy Minister, and a complete failure without any doubt.
He is very capable of giving false hopes always of fuel and gas laden ships arriving on Sri Lanka shores, which have proved to be absolutely wrong. One wonders whether it is a gimmick to keep the fuel and gas starved motorists happy, and avoid the unending queues at fuel stations. This has proved to be a wrong system.
In order to control the daily queues, and knowing there will be no fuel ships for some time, he introduced the fuel token system out of the blues, and with no proper organizational effort. The policy announced regarding the token system, was to enable vehicle drivers to enter the fuel stations on a pre-selected day of the week, allocated to him/her, and dependent on the last digit of the vehicle number plate. This was again to avoid the long queues, according to the Power and Energy Minister.
With the latest innovative fuel token system announced, I visited the petrol station, in close proximity to my home on Monday 27th June, with much hope, and was among the first hundred with the details of my address, profession, NIC Number and contact mobile number. The relevant officer, who recorded the details, informed me that this was a pilot project, from Ratmalana to Moratuwa, and that when the fuel arrives at the petrol station, I will receive an SMS requesting me to report at the petrol station, at the allocated time, once again to avoid queues. But I did not receive the fuel token as it was not available. I was told that there was no necessity to have the token, as I will receive the SMS on my mobile phone.
The following day I received news that the fuel tokens are being issued. When I visited the fuel station, to obtain the token, there were four different long queues, along the road registering three-wheelers, motorcycles, vehicles needing diesel, and cars needing petrol. I met the S LAF officer, registering the cars queued up on the Galle Road, and told him that I am already registered in the book he was entering details and requested the token, which was denied to me. As the queues were there during the next two days, I visited the fuel shed on day four (30th June) when the officer was registering a few people. When my turn came, I showed the serial number and my name registered therein. I was told to wait until the SMS was received. He said that my registration will be cancelled if the token was given at a later date! Then I met the SL Air Force official and explained my position. He then approved the issue of the token. The delay in obtaining the token was nearly 15 minutes. By this incident it was evident that the advice given to Air Force officers to register and issue tokens was not properly given.
I was surprised to receive the token which was a slip of paper, with dimensions only 10cm x 6 cm. Inside it there were printed, Name of the Fuel Station, Type of fuel, Contact Number, Name, NIC Number, Vehicle No, , Date , Time, Signature of authorized Officer and Signature of vehicle Owner. With a microscopic piece of paper, it was with great difficulty that the necessary details were entered.
However, congratulations to the Minister of Power and Energy for drying up all the CEYPETCO FUEL STATIONS in The Island, without fuel for another three weeks or more, without queues, due to lack of fuel. Also causing unending long queues by supporting the LANKA IOC Fuel Stations, to issue your Fuel without Tokens at a higher price.
I politely ask you, Minister Kanchana, is not this another gimmick of yours to handover the CEYPETCO fuel stations to LANKA I O C?
So, we now know the reason for the latest gimmick of the Minister of Power and Energy to issue fuel tokens.
Do you now realise in your conscience, the problems created by you, especially to three-wheeler drivers, who are dependent on a daily living for their families by earning from hires, and now completely out of any earnings to feed their children, to give even a single meal?
Without creating further problems please resign from your post as the Minister of Power and Energy.
Eng. B.R.O FERNANDO
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