Connect with us

Opinion

Central Bank moves: Tears and joys

Published

on

The Sri Lankan rupee is coming crashing down. Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa himself admitted this in parliament, in the debate on just a one percent fine on those who cheat the country in millions, both in rupees and foreign exchange. That is the reality of this Saubhagya Lanka.

A key move to curb the drop of the rupee is the Monetary Board’s new cash-margin-deposit against the import of non-essential, non-urgent goods. Is this the biggest move of the current Governor of the Central Bank, before he moves out, making way for a predecessor? Who knows?

This certainly puts up the prices of these so-called ‘non-essential’ goods. Have we forgotten those school children who climbed tough and tricky slopes, and also trees and distant roofs, to get messages to their mobile phones; as schools were closed down, and they tried to be informed by the teachers who did e-teaching.  It was the mobile phone that helped them to learn. But now the mobile phone is a ‘non-essential, non-urgent’ product! So, let’s save the rupee, and let the children who use the mobile phone to learn, go to hell, or keep roaming in ignorance through samsara.

The Central Bank and the Monetary Board are certainly involved in matters of great importance. Such as the payment of a pension to the former Governor, Ajith Nivaard Cabraal, and his predecessors and followers, too.

Were the Central Bank and Monetary Board at the time wholly unaware of the Los Angeles-based venture capitalist and political fundraiser, Imaad Shah Zuberi, 50, of Arcadia, California, who cheated the Sri Lanka government of millions of dollars by promising to rebuild the country’s image following the end of the war with the LTTE?

Investigations revealed that Zuberi received USD 6.5 mn in 2014 from the then Sri Lankan government after the conclusion of the war in May 2009, to thwart US moves against this country.

The Sri Lankan government through its embassy in Washington hired Zuberi in 2014 to boost the country’s image in the United States vis-a-vis various allegations.

The US Justice Department said: “Zuberi promised to make substantial expenditures on lobbying efforts, legal expenses, and media buys, which prompted Sri Lanka to agree to pay Zuberi a total of $8.5 million over the course of six months in 2014. Days after Sri Lanka made an initial payment of $3.5 million, Zuberi transferred $1.6 million into his personal brokerage accounts and used another $1.5 million to purchase real estate.”

In total, Sri Lanka wired $6.5 million pursuant to the contract, and Zuberi used more than $5.65 million of that money to the benefit of himself and his wife. Zuberi paid less than $850,000 to lobbyists, public relations firms and law firms, and refused to pay certain subcontractors based on false claims that Sri Lanka had not provided sufficient funds to pay invoices.

In November 2019, Zuberi pleaded guilty to a three-count indictment charging him with violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by making false statements on a FARA filing, tax evasion, and making illegal campaign contributions. In June 2020, Zuberi pleaded guilty in a separate case to one count of obstruction of justice. He is now serving his prison sentence.

The US Justice system is not like in Sri Lanka, where the accused are so easily removed from charges by officials who worship the rulers.

The question here is whether the Central Bank was wholly unaware of this crooked role of Zuberi?

Let’s go back to another great loss that Sri Lanka suffered. When Ajith Nivaard Cabraal was the Governor of the CB.

Are we to forget the hedging agreement, where Sri Lanka had to pay USD 110 for a barrel of crude oil which could have been imported at a price of USD 70 – 80, as a result of which the country lost over USD 162 million.

Sri Lanka also suffered a loss of Rs 2,100 billion due to investing in Greek bonds in 2011. The investment took place at a time when the economy of Greece was collapsing. Not only did the country lose profits, but also lost the initial investment. It was people’s money.

Just keep in mind that none of this is corruption. It is the stuff of Saubhagya Governance as we see it today. Like the ever-so-clean sugar imports and crooked trading, and more recently the purchase of rice from so-called hidden go-downs.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka is certainly moving in the direction of a renewed Cabraal leadership, with a long-delayed pension, a Cabinet ranking, and no doubt more pensions to follow. The Central Bank with its record of Zuberi, Greek bonds, etc., is certainly the stuff of Good Governance by the Rajavasala Rajapaksa Power Squad.

Let’s wish good luck to the current Governor of the CB as he moves to a foreign appointment, and give a truly loud cheer to Cabraal, in his renewed position in the Central Bank. The tears of Sri Lankans will certainly bring joy to those who make our money even weaker.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

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

Opinion

Utilizing Eppawela phosphate in time for next Maha not realistic

Published

on

A news item in the Sunday Island of May 19,2024 titled “Agriculture Dept. recommends Eppawala Single Super Phosphate over imported TSP for paddy and other crops” caught my eye as I long served the Department of Agriculture. This is because naturally occurring Eppawala Rock Phosphate (ERP) has remained unutilized to any appreciable extent, other than as rock phosphate itself, since time immemorial. It was heartening for me as an agriculturist to see this news item as I knew for sure that large quantities of single super phosphate (SSP) and triple super phosphate (TSP) fertilizers were being imported into Sri Lanka.

All these years much has been discussed about this massive mineral resource and lot of research work has also been done on it. Mostly due to inaction at the policy making level, Sri Lanka continued to import large quantities of phosphate fertlizers at great cost until that infamous ban which has since been lifted.

The aforesaid news item had been based on the proceedings of a meeting chaired by the Minister of Agriculture and Plantation Industries where the domestic production of SSP using ERP had been discussed. Reportedly it had transpired that USD 30 million is spent annually on importing TSP, while the ERP mineral resource holds 60 million tons of phosphate.

It was also reported that “eight private sector manufacturers have commenced large scale production of SSP using ERP.” In the light of the proceedings at the meeting, the minister had noted that plans are under way to implement the use of the SSP fertilizer from the Maha 2024/25 cultivation season and had directed the National Fertilizer Secretariat (NFS) and the two state owned fertilizer companies, Lanka Fertilizer Co. and the Commercial Fertilizer Co., to initiate an outreach program for this purpose.

As this was really encouraging news, I thought it is best to make inquiries from those who know about the present ground situation regarding local production of SSP at Eppawala. I had a hunch that it could be far fetched to project that this production volume could be sufficient to commence an outreach program as early as Maha 2024/25, as decided at that meeting.

My inquiries from reliable professional sources revealed that some small scale manufacturers are currently producing SSP at Eppawala from ERP. But the quantities are small and the quality of the product is doubtful as the process of treatment of the material with sulphuric acid for its conversion to SSP is not being carried out in the expected manner. In this process, “non-soluble fluoraptite (the mineral present within phosphate rock) reacts with sulphuric acid to produce soluble mono-calcium phosphate and calcium sulphate. This makes the phosphate in ERP, available for absorption by the plant roots. Properly manufactured SSP has phosphorus (nine to 10 %), sulphur (11 to 12%) and calcium (20%).

Without going into further detail, let me say that I want to highlight the fact we are yet far away from meeting the phosphate fertilizer needs locally using the massive Eppawela resource. Certainly, starting to meet this need from Maha 2024/25 season is an unachievable dream.

For something realistic to happen, the process of conversion of ERP to SSP has to be systematically and scientifically carried out on a sufficient scale with appropriate quality standards. At present this is totally lacking at Eppawala, according to reliable sources. As this is known technology, getting the job done should pose no problem. Also, small scale production may not fit as the requirement of SSP is significant and large scale production by fertilizer manufacturers with capacity will be necessary.

However better late than never. There should be a realistic plan of action to meet this priority need and till then high level meetings like the one reported are of no avail.

A. BEDGAR PERERA
Retired Director/Agricultural Development,
Ministry of Agriculture
Email < bedgarperera@gmail.com

Continue Reading

Opinion

In favour of ‘thoughtfulness’

Published

on

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment.

by Susantha Hewa

Prof. Kirthi Tennakone’s (KT) article, “Thoughtfulness or mindfulness?”, which appeared in The Island of June 5, 2024, would surely appeal to those who are more “thoughtful” than “mindful”, the former indicating a mind functioning naturally with all cognitive faculties fully awake and the latter indicating a mind being turned inwards and focusing on one’s thoughts, sensations and feelings in a nonjudgmental mode. As KT claims, “Almost all human accomplishments are consequences of thoughtfulness”, thoughtfulness indicating the quality of a sharp mind registering all relevant facts and assessing them for their worth and relevance.

His article itself is a fine demonstration of thoughtfulness rather than of mindfulness, as all discerning minds may agree. Even the gurus of mindfulness have to deal with many thoughts simultaneously as they write or speak, if they wish to make sense, and that is more of an exercise of “thoughtfulness” requiring several skills including organising, reason, elaboration, clarity, critical thinking, analysis, judgment, etc., than one of “mindfulness”, which is said to be focusing on one’s feelings and thoughts without judgment, from moment to moment.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, thoughtfulness is 1) the state of thinking carefully about something, 2) the quality of being kind and thinking about other people’s needs, and 3) the quality of thinking carefully about how to do something so that it is effective. All these three meanings are to do with using one’s mind to its fullest capacity. And, as the second one indicates, it also includes being considerate towards others, which is directing your mind outwards- which is not involved in mindfulness in the sense in which it is popularly used to describe “the practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm” (Cambridge Dictionary).

The products of thoughtfulness are there for everybody to see, as KT has clearly explained and enumerated in his essay. On the other hand, mindfulness seems to thrive on a state of mind that is turned inwards, which is often explained as paying attention to your present thoughts, feelings and sensations nonjudgmentally.

It looks as if we have to wait for centuries to see the wonders of this rather solitary and obscure exercise. The one thing that is clear is that even those who have practiced mindfulness for years on end have to be thoughtful rather than mindful, when they choose to communicate with others with any clarity, either in speech or writing, for the simple reason that the audiences are thoughtful, critical and judgmental, rather than uncritical, meditative and nonjudgmental.

Surely, you have to open your mind to what others are saying – rather than shut it, for any human communication to be meaningful, effective and useful. If mindfulness happened to be the natural mode of the mind, we would be living in a dull and dreary world where everybody would “be ‘mindful’ of their own business”.

A community of people may practice ‘mindfulness’ for a while everyday but it can only be an intermission and not the basic mode of a productive life, which is anchored on what you may call “thoughtfulness”. It would be redundant to illustrate this because KT has done it adequately in his article, which is a product of – no prizes for guessing- thoughtfulness. Just take any activity in our day-to-day life and you will see that thoughtfulness is the indispensable operative mechanism behind each of them. As KT asserts, “Thought could have sinister motives and the only way to eliminate them is through thought itself”. We are yet to know whether mindfulness has played any role in this.

In almost any important or urgent situation, a ‘thoughtful mind’ will score higher than a ‘mindful mind’, if you know what I mean. In the classroom, you are sure to immediately pay the price if you suddenly shift from ‘thoughtfulness’ to ‘mindfulness’. As many of us would remember, our teachers wanted us to have all our faculties functioning when they told us “Sihikalpanawen hitiyoth hondai” (you had better be alert), alertness to be understood as being attentive to what is being discussed- not focusing on your own feelings and thoughts in a nonjudgmental mode.

Sometimes people talk excitedly about ‘practicing mindful driving’ but what they unwittingly mean is exactly ‘thoughtful driving’, if you understand safe driving as heeding the following instructions: “avoid your own distractions, stay vigilant, scan the road for surprises, check the body language of other vehicles, try to anticipate how a situation might evolve, and be ready to react”. This can only remind us of those good teachers’ admonition to be sharp-eyed when in the classroom.

If mindfulness is to be alert to what is going on around you, taking in ‘things’, assessing, judging, etc. exactly as in ‘thoughtfulness’, we wouldn’t need experts telling us that ‘mindfulness’ is a different or a superior game. And, as is obvious, whenever people study, work, play, read, write, research, or do anything requiring cognition and judgement, they would surely be in the ‘thoughtful mode’ rather than in the ‘mindful mode’.

As KT has enunciated, all human progress is indebted to people who observed, experimented, invented, created and above all used their imagination with hardly any guidance from mindfulness gurus. Billions of people have lived and contributed to shape the world to what it is today – of course, with all its beauty as well as ugliness- the latter resulting from dogma, stultified mindsets and navel-gazing. What it takes to enhance the beautiful side of the world is to rely on more thought, more reasoning and more judgment. Indulging in nonjudgmental observation may at best bring temporary calmness to individuals; so would art and music, with even more demonstrable benefits. And, for thought and reason to be functional, minds should be directed outwards rather than inwards.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Change is good: Provided it is for better and not for worse

Published

on

Aragalaya

by Jayasri Priyalal

Many Sri Lankans may have joined in commemorating the 2568 years of Buddha Parinirvana with much discourse about the fundamental truth, the core teaching of Buddhism about impermanence, last week. As we all realise the fact, that there is nothing permanent in this world; everything is subject to change. Change is the only permanent constant in the universe. This essay focuses on change from socio, political and economic angle.

Sri Lanka is undergoing its worst ever economic crisis without any hope of getting it into a recovery track soon. There is a clarion call from the masses aspiring for a system change as a springboard towards chalking out a recovery path to overcome the crisis. Yet, no one knows or discusses what that system should be to put in place.

One fact remains as an acceptable analogy. Those who cannot cope with change will never be able to initiate change in any circumstances. This applies to all stakeholders including those who caused and contributed to the current crisis. Fair share of responsibilities falls on the electorate who got carried away with populism engineered by a few; with an ultimate aim of state and regulatory capture for their advantage leaving the country into a dire state grappling with debt. Therefore, capacity and capability to initiate that essential change is absent in the DNA of politicians who deceived their constituents.

This year 2024, is remarkable for those countries where representative democracy functions. Over 2 billion voters are expected to cast their votes at polls. As per predictions in 70% of the elections a change in government is anticipated. Some elections are already over and results are known. In Sri Lanka there are two main elections in the pipeline namely the Presidential and parliamentary polls.  The UK gets ready for polls on 4th July 2024. Change is the campaign theme of the Labour Party led by Sir. Keir Starmer. Chase or change dilemma will be an option for the electorate in the USA to test in upcoming presidential elections in November 2024.

Change and the Chase Countercyclical in Sri Lanka

In the last presidential election in 2019 Sri Lankan electorate rallied with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving him an absolute mandate with 6.9 million votes, anticipating a change for the better. It was too late for Sri Lankans to realise that their bet was on the wrong horse.  That change triggered the public to rally towards a chase. People’s power proved greater than those who come and hold political power.

The so-called people’s movement Aragalaya forced the Prime Minister to resign with the ipso facto resignation of the cabinet of ministers. Amongst many wrong doings President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated an unelected PM to lead the cabinet without dissolving the parliament with the reluctance to test the pulse of the people to secure the right mandate to govern. Rest is history, and finally the people’s power chased out President Gotabya Rajapaksa culminating the grand achievement of the GoHomeGota campaign. Thereafter, people’s aspiration and hope for a change short lived and shortchanged, widening the mistrust between policy makers and electorate further.

Have we learnt from similar power struggles from the past?

Our present has direct links in many ways to the past. The island nation has been deceived by many egocentric figureheads -as they cannot be named as true patriotic leaders- misjudged the public sentiments and aspirations and surrendered the sovereignty of the country to Colonial Masters. Does history repeat itself? Have we forgotten the bitter lessons learnt from history is what is discussed in the next few paragraphs?

This writer is enthusiastically influenced by the historical knowledge shared by Prof. Raj Somadeva via Neth FM radio and the YouTube programme. Due credit should be given to the Professor for all his extensive historical studies and the efforts to share them with the rest of the Sri Lankans in and outside the country. Prof. Somadeva narrates the stories very well with an appeal to draw parallels to the contemporary political power struggles with a warning not to repeat the past mistakes.

Coronation of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, last King of Kandyan Kingdom   1798

Having defeated the British Army battalion sent by the Governor Frederick North badly in 1803, the powerful Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British by 1815. Internal power struggles between the Kandyan elites to capture the throne from the Nayakkar clan paved the way for colonials to step in effortlessly to end the 2300 of historical royal lineage, to govern. Finally, Ceylon became a colony of the British Empire under King Gorge III.

Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe engineered the coronation of Kannasamy Naidu a nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe over the legitimate claimant to the throne Muttusamy. Pilimatalawwe was ambitious of becoming the Kandyan King, worked closely with the British and installed Kannasamy in the throne assuming he can control the King to meet his egoistic goals.

The change he anticipated never happened. Then he conspired to kill the King. Pilimatalawwe and the conspiring gang were beheaded by the King. Pilimatalawwe engineered the change and had to work on a chase and he got eliminated by the person whom he elevated to power.

Power crazy Maha Adikaram installed a weaker character in the throne so that he could overthrow him with the help of the British. The whole strategy backfired ultimately sacrificing the nation on a platter to the British ending a royal lineage of over two millennia.  The miscalculations of those close to political power to serve their selfish needs have ruined many countries bringing in misery, hardship and colossal loss of lives and property to its citizens. The island nation has many such cases throughout its history.

Putting a Wrong Guy in a Critical Position – Are we repeating the same mistake?

Throughout history we Sri Lankans have repeated the same mistake and disrupted the nation’s progress leaving the plight in the hands of outsiders.  Although there aren’t any competing empires in the current context, there are clear indications that the local political expectations are gravitating towards the emerging geo-economic-political centres.

The current political leadership or the conventional thought processes are not spurred with an organic strategic growth trajectory with originality backed thought process. None of the political parties have identified the right causes that led to the current crisis.

Moreover, they are getting ready to deceive the electorate to secure the mandate to govern to continue to repeat ill-conceived policy tools without coming up with viable policy options to break the vicious debt trap. Adage goes on to remind that – right diagnosis is half of the solution. Instead, many are getting ready to prescribe the failed remedies with a strong dosage as prescribed by the defunct cold war institutions. It appears that the healer itself is the disease leaving the patient bewildered and leaving the disease into an uncontrolled debt pandemic. We Sri Lankans need to think locally and act globally and not the other way around. In the absence of original ideas and remedies, local politicians are happy to swallow the bitter medicines prescribed on the basis of diagnoses.

Since Independence the ideology of various political parties were developed based on systems and discourses practiced in other countries introducing a welfarist socio economic system. Now, it has turned towards the aspirations of the emerging geo-economic centres. Sri Lankans need to forge a unique turnaround strategy to serve the best interest of its people, and not to become subjects of other countries.  Therefore, the Sri Lankan electorate needs to collate its political mandate in the hands of a leadership who will change the destiny of the country for the better and not for the worst.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Colonial masters connived with the power crazy Kandyan elites and captured the last King of Ceylon, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, dethroned, imprisoned and deported to India. Once you fast track the historical events, we can extrapolate the current situation drawing many parallels. Unlike in the past, the leaders who mislead and mismanage the future of the nation without any original thinking and being subservient to foreign advice will never be deported. They will be facing a prisoner’s dilemma remaining on the island, having given away ports, harbours, airports and other critical infrastructure to foreigners to manage and own.

Continue Reading

Trending