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

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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.



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Opinion

Becoming a water-wise citizen

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

According to current demands and availability, potable water resources are rapidly depleting in Sri Lanka. Finding new potable water sources has become increasingly challenging due to the competition between irrigation water and drinking water needs in many areas. Population growth, industrial demand, pollution, and climate change exacerbate water scarcity more than ever. Despite this, society often overlooks the importance of water conservation, with water waste remaining widespread. As responsible citizens, it is high time to adopt effective water management practices at household and industry level for its sustainability. On the other hand, doing so will reduce the energy requirements for water treatment and distribution, helping lower greenhouse gas emissions.

According to NWS&DB only about 46% of the population in our country are supplied with pipe-borne water. Therefore, wasting water deprives others who really deserves fresh water but currently lack access.

Here are several common ways water is wasted presumably by users due to ignorance, along with effective strategies for reducing waste at the household level.Following are some other practical measures to save water.

Standard plumbing

Using standard pipes and fittings and skilled workmanship are crucial for preventing water waste, especially in embedded areas where such leaks are hardly noticeable. PVC pipes should not be exposed to the sun as that will deteriorate the quality of pipes over time leading to water leaks. Properly installed systems are often devoid of leaks and ensure efficient water distribution minimizing maintenance costs.

Selecting water-saving fixtures

There are many water-saving fixtures available today as low-flow showerheads, taps, and dual-flush cisterns having two flushing options. For instance, kitchen taps with fine mesh give the feeling that more water runs through it than the actual flow. Replacing the existing fixtures with these advanced items will reduce water usage significantly.

Fixing water leaks

If there are leaking taps or pipes in the house or business premises they should promptly be rectified. In addition, it is wise to have regular infections to identify such defects so that possible water wastage can be minimized.

Mindful showering habits

One mode of heavy water consumption at the household level is showering. Even small reductions in shower duration such as reducing the shower time by a few minutes can save many litres of water. Any habits of keeping the shower running while applying soap and shampoo should be avoided.

Using domestic appliances only for full loads

Making a habit of using washing machines and dishwashers only for full loads not only saves water but also reduces electricity consumption. Operating appliances at full capacity also enhances their efficiency and prolongs their lifespan while reducing repair costs.

Harvesting rainwater

Rainwater can be used for many household activities, especially for gardening, landscaping, and washing vehicles. Currently, treated water is often used for these purposes, which results in unnecessary treatment costs. Rainwater can be used even for drinking if properly collected, treated, and filtered for better hygiene. However, rainwater can be used for drinking after boiling if it is collected through a clean roof exposed to sunlight. Avoiding early rain is advisable to minimize the risk of impurities mixed with rainwater.

Gardening and landscaping

For hotels, public parks, playgrounds, and similar venues with extensive gardens growing native and drought-tolerant species that require less water can lead to massive water savings. This approach not only conserves water but also enhances landscape resilience during times of water shortages. Further applying mulch to retain soil moisture and installation of drip irrigation systems and garden sprinklers for watering can minimise water requirements. Watering the lawns should be done in the morning or late evening to minimise evaporation losses.

Water Recycling

Water from sinks, showers, and washing machines which are called “grey water” can be used for toilet flushing and gardening. By diverting grey water away from the sewer system and integrating it into these activities, freshwater requirements can significantly be reduced.

Awareness and Education

Making children aware of water conservation is crucial for fostering responsible water usage habits. At the domestic level parents and elder family members can be role models by demonstrating water-saving habits. As organization-level initiatives, educating children at schools, public awareness campaigns, promoting and giving incentives for water-saving appliances, and formulating sustainable water management policies are vital.

Adopting simple, yet effective methods as discussed can save water to ensure the sustainability of this scarce resource. As the adage goes, “Water is life”, every citizen has to be water-wise by understanding its value and actively taking steps to use water efficiently and responsibly.

(The writer is a chartered Civil Engineer specializing in water resources engineering)

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Opinion

Key takeaways from British election

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PM Keir Starmer

By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The fact that political parties splintered by internal strife, culminating in open warfare, would be punished mercilessly by the electorate at the first available opportunity is, perhaps, the key takeaway from the UK parliamentary election held on 4th July. Conservatives, who held power for 14 years were humiliated and reduced to only 121 seats, 9 fewer than even exit-poll predictions. However, exit-polls predicted the landslide for Labour spot-on, missing the mark by only two; Labour ending up with 412, prediction being 410. This Labour win was second only to the massive victories by Tony Blair in 1997 and 2001. Terms used by news media to qualify this Labour victory, tsunami and earthquake, perhaps, are inaccurate as both are unexpected events whereas this win was not. What surprised most, however, was not the Labour victory but the scale of the humiliating defeat of the Tories, losing 251 seats. This to a large extent, was self-inflicted!

Conservatives ended 13 years of Labour rule in 2010, but as they did not have an outright majority, winning only 306 seats in a house of 650, were forced to form a coalition government with Liberal Democrats who won 57 seats. In the subsequent election in 2015, Conservatives won 330 seats, just clearing the threshold of 326. David Cameron, who was PM from 2010, resigned in 2017 when the UK voted for Brexit in a referendum, which he forced on the country, hoping to get the opposite result. Conservative divisions bloomed following the referendum disaster and Theresa May, who succeeded Cameron, went for a snap poll hoping to get a larger mandate but was unsuccessful getting only 317 seats, forcing her to continue with a minority government. However, she too, had to resign in 2019 as the draft withdrawal agreement with the EU, she negotiated, was rejected by the parliament. Boris Johnson, who succeeded her, went for an election in 2019 and was able to secure a comfortable victory with 365 seats and it was the worst defeat ever for the Labour Party, which got only 202 seats. This catastrophe resulted because of Labour being out of tune with its own supporters, majority of whom were for Brexit whereas the party policy was to remain in the EU. This was a unique event in British political history where Labour supporters switched in droves to Conservative. Worsening internal strife in the Conservative Party and the blatant breeches of Covid rules, led to the ouster of Johnson in 2022, which resulted in the disastrous 45-day tenure of Liz Truss, shortest in British history. She had to resign in disgrace when the British economy tanked with the drastic economic policies she rushed through. Not surprisingly, she could not even retain her seat, which she won with a huge majority of over 26,000 in the previous election in 2019.

Most political analysts opine that the Conservatives lost the general election in October 2022, when their acknowledged economic competence was thrown into question with the antics of Liz truss. Rishi Sunak, who took over under the most difficult of circumstances, in addition had to face frequent backstabbing, mostly from a colleague also of Indian origin. He had the unenviable task of leading a badly divided party, on top of attempting to repair the massive economic damage caused by his predecessor. Although he could have gone on until December, he called a snap election and, ultimately on 4th July, faced the inevitable!

Perhaps, the humiliating defeat suffered by the Scottish National Party (SNP), which has its origins to the demand for Scottish independence, was even worse than that of the Conservatives. SNP once exercised virtually a dictatorship over Scotland, winning almost every parliamentary seat. It was humbled down to having only 9 seats, a loss of 39 seats, in spite of stoking the fire of nationalism by campaigning that this would be a vote for the demand of a second referendum for independence. The first independence referendum held in 2014 was lost, 55% voting against independence. Therefore, the most positive takeaway from the 2024 election is that it ensured the persistence of the union between England and Scotland. This clearly illustrates that a single-issue party like the SNP has a limited lifespan, a valuable lesson for some of the communal parties of Sri Lanka.

This election is remarkable in that, rather than being a Labour win, it was a Conservative defeat, as a detailed analysis of statistics clearly show. It had the second lowest turnout with only 59.9% of registered voters voting, the lowest with 59.4% being the 2001 election where the outcome, of re-electing Tony Blair’s government with a massive majority, was never in doubt leading to voter apathy.

In 2019, Labour got 32.1% of the vote, winning only 202 seats, which is considered Labour’s worst defeat. However, five years later, the share of the vote increased only to 33.8%, the increase being mostly due to a 19% increase in Scotland whereas there was hardly any change in England. Conservative share of the vote dropped from 45.6% to 25.7%. How can a mere increase of 1.7%, lead to a gain of 211 seats, Labour ending up with 412 of the 650 seats? The main reason for this is that Nigel Farage’s Reform party siphoned off a fair share of the Conservative vote in many electorates enabling Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates to win with small majorities. Reform got 14.3% share of the vote, a remarkable achievement for a new party. Farage, who started the chain of events that led to Brexit, took over the leadership of the right-wing Reform party immediately after the election was declared and threatened to take over the Conservative party ultimately. He may well do it unless Conservatives work out a robust strategy for revival! Wonder whether Farage got letters of thanks from the leaders of Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

This is not the first time that the ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP)electoral system, used in the UK, has produced paradoxical results. As Liberal Democrats were regularly getting fewer MPs compared to their share of the vote, one of the conditions for the formation of a coalition government in 2010 was a referendum to change the electoral system. However, the ‘Alternative Vote referendum’ held in 2011 ensured the continuation of FPTP as the Alternative Voting (AV) system was rejected by 67.9%.

Another big paradox of the 2024 election is Liberal Democrats gaining 64 seats, increasing their tally to 72 with only a 0.6% increase in the share of their vote from 11.6% to 12.2%. This probably will make them lose their enthusiasm for a change to a Proportional Representation (PR) system!

By far, the biggest paradox is Reform, which polled 14.3% got only 5 seats while Liberal Democrats, who got a smaller share, 12.2%, secured 74 seats! Reform is bound to clamour for change of the electoral system, with other minor parties, but the question is whether they would have a sufficient clout to bring about changes to the electoral system?

All parties in opposition clamour for a change but when they get power, completely forget about it, especially if they muster massive majorities. It is just like our Presidents, who promise to abolish the presidency during the campaign but, once elected and having savoured power, stick to it like leeches! Politicians, wherever they may be, behave the same way, subjugating everything to self-interest.

It looks very unlikely, in spite of all the anomalies, that the newly elected Labour government, which has a two-thirds majority in spite of having only minority support, would be interested in changing the electoral system, unless they start losing support quickly. This is not an impossibility, as they promised a lot which seemed almost impossible to deliver. They rejected Sunak’s Rwanda plan, which would have been a deterrent to illegal immigration and are now looking for a ‘Chief’ to solve the problem! PM Keir Starmer wants closer ties with the EU, which however is demanding free movement for the young but that would lead to an increasing number of immigrants; a very thorny issue. He has made some backers of his as ministers by appointing them to the House of Lords, in spite of having 412 elected members to choose from. The Lords is the chamber all parties never abolish despite their promises to do so as it is the place to accommodate cronies! I do hope, if a second chamber ever becomes a reality in Sri Lanka, it would not be like the Lords.

Even if politicians want to change the electoral system to PR or AV or even the French system of two-stage elections, which seems to have created a huge problem with the latest election, will the voters opt for change? Perhaps, not. After all, the best way to mercilessly punish politicians, in spite of all its disadvantages, is FPTP!

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Opinion

A different take on wind power projects in Sri Lanka

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A representational image

by Eng. Col. N. N. Wijeratne
(Retd)
Secretary General / CEO

Chamber of Construction Industry of Sri Lanka

Saudi Arabia aims to utilize her vast arid lands to harvest renewable energy resources and to increase her share of renewables to around 50% by the year 2030. This is similar to Sri Lanka’s stated goal of 70% renewable energy usage by 2030. However, sadly this is where the similarity ends.

Recently, the Saudi Power Procurement Company entered into two agreements with Marubeni Corporation of Japan to purchase wind power at a staggeringly low rate of 1.566 U.S. cents per kWh. Now compare this with Sri Lanka and the power purchase agreement with a foreign investor Adam Green Energy Ltd at 8.26 US cents per kWh. True, the government states that this will be the single most significant foreign investment in the country with a price of 1 billion US dollars and Sri Lanka will have uninterrupted electricity for the next 20 years, etc., and makes the convoluted argument that it is cheaper than thermal power which is 26.99 US cents per kWh and that the Ceylon Electricity Board purchases wind power from 9.67 to 13.99 US cents per kWh. Additionally, the power bought from Odamwadi solar project is higher in that it is 8.75 US cents per kWh unit. Be that as it may be, if competitive tenders were invited even in Sri Lanka a more competitive rate could have been possible keeping with the global norms. But this was an unsolicited bid negotiated by the Government high ups. Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda has pointed out that for newly commissioned onshore wind projects, the global weighted average internationally for wind power is between 3.5 US cents per kWh to 3.3 US cents per kWh (2022 figures) and falling. In fact, in India the levelised tariff for wind power is 3.8 US cents per kWh. The very same investor is supplying wind power to the Indian power grid at this competitive rate.

This shrouded price has spurred Transparency International Sri Lanka to file no fewer than 11 Right to Information applications about this now cabinet-approved project that will come into fruition 2 years down the line and has questions regarding the legality, transparency, evaluation process, pricing, government involvement, and the environmental impact assessment related to 250 MW wind power plant in Mannar and the 234 MW wind power plant in Pooneryn. Additionally, it strongly raises an alarm about the ecological feasibility of these projects which are located in an ecologically sensitive zone and one in a Ramsar declared wetland sanctuary. The Right to Information has elicited a stony silence by the authorities and it is petitioned that the sovereignty of the people has been violated. If we take the pricing factor in isolation, it behooves the government to answer this call at least, keeping aside the energy policy and investor friendliness that the government talks about for this sector. Next question is do we need to buy wind energy in US$ for next 20 years? What justification is there to pay in US$ for our free wind. Capital investment by the developer could have been treated as a loan repayable at a reasonable interest rate.

Geopolitical considerations may have influenced India to be involved in our power sector in order to ward off Chinese intrusions, but there are questions both big and small that require answers for it appears that the people’s sovereignty is being trampled and they have a right to know.

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