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Civil- Military Relationships are Breaking Down

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Dr Sarala Fernando

For some time now, civil- military relationships had been increasing around the world for several different reasons. Even a military superpower like the US is witnessing diminishing voluntary recruitment since many years which has led to increased reliance on fourth Industrial Revolution technology dominated by private contractors, including new weaponry such as unmanned drones and covering underwater, space, cyber and information areas.

However recent events have shown that civil-military cooperation in the US is not without in-built perils. The US military dependence on civilian contractors failed the test of raising morale leading to a quick collapse of the Afghan forces and revelations of the thousands of pieces of weapons and equipment valued at tens of billions of dollars, left behind in the confusion of the exit from Afghanistan. The debacle has sharpened domestic public criticism in the US of such “forever” foreign wars and “nation building” exercises.

Even as the public consensus grows in the US that defence must be oriented towards national security in the homeland territory, a new fissure has opened with the January 6 attack or “insurrection” on that main pillar of American democracy, the Capitol, where investigations have revealed that over 80 of those persons charged by the Justice department had ties with the military including many veterans and a handful currently serving in the military. US planners must be worried now as to the extent of this “anti-democracy” sentiment within the active military and how it should be monitored and countered.

Some of the same fears are now coming to surface in Sri Lanka with the escalating economic crisis and discontent with the government. The Mirihana incident where thousands of people surrounded President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s private residence and reference to an “Arab Spring” uprising has led a senior politician to speak of a possible conspiracy to bring in a military government. How did a peaceful protest turn into a destruction of public property and who actually did that damage remains to be investigated.

In the meantime it is sad to see suspicion raised as to the military role and hidden “conspiracy” theories floated. The clash outside parliament a few days ago between police and the army motorbike squad wearing full face helmets is indicative of the rising tensions. It may be time for the military to resume its traditional role of protecting national security and roll back its extended involvement in government in key areas from ports to education, health, agriculture and construction.

At the end of the 30 year armed conflict, a grateful nation gave its support to the armed forces which had fought with scarce domestic resources, supplemented by assistance from longtime friends like China. As a result, settlement of debts post conflict, including through land transfers, was non-controversial given the priority of managing the terrorist threat. In the same way, after the conflict ended in 2008, despite the many needs in the South, there was no objection raised to diverting national resources towards humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in the North and East and to entrust this work to the armed forces.

Who else but the military could have handled the rehabilitation and restored so quickly critical infrastructure like roads, bridges, schools and hospitals as well as the essential clearing of mines, dumped weapons, ammunition and war debris, thereby permitting the conflict affected people to return to their homes?

Vulnerable to both human and natural disasters, Sri Lanka has not only come out of a thirty year war, it has faced an unprecedented Tsunami which devastated the Indian Ocean region, where the military had taken a leadership role in managing the government response to these disasters. But this had been accomplished in cooperation with other associated organizations, both government and private, foreign and international agencies, such that no controversy had arisen.

Before the Mirihana incident the question was whether it was possible to recreate that “whole of society” approach seen after the tsunami in order to deal with the present economic crisis post -Covid, including the huge debt problem, lack of foreign exchange, looming food crisis etc? Now it seems with anger rising and impatience with the problems of facing daily life with shortages of power, fuel supplies and escalating food prices due to the foreign exchange crisis, there is more likelihood of conflict rather than a possibility of cooperation. Even the Indian assistance package ostensibly for “confidence building” seems not to have achieved that purpose due to the hasty signature of defence related agreements pushed by the Indian side.

The heart of the problem is the lack of a peace dividend so many years since the ending of the armed conflict and the continued lion’s share of the budget being devoted to defence while essential public services like education and health are being cut. Press reports have revealed that our teachers and principals are apparently among the worst paid in the region, yet the government has given priority to improving facilities at the military university placing it even outside the existing regulatory framework. All over the public service, promotions and benefits have been curtailed while press releases regularly inform of promotions and new ranks bestowed on service personnel – poor public diplomacy?

Retired military officers appointed to high government positions have been met with scathing press coverage. One striking example comes to mind of that fine public servant Mr S.B. Divaratne who held the position of Commissioner of Essential Services during the years of armed conflict, coordinating diplomatically behind the scenes with the international community as well as the local agencies to maintain essential supplies to the conflict affected areas, in stark contrast to a recent military Commissioner of Essential Services shown on live TV raiding stores and warehouses.

A central problem is that the military has a different style of leadership and enforced top- down discipline which is in total contrast to Sri Lanka’s untidy public administration with loose administration of rules and regulations complicated by over-politicization from the top and union actions at the bottom. One can appeal to good sense but it will not be possible to weld together these two systems or even enforce one on the other given the long standing democratic traditions in the country. Furthermore, having moved from a socialist planned economy to an open market economy as far back as 1977, any Government effort for example to re-establish price controls on essential foods and rationing is bound to provoke push back from a vigilant private sector.

Civil- Military Relationships

Sri Lanka’s health service has always been a leader in the region held up as an example by international agencies, and its professionals had successfully led the management of many crises and dealt with the unions unlike today when the Ministry is headed by a military officer. Today there is a complaint that government funds are being liberally bestowed on construction and running of military hospitals, while the government public hospitals are facing shortages of funds, drugs etc. This has reinvigorated public calls for the military to step back from leading the Covid campaign and return its administration to the health authorities with its established system of government hospitals, MOHs and PHIs which remain in close contact with the public and have gained their confidence over the years. A new controversy is looming on the unutilized mainly Pfizer vaccines which were earlier controlled by the military, now likely to go to waste with public apathy as the expiry date of the doses approaches. Who will take the blame for any excess orders and is there a tale of hidden corruption?

Most recently there are proposals that the military should take the lead in the grow- more- food national campaign and there is even a proposal to raise a new division to do construction work. Will these proposals not bring unnecessary conflict with those traditionally leading these sectors, especially national research and development organizations and the vibrant private sector? In the conflict- affected areas, will not the small traditional farmers dependent on credit and local pawning come to resent the large military farms with access to technological know- how, labour, markets and largely unaudited public funds? How can that help reconciliation efforts? Growing food for the troops is one thing but growing food with public money to influence markets is another and bound to provoke more controversy.

So how can the civil-military relationship be repaired? On human rights there are some lessons to be learned from the UK where this year will mark 50 years since the Bloody Sunday incident in Northern Ireland which is said to have escalated the armed conflict there. The Bloody Sunday incident relates to a civil rights march which was met with gunfire by the British police and seven members of the public were killed. Initially there was the trumped- up explanation put out by the police which was later found to be false by independent Commissions of Inquiry. This then led to public apologies in the UK parliament by the Prime Minister. It seems the prosecution of the police officers involved could not be pursued due to the passage of time and lately there is speculation of new legislation being drafted in the UK to give amnesty to those involved.

Dealing with events such as Bloody Sunday underscores the need to strengthen the internal legal infrastructure within the armed services which involves not only training in human rights and humanitarian law but also to publicize action taken to try and punish military offenders for criminal offenses. If not, an impression will be created of impunity which is what has led foreign governments, pushed by an active diaspora, to sanctioning military leaders for command responsibility. From time to time we hear of armed forces personnel arrested for crimes of murder, extortion and drug deals, yet rarely do we hear of penalties and sentencing.

On the contrary, recent Presidential pardons have only added to the climate of impunity. In that climate, one must not fail to recognize the courage of a senior Foreign Service officer then serving in Washington who brought Ambassador Jaliya Wickremasuriya’s corruption to the notice of his superiors in Colombo only to find these allegations swept under the carpet until vigilant US officials filed action and the Ambassador now being tagged in the internet as a “close relative of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa”, admitted his own guilt to defraud the Sri Lanka government, in a US court .

(Sarala Fernando, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva . Her Ph.D was on India-Sri Lanka relations and she writes now on foreign policy, diplomacy and protection of heritage).



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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