Connecting, Communicating and Caring – the need of the hour
With news of COVID deaths and infection inundating our daily lives and the collective grieving of our customary funeral rites not possible, the mental health and well being of the nation is compromised. Speaking to the Sunday Island, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer at the Kotelawala Defense University, Dr. Neil Fernando, discusses the need for emotionally supporting each other and fostering positive thinking to brave these hard times.
by Randima Attygalle
Q: Although social distancing, hand washing and mask-wearing have become the norm, there is hardly a public discourse on mental well being during this pandemic. How important is it to promote such dialogue?
A: Health is defined by the WHO as the ‘complete physical, mental and social well being of a person.’ Mental health is therefore very much an integral part of overall health, but unfortunately like in all other situations, mental health is neglected during this pandemic too. The mind comprises three important components: cognition (this includes your thinking, your memories, mental images- mainly how you think), emotion (how you feel) and your behaviour. These three components are interrelated and interdependent. For example, how you think will affect how you feel and how you feel will determine how you act. So this principle applies to the COVID pandemic – how people think, how they feel and how they behave. Wearing the mask, hand sanitization and physical distancing are all behaviours and behaviour is part of mental health.
Exposure to too much negative news affects your emotions and your behaviour. Initially when the pandemic broke here, the approach to it was more military than health-induced creating apprehension and fear in people. The initial impression given of the illness was more from a ‘criminal’ angle with media bulletins flooded with news of infected people and their first contacts being chased after. Later when people were exposed to COVID deaths, the scenes of coffins being put into crematoriums and personal protective gear-clad health workers everywhere traumatized many.
The world at large too made a blunder by using the term ‘social distancing’ when it ought to have been ‘physical distancing with social connectivity’. In a culture where social interaction is a norm, the term ‘social distancing’ became a double burden. When one house in a neighbourhood was quarantined, people feared a lockdown of an entire area and fault-finding came into forefront. Those who were responsible for the coining of terms such as ‘Peliyagoda cluster, Minuwangoda cluster etc.’ never thought of mental health implications they would trigger and accompanying discrimination and stigma. Apparel workers who were earning dollars for the country were shunned and were looked at as carriers of the virus.
While the importance of mental health and well being was not promoted, people were exposed to factors detrimental to their mental health. Media too has a responsibility of sending out messages of positive mental health instead of sending ‘news alerts’ with death tolls and the number of infected cases. More positive messages can be sent to the public.
Q: With reports on infected cases and deaths flooding in and anxiety levels of people rising, even among those not directly confronted by death, what coping mechanisms do you propose to foster ‘positive thinking’ in such a backdrop?
A: We need to apply the concept of ‘positive psychology’ promoted by Prof. Martin Seligman, a clinical psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania. Positive Psychology is relatively a new area in psychology where the focus is on well being. Rather than looking at the negative aspects of an illness and what is wrong, this concept looks at the stronger side. Up to the turn of this century, psychology was looking at means of filling deficits – when a person is ill, how he/she can be made well. In Seligman’s own words, “it was bringing a person at minus two to zero.”
Positive Psychology on the other hand, looks at a way of taking a person from zero to plus two. It looks at features a person has rather than looking at features a person has lost. It looks at character strengths and promotes those strengths to make a person better. Promotion of well being as Seligman says, rests on five pillars called PERMA. ‘P’ stands for positive emotions, looking at your past, present and future in a positive way and to find something positive even in your setbacks.
‘E’ is for ‘Engagement’ or flow- to be actively involved in some useful activity. Children not being able to go to school is a drawback; however, they can learn household work or a craft during this time. Even in a lockdown situation, people should be engaged in something, even observing nature is a kind of engagement
‘R’ is for relationships. Social connection promotes well being. Social isolation is the reverse. Even in a quarantine situation, one must be socially connected with family, friends, work mates and neighbours despite physical distancing.
‘M’ is for ‘meaning’- to have a purpose in life. This pillar is connected to your spiritual life as well. Caring for others can give a lot of mental satisfaction and promotes your own well being as well. There are many who have lost their livelihoods, friends, neighbours struggling to survive and those who are more comfortable can help such people in need.
‘A’ is for accomplishment, to have goals and achievements in life; to be proud of what you have achieved.
Using this PERMA model, we can encourage people to think about the best scenario possible and not the extreme. One needs to take a middle path. Otherwise people will be overwhelmed by statistics, because statistics emphasize largely the negative side.
Q: With the rise of elderly deaths, there is apprehension among senior citizen.’ How best can they be supported?
A: It is essential that they keep negative news at bay. Watching and reading too much about COVID and deaths can be detrimental. People should also be encouraged to keep in touch with their loved ones and engage in positive conversation outside the pandemic. Engaging in an activity that interests them such as listening to music, gardening or reading can also help them to get distracted from negativity.
We should also support them psychologically with what we call the ‘Two-Es and I’s’: Emotional support of love and care, Esteem support (showing respect and giving value to a person), Informational support (providing correct information and knowledge to counter myths and misconceptions) and Institutional support (offering practical help).
Q: How vital it is to ensure the mental well being of our health workers?
A: It is of utmost importance to ensure their moral well being as it could affect their productivity. Unlike in the first and the second wave, in this third wave of the pandemic, health workers are facing what is known as ‘moral injury’. That is, with limited resources, they are unable to cater to each and every patient. For example, while there may be two patients who need ventilators, only one machine may be available. So it is the health worker who has to decide who gets it. Of course there could be protocols and guidelines but it is another human being who has to implement these guidelines. Therefore health workers can experience ‘moral injury’ or a kind of guilt that could haunt them later that a decision had to be taken at the cost of another patient’s life. The trauma of the pandemic and its mental health impact will be enormous and could last for years to come.
However, on the brighter side, there is a new concept associated with Positive Psychology called ‘post-traumatic growth’ where people can actually make use of traumatic events as a learning opportunity and be empowered.
Q: Sri Lankan funeral rites enable shared grief with community involvement. The pandemic has deprived our people even of religious rites. How does this impact their mental health?
A: When a death occurs in normal circumstances in our culture, it is referred to as a mala gama or an avamagula, the very terms connoting that it is a community affair where ‘grief reaction’ is a shared one. Almost all our funeral rituals are psychologically very sound. The social and religious customs which follow a funeral support the sharing of grief, so that the bereaved family can come to terms with it.
Sadly this communal exercise is now replaced by solitary grief. You cannot even see the body, there is no funeral ceremony, no rituals performed. The psychological buffer provided by our culture is now being taken away. Some people have lost several family members. There is a lot of silent mental suffering going on right now as survivors also have a ‘guilt feeling’ that they couldn’t even give their loved one a dignified funeral. Hence talking and listening to those who are mourning, sharing of grief should be done using other means while keeping the necessary distance.
Q: We are a nation which went through a civil war. Pandemic is a ‘war’ of a different kind. As a senior professional who dealt with combat-related mental issues/depression etc. do you see a difference in human response to the war and the pandemic from a clinical standpoint?
A: Yes, there is a difference. Compared to war where the majority of Lankans were not directly affected, in this pandemic situation everyone is affected. Right now you don’t see the enemy but only destruction. While war and its impact were ‘structured’ pandemic is a different phenomenon.
In times of war, even when a sealed coffin was sent home, there were funeral rites performed and military funerals accorded with the respect of a nation demonstrated by draping the national flag over the coffin. All these interventions helped families to overcome grief. Today with solitary suffering, people are finding it hard to come to terms with death.
Q: Organizations have lost employees and some employees have lost their loved ones. In such challenging times, what can be done at organizational level to keep people motivated?
A: Organizations can make use of available resources and promote the well being of people. They can make use of virtual platforms to share ideas and grievances and be supported by professionals. At the same time it is important for organizations to maintain proper communication channels with their staffers and support them through difficult times.
Q: With children being home-bound, what tips would you give parents to keep their children optimistic?
A: If parents have a negative attitude, children invariably will be negative and even when schools reopen, some children may fear associating with some of their friends. Parents should encourage children to remain connected with their friends, grandparents and family through other means while maintaining physical distance. Association is very important at this point. They can also be encouraged to make use of this time to learn a new craft, household chores etc.
Online education itself has created problems. Children who are unable to connect due to different reasons can feel sidelined. This could be psychologically traumatic because at the end of the day, all children will have to face the same examination paper. Policy makers should be conscious of this factor.
Q: Do you see a rise in depression in your clinical practice since the onset of the pandemic?
A: Yes I do. There is what is called post-viral depression. Any viral infection can precipitate depression. COVID too began as a viral disease and it is natural to expect people who recover from it to develop symptoms of depression. Loss of a loved can also precipitate depression in certain people.
Q: How can family and friends support someone who is at risk of depression?
A: Grief is a natural reaction to loss, but it could turn into abnormal grief especially when death is sudden and unexpected. When grieving is prolonged (beyond six to eight months), a person can develop depressive illnesses and in order to help we should be conscious of the three Cs: Connect, Communicate and Care.
It is important that you listen to a person grieving because listening itself is therapeutic. For this, one need not necessarily be a mental health expert nor does one need to have solutions to all problems. What is important is to encourage a person to talk taking his/her own time and listening in an understanding, non-judgmental manner. Empathetic listening is vital and this entails communication – showing your understanding and most importantly, acknowledging and validating a person’s emotions.
Q: With lifestyles turned upside down, working from home arrangements interfering with domestic chores, socializing in office and outside being a thing of the past, and visiting loved ones being restricted, the ‘new normal’ has become stressful to many. How best can we navigate these challenges?
A: The pre-frontal lobe/cortex or the front most part of the human brain is well developed enabling humans to adjust to new situations. This is the reason why man is ahead in terms of evolution. It is true that the new normalcy has created its own set of problems but it is imperative that we make changes and adjust accordingly rather than trying to persist with what we were once used to. A good example is working from home – this concept was not heard of before COVID but people are getting adjusted to it. This shows that on the whole humans are capable of adjustment, although some may be quite comfortable and others may be less comfortable with adapting to new situations.
Teach geometry to sharpen mind
By Prof.Kirthi Tennakone
Decades ago, language, classics, science, and mathematics emphasiing geometry stood as the cornerstones of the high school curriculum, shaping students’ minds. These disciplines inculcate learning aptitude, creativity, abstract thinking, and empathy. Many who followed the theme in schools and colleges became professionals excelled in their art, businessmen and intellectually motivated laypeople.
In learning mathematics, geometry stands out as particularly important because the subject invigorates the mind to think deductively and imaginatively in understanding spatial relationships. Unlike in arithmetic and elementary algebra, where the problem-solving strategy proceeds with a set of operations, in geometry the student concentrates deeply looking at a sketch drawn on paper – a different kind of brain stimulating exercise.
The book Elements of Geometry by S Barnard and J M Child, widely used in Britain and our schools since the early 1900s, states geometry is the science of space and deals with shapes, sizes and positions of things. The definition agrees with the more modern view that geometry, though abstract, is essentially a study of the nature of physical space and has cosmological implications.
Virtues of learning geometry
Whatever you plan to do, geometry is invaluably relevant, directly or indirectly. Exposure to the subject influences the mindset beneficially to tackle problems beyond mathematics. So many renowned men and women have commented on the virtues of geometry.
Plato said, “Experience proves anyone who has studied geometry is infinitely quicker at grasping difficult subjects than one who has not. He attached so much importance to geometry, inscribing on the entrance to his academy the phrase “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter”.
Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab historian and philosopher, said “Geometry enlightens the mind and sets the mind right. All proofs are very clear and orderly and errors would not enter into geometrical reasoning. Thus, a mind that constantly applies itself to geometry is unlikely to fall into error. In this way, a person who knows geometry acquires intelligence.”
American poetess Rita Dove wrote, “I prove a theorem, house expands”.
The columnist Marlin Savant, once hailed as the world’s smartest woman, having the highest recorded IQ, wrote, “Geometry is beautifully logical, and teaches you how to think and prove things step by step. Proofs are excellent lessons in reasoning. Without logical reasoning, you are dependent on jumping to conclusions – or – worse, having empty opinions”.
The British entrepreneur and philanthropist, Dill Faulkes, describes geometry as the surest and clearest way of thinking available to us.
History of Geometry
The history of geometry tells how profoundly the discipline influenced human thinking. Geometrical ideas originated in Egypt and Babylonia as methods of measuring the extents of agricultural land. Perhaps independently in Sri Lanka as well, after initial Indian influence. Our ancient irrigation systems, monuments of rich architecture, and stupas could not be built without a practical knowledge of geometry.
Greeks looked at the subject in the spirit of abstractness, revolutionising the line of human inquiry. If they also continued to adopt geometry in the same way as Egyptians, Babylonians and Sri Lankans did, confining it only to practical uses, there wouldn’t be a modern technology.
Early Greek philosophers indulged in geometry, believing it is divine and inherent. Plato, having noted that perfect geometrical figures cannot be drawn, said they exist in a higher spiritual realm, and a man can retrieve their properties instinctively. In one of his discourses, Plato states, Socrates did an experiment to prove the point by telling an ignorant slave boy to draw a square double in area compared to one he sketched on muddy ground with a stick. The boy did it wrong in the first instance, but with a little help from Socrates, he instinctively recollected the Pythagoras theorem (both Plato and Socrates were followers of Pythagoras who lived earlier) and solved the problem. Plato’s bias to his opinion is obvious, and the experiment he attributes to Socrates may be fictitious. Nevertheless, the story shows how deep were the European philosophers, in their endeavors to fathom abstract fundamentals, paving the way for the West to dominate the world scientifically, technologically, and therefore economically.
The next bold step that enlightened geometry, radically influencing all branches of mathematics and philosophical contemplation, was the work of the Greek geometer and logician Euclid, who lived in Alexandria. He did not attribute geometry to the realm of spirituality or an inherent instinct of humans, but built its theory on the basis of a few axioms written below, taken as self-evident truths.
1. Two points are connectable by a straight line.
2. A straight-line can be extended indefinitely.
3. A circle may be drawn with any radius and an arbitrary center.
4. All right angles are equal.
5. If a straight-line intersect two other straight-lines in such a way the sum of inner angles of on one side is less than two right angles, two lines will inevitably intersect when extended in that direction.
Using the above axioms, Euclid logically deduced important properties of triangles, circles and other geometrical figures as theorems. The fifth axiom, the so-called parallel postulate, remained controversial for more than 2000 years. Mathematicians tried hard to prove it using other axioms. Finally, the impossibility of proving the assertion was understood. Many important theorems in geometry, such as the equality of the sum of three angles in a triangle to two right angles and the Pythagoras theorem, are consequences of the parallel postulate. Mathematicians in India and China knew the property of right-angled triangles attributed to Pythagoras. However, Euclid’s proof of the theorem using the parallel postulate shocked mathematicians of antiquity.
A new chapter in geometry was opened after realizing the independence of the fifth axiom. German mathematicians, Friedrich Gauss and Bernhard Riemann showed other consistent geometries exist, corresponding to figures drawn on curved surfaces. And Pythagoras Theorem is not an absolute truth but a consequence of the parallel postulate. These developments motivated Albert Einstein to formulate the general theory of relativity.
Euclid’s art of argument, making few assumptions identified as self-evident truths and logical reasoning based upon them, finds applicability and validity in affairs beyond mathematics and science. Many things you and I do depend on certain assumptions.
Examine assumptions carefully to see whether they are consistent, deduce consequences logically, and then proceed.
Abraham Lincoln, in his speeches, clearly identified assumptions, justified them as natural truths and argued logically to validate a point. After listening to a speech by Abraham Lincoln, a man asked him how he acquired such an amazing oratorical skill in presenting ideas and arguing consistently. Lincoln said, when other lawyers were sleeping and snoring, he lit a candle near the pillow and read six volumes of Euclid.
Mahatma Gandhi frequently made references to geometry in clarifying arguments. In one of his writings, Mahatma says, Euclid’s straight-line exists only in imagination, never capable of being drawn. Nevertheless, it is an important definition in geometry, yielding great results. So may a perfect bramachari exist only in imagination? But if we did not keep him constantly before the mind’s eye, we would be like a rudderless ship. The nearer the approach to the imaginary state, greater the perfection.
Teaching Geometry: Education and Science Policy Reforms
Since the time of Plato, geometry has been an integral part of academic instruction. Before Christian schools were started in the 1800s, geometry was taught only in universities. Later, these institutions demanded higher qualifications in mathematics with geometry for enrollment. Thereafter, the educationists’ world-wide emphasized formal exposure to geometry, an essential prerequisite in completing secondary level education.
Until the Education Department’s curriculum reforms were implemented in the late 1980s, Sri Lanka followed the same concept, teaching geometry as a separate subject in the 8th grade and after – largely a continuation of the school mathematics curriculum introduced by the British in the early 1900s. In those days, the Ordinary Level (OL) Mathematics, students had to sit for a separate geometry paper. Later, the geometry component in our high school mathematics syllabus was reduced, perhaps to accommodate things considered being more important in commerce and technological studies. Today, teachers and students pay less attention to geometry and concentrate on areas more straightforward in learning.
Recently, Sri Lanka, Department of Education reported that in the OL Mathematics Examination, the majority of students do not select geometry questions, and those who attempt them often give erroneous answers. Sometimes teachers advise their students to omit geometry, telling them, questions in the area are hard. Now we have a generation of mathematics teachers who neglected geometry in their school days.
The repercussions of the deficiency in teaching geometry during the past three decades have probably gone beyond OL exam performance and may account for our weaknesses in intellectual pursuits, technological innovations, and the inability to adopt an evidence-based approach in solving problems.
The poor performance in geometry can be rectified by adding more explanatory material to the OL syllabus and devoting more time to teaching. Unless the subject is made compulsory by revising the examination structure, the tendency of the teachers and students to neglect the section will continue. Furthermore, the subject should be made interesting to the students, highlighting its importance and history. Isaac Newton’s assistant has said that he witnessed the great man laugh only once when, someone asked him whether geometry has any use. Why not tell this to the students? The teachers should also tell the students, mastering geometry requires sustained mental concentration. Swami Vivekananda, a vocal advocate of the powers of concentration, said, “Just two or three days before the entrance examination, I found that I hardly knew anything of geometry. So I began to study the subject, keeping awake the whole night, and in twenty-four hours I mastered four chapters in the geometry book”.
At a time when Sri Lanka plans to propose educational reforms, to divert the human resource towards technological innovations and commercial ventures, it is prudent to note what the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, said when he visited the 11th grade mathematics class in a science oriented college in Moscow 2021. Having noted that the students were attempting to answer a problem in business, he asked, “Why do you guys work on business projects in school?” Here you need to gain fundamental knowledge, and gave them a stunning problem in geometry to solve.
The message the Russian Prime Minister conveyed is clear. In schools and universities, students have to be exposed to the fundamentals to sharpen the mind and nurture creativity. With that experience, they are better equipped to specialize and deliver innovations. If fundamentals are omitted to accommodate more technological and business courses, the outcome will be counterproductive. We jump into technological fashions that emerge from time to time – biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology and now artificial intelligence – believing they would deliver marketable products immediately. Yet the fruits of these efforts originate elsewhere, mostly in Europe and the United States of America, where schools and universities emphasize fundamental science. Teach geometry to boost the natural intelligence of our children, before embarking on artificial intelligence! For a student to enter the field of artificial intelligence and compete, he or she needs to acquire in-depth knowledge in several branches of mathematics. It is true that just like in information technology, the subject of artificial intelligence can be pursued without extra brilliance and advanced mathematical preparation. However, to make a mark and compete, those qualities are essential.
Shyness to undertake fundamental studies
The neglect of geometry is one example of our shyness to undertake intellectually challenging fundamental areas of inquiry. What the Russian Prime Minister told the mathematics class, giving a problem in geometry, is also a reminder to research institutions devoted to fundamental research. They should pursue the mandated theme without gross deviations, adulteration, or engaging in commercialization trivialities. All major innovations that pushed the West to the forefront had been curiosity driven investigations. Intellectual fantasy and dreaming and working on challenging problems, not necessarily yielding immediate results, is more important than writing papers for the purpose of getting them printed in journals.
We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’.
Educational curricula and science policy reformers should keep in mind that downgrading or elimination of topics engendering qualities of abstract thinking, imagination, and empathy will lead to disastrous consequences, now beginning to be seen above Sri Lanka’s societal horizon. Bringing in reforms to accommodate technologically oriented programs curtailing the fundamentals would be ineffective. We are not competitive in technology and continue to be poor in innovations. We don’t engage in advanced frontier research, once confined to the West, but now pursued eagerly elsewhere in our region. The country doesn’t produce sufficient numbers of original thinkers, productive scientists, entrepreneurs, and knowledgeable administrators. In many situations, myth overtakes rationality, and social values are on the decline.
Our students are clever and talented. Their weakness in geometry and generating innovations is not their fault, but our wrong policies continuing for decades.We need policies that will qualify our students to enter ‘Plato’s Academy’ and our teachers and researchers to be men and women of the caliber to engage ‘there’ as philosopher mentors.
The author can be reached via email:email@example.com
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis: Finding peaceful, equitable and sustainable way out
By Siri Hettige,
Emeritus Professor of Sociology,
University of Colombo
I wish to begin this article with a very broad assertion, namely, Sri Lanka’s present economic crisis is the result of a series of deliberate and short- sighted policy measures taken by post-liberalisation regimes since 1977. These policy measures led to not only structural changes in the economy but also far reaching changes in many other sectors such as education, health, transport and social welfare. As regards the economic changes, the trends have been quite clear. To understand this, one only has to follow the changes in the macroeconomic indicators over the last four decades.
If we first look at the structural changes brought about by liberalisation policies, it was quite clear that the service sector expanded rapidly, often at the expense of industrial and agricultural sectors leading to a widening trade gap as imports of industrial and even agricultural commodities increased steadily, far exceeding the value of exports. But, instead of addressing the emergent structural distortions of the economy, successive governments promoted export of labor and tourism as a way of earning foreign income to pay for rapidly increasing industrial and other goods Imported to the country.
Increasing availability of foreign exchange from worker remittances and tourism not only helped bridge the otherwise widening trade gap but also pay for all sorts of consumer goods demanded buy the increasingly affluent sections of the population. The expansion of this class was facilitated by low tax regimes maintained by successive governments. Increasing disposable incomes of a sizable segment of the population also increased the demand for private services in health, transport and education. And this led to the opening up of these sectors for private investment resulting in the proliferation of private health care providers, international schools in and around Colombo and Importation of hundreds of thousands of private vehicles.
The above developments contributed to unprecedented inequalities in the areas of health, education and passenger transport, all of which hitherto remained mostly publicly provided services. Inequality became clearly evident in all these sectors but post- liberalisation regimes failed to do anything significant to contain increasingly visible inequalities not only in household income but also the widening gap between urban and rural/estate sectors.
The failure of the post-1977 regimes to contain growing income inequality by implementing a progressive taxation policy led to decreasing state revenue, making it impossible to allocate adequate resources to publicly provided health, education and transport services. Poor quality of these services in turn created highly unequal life chances for lower income groups in society. For instance, poor educational facilities in rural and estate areas forced parents to pay for private tuition that emerged as a thriving business in all parts of the country. Poorly funded and crowded public transport services forced even many low-income people to buy transport equipment like imported motor cycles and three-wheelers to have more convenient modes of local transport, not to mention hundreds of thousands of all sorts of motor cars imported for the use of higher income groups. The same sort of development was also evident in the health sector when private provision of health care became an integral part of the health sector in Sri Lanka.
increasing cost of living as a consequence of the above developments encouraged more and more people including young men and women to migrate overseas for extended periods of employment and this helped many families to earn supplementary incomes not only to cover their day to day consumption but also to save money for children’s education, buy land, build houses, etc. But such economic gains came with considerable social costs such as the neglect of small children, break up of families and even the spread of alcohol abuse by men. Yet, increasing remittances soon became the biggest single foreign exchange earner for the country, often over 7 billion USD per year. On the other hand, increasing outflow of labor from rural and estate areas for overseas employment led to increasing costs of agricultural labor making small scale agriculture unviable, often resulting in the abandonment of many small parcels of agricultural land by farmers resulting in a decline in agriculture production and related livelihoods.
Despite social costs of labour migration, increasing worker remittances became a blessing in disguise for successive governments. In fact, populist governments began to label migrant workers as “Rata Viruwo” (“Oversees heroes”). following the equally adulatory term “Rana Viruwo” used for security service personnel fighting in the war in the north and east of the country. Availability of foreign currency earned by migrant workers enabled the governments and private companies to pay for all sorts of imports demanded by consumers, in particular those who purchased all kinds of motor cars and electrical appliances.
In spite of largely consumption driven economic growth, state revenue continued to remain low as a proportion of the GDP. In fact, state revenue declined from about 20% of GDP in the mid 1970’s to about 8% to 10% of GDP in recent years. Implications of this became so obvious when university academics asked the government to allocate 6% of the GDP for education alone. While this was obviously an impossible proposition, public investment in education had declined to about 1.5% of the GDP. In fact, this was a small fraction of what many countries, even in the Asian region invested in public education in recent decades.
The result of a very low level of public investment in education has had serious consequences for the education sector. Well to do families began to move their children from government schools to international schools that proliferated in urban areas alongside well-equipped private schools. Poorer families had no choice but rely on poorly endowed schools for their children’s education. In short, providing equal opportunities to all children and youth became an impossibility within a highly unequal education system. The situation in the health and transport sectors has not been any better than in education.
As it is evident from what is outlined above, the economic and social conditions that emerged following the implementation of neoliberal policies over the last several decades have not been equitable, just or sustainable. In fact, the conditions became worse over the last two decades when the populist regimes that came to power did not seem to care about the emerging vulnerabilities of the Sri Lankan economy due to its serious structural distortions and weaknesses. Moreover, when the public funds raised through commercial borrowings were diverted into infrastructure projects that often did not have any prospect of generating an economic return, public debts became a very serious issue that needed urgent attention. Yet, what followed was even worse when authorities began to rely on commercial borrowings to raise public funds to support government expenditure and this eventually led to high inflation imposing a heavy burden on lower income groups in the country.
The developments outlined above eventually prepared the ground for the unprecedented economic crisis when the foreign debts accumulated over several decades could no longer be serviced, resulting in the declaration of bankruptcy in early 2022.
Based on the above discussion, it can be concluded that the path to the present economic crisis was laid by shortsighted policies adopted by successive governments with callous disregard for the serious adverse effects of such policies on a large majority of people. But, what is equally important to note is that there are no political leaders and others to take responsibility for the obvious policy failures. On the other hand, the country cannot move forward, beyond the present crisis, unless a genuine national effort is made to not only agree on what went wrong but also come up with an alternative policy framework to guide desirable policy shifts and necessary institutional reforms at all levels.
Land where ‘boo’ is a crime
On Tuesday March 28, The Island editor as is his way, struck the nail on its damn head and fearlessly made his point. He wrote: “The efficiency of the police is truly amazing,” and then added the damper: “the only problem being that it is selective.” This selectivity seems to be worsening. During the weekend their Brownie points with the government was secured at the expense of a lone person who involuntarily, we are sure, his bitter anger overcoming him, dared boo at the passing Minister Bandula Gunawardana. The many khaki Johnnies escorting the said Minister flashed into action, chased that poor guy and arrested him.
We remember the little girl who, to continue her schooling and save herself from being exposed and taunted as poor, stole three coconuts to sell to get the money she had to take to school; her sensitivity realising her mother was too poor to give her the much-needed amount. She was arrested by the police and remanded in their custody. Fortunately, word got around and the girl was rescued by someone with clout intervening.
This super efficiency in the face of murders being committed under their very noses, who knows with whose help, a harmless sportsman Thajudeen was tortured and then killed; trussed up in the seat adjoining the driver’s seat in his car pushed to crash against a wall and burst into flames, burning him to cinders and all evidence. The fire did not ignite. The case came to the very end of catching the movers and murderers and givers of orders and then poof! The case evaporared as evidence had been made to disappear by, they said, certain police officer/s. Similar with the brutal killing of Lasantha W. In these cases, and many such, the police and armed forces personnel involved are not in the public’s memory; it’s the VVIPs who are suspected of giving orders. This small fry Cassandra with a strong power of remembering may be vapourised, but the People know, remember, and may very well extract retribution since waiting for Fate or Karma to do the job takes too long.
Why on earth take notice of a boo, the tooting of a horn, the throwing of a rotten egg or overripe tomato? Such voice users and missile wielders should be thanked since much worse could be shouted out, or thrown. The patience of the masses is most often limitless; justified searing anger and galling resentment are held in check. Politicians should be thankful for this forbearance of the general public.
Across the Palk Strait
Similar to this is an event that unfolded recently in India. Resembles somewhat what happened to Ranjan Ramanayake.Poor Rahul Gandhi, MP and leader of the Congress Party and perchance a future PM of the subcontinent, has been served a two-year term of imprisonment. His crime, which one would think serious, is merely voicing a single sentence which could be taken as harmless, heard now forgotten the next moment. But no, on orders from above, the sentence he proclaimed in 2019, yes as long ago as that, said at a campaign gathering has come home to roost on orders from high up for sure. However, one wonders whether it is the police who are so perturbed with the target of the insult, unconcerned. Maybe India’s security police are also selectively over- efficient as ours is. Gandhi is accused of saying that those with the name Modi are thieves. Heinous? Not at all! Slanderous? No! Defamatory? Could be but also may not be so classified. But his saying it has brought PM Modi to the picture and over there too, it seems to be a case of pleasing, sycophantic loyalty etc.
Gandhi is given time to appeal and may go free or may, if incarcerated, gain sympathy votes for his party. He will not be able to contest the forthcoming Congress leadership election nor national elections. This last mentioned in an article Cass read means that the Lok Sabha in New Delhi does not allow those accused of crimes to enter its portals. So different over here. How many convicted of serious bribe taking, corruption, stealing, drug dealing and even rape and murder are our MPs in the House by the Diyawanne, and living off the little fat left in the land.
No to interference with justice system
Israel is in spasms of mass uprisings against the judicial reforms proposed by the government of recently re-elected PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The Star of David flag waving protests started on January 7 in Tel Aviv, spread to various locations and are masses now. The newly-appointed Justice Minister proposed judicial reforms and curtailing the power of the Supreme Court and also sought more places for govt. in the committees appointing judges. As BBC reported on Tuesday March 28, Netanyahu and his government are reconsidering the reforms.
The Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, disagreed with the move and made known his opposition. Netanyahu promptly dismissed him which caused resignation of Israeli bigwigs like the ambassador to the US.
Cassandra has a purpose in bringing this piece of world news into her chat this Friday. Netanyahu is not the whitest of politicians, not at all. So grey and even black are many of our leaders, stained with crimes of amassing wealth and also eliminating foes and challengers to them. The Israelis attempted interfering with the judiciary and wanting more say in matters judicial. So similar to over here. Remember Chief Justice Dr, Shirani Bandranaike and how she was demeaned and grossly insulted in the Parliament premises by Rajapaksa stooges who still wield power and pontificate endlessly. Recently, wasn’t there a move to summon SC Judges to Parliament? For questioning? Attorney-at –law Prez Ranil W was the mover of this plan, his hand probably puppet-stringed. It could also very well be that he decided on his own. Attorneys at law have been protesting.
Dissimilarities appear in the matter in Israel and how things pertain in SL. They are thinking twice about the reforms and taking due note of protests. Over here strong-arm tactics and the PTA are used. Seen on TV was containing the Israeli protestors by the police with mild water cannoning and no mass temporary blinding and chocking of people, unlike in this paradise gone rotten by the hand of politicians and their vassals. The tear gas used here is not to just temporarily affect the eyes but to harm eyes and nose, lungs and life itself. And we pride ourselves as such a pacifist, democratic country!
The Island editor on Wednesday March 29 reminded his readership that ex-Prez M Sirisena is still hopeful and awaiting answers to his call for help in paying the 100 m fine imposed on him for negligence in preventing the Easter Sunday bombings and mass loss of life and serious injury. MS aka Aiyo Sirisena sure is presumptuously optimistic, stupid and dull-witted to think any Sri Lankan will contribute to save him from imprisonment. He sure must be having plenty lucre as almost all our dubious politicians have amassed. If he was scrupulously honest and has no money to spare, his brother Dudley can bail him out many times over. People were shocked by his – MS’s – changing sides but they hoot now at his SOS and methinks, wait to see him in the place he deserves to be! Bye for now, says Cassandra!
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