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Editorial

Cops in distress

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Saturday 3rd April, 2021

These are bad days for Sri Lankan cops. They are either knocked down by speeding contraptions with maniacs at the wheel or harassed by the ruling party political dregs who think no end of themselves.

Sri Lankan politicians love stooges in the public service, where one’s success hinges on one’s ability to lick political boots. They have an antipathy towards upright public officials who tell them what they do not want to hear. Senior Forest Officer Devani Jayathilake has incurred the wrath of the government because she has had the courage to stand up to self-important politicians bent on destroying the environment. ASP Eric Perera, who went above and beyond the call of duty to rid the Wennappuwa area of anti-social activities, and earned public plaudits for his outstanding service, has also got under the skin of a cantankerous government politician.

State Minister Arundika Fernando saw red, the other day, when ASP Perera refused to spare some government backers on the wrong side of the law. Having transferred ASP Perera, the government is now in the same predicament as the proverbial cat which eased itself on a rock and strove to cover its waste, in vain. Disturbing reports from Wennappuwa prove that the SLPP is sponsoring anti-social elements while claiming to be on a campaign to restore the rule of law.

ASP Perera is a battle-scarred STF commando, who fearlessly took on the ferocious Tigers, and, therefore, may not have given too hoots about Fernando’s barks although other police officers grovel before even local government politicians. But trouble is far from over for the intrepid cop. Politicians are like hyenas or wild dogs; they are unforgiving pack hunters. Hence the need for the media and civil society outfits to circle their wagons and remain ever vigilant to ensure that ASP Perera will not be hounded out of his job.

Meanwhile, buckets of crocodile tears are being shed for the courageous cop in distress. The SJB, while condemning ASP Perera’s transfer, has sought to explain his predicament in the light of some deplorable constitutional reforms the incumbent government has introduced; it says the current situation has come about as the 20th Amendment to the Constitution (20-A) has done away with the constitutional safeguards the 19th Amendment put in place to ensure the independence of the police. This argument is not without some merit, but the SJB has oversimplified the issue at hand.

True, the 19-A had some progressive features, and should not have deep-sixed. The present government should have amended it instead of replacing it with the draconian 20-A, which is antithetical to democracy. The popularly elected President should be able to hold the defence portfolio as he is responsible for national security, but he/she must not be given too much power.

Nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that the 19-A ensured the independence of the public institutions including the police. It was enacted in 2015, but the following year the then IGP Pujith Jayasundera was caught on camera, unflinchingly giving an assurance, over his mobile phone, to a politician he reverentially called ‘Sir’ that a custodian of a certain devale would not be arrested. This conversation took place while Jayasundera was addressing a police event! Given the Police Chief’s toe-curling subservience to the political authority, it was not difficult to guess how servile his subordinates were. It has now been revealed that decisions to make controversial arrests, during the yahapalana government, were taken by a group of politicians who met at Temple Trees, and the police only carried them out. So much for the independence of the police guaranteed by the 19-A!

Mere constitutional provisions cannot make the police or any other state institution independent. The law and reality are two different things. The Constitution says sovereignty resides in the people, but reality is otherwise. The same goes for various rights guaranteed by the supreme law; the people cannot exercise them without let or hindrance.

What has ruined the state service is not any lack of laws as such, but the rotten political culture, where those in power can do anything and get away with it. People keep replacing one set of political dregs with another at elections in the hope that their lot will improve only to be disappointed. Something drastic needs to be done about the culture of impunity which politicians of all hues benefit from when in power.

The SJB leaders were in the yahapalana government, which had the police under its thumb while flaunting the 19-A. It is heartening that they have taken up the cudgels for the beleaguered ASP and others. But they have done so to gain political mileage and not out of any love for the victims. They should have championed the rights of officers in distress while they were in power as well.

The government has unveiled a grand plan to create a disciplined society. It has to impose discipline on its parliamentary group first, and lead by example. Let it be urged to leave ASP Perera alone and keep the likes of State Minister Fernando on a tight leash instead.

 

 



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Editorial

Mendicancy, rhetoric and sovereignty

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Monday 17th May, 2021

Much is being spoken about Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence, these days, owing to the controversial Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill, scheduled to be taken up in Parliament shortly. We are not short of political leaders who never miss an opportunity to wrap themselves in the flag and declare their readiness even to lay down their dear lives for the sake of the country. While this kind display of patriotism is on, the Attorney General’s Department last week inaugurated a training centre and launched an electronic system to trace cases and legal files, as we reported on Saturday. Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC, has described the project, carried out with US support, as ‘another first in the 136-year history of the AG’s Department’. What have the patriots in both the government and the Opposition been doing all these years? They boast of having made a tremendous contribution to national progress, but the AG’s Department cannot have a training centre and a tracking system set up without foreign help!

US assistance at issue will, no doubt, go a long way towards helping the AG’s Department function efficiently, and should, therefore, be appreciated. But the question is whether the US taxpayer should be made to bear the cost of such projects here while the so-called leaders of Sri Lanka are wasting public funds, amassing wealth and living in clover. Their super luxury vehicle fleets alone have cost the state coffers billions of rupees, and the funds for the entire AG’s Department project could easily have been raised if a couple of their V-8s had been auctioned.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as a free lunch, especially when it comes to financial assistance from countries such as the US and China. Not even commercial loans are free from strings if the constricting aid conditions the internal lending agencies impose on this country are any indication. Hence the need for the State with a bunch of self-declared patriots at the levers of power to bear the costs of vital projects at least in crucial sectors such as justice.

The present-day Sri Lankan leaders, wearing their brand of patriotism on the sleeve, find themselves in a huge contradiction. They condemn the US, at every turn, for meddling with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs and telling them how to handle alleged atrocities during the final phase of Eelam war IV in 2009. They are also opposing the ACSA (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement) and SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) tooth and nail as a Trojan horse from the US, but they have had no qualms about being servilely dependent on US funds for a project, which, Washington says, will ‘strengthen the ability of justice sector professionals to uphold the rule of law in Sri Lanka’.

Are the Sri Lankan leaders genuinely interested in promoting any project aimed at upholding the rule of law? If the rule of law is ever restored, how can they remain above the law and help the lower-rung lawbreakers, including killers and fraudsters in the garb of MPs, give Justitia the slip? Several rogues have already got away with their crimes by virtue of being in power.

Attorney General de Livera has said the aforesaid US-funded project is a notable, salutary achievement that meets a long-felt need for continuous learning and professional development, and will drive his department ‘from strength to strength’. If only that task had been accomplished with Sri Lanka’s own funds.

Computers used in Parliament have been sponsored by China, whose interests the current government is all out to further, through the Port City Bill, which the Opposition has condemned as a total sell-out. (Will Parliament be able to have the polluted Diyawanna lake around it cleaned without foreign assistance?)

In the House, the MPs often bellow anti-Chinese or anti-American rhetoric with gusto and call for safeguarding the country’s sovereignty and independence! One wonders why on earth these shameless worthies who have taken turns to ruin the economy and line their pockets with public funds should have their clothes on when they go ballistic, berating foreign forces that, they say, are bent on jeopardising the interests of this country.

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Editorial

Unmasked by virus

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Saturday 15th May, 2021

Coronavirus has both masked and unmasked the world, paradoxical as it may sound. It has frightened all humans into masking up and laid bare the true nature of global powers. The pandemic situation has somewhat improved in the rich countries, at long last, thanks to aggressive vaccination drives, but Covid-19 is surging in other parts of the world for want of vaccines, resources and proper political leadership, among other things.

International human rights organisations have expressed serious concern about the plight of the voiceless amidst the global health emergency. Amnesty International (AI) has called upon all States to remain focused on protecting the human rights of the marginalised and vulnerable groups at high risk, such as daily wage earners, prisoners, refugees and the internally displaced. Even when there are no health crises, the aforesaid sections of society, especially in the developing world, find themselves at a disadvantage; their voices and grievances go unheeded. They face a double whammy when health crises occur. The interventions of international human rights groups to have the rights and interests of the voiceless safeguarded are, therefore, most welcome. But these influential outfits must also address issues such as the inequitable vaccine distribution in the world, and the developed nations’ vaccine nationalism, which has put paid to the World Health Organization’s efforts to carry out an effective inoculation campaign across the world to achieve global herd immunity, the be-all-and end-all of humankind’s desperate fight against the pandemic.

Coronavirus seems to have iconoclastic tendencies, as it were; it has done to the so-called brand Modi what the entire Indian Opposition has failed to, all these years. Having totally mishandled the pandemic situation, PM Narendra Modi is struggling to shore up his image vis-à-vis the upsurge of Covid-19 and the failure on the part of his government to protect citizens, who are dying in large numbers. Coronavirus also brought the then US President Donald Trump, who thought no end of himself, down a peg or two, and has exposed leaders in several other countries, too, for what they really are––pathetic failures.

The developed world, which has taken upon itself the task of protecting human rights across the world and even bombs developing countries back into the Stone Age purportedly for that purpose, stands exposed for its hypocrisy. It has chosen to ignore the piteous appeals from other pandemic-hit nations for assistance and, worse, hoarded vaccines while tens of thousands of people are dying elsewhere. The pandemic situation in India would not have been so bad if the developed countries had responded to its appeal for jabs or vaccine raw materials.

AI has called upon the international community to fulfil its human rights obligations as regards cooperation and assistance by providing ‘lifesaving medical tools and removing legal uncertainties and barriers that may impede the production and supply of vaccines as the disease continues to ravage the region’. Its concerns and appeals on behalf of the poor nations should be appreciated, but mere words will not do.

The human rights outfits that bludgeon the developing countries at the drop of a hat out to mete out the same treatment to the rich nations that hoard vaccines and, thereby, endanger the lives of people elsewhere. UNICEF has urged the UK to share a part of its vaccine stockpiles with other nations. The US has pledged to part with 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, but its much-advertised promise is far from fulfilled. One main reason why the world is short of vaccine doses is that the rich countries maintain huge stocks thereof. The US does not use the AstraZeneca vaccine, but maintains massive stocks of the jab while other countries such as its Quad partner, India, are crying out for help. Let it be repeated that thousands of lives in India could have been saved if the US had lifted the ban on the export of vaccine raw materials and released the spare vaccine stocks in response to New Delhi’s appeal several weeks ago.

The task before the international human rights organisations such as AI is to crank up pressure on the developed world to respect the most sacred of all human rights—the right to life—by parting with a fraction of its vaccine stockpiles, not as charity but at affordable prices.

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Editorial

Syrup in mouth and egg on face

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Friday 14th May, 2021

The incumbent government always finds itself up the creek, so to speak, by trying to delay the inevitable and defend the indefensible. The explosive spread of Covid-19, which has led to the current lockdowns, came about as the ruling politicians played politics with the pandemic prevention measures and baulked at imposing travel restrictions in April. Pressure is now mounting on the government from doctors to impose a quarantine curfew as the pandemic situation is taking a turn for the worse with the death toll increasing rapidly.

As if the current health problems were not enough, some SLPP politicians are trying to justify their campaign to promote the Dhammika peniya as a cure for Covid-19; their efforts have left the government with egg on its face. An expert committee has determined that the shaman’s herbal concoction has no therapeutic value, but State Minister of Indigenous Medicine Promotion, Rural and Ayurvedic Hospitals Development and Community Health, Sisira Jayakody, says he is convinced otherwise!

Most government politicians consider themselves more knowledgeable than doctors. Minister Jayakody cut a very pathetic figure, trying to defend the Dhammika peniya, in a television interview, yesterday. Claiming that the expert committee, which rejected the syrup as useless, had not selected samples thereof properly, he insisted that two physicians at a government hospital had vouched for the efficacy of the concoction and recommended it. He did not name them.

Minister Jayakody took the wily shaman and his peniya to Parliament, of all places, and presented it to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena himself; Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarchchi took a swig of it at a media briefing, thereby endorsing it to all intents and purposes. Thousands of people from different parts of the country converged on a village, where the shaman sold the syrup at Rs. 10,000 a bottle and made a killing! Those who jostled and shoved to secure the syrup must have contracted Covid-19 and caused the formation of peni clusters across the country. This aspect of the shaman’s syrup has gone unnoticed.

Now that Minister Jayakody has publicly stated that two government doctors conducted clinical trials, as regards the Dhammika peniya, at a state-run hospital and recommended it, it is incumbent upon the Health Ministry to initiate an investigation. These doctors have committed a serious offence by testing the shaman’s syrup on patients, endorsing it and misleading the government and the public.

Let Jayakody be made to name the doctors involved in the fraud. The government must explain why no action has been taken to prevent the shaman from continuing to the public into buying his syrup; he is still selling the concoction. Is it that the government has refrained from taking any action against the shaman because some of its politicians are benefiting from his largesse?

 

Vaccine queues

 

The health authorities are trying their best to prevent people from gathering in large numbers and to make them maintain physical distancing, but large crowds can be seen at vaccination centres, where no physical distancing is maintained. There are complaints of inordinate delays and politicians and their supporters jumping the queue, but nobody in authority seems to care.

A mass vaccination drive is no easy task, given the financial and logistical constraints. The frontline health workers conducting the national vaccination programme are overworked, and some lapses on their part are inevitable. But such problems are aggravated when all the people to be vaccinated in a Grama Niladari division are made to rush to their vaccination centre together and wait.

Why should hundreds of people be asked to gather at vaccination centres and stand in winding queues for many hours, exposed to the scorching sun, rain and, above all, the runaway virus, to receive the jab? People to be inoculated in a particular area can be divided into groups and time slots allocated to them so that all of them do not have to rush and wait for long hours.

The vaccination process should be streamlined for the benefit of the public as well as the health workers who are going beyond the call of duty to save lives. Politicians are another problem; they must be prevented from visiting the vaccination centres and becoming a public nuisance.

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