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Covid, poverty, and hope for Sri Lanka



Covid pandemic has had a devastating effect on the economy of all countries, including the very rich. As a result, ninety-five million people have been newly brought below the extreme poverty line of USD 3.20 in 2020, and this may increase to 150 million by the end of 2021 (World Bank). In Sri Lanka 8.9% of people were below the extreme poverty line in 2019, and this is expected to rise to 13% in 2021. This means there will be 890,000 newly poor people that need to be reckoned with in the efforts to alleviate poverty. Moreover, this figure represents a five-year reversal of the poverty alleviation effort. A huge effort would be required to recover from this setback.

In 2019 the global extreme poverty figure was 650 million, and was expected to improve gradually with extensive welfare measures, but today the pattern is quite different. This figure may increase by about 5% at end of 2021. Income inequality will worsen in spite of global economic growth, which is expected to be about 6% in 2021. What this means is many countries are reluctant to adopt welfare measures to help the poor. The pandemic has helped the rich, while the poor were left to fend for themselves. No wonder a US Covid patient said “it’s a poor man’s virus”. The situation may improve for some, like the very quick V recovery in China, but for many, including people in the Western countries, there would be permanent scars such as malnutrition, susceptibility to disease, missed schooling.

Sri Lanka does not come within the first ten countries that have the most number of extreme poor people. Nigeria is number one in this respect and India is second, but the latter is expected to displace the former as the frontrunner due to the massive Covid wave that engulfed it recently. Among these ten are some noteworthy Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Philippines too. However, none of these Asian countries are within the ten countries that are expected to have the deepest long lasting effects of Covid. They are expected to recover to some degree. It is the African countries that are worst affected in this respect.

The Covid pandemic has killed 2.9 million people in the world to date, and the numbers would rise to more than 3.5 million by the time sufficient numbers are vaccinated and the virus eradicated. The deaths had been mainly in India, the US and Brazil. Death rate had been minimal in the country where it started and the country with the largest population, which by any standard is the greatest achievement in recent times. The quick V recovery China achieved in the economic sector is remarkable. China will contribute 1/5th of the global GDP recovery which may happen by 2026. During these five years Chinese GDP would grow by 6%. It would be the number one economy in the world, followed by the US, India, Japan and Germany in that order.

Thus, it is a good time to have China by one’s side! Sri Lanka is under an avalanche of natural as well as man-made disasters. There is the Covid, then there were the floods and storms, and there was the burning ship spewing poison into the ocean. The Western countries are passing resolutions against us in the UN, and the US is trying to resurrect the banned LTTE, in their effort to get us to fall in line and do their bidding like signing the MCC. SOFA and ACSA. Our economy is in doldrums. Can we be choosy regarding whom to turn to in this hour of great peril? Although the duty of the Opposition is to oppose every action of the Government, it cannot at this hour of need refrain from attacking the government on vital issues, unless the government is doing something very wrong. The Colombo Port City project is vital for us at this juncture. It is the only hope we have for survival. The Opposition could help the government on this matter by not making it too much of a political issue. Calling Colombo Port City a colony of China is uncalled for, and not acceptable from a responsible Opposition, which must demonstrate some respect for our benefactors.

What could be done to prevent Sri Lanka sliding further down the slippery slope? It could learn from Pakistan what they are doing to stay afloat. Pakistan has started a massive drive to transfer cash to the poor. They are using modern communication methods to find the needy and give them money to ward off extreme poverty. Pakistan, under advice of the World Bank, distributes cash among the poor people in substantial amounts. This is one way of not only preventing poverty, but also income inequality to some extent, and minimise the effects of Covid. Sri Lanka too helps the poor people during lockdown times. Perhaps it could do more to look after the poor and the vulnerable.

The IMF representative in Sri Lanka has advised the Government on what it should do to minimise the effect of Covid on the people. Apart from looking after the poor, it has recommended the Government to invest more in agriculture and improve food security of the country. Sri Lanka must aim at self-sufficiency in essential food items. This certainly may not be the time to attempt to convert to organic fertiliser. It could result in a substantial food shortage, and our poor economy may not allow large imports of rice and other essential foods, including vegetables that are grown locally.

The IMF has also recommended greater investment in people, particularly their health and nutrition and education. This is rare advice from the IMF, which usually relies on market forces to sort things out. Perhaps the unique situation created by the Covid has made it change its attitude towards the poor countries.

The other thing that the Government must do in earnest, is the vaccination of the people as quickly as possible. Other preventive measures provide temporary protection and lockdowns cannot be a long-term solution. In this regard too, it is China which could come to our rescue. Sino Pharm and SinoVac are both effective against most of the variants, and could prevent serious illness and death in 100% of cases. Government must aim to vaccinate at least 30% of people before it removes travel restrictions. There would be an adverse impact on the economy, but recovery would be quick and long-term effects of Covid would be minimised.



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MPs can show their colours



I refer to this article, ‘Covid bonanza for….’ by Shamnidra Ferdinando.

It was obvious that the LC could not easily be cancelled. It will be interesting to know when the LC was actually opened; before or after Cabinet approval? The answer will be revealing.

Now that the vehicles will come in, come hell or high water with burning ships, there is a simple solution.

If the government is sincere in its intentions to reverse this totally unnecessary expenditure, which the country cannot afford,  scraping the bottom of the vangediya as it is, then the vehicles can be sold in the open market, in a transparent manner and at a profit, too, and the wasted  funds reimbursed to the Treasury. Personally, I know this will not happen, seeing what we are helplessly seeing being enacted in the country yesterday, today and alarmingly, tomorrow, too.

The next best option is for those MPs who oppose this criminal waste of public funds, to work out a method by which they can sell the vehicles presented to them by the starving masses, in a transparent manner and utilise the proceeds again in a transparent manner to uplift the lives of the millions of poor citizens in their electorates.

ACabinet given opportunity for Members of Parliament to show their true, even if highly faded and smudged, colours!



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Gazette Bill in blatant conflict with Constitution



The Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Bill had been gazetted on March 24 after Cabinet approval, and placed in the order paper of Parliament on April 9. Normally, before placing a Bill on the order paper of the Parliament, it goes through the levels of the Legal Draftsman, Attorney General, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet of Ministers.

According to a news item that appeared in the Daily News, on April 27, the Attorney General has informed the Presidential Secretary that the Port City Economic Commission Draft Bill is not inconsistent with the Constitution. But the same Attorney General has advanced the submissions and amendments in court, during the hearing of 18 petitions filed by members of civil society alleging the Bill is inconsistent with the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has found more than one third of its clauses are conflicting with the Constitution – the supreme law of Sri Lanka. Thus, it has been proved the Gazette Bill was in blatant conflict with the Constitution.

High officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Legal Draftsman who are supposed to have been involved in the drafting of this Bill are professionals of recognized capability. They are committed to follow the best practices of their professions and should adhere to standards in procedural manuals and professional codes of conduct and ethics. They are bound by the oath taken by them in line with the Constitution and the accountability of the offices they hold. They also would have been supported by several legal eagles and experienced politicians in the Cabinet.

Citizens are confused as to how on earth such a Bill, in blatant conflict with the Constitution, could have been approved by the Attorney General and be drafted by the Legal Draftsman. 149 Members of Parliament have voted to amend 26 clauses of 75 clauses of the Legal Draftsman’s Bill. This is tantamount to a No Confidence Motion on the Legal Draftsman.


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Probe into expressway construction and floods



The news item appearing in your issue of 10th June, regarding the Expressway Construction and Floods, is of interest to me, as I had handled Road Projects when attached to the then Department of Public Works [PWD] and later the Ministry for Highways.

It’s stated that Minister Johnston Fernando had instructed his Ministry Secretary to investigate immediately, whether there was any truth in the claim that some areas in Gampaha were inundated owing to the construction work, in the first phase of the Central Expressway, from Kadawatha to Mirigama; and continues to say ‘Yahapalana adjustments to the construction master plan may have lead to the present situation’, which could be insinuated as placing the blame on the previous Yahapalana government. This is the usual blame-game adopted by bankrupt politicians. It will not be surprising if the present government will be blamed when a new government is formed, for mismanagement of projects carried out now.

As far as I know, while construction is on, there comes up certain problems, which may necessitate altering or deviating from the original design. Hence the responsibility lies entirely on the Engineer, and not on any politician or government in power. Here the integrity of the Engineer counts. Sad to say, there have been accusations where professionals have given way to political pressure and projects have become failures. I would like to quote Moeller’s theory “One of the major reasons for a country to be subjected to bad governance is when its professionals do not speak out, but worst still, these professionals actually gang up with those committing anarchy for their own benefit. What the professionals do not realize is that in the long term, they too would be subjected to the worst treatment by these despotic dictators whom they were keen to protect. Moeller’s theory being proved time and again consorting with an autocratic regime is a worst act of treason against one’s own country and its people”

To the credit of Minister Johnston Fernando, he also mentions the likelihood of this flooding by saying “We must keep in mind that the highest rainfall in the known history was reported from this area”. Whatever, the findings of the investigations be, the accusation should be taken as fault finding of Engineers, and they should now come forward to protect their prestigious profession and give reasons, which lay, incompetent politicians, do not have the capacity to understand. Hope the Sri Lanka Institute of Engineers will expose the viles of politicians to steer this country in the correct direction. This goes for other professions as well.



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