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Opinion

Covid19-The second wave

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BY RAJITHA RATWATTE
fromoutsidethepearl@gmail.com

Well it is here in Aotearoa, the dreaded 2nd wave of the virus. After over 100 days of no infections within the country, a worker in a frozen food import facility has been diagnosed. He has apparently had symptoms since the 31st of July but got tested only on the 6th of August. Now his whole family and a number of contacts have also tested positive. To compound matters this family has travelled on holiday to a number of resort towns in the North Island, and it gets worse, they have visited a relative in an age care facility! One of the Children goes to a school that has 3,000 students. The husband and the wife’s work places have transmissions of the virus, and the school and the age care facility we don’t know about.

These people live in what is considered the poorer areas in the south of Auckland. Judging by this and the type of work done by the husband and wife it is very possible that they belong to a minority race. However, they seem to be rather affluent as the holiday they have enjoyed does not seem to have suffered from financial constraints. The holiday has included visits to museums, art galleries, Thai restaurants, boat trips and of course fast food outlets! Unfortunately, this makes the possibility of a spread of the infection greater. Sometimes, people of the minor races prefer to live among their own people and in areas where the shops and restaurants cater to their tastes and needs. This is no reflection of their financial status.

The news broke to the general populace about 8.30 pm on Tuesday the 11th of August. Auckland which is the main area affected was put into level 3 lockdown. This means no restaurants and bars, only take away food and gathering only within your bubble and a maximum of 10 people. The rest of the country into level 2, which means gatherings of a maximum of 100 people only. All supermarkets and pharmacies are open and only essential workers can go to work. Everyone else works from home. Face masks are advised and social distancing of course, prevails.

An interesting fact is that the genome of this new infection is apparently different to the one that prevailed earlier. The genome of this germ seems to be more closely related to the disease prevalent in the UK. From there we proceed to the question how did this infection start. The initial and logical theory was that the imported frozen food handled by the worker contained the germ. We have no details of this. Accepted facts broadcast regularly on BBC says, this infection can live on plastic and glass for 72 hours and extreme cold or heat cannot kill it.

Meanwhile, Winston Peters the outspoken deputy prime minister and leader of the Maori party has given an interview to Australian Television, saying that he has reliable information that this infection is due to a quarantine violation. We have no further evidence on this either.

The cabinet met again on Friday (15th) afternoon to review the situation and decide how to proceed. The opposition was waiting to pounce. There is general election due soon remember and the opposition looks like they are going to lose on similar lines to that which happened in the Pearl. They are desperate, and they represent the rich white people of NZ. If the lockdown level was increased to a higher level, they would have started screaming about the economic damage. It was a tricky decision, handled beautifully; the present level of lockdown is to remain for a total of two weeks. A review will be done on the 21st of August depending on, if the available data is better or worse than expected, the lockdown level will be increased or reduced.

A great decision I say because now the people know what to expect. If they wish to be foolish and abuse the freedoms available at level 3 and consequently the lockdown level has to be increased, well, it is their problem. The resulting economic damage cannot be blamed on the government. Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry is extending the benefits offered to meet wage payments for affected businesses. It seems they had plans in place and had not spent the full allocation of funds approved. I guess in retrospect and hindsight, it would have been only a miracle that would have stopped the second wave. There will also be increased paid leave available for those who are required to self-isolate.

There are loud requests for the postponement of elections from the opposition as certain immediate defeat is worse that possible later defeat! Governance in these turbulent times makes the possibility of mistakes higher and an opposition waiting on the sidelines to capitalise on mistakes can only benefit. I say postpone the elections and let the opposition live in hope. Because when they lose after all excuses have been removed, it makes the victory sweeter! This is the civilized decision to make and I hope it prevails.

Well, it has been done. The election has been postponed by 4 weeks. The reason given by the PM include the need to have a “safe, accessible and credible” election, an election that “delivers certainty for the future” and an election held in the “best interests of the voter in our democracy”. When delivering this decision, the PM mentioned 3 countries that had held elections without postponement, when “managing” Covid19. Sri Lanka was NOT mentioned!

The total of infections due to this second wave is no 56. All but one has been identified as coming from the one source. The doubtful one is also probably linked to this source, but the patient is in hospital and I guess final confirmation will come when that patient can be approached. The plan is to identify the perimeter of the full cluster in two weeks and if it looks like it can be contained, the level of lockdown will be eased. Testing continues at a furious pace, with a record number of 15 thousand tests being done on the 14th of August.

We are in the last weekend of the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament. The cup has already been won by the South Island based Canterbury Crusaders with a match to spare. However, this weekend game was a complete sell out with over 40 thousand tickets sold for the game between the Crusaders and the Auckland Blues. The Auckland Blues have shown a resurgence of form after many decades, their fans were hoping for great things. Beating the Canterbury side which has now won 3 Super Rugby tournaments in a row was something all of us were looking forward to. This was to be played at Eden Park stadium in Auckland and is now cancelled. Level 3 lockdown does not allow such a large amount of people to gather in one place. In fact, it does not even allow the teams to gather, without spectators!

Most of us went to at least one match and enjoyed some fantastic quality rugby and the atmosphere that goes with a full stadium. Again, we have been luckier than most and should be grateful, here in Aotearoa.

It is “interesting times ahead” for us in Aotearoa and all we can do is stay within the rules and be kind to each other!



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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Opinion

Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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Opinion

Dispelling Misconceptions: Visionary Future of an NPP-led Sri Lanka

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NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake taking part in a protest (file photo)

by Shantha Jayarathne, PhD

In recent discussions, concerns have emerged about the National People’s Power (NPP) in Sri Lanka, with some fearing a return to outdated communist traditions if the party ascends to power. These apprehensions, often fueled by political agendas, particularly target those with limited political literacy. This article aims to dispel these misconceptions and shed light on the NPP’s forward-looking vision for a progressive and prosperous Sri Lanka.

Coalition of Visionaries

Contrary to the narrative peddled by certain factions, it’s essential to recognise that the NPP represents a diverse coalition of 22 parties and civil society organisations, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as its main partner. Importantly, both the NPP and JVP members boast of a commendable track record, free from accusations of corruption, nepotism, or cronyism. Nominations are filed for any election from the NPP under the “Compass” symbol, and contestants with high repute and integrity will be drawn from all 22 constituent parties in the broad coalition.

A Clear Development Roadmap

The NPP has consistently articulated a comprehensive roadmap for the development of Sri Lanka. Emphasising the importance of a thriving Agriculture, Industry, and Service sectors, the party is committed to eliminating barriers hindering investments. Corruption, favouritism, and covert dealings of officials and people with vested interests will be totally eliminated under an NPP government. Furthermore, the NPP pledges to introduce efficient systems, ensuring minimal delays and promoting a business-friendly environment that attracts both local and foreign investors.

Government’s Primary Obligations

Addressing fears of property takeover, the NPP asserts that its government will not engage in business activities but will focus on essential public utility services, education, health, social security, and defence to ensure the well-being and security of the nation. NPP will not only encourage local investments but also it will take all possible measures to attract foreign direct investments. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) facing financial challenges will undergo restructuring with utmost transparency, fostering efficiency and accountability.

Business Friendly Environment

The NPP is dedicated to creating a level playing field for businesses by implementing regulations inspired by the most developed economies. Consistent antitrust laws, investment protection laws, and laws that are inconsistent and complex will be amended or new laws will be enacted to ensure fair competition and safeguard business interests. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and competition, the NPP aims to boost economic growth and prosperity. NPP plans to streamline the systems and process to facilitate investments within the shortest possible timeframe whereby it aims to take Sri Lanka in the Ease of Doing Business Index from 99th position today to a position within the first 50. The Cooperative system will be strengthened in an NPP government and they will be regulated to deliver an effective and efficient service to the periphery.

Transparent Tax Policy

Simplifying Sri Lanka’s tax policy is a priority for the NPP, aiming to create a transparent and tax-friendly environment. NPP will ensure a stable and consistent progressive tax policy in the country, and all regressive taxes will be eliminated. Citizens will be provided with clear information at the end of the Tax Year on how their tax contributions are utilised for public services, promoting accountability and citizen engagement. This transparency is crucial for building trust between the government and its citizens.

Learning from Developed Countries

Taking lessons from successful models of governance in developed countries, an NPP government will strive to implement best practices in public administration. Emphasising the importance of accountable institutions, streamlined bureaucracy, and effective public service delivery, the party is committed to ensuring transparency and efficiency in governance. There will be a minimum number of cabinet ministries for key areas, and their roles and functions will be clearly defined while making the officials accountable to their respective assigned functions. Zero tolerance for corruption and the law of the land will be applied to everyone alike.

Economic Adjustments and IMF Negotiations

Acknowledging the need for economic stability, the NPP plans to initiate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This strategic move aims to strike a balance between economic adjustments and safeguarding the livelihoods of the people in the country. The NPP is dedicated to ensuring that any economic reforms are implemented with a people-centric approach, minimising adverse effects on the general population and the industry.

Nonaligned Foreign Policy

The NPP upholds a nonaligned foreign policy, reflecting a commitment to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. While fostering international relations, the party is resolute in not allowing foreign nations to utilise Sri Lanka’s soil for military purposes. This stance ensures that the country remains neutral and independent in its dealings with other nations, safeguarding national interests and security.

Repositioning Sri Lanka in the World Order

A central tenet of the NPP’s vision is the repositioning of Sri Lanka in the global context. The party is dedicated to identifying and leveraging the country’s potentials, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and managing threats, both internal and external. This strategic approach aims to elevate Sri Lanka’s standing on the world stage, fostering positive engagement with the international community.

Quality of Life Improvement

A key focus of the NPP government is enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. The party recognises the importance of social welfare, healthcare, education, and infrastructure development in elevating living standards. By prioritising these aspects, the NPP aims to create a society where every citizen can enjoy a higher quality of life, emphasising the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Addressing False Propaganda

Amidst the misconceptions surrounding the NPP, it is crucial to address the motivations behind certain groups disseminating false propaganda. The fearmongering tactics employed by those with vested interests seek to perpetuate a status quo that has allowed for ill-gotten wealth and alleged illegal transactions. These groups, resistant to change, attempt to sway public opinion by sowing seeds of doubt about the NPP’s commitment to a fair and just governance model.

However, when one closely examines the NPP’s dedication to transparency, efficient governance, and inclusive development, it becomes evident that these accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to the shadows of a fading era. The party’s emphasis on tackling corruption, restructuring inefficient State-Owned Enterprises, and simplifying the tax policy directly challenges the interests of those who have thrived in an environment of opacity and undue influence.

As citizens, it is paramount to discern the true intentions behind such narratives and recognize the NPP as a force poised to break free from the shackles of corruption and vested interests. By supporting the NPP’s vision, Sri Lankans have the opportunity to usher in a new era – one marked by ethical governance, economic prosperity, and a society that prioritises the well-being of its people over the interests of a privileged few.

In conclusion, the NPP stands not only as a political entity but as a beacon of hope, calling on the people to embrace change, reject false narratives, and collectively forge a path towards a brighter and more equitable future.

(The Writer, a UK resident, is a former Senior Consultant at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA). He is a member of the NPP-Policy Development Team, and he can be reached through email: shantha323@gmail.com)

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