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Midweek Review

Deafening silence of vociferous diplomatic community

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German Ambassador Jorn Rohde accompanied by both local and foreign journalists at the Mannar mass graves site

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka is ‘blessed’ with a very vocal section of the diplomatic community. Those who represent this grouping work overtime on domestic issues. During the conflict, they did their best to throw a lifeline to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) when it was literally gasping for its last breath. They stepped up their efforts in the post-war period.

Sri Lanka lacked a workable strategy to deal with growing external interventions. This grouping worked through some political parties, a section of the civil society groups, and the media. They intervened in a spate of issues, ranging from the disappearance of NGO activist Kathiravel Thayapararajah, in Sept 2009, to safety and security of one-time Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Shani Abeysekera.

The grouping backed any issue that facilitated its overall strategy to tarnish the country for defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit by their own reckoning. The grouping never forgave the Rajapaksas for bringing the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion, in May 2009. The UN has been deeply involved in the high profile politically-motivated operation. There cannot be a better example than UN Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer’s intervention in the simmering issue of cremation of Muslim victims of the raging Covid-19 epidemic.

Singer, in a letter dated Nov 12, 2020, addressed to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, pressed the government to end the cremation of all Covid-19 victims. The controversial letter, also copied to Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Justice Minister Ali Sabry, PC, and Health Minister Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi, challenged the disposal through cremation the bodies of those who died of the Covid-19 infection. Singer backed UN intervention on the basis of a plethora of requests from the Muslim community, as well as others.

Singer faulted Sri Lanka for what she called a discriminatory policy adopted as regards disposal of bodies.

A section of the media received the Colombo-based UN head’s letter hours after it was delivered to Offices of the Prime Minister and Foreign, Justice and Health ministers. Who released Singer’s letter? Did the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office make the letter available to the media? Or did the PM’s Office, or did the ministers, Gunawardena, Sabry or Wanniarachchi release it? Who benefitted from the public getting to know the UN intervention in purely a domestic matter? The story received significant international media coverage. Interested parties felt the issue could be quite useful at the March 2021 sessions at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions to further hammer the country.

The UN Resident Coordinator’s push to end mandatory cremation here received the backing of three members of the Sri Lanka Core Group at Geneva. The Sri Lanka Core Group comprises the UK, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro. Can one imagine a justifiable reason for North Macedonia, Malawi and Montenegro to be part of the Sri Lanka Core Group except to serve as lackeys of the West? The UK, Canada and Germany backed the moves to end mandatory cremation. They exploited the issue to the hilt. Those who cannot stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over terrorism always sought to isolate the country’s wartime leadership. But, they didn’t have an issue with the war-winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka as he had succumbed to political maneuvering that paved the way for the Sinha Regiment veteran to challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2010 presidential election, the first major national poll, after the near three-decade old war ended. Fonseka lost by a staggering 1.8mn votes.

So, it’s no wonder that one of the first things that the Iraqi rebellion did after the Western-led invasion of that country was to blow up the whole UN compound in Baghdad for the sordid role the world body played in building up a bogus case against Iraq of there being weapons of mass destruction in that country, on which the US-led invasion there took place.

 

Core Group worried over Easter

Sunday suspect

 At the behest of diplomatic missions in Colombo, the UK, at the ongoing 47th Geneva sessions, on June 22, 2021, on behalf of Sri Lanka Core Group raised the following issues. The grouping (1)stressed former CID Director Shani Abeysekera’s safety and security (2) plight of human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah (3)continuing restrictions on memorialization (4) declared support for the Bar Association of Sri Lanka as regards the need for an independent and impartial investigation into recent deaths in police custody.

Let me, first of all, appreciate the Sri Lanka Core Group taking a tough stand on deaths in police custody. The government should be embarrassed over continuing deaths in police custody. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka issued strong statements demanding an end to extra judicial killings. The police should be held accountable for such killings and Parliament cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for police ‘executions’. The SLPP government owes an explanation why tangible measures haven’t been taken to end police killings.

The Sri Lanka Core Group statement conveniently refrained from mentioning that Attorney-at-Law Hejaaz Hizbullah had been held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in connection with the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks which claimed the lives of 270 men, women and children and caused injuries to 500 other totally innocent folks. Among the dead and the wounded were several dozens of foreigners. The Sri Lanka Core Group also refrained from making any reference to the LTTE when it raised objections to continuing restrictions on memorialization.

The Core Group leader, the UK, and Canada, are home to substantial numbers of Sri Lankan terrorists. One-time British High Commission employee LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham received British citizenship and lived there, in style, until his death in Dec 2006. Adele Balasingham, who once encouraged young girls to join the LTTE terrorists and publicly tied cyanide capsules round the necks of those girls, lives in the UK while the British HC preaches post-war national reconciliation to us.

The much-touted Canadian stand on the accountability issue in Sri Lanka is nothing but a joke now. The discovery of 600 or more remains of children at the Marieval Indian Residential School, which operated from 1899 to 1997, in the province of Saskatchewan, and last month’s, discovery of some 215 remains, at a similar school in British Columbia, exposed what fake do-gooders they are in a land they plundered from its natives. China raised the issue at the ongoing Geneva sessions. The media exposed the murder of indigenous children in the wake of Canada recognizing genocide in Sri Lanka. Actually, Geneva should call for a comprehensive investigation into Canadian murder of hundreds of native children they had forcefully taken from their families, under a much publicised project to ‘civilise natives’, while Canada is still trying to hoodwink the world with concerns over alleged continuing  human rights abuses in some selected countries, like China and Sri Lanka.

Canadian PM has made a foolish bid to divert attention by requesting Pope Francis to come to Canada to apologise for church-run boarding schools where hundreds of unmarked graves have been found.

It would be pertinent to mention what Jiang Duan, Minister of the Chinese mission to the United Nations in Geneva said about Canada violating human rights of its indigenous people. Duan urged the UNHRC to keep following the human rights issues in the North American country. That statement had been made by China on behalf of a group of countries. The writer is glad that Sri Lanka had been among that group. Canada, home to thousands of ex-Sri Lankan terrorists and their families, continue to harass Sri Lanka at every opportunity, for political reasons. The recent passage of Bill 104 in Canada that recognized genocide in Sri Lanka, exposed Canadian strategy meant to appease Tamil Canadians of Sri Lankan origin with an eye on their huge vote bank.

 Quoting reports, the top Chinese diplomat said over 150,000 indigenous children had been forcibly taken away from their parents and sent to boarding schools during 19th and 20th centuries.

“They were subjected to malnutrition, and many fell victims to abuse and rape. At least 4,000 children died of disease, neglect, accidents or abuse while at schools,” Jiang said, calling for a thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against the indigenous people, especially children, so as to bring those responsible to justice, and offer full remedy to victims.

“We are also deeply concerned over the illegal killings of civilians by Canadian overseas military servicemen and systemic racial discrimination, xenophobia, Islamophobia within Canada,” Duan noted, adding that Canada has also repeatedly exploited human rights issue as a tool to promote its political agenda.

 

Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in short supply

As the writer earlier stressed, a section of the Colombo-based diplomatic community, in a way functions as a partisan and unashamed political grouping. An influential section of the civil society and the media cooperate with the grouping resulting in various issues being taken up. They aggressively addressed Sri Lanka’s policy of cremating bodies of all Covid-19 victims. Those who had accepted and appreciated external interventions on behalf of the Muslim community must have been quite surprised over their silence against the backdrop of nearly 580,000 people so far deprived of AstraZeneca/Covishield booster shot.

Sri Lanka shouldn’t have expected their intervention if they followed diplomatic norms in other matters. But, having fought for the Muslims’ right to bury their Covid-19 dead and expressed concerns over an Easter Sunday terror suspect and defended attempts to politicize war dead, the UN and its partners shouldn’t have remained silent over Sri Lanka being deprived of Oxford AstraZeneca required for the second dose.

Shouldn’t UN Resident Coordinator Singer have at least taken up the matter with New York as nearly 600,000 Sri Lankans faced an increased threat from the deadly Delta variant? Those missions eternally concerned for the wellbeing of Sri Lanka did nothing to facilitate sufficient stock of Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines.

Swiss project

 Civil society groups, too, remained silent in spite of reports of Western powers hoarding vaccines while smaller economies struggled to cope up with the situation. Those who expressed concern over the safety and security of interdicted SSP Abeysekera as well as the wellbeing of Hejaaz Hizbullah, remained quiet about nearly 600,000 deprived of AstraZeneca second dose.

People haven’t forgotten how a high profile Swiss operation meant to embarrass President Gotabaya Rajapaksa went awry in Nov-Dec 2019 in the immediate aftermath of the last presidential election. The Swiss Embassy, in Colombo, went to the extent of trying to evacuate its local employee Garnier Banister Francis, formerly Siriyalatha Perera, and her family, after a swift police investigation exposed the Swiss plot. They had been so hard pressed to prevent the exposure of the blatant lie, a ridiculous attempt was made to drive Francis holed up in the diplomatic mission straight to the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and evacuate her and family in an air ambulance that was kept on standby there. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa personally intervened to thwart the Swiss plot. If they succeeded, the so-called case of Swiss Embassy employee abducted and molested by government agents would have been mentioned in the Sri Lanka Core Group statement issued on June 22 as a gospel truth.

The Swiss intervened with Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa close on the heels of Francis claiming her being abducted near the Embassy. Interested parties staged the embassy drama in the immediate aftermath of Inspector Nishantha Silva of the CID and his family securing political asylum in Switzerland. The fugitive CID officer, too, would have received space in the Core Group’s statement if the Swiss operation succeeded. 

Sarah Newey, GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, in a May 12, 2021 report in The Telegraph, titled ‘UK could share 20 pc of doses worldwide and still vaccinate all adults in July, analysis suggests’ discussed the issue at hand against the backdrop of the release of a report by Unicef and Airfinity. A section of the international media dealt with the crisis caused by wealthy ‘hoarding’ vaccine supplies.

Newey reported that the UK could donate 20 percent of its available coronavirus vaccines and remain on track to vaccinate all adults by the end of July, analysis suggested, amidst rising frustrations that wealthy countries hoarded jabs.

 Based on the then supply forecasts, a decision to share a fifth of doses with poorer nations from June would push back Britain’s vaccination timeline by just 10 days, according to analysis by Unicef and the life sciences research facility Airfinity.

 The widespread calls to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock to resign over the last weekend in the wake of The Sun publishing pictures of Hancock and a colleague, non- executive, director, Department of Health Gina Coladangelo kissing, possibly indicated that he had been too busy to think of sharing a surplus of vaccines.

The Health Secretary was finally forced to quit following The Sun revelation of Hancock and Gina Coladangelo, both married with three children, kissing inside the Department of Health on 6 May.

 

A bungling administration

 The SLPP government, too, should accept responsibility for the crisis caused by its shortfall of AstraZeneca second jab. The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), while demanding an orderly inoculation project, took advantage of its position to ensure a second jab for family members, friends and associates. The secret inoculation project carried out by GMOA members at Galle revealed the mismanagement of the whole operation. The police, too, inoculated outsiders, including journalists who sought the intervention of high ranking Cabinet ministers. The government could have avoided the crisis over AstraZeneca second jab if half of the 1,264,000 jabs received from Serum Institute were used as the first jab. Instead, those at the helm of the vaccination drive inoculated as many as 925,242 persons (first jab during late January-early April 2021). The bungling SLPP government never explained why well over half of available AstraZeneca jabs had been used in the first round and the unpardonable nearly one and half month delay in using Sinopharm.  In spite of China delivering 600,000 jabs on March 30, the government didn’t use them. State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa is on record as having said that the delay in using Sinopharm caused many deaths and aggravated the situation. Actually, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) should have moved a no-faith motion against the government over Dr. Godahewa’s admission. But SJB too played politics at every turn. With some of its members earlier proclaiming that Lankans would be used as guinea pigs to test Chinese vaccines. Unfortunately, the pathetic main Opposition didn’t even bother to respond to the State Minister’s shocking admission.

 Recently, the British Parliament was told how the British High Commission in Colombo based its wartime assessment on Sri Lanka on a range of sources, including media and civil society. Let me reproduce a question raised by Lord Naseby and response provided by Lord Goldsmith to underscore the way the BHC, Colombo, gathered information. Lord Naseby on April 21, 2021 asked Her Majesty’s government what sources were used to ascertain the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war in that country between January 1 and May 18, 2009.

Lord Goldsmith responded on April 29, 2021. The following is the response verbatim: “The UK government’s assessment of the situation in Sri Lanka during the civil war was informed by a broad range of internal and open source reporting, including from our High Commission in Colombo, international organizations, civil society and media.”

It would be interesting to know whether any Colombo based international organizations, civil society and media informed the BHC, Colombo of the AstraZeneca crisis at least after Sri Lanka detected the deadly Delta variant. Even if BHC had alerted the disgraced Health Secretary Hancock, he was probably too busy with Gina Coladangelo even to consider Sri Lanka’s requirement.

How can we forget the way Western embassies played politics with the recovery of skeletal remains from what was called the largest mass grave in Mannar? They blindly blamed the Sri Lankan military. Acting on assertions made by Colombo-based diplomatic missions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the March 2019 sessions faulted the Sri Lankan military over the Mannar mass graves. Geneva was in such a hurry it didn’t even wait for a report from a carbon dating laboratory in the US that subsequently revealed skeletal remains dated back to around 500 years during the European colonial era (1499 to 1719 period.)

The samples were sent to the laboratory after concerns were raised to ascertain if the skeletal remains were of those who were killed during the war between government troops and Tigers which ended in May 2009.

Following the US lab report, Western embassies, one-time LTTE mouthpiece the Tamil National Alliance, the civil society and the media quietly dropped the Mannar issue. Thanks to a US lab report, Mannar mass graves no longer figure in statements issued by the UK-led Sri Lanka Core Group.



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Midweek Review

Crossmatch: A moral mirror

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by Santhushya Fernando

Blossoming somewhere between a Chinaman and a Jam Fruit Tree is a Lotus. An unusual place to bloom, but there it is, anyway, Crossmatch. Crossmatch is Carmel Miranda’s debut novel that won the Gratiaen Prize 2020. Here’s what isn’t there in Crossmatch: steamy sex, profanity, harsh political commentary, preaching, flowery similes, structured ‘tools of literary writing’, boring descriptions. Probably uninfected by formal literary training, Miranda writes a provocative story with the acumen of a skillful doctor documenting on a patient’s bedhead ticket with some hardcore suspense thrown in. Crossmatch, for its entire 261 pages is captivating in its heart race potential.

Is she for real?

About 20 pages into Crossmatch, I phoned a senior friend who has spent the better part of his life at the Faculty of Medicine and the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL). “Seriously, you had a colleague called Dr Carmel Miranda? She writes like a hawk observing it all- is this a real name?” He’s was entertained, and replied “Carmel Miranda is for real. She spoke very little, did very much. Never spoke an unnecessary word: serious, committed, all about the patient, precise, not attention seeking, you know, the kind of person you miss when they are not there”. Oh, so I figure. Like Lotus. In Crossmatch.

The plot

Lotus, the protagonist is a third year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. She’s requested to pay a social visit to a hospitalised patient by her aunt, as all aunts of all medical students do. Like all medical students up to their eyes in real or imaginary stress, Lotus, grudgingly obliges visiting Anil Kumara only to find him dead. Events take Lotus to Lionel, the NHSL mortuary attendant with one glass eye, who convinces her to safe keep the dead boy’s mobile phone wrapped in a newspaper. Something about the numbers in the phone that includes the namesake Lotus Hospital, the NHSL ENT unit number and the contents of the newspaper drives Lotus to dig in deep. She uncovers, quite accidentally, the dangerous underbelly of organ trafficking mafia, poverty, inequality and the heart wrenching plight of the poor in our so called free healthcare system. Was it an accident that killed Anil? If not, who then is the killer? Finally Lotus finds answers and also confronts a devastating personal truth about her umbilical linkage to the Lotus Hospital. Even at the helm of her shatter, Lotus retains her characteristic objectivity and dignity. Throughout Crossmatch Miranda displays a true gift at maintaining the fidelity to her characterisation in personality, lingo, and mannerism.

The moral mirror

If you have read the captivating Gratiaen winner Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka, you would know that one need not be a cricket fan to fall in love with that book. Miranda shows similar skill and humility in telling a “medical story” without medical jargon interfering with storytelling. She has labored well to tell a story about the holes of a medical system in effortless lay language. Never does she matronizingly “explain” medical terms down to the reader, weaving it all in, silkily.

Miranda holds a moral mirror on to our conscience with Crossmatch. It’s a grand mirror with one in center in front of which the reader is stands. That mirror is hinged with two mirrors on the side: the moral mirror of medical education and the moral mirror of medical practice. Both the hinged mirrors reflect unto the main mirror creating an ‘n’ number of reflections.

The moral mirror of medical education in Crossmatch touch on teaching via humiliation, linguism, unjust hierarchies, lack of cohesion in medical education, doctors past their medical fitness ‘expiry date’ continuing to practice medicine. But the beauty of Miranda’s moral mirror is that it does not discuss this in a malicious spirit. All is written with astounding tenderness and sensitivity towards human fallibility. It’s a mirror that every teacher must consider standing before.

The more serious moral mirror in Crossmatch is the territory that few would dare to tread: the kidney mafia, organ trafficking, bending the law, exploitation of the poor in kidney transplantation, lack of a transparent registry for organ donation, the legal and moral dilemma of compensation for organ donation. Importantly, this moral mirror in Crossmatch shines blindingly in our eye asking us questions: do you know what it means to be poor? The desolation beneath the label of poor? How many times do the rich donate kidneys to the poor? Is there ever a free lunch at a private hospital?

Our collective crime: poverty

Miranda reflects the moral mirrors on us for the sole purpose of telling her story. Her tender observations about how people live, talk, move, rationalize, love and sacrifice are all for the purpose of storytelling. Her power of observation is consistent across the slums of Wanathamulla to the bungalows down Rosmead place. After reading Crossmatch you cannot afford to be Sri Lankan and be divorced from the collective social crime called poverty that we all contribute to, by commission or omission. For poverty is the one crime that has the direct or indirect consent of society. The crisp humorful language, sharp precise observation, humane narration without judgment- all these make it a good read. Noteworthy is Miranda’s security as a writer who doesn’t feel the need to climb on top of her story.

Perhaps the only anti-climax of Crossmatch is its epilogue. In an uncharacteristic bout of a need to tie up too many ends, Miranda writes an epilogue reminiscent of last minute commentary over movie credits in a Hollywood or Bollywood movie stating how each character ended up happily. The last line of the main novel (prior to epilogue) “But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming “is disappointing and reminiscent more of a line out of a Hallmark card. Miranda could have written a killer last line. The epilogue takes her matter of fact story telling a bit too far and negotiates a mediocre “happily ever after” to a thought provoking , disturbing story meant to induce a bit of reader- insomnia.

Yes, Crossmatch makes us stand in front of a difficult moral mirror.

To Carmel Miranda I say: “You. Go. Girl!!!!”

(Dr Santhushya Fernando is a senior lecturer in Medical Humanities at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo)

 

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Midweek Review

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits

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by Dr L M K Tillekeratne
Former Director of the RRI and UNIDO consultant in Rubber Processing

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent address to the nation made an emphatic reference to the establishment of a Plantation University by amalgamating all major crop research institutes, such as Tea Research Institute (TRI), the Rubber Research Institute (RRI), Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI). Of these four research institutes, two were established by British rulers over a century ago. The core mandate of the research institutes was to develop the respective agricultural crops, as the plantation crops generated the highest amount of foreign exchange for almost four decades.

With the advent of the free market economy in late 1970s, though the remittances from migrant workers and revenue from the garment industry surpassed the foreign exchange earnings of the plantation sector, the plantation industry continues to play a dominant role in terms of foreign exchange and employment.

Hence, the President’s thinking that the creation of a national university exclusive for the plantation sector is a far-reaching vision that could transform the plantation sector by increasing land productivity and by developing the value-added products manufacture particularly in the case of rubber that the country desperately needed at this juncture. In this context, that the article written by J. A. A. S. Ranasinghe, Productivity Specialist and Management Consultant in a leading English newspaper was a comprehensive analysis of the justification of the creation of a national university for the plantation sector. Such an incisive analysis should have come from a scientist initially.

Dearth of Scientists in the Research Institutes

I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Ranasinghe on his assertion that research institutes are functioning today in isolation without trained staff to carry out research projects. As he has very correctly identified the dearth of scientists of all the research institutes has hampered the research programmes, and that in turn has led to the deterioration of the productivity of all the sectors during the last two decades. Thus, bringing all the scientists and resources under one umbrella is the need of the hour and that could be accomplished relatively at a short time by establishing an exclusive university for the plantation sector.

The President’s far-reaching vision will be a turning point in producing scientists to run the plantation industry. At a time when most of the other countries in Asia and Africa are increasing their productivity levels of the plantation crops, it is unfortunate that Sri Lanka is far behind in terms of research during last two decades, though its Tea and Rubber research institutes are internationally known.

Downfall of the Rubber Industry

It is sad that in Sri Lanka, the first country in the world to have a rubber plantation established outside Brazil and distributed planting material to other countries mainly in Asia to grow rubber, rubber production has plummeted significantly for the last 25 years. The countries that learnt rubber planting technology from the scientists of Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, have already been able to overtake us both in terms of production and land productivity over the past two decades pushing Sri Lanka down to the 12th place as a NR producer at present. I strongly believe that the situation regarding tea is either the same or even worse.

As Ranasinghe has correctly pointed out in his article, our productivity has fallen to 50% of what we produced a decade ago while countries like Myanmar and Cambodia have been able to double their annual production during this period.

Dearth of Plantation Technologists

It is true that we have agricultural universities producing agriculture graduates. But they do not specifically focus on crops like Tea and Rubber, and cannot undertake the task of increasing productivity by means of applying new technology introduced regularly to overcome issues related to agronomy and tapping. Fresh Agriculture and Science graduates who joined the plantation sector lack the skills and knowledge the plantation industry demands and this mismatch has resulted in a shortage of plantation technologists with required competency levels.

Distinctive Advantages of Plantation University

The agricultural graduates of Sri Lankan universities, however, would be in a very authoritative position in that they can cover a wide variety of other crops better than the graduates getting their agricultural degrees overseas. Agriculture and science graduates should necessarily possess the required field exposure and experience to find gainful employment in plantation sector. Hence, fresh graduates who join the plantation sector will have to work for at least 10 years to be an expert who can identify problems and sort them out on them individually. The industry can ill-afford to wait for such a long period to produce talented plantation expert or qualified scientists, given the dearth of scientists in the country. As Ranasinghe has correctly mentioned, there is a severe shortage of scientists virtually in all departments of research institutes to tackle problems in the industry, which will badly affect the research institutes, if the present system is allowed to continue. More than 50% of the raw rubber and latex end products industry is imported at competitive prices. The coconut production is sufficient for the local consumption and there is no surplus for export in the form of oil or DC.

Exodus of Research Scientists to join Universities

Most of the scientists trained for special mandates in the research institutes have already joined the national universities purely due to better salaries and perks. However, according to the situation existed in early 1960s, those who joined research institutes for developing the agriculture sector were paid higher salaries than those who joined universities, considering their contribution to the development of the economy and the difficult conditions under which they work in remote areas.

Hence, the science graduates’ first choice was research institutions. Today, it is the other way around, and only those who cannot find employment in universities and with low merits join research institutes to get post graduate training utilising the limited number of foreign training scholarships offered to research institutes and get qualified to join universities. Empirical studies have shown that trained researchers with special skills to tackle problems in the plantations have become misfits as academics.

Ad hoc recruitment criteria

The situation that existed prior to the late 1980s was totally different even with regard to recruitment criteria. It is due to the shortage of graduates produced by local universities due to closure of the university education for almost three years, due to the insurrection. There was a severe shortage of special degree holders and hence a decision was taken by the government to allow general degree holders in places where previously only special degree graduates with a class were recruited as research assistants in research institutes. Since then the quality of research produced by the research institutes has suffered.

The distinctive benefit in the President’s proposal is that in the future we might be able to produce graduates capable of tackling problems in the plantation sector with their adequate field exposure and hands on experience during their undergraduate studies.

In addition, there will be a good opportunity for institutions like TRI and RRI with international reputation to attract foreign students for training in Sri lanka thereby earning additional revenue to the country as the UK, India and Malaysia do even without having such recognition. If the proposed national plantation university is properly run, it will be quite possible for them to sustain adequate revenue from foreign students without depending purely on annual Treasury grant. Even now trainees from countries like Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Ethiopia and even from Malaysia have got their research assistants trained at these two crop institutes under international grants.

Contribution to the national economy by way of enhanced production

On a hypothetical basis, if the production of rubber in the country is increased to 135,000 Mt, which was the amount produced years ago, purely by increasing the land productivity, without even increasing the planted area, the country can reap maximum benefits from the fast-increasing rubber prices in the world market. Rubber was selling at around Rs 100 to 150 per kg during the last half a decade. Surprisingly, it has gone up to almost Rs 450 per kg now and the situation is expected to increase further with time to come owing to the demand for NR on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If the production is increased to 135,000 Mt, additional revenue the country can enjoy would be (Rs 450 x 50000 x1000) Rs 22.5 billion annually.

We should not lose sight of the fact that due to the shortfall in the supply of rubber, a considerable amount of NR and latex is imported by our rubber products manufacturers for value added products manufacture at a cost of over Rs 30 billion.

If this extra production is used to produce goods such as surgical/examination gloves for which the demand is fast increasing due to Covid-19 spread, the additional revenue country can gain is over 200%. It will be possible to create more employment opportunities as well.

Arduous task for the new Minister

The task before Economic Development Minister is to consider how best to improve the economy in bad state. This objective can be achieved in less than a year by getting the neglected rubber farms into tapping and by using techniques like lightly stimulated low frequency tapping and by utilising proven new techniques like rain guards to minimise crop losses due to rain. The additional cost involvement for these developments is insignificant and the time taken is less than a year.

New planting and replanting are two other ways of increasing the crop; they are costly and take nearly a decade to give a reasonable crop increase. Further, there is no guarantee that the improved rubber prices will remain high until then. However, replanting, and new planting should be continued according to the RDD targets.

Another factor that caused a drop in the rubber production was the removal of the extension services from the research wing and its attachment to the subsidiary function of the Rubber Development Department owing to an illogical decision taken by the then government almost 25 years ago. Today, the RDD is functioning in isolation ignoring the recommendations of the RRI. This has been the main cause for the drop in productivity of rubber farms in Sri Lanka. For example, the population of low yielding clones like PB 86 are still distributed and the clone population in the country is an utter mess.

Undoubtedly, everyone looks forward to the establishment of the plantation university.

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Midweek Review

“Madam” and her Wards

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By Lynn Ockersz

Six anxious, awkward teenage girls,

Are following their “Madam” close at heel,

To the rundown Spa hardly seen in the busy street,

But sought by restless men when darkness sets in,

But in the Isle fabled for its charity,

No one looks askance at this sight,

No one dare asks questions that matter;

Nor is accountability exacted from office holders;

But posers like the following may be asked,

By those who choose to care for the ‘nation’,

Now that Ishalini too has brought things into focus:

Isn’t this an induction into prostitution?

What lured the girls away from school,

And made them walk footloose on the streets?

Would the “Madam” be ever taken to task?

Or would she be allowed to go, with no questions asked,

When a swoop by the uniformed gentry,

Thrusts the girls into a police lockup,

And makes them wilt there sadly,

Though into primal youth they are about to bloom.

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