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Death of entire tracts of trees; vaccinated amidst confusion

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Cass listened thrice to a Facebook video sent toher by a wildlife enthusiast which has Himeshi Weerasiri speaking from her heart; simply, eloquently and transparently sincerely. She addresses the President and continues with ‘you’ but Cass discerns the ‘you’ includes the PM, Ministers and government bureaucrats. Hence if the President listens to what she had to say, (which we hope he will), he must not be angered. Even the highest in the world must listen to the voice of the people and now the young are actively national minded. Proof? The protesting young of Hong Kong, Thailand and Myanmar, and in this land the voices heard on the field, as it were, mostly of those who have no vested interests but are very concerned, nay near outrage, with the degradation that is ongoing, mostly regards the environment and specifically about deforestation.

Himeshi mentions the places that have suffered the worst of the tree fellers onslaught; she explains the importance of eco-systems and says that the present generation is being robbed of a rightful heritage with government distributing forest land so people invade with axe and tractor wild life sanctuaries, even Sinharaja and elephant corridors. She says she may be found on her next visit to SL with a gunshot, laid out in Independence Square bearing a suicide note. However, even consideration of her child cannot stop her appeal for saving the forests of Sri Lanka? “You were elected to protect the land and its people” she boldly reminds the YOU she addresses.

The Island

of Friday 19 February carried this banner headline in eye-grabbing, funereal white against black: “Govt. backed racketeers run riot: 3,000 acres grabbed in Somawathiya National Park within two days.” Horrendous if people just grabbed the land. Here is stated clearly the damning fact that government has backed; i.e. encouraged these peasants in their destruction and will protect them. And what will the grabbed land be used for? Bad enough to grow vegetables and such. Worse if it is for money: sold to resource devouring businessmen. Worst if sold/confiscated to build resorts, hotels or holiday homes for the nouvue rich. The Island Editor’s lead article on Tuesday 23 February was also about this crime of land grabbing.

 

President speaks

Very surprisingly Cass heard the President voice his opinion on this very subject at a village visit bearing a wonderful Sinhala term which escapes Cass’ bird brain, as reported in MTV news on Saturday 20 February night. He said, (I did not take down notes), that forests are not being cut down or given to villagers. It’s land that was under agriculture that is being given them. Wrong, even then, if trees have grown on such neglected agricultural land. As said earlier, believed strongly by this woman – Cass – who has lived in jungle areas long ago and is of a former generation to whom money is a mere commodity to make living possible and not to be procured at any cost and hoarded, is that forests are being cut down; traditional elephant corridors and their land encroached on. This crime continues unpunished which means government officials do not take note, rather do they facilitate such robbing. So, the young of the country, headed by nature, fauna and flora lovers, will surely raise their voices and be heard.

Vegetables and other consumables, even cereal like kurakkan, maize, can be grown anywhere. Have tress to be cut to clear new land? A helpless biddy like Cass can only curse. But the young are powerful and almost up in arms. So grabbers, promoters and even politicians BEWARE! You cannot rob all the land all the time. Retribution will surely come to you.

 

Vaccination

Cassandra was right in her tremulously stated fear that the older citizen will be considered expendable and be given the vaccine last of all, totally contrary to what the WHO advocates and Britain and US, among other countries, have stuck to. We oldies are in no great hurry; we will stay locked down; but we cannot bear unfairness. Give vaccination to private hospital workers and tourist hotel servers but do not forget the older citizen. WHO’s maxim in vaccinating is reduction in deaths; ours seems to be ensuring the economy is set going by vaccinating those in service, MPs included. It’s the economy and VIPs first and last, Stupid!

Please read, or re-read if you have already done so, Dr H T Wickramasinghe’s short article in The Island of Monday 2 February: “Success of vaccination drive hinges on inoculation of the elderly“. He is Consultant Paediatrician plus President, Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Forum of SL. What he clearly wrote gave Cass the justification to write the above.

 

Haywire in spite of Task Force

Telephones are abuzz with questions such as “Did you get the vaccination?” “How does one apply?” Cass was completely flummoxed as to how to get the shot or how to obtain a token. Then manna descended, shed by a concerned niece. She had got a token for three but had already got the vaccination, so she very kindly drove Cass to Chitra Lane. Cass requested an obliging three-wheeler man to stand by and so her domestic and she got into a sort of a queue. Mercifully a few schoolmates were already there so yours truly felt at ease. The number on Cass’ token was 208 so it meant sitting in three wheelers and on steps and leaning against posts and cars. She had already sat on a bucket kindly overturned and given her by a wayside repairer. Cass and others waited in a crowd – no safe distancing at all – from 8 am to 1.30 pm, with a quick three-wheeler drive home. Offers were extended by another niece to stay at her place until the queue got shorter. Not Cass to leave the hot spot and miss her vaccination!

It was all somewhat disorganized, as the entire process of vaccination is. A friend got hers done at the Public Library where vaccinations were for CMC workers! But Cass found that within the premises of the Public Health Maternity Home in Chitra Lane everything was orderly. The crowd gathered queued up dutifully; however, vigilant enough to shout at some being let in through a side gate.

Once you got in, the process went smooth with precision and absolute politeness. After noting details, people were ushered into the vaccination room with about five stations, all manned by nurses. They were extremely kind and gave directions for after care to each and every one individually. After 20 minutes of sitting outside, Cass returned home so very thankful she had got the Oxford vaccine, courtesy of the government, totally free and kindly given.

When bunched outside, fake news floated: only those below 65 will be vaccinated that day being the loudest. But Cass decided to take the chance, since she had heard that once you enter the vaccination room proper, all are given the shot. It was gratitude to the health workers who untiringly went on with their work, showing much patience.

 

Sad tale

Phoned the very decent three-wheeler driver Cass usually summons to take her on an errand or get a chore done. He says his three-wheeler has been taken by the Police. Reason: he had it painted a different colour. I was shocked when five days later he says the vehicle is still with the police pending its being sent to the RMV.

“They said they can’t believe the wheeler is 30 years old and so suspecting me, they took the vehicle. How am I and my family to live?” he wailed. Asked another driver who said the colour of a vehicle cannot be changed without informing the RMV. OK. But was that a known stricture? And why on earth the delay? The vehicle taken into police custody more than six days previous has still not been sent to the RMV. This innocent man does not know what next to do. He and his family are being slammed in the stomach, while the rich and mighty rape forests and cheat in every possible way – and get off scot free!!

Is this our beloved Sri Lanka –our Matha under whom all of us should be equally treated?k



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Features

Rise of Dual Power amidst Covid 

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We had so many kings in our Sinhala Balaya of many centuries. There were many questionable deals on succession by members of this royalty, and others who came to those realms. But we have yet to hear of any brother of a ruling monarch rushing abroad in the midst of what may have been a national crisis, moving to a disaster.This is the stuff of Sinhala Power in the 21st Century. It is a show of the Raja Keliya – the power game, where dual citizenship is the dominant factor. The Sri Lanka, Mawbima home, is of lesser importance than the Videsha mawbima, especially if one’s health has to be handled by foreign medical sources; even if the Videsha Mawbima is the biggest affected by the Covid pandemic.

The appointment of Task Forces to deal with important issues facing the country and the people is the substance of the current Saubhagyaye Dekma – Vision of Prosperity and Splendour. Appointing a brother to head task forces of key importance is the show of dominant family power that prevails in this country today. But brotherly feelings are certainly not important when a dual citizen thinks of the greater importance of the Videsha Mawbima. The tasks of Economic Growth, Eradicating Poverty and Assuring Food Supply, as well as the more recent Green Socio-Economy must all be pushed aside, when the call of the Videsha Mawbima for healthcare is the stuff that matters.

This is the brotherly Vision of Prosperity and Splendour, or the Sahodara Saubhabyaye Dekma.

The Covid pandemic has certainly brought much contradictory thinking, especially in the government, on how the health of the people in this country, non-dual citizens, could be assured. Minister Udaya Gammanpila, a Cabinet spokesman too, is certain that mixed vaccinations of different brands and qualities, is the means to protect the people. 

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, State Minister on the subject, thinks differently, on the lines of the WHO specialists, who have stressed there is no evidence so far to authorize mixed vaccinations. The other minister of health and vaccination issues is somewhat silent on this confusion in official thinking. Is a new pandemic syrup to be promoted by the power handlers?

Thank heavens that the Cabinet Minister of Health, Pavithra Wanniarachchi, is so far silent on this matter. She could come up with a new Sri Lankan Deshamanya scientific solution, such as throwing some of the Sinopharm and Sputnik (Chinese and Russian) into the nearby river, and using the mixed and river blended vaccine for people of the related province. She is sure to obtain the support of Ministers Udaya Gammanpila and Prasanna Ranatunga for such a crafty thinking of science, just as they shared her belief in the Charmed Pot Game or Mantara Kala Keliya to fight the Covid-19.

  We are now in the midst of what is known as a Lockdown. It is not a “Vasaa thabeema” in Sinhala, but a limit on travel – a ‘Sancharana Seemava’. The Police are very clear that anyone who breaks the lockdown rules will be arrested and brought to justice. We have seen the great joy that policemen showed in carrying non-mask wearers and other violaters of Covid safety guidelines, to be shoved into buses. How much more of such delights would follow when Covid increases its hold on Sri Lanka? What was the related Task Force, and its ceremonial uniformed head doing, when Indians were brought to Sri Lankan hotels for quarantine before travel to some Middle Easter countries? What foreigner from the Covid battered India was carried or courteously conducted to a place where lawbreakers are detained?

As we keep wearing our masks and distancing ourselves from others, there is much cause for concern, even beyond the Covid pandemic, on how persons arrested and detained by the police are killed by or in the presence of the  police. Two suspected and arrested persons have been killed while in police custody this week.  They are Melon Mabula or ‘Uru Juva’ and Tharaka Perera Wijesekera or ‘Kosgoda Tharaka’ These are persons with records of major crimes, possibly with much strong evidence, but not presented in court and any punishment order through the judicial process.

The police spokesperson, a person with a legal background, too, tells the people the details of all the terrible crimes these persons are supposed to be guilty of. It is a contemptible move to get public support for the killings. The Bar Association has raised concerns about these departures from justice. There must be much more protests, even with the Covid dangers.

One gets the impression that the prevailing dangerous situation due to Covid, is being used to carry out increasing violations of the law and the judicial process. This is certainly a major step back to the earlier years of Rajapaksa Power, when many such suspects were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, showing off police escape power. It also brings back memories of the killing and attacks on journalists by similar police and official forces of crooked power.

Are we moving to a new sense of Dual Power — where the judiciary is ignored and official power is the Rule of the Day? Is the power of Dual Citizenry to be the dominant force once Covid puts down the people’s power?

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Should ASEAN Free Trade Area be considered model for SAFTA?

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By Dr. Srimal Fernando

Economic integration is more important today than it has ever been for South Asia’s development. When comparing the impact of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)s South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) Free Trade Area (AFTA) in promoting trade amongst its member states, AFTA has been more effective in integrating the economies of its member states. SAFTA , on the other hand, has yet to make significant contributions to the integration of the economies of SAARC member states. The Success of ASEAN’s economic integration can be attributed to the willingness of Southeast Asian countries to embrace the tenets of regional integration. In contrast, SAARC’s model has failed to create a secure regional environment that is conducive for economic growth since its formation.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN ) member states signed the AFTA agreement on 28 January 1992. After the establishment of AFTA, the member states of ASEAN succeeded in signing trading protocols within the organization. The ASEAN model succeeded in creating one of the most successful free trade areas in Asia as well as globally. The establishment of AFTA has been an important milestone in Southeast Asia as a factor that facilitated the economic integration of ASEAN member states.

In the case of the SAARC, the signing of free trade protocols under the SAFTA agreement has been faced with several tariff and non-tariff barriers. Although both SASRC and ASEAN member states face unique challenges that affect trading within these organizations, it can be said that, unlike the SAARC, the ASEAN economic integration model has been far successful in promoting trade amongst its member states. For the SAARC, the liberalization of the economies of SAFTA signatories has been a crucial challenge. On the other hand, ASEAN has made notable progress with regards to trade liberalization, policy alignments, and intra-regional trade among Southeast Asian nations.

The specific trade liberalization challenges faced by the SAARC member states include concerns over SAFTA revenue allocation from member states, restrictive rules of origin, and negative sensitive lists. The sensitive lists adopted by SAARC member states have proven to be a significant hurdle to exportation amongst SAARC member states. This has particularly made it difficult for exports from small member states of the SAARC to enter into large markets such as India and Pakistan. Having failed to grant the application of  most favored nation (MFN) status that would have seen a significant reduction in the sensitive lists maintained by both countries, trade between these two regional powers has been problematic over the years. Notably, the trading commodities that are in the sensitive lists of a majority of the SAFTA member states have high export potential. Despite the various commitments made by SAFTA member states, countries continue to maintain long sensitive lists hence the dismal performance of SAFTA. 

In the case of ASEAN, the establishment of the AFTA agreement has provided ASEAN member states with a platform to exploit their export potential. The AFTA agreement has boosted the economies of ASEAN countries through its trade liberalization policies. AFTA has also entered into several free trade agreements with regional powers such as Australia, China, South Korea, India, and Japan. The ASEAN countries are now focused on creating an Economic Community for their member states. Notably, several countries have shown interest in being a part of the proposed ASEAN Economic Community.

It should however be noted that the massive success achieved by ASEAN’S AFTA as opposed to SAARC’s SAFTA is not flawless. For example, although ASEAN has made significant steps in eliminating tariff barriers amongst AFTA member states, Non-tariff barriers are still a key challenge to the AFTA agreement. However, when analyzing the progress made by ASEAN’s AFTA since its formation, the achievements and evolution are undeniable. ASEAN was formed in an era when interstate relations amongst Southeast Asian countries were characterized by political mistrust and strained interstate relations. Years later, the organization has succeeded in unifying its member states for a common course, an aspect that the SAARC still struggles with. 

Way Forward

If SAFTA is to become more effective and emulate AFTA’s success, the myriad of issues mentioned above needs to be addressed. First, downsizing the sensitive lists of countries in a time-bound manner will be necessary. Secondly, the issue of para tariffs needs to be squarely addressed. A starting point could be to reduce and accelerate the elimination of para tariffs on items not on sensitive lists and include para tariffs in SAFTA negotiations. Also, the non-tariff barriers to trade facing SAFTA member states need to be equally addressed like the tariff barriers. Finally, strengthening economic relations can be used to reinforce improving political relations in the region, particularly between India and Pakistan. To an extent, the success of ASEAN in achieving effective economic integration and its experience can be used as an external driver of SAARC and its SAFTA agreement.

About the author:

Dr. Srimal Fernando received his PhD in the area of International Affairs. He was the recipient of the prestigious O.P. Jindal Doctoral Fellowship and SAU Scholarship under the SAARC umbrella. He is also an Advisor/Global Editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa in partnership with Diplomatic World Institute (Brussels). He has received accolades such as 2018/2019 ‘Best Journalist of the Year’ in South Africa, (GCA) Media Award for 2016 and the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) accolade. He is the author of ‘Politics, Economics and Connectivity: In Search of South Asian Union’

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Ramazan spirit endures amid pandemic

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This will be a sombre Ramazan, indeed, with the country under a lockdown. But the spirit of Ramazan lives on in all Muslims. Ramadan, also referred to as Ramazan, Ramzan, or Ramadhan, in some countries, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims the world over dedicate this holy month for fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

Although most non-Muslims associate Ramazan, solely with fasting, it is believed to bring Muslims closer to God and inculcate in them qualities such as patience, spirituality, and humility. Those of the Islamic faith believe that fasting redirects one away from worldly activities, cleanses the inner soul and free it from harm. It also teaches self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate and encourage actions of generosity and charity. It is a time of self-examination and increased religious devotion.

Ramazan is a commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation, and the annual observance of Ramazan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The Five Pillars are basic acts, considered mandatory by Muslims, namely Muslim life, prayer, concern for the needy, self-purification, and the pilgrimage. Prophet Muhammad’s first revelation is believed to have taken place in 610 AD, in a cave called Hira, located near Mecca, where Muhammad was visited by the angel Jibrīl, who revealed to him the beginnings of what would later become the Qur’an. The visitation occurred on Ramazan.

Ramazan lasts from one sighting of the crescent moon to the next and the local religious authority is tasked with announcing the date. The Colombo Grand Mosque announced on Wednesday (12) that Sri Lankan Muslims will celebrate Ramazan on Friday (14). Because the Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the start of Ramazan moves backwards by about 11 days, each year, in the Gregorian calendar. Fasting from dawn to sunset is considered fard (obligatory) for all adult Muslims who are not acutely, or chronically, ill, travelling, elderly, breastfeeding, diabetic, or menstruating.

During this month, Muslims refrain not only from partaking of meals, but also tobacco products, sexual relations, and sinful behaviour, devoting themselves to prayer or salat and recitation of the Quran. The pre-dawn meal is referred to as suhur, and the nightly feast that breaks fast is referred to as iftar. During Ramazan, Muslims wake up well before dawn to eat the pre-dawn meal. This is considered the most important meal, during Ramazan, since it has to sustain one until sunset. This means eating lots of high-protein food and drinking as much water as possible, right up until dawn, after which one cannot eat or drink anything. The day of fasting ends at sunset, the exact minute of which is signalled by the fourth call to prayer, at dusk.

It is believed that spiritual rewards, or thawab, of fasting multiply during Ramazan. Muslims do not Fast on Eid, but Sri Lankan Muslims believe that observing the six days of optional fasting, that follows Eid, multiplies spiritual rewards.

Eid-Ul-Fitr is the Festival of Breaking the Fast, also simply referred to as Eid, and marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, as well as the return to a more natural disposition of eating, drinking, and marital intimacy. In Sri Lanka, this Festival of Breaking the Fast is also referred to, colloquially, as Ramazan. Eid begins at sunset, on the night of the first sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims hand out money, to the poor and needy, as an obligatory act of charity, before performing the Eid prayer.

Globally, the Eid prayer is generally performed in open areas, like fields, community centres, or mosques in congregation. In Sri Lanka, the prayer is performed annually in Galle Face Green and mosques. The Eid prayer is followed by the sermon and then a supplication asking for Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, peace and blessings for all living beings across the world. The sermon encourages Muslims to engage in the rituals of Eid, such as zakat, almsgiving to other fellow Muslims. After the prayers, Muslims visit relatives, friends, and acquaintances, or hold large communal celebrations.

After prayer, Muslims celebrate Eid, with food being the central theme. Sri Lankans celebrate Ramazan with watalappam, falooda, samosa, gulab jamun and other national and regional dishes. The festivals were said to have initiated in Medina, after the migration of Muhammad from Mecca.

This year, as well as last year, Sri Lankan Muslims will have to forgo the custom of communal prayers, and celebrations, due to the ongoing pandemic, and will have to settle for private prayers and celebrations of Ramazan during this period of curfew. While these preventive measures are in place, during this year’s Ramazan, the principles of this holy month remain the same. Devout Muslims all over the world, will still be honouring this pillar of Islam, albeit from the security of their homes.

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