By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
Discipline, by definition, is the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not. But there is more to it. The government of the day can lay down the rules as well as the mechanisms for punishment if they are broken, but society has even a greater part to play, as disciplined behaviour is mutually beneficial. The behaviour of the majority of the public, rather the misbehaviour, contributing to the difficulty of controlling the present COVID-19 pandemic, is a case in point.
True, the Pohottuwa government has distinguished itself by scoring many own goals, but it has to be appreciated that the President and the government have done much to control the pandemic, under very difficult circumstances. For an under-resourced country, facing a severe foreign exchange crisis, due to the pandemic, to have vaccinated more than half of the adult population, in a relatively short period, is a remarkable achievement, as it surpasses some developed countries. True, mistakes were made but no country got things correct as this was an unprecedented situation. Had there been more cooperation from the public, including the Opposition, things could have been even better. Having seen how Britain, which was hit very much harder, controlled the pandemic, I wrote an article ‘Learning to live with Covid-19’ (The Island, 26 August) wherein I stated:
“Limitations in force in Sri Lanka, before the imposition of the curfew, were similar to the strictest lockdown measures in countries like the UK. Why is that Sri Lanka needs to go a step further and introduce a curfew? The simple answer is discipline; whereas in the UK the majority show disciplined behaviour, unfortunately, the opposite is true in Sri Lanka.”
Though many appreciated my article written in good faith, to offer scientific facts to convince the public that they have a greater part to play than the government, to overcome the epidemic and learn to live with it, most unexpectedly, the only rebuff I got was from a former colleague of mine. He lambasted:
“I was quite amazed and disappointed about your comments about the vaccination programme here. Every medical professional here, except the ever-diminishing number of those slavishly loyal to the Rajapksas, are extremely critical of the way it is done. This vaccination programme has totally ruined the reputation we had as a country with an exemplary immunisation programme for a long time. When the Army, politicians and other businessmen make decisions, overriding medical opinion, the outcome is obvious.
The vaccination queues are the latest super-spreaders. Many have got the infection few days after attending a mass vaccination site. The latter have become carnivals with the army band providing music and the President making a supervisory visit every now and then.
“You have suddenly found Sri Lankans to be very undisciplined. With such a set of power-wielding uneducated, undisciplined set of leaders, what did you expect the people to be? Living thousands of miles away, your extreme ignorance about the ground situation here, coloured by your unwavering loyalty to some politicians, is not surprising.”
I was shocked that a member of my profession sought to politicise a serious public health issue. Whilst pointing out that routine vaccination programmes are not comparable to a programme conducted during an extreme emergency and that many, including Dr. N.S. Jayasinghe, a much-respected physician, has written to newspapers praising the programme, I addressed the issue of indiscipline with the following response:
“I know from personal experience how undisciplined Sri Lankans are and it is not a new discovery! I left the GMOA because I was against strikes, a sign of lack of discipline among the members of the so-called noble profession. If you think Sri Lankans are disciplined, you are living in cloud-cuckoo land! Your statement that the vaccination programme acted as a spreader proves my point. If it did occur, it is because people do not know how to queue. They think if you push, things would be done quicker! If the Army had stood outside ordering people to queue properly, the Opposition would have claimed Gota was using the Army to tame the public!”
The last thing I wish to do is to criticize my brethren unfairly, from a distant land, but I am not left with much choice. It is pretty obvious that indiscipline has grown, as much as each successive government in Sri Lanka, since independence, becoming more corrupt than the previous.
We are supposed to be a Buddhist country and we expect the disciples of the Buddha to be the most disciplined. A Buddhist priest trying to assault a vaccinator, because the stock of vaccines runs out, may be interpreted as an isolated incident, but it is not. Utterances by some Buddhist priests in public are cringeworthy. A Buddhist priest leads a nurse’s trade union; much against the code of conduct laid down by the Buddha and adds insult to injury by getting them to take trade union action during a grave medical emergency, endangering lives. Buddhist priests are seen joining the teacher’s strike, too.
What about the noble profession of mine and my friend’s? Even before the pandemic, their trade union did not care two hoots about patients’ lives; going on strike being their first response to any problem! Unashamedly, they risked innocent patients’ lives during a pandemic to get their demands.
Not that there are no disciplined professionals. Much was made, in the media, of Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema’s resignation and a few others from the expert committee. One of their colleagues has written to this newspaper that they owe it to the public to declare why they resigned. The resignation itself says it all and that is the way decent professionals protest.
Now teachers have joined the strike bandwagon to settle a dispute that had been lingering on for over two decades. They do not care a tuppence about the future of our youth and in the process have lost all the esteem the public held them in. My friend, very conveniently, has failed to notice that the virus spread due to demonstrations held by teachers breaching COVID-19 regulations, despite it resulting in the unfortunate deaths of some teachers.
Leaving politicians aside, most of whom are undisciplined, irrespective of their complexions, when respected segments of the society, like the clergy, medical professionals and teachers, display gross indiscipline during an unprecedented period like this, can there be any hope? I wonder! I do hope the next generation ‘rebels’ against these, as generations do, so that a disciplined society may not be a bridge too far; I can only hope!
Coming back to the political accusations my colleague made, my reply was:
“I am not ashamed to admit that, any day, I would prefer Mahinda, Gota and Basil to Ranil or Sajith.”
Just a few days after my comment, Sajith made his declaration that there should be a snap-election. My assessment was confirmed by the leader of the JVP who responded by saying that Sajith should have his head examined!
Perhaps, there is more to it than that. Considering the number of protests and trade union actions that have taken place in spite of the continuing national emergency, one cannot be blamed for suspecting that there is a hidden hand behind all this. Maybe, Sajith let the cat out of the bag by his unguarded comment.
On top of the inherent tendency, it looks as if there is planned indiscipline too!
Show some sympathy to non-citizen spouses
(Some errors had crept into this letter, which was first published on 14 October under a different headline. This is the correct version. We regret the errors – The Island)
I have long wanted to lodge a protest against an injustice a dear friend of mine (P.) — and probably many others, too — has been labouring under for over 45 years now.
That is the requirement for non-citizen spouses to regularly — eternally — apply for residence visa renewal.
This must also make one wary of doing anything to endanger the citizenship one is left with and relies upon. When P, a British citizen, first came here, dual citizenship was still not an option, and sole citizenship of an unfamiliar place and people, scarcely tempting.
My English mother came here for the first time in 1955 (with three children). At the time, dual nationality was not allowed here. Naturally, she retained her British citizenship but had to regularly renew the right to residence. And my father’s assent was necessary every time. When, after 23 years of marriage, my parents divorced, my mother had to obtain special permission to remain — her youngest child was not even ten. And my father’s approval was still required. This became more and more difficult, and finally my mother decided to leave Sri Lanka. How life would have turned out for her had she not retained her British citizenship I do not know. Dual nationality was still not permitted. But in England, she had no problem finding a good job and a place to live.
When I returned here in 1975, I had been a British citizen from birth. I needed to work but the first job I was offered required me to be a Sri Lankan citizen. Still no dual nationality. It was a difficult decision to give up what had after all been a valuable asset in so many ways, and to lose certain privileges I took for granted for over 30 years. But this wasn’t a totally strange country for me, and I wanted to commit myself to it in every way. So, I took the risk and to this day I have only Sri Lankan citizenship. But, sadly, there have been many times in the years that followed when I wished I could have escaped the trouble and turmoil.
I don’t know if my friend P. ever contemplated taking SL citizenship only, or even dual citizenship when it became available. And until recently, dual citizenship closed various doors here to their owners — as I believe it should in high positions of politics and government.
P. has thrown herself into life here in every way. She is a much loved and valuable person. Unfortunately, she is not allowed to work, which is also a loss to the country. But naturally she misses her family and goes back regularly to be with them, often together with her solely SL husband.
Were she to take dual nationality now, she could not leave in a time of turmoil/crisis here or to her family in London.
And so, for over 45 years she has had to go through the wretched business of visa renewal — originally every year, but now every two years for people who have been here for a longer period. And this looms large again now, in a few days, amid all the current problems.
Not only that, but forever hangs over her the instant withdrawal of residence rights should her husband predecease her.
I think this last is most inhuman. Just when she most needs the support of people who are close to her here, she is expected to pack up and set up an entirely new home. Not even given time to confront the new situation and decide what to do.
I think that at least two things need to be changed in this matter. The two-yearly renewal should be reduced to at least five-yearly. And the despatch upon the SL spouse’s demise should be changed to a reasonable time, for the bereaved to attend to everything or even consider, at that point, applying for dual nationality. And this should be no less than a year.
I hope this comes to the notice of someone capable of addressing the problem, though it will be too late to make any difference to my now quite “senior” friend, as she stands in yet another queue at the end of this month.
The Fertiliser Fiasco: Discretion is the Better Part of Valour
By Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha
In his novel published in 1891, tiled “The Light that Failed”, Rudyard Kipling wrote the phrase, ‘biting the bullet’ to express the thought that fortitude can be gained by ‘biting a bullet’! As things are, should the President and government continue ‘biting the bullet’ or compromise in sincerity as discretion is the better part of valour.
The farmers have a genuine grievance in that there is no fertiliser, organic or inorganic! And organic fertiliser is not something that can be produced overnight. They are adamantly up in arms, and it would appear most likely that paddy and other arable crop cultivations will incur huge production losses. Farmers in the Mahaweli and other irrigated lands have taken up the unyielding stand that unless fertilisers are available, they will not cultivate this Maha season. Crop losses without fertiliser and other inputs can be as high as 40-50%, if not more, leading to a highly calamitous national situation. The same applies to plantation and other crops. Expert calculations reveal that tea yields too could decline by 50%!
More importantly, there are no readily available organic materials, vegetable, animal or other to meet the nutrient demand of the three million hectares of crops! Most plant–based organic matter has only about 1% nitrogen, if not less. Assuming, however, that together with animal dung and other organic matter sources the figure is increased to 1.5% and on average a hectare of cropland requires 100kg N per year, the total annual organic fertiliser demand should be at least 200 million tons if not more to provide the nitrogen requirement.
The average N demand for tea is at least 200kg/ha/yr, and some vegetables and other crops too, require more N than 100kg/ha/yr. The issue then is, how such a huge demand of organic fertiliser is to be met locally.
The recent fiasco with the attempt to import a seaweed- based organic fertiliser from a Chinese enterprise, Seawin Biotechnologies, is well known. Samples tested locally were reported to be contaminated with a harmful bacterium, Erwinia and the importation was stopped. Incidentally, the local Chinese Embassy had the audacity to contest the report of our quarantine authority, that the culture of the microbe could not have been done in the three-or four-day period as reported, but a senior professor of microbiology of the Peradeniya University and other specialists in the field have debunked the Embassy claim!
The supplier claims that fertiliser is heated to a temperature of 600 degrees centigrade to kill microbes. If so, how was the live pathogen detected. At this temperature not only microbes but also nitrogenous compounds should break down! Then how is the nitrogen replenished?
According to the company’s brochure on ‘seaweed granular compound fertiliser’ there are seven fertiliser formulations available for sale comprising nitrogen (N ) phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O), and nitrogen is replenished as ammonia, urea or nitrate! (Please see Table)
So, evidently, it is a granular fertiliser mixture of chemical and organic materials. The supplier does not claim that the product is organic, and it cannot as other than the ‘organic matter’ and the’ seaweed extract’ the rest are inorganic chemicals! So, clearly, having heated to the high temperature and losing the nitrogenous compounds, inorganic nitrogenous chemicals have to be added to achieve the required nutrient composition. So, the product is no longer fully ‘organic’. Then, who is deceiving whom?
Moreover, these seaweeds are believed to be essentially harvested from the Yellow Sea off the coast of Quindío City, an area highly polluted with metropolitan waste and excessively contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. The status of these heavy metals are, however, not cited in the fertiliser composition table in the brochure. Further, although the supplier has apparently promised a 10% nitrogen content in the formulation, it is impossible to get such a high value from seaweeds! On the whole, then there are grey areas in the fertilizer deal.
The President and the government are apparently now gradually yielding to the countrywide fertiliser demand pressures of the farmers as evident from a recent news item that chemical fertiliser for corn will be imported. Then what about tea and other crops?
As per the ‘grapevine’ there is evidence that some nano (chemical) fertilisers are also to be imported and the Tea Research Institute has been asked to work out how much ammonium sulphate as the nitrogen fertiliser source is needed for the country’s tea apparently because some stocks of the latter being available. Ammonium sulphate has only 21% nitrogen whereas that of urea is 48%. Because of production interferences due to COVID the urea prices have shot up by 35 -43%, from April to September 2021, and the same should be true for other straight fertilisers.
Ammonium sulphate price globally is now reported to be about USD200/ metric ton whereas that of urea is about 450 USD. So, in terms of N contents in the fertilisers, the cost should be comparable except for the haulage. However, over application of ammonium sulphate can be detrimental in that the added sulphur in the soil is reported to inhibit phosphorus uptake by crops affecting growth and yield! Urea is the better option as the nitrogenous fertiliser when large quantities of it are needed.
In conclusion, it is the ignorance and obstinacy of the authorities that has pushed the country into this calamity. Minister after minister are obsessed with the “wasa visa” myth as evident from their utterances both in Parliament and outside! It is the general belief, without evidence that, agrochemicals are the cause of many non-communicable diseases.
No politician speaks about ambient air pollution, the leading environmental health risk factor locally and globally. Records reveal that nearly 3.5 million premature, non-communicable deaths, for example, in 2017, were from stroke, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, lower respiratory infections, and diabetes.
The President should, as a matter of priority, obtain a report from the health authorities on this matter of agrochemicals and health. This false belief was aggravated as a result of the initial suspicion that the chronic kidney disease (CKD) of the Rajarata was caused by agrochemicals but none of the research supported this contention. Research evidence gathered over several years, especially during the period 2010 and 2018 by no less than five groups of researchers established that the most likely aetiolating agent is hard water and fluoride in the some dug wells especially on high ground, as those who drank such water were essentially the ones that contaminated the disease.
Those who consumed water from the streams, reservoirs or dug wells in the plains did not contact the disease! Some of the research conducted by the current coordinator of CKD activities in the Health Ministry too supported this contention!
However, it is sad that the health authorities have failed to brief the President, the Health Minister and the government in general on this vital matter! Had this happened the President would, not have rushed into this decision of ‘going organic’ virtually overnight!
Jealousy: Is it in our genes?
By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana
In making my contribution to the debate on the supernatural, stirred by the faith in astrology and palmistry expressed by three esteemed colleagues of mine, I took the opportunity to highlight the achievements of a Sri Lankan born Cosmologist of international repute. I posed the question, “Do Astrology and Palmistry predict future whilst Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology explore past?” in the title (The Island, October 7), which was tongue in cheek as stated, and was not an article meant to explore the origin of the universe, as I totally lack the expertise in that field. However, I am thankful to Ivor Tittawella for educating me and the readers with his comment’ “The more important and timely question to ask is how the starting material of the Big Bang, the “cosmic egg” if you will, came into being in the first place, coming out of absolutely ‘nothing’” (Understanding of Cosmology and deep physics: The Island, October 12).
I wish Tittawella had expanded on the topic of the ‘cosmic egg’ instead of casting snide remarks: “The anecdotes given are interesting, of course; but is it worth touching at such length on matters which the public are generally aware of anyway? Folk do know the distinction between palmistry and cosmology; they do know, too, and are hugely proud of, a good few Sri Lankans doing excellent research both at home and abroad”. I agree that few folks would confuse palmistry with cosmology but for many Sri Lankans, astrology is a ‘science’ commanding as much respect as astronomy! I presume when he refers to ‘matters the public are generally aware of’, which I am accused of touching at length, he, I believe, refers to my somewhat lengthy reference to Professor Hiranya Pieris. I came to know about her achievements by sheer chance and many who read my article were pleasantly surprised too.
The response I received from someone who works for the judicial service in Canada was interesting: “This is the first time I read about this lady, Hiranya. She sounds like a mini-Stephen Hawking! Sadly, Sri Lankans do not acknowledge their own, most of the time! Is this jealousy?” This got me thinking and made me wonder why we are jealous, instead of celebrating the success of our fellow countryman? I am sure many in the Sri Lanka music industry must be jealous of the tremendous achievement of Yohani Diloka de Silva whose rendition of ‘Menike Mage Hithe’ has gone viral! Is jealousy a trait embedded in our genes?
As a predominantly Buddhist country what we should be practicing are the Four Sublime Attitudes, ‘Sathara Brahma Viharana’: Loving kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Empathetic joy (Muditha) and Equanimity (Upekkha). Of relevance to this discussion is Muditha, empathetic joy, sometimes referred to as sympathetic joy or vicarious joy, as well. It is the ability to rejoice at others’ success, the cardinal feature of Mudita being that it is pure joy unadulterated by self-interest.
Fortunately, we can have pure joy about many who have excelled in many fields, both at home and abroad. Whilst those at home are well known some who are outside are not so well known. In fact, Ivor Tittawella himself is a distinguished scientist with many papers to his credit published in reputed international journals. As far as I could gather, he is a Microbiologist who worked in Umea University in Sweden.
After reading my article, a friend of mine mentioned Professor Ray Jayawardhana, who is the Harold Tanner Dean of the Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences and a Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University. In addition to researching on the formation and early evolution of stars, brown dwarfs and planets, he is an award-winning writer, his best-known book being ‘Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe’. He has won many awards including Rutherford Memorial Medal in 2014 and American Physical Society Nicholson Medal for Outreach in 2018. He also has the honour of an asteroid being named after him: ‘4668 Rayjay’.
I wonder whether the interest of many in Astronomy and related subjects is due to trailblasing by Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe who was a student, and subsequently a collaborator, of the famous British Astronomer, Sir Fred Hoyle. They are well known as the proponents of panspermia, the hypothesis that some dust in interstellar space is largely organic. Their joint work over 40 years resulted in multiple publications. Chandra Wickramasinghe has authored over 30 books on Astrophysics and related topics. However, his reputation was slightly dented by the rejection of some of their theories by the scientific community, including the theory that some outbreaks of illnesses on Earth are of extra-terrestrial origin, including the 1918 flu pandemic and certain outbreaks of polio and mad cow disease. They hypothesised that the 1918 flu pandemic was due to cometary dust which brought the virus to Earth at multiple locations, simultaneously, which has been rejected by experts on the epidemic.
Chandra Wickramasinghe comes from a brilliant family. His father, a mathematics graduate from Cambridge, was the Chief Government Valuer. Chandra is the eldest of four brothers and Suneetha, next to him took to medicine; the third, Dayal is Professor of Mathematics at the Australian National University in Canberra and the youngest, Kumar holds the Chair in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in University of California, Irvine.
Suneetha Wickramasinghe entered medical school in Colombo with me and we sat next to each other during lectures, for five years. He used to drive from his house in Bambalapitiya and I was able to get a lift to and from the Buddhist Medical Hostel ‘Jeewaka’ in Turret Road, Kollupitiya, very often. We both got distinctions in Medicine at the final MBBS examination held in April 1964 and he left for the UK, the day after results were out. He did so because he craved research and ended up becoming one of the world’s leading authorities on congenital dyserythropoietic anaemia, a rare inherited anaemia. He became Professor of Haematology in St Mary’s Medical School in London, in his mid-thirties. Unfortunately, he died prematurely of Myeloma, a disease in his own field, in 2009. ‘World authority on diseases affecting red blood cells’ was the headline for the obituary published by The Guardian newspaper of London on 09 September, 2009.
When I attended the Sri Lanka Medical Association Anniversary session in 2003, to deliver a ‘guest lecture’, I met another batchmate of mine who told me that he would be President, SLMA in 2005. He sought my help and asked who the ideal chief guest would be for the Anniversary Session in 2005. Considering that Suneetha was a prolific contributor to scientific journals and has edited eight books on Haematology, in addition to being a speaker much in demand around the world, without any hesitation I recommended Suneetha to be the chief guest. My friend readily agreed and wished me to contact Suneetha and make all arrangements. Suneetha attended the sessions but I was not even invited. When I telephoned to inquire from Suneetha, on his return, it transpired that he was not the chief guest, the honour being accorded, as usual, to a foreigner! With a degree of embarrassment, he told me that he was made a guest of honour. We were to meet over lunch but Myeloma prevented it. Suneetha died without full recognition in the land of his birth. That is Sri Lanka!
Central Bank looking at proposal to permit dollar-paid vehicle imports
Confessions of a global gypsy – Part 20
CBK had an impulsive streak but was gracious in admitting mistakes
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
Opinion6 days ago
SRI LANKA @ EXPO 2020: Paradise Lost!
news7 days ago
Reports of possible terror attack: ACJU requests Muslims to pray for Sri Lanka
Sports7 days ago
Antonians in UAE excel in 3×3 basketball
Midweek Review5 days ago
City University and utilisation of existing higher education institutions
Features7 days ago
Molnupiravir: A Pill to Treat COVID-19
Business7 days ago
Economist urges all citizens to hold the government accountable for public spending
Features6 days ago
For better research in Humanities and Social Sciences
Features7 days ago
Are we making rational decisions in the rice sector?