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Dogs bark, but caravan moves on

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The Prorogation Message

Events fast changing keep boggling our minds making it difficult to establish their continuity. Each new scene is staged by the same players wearing different masks, and our vision gets encumbered with illusions confusing us again and again. Caravan moves on unimpeded, while we attempt to keep pace and contemporaneous with our present.

Collective responsibility: In the ongoing controversy around the Yugadanavi fiasco, the behaviour of some members of the Cabinet has given rise to a political quagmire, which the entire country is keenly watching. In the parliamentary system of government, with the Cabinet bound by collective responsibility, there are components they have to abide by. It is well recognised that the Ministers should have the opportunity to have free and frank discussions prior to the decision- making. The Cabinet practice is that such discussions, however, are confidential, and the details will be confined to the members of the Cabinet only. The other important principle is that once agreed, all Ministers are expected to abide by such decisions. They are left with no options other than to be with the government towing the line OR else resign from their portfolios. We are confronted with a slightly varied circumstance, in that those who counter the decision, claim that the first principle has not been followed or they are denied of that opportunity.

Authorities have maintained that Prime Ministers can apply the principle of collective responsibility more flexibly such as “overlooking media coverage which suggests there are ministerial disagreements or leaks of information.” But such discrepancies depend on the Prime Minister’s own strength and the constitutional power devolving on the PM. According to Article 45(1) it is the President who has the power to appoint from time to time, in consultation with the Prime Minister, where he considers such consultation to be necessary, Members of the Cabinet of Ministers.

According to 47(a), any member of the Cabinet of Ministers continues to function unless he “is removed by a writ under the hand of the President”.

Another matter relevant to this issue is the coalition nature of the Government. We are not aware of the mandatory conditions applicable to the parties in the coalition, sharing the ‘pohottuwa’ symbol for the election. For example, if there is an agreement for the Ministers to “argue freely in private’ but must maintain a united front when decisions have been reached at the Cabinet” , the parties to the dispute are now taking the position that no such decision has been taken.

Anyway, according to the constitution, the President can make the final decision under the powers to hire and fire.

In the British system of Parliament, historically, collective responsibility has also been relaxed during periods of coalition government. During the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition, collective responsibility was set aside for certain party political issues, including the 2011 referendum on electoral reform. Perhaps the different political parties involved in the brawl surrounding the Yugadanavi MOU will have to be given a leeway to maintain their credibility with the voters on the declarations they publicly made during election time!

Finally, the Judiciary has to give a ruling on the issue. Parliament makes laws but the judiciary has to interpret and dispense justice even-handedly in the courts, and that the general public feel confident in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

A Fistfull of Dollars:

The 1964 movie, Fistfull of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood in the lead- role, was a box office hit. Today there is a Box Office break for another show awaiting the grand finale, starring Ajith Nivard C, the “Dollar Reserve Crisis’ ‘! It was Clint Eastwood’s maiden show, but Nivard C being a veteran actor having played the lead role during more serious highly critical periods, is eagerly watched by many during this performance, conjectured to be harder than ever before. But his confident disposition towards the outcome is dispelling all kinds of negativity and scepticism expressed by interested parties, as well as those ignorant of feasible alternatives in the case of a crisis.

Management of a crisis is both a Technique as well as an Art. For some it is a single-track approach in keeping with their blinkers (blinders worn by horses) on. But the time has come for all to look for ways and means beyond the traditional help refuge one is used to. The Panadol treatment may not be the best at certain times, and it is best to administer something slow but stronger as a lasting relief. People who are used to rapid pain killers do recommend and sometimes blame and accuse them for not taking such treatment. But those who are inclined to offer a cure and a sustained relief would look at other options, however hard and bitter they sound. Let us hope and look at Ajith Nivard C’s approach in this perspective.

Clint Eastwood had to use his master gun skill to control bandit Rojo and save his aggression, and now the policy makers have to face the attacks from Fitch Ratings, and Opposition politicos’ hell bound to propagate their ostensible National Interests. We can only watch and cheer, ‘come on- bat on’!

Prorogation of parliament:

In essence a prorogation of the parliament means the continuation of the parliament from one session to another. It is not a termination, although in its process some of the ongoing activities will be halted. It is effected under constitutional powers given to the President. Political history records many controversial prorogations, which were resorted to by those in power to avoid different kinds of issues in dispute. The most controversial one was the prorogation of Canada parliament in 2008 by prime Minister Stephen Harper, in view of a pending no-confidence motion against his minority government by the opposing parties. The prorogation provided an opportunity for the Harper govt to reach an agreement with the opposition, thereby helping Harper to continue in power.

Although there is no visible threat of such a nature for the Rajapaksa government, there are many things in the brewing that could manifest into major disputes. Thus, the prorogation provides breathing space for settlement of the dust and starting afresh. Any way the country needs a refreshed approach, and a new session with new thinking and approach. The product life of some of the items have long since come to a stagflation calling for course corrections. Hopefully the opportunity could be utilized to set the Gyro compass to distinguish between the true North and the magnetic north; because we witnessed the magnetic North directional sailing has attracted many iron filings of no use.

Let us hope that this prorogation is heading towards a meaningful transition.

COPE, COPA and COPF

: It is strongly commented that the prorogation of the parliament is a sinister move to change the Chairpersons of these committees. There is no doubt that these persons have played a praiseworthy role in these bodies. Well, according to their knowledge, understanding and experience it may be so. But these committees are mere name’s sake bodies, which have been talking about the subject areas coming under their purview, but without any useful service either to the Institutions they examine or to the Public at large. Why I state this is due to an obvious factor that nobody has been penalized or taken to task for the irresponsibility, highlighted and exposed at these so-called investigations or inquiries. We do not understand why they are termed investigations, because what they in effect do is to examine the Audit reports and confine their role of inquiring into the remarks and shortcomings pointed out in the reports.

Beyond the highly dramatic media shows they were recently converted into during the process of inquiry, no meaningful steps have been taken to either rectify or instigate charges against some of the awe-inspiring detections and revelations. In actual fact the COPE, COPA and COPF sessions are held much later, after the audit reports are released. Sometimes during the next year. In most cases the shortcomings discussed at these committees remain totally neglected by the respective organizations and institutions without any action being taken.

The so-called inquiry is confined to what is pinpointed in the Audit reports. The legislators little realize that the Audit function is a very limited examination, which does not probe in detail into the affairs of a SOE. The auditors go by the accounts presented to them and they are least concerned about the facts that remain unexposed in the accounts presented by those SOEs. The Auditors never go into the areas of broad public interest, such as the objective of the SOE, whether they have fulfilled those broad objectives, and to what extent they have deviated from the main purpose of establishment of such Public institutions. Sometimes they confine their comments to the profitability factor only, and thereby forgetting or disregarding how they have cooked up the figures to bloat profits through various unethical and unorthodox operations. Profits can be shown by various dubious means. In accounting they cook up figures, resort to window dressings, and bypass regulatory requirements stipulated in respect of the industries to show profits. In the annual accounts they hide several pitfalls and wrongful operations in order to show profits. None of the Committees are showing any interest in those, other than confining themselves to some adverse remarks if made by the Auditors. This is a pathetic situation.

Many SOEs are today purely and completely operating as white elephants, hiding many serious lapses in the eyes of the Committee Chairpersons, as well as members who are MPs with no better knowledge. If they want and are ready to debate any of these points we could devote some time with them for the sake of the future wellbeing of the country. I am certain they will find themselves ashamed of what they have been doing all this time, when we expose the reality behind many of those instances. The accumulating losses are a burden on the people, and the bogus profits too are equally bad and disastrous to the country’s economy.

State Banks, CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, Water Board, Port Commission, CWE are simply white elephants turned precious profit centres, which can turn around the entire economic landscape of the country for the benefit of all ordinary citizens, who happen to be the highest tax payers in this country. Therefore, let us not talk about Utopian high expectations as an outcome of these parliamentary committees. We can see how best they have failed to deliver anything useful to the society, if we re-examine the reports they have gone through all these years, some with massive media propaganda.

Just to quote one example out of several, I invite the attention of the parliamentarians, especially the Opposition that is complaining about various sinister moves associated with the postponement of these committees, to look into the last completed COPE report on the People’s Bank. The revelations made were alarming and the strictures too were shocking. Nothing happened so far.

Therefore, we are fed up with ridiculous criticisms. People of this country want action and not empty critics.

TENNEKONE RUSIRIPALA



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Opinion

Territorial mindset, a recipe for disaster!

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By Chani Imbulgoda

I recall a documentary on animal life on a TV channel. Describing the behaviour of lions, a caretaker said, “These lions are from the Dehiwala zoo. They are vigilant of other lions entering their territory, if one crosses the boundary they fight to death. They won’t like other lions entering their territory.” The announcer remarked, “Just like humans!”

Exactly, just like us. In the animal kingdom the survival of the fittest is the norm and not crossing others’ territory is a rule of thumb. Since the beginning of human civilisation there have been tales of battles. The Trojan war, Alexander’s, Caesar’s, Napoleon’s wars degraded human values. Saddled with cynicism, hostility and jealousy, we humans, like beasts, are at war with ‘others’ who do not fit into our ideologies or our comfort zones. History is a storehouse of tales of human battles over territories in the guise of civilisation. So-called civilisation itself was won over battles. In the local context, the native ‘Yakkhas’ were massacred by Prince Vijaya to develop ‘Sinhale’. America, Canada, Australia inherit a dark history of looting territories of indigenous people in the name of civilisation. Portugal, Spain, Britain tasted the blood of their ‘colonial slaves’. Centuries later, we have not yet shed our primary animal instincts. We battle tooth and nail to protect our territories, our autonomy, values and interests all in the guise of civilised behaviour.

We rarely welcome outsiders into our territories. In the 40s and 50s, women were kept out of men’s territory. Late British Prime Minister aka Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had to struggle many years to break through another of man’s territories, the Parliament. In the movie ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley’, she sobs to her husband that contrary to what she previously believed, despite hard work she cannot win on merit and that dedication and passion are irrelevant. One-time Prime Minister, Edward Heath condemns Thatcher’s outspoken nature to force her out of politics. Heath says that the Parliament is akin to an orchestra made up of many musicians and Thatcher is a French horn more loud than appropriate, that threatens the orchestra’s harmony.

This is how men and also women of the same flock air their resentment towards outsiders, in their own words ‘intruders’ who are colourful and loud in action. Insult, indifference, suspicion, suppression, oppression are not uncommon experiences of pioneers in anything in history or at present. I once heard a senior Professor advising a young colleague attempting to change the system for the better, “Lady, look, do not swim upstream, people would not like it.” Yes, despite good intentions any novel act breaks the harmony…That is why the Buddha had many foes. That is why the notorious thief Barabbas was chosen by the crowd over Jesus.

I tried to uproot a tiny cinnamon sapling that grew through my interlock pavement blocks, failing which I crushed it. It made me realise that this is what happens, no matter how valuable you are. If you crop up in a place where you would not be accepted, every effort is made to root out, failing which, crush you, to ensure that you would not resurface. I suppose many of us had faced similar circumstances at work places, in politics or within social circles. Why does this happen, because of ego, envy, distrust or insecurity? Or because someone deemed a threat by another individual, a leader or a group enters their territory?

A pack of wolves has a leader; the protection of lions’ territory is the responsibility of the leader; the leader is the first to announce danger. No outsider can cross the boundary. We see certain lions, wolves and foxes as alphas. The mentality ‘I am the boss, I know everything’ blinds them. They live on ego, with a superiority complex, under the assumption that no one can challenge their power. If the newcomer is meek and sucks up to the leader, he or she survives and can slowly squirm their way into the pack.

I have heard parents complain about how difficult it is to enrol their kids into various sports clubs in schools. I have worked in private as well as public sector organisations, local and overseas. I have experienced antagonistic behaviour in these organisations. Driven by their insecurity, superior or inferior complexes, they would go to any lengths to harass the outsider and go to any extreme to protect his or her territory. They are myopic to the point of rejecting ideas foreign to them no matter how good they are, as they see ‘danger’ in ideas alien to them. Some group ideologies are thicker than blood. Certain professional groups rarely welcome females. They believe that women cannot meet challenges as men do and can be fiercely territorial. Many qualified and capable individuals are ostracised from organisations or industries or expelled from positions because of this territorial mindset.

A person with a territorial mindset is often overcome by thoughts of safeguarding or enhancing his or her power, control, influence and self-proclaimed status. These are primitive emotions. Taking ownership and defending what people believe belongs to them is a positive trait. But it is this mentality that subjects newcomers to agony when they grow too smart for their own good. They are stifled when the power of those with a territorial mindset is threatened. Many novel ideas and skills go to waste while some newcomers or ‘misfits’ are forced to leave their workplaces, others would continue the fight or be forced to conform.

We talk of harmony, reconciliation, tolerance and unity in diversity. Why cannot we synergize each other’s differences? A French horn would add glamour and at least amuse the audience. A garden consisting of a variety of flowers is more awe-inspiring than a garden of roses alone. Poet Khalil Gibran said that when a river enters the sea, the river is no more, it is diluted in salt water and one cannot trace the river in the sea, but the river grows larger and so does the sea. When we come out of our confining shells we are exposed to greater opportunities as well as benefits for both the newcomer and those already in that society.

(The writer holds a senior position in a state university and has an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management [PIM], Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her PhD in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Sector at PIM. She can be reached at cv5imbulgoda@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Faulty decisions

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Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

csweera@sltnet.lk

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Opinion

Have pity on Afghans

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A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.

JAYMAN

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