by Eng. D. Godage
Total foreign currency reserves of the country were around seven billion dollars at the beginning of 2021 but it decreased to around 1.2 billion dollars towards the year end, even though the Central Bank announced that there was a reserve of three billion dollars. The net foreign assets of the total banking system are said to be a US$ 4.1 billion deficit by 2021 end. Everybody knows the suffering and difficulties the countrymen undergo as a result of the depletion of foreign currency or dollar reserves. Without elaborating on those effects, it is the intention of the writer to examine how foreign reserves depleted so fast.
Politicians, officials, public speakers very often tend to blame every government since independence over the past 70 years for ruining this country, but with regard to foreign debt, it is not applicable. Moreover, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were felt globally but other countries in this region did not suffer as much and face such crises like the ones faced by Sri Lanka, so it is no excuse. It is not essential to elaborate on this fact as it is common knowledge. Consequently, the writer makes an attempt to understand how and when it happened. The focus of this discussion is on infrastructure development, and not other debt instruments.
Debt burden since independence
The Oya project implemented around 1948 using local funds comes to mind. Moreover, from 1950 the major port development scheme of Colombo Harbour created the Colombo Port, one of the most modern ports at the time, by 1956 under the leadership of the Minister of Transport and Works, Sir John Kotelawala in the Dudley Senanayake Cabinet, utilising local funds amounting to 110 million rupees. While work was in progress, the ship ‘Gothic’, carrying Queen Elizabeth II, berthed alongside the newly constructed Customs Quay to christen it the Queen Elizabeth Quay (QEQ). Incidentally, the QEQ was buried in the privately developed SAGT or South Asia Gateway Terminals around year 2000.
The Mahaweli Development Project, a massive irrigation cum hydroelectric scheme originally planned for 30 years but telescoped into about six years, was undertaken by the J.R. Jayewardene government using concessionary loans as well as grants. Funds were provided based on a thorough feasibility study, with eminent engineer late Dr. A.N.S Kulasinghe and his team of engineers working as consultants. Resultant benefits are well known and they did not lead to any debt crisis in the country.
Road and railway infrastructure development has been carried out with locally raised funds. After the 2004 tsunami disaster, the Railway Department staff rehabilitated the destroyed line to recommence operations with the least possible delay. It is said that northern rail line improvements carried out later on loans under Uthuru Wasanthaya had spent two to three times the cost.
Since 1980 the country has seen another major development programme in the port sector. Studies had been conducted at a time of increasing demand for container traffic, confirming the urgent need to expand port facilities. The first phase of expansion, requiring US$ 32 million, was funded in the form of a Yen currency loan. The project progressed systematically aided by further loans, through a transparent bidding process. As a result, the Colombo Port was elevated from the global rank of 127 in 1981 to 21st in 1997. These loans were granted only after proper feasibility studies were carried out and confirmation of loan repayment capability, as affirmed by the lending Japanese Agency. Extensive borrowing for project infrastructure became the norm only after about 2000 and not since independence.
Newer debt accumulation
A Sunday English newspaper on March 9, 2014 and May 1, 2016 reported, with details from the External Resources Department, on 28 projects funded predominantly by China Exim Bank loans amounting to US$ 7,671 million, with five-year grace and 10-year repayment periods; their interest rates are not indicated but is supposed to be over six percent. All these projects are said to have been initiated through unsolicited tenders. The same newspaper published a report under the caption, “Normal tender procedure not possible for mega projects: PBJ”. This is a questionable statement. Further examination of the above list shows seven projects, all in Hambantota, totalling US$ 5,054 million, for airport, port, highway extension, railway extension and local road network. None of them seem capable of generating revenue to repay the massive loans even though they have been in operation for around 10 years by now. These loans alone require about US$1 billion per year as repayment, burdening the country, and using up its dollar reserves. During the previous regime the Hambantota Port was given out on a 99-year lease.
Did the Treasury officials who handled these borrowings not see the danger of the debt burden or debt trap and the country’s inability to repay them without adequate future revenue? One can cite the shifting global financial structure and unforeseen circumstances as the reason. But they should have been taken into consideration in any plan. High costs due to unsolicited proposals without a competitive bidding process are also an issue. As for costs, the Treasury Secretary has said that it is the engineers who determine costs. This is not an acceptable excuse.
The Colombo Port South Harbour was found to be an urgent project, and proved viable after an extensive feasibility study by 2001. After producing detailed designs, cost estimates and all implementation requisites, it was not possible to proceed due to lack of funds. The Hambantota Port project was also given high priority by the same government though two feasibility studies failed to show the viability of the project. For the Colombo Port project, the Treasury Secretary advocated commercial borrowing claiming that the lending agency conditions were unacceptable.
In fact, only one lending agency came forward to offer approximately one third of the fund requirement. The Ports Authority managed to obtain very concessionary loan of US$ 300 million in 2006, to proceed with the project, albeit after a two-year delay. The new harbour was completed successfully within the stipulated time and cost while adhering to a transparent tender process. It is worthwhile to note that the lowest cost, approximately US$ 320 million, was quoted by the Korean contractor who successfully completed it, while the next bid was around US$ 570 million by a Chinese contractor. This project seems to be generating more revenue than budgeted.
In fact, the biggest container ship in the world ‘Ever Ace’, with a carrying capacity of 24,000 TEU, berthed in the Colombo South Harbour in October 2021 as it is the only port in the region that could accommodate a ship of that scale, bringing great honour and promoting the Colombo Port.
Most Chinese funded projects that commenced during the past two decades seem now complete and in operation, spread among power and energy, transportation, airport and aviation, ports, irrigation and water sectors. Debt distribution is US$ 1,553 million in power and energy, US$ 3.99 billion in transportation, US$ 232 million in airport and aviation, US$ 1,336 million in ports and US$ 101 million in irrigation. This includes projects indicated by the aforementioned 2016 news item, and subsequent major projects like the Central Highway are not included.
Expensive ventures like the Norochcholai coal power plant costing US$ 1,346 million have helped to meet the country’s energy demands and there has to be a post project evaluation to ascertain its financial gains and loan repayment capacity. Highway projects undertaken on expensive loans do not seem to generate enough revenue to meet dollar loan repayments. Although some benefits accrue, the post project economic and financial evaluations are not satisfactory. The highest revenue on a peak day on the Southern Highway has been 38 million rupees a day. Considering the average annual turnover minus the operation and maintenance costs it could take 100 years to repay loans. Authorities should perform a post project evaluation for the benefit of future planners.
Lessons to learn
This is history but should not be discarded, for the valuable information and data therein demonstrate the actual scenario and resultant repercussions. Decision makers and economic advisors to the government, especially of the Treasury and any other relevant officials could review them.
The debt burden has aggravated the dollar crisis during the past two decades. The COVID-19 pandemic during the past two years is not an excuse as other countries in the region too have faced the same but are performing better. The negative economic growth in 2020 and the considerable dollar debt burden, with the country’s reserves collapsing have not occurred suddenly. Severe import restrictions have made day to day life of the people inconvenient and led to the collapse of some domestic industries.
The worst is yet to come, as warned by the Secretary to the President, delivering a speech in Colombo, as reported by a Sunday English newspaper on 28 Nov. 2021. He was the Treasury Secretary during the past two decades, when China Exim Bank loans were signed to the tune of billions of dollars mostly for white elephant projects, The massive dollar debt seems the root cause of most problems faced today.
Ajahn Brahmali’s dhammaduta visit to Sri Lanka in March 2024
The Ajahn Brahm Society of Sri Lanka has announced the visit of Ajahn Brahmali to this country in March 2024. He will be here from March 14 to 24 and will conduct meditation retreats, giving Dhamma talks and meeting and conversing with relevant groups. Just as it was with Ajahn Brahmavamso, who was in Sri Lanka for 10 days in late May this year, the Ajahn Brahm Society is finalising a full programme for Ajahn Brahmali, overseen by Ven Mettavihari Thera, with beneficiaries being us – Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.
This is Ajahn Brahmali’s fifth visit to our country, his first having been in 2013. Every available minute of his time in Sri Lanka in March next year will be utilized to help us better understand the Dhamma and guide us in proceeding on the Path to end the cycle of samsaric existence. Advice on the practice of meditation will be included in his crowded schedule for bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and lay people
Ajahn Brahmali was born in Norway in 1964. In his early 20s he visited Japan and was introduced to Buddhism and meditation. He was deeply interested and devoted much time to learning more of what the Buddha taught and in quiet reflection and meditation. This was while reading for degrees in engineering and finance. On completion of his academic studies, he moved to Britain and resided in the Amaravati and Chithurst Monasteries as an Anagarika (keeper of eight precepts). Meeting Ajahn Brahmavamso and listening to his teaching, he decided to travel to Australia and train in the Bodhinyana Monastery in Serpentine, near Perth, in Western Australia. This was in 1994. Two years later he was ordained; his preceptor being Ajahn Brahm. In 2015, on completion of 20 rain retreats, he was conferred the title ‘Maha Thera’ – Great Elder.
Ajahn Brahmali’s reputation as an expert in the Pali language and deep knowledge of the Suttas is internationally recognized. He has authored many essays inclusive of two on Dependent Origination and the treatise The Authenticity of Ancient Buddhist Texts, in collaboration with Bhante Sujato. He conducts Pali language classes and explanatory discourses on the Suttas to devotees of Bodhinyana Monastery. He is also a regular teacher at the Dhammaloka Centre in Perth. Added to his intellectual excellence is his practicality. Ajahn Brahmali oversees the building and maintenance projects at both the Bodhinyana Monastery and the Hermit Hill property in Serpentine.
And thus, propitiously and fortunately for us Sri Lankans, Ven Ajahn Brahmali will be here in our land in March 2024; generously willing to guide us to deeper understanding of the Dhamma and enhanced meditation.
Concept of Immunology in Ayurveda
By Dr. Sasika Palathiratne
BAMS (Hons.) – FIM, UoC
Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine with Vedic roots that originated in India about 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda is not only a complete system of medicine but also a scientific philosophy of life, with the two main objectives of prevention and curing of diseases and disorders. Ayurveda is believed to be of a divine origin and passed down to humans via the great sages. Ayurveda mostly utilises herbal based medicines and it has survived the test of time for many millennia; even today it is one of the most popular systems of alternative or complementary medicine throughout the globe. Ayurveda encompasses traditional wisdom, oriental philosophy as well as Vedic science.
The concept of immunology is well-established and elaborated in Ayurveda but in a different name. In Ayurveda, immunity is known as Vyadhikshamatva and defined as the power or ability that prevents the future occurrence of diseases and acts against existent diseases. Furthermore, Vyadhikshamatva is associated with Trividha Bala namely; Sahaja, Kalaja and Yuktikruta. The Trividha Bala can be interpreted as domains of immunity as congenital or hereditary, seasonal or chronological and acquired or specific respectively. Sahaja Bala is the immunity present from birth and it is due to genetic predisposition and good maternal prenatal health. Kalaja Bala is the particular power of immunity that manifests itself in certain episodes of age as well as seasons. Yuktikruta Bala is the power of immunity that a person can acquire through certain medications, healthy foods and proper lifestyle.
Good immunity or Vyadhikshamatva is invariably present in a healthy person and according to Ayurveda; for this proper functioning of the entities Ojas and Kapha are essential. Kapha is one among the Tridosha of Ayurveda, which represents fluid and earthly nature as well as the physical growth of the body. Ojas on the other hand is considered as the utmost essence of the seven body tissues and its presence is said to be extremely essential for life. Furthermore, the clinical features described in abnormalities of Ojas are also seen in most immune-compromised patients. In addition, Ayurveda has clearly described instances where the Vyadhikshamatva Bala is increased or decreased. Specifically, persons having extremes of heights and body statures such as very obesity and emaciation are said to possess a relatively low power of immunity. On the contrary, a higher power of immunity is said to be manifested in persons who are born out of good paternal and maternal gametes [reproductive cells] at a suitable geography, time and climate and of cheerful dispositions, consume good food, engage in physical exercises.
Ayurveda is a complete medical system, where each and every major disease is well-described with causative factors, symptoms and most importantly therapeutics. The system of Ayurveda medicine has a major focus on curtailing the causative factors and reversing the pathogenesis of the disease, as opposed to symptomatic treatments. Thus, the principle of prevention is better than cure, has been a core policy of Ayurveda since its inception. Sushruta Samhita, which is one among the two main compendiums or textbooks of Ayurveda, explains in a separate chapter named Anagata Abadha Pratishedaniya Adhyaya, the ways and means of prevention of future emergence of diseases. The particular chapter explains the importance of proper food, bathing, exercises and medicated oil anointments for maintenance of proper immunity power and sound health, thereby preventing future occurrence of numerous diseases. Ayurveda has also proclaimed different treatment modalities for improvement of power of immunity, notably the Rasayana and Balya treatments that rejuvenate and energize the body, respectively.
The concept of auto-immunity can be correlated with the Rakta Doshaja Vikara mentioned in Ayurveda. According to Charaka Samhita, which is one among the two main compendiums of Ayurveda, if a disease does not get cured by proper orthodox treatments it should be considered as Rakta Doshaja Vikara and atypical treatments should be administered. Rakta Doshaja Vikara are diseases occurring due to abnormalities of blood and even as per modern medicine the antibodies and other immune components mediating the auto-immune process are predominantly located in the blood or its plasma. Furthermore, the Dushi Vishaja Roga, a particular type of Rakta Doshaja Vikara; clearly explains how such chronic diseases gradually occur with time when immunity weakens due to improper geographical, seasonal or dietary factors. Conditions associated with Dushi Visha such as skin diseases, edematous conditions, sub-fertility and certain heart diseases can also occur due to auto-immune pathology, according to modern medicine. According to Ayurveda the main causative factor for such auto-immune conditions is regarded as Ama, which can be considered as the improperly digested dietary matter that gets absorbed into the blood plasma and thereby acts as a root cause for all diseases. Even according to textbooks of modern immunology, some percentage of undigested dietary protein can remain antigenically intact in the blood plasma. Certain conditions of Ama are regarded similar to the action of toxin and are said to be cured with difficulty.
Ayurveda also explains treatments for such Rakta Doshaja Vikara with comparable auto-immune pathology. The Vamana Karma (emetic therapy) and the Virechana Karma (purgative therapy) are regarded as best treatment modalities for Rakta Doshaja Vikara, where expulsion of all undigested matters and impurities of blood are postulated. In addition, the Rakta Mokshana or the bloodletting therapy allows direct elimination of blood impurities by means of medicinal leeches or other suitable methodology. Upavasa or fasting is also mentioned as a treatment modality in such cases, which facilitates the digestion of any Ama and the importance of curtailing heavy protein intake in auto-antibody mediated diseases is thus, indirectly mentioned in Ayurveda. Besides, there are many specific herbs beneficial in such cases of auto-immunity such as Giloy, Licorice, Turmeric, Neem, etc., which are designated as immune-modulators even according to modern research.
In conclusion, with reference to all these facts it is evident that the concept of immunity was well understood and properly elucidated in the ancient divine medical science of life—Ayurveda.
An Incomparable Friend; Dr Carmel Indranie Ernest
“WHEN SOMEONE YOU CHERISH BECOMES A MEMORY,
THAT MEMORY BECOMES A TREASURE” –ANON
The email from Cyril was short and simple. But the effect was seismic . It hit Kanthi ( my wife) and me with the might of a sledgehammer blow. Indranie, his lifelong partner, had passed away after a brief illness.
Cyril was one of my closest friends, and also my roommate in our final year in Bloemfontein, the boisterous medical student’s hostel adjoining Carey College. We got to know Indrani well in that eventful year in Los Angeles where I did an Echocardiography Fellowship with an outstanding Sri Lanka born cardiologist, Dr Tony Chandraratne.
Indranie was born in 1942 in Moratuwa, a town hallowed in history; 1942 was also the year that the Japanese bombed Colombo and Trincomalee. Moratuwa which escaped the bombs was the birthplace of heroes who bravely stood up to the British conquerors, peerless philanthropists and also skilled artisans who fashioned furniture from local hardwoods; these surpassed the best European fitments.
She would no doubt have imbued this heritage as well as those of her parents; her father was an accountant and the mother a dutiful housewife. Indranie was the second of five siblings and was noted always for her placid temperament, charming smile and friendliness. She was also deeply religious. However she also was adept at separating wheat from the chaff; one of her favourite sayings was ‘all that glitters is not gold’.
At school she shone academically but was also proficient in sports particularly netball and athletics. In 1962 she was among the first recruits to the newly established medical school in the sylvan surroundings of Peradeniya. It was here that the champion cricketer,
Cyril, bowled over the pretty colleen and embarked on his longest partnership. They married 53 years ago and could echo Winston Churchill’s words “we lived happily ever afterwards”.
Both graduated in 1967, she from Peradeniya and Cyril from Colombo where he had relocated on account of his many sporting commitments. In 1973 they emigrated to the USA for further medical training; Cyril qualified as a cardiologist and Indrani as an Internist . They then moved to Lancaster in California in 1977 where both established outstanding practices . ( Indranie was a popular and successful physician as many of her former patients would attest. One very eloquent tribute states “her warm smile, quiet demeanour and even temperament made everyone who encountered her feel comfortable in her presence”. She remained a caring and dedicated physician to the end of her days. But the family was her first concern. Cyril and the two beautiful and accomplished daughters Cheryl and Melanie were her primacy.
I arrived, unannounced , in Los Angeles in 1988. Cyril somehow got wind of my coming, and on a Friday evening fronted up in the Howard Johnson Hotel in Boyle Heights. With few preliminaries, he bundled me into his luxurious Mercedes sedan and drove onto their elegant mansion in Encino the suburb where Michael Jackson too lived. Indranie was at the door with a warm welcoming smile which made me feel at home instantly. A delicious meal followed, the first of many.
It was my first meeting with Indranie. I had heard about her from our mutual friend and fellow hosteller Ganesh. Cyril and he traveled to Peradeniya on their free weekends.
Being a very private person, Cyril , never breathed a word about his mysterious sojourns; neither did he say anything about his many sporting accomplishments.
There were many other visits to Encino at weekends; they would guide me around the myriad shops in LA, and Indranie in particular helped me to get the household goods I needed for an unfurnished apartment which I had rented in South Pasadena, prior to Kanthi’s arrival.
One weekend they drove me to an orange grove outside the city, where a friend resided.Indranie graciously let me sit in the front , so I could enjoy the sweeping vistas and Cyril’s commentary.
Even after Kanthi came we were regular visitors. Cyril would invite eminent cardiologists who he felt maybe useful to me; also some colleagues from our year of 1962 in Medical school. Kanthi being a good cook , we were able to reciprocate their hospitality.
Their sincerity and affection was never more evident, as when Kanthi fell ill.
She had a severe upper abdominal pain; I imagined the worst and visualized removal of the gallbladder which was a major undertaking in the pre-laparoscopic surgery era.Indranie being the skilled internist she was, pacified us and telephoned a pharmacy near us to provide appropriate medications.
Next day we went over to her rooms where she performed a detailed examination and got the needed scans. Then we were seen by a surgical colleague who reassured us that it was an intestinal colic. Our relief was immeasurable. The year ended on a happy note.
We had a farewell dinner in our apartment which was graced by Cyril and Indranie. There were many encounters since. Once both of us were stranded in the Los Angeles airport as the friend who had promised to pick us, failed to turn up. We then called Indranie who promptly invited us home. Cyril was away in Lancaster as he was on call.
Our last meeting was in the Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle in Sri Lanka in 2020, just before the Covid pandemic broke out. We along with Cyril , Indranie and Melanie and others were attending the wedding of Lareef Idroos and Nabila’s daughter.
All of us had a grand time with friends and colleagues. Sadly it was also our last rendezvous..
We can now only seek solace in Jalaluddin Rumi’s wisdom.
“Do not grieve. Anything you lose comes around in another form”
And the deathless verse of Mary Elizabeth Frye
“Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I’m not there I do not sleep,
I’m a thousand winds that blow,
I’m the diamond glints on snow,
I’m the sunlight on ripened corn,
I’m the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I’m the swiftly uplifting rush,
Of the quiet birds in the circled flight,
I’m the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I’m not there. I did not die.
Farewell our dearest Friend.
May the good Earth lie softly on you.
May God hold you always in the Palm of His hand.”
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