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DON BRADMAN AND HIS MEN IN CEYLON

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(“From Essays on Sri Lankan Cricket compiled by Michael Roberts”)

by Neville Jayaweera

The image of Don Bradman exercised almost a mesmeric hold over the imagination of my generation, i.e. of those born in the 1930s, in (then) Ceylon. The dominion he exercised was so absolute that even now, 60 something years on, most of that generation would claim that there never was and never will be anyone like the Don taking guard at a batting crease. Speaking for myself, having watched cricket in England during the past 30 summers that I have been living here, I can vouch that no batsman I have seen ever came nigh Bradman. Neither in run getting nor in amassing statistics, neither in the capacity to concentrate nor in the fleetness of foot, neither in the murderous power of driving and pulling nor in the single minded devotion to the pursuit of perfection, and least of all, as a captain, did any batsman challenge Bradman.

In all these and in much else besides, he remains unique and without a peer. During those 30 years, I have watched every great batsman who played Test cricket in any part of the world, put his batting prowess on display on England’s green fields, and none amongst them can even remotely claim to have played the same game as Don Bradman. The only batsman who even hovered over the horizon was perhaps Viv Richards, and that too in his heyday in the late 1970s tours, but even him, on a scale of 100, where Bradman would be graded at 95, I would rate only in the 60s.

However, while much is very rightly made of Bradman the batting genius, there are two other aspects to the Bradman phenomenon, which discerning critics have written about and to which I shall return towards the end of this article.

A Michaelangelo masterpiece.

I first heard the name of Don Bradman about 1937 when I was only seven, and attending the Lower School of S.. Thomas College, Mt. Lavinia. Every boy in class collected cricket photographs and every young collector’s ambition was to boast of the largest number of Bradman pictures in his collection. There were two pictures of Bradman that every boy wanted to possess, one of him executing the straight drive and the other of him executing his fabled pull shot.

As I recall even now, the picture of him executing the straight drive had almost a mystical quality about it and it was not just the quality of the photography either. It presented the Don almost as a demi-god. What was distinctive about that picture was the sense of imperious authority, fluency and power it communicated. One could imagine the ball speeding like a rocket between the bowler and mid-off and lodging in the fence before either fielder could move. Here was no mere batsman. Here was a man who seemed in total command, a be-medalled field-marshal on horseback, a demi-god condescending to grace a cricket field.

The picture of him playing the pull was equally mesmeric. It showed him shouldering his bat vertically close to his let ear, having carved a crescent through the air from above his right shoulder downwards as opposed to the hoik or cross bat which often passes for the pull with ordinary mortals. Obviously J. H. Fingleton, one time Bradman’s partner in run scoring and later his biographer, must have been equally impressed by this photograph because he used it on the front cover of his book, “Brightly Fades the Don.”

For all the symmetry, perfection and poise these two pictures portrayed, they could have passed for masterpieces in marble sculptured by a Michaelangelo or a Rodin or to switch to another metaphor, the cricketing equivalents of Yehudi Menuhin displaying his virtuosity.

 

A family heirloom

With such fantasies of the great man crowding our minds, it was with the greatest excitement and wonderment that early in 1938, we learnt that Don Bradman and his team would be passing through Colombo on their way to England and would be playing a one day match on the SSC ground. To my inexpressible joy, my father, who was himself a fan of Don Bradman, agreed to take my brother Stanley, who was eleven then, and me, to see the great Don arrive with his men at the Colombo jetty. What was more, my father even purchased a brand new bat from Diana and Co. for my brother to take with him, in the hope of getting the Don’s autograph.

I recall the events of that hot steamy morning as if they happened only a few years ago. We were not allowed into the lower jetty where passengers disembarked from launches but had to watch over the railing as the team arrived. As the players climbed up from the lower jetty to the upper floor where the public had gathered, the crowd surged forward. My brother Stanley, with me trailing behind, his new bat in his left hand and my father’s Parker Dufold pen in the other, went to the first Aussie he saw and thinking he was Bradman, thrust the bat under him with a polite, ” Please sir, may I have you autograph”. Whereupon the Aussie smiled, took the bat and scrawled right across its middle, ” Sydney G. Barnes”. Somewhat disappointed that he had missed the Don, Stanley took the bat to the next man in a blazer coat and he in turn signed, a few spaces above the name of Barnes, his own name, “Stan MacCabe”. Thereafter, hoping to get Bradman, Stanley kept running to whoever was wearing an Aussie blazer and was rewarded with the following signatures, Lindsay Hassett, W.A Brown, J.H.Fingleton, W. J. O’Rielly, W.G Fleetwood Smith, C. L. Badcock, B.A.Barnett, E.L McCormick, A. G. Chipperfield, F.A.Ward and M.G.Waite, more or less in that order. Sadly, there was yet no signature of Bradman. By that time the team had already climbed into their cars to be driven to the Galle Face Hotel, when my father spied policemen crowding round one particular car right opposite the Grand Oriental Hotel across the road. Sensing that Bradman was in that car he urged my brother to hurry towards it, which Stanley did with great speed, with me trotting along behind him. Just when the car was about to start off Stanley thrust his bat under the nose of yet another Aussie who was standing with his foot on the running board. He turned out to be W.E. Geanes, the manager of the team. Geanes signed at the bottom, under all the other names, but noticing that Bradman himself had not signed it, inquired smilingly, ” Son, but you haven’t got Mr Bradman’s (sic) signature” and handed the bat to the great man who was already seated in the car. Up to that moment, at the request of the management, the police cordon around Bradman had denied access to anyone who sought his autograph. So it was that purely through the chance intervention of manager W.E. Geanes that we had all the signatures of the 1938 Australian team to England, with the great Don Bradman and his vice-captain Stan McCabe, heading the list.

My father intended the bat to be an heirloom. So it was that, taking it home that evening, with great care he inscribed across it, just under the splice, the rubric “Australian Cricket Team to England – 29th March 1938.” The bat belonged to Stanley and had he held on to it, it would have fetched over £25,000 at Sotheby’s today. However, that was not to be, and as to how Stanley squandered that inheritance is another story.

 

Batting fireworks

The following day, the 30th of March, the Australians played a one-day match against an All-Ceylon team at the SSC. The SSC ground of those days is now the Colombo Municipality cricket ground, which by the standards of MCG and SCG must have looked to the visitors like a postage stamp. Although Bradman had played once before in Colombo in 1930 and had scored 40 runs, he did not play in this match and it was memorable therefore only for the extraordinary display of batting fireworks by Badcock and Hassett who compiled 116 runs apiece. Their runs came mostly in sixes and fours, most of the sixes being executed almost parallel to the ground, either between point and cover or between square leg and mid-wicket.

The match was also memorable because schoolboy Pat McCarthy, the captain of Royal College team that year, was included in the All-Ceylon team, much to the chagrin of us Thomians who fumed over the exclusion of our own captain R.B. Wijesinha. In hindsight I should say that the Thomians’ dismay was completely ill founded because Wijesinha’s performance that year had nothing to show to that of McCarthy. However, in later years Wijesinha did represent All-Ceylon in several international matches. I do not recall who captained All-Ceylon that year but the names of F.C. de Saram, one time Oxford Blue, and Sargo Jayawickrema, dominated the sports pages of those times, day in day out, year after year. According to the score card of the match given in Michael Roberts’ Crosscurrents, de Saram had scored 31 runs and in reply to an Aussie total of 367 for 9 declared, compiled by tea, Ceylon replied with 114 for 7 by stumps, with de Saram the highest scorer and Pat McCarthy scoring 24. I believe that in later years Pat McCarthy migrated to Australia and played for West Australia.

The next time I had the opportunity to see Don Bradman was in 1948 when he lead his famous Invincibles to England and himself played in Colombo. We had already had a taste of what was in store for us because three years earlier we had seen two of the Invincibles, Keith Miller and Lindsay Hassett, belt the daylights out of our bowlers when an Australian Services X1 played an All- Ceylon team at the Colombo Oval in November 1945. I recall a six that Miller hit, went soaring over long-off and almost knocked out the clock on the brand new Oval scoreboard. In that match Miller scored 132 runs and Hassett 57.

 

The Invincibles

The 1948 Australian team’s reputation had already been established during the 1946/47 Ashes tour down under. Australia had won four of the five Tests with one Test drawn and Bradman had made 187 in the First Test and 234 in the Second, winding up the series with an average of 90 something. Furthermore, several of the new team had also compiled centuries, among them, Sydney Barnes, Arthur Morris, Keith Miller, Lindsay Hassett, Sam Loxton, Ian Johnson, Ernie Toshack, the spinner, Don Tallon, the wicket keeper and Ray Lindwall, the fast bowler. Almost every member of the team a centurion was indeed a formidable record. However the deterioration of his fibrositis, which had plagued Bradman throughout the war years and had caused him to be invalided out of the army, had continued to hamper him and reduce him to a mere shadow of what he had been in the thirties. While Bradman’s appetite for runs had not abated and his instinct for excellence and perfection remained undiminished, most observers had begun to notice a definite waning of his skills and an impairment of felicity at the crease. We were to see it confirmed at the Colombo Oval on March 28, 1948.

That day in March 1948 I remember vividly. I was 18 then and could undertake the expedition to the Colombo Oval without being escorted by my father! In those days, if one did not have a car, there being no bus service to Borella from Colombo South, access to the Oval was very difficult. So it was that, dismounting from the train at Bamabalpitiya, I walked all the way to the Oval along Bullers Rd, a distance of over three miles. The roads were choked with the young and the old streaming towards the cricket ground. By the time I reached the grounds, the paid stands and the standing spaces were all full and the police were turning the public away. Not being adroit enough to climb a tree, as thousands of others seemed to be, I crept through the barbed wire fence and found myself about twenty rows behind the boundary line. Very soon, all that was reversed when a mass of people broke down the fences, overran the police cordon and surged forward, carrying me with them. By the time the police had restored a semblance of order I found myself seated on the ground, this time not twenty paces behind the boundary line but about six paces inside it, at the edge of a sea of people, and the game had not even started! The tension and the excitement was terrific and some spectators amused themselves by pelting my hat with banana skins and calling me “ado thoppi karaya” (Hey, you hatter!), a small price to pay for watching Bradman!

The sky was already overcast when sharp at ten, M. Sathasivam, captain of Ceylon and the Don walked out to toss. The toss was a formality because whoever won it, the Aussies were meant to bat. So it was that at 10.15, Sydney Barnes and W.A.Brown went out to open the innings. For a description of the day’s play I have had the advantage of two eyewitness accounts, from the Observer and from the Times, the latter written by J.H. Fingleton, and included in Michael Roberts’ splendid book Crosscurrents.

The Australian innings was notable for five things. First there were the breezy innings by Barnes and Miller the former scoring 49 in as many balls and the latter scoring 46 in even a shorter time, with some mighty hits all over the ground. Second there was the excellent bowling by Sathi Coomaraswamy who got four wickets for 45 runs and by B.R.Heyn who kept the batsmen pinned down with some accurate off spin. Thirdly, there was the stunningly good fielding display put on by our men in the field, which drew rounds of applause from the crowd of over 25,000. In particular the fielding of Heyn in the covers was quite exceptional. Fourthly, there was the magical display behind the stumps by our keeper Ben Navaratne, and finally, there was the distressingly disappointing batting display put on by the great Bradman.

 

Embers that went cold

Everyone had come to see Bradman bat and as he walked out to the crease after the fall of the first wicket the atmosphere was electric. We all expected that Bradman’s arrival at the crease would be like throwing inflammable stuff on embers that had been smouldering while Barnes and Brown were at the crease. Sadly however, that was not to be. If anything, the embers went cold and died. For over an hour and a half Bradman scratched and scraped, pushed to cover or point and ran singles. There was none of that legendary pulling or any of the ferocious driving that we had all come to see and in all that time, he scored not a single boundary. This was a ghost of the Bradman we had read about, a legend drained of all credibility. Just only an year and a half back, we had sat enthralled by our short wave radio sets listening to the great man compile 187 at the Gabba and 248 at the MCG, his driving and pulling resounding like rifle shots as the ball sped in all directions to the boundary, every shot accompanied by thunderous applause. It was partly the deadly accuracy of our bowlers, principally of Coomaraswamy and Heyn and partly Bradman’s sea legs, and not least his fibrositis, which were perhaps to blame.

While Bradman was batting, an eerie silence had settled around the ground. There were no scoring shots to cheer and it was as if the crowd was waiting with bated breath for Bradman to ignite and did not want to miss the critical moment. I recall distinctly, amidst this tensed and overpowering silence, a spectator unable to suffer the tension any longer, chimed in, in Sinhala, “Oi, Bradman! What is the karanawa?” (I say! Bradman! What is the problem?) As the cry rippled across the ground, the nervous tension snapped, and the crowd burst out laughing as if to a man.

Shortly thereafter, when Bradman was on 20, he spooned an easy catch to Kretser at point, off Heyn. Normally, anyone taking Bradman’s wicket would be applauded for extraordinary skill and rare excellence, but that was not to be here at the Colombo Oval that morning. The fall of Bradman’s wicket seemed to have cast a deathly pall over the ground and the darkening clouds overhead seemed to suggest that even the heavens had gone into mourning. In the enveloping silence, as the great man walked off the ground, there was a distinctly funereal touch to the atmosphere, and as hundreds of silent spectators flooded over the field to see him at close quarters, play had to be suspended for 10 minutes until order and sanity were restored again .

At tea, with the sky darkening with rain, Bradman declared their innings at 184 for four. When Ceylon went in to bat, the rain was already falling but it held long enough for Mahes Rodrigo, formerly of Royal College, to give the crowd a display of classical batting that was every bit as good as anything the Aussies had put on show. So much so that Fingleton singled him out for special mention for smart footwork and for his straight bat. When the score was 46 for 2, the rain came down in torrents and that was the end of the match.

Fingleton in his review says that the Ceylon team played much better cricket than the Indian team that had toured Australia the previous summer. It had included Amarnath (captain), Hazare, and Mankad, but lost all their Tests. In particular, he thought that our fielding was quite exceptional and exceeded anything the Indians had put on. Sadly however, he failed to mention in his review the wicket keeping by Ben Navaratne who was in my view the most outstanding of the Ceylon team. I thought his work behind the stumps was quite remarkable.

 

(To be continued next week)



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Who does Sri Lanka’s fuel subsidy really benefit? 

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by Prof. Amal Kumarage

In a recent article, parliamentary MP and former VP of CitiBank, Eran Wickremaratne said Sri Lanka’s policies are skewed towards the rich and not the poor of the country.  He was referring to fuel subsidies where the government pays the difference between the high global fuel price and the price it is sold at the pump to cushion the people.  But the MP says it is not the man on the street who benefits from this subsidy but the wealthy private vehicle owners with big vehicles that require more fuel.

“As a country, when we choose this subsidy, we are actively choosing to give more money to wealthier families to drive their large vehicles. We are saying that our government would rather support the businessman with a fancy gas-guzzling car in Colombo over the school children in Monaragala who are struggling from a lack of food.”

Pump prices of petrol and diesel in Sri Lanka, even after the increase, are still lower than in most neighbouring countries. It is ranked 50th lowest from 170 countries listed, with almost all those having lower fuel prices than Sri Lanka being oil producing countries. Sri Lanka then becomes a country having the lowest pump prices for a non-oil producing country. It is also lower than the inflation-adjusted price in 2008 when global crude oil prices exceeded $100 per barrel, and the US dollar was only LKR 110. Oil crossed $100 per barrel even in 1981-82 during the Iran-Iraq war when the US dollar was just LKR 20. Sri Lanka has weathered such price hikes before. But what is needed is not just a temporary tiding over in terms of the fuel over-consumption, but a permanent policy that will make fuel use sustainable.

It is becoming more and more clear that the widespread practice of cushioning people from fuel price shocks in the long term, no longer works and it has also come to a point where the country can no more afford it. There is just too much oil consumption and eventually, it is the affluent heavy consumers who benefit from the subsidies.  Incidentally, the cost of kerosene in Sri Lanka is the lowest in the region, sold at a concession of around 60%.  Yet, it is manageable since the consumption is only 206 million litres per year, which is around half the domestic use of LP gas and around 5% of the fuel used for transport.

Therefore, efficiency targets should be given to fuel companies (CPC/LIOC) to reduce operating costs by 20%, equal to Rs 1 per litre of fuel, enabling the savings of Rs 3-4 billion per year.  This should be connected to programs supporting the reduction of fuel consumption in the long term.

Unlike other goods, fuel imports should not be restricted or just rationed as it is necessary for almost every category of economic production. But at the same time, our selling prices should be pegged to market prices with a reasonable tax component introduced.  This will discourage heavy consumption and encourage alternate use.

Most countries build in a tax for fuel that goes to assist in developing public and alternative modes of transport. This should be an important aspect of our long-term fuel policy as improved public transport means more people using it, and this would bring us another step closer to reducing our massive fuel costs. Countries that have implemented this successfully have been able to reduce their fuel consumption without reducing productivity or convenience.  In the current Sri Lankan context, adopting a similar policy will allow more funds to be allocated for goods that are vital for daily living.

While annual car imports keep adding to our fuel bill, another issue is the concessionary permit system provided by the government to certain state officials to import cars with tax benefits. According to statistics, the concessionary permit system is a huge loss annually to the Treasury averaging Rs. 94 billion per annum.  This figure is almost equal to the LKR 97 billion per annum the Treasury gathers from the country’s overall car imports. Furthermore, because of the tax concession, permit holders tend to go for more expensive vehicles in consideration of the resale value and more often than not, these expensive choices are heavy on fuel consumption.

Therefore, policy readjustments such as scrapping the concessionary vehicle permit system, and allowing concessions only for electric vehicles, should be brought in.

(Prof. Amal Kumarage is a transport sector professional with over 35 years of experience in academia, government and consulting. He is a Senior Professor in the Department of Transport & Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa, a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and Founder President of the Sri Lanka Society for Transport & Logistics. He is a graduate in Civil Engineering from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. He completed his PhD at the University of Calgary, Canada.)

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PM hints at full term, opposition in boycott mode, no relief for queuing public

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by Rajan Philips

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe made yet another statement in parliament last Wednesday (June 22). Apparently, these are biweekly statements he has committed himself to make “since taking over the reins of this government,” as he put it. With cynical self-deprecation he acknowledged the mockeries directed at him for making too many statements with too little action or results.

Sajith Premadasa and Anura Kumara Dissanayake have taken the criticism to another level by boycotting parliament until the PM and the government present a plan of action to address the economic crisis. This is the first instance the two leaders have reached common ground in the current parliament. Ironically, their agreement is not over some positive intervention but inexplicable abdication in the face of national suffering.

One appreciates the enormity of the challenge that the Prime Minister and the government are facing and the extremely limited and constantly diminishing assets available to them. People know that supplies are chronically short and they are going to get severely worse. What nobody gets is why cannot the government arrange orderly distributions of limited supplies, and spare the already suffering people the additional trauma of standing in long queues for something they are not going to get in any case.

A case in point is the supply of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. They have been in short supply since February, and nothing has been done to regulate their distribution. Those who have little or nothing, stand and suffer to get nothing much, while those who can afford – send proxies to collect more for the purpose of hoarding and potentially reselling.

The young and confused Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera, has promised to have a quota system in place by July. That is already too late and would be far too little as well. The bigger question is why the PM and the government are not thinking about implementing a system of priorities for procurement and distribution – food, medical supplies, cooking gas, and allocate fuel only to public transport (including three wheelers) and lorries involved in internal food transport. With all the shortages and closures, it makes no sense continuing with fuel supply for private vehicles and transport.

Given that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe is leading a cabinet of old worn-outs, the onus is on the Opposition to constantly raise these matters in parliament and force the Prime Minister and government into taking concrete action. Instead, the SJB and the JVP are running away from parliament apparently intending to force the government to come up with a plan. JVP leader Dissanayake who made big splashes in parliament last year and announced that the JVP is ready for national leadership, is now missing in action and missing out on opportunities to demonstrate his and the JVP’s readiness for leadership. Sajith Premadasa has become the occasional Leader of the Opposition. After weeks of silence, he appeared in parliament only to announce his boycott of parliament.

Political opinion is divided, as the Prime Minister himself acknowledges, between those who ridicule his ‘statements,’ and others who welcome his apparent openness and transparency. The problem is that Mr. Wickremesinghe has not been able to dispel the perception that he is still playing his old political games while appearing to provide a new form of leadership. The Prime Minister and the President are not at all working together. This is the same as what it was during the yahapalana administration, according to former President Maithripala Sirisena. There is a huge difference, of course. Sirisena and Wickremesinghe were elected to work together, but between them they botched a joint venture that began with much promise. On the other hand, Wickremesinghe and Gotabaya Rajapaksa have come together by mutual consent and out of desperation. It makes no sense for them to work at cross purposes now. It only weakens the administration and adds to public cynicism.

There is no politics without gossip, and the going gossip is that the Prime Minister has been trying to get one of his sidekicks to step in as the new Central Bank Governor when the Governor’s current term expires. That would mean the replacement of Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, who came out of premature retirement from Australia to head the bank in a state of crisis, by a rank outsider and a new Arjuna Mahendran. Why? Why would Mr. Wickremesinghe repeat the same colossal blunder that ended his legitimate political career? Fortunately for the country, and for himself, he may not be having his way around this time. But it only shows that there is no end to playing political games even when the country’s economy is in flames.

Full Term as PM

The Prime Minister statement last week included a surprising hint that ‘his’ interim government would go on until firm economic recovery is achieved and only then elections will be called. In a pertinent paragraph towards the end of the statement, the Prime Minister shifted his target audience from parliament to the people, and said:

“Once we have established a firm economic foundation you can hand over power to any political party as per your wish at an election and elect 225 suitable representatives to parliament. The responsibility and power to do so lie with you, the citizens of this country. You will be then given the opportunity to reject those you believe were responsible for the predicament Sri Lanka is facing today.  In turn, the new government will be given the mandate to bring those responsible before justice. But all this can only be achieved following the revival of the country.”

“A firm economic foundation” is not going to be established within the next two to three years, which would mean there will likely be no opportunity for an election sooner than when it will be normally due in 2025. That is full term for the current parliament and near-full term for Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. The President has already indicated that he will serve out his only term in full. If the Prime Minister wants parliament also to continue for its full term, he must state his intention clearly and categorically to parliament and to the people. It must not be conveyed through hints in a single paragraph in a long statement. Without transparency, there will be no trust.

For instance, the PM cannot be extending his hand for co-operation from the SJB and the JVP for an interim administration of less than a year at most, while seriously thinking of going on for the next three years. Among the people at large the expectation is that the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe will steady the ship of state out of the Rajapaksa chaos, reach agreement with the IMF, implement constitutional reforms as widely understood, and then – in the span of about a year, set the stage for a general election. Beyond Mr. Wickremesinghe’s role, there have also been expectations for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign from office and abolish the system of elected-executive presidency. All of these expectations now seem to be water under the Aragalaya bridge.

President Rajapaksa has announced that he will not resign before his term is over, but he will not contest for a second term. With all the talk about a parliamentary election, the Election Commission has started the process of updating the voter registry and lists. That work is expected to be finalized only in October. So, practically no election till October. In any event, for an election to be called this year, parliament has to pass a resolution for it to be dissolved. This is unlikely given the current dynamic in parliament under the Ranil-Rajapaksa government.

After March 2023, the President will have the power to dissolve parliament and call an election. There has been considerable expectation for an election some time in 2023. That may not happen if what Prime Minister Wickremesinghe suggested in parliament last Wednesday is also shared by the President and their cabinet of Ministers. The Prime Minister may have very good reasons for suggesting that a fundamental economic recovery is necessary before there can be a parliamentary election. But his reasons are not an open book unless he shares them with others. And there is more.

It is the Prime Minister who has been consistently saying that there is not only an economic crisis, but also a political crisis, and that the former cannot be addressed in isolation from the latter. If a full term of parliament is needed to address the economic crisis, what is the implication for the political crisis?

Can the present parliament continue as it is for three more years? Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s 21st Amendment might be acceptable as a stop-gap measure for a limited period, but can it meet all the constitutional reform expectations over a longer period? How will the government handle the next presidential election that will come up before the parliamentary election, if the mode of electing the Head of State is not changed beforehand?

Specific to the executive presidency, how will Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and President Rajapaksa deal with the question of abolishing the elected-executive presidential system over an extended three year period? The Supreme Court has again stipulated, in its ruling on the SJB’s (ill-advisedly rushed) 21st Amendment Bill, that a referendum will be required to abolish the presidential system or to change the mode of presidential election. This is unfortunate in that the court may not have been sufficiently presented with the benefit of sound legal arguments questioning the appropriateness of extending the referendum requirement to matters that are not specifically included in the referendum provision in the constitution. Prof. Savitri Goonesekere and Dr. Nihal Jayawickrama have both expressed this opinion many times in the public domain, and no less a person than Dr. Colvin R de Silva proffered the same opinion 35 years ago during the forensic debates over the 13th Amendment.

Regardless of the legal position, it would be politically conclusive to decide the future of the executive presidency in a referendum of the people. That is what Prof. Savitri Goonesekere suggested in this newspaper a few weeks ago – to bite the bullet and put the question to the people. But government leaders and the current Minister of Justice do not have the courage for it, and are hiding behind the referendum bogey to keep the presidential system going. The question will become a hot potato for the Prime Minister. It will be over a full term that he seems to be fancying now, and not just in the interim as others understand it.

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A Strategy for the Restoration and Rebuilding the Agri-Food Sector of Sri Lanka

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Submitted to the Government by the members of the Faculties of Agriculture of the State Universities of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has caused immediate uncertainties regarding whether (a) required food supplies are and will be available, (b) the agri-food sector is and will be able to sustain the livelihoods of those engaged in crop, livestock and poultry farming, fishing, food manufacturing, food distribution and allied activities, and (c) the agri-food sector is and will be able to provide food security for those most affected communities by the crisis. As these concerns are particularly pertinent to the agriculture sector, the Faculties of Agriculture of the State Universities of Sri Lanka joined in proposing a plan of action that has been communicated to the President and the Prime Minister through a letter dated June 15, 2022, and signed by the Deans of all Faculties of Agriculture.

The proposal addresses the present crises by identifying immediate actions to address the most pressing needs of the current moment and also identifies actions requiring immediate attention that if unaddressed can exacerbate the crisis in the long-term. The action plan is designed to address the two objectives of ensuring food and nutrition security and of protecting and sustaining livelihoods and employment in the agri-food sector. It focuses on the entire food system considering all economic actors and priority sub-sectors in the agriculture value/supply chains.

The prevailing situation has brought to the forefront serious concerns, especially relating to increases in food prices and shortages in food. Food inflation in Sri Lanka during May 2022 (year-on-year basis) has stood at an all-time high of 57.4%. The recent appeal from the United Nations (UN) to the global community for USD 47 million in humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka to provide lifesaving assistance to 1.7 million people indicates, to some extent, the depth of the crisis. It is estimated that 4.9, 3.5 and 2.4 million people are in need of food security, agriculture and livelihood, and nutrition, respectively (United Nations, 2022). Although national-level data on the depth and breadth of the crisis is unavailable and the situation is still not well understood by many, we note with concern that if the country continues its current trajectory, especially with respect to the food consumption patterns, it will move beyond crisis into a state of emergency and potentially famine (United Nations, 2022).

Within this context, we recognize and acknowledge the short-term measures adopted to-date by the Government of Sri Lanka to support agriculture; for example, import of agrochemicals and seed stock with the support from World Bank and Asian Development Bank, , urea fertilizer with support from the EXIM Bank of India and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and prioritizing seed paddy supply for the Maha season 2022/2023. This, however, neither reflects the broader set of urgent concerns that the sector confronts nor provides solutions to the overarching problems that we face as a country.

The proposal providing A Strategy for the Restoration and Rebuilding the Agri-Food Sector of Sri Lanka, submitted by the members of the Faculties of Agriculture of the State Universities of Sri Lanka includes two sections of activities. The first section is an emergency preparedness plan that specifies a list of actions addressing four broad areas: (1) immediate food security issues of Infants (under five years of age), adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating mothers, and elderly groups. It recommends a screening process for malnourishment, strengthening pre-school and school lunch programmes, the distribution of dry rations and supplements for particularly vulnerable groups, (2) The estate sector and war-affected areas are identified as a second vulnerable population and recommendations include providing essential nutrients, support with growing food sources for carbohydrate requirements, (3) To support low-income groups, food rationing to ensure equitable distribution, improvements in marketing and distribution channels, encouragement and support of community kitchens, and facilitation of access to emergency funds and foods through the support of private actors, NGOS, foreign sources are recommended, and (4) A series of actions to protect industries that are critically important to the nation’s food supplies and foreign exchange, specifically the rice farmers, export agriculture, and poultry industry are identified. These activities must be complemented by awareness, extension, and educational programmes.

The second section of the proposal includes short-, medium- and long-term actions organized by sector (crop and animal production and processing, and cross-cutting) and identifies the relevant government agencies whose attention is sought in implementing each action. The attached figure is a graphical representation of a summary of the proposals. We note that the problems confronted by society today are a result of a lack of a consistent long-term policy and action programs for agriculture, which could have prevented a crisis of this nature from occurring. Such a policy must be developed and must include mechanisms to address future crisis situations by effectively using knowledge, other resources, and institutional structures (state and others). It must use consultative processes in a holistic manner that ensures that a system to address pressing issues, over the long term, in a sustained manner, is developed in which relevant institutions and bodies are represented with nominees identified through proper channels of communication.

We wish to note that the Faculties of Agriculture are committed to address the problems faced by the people of this country and will gladly extend support to any follow up actions of the State in implementing this plan.

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