All of a sudden there has been a chorus of approvals by some MPs of the ruling party calling for Basil Rajapaksa, currently Special Representative of the President and Head of the Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication, to become a Member of Parliament on the National List. Some of his loyalists are willing to give up their seats in Parliament for this great welcome back to Basil. It is widely reported that he is to be given the nerve centre portfolios of Economic Development and Finance of Sri Lanka, once he is allowed to enter Parliament and become a Member of the Cabinet.
His supporters in Parliament declare that once Basil Rajapaksa takes over the Economic Development of Sri Lanka, all the problems, that beset this island besieged by mounting debt traps, foreign exchange crisis, balance of payments and budget deficits, rising unemployment and poverty, pandemic growth and spread, trade deficits, human/elephant conflict, fertiliser/agricultural sector woes, environment devastation, destruction of marine life, pollution and fisheries livelihoods, spiraling costs of living, energy crisis and, etc., would be all sorted out by his Midas Touch of expertise and efficiency.
Considering the Great Expectations in store and the enormity of the task, the public would do well to examine the background, qualifications and performance of this worthy, lest we either overestimate or undermine his supposed capacity and acumen for this vital task of Mr. Fix It. Whatever it is!
It may be reasonable for the people to examine the facts of the case relating to this prospective VIP appointment and selectivity in respect of Basil Rajapaksa. He is the younger brother of the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. In the absence of any specific academic or professional credentials for the post, it is presumably due to family ties that he took over the Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication last year. The question is whether with so much of leadership authority given to him already by his two brothers, there has been any appreciable improvement in the socio-economic sphere due to his leadership to date?
On the contrary, despite his prominent role as advisor to the President and Head of the Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication nearly a year ago, the country seems to have gone into a vortex of cataclysmic blunders and plunders too numerous to relate. These range from the rape of the forest cover in Sinharaja, the wetlands, the systematic appropriation of state lands circumventing legislation to be distributed at will to business groups via the District Secretaries, the Fertiliser fiasco, the mounting Covid-19 pandemic that allowed the deaths to grow from a mere 10 to 3000 owing to bungling of Covid Prevention and Protection policies, etc.
In this context, even his previous track record and experience as National List Minister, Advisor, and elected Minister, holding Cabinet Portfolio as Minister of Economic Development in the Rajapaksa government during 2007 – 2014, shows a pendulum shift of the People rejecting the Mahinda Chinthanaya government for a subsequent yahapalanaya, that subsequently betrayed their trust as well! In this instance, too, history may have a record of repeating itself at the next election, considering the widespread discontent and indignation of the masses at the present mayhem in governance and civil life.
The people should be wary of bold declarations and assumptions made by a few acolytes, who claim the strategic coordinating and organisational abilities of their Master Basil Rajapaksa; who is supposedly the mastermind behind the unification of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the formation of political alliances with other parties to form a stable government. Power Politics is for politicians and their stooges. What the people of this country want is a wise, honest and professional leadership, to address the myriad problems of this country and deliver result-oriented solutions and deliverables across the urban and rural divide, in an equitable manner. Certainly, skills and strategies of political machinations towards wresting power from its opponents’ is of the least interest to the people.
In that case, we should consider whether the prospective return of Basil Rajapaksa to the arena of finance and economic development, is chiefly to celebrate the fact it was only very recently that he and three others working under him when he was Minister of Economic Development in the last decade, were acquitted and released by the Colombo High Court in the case filed over the misappropriation of public funds to distribute roofing sheets during the run up to the 2015 Presidential Election. The Divineguma case was filed by the Attorney General against Former Minister of Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, and a number of officials working under him, including his former Ministry Secretary, ex-Director-General and Deputy DG of the Divineguma Development Department Kithsiri Ranawaka. for committing offences punishable under the Offences against Public Property Act, under five separate indictments for the criminal misappropriation of funds from the Divineguma Development Department. An overseas travel ban that was imposed concurrently to the case in hand was also lifted by the High Court. Another salutary move on the part of the government contributing to the rising star of Basil Rajapaksa, was the notable exception in retaining the controversial dual citizenship clause of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, which amended the other three Public Interest issues. Dual citizens such as Basil Rajapaksa, who owe allegiance as citizens of both Sri Lanka and USA therefore can now hold public office.
Basil Rajapaksa was under investigation for corruption and abuse of state assets until last year. In 2016, the court ordered authorities to auction a luxury villa and 6.5 ha (16 acres) of land in Malwana. His hasty departure to his other home in the USA upon the defeat of his brother at the presidential election is inscribed indelibly in the minds of those who have long memories. Setting the context is another revelation in Parliament in April this year when JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, has highlighted the highly suspect conduct and performance of the Presidential Commission on Political Victimisation, and the highly arbitrary and manner in which it exonerated certain persons associated with the President and his family.
The enigma of the importance of popular political personalities like Basil Rajapaksa must after all be subject to the dictates of our Socialist Democratic Republic and its vibrant relatively free media, that we must continue to uphold as our liberty and defence, against all odds and abuses.
According to John Adams, founding father and 2nd President of the USA, we the people of this country “have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge — I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers.” Therefore, the ultimate ascendancy of personalities must rest on the knowledge of their character and conduct acquired by the people of this country, whatever be the magical or meteorite properties assigned to them by their sycophant followers.
When Susanthika did Lanka proud
As in certain offices, in banks too there are restricted areas for outsiders and staff members who are not attached to the relevant divisions. The Treasury Department of any bank consists of three different sections; the front office, middle office and back office. The front office is commonly known as the Dealing (Trading) Room, with strict limitations to those present. It can also be used as a television viewing place, with the availability of all channels, both local and foreign.
The day, September 28, 2000, was an exceptional day as a few breathtaking moments were witnessed within our dealing room at HNB, as history was made by a courageous and determined, petite Lankan damsel in a faraway country. That was the day our Athletic Heroin, Susanthika Jayasinghe, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the 200 meters finals. Knowing the enthusiasm and fervour, that other staff members too share, to witness the event live, with the consent of my boss, Senior DGM Treasury, Gamini Karunaratne, I kept the doors of the Dealing Room wide open for others too to watch the event. As the ‘auspicious’ time approached the dealing room started getting packed. Finally, it was not only ‘house full’ but ‘overflowing’.
Maintaining the tradition, the ‘visitors’ were silent except for a slight murmur. Gradually, the murmuring diminished as the time approached. The track was quite visible to all of us. For the women’s 200 meters sprint event, there were eight competitors with Marion Jones of the USA as the hot favourite, and Cathy Freeman of Australia, the two athletes many of us knew.
As the much-anticipated event commenced, there was dead silence for about 20+ seconds and then the uproar of ecstasy erupted, along with tears of joy in all gathered, as our Golden Girl became the bronze medal winner, just a mere 0.01 seconds behind the second-placed Pauline Davis of Bahamas.
That was a monumental day for all sports loving Sri Lankans, after Duncan White’s 400 meters silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics, M. J. M. Lafir becoming the World Amateur Billiards Champion in 1973, and Arjuna’s golden boys bringing home the Cricket World Cup in 1996, beating the much-fancied Aussies.
As treasury dealers, while at work, we have witnessed all-important local and world events as and when they happened, thanks to the advanced media paraphernalia in dealing rooms of the banks.
Coming back to Olympics, for seven years everything was rosy for Marian Jones (MJ), but when she pleaded guilty to using steroids, she received international opprobrium and was stripped of all five Olympic medals she won in Sydney, Australia. After the belated disqualification of MJ, our heroine Susanthika was adjudged the Olympic silver medallist of the 200 meters event in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Pauline Davis as the gold medallist.
So it is after 52 years that Sri Lanka was lucky enough to have won another Olympic medal. Thanks to the sheer determination of our golden girl Susanthika and her numerous supporters, she was able to achieve this spectacular honour, amidst many obstacles. She was the first Asian to have won an Olympic or a world championship medal in a sprint event. The 21st anniversary of her tremendous feat falls on September 28.
Thank you, Madam Susie, for bringing honour to the country, and being an inspiration to the younger generations of budding athletes.
Give teachers and principals their due
Why didn’t the Education Minister and the Secretary pay due attention to the fair voices of the most vulnerable and largest service sector of this country, at the initial stage, making the alliance of teacher-principal trade unions proceed to street protests, which started in the absence of any positive gesture from the Ministry of Education? That is how the present state of chaos originated.
The prolonged online teaching strike has kept the younger generation of all school-going children in darkness, and their right to learn has been deprived of. Blaming the teachers is not the solution. What is required is the right solution at the time of need. The unions are demanding the implementation of the Subodhini Committee report, plus the Cabinet subcommittee proposals, in a gazette notification. It is more sensible for the government to respond to this final flexible stance of the unions, rather than prolonging the issue with temporary solutions.
The strikers of the teacher-principal unions are not ready to give in to the temporary sugar candy sachet which is a pretty ridiculous joke, a consolation allowance to dodge the crux of the problem. Plastering or patching up the situation by offering an allowance of Rs. 5000 for three months is a shame to the teacher community. Such an allowance should be allocated for COVID-19 affected people of low-income or refugees in flood-affected regions.
What could have been broken with the nail was allowed to grow to the extent that it couldn’t be crushed even with an axe. Successive governments disregarded the demands of teachers and principals, treating them as nonentities; although the ungrateful present-day politicians rose to their present high positions because their bright lives were designed, brain powers sharpened and heads enlightened by teachers.
Although all teachers are not saints, the majority of our teachers are worthy of veneration. They are the architects of nation-building. They must have sufficient pay for a decent living, commensurate with the commitments and their toil. With an ungratified mentality, they may be unenthusiastic to discharge duties. Under such circumstances, the process of nation-building will collapse. So far, they have been doing yeoman’s service but they can’t continue to do so amidst the rising cost of living and unfavourable living conditions. When the salaries of all other employee categories have been brought to a satisfactory level, why does the government not heed to their demand?
In response to the mounting pressure from the teacher-principal trade union strike, the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee to produce another report to solve the problem; but it turned out to be a futile attempt, akin to changing the pillow as a treatment to the headache, wasting the valuable time of both parties. Such a committee should comprise experts from the education field, not from the lobby with the loquacious MPs who are in the habit of suspending and postponing everything until the next budget. On the other hand, what is the need for piling up further committee reports, when there is already a much-quoted and assumed fairly balanced Subodhini Committee report, which has been formulated by a panel of members comprising a former minister, four additional secretaries, and the accountant of the Ministry of Education.
True that the government is in dire straits with financial difficulties, but that is not a sound reason to postpone this issue. If so, why should the government introduce new megaprojects, such as 200 city beautification programmes, import of luxury vehicles for MPs and walking tracks, which are not critical requirements. The problem of teacher salary anomalies could be solved by holding such long term, not so urgent schemes.
The proposed four-phased payment of the salary increments is a nice way of circumventing serious demands of trade unions and yet another fairy tale. It is a way of escaping the main responsibility.
To illustrate this point, let us take the case of the state employees who retired between January 2016 and December 2020. All government employees including judges, ministry secretaries, directors, doctors, nurses, police and armed forces personnel, and mind you, a former director-general of the Pensions Department, was entitled to a revised salary increment system in five stages starting in 2016, and final amalgamation of all increments, due to be paid with effect from January 2020. The salary increment rates are clearly stated in the pension award letter issued by the Director-General of the Department of Pensions, which is a legal document to confirm the claim.
The present government unreasonably cancelled the (2016-2019) pensioners amalgamated salary increment of five stages, by the circular 35/2019(1) dated 20.01.2020 following a cabinet decision. More than 100,000 pensioners have been victimised and deprived of their fundamental right of the salary and sad to say, nearly 1819 pensioners have already died without getting their increments. But the government so adamantly refused to pay up and adopted a slippery policy with various cock and bull stories.
The basis for the development of a country is the education system, spearheaded by the formidable workforce of teachers hailing from Aristotle and Disapamok. All of the so-called thriving politicians; garrulous speakers who look down upon teacher communities; professionals, academics, philosophers, entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, inventors, artists, all of these are the intellectual outputs of the dedicated energies of humble teachers who never gave priority to building highrise palaces for their self-indulgence and luxurious lives. Not to let it happen again and again, they deserve to be freed from this muddle of salary anomalies at this critical moment.
Finally, a word about the mediation of the Prelates of Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, who are urging the alliance of the teacher-principal trade unions to give the strike up , and restart online teaching. May I appeal to the venerable prelates to be fair to all. Could you, in your respected designations, kindly convey the same message to the government, asking why it is not taking an initiative to resolve this burning issue, by issuing a circular or gazette notification, without postponing it off further, for the sake of the innocent school children?
Ivermectin for COVID-19 management
Prof Saroj Jayasinghe’s candid view, published in The Island of September 17, 2021, on Ivermectin use, both in treatment and prevention of COVID-19, has been based on scientific analysis of multiple meta-analyses on the subject. Therefore, his educated opinion must be viewed with great positivity.
Quite correctly, a doctor has to make decisions in good faith in an emergency situation, where any delay in the commencement of treatment could be disastrous. In a life-threatening condition, the treating doctor has no time to wait and waste until the evidence is available scientifically. Instead, the doctor has to make a decision using his clinical acumen and experience in order to save the life of the patient under his or her care.
Another example is: In an instance where an unconscious patient is brought to the accident and emergency department with life-threatening bleeding after an accident, the treating surgeon has no time to obtain the patient’s informed consent (usually a requirement before any surgical procedure), but to attend to (perform surgery on) the patient in all-good faith, in order to save the life. It may require even the amputation of a leg or hand.
Hence, treating a critically ill patient with Ivermectin is more than justified, particularly in the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 as a public health emergency. Further, under this context, the usage of Ivermectin in the prevention of COVID-19 is quite justified. Since no antiviral drug is available hitherto, its usage is further warranted.
As mentioned, Ivermectin is a time-tested and safe drug with no known serious side effects. The call for its usage in the management of and prevention of COVID-19 is time appropriate.
A veterinary surgeon, Prof Asoka Dangolle of the University of Peradeniya, has also expressed his opinion based on his experience with Ivermectin in mammals. In the current context, the world’s attitude is much in favour of the ‘One Health’ concept.
Therefore, in a helpless situation or pandemic of this nature, the consideration of the use of Ivermectin in all good faith is justifiable.
Prof ANANDA JAYASINGHE
Professor in Community Medicine
University of Peradeniya.
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