Friday 5th November, 2021
India, yesterday, deployed its Air Force cargo planes to transport consignments of nano nitrogen liquid fertiliser here. The emergency airlift of fertiliser has given the lie to Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Altuhgamage’s claim that there is no fertiliser shortage in the country, and the protesting farmers are furthering the interests of the powerful agrochemical industry. The air delivery of fertiliser is also proof that the government has plunged headfirst into its organic fertiliser drive without a proper plan. (It never thinks before leaping!)
This land like no other has been ruled by many patriotic leaders for more than seven decades, but it is still a burden on other nations, which are kind enough to clean up unholy messes here.
The government should have bargained for the problems its sudden ban on agrochemicals was bound to cause, and formulated a strategy to tackle them. (One wonders how on earth the present-day leaders waged a successful war against the LTTE.) By undertaking to implement the government’s organic fertiliser project in a hurry, at the behest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Agriculture Minister Aluthgamage, has landed himself in the same predicament as the proverbial drunkard who dived into a swimming pool in darkness only to find that it had been emptied! It is puzzling why the protesting farmers are burning only Aluthgamage in effigy. Are they scared of giving the same treatment to his bosses?
Nobody in his or her proper senses will oppose the promotion of organic fertiliser. Sri Lanka’s agricultural fields are oversaturated with chemicals of all sorts, and the farming community is trapped in a vicious cycle; they have had to keep applying huge amounts of agrochemicals lest they should suffer crop losses, for hardly anything grows on the dead soil unless loads and loads of various fertilisers are applied. Farmers used to apply synthetic fertiliser generously far in excess of recommended amounts because it was heavily subsidised. Soil must be allowed to heal, and at the same time it must be ensured that there will be no food shortages, and farmers will not suffer losses.
The solution would have been for the government to tread cautiously, reducing the use of chemical fertiliser gradually and proceeding with its organic fertiliser project systematically. If this method, suggested by agricultural experts, had been adopted, farmers would not have experienced shocks; they would have had enough time to adapt to changes; the need for airlifting fertiliser would not have arisen, and India would have been spared the trouble of deploying its military cargo carriers to rush fertiliser here. The government’s mighty hurry has caused problems not only to Sri Lankan farmers but also to Indian taxpayers who, we believe, will have to bear the cost of airlifting fertiliser.
Minister Aluthgamage is bandying about figures to bolster his claim that most farmers are now preparing their fields for the next cultivation season. He, true to form, is painting a very rosy picture of the situation. Whether his figures are correct, one may not know, but even if they are, will there be a good yield? The minister has admitted that there could be a drop in yield due to the sudden switchover to organic fertiliser. He says farmers will be compensated in such an eventuality. Losses that farmers suffer due to poor yields are a serious issue that should be sorted out. They must not be driven to suicide. But the real problem is the prospect of a severe food scarcity due to crop losses.
There has been a significant decrease in global food production, over the years, as international organisations such as the World Bank have pointed out. Hence the need for the government to ensure that there will be no decrease in the local food production. Instead, it has chosen to go ahead with its fertiliser experiment, which has gone wrong and badly impacted the agricultural sector. It should not lose sight of the fact that it will not be able to import food due to the prevailing forex crunch and/or in case of other countries experiencing food shortages.
The government had better rethink the manner in which it has launched its organic fertiliser drive. It ought to listen to independent agricultural experts, farmers’ associations and other stakeholders, and make a course correction immediately so that it can work on its mistakes, produce enough organic fertiliser and relaunch its go-organic campaign systematically with the participation of the farming community. Intransigence does not pay. Flexibility is the key.
Beware of virus bomb
Saturday 4th December, 2021
It never rains but it pours, as they say. A Sri Lankan infected with the Omicron variant of coronavirus has been detected. There must be many other infections in the country, and the detection thereof may be only a matter of time. Most nations hastened to impose travel bans on South Africa, etc., in a bid to prevent the spread of the much-dreaded variant, but all their efforts have manifestly gone pear-shaped. The new variant is smarter than it was thought to be; it is believed to have already spread across the globe.
Sri Lankans have now forgotten gas explosions and are talking about the possibility of another explosive spread of the pandemic. They are sure to go on speaking about Omicron instead of doing what needs to be done urgently.
Prof. Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, has urged the public to follow the health guidelines strictly instead of worrying about coronavirus variants. That is the only way to prevent infections, she has said. One cannot but agree with the eminent scientist at the forefront of Sri Lanka’s fight against the elusive virus. If the people do as health experts say, then they do not have to fear any variant of coronavirus because the virus cannot spread without human assistance. As a good doctor once said, the virus cannot walk, vault over parapet walls and creep into houses to infect humans. It is the people who take it home.
Since the reopening of the country following the last lockdown, Sri Lankans have been behaving as if the pandemic were a thing of the past. There are well-attended weddings, and other such events where people do not abide by health regulations, at all. Pubs were reopened even before schools! Buses and trains are overcrowded again; nobody seems to care two hoots about preventive measures other than wearing masks, that too perfunctorily. They seem to believe that double jabbing is the proverbial silver bullet, and the country has already acquired herd immunity. But reality is otherwise, scientists inform us.
The government deserves credit for its successful vaccination programme, but it must not rest on its oars. It must go all out to ensure that the health regulations are strictly enforced. It must not hesitate to reimpose restrictions on gatherings and even travel if the health experts think such measures are necessary to curb the spread of the superfast Omicron variant. The time is now; tomorrow may be too late. It is prudent to opt for restrictions early and avert another lockdown, which will send the economy belly up, and lead to unprecedented socio-economic problems.
It behoves political parties and trade unions to act with restraint, and refrain from holding mass protests, which will make only the virus happy. The government had better stop provoking workers and the Opposition, and put on hold all controversial deals such as the New Fortress agreement, which has led to a power sector ca’canny, which is very likely to develop into a strike unless the government scraps the backdoor power deal at issue. On Thursday, a group of irate CEB engineers gheraoed one of their administrators over disciplinary action taken against a union member allegedly for political reasons.
Yesterday’s countryside power outage can be considered a foretaste of what to come. A large number of institutions have introduced work from home in view of the pandemic, and tens of thousands of workers have become dependent on the national grid to carry out their duties and functions. Many of them had to travel to their workplaces, yesterday, due to the power failure, exposing themselves to the runaway virus.
The number of Covid-19 patients remains very high, and the death toll is also showing signs of increasing. Infections among schoolchildren are on the rise, and these early warnings must be taken seriously if a rise in the pandemic death rate and another lockdown are to be averted.
Ranjan reduced to mere slogan?
Friday 3rd December, 2021
The Opposition has embarked on a campaign to have former SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake released from prison, we are told. Posters have appeared in some areas, calling him a political prisoner. One may have sympathy for the outspoken former MP although he brought his trouble on himself, but it defies comprehension why he is being called a political prisoner.
Ramanayake cannot be considered a political prisoner by any stretch of the imagination, and those who use this terminological inexactitude are doing a great disservice to the cause of real political prisoners. In this country, politicians or even terrorists or terror backers arrested or sentenced to jail are promptly dubbed political prisoners much to the detriment of the interests of the real prisoners of conscience. On the other hand, a campaign based on an unprovable claim has a foundation of sand.
Politics had nothing to do with what landed Ramanayake in prison. He would not have found himself behind bars if he had cared to exercise control over his restless tongue. However, given the fact that many lawbreakers are moving about freely and carrying out their sordid operations with impunity, one wonders how fair it is to keep Ramanayake in jail. Those who are trying to secure his release may have a better chance of success if they care to be truthful.
Ramanayake did something wrong; he made a derogatory statement in public about judges and it was found to be an affront to the dignity of the judiciary. He should have known better than to make such a sweeping statement and repeat it, thereby presumably causing an erosion of public faith in the judiciary. But the penalty he received—four years of rigorous imprisonment—is unusually severe for the offence of contempt of court.
Convicted criminals of all sorts, ranging from rapists to murderers, have received presidential pardons in this country. Besides, S. B. Dissanayake, who made a derogatory remark about the Supreme Court and was sentenced to RI for two years, benefited from a presidential pardon. Ven. Galabotaaththe Gnanasara Thera serving a jail term for contempt of court also received a presidential pardon. So, the question is why Ramanayake should not be treated likewise. Gnanasara Thera is now in charge of the government’s one-country-one-law project, of all things!
Opposition politicians may go on complaining or protesting until they are blue in the face, but there is absolutely no way they will be able to secure the release of Ramanayake under their own steam. Their efforts are bound to come a cropper, and Ramanayake’s plight will remain a mere political slogan unless they do what needs to be done. Only President Gotabaya Rajapaska is capable of having Ramanayake released from prison. The Opposition should face reality. It is left with no alternative but to request the President to grant a presidential pardon to Ramanayake.
Far be it from us to tell the President who should be given presidential pardons, but we believe Ramanayake deserves one, and he should tender an apology to the judiciary. It is being claimed in some quarters that Ramanayake will emerge a hero if he serves the full jail term and therefore he should not seek a presidential pardon.
It is up to Ramanayaka to ask for a pardon or serve the remainder of his sentence; he will be mistaken if he thinks his prison stay will make him a hero.
Opposition and Sudden Savant syndrome
Thursday 2nd December, 2021
Why is it that only the Opposition politicians have brainwaves? Exceptional abilities are said to emerge in some ordinary people after brain injury or disease. We reported a few years ago that an American youth who dropped out of college as he was extremely weak in mathematics had become a brilliant mathematician all of a sudden after being hit in the head by a flying bottle in a pub. (Commenting on the incident, we warned the Sri Lankan youth that suffering head injuries in pub brawls was not the way to improve their mathematical skills!) Numerous such incidents have been reported from several parts of the world. This phenomenon has come to be called the Sudden Savant Syndrome. Where Sri Lankan politicians are concerned, epiphany-like moments occur in them only after traumatic electoral shocks. This is why some politicians act sensibly and come out with brilliant ideas when they are in the Opposition. Sri Lankans therefore say, “Mole thiyanakota bale ne bale thiyanakota mole ne, or when politicians have brains, they have no power, and vice versa.”
Chief Opposition Whip and SJB MP Lakshman Kiriella told Parliament yesterday that the MPs should be allowed to pursue legal or higher studies, given their legislative experience. This is a sensible idea. In the 1970s, there was such a scheme; the MPs could enter the Law College, as Kiriella has pointed out, and some of the present-day political leaders including Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa benefited from it. Why it was scrapped is the question. It should be reintroduced for the benefit of the lawmakers.
A person who gains experience as a member of Parliament should be able to gain university or Law College admission, the Chief Opposition Whip said. However, not all MPs could be considered qualified, for many of them do not use the time allocated for them in Parliament productively; some MPs do not make any contribution to parliamentary debates. They only bellow rhetoric and insult others when they are given opportunities to speak. The MPs who make an effort to improve their performance and knowledge should be allowed to pursue legal or higher education while others who exchange blows and trade raw filth in the House should be denied nominations to contest future elections.
Educational opportunities should be made available to everyone, and courses of study designed for this purpose as in other countries. Those who miss opportunities to achieve their educational goals for various reasons when they are young should be able to realise their dreams later in life if they so desire. Education is a right, and must be treated as such.
In 2019, the then MP Ranjan Ramanayake sat the GCE O/L examination at the age of 56 as he wanted to obtain a better grade for the English language. We praised him editorially for his keenness to study, and urged other MPs to emulate him because this is the right attitude that everyone must adopt. Ramanayake said he wanted to study law, but unfortunately, he is now languishing behind bars because he, in his wisdom, caused an affront to the dignity of the judiciary. He should have studied law earlier.
People should be encouraged not to let their age, chronological or biological, stand in the way of their education. Varatha Shanmuganathan, 87, who migrated to Canada from Sri Lanka, and earned a master’s degree, last month, has shown the way. If a grandma can do so, why can’t others?
Meanwhile, education alone does not make a good lawmaker. Basically, people’s representatives must be intelligent men and women of integrity with a passion for public service. Kiriella has said the MPs are intelligent because they accomplish the extremely difficult task of getting elected. Yes, there are some intelligent lawmakers, but others are blessed with cunning, which should not be confused with intelligence. Most politicians have achieved success through unscrupulous means, and it is doubtful whether they will mend their ways even if they receive postgraduate degrees. What power politics reflect in this country is the law of the jungle, and political dregs with the wherewithal and right connections go places at the expense of educated, intelligent, decent men and women. The emergence of dynastic politics has worsened the situation. Political leaders and their children have all the luck, and others have to settle for crumbs from their tables.
However, it should be stressed that the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition should give serious thought to devising a scheme to help not only the MPs but also all other elected representatives desirous of receiving a decent education achieve their dream.
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