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Forthcoming general election and its aftermath

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by Neville Ladduwahetty

Sri Lankans would be going to the polls on August fifth to elect a new parliament. However, what is to follow depends on which party secures the majority to form a stable government. The prevailing prediction is that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is most likely to secure at least a sufficient majority to form a government.

Such an outcome would mean that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Executive and a legislature headed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa would be jointly responsible for the governance of Sri Lanka. If the SLPP secures only a simple majority the processes of governance would be constrained by the limitations and contradictions inherent in the 1978 Constitution and in the Nineteenth Amendment (19A). This would hamper post COVID-19 recovery. Therefore, it is imperative that without a two-thirds (2/3) majority to amend 1978 Constitution and 19A to bring clarity to its provisions or even introduce a new Constitution, it would not be possible for Sri Lanka to emerge from the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 disaster.

If, on the other hand, the SLPP secures only a simple majority, a national government with a 2/3 majority could be formed by means of provisions of Article 46 (4) similar to the dubious precedent crafted by the Yahapalana government. Such an approach would compel a SLPP government to accommodate the interests of coalition partners at considerable cost both financially as well as having to compromise its agenda. Therefore, if Sri Lanka is to recover from the COVID-19 crisis it is best that the government has a 2/3 majority sufficient to give it the freedom to act free of constraints of coalition demands and fetters of the 1978 Constitution and19 A.

THE NEED to REVISITING 19A

The need to revisit the 1978 Constitution and 19A is because the ambiguities and contradictions in their provisions have caused constitutional experts and academics to arrive at vastly divergent interpretations and conclusions. For instance, some interpret that 19A has transformed what was essentially a Presidential system based on separation of power into a Parliamentary system where separation of power is blurred to such an extent that they describe the present system as a Parliamentary Democracy. Others on the other hand, maintain that what 19A achieved was to prevent arbitrariness of Executive action that had existed under the 1978 Constitution, and not to transfer power from the Executive to Parliament. This is confirmed by the Supreme Court ruling on 19A that stated: “that the transfer, relinquishment or removal of a power attributed to one organ of government to another organ or body would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution”. Therefore, it could be concluded that the intended transformation from a Presidential system to a Parliamentary system did not materialize notwithstanding such claims.

The 1972 Constitution is unambiguously based on a Parliamentary system while the 1978 Constitution is based on a Presidential system. However, the incorporation of certain provisions from the 1972 Constitution into to the 1978 Constitution, followed by 19A, has caused divergent interpretations. Hence, a few key issues are presented below to illustrate the need to revisit the 1978 Constitution and 19A in order to bring clarity to the current Constitutional provisions to ensure that the system of governance is either clearly Parliamentary or Presidential and not a mix of both.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS of the 1972 CONSTITUTION

The relevant Articles in the 1972 Constitution are:

Article 91: “The President shall be responsible to the National State Assembly (Parliament) for the execution and performances of the powers and functions of his office under the Constitution…”.

Article 92 (1) states: “There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the government of the Republic which shall be collectively responsible to the National State Assembly and answerable to the National State Assembly on all matters for which they are responsible”.

Article 92 (2) states: “Of the Ministers, one who shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers shall be the Prime Minister”.

Article 94 (1) states: “The Prime Minister shall determine the number of Ministers and Ministries and the assignment of subjects and functions to Ministers”.

Article 94 (2) states: “The President shall appoint from among the members of the National State Assembly Ministers to be in charge of the Ministries so determined”.

Article 94 (3): “The Prime Minister may at any time change the assignment of subjects and functions and recommend to the President changes to the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers…”.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS of the 1978 CONSTITUTION

Article 42 states: “The President shall be responsible to Parliament for the due exercise, performance and discharge of the powers, duties and functions under the Constitution…’.

Article 43 (1) states: “There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the Government of the Republic which shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament”.

Article 43 (2) states: “The President shall be a member of the Cabinet of ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers”.

Article 44 (1) states: “The President from time to time, in consultation with the Prime Minister, where he considers such consultation to be necessary –

(a) “determine the number of Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministries and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers” and

(b) “appoint from among the members of Parliament Ministers to be in charge of the Ministries so determined”.

Article 44 (3) states: “The President may at any time, change the assignment of subjects and functions and the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers…”.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS of 19A

Article 42 (1) states: “There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the Government of the Republic”.

Article 42 (2) states: “The Cabinet of Ministers shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament”.

Article 43 (1) states: “The President shall in consultation with the Prime Minister, where he considers such consultation to be necessary, determine the number of Ministers of the Cabinet of ministers and the Ministries and the assignment of subjects and functions to such Ministers”.

Article 43 (2) states: “The President shall on the advice of the Prime Minister appoint from among Members of Parliament, Ministers, to be in charge of the Ministries so determined”.

Article 43 (3) states: “The President may at any time change the assignment of subjects and functions and the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers…”.

IMPACT of CONTRADICTORY PROVISIONS

The constitutional provisions of the 1972 Constitution presented above are consistent with a Parliamentary system. Notwithstanding this fact, such provisions that are appropriate for a Parliamentary system have been incorporated into the 1978 Constitution and 19A that are essentially Presidential. This has caused both the 1978 Constitution and 19A to be seriously compromised. It is therefore imperative that amendments are introduced to ensure that the system of governance is either Parliamentary or Presidential in all respects.

For instance, commenting on Article 43 of the 1978 Constitution (presented above), the Supreme Court in S.D. No. 04/2015 stated: “This important Article underscores that the Cabinet collectively is charged with the exercise of Executive power, which is expressed as the direction and control of the Government of the Republic and the collective responsibility of Cabinet of which the President is the Head. It establishes conclusively that the President is not the sole repository of Executive power under the Constitution. It is the Cabinet of Ministers collectively, and not the President alone, which is charged with the direction and control of the Government. This Cabinet is answerable to Parliament. Therefore, the Constitution itself recognizes that Executive power is exercised by the President and by the Cabinet of Ministers, and that the President shall be responsible to Parliament and the Cabinet of Ministers, collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament with regard to the exercise of such powers…”.

On the other hand, the Courts have accepted that Article 3 that deals with the sovereignty of the People should be read with Article 4. Therefore, the guiding principle in the exercise of Executive power in the 1978 Constitution should be Article 4 (b). Article 4 (b) states: “the executive power of the People, including the defence of Sri Lanka, shall be exercised by the President of the Republic elected by the People”. This Article specifically reposes Executive power of the People ONLY in the President. Therefore, Executive power must necessarily be exercised solely by the President and not jointly shared with the Cabinet of Ministers. This means that anyone else exercising executive power must derive its authority from the President.

The comments of the Supreme Court in S.D. No. 04/2015 also stated: “It is in this background that the Court in the Nineteenth Amendment Determination came to a conclusion that the transfer, relinquishment or removal of the power attributed to one organ of government to another organ or body would be inconsistent with Article 3 read with Article 4 of the Constitution. Though Article 4 provides the form and manner of the sovereignty of the people, the ultimate act or decision of the executive functions must be retained by the President. So long as the President remains the Head of the Executive, the exercise of his powers remain supreme or sovereign in the executive field and to others to whom such power is given must derive the authority from the President or exercise the Executive power vested in the President as a delegate of the President”.

If, as stated above by the Court, the President as the Head of the Executive is “sovereign in the executive field”, the President who represents one of the three branches of the Government – the Executive, is co-equal with the Legislature and the Judiciary under provisions of separation of power. Therefore, the President cannot be responsible to another organ of government – the Parliament. Furthermore, since the Cabinet of Ministers derive their authority from the President, the Cabinet cannot be responsible and answerable to Parliament either. Under the circumstances, Article 33A that calls for the President to be responsible to Parliament “for the due exercise performance and discharge of his powers, duties and functions” is a violation of the principle of separation of power.

Another important issue that arises from the fact that the President is sovereign in the executive field is the constitutional provision that his executive powers include the defence of Sri Lanka. Therefore, the President has a right granted by the Constitution to be the Minister of Defence regardless of whether the President is a Member of Parliament or not. The prerogative of such a decision should be left to the President, instead of having to delegate it to someone else, invariably less competent in issues relating to security. Since the provision to select Cabinet Members from among members of Parliament is a carry-over from the defunct 1972 Constitution this constraint should be repealed since it has no relevance in a Presidential system.

ARTICLE 46 – UNIQUE ONLY TO 19A.

Article 46 (1) (a) and (b) limits the number of Cabinet of Ministers to thirty and sets an aggregate limit of forty on the number of Ministers who are not members of the Cabinet of Ministers and Deputy Ministers.

Having sets limits, the framers of 19A provided a device by means of Article 46 (4) and (5) to enable Parliament by Resolution to exceed the very limits they themselves stipulated above. In fact, this device is so crafty that it enables even a minority government with the largest majority to form a National Government with even a 2/3 majority by forming a coalition with other recognized political parties. Had the Article stated “the political party with the largest majority together with ALL other political parties” the task of forming a National Government would in all likelihood been unrealistic. This device was exploited to the fullest advantage by the former Yahapalana government. The net effect of the current provisions in 19A is to ridicule their own attempts to appear well intentioned by proposing a leaner Cabinet and make a mockery of the “will of the people” by introducing a corrupted way out of the limits set by themselves.

19A – THE CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL

Article 41 B (1) states: “No person shall be appointed by the President as the Chairman or the member of any of the Commissions specified in the Schedule to this Article, except on a recommendation of the Council”.

Article 41 C (1) states: “No person shall be appointed by the President to any of the Officers specified in the Schedule to this Article…unless such appointment has been approved by the Council”.

The Court ruled that the transfer, relinquishment or removal of power attributed to one organ to another violates Article 3 when read with Article 4 of the Constitution. If this is so, would not the transfer of power that the President had, to appoint Commissions and Officers prior to 19A, to another body that is not even another organ of Government as recognized by Article 3 read with Article 4, amount to a violation of the sovereignty of the People? Furthermore, the operation of the Council has become so dysfunctional that the country today does not have a functioning Inspector General of Police. The reason for this is a system failure because the President who makes the appointment could keep on rejecting nominations by the Council causing posts being vacant as in the case of the IGP. Therefore, this provision too needs to be seriously amended. An alternative would be to restore the powers the President had under Articles 54, 55 and 107 of the 1978 Constitution and for him to make appointments subject to the approval of the appropriate Oversight Committees of Parliament and repeal Chapter VIIA of 19A.

19A – DISSOLUTION of PARLIAMENT

According to 19A Article 70 (1) states: “The President may by Proclamation, summon, prorogue and dissolve Parliament. Provided that the President shall not dissolve until the expiration of a period of not less than four years and six months…unless Parliament requests the President to do so by a resolution passed by not less than two-third of the whole number of Members voting in favour”.

This Article presents two serious issues. One, it places the President at a disadvantage in relation to Parliament since Parliament is not constrained by a time bar whereas the President is. Therefore, Parliament could request the President to dissolve Parliament at any time with a 2/3 majority whereas the President is compelled to wait four and half years to dissolve Parliament. Such drastic disadvantages are not in keeping with principles of separation of power among co-equals. Such inequality is unacceptable for two separate organs of government elected separately by the People. The second serious issue is that securing a 2/3 majority for a political party under provisions of proportional representation is bound to be a rarity. This compels Parliament to continue however dysfunctional it is.

Therefore, the net effect of Article 70 (1) as currently presented is for the country to be governed by a government even if the situation is so dire that it warrants dissolution of Parliament because of the constitutional straightjacket of this Article. Consequently, as always, it is the People who have to endure.

CONCLUSION

The outcome of the forthcoming General Election to elect a new Parliament would have a serious impact on how effectively Sri Lanka recovers from the challenges imposed by the unprecedented COVID -19 crisis. The most significant single factor that would influence the recovery process is the current Constitution. The 1978 Constitution and 19A contain constitutional provisions that are a mix appropriate to both Parliamentary and Presidential systems. This has made governing processes convoluted. Therefore, it is imperative that the current provisions are amended, so that the Constitution is Presidential in all respects and not a mix of both Parliamentary and Presidential as currently exists, with the appropriate checks and balances by the Parliament and the Judiciary, in a way that would not hamper effective Executive action.

The reason for the existence of Parliamentary and Presidential systems in the present Constitution is because the operation of a Presidential system based on separation of power, is not commonly understood despite it being in existence for over four decades. A glaring example of the lack of appreciation of what separation of power means is selection of the Cabinet of Ministers from among Members of Parliament. This results in the same individual serving two separate organs of government resulting in conflict of interest. This practice should cease. If Members of Parliament are to be Members of the Cabinet, they should relinquish their association with Parliament as practiced by other countries with Presidential systems.

Under the circumstances, a government with a simple majority would not be in a position to introduce the needed amendments without which the recovery process would be hampered by the existing constitutional ambiguities and contradictions. Therefore, it is only a 2/3 Parliamentary majority that would facilitate the introduction of the needed amendments without which it would not be possible for Sri Lanka to emerge from the unprecedented challenges presented by COVID-19 pandemic.



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Ranjan loses the People’s Crown

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Last week it was Avurudu Thel Keliya. Now we have come to Ranjan Keliya. 

SJB MP Ranjan Ramanayake has been removed from Parliament, in what is said to be in keeping with the decision of the Court of Appeal, to reject his application against the Supreme Court order sentencing him to four years of imprisonment for Contempt of court.

A parliament, of which Ranjan was a most active and spoken member, has shown its overall failure to deal with an issue that affects the rights of all citizens. The mockery of it all is to have a parliament where a person found guilty of murder and imprisoned by a court order is allowed to be a member of the House, but a person guilty of contempt of Court, who has not injured or killed anyone, is removed from it.

With all due respect and honour to the judiciary, one must begin to look at the entire thinking and process of charging people for and punishing them for contempt of Court. 

In the present parliamentary situation, with all the power that the President and the government have with a two-thirds plus majority, the future Independence of the Judiciary is certainly in question.

If Ramanayake has committed contempt of Court, he is now the player in calling for a change of our legislation on Contempt of Court. Is it truly wrong to criticise a member/or members of the judiciary; are they above the law; what is the practice and trend on this in other democracies?

It is time our Members of Parliament, the Bar Association and organizations of Civil Society made deep study of this entire issue, and moved to prevent the right of free speech being incorrectly restricted. We must look at how Contempt of Court is considered legally in the UK, from where we got this.

How is Contempt of court handled by the Courts of India, our closest neighbour and next to us in years of democracy? How is this issue handled in other democracies too such as France and Germany, and even the US? 

The Ranjan  Keliya  has certainly brought us to realising the Contempt for Democracy that prevails, and is being expanded in Sri Lanka. This contempt is the reality of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and the prevailing show of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Saubhagye Dekma”.    Changing our laws on Contempt of Court to make them modern and democratic will be the real crowning of Ramanayake.

 

Beauty Queen crowns

We have now come to the Ru Rajina Otunu Keliya too. The story of the crown being grabbed from the new Mrs Sri Lanka has spread in the international media. 

There was a lovely piece of social media, where Queen Elizabeth II of the UK is showing her joy at getting rid of Sri Lanka from the royalty domain as far back as 1948, as otherwise there would have been moves to grab her crown, too.

Mrs Sri Lanka or Mr. World is certainly not of much interest to us who are facing much bigger problems than the ownership of beauty crowns. Yet, the issue of a Mrs Sri Lanka or Mrs World having to be married does raise many issues today. Are the organizers of the global event thinking of temporary or shaky marriages, or those that last through decades and more, with a commitment to each other?

Can a person, who is undergoing the process of a divorce in a court of law, one who wants to leave a marriage through the law, be one who is really married? The very concept of marriage has undergone many changes in recent decades. Should these realities not be accepted by the organisers of these events? 

Why not have a rule that a contestant for Mrs (Country) or Mrs World, should be married several times – as is fast becoming a reality in the west, and countries that are following such traditions.

We will certainly have candidates seeking the crown if a few or many marriages are a condition. It will also show a genuine interest in the promotion of marriages, without confining it to just a single marriage, even with a pending divorce.   

We can then have a Mrs World, with a show of strength to those with achievements of more than one, or several marriages. 

The “Vivahaka Ru Rajina” will then be a “Boho Vivahaka Ru Rajina”.

The current Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, who was the key crown remover in this show of crooked farce, and a model who helped her, are now facing action in the courts.

Marriage or not is certainly an issue for Miss or Mrs Sri Lanka. A winner of the very early Mrs Sri Lanka events had earlier contested a Miss Sri Lanka, while being married. If she had not lost the contest, we would have seen loud calls for her crown to be removed. The senior ladies who played a big role in this Mrs. Sri Lanka event, certainly reminded us of such past records.

Let the crown be with the people, whether married or not. The rising call is for the Janatha Kirula, against a Pol Thel or Seeni Vancha Kirula of the Abhagye  Dekma.

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Bio-Piracy:

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A Pervasive Threat to Biodiversity and Human Security

By Ayodhya Krishani Amarajeewa
Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
Continued from yesterday

According to Prof. Wijesundara, in 1994, a multinational company, W.R. Grace and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were granted a patent by the European Patent Office (EPO) “Covering a (special) method for controlling fungi on plants by the aid of a hydrophobic extracted neem oil” that is diluted with a certain percentage of water was withdrawn in 2000. Lot of concern after 10-year battle, some patents on neem were squashed some still prevail. There are 65 patents so far only for neem. According to Prof. Kotagama, a US company wanted to produce insecticide from neem. They came with Azadariktin as a product. They obtain the patenting required to use and own neem. There is a law that if you are contesting patenting right it has to be in the country it is registered at. So the neem battle has to be fought in the US. With lot of money and help from the NGOs and help along with the Indian government they fought against this patenting. The company contested that they did not bring neem from Asia or India, they brought it from Africa because it grows in Africa. But it was identified that the seeds that had gone to Kenya had been coming from Sri Lanka according to the Registers of the forest department records from Sri Lank. Based on that evidence the patent was revoked. The neem campaign was consisting of a group of NGOs and individuals was initiated in 1993 in India. This was done to mobilize worldwide support to protect indigenous knowledge systems and resources of the Third World from piracy by the west particularly in light of emerging threats from intellectual property rights regimes under WTO and TRIPS. Neem patent became the first case to challenge European and US patents on the grounds of biopiracy.

Basmati Rice patent case is another instance bio-piracy was reversed. Prof. Kotagama remarked that it is known as the India – US Basmati Rice Dispute (Case number 493, Case Menemonic – Basmati; Patent number – US 5663484A, publication). A US company registered a new hybrid variety of Basmati. India and Pakistan got together and they fought using media, using negative advertisement and they squashed American variety of Basmati) proving ‘Texmati’ was not Basmati.

According to Prof. Sarath Kotagama, an Indian Ecologist, Vandana Shiva has said ‘bio-piracy deprives us in three ways: It creates a false claim to novelty and invention, even though the knowledge has evolved since ancient times as part of the collective and intellectual heritage of India”. Secondly “it divests scarce biological resources to monopoly control of corporations thus depriving local communities the benefits of its use” and thirdly “it creates market monopolies and excludes the original innovators (farmers) from their rightful share to local, national and global markets”. She fought a lot for the biodiversity conservation in India and a well-respected ecologist in India who also had to do much with the fight against Neem, Basmati and Turmeric.

There are similar cases where patents were revoked: Kava Kava from Fiji and Vanuatu; Quinoa from Andes; Banaba and other medical plantys from Philippines; Bitter gourd from Sri Lanka and Thailan; Ilang-Ilang from Philippines and Periwinkle from Madagascar, highlighted Prof. Wijesundara.

In 1989 bioprospecting started with the Institute of Biology established in Costa Rica purely for this purpose. It was the idea to do research on rainforests, animals and plants in Costa Rica and give the ownership to the country if something was discovered. However, this institute was dissolved in 2015 in Costa Rica. According to Prof. Kotagama, the institute still exists with the idea surveys on the resources of rainforests and commercialization of the products will be done for the benefit of Costs Rica. Prof. Kotagama highlighted why bio-piracy needs to be also understood in legal jargon. In the research paper “Bio piracy and its impact on Biodiversity: A Special review on Sri Lankan context” (Kusal Kavinda Amarasinghe), it has mentioned that 34 plants and animals have been taken out of Sri Lanka and Indian subcontinent and patent obtained for biological constituents already. According to Prof. Kotagama, Naja naja naja (Cobra) is an endemic spices in Sri Lanka and still it has lost the control from the country and others are using the species to derive benefits. Prof. Kotagama also highlighted that while there is so much indifference, there is so much consorted efforts to prevent bio-piracy and bio-theft in the countries like the Philippine, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Nepal who have strengthen the situation and have increased regulations and continue strict border control measures.

Illegal Trafficking and Bio-Piracy

According to Prof. Siril Wijesundara, illegal trafficking is also directly linked to bio-piracy and theft. One of the ways that can prevent bio-piracy is through detecting illegal trafficking of various types of endemic and endangered plants and animals. Most common plant species affected by illegal trafficking in Sri Lanka at present are Gyrinops Walla Walla patta, Salacia reticulate Kothala Himbutiand Santalum album naturalized sandhun. Sri Lanka Customs have detected many instances of illegal trafficking. Target destination varies from India, Dubai, Pakistan, Australia, and China. The most popular destination for Kothala Himbotu today is China.

Another classic example of trafficking of plants is by misleading the authorities. Prof. Wijesundara highlighted that a plant called Kekatiya (Aponogeton crispus) were exported in large quantities under the name Aponogeton ulvaceus, a plant native to Madagascar. However, Prof. Siril Wijesuriya mentioned that during his tenure at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, he managed to test this plant and discovered it is a different plant from the one in Madagascar. After this discovery, this Sri Lankan variety of the plant (Kekatiya) was prohibited from being exported and necessary action were taken to a point where the company went out of business.

 

Importance of Utilizing the Chemical Compounds in the Medicinal Plants

Prof. Veranja Karunarathne highlighted the popularity among the people now for medicinal plants. That is because the Medicinal properties and compounds that are useful found in the medicinal plants. Natural products are made out of these compounds. According to him, the use of medicinal plants go over for 5000 years ago. Probably we have used medicinal plants since existence.

According to Prof. Veranja Karunarathne, the medicinal plants are being used in traditional medicinal systems popular in Sri Lanka such as Ayurveda, Deishiya Chikithsa, Siddha and Unani. Siddha and Unani don’t use much of the plants necessarily and have much to do with involving plants. In different medicinal systems, over 2500 plants are being used in Sri Lanka. These are being used for disease curing and ailments in traditional medicine practices. In the Western medicine sense, it is one compound for one disease. In Ayurveda and indigenous system, it is many compounds for one disease many compounds curing one disease. Pollypahrmachology is accepted in the indigenous system. These aspects of pollypahrmachology in traditional medicine are becoming valuable. If we take asprin that cures heart disease, it is isolated from Villon plant. Quinine that is used in Malaria prevention is isolated from cinchona plant. That is the practice of the Western medicine. Prof. Veranja Karunarathne says that if we look at plant evolution, it is evident that the plants didn’t intend to cure diseases. This evolution of the plants happened by co-evolving with the insects. It never intended to cure diseases for humans. In 1915, the Western medicine avoided using plants due to various issues including intellectual property matters and since plants are very difficult thing to manage. However, they have come back discovering medicine from plants. That is why co-evolution is important. Diversity of functional group of plants is important. Diversity of use of plants cannot be matched with the evolution of the plants.

From Kothala Himbotu, an endemic plant in Sri Lanka, water soluble anti diabetic compounds were found by Japanese scientist. There are over 50 patents for Kothala Himbotu plant. Sri Lanka has only one patent which was a discovery of a Sri Lankan team. As a Chemist who worked on the kothala himbotu plant and tried to find the chemical compounds, Prof. Karunarathne felt humiliated when Japanese scientists found that water based compound in the kothala himbotu plant. He used a Sri Lankan source and worked on a zeroing from Sri Lankan lichen, patented at the US patent office the, lichen called ziorine that can be used on cancer patients. Sri Lankan government dealing legally with bio-piracy is when they intervened to stop exporting Kothala Himbotu plant in bulk that is being used for anti-diabetic drug. For anti-diabetic drug creation some sections of the plant are still being exported, but in small quantities.

In the meantime, there is also bogus bio-piracy. An undergraduate student of University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka found out that Clarins skin care product in France is using Hortinia floribanda that is endemic to Sri Lanka.

In their website it was mentioned that this plant is being used to improve the skin tone. When studied their website, closely, they found that they are using plants found in amazon and plant found in Europe during winter. After finding the endemic Sri Lankan plant do not contribute to any skin tone improvement and when the research was published in National Science Foundation journal, the skin care production company removed the name of the plant from their website. This is an instance where bogus bio-piracy is being taken place and that it too needs to fight and that even an average Chemist can make a difference, said Prof. Varanja Karunarathne.

According to Prof. Varanja Karunarathne, there are about 3000 odd plants endemic to Sri Lanka, out of the total flowering plants, 2000 are endemic. Because of this density and diversity, UNESCO named Sri Lanka as a biodiversity hotspot. 1300 of these plants are in the Red book of endangered plants of Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the value of the plant is only the timber value. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka value plants in Sri Lanka only for its timber value which is a drawback. The government needs to fund for projects that study the chemistry of these plants, government never have done such in that greater scale. The chemists would want be able to study the chemistry inside the plant, the knowledge inside the plant. It is important to lobby to find the chemicals of these plants that are endangered to Sri Lanka. This means conserving the knowledge inside the plant is much more than just evaluating its value for timber. There is a far greater use of the plant than just the timber value.

During the discussion, Mr. Lakshman Gunasekara highlighted the importance of getting media involved along with the Scientists to intervene in promoting knowledge, education and awareness about bio-piracy and possible ways of counter-fighting it. He said that unlike in the past, mass communication can bring this issue to a different level. In this regard the scientific community needs to intervene in order for the media community to get activated. However, Prof. Siril Wijesundara made a remark that media is always working with political agendas, but Scientists are not and they cannot do so. Therefore, it is important, media step aside from political agendas and look at this issue apolitically.

Dr. Nirmal Dewasiri highlighted the colonial dimension of bio-piracy. With the involvement of government in bio-piracy and the inclusion of concept of government and empire –building bio-politics came into being. In empire building, establishing the political centre outside the location of the centre was important. Same is true to colonialism which was more than traditional Empire building exercise. It was new kind of administration, where there was capturing a grip on the land and space, fauna and flora. It was rather “governmentalization” which has multiple dimension. According to him, in that sense, colonialism is a multidimensional phenomenon. It is not more colonialism now; it is a new process. This is very much part of the enlightenment project at the time. It was governed by knowledge. Accumulation of information of social and natural environment became a new kind of project. The new political challenge is also this.

Prof. Nalani Hennayake highlighted the fact that how in terms of conservation and information sharing India came out with digital library registered with patent offices in the inventories library in the United States, while Sri Lanka has our own Red Book of inventory. She further highlighted the fact that countries like Sri Lanka having enough laws that needs immediate activation. Monopolizing the ownership needs to end and commercializing our plants needs to happen according to the Fauna and Flora Act in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka said no to digital register of plants in 1994 and we need to rethink such decisions mentioned the discussants.

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Veranja Karunarathne said that at present, other people are working on synthetic biology, combination of chemistry, biology and genomics, creating biosynthetic pathway of genes. Genes are mass produced in genomic mass factories which is controlled exploitation of bio wealth. That is where the world is heading and he says Sri Lanka needs to value the conserved knowledge inside the plant and explore the immense possibilities that the plants are presenting. Concluded

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Acknowledged (only?) Statesman speaks out; so do a few others

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The editor of The Sunday Island (April 4), mentions in his succinctly titled editorial – Down the pallang with no end in sight – this statesman. He speaks of Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha’s successful manouevre to curtail the power of the Rajapaksas and President Mahinda R’s attempt to go in for a third term of his presidency in 2014. Thus, the editor writes: “It is in this context that the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) that Ven Sobitha founded now led by respected elder statesman Karu Jayasuariya ….” The organisation is seeking to push the rulers on to a correction course. It seeks to project an apolitical stance and denies subversive interest. “The 20th Amendment that abolished the 19th has thrown the baby with the bathwater….” Cassandra adds – and we are drowning in the waters; floundering in fear and surrounded by sharks of the sugar and oil scams; also those who are still destroying our natural resources.

 

Karu wise plus experienced and apolitical

The same paper published on page 3 excerpts of what the Chairman NMSJ – Karu Jayasurirya – said at a press conference at Janaki Hotel Colombo, on April 2. His considered warning was ‘Don’t fiddle like Nero as the country plunges into a precipice.’ A due warning of rather mixed metaphors. Cass would have preferred … ‘as the country burns’, but plunging into a precipice is really more catastrophic and that, says many, is what is happening to this wonderful land of ours. We should all read and reread what Karu J had to say; we should analyse and see whether he was correct and then in our own small way try to obtain a change of course. The principle consideration is that Karu Jayasuriya speaks apolitically here as an elder statesman who has been both in politics and the private sector and knows full well what he is speaking about. If you want definite credentials on his ability and sincerity, recollect how he acted as Speaker of Parliament when the then Prez, Maitripala Sirisena stole the government from its elected members of Parliament and handed it over to his dire enemy of yesteryear, now befriended buddy – Mahinda Rajapaksa and his coyotes to govern the land. PM Ranil W with loyalists holed themselves at Temple Trees and bided their time. Karu J faced a battery of assaults: vulgarly vocal, totally injurious thrown bound volumes and deadly chilli powder mixed with water. He braved it all; took his rightful seat and gave judgment that restored order from utter chaos.

He is one politician whom Cass and so many others rooted for. Now he is out of party politics but fighting for the very survival of the nation of free Sri Lanka.

 

Voices should be listened to

At the recent meeting of people to solve their problems and bring succour to them, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa somewhat belittled protestors attempting to save our forest cover. Cass heard him on TV news on Saturday April 3 speaking about people accusing a previous government of running white vans, threatening journalists etc and now it is environmental groups that are out against the new government and him. No, they and we are against those who cut trees, deforest the land, sand mine ruthlessly and of course make money on horrible scams and seem to get away scot free, not even paying to government coffers billions garnered illegally.

He, government Ministers and MPs, and relevant administrators should all listen to the call of even a single concerned person, and know they are calling out completely altruistically with no political biases. One such is Padmini Nanayakkara of Colombo 3 who cries out (we imagine in horror) Reservoirs in Sinharaja? in the Sunday Island of April 4. She starts her letter to the editor with this: “Have we an enemy within or has a foreign force taken over Sri Lanka? I can’t imagine any Lankan contributing to an idea as bizarre as building reservoirs in Sinharaja.”

The editor referring to the pronouncement made loud and clear by Minister Chamal Rajapaksa about building two reservoirs in Sinharaja as if it were a foregone construction plan; writes thus: “A minister from the ruling family outrageously declares that two reservoirs will be built in the Sinharaja reserve to provide water for their pocket borough, He promises to plant 150 acres elsewhere to compensate saying that rubber will be planted to give people an income”. The editor dubs it a “madcap project” (cheers!!). Plenty water could be tapped downstream of rivers flowing near Hambantota; and this for people and not to keep watered vanity projects like cricket stadiums.

 

Semicentennial of a terrible uprising

I speak here of the JVP uprising of 1971 which has been written about with Jayantha Somasunderam from Canberra detailing it meticulously with copious references. Cass has been typically Sri Lankan in that she had forgotten about those days of fifty years ago which she refuses to term either jubilee or never golden anniversary. The Editor/The Island introduced a new word – quinquagenary – a tongue twister but pins down the number five. Whatever its now earned name, it was a brutal and absolutely purposeless shedding of young blood: blood of youth by the government and killing of police and causing utter chaos by the newly marshaled JVP under Rohana Wijeweera. They were disciplined and dedicated to a cause then. Incidentally, his grown son was shown on TV news a few days ago. A misunderstood message to attack police stations, conveyed via radio annonced obituary notices, saved the country because the attack was so deadly, power over the government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike could have been gained. The second JVP uprising was deadlier as it was minus principles and all restraint. Again the rivers flowed with young Sinhala blood. The 1971 insurrection was short lived and we who cowered, emerged to usual routines fairly soon. Not the 1ate 1980s uprising. It created widespread fear psychoses; complete mayhem from hospitals, schools and offices to thé kadés. Universities were closed for two years and thus a considerable exodus of young students to universities overseas. We lost many of our teenaged children and the country – brains and ability.

May such never happen again is our earnest prayer. The young seem to have imbibed or decided to work through principles. Consider the recent protests against environmental degradation, particularly denudation of forests. They were all peaceful and intelligently carried out, and acknowledged as such, and the message they carried should certainly have been given an ear to by the President, PM and Ministers in charge of relevant subject areas. Perhaps it was peaceful marches and speeches and placards because the aim was altruistic – benefit for the entire country and not for self.

 

Beauty gone batty?

The public fracas of excessively groomed and dressed up beauties at the recent Mrs Sri Lanka finals was shockingly disgraceful. It confirmed to Cass that even the slightest mix-up or argument in this land of ours very soon escalates to a debacle, often accompanied by violence. But in this incident, there wasn’t even a whimper of argument. We witnessed how last year’s Mrs S L – Her Mightiness Caroline Jurie – crowned, de-crowned and re-crowned Pushpika de Silva. The latter’s hair was pulled, since the crown was rudely pulled off her by Her Mightiness and another, but unless it had long sharp spikes it could not have injured the stunned winner’s head. And all because of a heard rumour at the moment of crowning. Cass spits out: How dare Caroline Jurie take judgment to her tearing hands when a panel had discussed, gone into details and decided on the winner; the panel including herself! Cass comments the glass slipper gifted to Cinderella Caroline a year ago seems to be a misfit now; her feet swollen to match her head.

Back to the ordinary: Cassandra wishes all her readers a family oriented Aluth Avuruddha, with safety precautions vigilantly observed against infection given first priority. Much should be sacrificed to prevent the deadly third wave of Covid 19.

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