Despite Billion Dollar losses in the West they are promising us Billions!
by Dr. Dineth Bandara
The Jackals are closing in. The bait is set. The ganja farce is hotting up. The drama we are watching makes one wonder if there already is a surreptitious agreement between a section of politicians and officials, and the ganja business. The business in suits and ties, not the sarong-clad ganja cultivators hauled regularly before courts.
Public pronouncements on ganja have been made by a few deluded “Honourable” Members of Parliament. These utterances seem to confirm that the government is seriously considering allowing multinational ganja corporations to cultivate ganja in thousands of acres in Sri Lanka. The deluded few have swallowed the bait. The bait that Sri Lanka can settle a substantial amount of her foreign debt easily by selling ganja (hemp) oil to the world.
This time around, ganja comes with a veneer of sophistication, ostensibly to supply posh markets in the West. This is supposed to bring billions to the national economy. Whichever way one washes it, ganja is ganja, be it grown by those in business suits or proletariats. The only difference is that the harmful chemicals being higher in the business variety. There is nothing “desheeya” about it.
The posh ganja pushers with impressive sounding qualifications and mesmerizing presentations will not tell that world prices of ganja oil has fallen down a precipice within a short period. The prices of ganja oil have collapsed by over seventy five percent since 2019. Their fancy looking and awe-inspiring forecasts totally hides this.
Many companies that got into the into the ganja business have taken a huge hit. The largest ganja traders in the world has reported a billion dollar losses this year. This is in addition to their share values collapsing by over 10 billion US dollars last year. They are not in a position to repay their own debts. The ganja peddlers in suits are hurt and desperate. So are the tobacco and alcohol industries that have heavily invested in these companies.
Therefore, there is no surprise that they are looking to expand the markets elsewhere, even working through trade sections of Embassies. Their immediate objective will be the relaxation of the laws and getting a foothold in as many countries as possible.
If ganja oil is liquid gold, why have the prices collapsed? It is because many countries (and businesses) fell in the same trap. It is like someone opening “bath (rice) kadey” and doing good business. Seeing this, two others will also open shop in the same area, collapsing all three businesses.
Ganja oil prices dropped drastically because there is a severe oversupply. Countries with larger areas of land and cheaper labour have got into the business, perhaps fooled by the same economic hit-men that are coming to Sri Lanka. Any mildly competent business analyst, economist or policy maker should spot this blind-folded.
So, in the end, we will end up with a pittance in dollars, after giving thousands of acres to foreign businesses that will exploit our labour. Along the line, they will keep lobbying in more than one way to open up the domestic market, in micro steps.
There is a range of ganja products in the line already to prime any population. Drinks, chocolates, toffees, cosmetics, hair conditioners, tea, butter and even pet products are among these. However, the real target and the most lucrative product that all such companies wish to market is ganja cigarettes, or smoking products. This is marketed in some countries already.
It seems that some very small sections of the Ayurvedic professionals, are being unknowingly used by the ganja trade. They too are asking for the same – relaxation of laws on ganja cultivation. If they look at this more carefully they too may lose after all. It is possible that the market for some Ayurvedic medications will disappear, if the laws on ganja cultivation is relaxed. Why should one pay for such medicine when one can grow it free of charge, at home?
Hopefully, the more perceptive politicians and government officials are aware that thousands of acres of “protected” ganja plantations is nothing but a mirage in Sri Lanka. We were all treated to the spectacle of heroin and other drugs being sold by none other than those linked to Sri Lanka Police, Department of Excise and even the Government Analysts Department.
It is also hoped that those governing us realize that the widespread social and economic misery caused to Sri Lanka even now by ganja will increase, even if a miniscule amount of the high-yielding varieties which will be grown in these thousands of acres will leak out.
In Sinhala, there is a colourful and insightful saying about petting stray snakes, which all of us are familiar with. In countries where ganja was made legal, ganja related road traffic accidents and deaths have increased significantly. Ganja also significantly increases severe mental illnesses in young people and also increases suicides.
We lose billions of rupees and thousands of lives each year due to road traffic accidents. More than 80,000 and Sri Lankans are admitted to hospitals each year due to self-harm. It is doubtful that any sane government will want adding such misery to thousands of more families.
The ganja pushers will not look for relaxation of laws on use of ganja right now. This industry, primed by shrewd and ruthless strategies and the killer instinct of the tobacco industry, will first look for a foothold in Sri Lanka through a slight relaxation of laws and the control of large tracts of land.
They will then work relentlessly over the years until their objective of opening the domestic market for ganja products is achieved. This may even be 10 years down the line. It would be a walk in the park for these traders in countries like ours, considering the huge amount of resources that is available to them.
This is why Sri Lanka should be wary of Greeks bearing gifts. They will promise billions of dollars to the country, which they cannot and will not deliver. Those pretending to be the guardians of Sri Lanka, sitting in the middle of Diyawanna should use their brain cells on this one.
We should not let lighting strike the beggar’s bowl. Unless all of us are alert, we will be in the same position that China ended up after the Opium Wars. All Sri Lankans should hope and pray that “The Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” will not be seen through a haze of ganja smoke.
Buddhism and all beings’ right to life
A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”
Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”
The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”
The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”
When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.
According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.
I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.
The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?
Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.
The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.
The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.
The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.
For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.
There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!
Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way
China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.
“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.
A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.
:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}
The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.
Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.
China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.
While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.
Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.
President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.
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