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Geneva odyssey: More confrontation or new approach?

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by Rajan Philips

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who made the surprising call for the government cancelling the ECT deal with India and Japan, has made another surprising and really a gallant announcement giving the green light for allowing burials for Muslim and Christian victims of Covid-19. If the Ministry of Health has been caught unawares by the PM’s statement in parliament, well, they had better get used to it. But no sooner had the government appeared to have cremated the burial issue than Cardinal Malcom Ranjith raised a new headache for the government – threatening to take his case for justice for the victims of the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks to international courts, if there is no assurance of justice through domestic investigations. That is a shocker even though it is no more than a threat for now.

The Cardinal is manifestly unhappy with the course of the investigations so far. Not only does he want to uncover those who masterminded the attacks, he also wants those who ignored prior warnings about the attacks to be exposed and punished. It is over the latter part that the government seems to be getting tied up in the usual coverup knots. As a straightshooter the Cardinal wants total transparency, but Sri Lanka parted with transparency in investigating political crimes decades ago. What has become is a culture of opacity and coverup.

If His Eminence could use his spiritual capital to successfully shake up Sri Lanka’s culture of opacity in the cover-up of crimes by successive governments, he would have brought deliverance to all Sri Lankans in this world before they even get to the other world or into the cycle of rebirth. Without that deliverance, or getting on the path to it, Sri Lanka cannot get out of the muddle it has made for itself at the UNHRC and cannot avoid the annual pilgrimage to Geneva.

Put another way, it is the culture of opacity and the web of cover-ups involving political crimes that seriously undermines the government’s nationalistic assertions against war crimes investigations at the UNHRC. Conversely, Tamil leaders who insist on international war crimes investigations/prosecutions against Sri Lanka are cynically unconcerned about doing anything about the broken-down domestic criminal justice system. A troubling intersection of these two tendencies has come about in what the Amnesty International has called, “the collapse of Joseph Pararajasingham murder case.”

Amnesty International was responding to the acquittal of of MP S. Chandrakanthan and four others in the 2005 assassination of TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham, and the announcement by the Attorney General’s Office that it would be dropping the charges against the suspects. According to AI, this is “another sorry milestone in the Sri Lankan authorities’ continued failure to ensure justice for crimes committed during the armed conflict.” It is also disturbing for the silence among the Tamils over this particular travesty of justice. And Sri Lanka’s parliament cares nothing about accountability for the murder of one its own MPs, but welcomes those accused or convicted of murder so long as they are able to become MPs, not by winning a direct election but by getting a spot on the winning list of a political party. Once on the nomination list, criminals can campaign for mercy votes to avoid conviction. And they succeed!

Old JR’s New Mutation

For Amnesty International, the collapse of the Pararajasingham murder case is a natural outcome of the government’s withdrawal in February 2020, from the UNHRC resolution (30/1) committing the country to promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights. A less natural outcome is the alleged intention of the government to take away the civic rights of opposition political leaders and public servants based on the contentious report of a controversial Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Political Victimization. True to its name, and without any irony, the Commission would appear to have prepared its own list of names for political victimization by the government that appointed it.

Forty years ago, President JR Jayewardene invented the devise of presidential commission of inquiry to deprive his chief political opponent Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and two others from her government, of their civic rights. That was a disgraceful and damaging exercise of political power and no successor of JR Jayewardene wanted to repeat what Sri Lanka’s inaugural President did. Until now, that is, and that too with a long list of names. The list allegedly includes Ranil Wickremesinghe, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem and TNA leader R. Sampanthan. Perhaps, more can be added and merrier it would be for Sri Lanka’s democracy.

The JVP leader has colourfully told President Gotabaya Rajapaksa what to do with the Commission’s report. The question is what is the President thinking that he can do with the report, its list, and its recommendations? After precipitously withdrawing from the UNHRC resolution on postwar reconciliation, the government seems to be incubating more Sri Lankans to go to Geneva to pitch their grievances against the government before the UNHRC. The Commission on political victimization seems to be setting up everyone in the opposition – from Ranil Wickremesinghe to R. Sampanthan, to seek justice outside Sri Lanka for injustice within Sri Lanka.

Already, a line up of Sri Lankans seeking redress in Geneva seems to be starting. International justice and journalist organizations are reportedly urging the UNHRC to adopt a new resolution asking the Sri Lankan Government to “cease harassment, surveillance and attacks against journalists and law enforcement officers who investigated attacks on journalists,” and to immediately release former CID Director Shani Abeysekara. It will not be long before, if not already, UNHRC will be petitioned for similar resolutions on behalf of long detained human rights lawyer Hejaaz Hizbullah, whose only palpable cause for detention without charges is that he is a Muslim. No one knows what the future holds for another Muslim professional, Dr. Mohammad Shafi, or whether he too will be forced to seek redress in Geneva.

 

Withdrawal Effects

We do not know what plans the government had to deal with UNHRC when it unilaterally withdrew from the Council’s resolution co-sponsored by the previous yahapalanaya government. Perhaps, the withdrawal was more for dramatic political effect at home than for strategically dealing with a serious matter in Geneva. One year after, there is no plan to see, and the government has neither results at home nor a new strategic plan to show in Geneva. If anything, the exercise of the political victimization commission will only be an embarrassment for the government delegates in Geneva. On the other hand, the government’s Tamil and Muslim detractors will be citing Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s threat of going to international courts, with much approval and for maximum effect.

The vacuum created by the government’s inaction, not to mention unnecessary misdoings, is being filled locally and in Geneva in ways that the government clearly has failed to foresee. Regardless of what position one takes on it, the latest report of UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet on Sri Lanka is an escalation from its predecessors. For the first time, the Commissioner is calling for targeted punitive actions by member states against perpetrators of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. 

As Dayantha Laksiri Mendis has cogently pointed out (The Island, Friday, February 12) a new proposed Geneva Resolution could be “devastating for Sri Lanka if it is based on the Report of the UN High Commissioner for HR.” He goes on to suggest that “it is desirable at this point of time to draft a counter resolution and outline Sri Lanka’s proposals relating to reconciliation and accountability without taking a confrontational approach.” Specifically, Mr. Mendis’ advice is to “draft a counter resolution and identify how we intend to deal with reconciliation and accountability taking into account ground realities, constitutional provisions and the political ramifications.” So, will it be more confrontation or a new approach to reconciliation and accountability? That is the question.

The local withdrawal effects have been quite a few, and the government should be wise to emerging new mutations of opposition and protest and learn to engage with them more positively and unlearn the old ways of counterproductive confrontation. There are signs of both within the government, although the confrontational approach is clearly having the upper hand. The most blatant and ill-advised sign of confrontation is the government’s withdrawal of the high security detail provided to TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran because he participated in the P2P protest march in violation of a court order. Technically, he was in no such violation, and even if he was it was a matter for the courts and not a government minister to act upon.

As for P2P, the alliterative abbreviation for the five-day march from Pottuvil in the east to Polikandi in the Jaffna Peninsula, it is an instance of local political filling the void of government inaction in the north and east. The purpose of the march was to highlight the yet unresolved issues of missing persons, denial of space and right to commemorate their memory, return of land, the fate of people indefinitely detained without any legal process, and the new concern over the present government’s archaeological expeditions. The march was organized by Tamil political groups with participation by Muslims and plantation Tamils and the highlighting of their concerns. One would hope that the government would have the wisdom to view this development not as a challenge to be put down, but as an opportunity to engage with the people in the north and east and their representatives to address their day to day problems. It is also an opportunity for President Rajapaksa to extend his much vaunted village visitations to include the villages in the two, as SJV Chelvanayakam called them, “deficit provinces” of Sri Lanka.

The antibodies within the government to the virus of confrontation are admittedly weak, but nonetheless deserve due acknowledgment. It is remarkable that the Socialist Alliance leaders are consistently principled on the question of devolution and the continuation of the provincial council system. Equally heartening is the fact that the Lawyers’ Forum for the People held their news conference last week to warn about the ridiculous recommendations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into political victimization (PCOI), at the Dr. NM Perera Center in Colombo. They could not have found a more appropriate place for it.

To modify what Colvin R de Silva said about his legal luminary colleague S. Nadesan, NM Perera was a unique Sri Lankan who could have talked constitution to any forum anywhere in the world. In Sri Lanka, as Pieter Keuneman said it, NM was the jewel of parliament. And it is too much to expect the current parliament to live up to the high standards that were set by NM and his generation of parliamentarians. What should be worrisome at the same time, is that the current parliament has got itself a majority to enact a new constitution drafted by a committee that has no political or constitutional experience at all. Whether what they will create would be appropriate for a future UNHRC resolution is a different matter that we can only wait to see.



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THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX OF SRI LANKA

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by R.J. de Silva, Attorney-at-law

In the distant past, there were many approaches to running civilizations. Cruel and ruthless dictators perpetrated assault on human rights, with impunity. The best known among these tyrants were ATTILA the HUN (AD 434-453 of present day Hungary ), GENGHIS KHAN ( 1206-1227 in Central Asia and China ), TIMUR ( 1370-1405 of modern Syria, Iran , Afghanistan) and QUEEN MARY alias ‘Bloody Mary’(1553-1558 in England ).

The combination of divine or absolute power and lack of contact with people made Dictators and Autocrats fascinating as well as terrifying. It is unclear if such characters suffered from mental illness as defined by current standards or whether their lives were marked by incidents that made them ruthless.

Hadenius and Teorell ( 2007 ) identified distinct dictatorships in monarchies, military regimes, one party regimes and restricted multiparty regimes. Studies have revealed that many dictatorial regimes, have democratic facades or some functioning democratic institutions, some holding regular elections and some having operational political parties and legislatures.

Dictatorships are a form of government in which all power remains in the hands of one person enjoying unlimited governmental power obtained by force or fraudulent means in sham elections. Dictatorships are often characterized by deaths or killings because of greed, hatred, pride and yearning for power. For instance, Hitler caused millions of deaths of Jews, Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians to forcibly change its culture and Idi Amin was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Indians in Uganda.

Autocracy is very similar to a dictatorship. Here too, the supreme power lies in the hands of an individual with some supported by a slavish political party. Autocrats use little or no consultation when making decisions and exercise independent authority over policies and procedures. Their decisions are not subject to any legal restraints. The system suppresses public debate and makes criticism of the government, a criminal offence.

Like in dictatorships, autocracies also use force and punishments to those who disobey the leader’s commands. Autocrats manifest in many ways in despotism, oligarchy and fascism.

In the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism (popular in the 18th Century Europe),a absolute monarchs enacted a number of changes in political institutions and enlightened governance. Most of the despots started their careers as “freedom fighters”. Many of them amassed wealth abroad while the world was in denial.

An oligarchy is a form of government where power is in the hands of a small group of elite people, holding wealth or family or military prowess. Oligarchies are where a small minority rules the government and exercise power in corrupt ways. Such governments are frequently ruled by prominent families whose children are raised and coached as oligarchy’s heirs.

Fascism is a political ideology that elevates the nation and race above the individual and advocates a ‘Consolidated Autocratic government’ led by a dictator under strict economic and social regulation while suppressing the opposition. Fascist administrations were seen in Italy’s Fascist Party under Mussolini ( 1925-1945 )and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party ( Nazi Party ) under Adolf Hitler ( 1925-1943). Interestingly, the majority of the modern dictatorial regimes refer to their leaders by a variety of titles such as President, King and Prime Minister.

The 20th and 21st Century dictators and autocrats ruled with tyrannical power and never tolerated dissent. Some of them were VALDIMIR LENIN ( 1917-1924 Russia ), JOSEPH STALIN ( 1924-1953 Russia ), BENITO MUSSOLINI ( 1925-1945 Italy ), ADOLF HITLER ( 1933-1945 Germany ), FRANCISCO FRANCO ( 1939-1975 Spain ), MAO ZEDONG (1949-1976- China ), IDI AMIN (1971-1979 Uganda), AUGUSTO PINOCHET ( 1973- 1990 Chile ), GEOGIS PAPANDUPOULUS ( 1967-1974 Greece ), COL MUAMMER GADAFI ( 1969-2011 Libya ).

Dictator led countries are also associated with severe poverty, repression, decreasing health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and rising mental illnesses. Eight of these brutal and repressive autocracies which caused poverty in their countries were : KIM JONG UN since 2011 ( North Korea- 40% poverty ), NICOLAS MANDURO since 2013 with his Presidency in dispute ( Venezuela – 82% poverty ) , BASHA AL ASSAD since 2020 ( Syria -82% poverty ), PAUL KAGME since March 2000 (Rwanda -39.1% poverty ), RECEP ERDOGAN since 2014 ( an elected President in Turkey- 21.9% poverty ), and NGUEMA MBASOSGO longest standing President in the world since 1979 for 40 years to date ( Equatorial Guinea -76. 8% poverty). Two of them – PIERRE NKURUNZIZA ( Burundi ) and IDRIS DEBBY ( Chad ) died in June 2020 April 2021 leaving 64.6% and 46.7% poverty respectively, in their impoverished countries. However, VADIMIR PUTIN (since 2000 Russia ) and XI JING PING ( since 2013 China ) are leading economic powers, but these two countries have also never tolerated dissent.

It is common to see dictators and autocrats appointing prominent members of armed forces in civilian positions and show disrespect towards the independence of the judiciary and freedom for the media. Such systems and their rulers show no concern for human rights or dissent. For instance in China, when a popular national movement for democracy was precipitated by Chinese youth and students calling for greater accountability, constitutional due process, freedom of the Press, speech and association drawing about one million people to the Tiananman Square and about 400 other cities, China’s Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping violently suppressed the movement in one day on June 4, 1986, similar to what happened in Rathupaswela in Sri Lanka, subsequently.

The suppression of the Pro- Democracy movement by the use of the army was followed by the wide spread arrest and deportation of foreign journalists and the strict control of the Press. In Russia, VADIMIR PUTIN, characterized his rule with endemic corruption, jailing political opponents, intimidating media freedom and free and fair elections. When Russia invaded Ukrain in February 2022, Putin ordered the arrest of thousands of its own citizens for protesting against the war. Tsarist minded Putin decreed that the independent media and journalists will be will be given 15 year jail terms if the cruel destruction of Ukrain’s infrastructure, historical monuments, hospitals and bombing civilian targets are reported to the Russian people.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to create personality based autocracies surrounded by family members. Family bandyism weakened State infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2005. The Rajapaksa family based autocracy weakened the State, democratic practices and institutionalized corruption. Family members and lackeys of Iraq and Libyan leaders weakened the State apparatus of Iraq and Libya. The weakened States of Iraq and Libya were such that, it failed to produce nuclear weapons as planned, to meet the threat of Israeli expansion. Saddam Hussain ( Iraq ) appointed his son- in- law and notoriously brutal Hussein Kamil, to fast track the production of nuclear weapons. That resulted in scientists in Iraq intentionally further slowing down the programme and nicknamed it the “unclear power”.

In contrast, the tyrant Gadaffi ( Libya ) was surrounded by ‘yes men’ and female bodyguards and an ego trip as a result of which, had no inclination to produce scientists and engineers for the country capable of dealing with complex technicalities associated with the production of nuclear power.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries. Chinese dictator XI JING PING despite being an economic power, is accused of subtle problematic debt trap diplomacy since 2018 in many poor countries in Africa and Asia ruled by corrupt and mismanaging leaders. PUTIN is facing credible allegations of gross violation of human rights in Ukrain and widespread calls for investigation leading up to a trial for war crimes.

Citizen tired of being oppressed and controlled made widespread demands for democracy and the creation of independent Nation States in Europe. Those revolutions popularly known as the ‘Peoples Spring’ in 1848, brought upheavals in Europe mainly due to the dissatisfaction with monarchies, which were at the helm of each country. The revolution started in Sicily and spread to France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, Austrian Empire, German Empire and the whole of Europe. Monarchies were replaced by Republics. Old leaders were forced to grant liberal constitutions.

Caught off guard, aristocracy and their allies plotted to return to power and many leaders of the revolutions went into exile. In the decades after 1848, little had changed. Many historians considered the “People’s Spring” a failure, due to the seemingly lack of permanent structural changes. Karl Marx, disappointed with the bourgeois character of the revolution, expressed the theory of a permanent revolution according to which the proletariat should strengthen democratic bourgeois revolutionary forces, until the proletariat itself was ready to seize power.

The Autumn of Nations between 1981 and 1991 (143 years after the political upheavals in Europe), brought down the former Soviet Union (USSR) which was beset with economic stagnation, mismanagement and excessive dogmatism of the Communist Party. It disintegrated USSR without bloodshed to endorse democratic reforms in their countries. Poland was the first to shrug off communism in 1989 after almost a decade of struggles. It was followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Another wave of pro- democracy uprisings began in Muslim countries such as Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain in 2010/2011. It was named the “Arab Spring” and started in December 2010 from Tunisia. However, not all the nations that witnessed such social and political upheaval changed for the better. Some of the very same leaders who fought for democracy in the Muslim world (and in many other parts of the world), presided over the gradual decline of democratic rule in their countries.

In Egypt for example, despite the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, authoritarian rule returned after the controversial election of Morsi in 2012 leading to a coup by his Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in 2013 and he remains in power till today. Libya, since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown violently in October 2011, has remained in a state of civil war with two opposing governments ruling separate regions of the country. The civil war that began in Syria with the Arab Spring has lasted for several years due to ISIS declaring a CALIPHATE governed by Islamic Law in North East of Syria. The ISIS has been effectively defeated, but the oppressive regime of BASHAR AL ASSAD continues with Russian support.

Democracy

In modern times, generations have rebelled against dictatorships and autocrdacy and fought for human rights and respect for the Rule of law. DEMOCRACY is the method of rule most countries have begun to approve. Although democracy is vulnerable it is very resilient. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Democracy and violence go ill together. States that are today minimally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or if they must become fully democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent” and Langstone Hughes ( 1902 – 1967 ) wrote “Democracy will not come today, this year, not ever through compromise and fear. I tire so of hearing people say, let’s things take its own course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need any freedom when I am dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

To be continued

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My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment says Beyonce

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Beyonce, shown attending the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, is slated to release a new album in July 2022

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, r Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album “Lemonade,” Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.

Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, released her hotly anticipated album “Renaissance,” a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop

Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from “Show Me Love,” the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.

Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped “Break My Soul” to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who molded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.The megastar has indicated that “Renaissance” is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.

“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.

“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”

“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”

– ‘Expansive listening journey’ –

In the weeks preceding the release of “Renaissance” Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)

In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.

“Unique / That’s what you are /Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on “Alien Superstar,” which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in a sonic ode to voguing, the stylized house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.

That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.

On “Virgo’s Groove” Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on “Renaissance” include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.

– Album leaks, Beyhive stings –

Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularizing the surprise album drop.She later made waves by releasing “Lemonade” — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.

Since “Lemonade” she’s released “Homecoming,” a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song “Black Parade” — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.

That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winningest woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

That’s poised to change with “Renaissance.”

The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a tracklist and polished social media fodder.But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.

Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”

“We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music,” the megastar told her fandom. “I love you deep.”–AFP

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Are we to burn borrowed dollars just to cook a meal?

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Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

How many of the consumers who opt to use LPG for cooking, realize that they are burning the dollars borrowed with difficulty, just to cook a meal, while the use of LPG hardly brings in any foreign exchange? The reality is that while the country is struggling to raise the dollars even through loans to import adequate supplies of transport fuel, taking loans to import LPG, which will not result in any Forex earnings could hardly be considered ethical or a priority.

The CBSL data below shows the immense amount of dollars drained out of the country in the past years, purely due to the high powered promotions to coerce and trap the consumers to this non sustainable consumption.

With the escalation of world market prices and the depreciation of the rupee , the impact in rupee terms in year 2022, if we are to import the same quantities, would be much greater as estimated. The Governor of the Central Bank has quite rightly stated that

Sri Lanka will have to manage with available dollar inflows, not bridging finance: CB Governor

By Economy Next • Issue #391

However, the attempt by the government appears to be determined to continue this practice at whatever cost and detriment to the economy, to perpetuate a practice foisted on the people by unscrupulous officials, and thereby try and pretend that the gas queues are over. This has been achieved for the present, thanks to a further loan of $ 70 Million from the World Bank, to import 30,000 tons of LPG recently. Perhaps the daily visuals of the gas queues, that the electronic media took pleasure in broadcasting, may also have pushed the government to this short sighted move.

The other side of the coin is that, before the arrival of this load of LPG, while the empty cylinders remained in the queues, the people were absent. No doubt they sought and found alternative means of cooking their meals, albeit with less convenience than using gas. Obviously they would also have been helped in this by the intrepid efforts of many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who designed and manufactured cooking stoves to use either fuel wood or charcoal, which do not require any dollars.

The novel stoves are yet to be available in adequate numbers in the market, although the manufacturers are running long waiting lists. As such some consumers may have been forced to revert to direct use of fire wood, accepting the disadvantage of smoke and soot. But Sri Lanka has already introduced most acceptable models of cooking stoves to use wood and wood charcoal, devoid of any smoke and soot. These have proved to be acceptable alternatives to the use of gas stoves for the daily cooking needs, even in high rise apartments.

The reality is that the consumers have recognized the fact that the government or the officials cannot be relied upon to provide their essential needs, and their salvation lies in seeking indigenous alternative solutions themselves which have proven to be equally effective.

But shouldn’t this positive change have been noted by the authorities and fostered with the same vigour with which the use of the imported LPG was promoted? What about the media? They diverted their cameras to the petrol and diesel queues, obviously the emerging negative scene of news value.

The officials of the Litro gas company are heard to give assurances of continued supply of LPG in the future, while they admit the loan received is adequate for supplies up to October only. According to their web page their customer base exceeds 4,000,000. The consumption in 2020 was 437,000 tons, purchased at a cost of $ 236 Million. By now it would exceed 450,000 tons annually. How far would the $ 70 Million loan go at present day gas prices? What happens next? Are they hoping to get yet another loan, when the Ministry of Power and Energy is forced to restrict the issue of essential transport fuels to a minimum, due to lack of dollars? Isn’t this a willful deception of the consumers?

Therefore, the discerning consumers are well advised to consider the following points in their decision making for the future.

  • = The import of LPG is possible only through loans which will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren
  • = Continued dependence on LPG is a never ending problem and will need more and more loans with no chance of the LPG used leading to any foreign exchange earnings
  • = The loans taken have to be repaid by the entire country ,while the benefit is enjoyed by only a limited section of the society, which is morally unacceptable
  • = For those fortunate to get even a cylinder of LPG, adopting the already available options of stoves using either charcoal or wood , for the cooking of the main meals , would substantially reduce the monthly expenditure as shown below. This would preserve the LPG cylinder bought with difficulty, to be available for any limited usage in between and for any emergencies for many months
  • = The consumers can be the drivers of the change which would reduce the demand for LPG and thus save the country millions of dollars year after year
  • = This would create a significant indigenous industry whereby the millions of dollars sent out would flow to the local industrialists and rural communities supplying the charcoal and wood. Even a 50% reduction of the imports could result in a local industry worth over Rs 80 Billion annually.

These are indeed practical and worthwhile contributions to resolve a national problem. Are each of us ready to commit to extend the use of our LPG cylinder to last several months, thereby reducing the demand to 50% or even to 25% in the coming year? This should be considered a national duty by all of us.

Just to assuage any fears of deforestation, contrary to popular belief, Sri Lanka already has adequate renewable and sustainable biomass resources formally counted as over 12,000,000 tons annually, contributing to 50% of the total primary energy demand. Simultaneously, a practical program of social reforestation has to be encouraged where the user of charcoal, plants wherever he can, plants trees to compensate for the charcoal he uses. In this way the next generation will also be assured of their own sustainable supply with absolutely no impact on the forest cover. A plant that can be recommended is Gliricidia Sepium among others, which can be harvested in two years, and thereafter every eight months.

(The writer is past president of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka www.bioenergysrilanka.lk
Email: parajayasinghe@gmail.com)

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