By Neville Ladduwahetty
The arrival of US Secretary of State Micheal Pompeo days before the US presidential election has been a cause for much speculation. Judging from the countries he visited––India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Vietnam––the Secretary’s whirlwind visits were to strengthen geostrategic ties with these countries as a measure of preparedness to counter the growing dominance of China in the Indo-Pacific region. As part of this exercise what Secretary Pompeo and the US Secretary Defence, Mark Esper, achieved in India was a total makeover of India’s image globally; a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement has now become an ally of the US and committed member of the Quad.
In comparison to what happened in India, the MCC agreement with Sri Lanka amounts to small change. What happened in India would transform a geostrategic alliance with Quad partners into one that would have far-reaching geopolitical implications because its current relationship with the US would affect relations with all its neighbours such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, there was considerable apprehension as to whether the government would sign the MCC agreement, notwithstanding the opposition to it ever since the public came to know of its existence. However, following talks with Secretary Pompeo, the President has reportedly informed his Ministers that the MCC Agreement would not be signed. By not making an official statement to this effect and embarrassing its guest for the sake of gaining cheap political capital, the government has acted with maturity and good taste. After all, one does not have to crow when one does not compromise on principles such as sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
WHAT THE US ACHIEVED in INDIA
According to a report in The Island of November 1, by Special Correspondent S. Venkat Narayan, India signed five pacts, one of which “was the crucial Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share sensitive satellite and map data. This agreement will give India access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data vital for pinpointed attacks using missiles and armed drones… BECA clears the path for India acquiring armed drones in the first instance and at a later date, fighter aircraft. Esper alluded to the discussions around this topic when he announced that the US planned to sell more fighter planes and drones to India.”
The report states: “A second official said the Indian link up with the US Central Command and African Command indicates that the two countries have bonded on hard security issues. ‘It is quite evident from the 2+2 dialogue that India has completely integrated with other members of the of the four-nation Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue (QUAD) to monitor the Indian pacific region’ he said… Esper said the two countries’ focus must now ‘be on institutionalizing and regularizing our cooperation to meet the challenges of the day and uphold the principles of a free and open Indo-Pacific well into the future’ (Ibid).
The report ends thus: “Analysts say that the hesitation on India’s part to embrace the US for its national interests appears to have finally gone. The die has been cast for a strong Indo-US relationship, and it will not matter who wins the American presidential election on November 3”.
Having cast the die for a strong Indo-US relationship that “embraces the US for its national interests”, it makes sense for the Indian Foreign Secretary to question the relevance of non-alignment (Ceylon Today, November 3, 2020). However, for countries such as Sri Lanka, it is not to question the relevance or irrelevance of non-alignment but to accept the reality that India has abandoned a long cherished policy it fathered and nurtured and now finds that very policy an encumbrance because it does not resonate with its current geostrategic interests. It is a let-down not only for Sri Lanka but also to the over One Hundred other countries that committed faithfully to the Non-Aligned Movement. Instead of being despondent, Sri Lanka has to gear itself how to realign itself in keeping with the ongoing tectonic shifts in international relations.
FREE and OPEN INDO-PACIFIC
The principle of the QUAD and therefore of India as one of its partners, is to promote “a free and open Indo-Pacific”. Although the stated principle reaffirms the age old international practice of freedom of navigation, the QUAD is essentially a military strategic alliance to counter emerging threats from China in the Indo-Pacific region. These threats arise primarily because most countries in the region have territorial issues with China, starting with the artificial islands that China created in the South China sea. Since Sri Lanka’s Port City is also artificially created, the US has imposed sanctions on companies and/or individuals associated with its construction.
Apart from this, Sri Lanka has no issues with China or any other country. In fact, Prof. Colombage is cited in Ceylon Today of November 3, as having stated that “between 2009 and now, 550 warships from 20 countries have visited Sri Lanka”, thus practicing the principle of free and open navigation in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, Sri Lanka has no cause to align with India or any other country, the way India has done in the name of “national interest”.
With India “embracing” the US in a strategic security alliance because of its own national interest, the question for Sri Lanka is what the status of the Agreements and Accords that were forged with India when it was non-aligned is. Now that India has abandoned its former policy and committed to a new relationship with the USA and the QUAD, India’s bona fides as far as Sri Lanka is concerned become questionable because there is a credibility deficit.
With the US and India signing the key Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement “to share sensitive satellite map data”, India now has “access to topographical, nautical and aeronautical data even within Sri Lanka’s Greater Economic Zone. Such vital information gives India a clear and distinct advantage over Sri Lanka, that it did not have before. Such advantages are often exploited by major powers to the detriment of the smaller States. The irony in such a situation for India is that it shed blood to rid itself of colonialism, and later banded with other former colonial states to be fully free of colonial exploitation, but would itself become a coloniser and exploiter under the new relationship with the US, all in the name of “national interest”.
Reliance on the Non-Aligned Movement to bail out Sri Lanka from such a predicament would amount to blowing in the wind. Nor would appeals to India to play fair on account of centuries of deep and abiding bonding be of any help. What is at stake is pure and simple exploitation couched in smooth language based on “principles” such as free and open Indo-Pacific on the surface while exploiting what belongs to others beneath that geographic surface.
STRATEGY for SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka has to gear itself to face the emerging challenges arising from the dynamics of the newly forged US/India relationship. In this regard, Sri Lanka has to prepare itself to address how it is to structure the state including the institutions of government that best suits its own security, geography and its cultural roots under a new Constitution. In this regard, Sri Lanka should keep India informed only of the major trends of such an exercise not with the hope of securing India’s acquiescence, but as a matter of courtesy.
As for the economy, Sri Lanka should adopt measures that encourage the private sector to implement locally funded infrastructure projects to the maximum extent possible. By way of a real life experience, where this has benefited and continues to benefit the country is in the field of Water Supply. When Dinesh Gunawardena was Minister of Urban Development and Water Supply, a proposal was made to Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, who was the Secretary to the Treasury, to implement water supply schemes using locally raised funds because design and construction capabilities including materials required were available in Sri Lanka. The idea was welcomed but took time to germinate. With time and patience, today, out of a total of forty-four (44) small and medium scale Water Supply Projects throughout the country, twenty-two (22) are being implemented using local funding. Furthermore, locally funded projects are less costly than the foreign-funded ones.
Sri Lanka has the know-how and capability to undertake large scale Water Supply Projects as well. The issue however is the lack of funding. In such instances, instead of handing over the total project to foreign sources at a higher cost, the government should raise foreign funds and implement them locally because the local costs are considerably lower, and that means the foreign funds needed are significantly less than giving the entire project to foreign sources.
Such an approach should also be adopted for the construction of expressways that are toll roads as well, because even if such projects are given to foreign sources they are subcontracted out to local companies. Therefore, funds for infrastructure projects should be raised from foreign sources other than governments, and implemented locally at lower costs instead of handing over implementation to foreign sources at higher costs.
The benefits to the country that cannot be quantified in pure monetary terms are (1) That every project comes with it its share of challenges; exposing local personnel to the associated challenges means that they gain experience that otherwise they would never have received; (2) the fact that funding is sought from sources other than governments,means the country retains its independence without having to compromise its foreign relations thus avoiding financially related traps that are exploited by countries; (3) except for high priority projects such as power and energy, other projects should be delayed until Sri Lanka is able to catch its breath from the effects of the COVID – 19 Pandemic, and (4) to give Sri Lanka’s private sector every encouragement to engage with the private sector in other countries in projects that add value to local raw materials and minerals, and/or in projects that would substitute imports.
India and the US won big following the visit of Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary Defence Mark Esper. In fact, it was so big that the MCC Compact with Sri Lanka amounted to small change. Perhaps, it was this that made Secretary Pompeo leave the decision on the MCC Compact to Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan people.
For the US, it got India to “embrace” a new relationship with the US and become a committed partner of the QUAD to a point where India’s Foreign Secretary has questioned the relevance of non-alignment. These shifts have transformed the geostrategic impact of Pompeo’s visit into a geopolitical one, and in the process have shaken the foundation of India/Sri Lanka relations. For India, the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) with the US gives access to maps and data relating to the Indian Ocean that are invaluable to it both militarily and economically. This data has to include much information relating the Sri Lanka’s Greater Economic Zone. This places Sri Lanka at a serious disadvantage that is bound to be exploited by India.
These tectonic shifts become the motivation for Sri Lanka to break free from its former constraints imposed by Indian intervention in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, and restructure the State and its Institutions to ensure its own security in keeping with its geography and cultural values, under the new Constitution. In the meantime, Sri Lanka should revisit and refashion its economic strategies on the lines recommended above, thereby underscoring its commitment to the country’s Sovereignty, Independence and Territorial Integrity.
Teaching for job market and ‘liberating the whole person’ during Covid-19 pandemic
by Liyanage Amarakeerthi
(This is based on a short presentation made at a promotion interview at the University of Peradeniya on November 19th, 2020. Author thanks Professors KNO Dharmadasa, Wimal Wijayarathne and OG Dayarathna Banda, Dean/Arts who encouraged him to publish this speech.)
At universities, we are busy teaching online. It is heartbreaking to find many students lack required facilities. Teaching on Zoom, for example, takes smart phones and personal computers for granted. We have to assume that Internet access is as ubiquitous as air, but reality is otherwise. Attendance at live Zoom classes can be as low as 40 percent in the Faculty of Arts, where students from underprivileged backgrounds account for the majority. Therefore, we need to record our lectures and make them available through other means. I myself have WhatsApp groups for all my classes to transmit important course content with a minimal cost. The university and the faculty take admirable care with extremely limited resources to make sure that no student is left behind. But the situation is far from satisfactory.
In addition to Corona, our political authorities routinely tell us that what we teach at the faculties of arts has become irrelevant and obsolete. They regularly ask us to produce employable graduates. Recently, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seen in a video clip telling a graduate that she should have studied ‘something technical.’ While it is wrong to produce an endless number of external graduates merely with degree certificates to wave at media cameras at the Lipton Circus, learning something ‘technical’ signifies a poor understanding of university education.
I want to reflect on the true meaning of education at the faculties of Arts. At our faculties we teach courses in the humanities and the social sciences. As a scholar in literature and language, I am at the most pressured end of the spectrum: Learning literature is the most removed from ‘something technical.’ Therefore, we, the humanities scholars at universities, routinely have to justify what we are doing in teaching and research. There reflections are made in that context.
Vision of the founding fathers
The founding fathers of the University of Ceylon, never imagined that future scholars in the Humanities would have to face the particular challenge mentioned above. In the inaugural address of the Ceylon University movement Ponnambalam Arunachalam, the President of the movement, had elaborate plans for a university of our own. Out of 13 professorships they had imagined to create in the University of Ceylon, eight were for the humanities. They wanted professorships for vernacular languages such as Sinhala and Tamil, and when the university was established, in 1942, the curriculum had considerable focus on local language and traditions. Indeed, there were professorships for natural sciences, and many science-based subjects were to enter within the first decade of the university.
In addition, those founding fathers had much larger and grander ideals for education; here are the words of Arunachalam:
“University will be a powerful instrument for forming character, for giving us men and women armed with reason and self-control, braced by knowledge, clothed with steadfastness and courage and inspired by public spirit and public virtue.” “A Plea for a Ceylon University” (A. T. Alwis. Peradeniya: The Founding of a University).
Those beautifully profound words demonstrate that Arunachalam’s vision for education was much more than teaching ‘something technical.’
In order to rediscover the true meaning of the Humanities education, one may look into what is meant by the liberal arts in contemporary international universities. ‘Liberal arts’ is a bit more inclusive than what we call ‘arts subjects’ since they include natural sciences, basic mathematics and the like. A rich liberal arts degree programme exposes students to a wide range of subjects––languages, literature, philosophy, religion, natural sciences, mathematics, Fine Arts, citizenship education, social sciences (at least key concepts of them) and so on. Since there is nothing strictly prohibited from the domain of liberal arts, one could add numerous other things to the curriculum.
The word ‘liberal’ in liberal arts a loaded one. It includes knowledge required to liberate human beings from socio-cultural bonds they are trapped in producing hierarchy, inequality and injustice. Rousseau famously claimed that chains binding human beings were human-made’ and the hammers to break them were also made in earth not in heaven. A high quality education in liberal arts should help us see those chains and to forge the hammers that can break them. In other words, liberal arts teach us the significance of working towards a just society. For that goal, there are many sources of wisdom. Unlike political parties and rigid ideologues, universities believe that there are multiple ways to reach that goal. That goal may be always at the horizon resisting our reaching it. Still, a society that has given up on that goal is perhaps so much poor even with endless affluence. Teaching liberal arts at universities is one important way societies hold on to a richer dream even in the midst of relative economic hardships. A country can be poor but yet not philistine.
‘Liberation’ in liberal arts includes internal liberation as well, and it could include several modes of refining oneself within. When modernity was an unquestioned project, liberation from the Nature was one goal of humanity. But now we know better. While we have to keep Nature at bay, we also have to realise that we are also part of it. The time of coronavius is opportune to reflect on this. Moreover, our nature itself is something that needs refinement and taming while it is very much a part of big Nature. So, in recent times a diverse set of course related to environmentalism has made its way into our liberal arts curriculum. As Professor Spencer McWilliams has aptly put, “a liberal arts education can help us develop a more comprehensive understanding of the universe and ourselves”. (Liberal Arts Education: What does it mean? What is it worth?)
Our political authorities may ask for graduates with a certain set of limited technical skills to be productive in the narrow roles assigned to them in contemporary economy. For us in universities, a human being is not just a worker. His or her life in the world of work is only one small segment of his or her life. For us as in the Humanities, questions such as what human beings do, what they reflect on, what and how they enjoy during their non-working hours matters as much as the ‘job skills’ they are supposed to hone. To make matters even more complicated, the liberal arts is interested even in the dreams that occur to human beings during their sleeping hours. To put it simply, for liberal arts human self is much more than a human worker.
A holistic development of the ‘whole person’ is the goal of liberal arts. It includes eight interrelated aspects: intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, vocational, ethical, personal, and social. Intellectual development requires acquiring broad-based knowledge, learning how to learn, and learning how to think critically. Emotional development includes understanding, managing and expressing emotions. Developing high quality relationships with other people is the basis of social development while ethical development aims at providing students with a clear value system that enables them to make sound decisions. Physical development concerns the understanding of one’s own body and taking care of it. Spiritual development may be the most culture-sensitive as each culture may have its own take on what is ‘spiritual. ‘Vocational’ is indeed a form of development that must be a part of contemporary education. But is only one among eight. It includes exploring career possibilities and developing skills required for a career. As university teachers we do want our graduates to find jobs and achieve some sort of financial independence to pursue other goals of life articulated here. Personal development, the last of the eight, stays the last because it is the bottom line, so to speak. For personal development one needs to cultivate a strong sense of self-identity and agility to step out of that identity in being considerate towards others.
The Role of Peradeniya:
Whole Person, Whole Campus
A fully developed university must have all the facilities needed to address at least those eight areas. Holistic education believes that curriculum and co-curriculum must make use of whole campus for that purpose. Founding fathers of University of Peradeniya seem to have endowed with a concept of holistic education in the early twentieth century. Just to give only a few examples, for those who argue for making use of the whole campus for holistic education claims that for one’s intellectual development, a university has to utilise learning centers, library, academic advising services, tutoring services, information technology centers, invited talks on various topics, workshops, theatre halls, art shows and so on. This list, though not comprehensive, demonstrates that the intellectual development of a graduate is much more than following time tables and attending formal lectures. At Peradeniya, we may not have all these facilities, but when the university was founded a considerable attention was paid to these aspects. Taking a long walk through the beautiful University Park can be education in itself if one is rightly attuned to the lessons of natural beauty. I have learned those lessons at stunning campus parks at Wisconsin and Cornell.
Now, let me touch on ‘spiritual development.’ In addition to formal instructions on subjects such a philosophy and arts that concern one’s spiritual life, there should be co-curricular involvements with campus religious communities. Programmes such as inter-religious dialogue could be part of these activities. Perhaps, it was for such holistic education that places for all religions have been established within the University of Peradeniya.
Instead of cutting down funding on ‘liberal arts’ education, the government must invest more in the kind of education explained above. Even without enough financial resources some of us have been working hard to promote such a holistic education. Yes, just some of us. There are people who have no idea as to what they should be doing at universities. Among them, there are academics who believe that training students to site exams that lead to a certificate is university education. Yes, that is education often found at private tuition classes. But there is much more to university education. If our holistic education is only partially done, it is natural that authorities ask out graduates to learn ‘something technical.’
The prevailing pandemic has crippled nearly all co-curricular activities at campus. An education that does not include library, playground, gymnasium, the Sarachchandra Open Air theater, the E.O.E. Perera theatre, heated discussions with guest speakers, and, even some trips to the lovers’ lane or other ‘lanes’ cannot help achieve eight developmental goals of holistic education. COVID-19 has corroded that education. But holistic education is faced with a bigger threat. It is the demand that education be geared for the job market. True academics must do everything possible to prevent that philistine virus making inroads into our higher education institutions. Only those who are capable of realising the true meaning of holistic education envisioned in the Humanities and liberal arts can stand up to such philistine invasions. Those are the ones who really deserve to be hired and promoted.
Chinese Development Experience:
Why Have Sri Lankans Failed So Far
by Luxman Siriwardena
During the past decades, several East Asian Economies have experienced consistent high rates of economic growth while achieving unprecedented improvements in the standard of living of their citizenry, an achievement that has been described in the famous World Bank study as ‘Asian Miracle’. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the Republic of Korea (ROK) were the partners of this achievement. One analyst explained this miracle as developments that have ‘telescoped into a single generation, a process of socioeconomic development that took the advanced economies of Western Europe centuries to achieve’. This group have now been dramatically overtaken by Communist China which has also eliminated poverty, probably excluding a few clusters in remote parts of rural China.
Unfortunately, however, all South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka still remain far behind China as developing economies. It has been estimated that a high percentage of the population of many of these countries are living in abject poverty and deprivation.
China’s economic development as now well demonstrated, has been associated with technological advancement surpassing many of the advanced market economies. It is only a matter of time before China becomes the largest economy in the world. Even in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation it has emerged as the only country to record a positive growth rate in 2020, according to multilateral lending agencies.
In this context it is of significance to understand how President Xi Jinping has articulated the Chinese development within the framework of Marxist Political Economy. In this regard, a speech delivered by Jinping, in the mid-August needs to be closely studied by the academics and policy makers in developing countries like Sri Lanka. President Jinping proposes in the speech that the Marxist political economy must be studied and developed as a higher stage of theoretical and practical advancement of Political Economy. Most relevant to the current development discourse is his combining of Marxist political economic principles with new practices of reform and opening up of the Chinese economy.
President Jinping has also categorically mentioned that the belief of some people that Marxist political economy and the analysis in Das Capital is outdated or outmoded is arbitrary and inaccurate. Jinping states that nowadays there are various kinds of economic theories but the foundation of Chinese development cannot be explained by any theory other than the Marxist theory of political economy.
With reference to the development of theory and practice in China, Jinping upholds the contribution by successive Chinese leaders. Going through his argument it is clear that President Jinping is contributing to the new stage of development in Marxism termed as Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
In his analysis President Jinping refers to almost all challenges the modern-day advanced market economies are confronting and strongly advocates study of them in the context of Marxist political economy which include theories of developing a socialist market economy, enabling market to play a decisive role in allocation of resources while providing for a prominent role for the government and state-owned enterprises in promoting, facilitating and coordinating new industrialization, agricultural modernization and other essential players of growth and development. It is also interesting to learn the way China addresses the property ownership/rights and right of the farmers to contract out lands.
What President Jinping has emphasized with regard to the study of political economy has a direct relevance to Sri Lankan academics and policy makers irrespective of what they have learned in universities of the West or from multilateral or other agencies. In his presentation President Jinping has emphasized the importance of six key principles in economic development in China.
i. Adherence to people-centric development thinking
ii. Focusing on new development concepts with a futuristic view
iii. Upholding basic economic systems preserving Chinese Socialists Characteristics
iv. Improvement of basic distribution systems
v. Focusing on the direction of socialist market economy
vi. Adherence to the basic national policy of opening up when effecting necessary reforms.
His concluding remarks would be an eye-opener to Sri Lankan and other developing country policy makers, particularly economists.
Their commitment to upholding the basic principles and methodology of Marxist political economy does not imply rejection of the rational components of other economic theories. Western economic knowledge on areas such as finance, prices, currency, markets, competition, trade, exchange rates, enterprises, growth, and management do reflect one side of the general laws underpinning socialized production and market economics, and should therefore be used as reference. At the same time, however, Jinping suggests that it is necessary to keep a discerning eye on the economic theories of other countries, particularly those of the West, making sure that the wheat is being separated from the chaff. It should be ensured however, that these theories reflecting the nature and values of the capitalist system or are colored by Western ideology are not blindly adopted. Although the discipline of economics is devoted to the study of economic issues, it does not exist in a vacuum, and therefore cannot be separated from larger social and political issues.
Why have our economists, both in academia and in policy making positions, not understood this simple truth? Why have they failed to develop theories and explanations that address local needs like their counterparts in the region? For example, India, Pakistan or even Bangladesh have world class economists who have come up with homegrown theories and homegrown solutions to local problems. Could it be that our economists, unlike their regional counterparts who have succeeded, have not been able to free themselves from the clutches of the west intellectually and ideologically? How much their education in the west, reinforced through regular training given by West-dominated multilateral agencies and also frequent exposure to thinking of the West in their work, is responsible for this unfortunate situation? Whatever the reasons are, instead of thinking independently on their own they parrot their mentors in the West for short-term gains like easy recognition and self-fulfillment continuing the vicious circle and perpetuating the misery of their people. Irony is that when a solution is needed the only thing our experts are capable of doing is seeking refuge in programmes of multilateral development agencies reminding us the famous saying attributed to Einstein that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
Sri Lankan policy analysts, this applies to academics and researchers too, must desist from advocating indiscriminate reliance on foreign concepts. Their analyses should be based on objective conditions that exist in Sri Lanka and associated socio-political environments namely, political economy. thoroughly and at length to prevent them being marginalized in the emerging discourse.
It is time for our academics and policy makers to change the path on which they have been travelling, the path not only built by the West but also the road rules for the travellers have been written by them. What our academics and policy makers, especially, economists, have been hitherto repeatedly preaching and implementing are literally carbon copies of classical, neoclassical or Keynesian theories they have learnt without adaptation to meet Sri Lanka’s development needs.
It is stated by the historians that Lenin further developed Marxism where it was further fashioned by Stalin and Trotsky. In the modern era remarkable adaptations to it were brought in by Chairman Mao. Since then there have been many Chinese leaders who have made various pragmatic contributions for the Chinese economy. President Jinping has presently brought Chinese economy to a new stage of development through more pragmatic and innovative ways without deviating from fundamental Chinese characteristics.
In view of the above it can be concluded that there are many lessons that developing countries like Sri Lanka can learn from the Chinese development experience. If our academics and policy makers can come out of the ivory tower of conventional framework and improve on theories and models that they have learned in the past by adapting them where necessary to local conditions that may go a long way in help promoting effective policy for sustainable growth and development. Until and unless that happens our attempts to achieve sustainable economic growth and development in the country will remain only a pipe dream, which it is today.
Revamp CMC’s crippled Public Health Services
By Dr. Pradeep Kariyawsam
Former Chief Medical Officer of Health / CMC
When the second wave of the Covid-19 epidemic started, it was inevitable that the wave would reach Colombo, as many other epidemics such as dengue fever, chikungunya, cholera, influenza started in Colombo and then spread to other areas. Here of course those who travelled from abroad obviously brought the disease to the country, and then it spread towards the city in no time. There are many who travel from Gampaha District to Colombo city area and they were the potential carriers of the virus.
Prevention activities should have been started from all fronts, especially in Colombo North and Central areas, as soon as we heard about the Minuwangoda outbreak; and without hesitating when it reached Peliyagoda which lies in the northern bank of Kelani river. Colombo North lies just a few hundred feet away in the Southern bank. True the CMC started carrying out PCR tests, but most of them were off target as hardly a patient was found initially. There is no point in crying over spilt milk now. The importance of Public Health Services should be recognized at least now, and that a proper service could save the city and country from economic collapse and social unrest. The latter mostly instigated by politicians. The deaths at home is a sign that all is not well with the prevention services. Unfortunately, some politicians and government servants do not understand this reality.
Around 40 years ago, the Minister of Local Government realized the importance and the necessity to organize the people in these areas, who actually lived in slums and shanties and the need to prevent communicable diseases and provided them with basic amenities. Hence under his direction the CMC went on to carry out surveys of the needs of the people through new recruits called Health Wardens. The Health Wardens formed Community Development Councils after having elections in the so-called Gardens (Wattas) where the people in them chose their leaders as the office-bearers to run the Councils. Women’s and children’s groups were also formed by the Health Wardens, and these GCE (AL) qualified youth were the acceptable officials to give instructions on any matter on health and welfare. I can remember they even arranged marriage registrations.
They teamed up with the Public Health Inspectors, Nurses, Midwives and Medical Laboratory Technologists (MLT), Health Education Officers, and formed a network that supported the preventive services to the hilt. In short, we were proud of our work and it was appreciated by UNICEF, WHO, UNCHS, etc. For example, when we had to get Colombo as polio free, all of them teamed up and with the help of Rotarians gave vaccines to all children under five years of age in the city in one day! In order to provide a proper service, the city needs at least 65 Public Health Inspectors, 35 Nurses, 175 Midwives, 35 MLTs and over 200 Health Wardens or Health Instructors as they are called now. (The Salaries and Cadres Commission please note!) These services are in a sorry state of affairs now, as the number of officers in service have dwindled so much that we no longer have a single maternity home that is operating at night, as only nine nurses are available, the PHIs have neglected food hygiene work, and Midwives are over stretched so much they are running a crippled service, the laboratories lack material and the poor people have to go to the private sector to get expensive tests done, when they could have got them done free at the CMC labs. But the most important aspects of all this, which are organizing the communities, health education, creation of awareness about communicable diseases, communicating with all and being the link between the people and the health units that were handled by the Health Instructors do not exist anymore.
There aren’t even Health Education Officers anymore, who used to supervise them. The information thus collected then can be analysed by the Epidemiologist to understand the vulnerable areas and direct prevention activities. Unfortunately, there is no Epidemiologist as the post of Deputy Chief Medical Officer (Epidemiology) is not filled during the last three years. That is what is lacking mainly in CMC’s Covid-19 prevention programmes today. It is not the ambulances that the people need as CMC already has two ambulance services; The ambulances run by the MCH Division and the 110-service are run by well-trained fire-fighters. The people need someone to be with them in their hour of need as it happened years ago, looking after their health and welfare needs, as Health Instructors were allocated to areas in which they were responsible for the people in slums, shanties and apartments.
Therefore, it is my humble appeal that the CMC, the Western Provincial Council, and the Ministry of Health get together and fill these posts, create higher cadres for these posts and appoint suitable persons immediately. We have to allocate vulnerable areas to these officers and get them to go to the people, organize them, look after their health and welfare needs and prevent a disaster happening as there will be more Covid-19 waves and new epidemics in the near future. This will definitely reduce deaths at homes. A stable Colombo, health-wise, will make the country stable in the same way. With all my experience I know that this is the only way to prevent this kind of disaster happening again, and this will be a feasible way of managing this crisis for the government to prevent and control this disease.
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