The nationalist identity of the SLFP/SLPP government is of vital importance for its political survival. Without its nationalist policies, it becomes another UNP/SJB and loses its vitality. This had happened under Chandrika Kumaratunga, particularly in her second term when she capitulated to the demands of the separatists and their Western supporters. As a result, she lost her popularity and charisma. It happened again when Maithripala Sirisena wanted to be the President and the SLFP lost its nationalist image, and was almost wiped out at the local elections and had to align with the SLPP for survival. A nationalist government cannot be sympathetic towards the LTTE or its allies.
A nationalist government’s main concern has to be the country’s independence and sovereignty, which we remember were in jeopardy during the Yahapalana days, when foreign powers were allowed to interfere in matters connected with our sovereignty, such as the constitution and security. This was one reason for the total rejection of the UNP, and the massive victory of the SLPP. Our independence and sovereignty have been better looked after by SLFP governments, and the trend has continued with the present SLPP government, which in its early days withdrew from the UNHRC Resolution and its dubious recommendations which were encroaching into our sovereignty. People would be grateful to the present government for that meritorious deed.
The ability to protect sovereignty and independence would, to a significant extent, depend on the economy of the country. If the economy is heavily dependent on the developed countries, we will be at their mercy. If we depend on imports for our essential needs such as food, clothes, medicine, etc,. we could easily be pressured to do their bidding. Further, if we are heavily in debt we would not be able to resist their interference in our internal affairs. In this context, it is essential that we develop a national economy. No national government could afford to neglect this aspect. A national economy must ensure that more than 80% of the country’s needs are produced locally. Most of the national governments in the past did not sufficiently focus their attention on this need and they paid the price.
Nationalism in relation to a government would mean that the government attempts to resolve every issue without jeopardising national interests. The present economic crisis, too, will have to be dealt with, without harming the national interests. In this regard, protection of national assets is critical. Land, water, forest and mineral resources are the main assets that have to be protected. These assets are likely to be exploited by imperialists with little benefit to us. The government must develop these assets for the benefit of the people.
The country’s economy at present, is in deep crisis, and the Government may easily be tempted to disregard its election manifesto and forget its inherited commitment to nationalism. It may be forced to take decisions that infringe on our sovereignty and independence, and enter into inimical agreements like the MCC and SOFA, which would convert our country into a foreign military base. Or agreements like the one on the Hambantota Port, which has leased that valuable national asset for a 99-year long period. Such treacherous betrayals should be avoided at any cost. We have a small island for a country and limited resources. We cannot afford to lose any of it. We must make use of this land and its resources for the benefit of our people, with utmost care and thrift. We must not allow foreign or local robber barons to exploit these assets. Already much damage has been done under the very nose of leaders who pledged during election times to protect them. And more is being planned if rumours about the natural forest Sinharaja, and Yala National Park are true. When there is a nationalist government in power even such rumours should not be allowed to be heard.
Cannot the government think of methods to come out of the present crisis without selling the family silver. One of the main problems it faces, at present, is the dwindling of foreign reserves that are required to meet the huge debt repayments. There is no point saying these debts should not have been taken. Some of it has gone into unprofitable ventures like Mattala Airport, Hambantota Stadium, etc. During the Yahapalana rule too, there had been huge amounts of debt with nothing to show for it. If bribery and corruption had been controlled, the work done with these loans could have been done for half the cost. The people expected this government to take adequate steps to stop corruption, which also is a task for a nationalist government. But the government has disappointed the people in this regard. At least now it must take immediate steps to control corruption and waste that abound in government projects. Such a step would cut down costs and save money that is badly required to pay debts.
Foreign exchange too could be saved to some degree by controlling the corruption and waste that plague the government. Instead of taking steps to control corruption, what successive governments have been doing is to take loans for various projects, much in excess of the cost of the project, and line their pockets with the extra cash. A nationalist government cannot afford to do that kind of anti-people evil deeds. More than 70% who voted for this government, are rural poor people. They have two main concerns, one is the safety and security of their little country, and the other is an adequate income necessary for their frugal living. Both could be in jeopardy if corruption and waste is not brought under control.
Much needed foreign exchange could be saved if the government could make an effort to produce essential items locally. More than 40% of foreign exchange goes for import of food and other items that could be locally produced. Government must make an effort to achieve self-sufficiency in food. A sudden ban on artificial fertiliser is not the way to go about it. This decision could have an adverse effect on food production and also the tea industry. This could increase the need to import food to a much larger degree than at present. A lowering of income from tea exports is something the country cannot afford at present. As a result, a huge drain on the foreign exchange earnings could be expected.
If our economy suffers further and the ability to pay the loans weakens, the Government would be hard pressed to safeguard the country’s national interests. This would result in the Government losing its nationalist image. Consequently, the SLPP could suffer its first defeat at the next elections. If this catastrophe is to be avoided, the Government must first and foremost enforce a well-designed plan to stop waste and corruption at all levels from top to bottom. It must have a plan to achieve self-sufficiency in food and all other essential items. Import of luxury items must be controlled. and the drain of foreign exchange stopped as far as possible. Covid infection should be brought under control by a process of rapid vaccination to achieve herd immunity. Then an all-out effort has to be made to improve the foreign exchange earning capacity by resuscitating the tourist and apparel industries. Unless the Government adopts such a plan of action, its nationalism would be threatened as it becomes increasingly dependent on imperialist foreign powers. These forces may once again sponsor the separatists, interfere in our internal affairs, and exploit our national assets. That would be a disaster for the country and its people.
N.A. de S.
When Susanthika did Lanka proud
As in certain offices, in banks too there are restricted areas for outsiders and staff members who are not attached to the relevant divisions. The Treasury Department of any bank consists of three different sections; the front office, middle office and back office. The front office is commonly known as the Dealing (Trading) Room, with strict limitations to those present. It can also be used as a television viewing place, with the availability of all channels, both local and foreign.
The day, September 28, 2000, was an exceptional day as a few breathtaking moments were witnessed within our dealing room at HNB, as history was made by a courageous and determined, petite Lankan damsel in a faraway country. That was the day our Athletic Heroin, Susanthika Jayasinghe, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the 200 meters finals. Knowing the enthusiasm and fervour, that other staff members too share, to witness the event live, with the consent of my boss, Senior DGM Treasury, Gamini Karunaratne, I kept the doors of the Dealing Room wide open for others too to watch the event. As the ‘auspicious’ time approached the dealing room started getting packed. Finally, it was not only ‘house full’ but ‘overflowing’.
Maintaining the tradition, the ‘visitors’ were silent except for a slight murmur. Gradually, the murmuring diminished as the time approached. The track was quite visible to all of us. For the women’s 200 meters sprint event, there were eight competitors with Marion Jones of the USA as the hot favourite, and Cathy Freeman of Australia, the two athletes many of us knew.
As the much-anticipated event commenced, there was dead silence for about 20+ seconds and then the uproar of ecstasy erupted, along with tears of joy in all gathered, as our Golden Girl became the bronze medal winner, just a mere 0.01 seconds behind the second-placed Pauline Davis of Bahamas.
That was a monumental day for all sports loving Sri Lankans, after Duncan White’s 400 meters silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics, M. J. M. Lafir becoming the World Amateur Billiards Champion in 1973, and Arjuna’s golden boys bringing home the Cricket World Cup in 1996, beating the much-fancied Aussies.
As treasury dealers, while at work, we have witnessed all-important local and world events as and when they happened, thanks to the advanced media paraphernalia in dealing rooms of the banks.
Coming back to Olympics, for seven years everything was rosy for Marian Jones (MJ), but when she pleaded guilty to using steroids, she received international opprobrium and was stripped of all five Olympic medals she won in Sydney, Australia. After the belated disqualification of MJ, our heroine Susanthika was adjudged the Olympic silver medallist of the 200 meters event in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Pauline Davis as the gold medallist.
So it is after 52 years that Sri Lanka was lucky enough to have won another Olympic medal. Thanks to the sheer determination of our golden girl Susanthika and her numerous supporters, she was able to achieve this spectacular honour, amidst many obstacles. She was the first Asian to have won an Olympic or a world championship medal in a sprint event. The 21st anniversary of her tremendous feat falls on September 28.
Thank you, Madam Susie, for bringing honour to the country, and being an inspiration to the younger generations of budding athletes.
Give teachers and principals their due
Why didn’t the Education Minister and the Secretary pay due attention to the fair voices of the most vulnerable and largest service sector of this country, at the initial stage, making the alliance of teacher-principal trade unions proceed to street protests, which started in the absence of any positive gesture from the Ministry of Education? That is how the present state of chaos originated.
The prolonged online teaching strike has kept the younger generation of all school-going children in darkness, and their right to learn has been deprived of. Blaming the teachers is not the solution. What is required is the right solution at the time of need. The unions are demanding the implementation of the Subodhini Committee report, plus the Cabinet subcommittee proposals, in a gazette notification. It is more sensible for the government to respond to this final flexible stance of the unions, rather than prolonging the issue with temporary solutions.
The strikers of the teacher-principal unions are not ready to give in to the temporary sugar candy sachet which is a pretty ridiculous joke, a consolation allowance to dodge the crux of the problem. Plastering or patching up the situation by offering an allowance of Rs. 5000 for three months is a shame to the teacher community. Such an allowance should be allocated for COVID-19 affected people of low-income or refugees in flood-affected regions.
What could have been broken with the nail was allowed to grow to the extent that it couldn’t be crushed even with an axe. Successive governments disregarded the demands of teachers and principals, treating them as nonentities; although the ungrateful present-day politicians rose to their present high positions because their bright lives were designed, brain powers sharpened and heads enlightened by teachers.
Although all teachers are not saints, the majority of our teachers are worthy of veneration. They are the architects of nation-building. They must have sufficient pay for a decent living, commensurate with the commitments and their toil. With an ungratified mentality, they may be unenthusiastic to discharge duties. Under such circumstances, the process of nation-building will collapse. So far, they have been doing yeoman’s service but they can’t continue to do so amidst the rising cost of living and unfavourable living conditions. When the salaries of all other employee categories have been brought to a satisfactory level, why does the government not heed to their demand?
In response to the mounting pressure from the teacher-principal trade union strike, the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee to produce another report to solve the problem; but it turned out to be a futile attempt, akin to changing the pillow as a treatment to the headache, wasting the valuable time of both parties. Such a committee should comprise experts from the education field, not from the lobby with the loquacious MPs who are in the habit of suspending and postponing everything until the next budget. On the other hand, what is the need for piling up further committee reports, when there is already a much-quoted and assumed fairly balanced Subodhini Committee report, which has been formulated by a panel of members comprising a former minister, four additional secretaries, and the accountant of the Ministry of Education.
True that the government is in dire straits with financial difficulties, but that is not a sound reason to postpone this issue. If so, why should the government introduce new megaprojects, such as 200 city beautification programmes, import of luxury vehicles for MPs and walking tracks, which are not critical requirements. The problem of teacher salary anomalies could be solved by holding such long term, not so urgent schemes.
The proposed four-phased payment of the salary increments is a nice way of circumventing serious demands of trade unions and yet another fairy tale. It is a way of escaping the main responsibility.
To illustrate this point, let us take the case of the state employees who retired between January 2016 and December 2020. All government employees including judges, ministry secretaries, directors, doctors, nurses, police and armed forces personnel, and mind you, a former director-general of the Pensions Department, was entitled to a revised salary increment system in five stages starting in 2016, and final amalgamation of all increments, due to be paid with effect from January 2020. The salary increment rates are clearly stated in the pension award letter issued by the Director-General of the Department of Pensions, which is a legal document to confirm the claim.
The present government unreasonably cancelled the (2016-2019) pensioners amalgamated salary increment of five stages, by the circular 35/2019(1) dated 20.01.2020 following a cabinet decision. More than 100,000 pensioners have been victimised and deprived of their fundamental right of the salary and sad to say, nearly 1819 pensioners have already died without getting their increments. But the government so adamantly refused to pay up and adopted a slippery policy with various cock and bull stories.
The basis for the development of a country is the education system, spearheaded by the formidable workforce of teachers hailing from Aristotle and Disapamok. All of the so-called thriving politicians; garrulous speakers who look down upon teacher communities; professionals, academics, philosophers, entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, inventors, artists, all of these are the intellectual outputs of the dedicated energies of humble teachers who never gave priority to building highrise palaces for their self-indulgence and luxurious lives. Not to let it happen again and again, they deserve to be freed from this muddle of salary anomalies at this critical moment.
Finally, a word about the mediation of the Prelates of Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, who are urging the alliance of the teacher-principal trade unions to give the strike up , and restart online teaching. May I appeal to the venerable prelates to be fair to all. Could you, in your respected designations, kindly convey the same message to the government, asking why it is not taking an initiative to resolve this burning issue, by issuing a circular or gazette notification, without postponing it off further, for the sake of the innocent school children?
Ivermectin for COVID-19 management
Prof Saroj Jayasinghe’s candid view, published in The Island of September 17, 2021, on Ivermectin use, both in treatment and prevention of COVID-19, has been based on scientific analysis of multiple meta-analyses on the subject. Therefore, his educated opinion must be viewed with great positivity.
Quite correctly, a doctor has to make decisions in good faith in an emergency situation, where any delay in the commencement of treatment could be disastrous. In a life-threatening condition, the treating doctor has no time to wait and waste until the evidence is available scientifically. Instead, the doctor has to make a decision using his clinical acumen and experience in order to save the life of the patient under his or her care.
Another example is: In an instance where an unconscious patient is brought to the accident and emergency department with life-threatening bleeding after an accident, the treating surgeon has no time to obtain the patient’s informed consent (usually a requirement before any surgical procedure), but to attend to (perform surgery on) the patient in all-good faith, in order to save the life. It may require even the amputation of a leg or hand.
Hence, treating a critically ill patient with Ivermectin is more than justified, particularly in the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 as a public health emergency. Further, under this context, the usage of Ivermectin in the prevention of COVID-19 is quite justified. Since no antiviral drug is available hitherto, its usage is further warranted.
As mentioned, Ivermectin is a time-tested and safe drug with no known serious side effects. The call for its usage in the management of and prevention of COVID-19 is time appropriate.
A veterinary surgeon, Prof Asoka Dangolle of the University of Peradeniya, has also expressed his opinion based on his experience with Ivermectin in mammals. In the current context, the world’s attitude is much in favour of the ‘One Health’ concept.
Therefore, in a helpless situation or pandemic of this nature, the consideration of the use of Ivermectin in all good faith is justifiable.
Prof ANANDA JAYASINGHE
Professor in Community Medicine
University of Peradeniya.
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