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Govt.’s fertiliser policy: Will economy face a double whammy?

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by A. Hettiarachchi
hetti-a@sltnet.lk

A Cabinet decision on 27th April granting approval to a proposal made by the President to ban the use and the import of chemical fertilizers and other agrochemicals with a view to making Sri Lanka the first country in the world that exclusively practices organic agriculture has resulted in significant impacts immediately upon its announcement.

Farmers who have cultivated paddy, subsidiary crops, vegetables, spices, tea, etc., in a number of districts were finding it difficult or even impossible to obtain fertilizer required for their crops. Long queues of cultivators were seen at many agrarian services centres in various districts waiting to buy fertilizer, but many of those waiting had to leave empty handed as the stocks available were inadequate to meet the demand. According to cultivators, private traders have raised the prices of fertilizers and other agrochemicals exorbitantly, in some instances even by over 100 %. Although the Government wants people to use organic fertilizer instead of chemical fertilizer, there were no outlets for cultivators to purchase organic fertilizer. Even prior to this Cabinet decision, chemical fertilizer at agrarian services centres were in short supply, and farmers have been complaining that they could not obtain sufficient quantities for their crops. In many areas without the required fertilizer, various crops under cultivation appeared to be starving with visible nutrient deficiencies such as yellowed leaves, retarded growth, and vulnerability to diseases. Cultivators express fear that their crops will fail and will not provide returns even for their subsistence, leave alone settling of the bank loans taken by them for cultivation.

As the ban of the import of chemical fertilizer is in force, it is most unlikely that cultivators will be able to apply sufficient quantities of fertilizers to their cultivations. If the required amounts of fertilizer are not provided to crops at the required time, the crops will only produce poor harvests both in terms of volume and quality. All crops – paddy, vegetables, spices, cut flowers, ornamental plants, tea, rubber, coconut and even inland fish produced by culture-based fisheries in reservoirs and ponds – will produce lesser harvests without adequate fertilizer resulting in the increase of prices of the commodities they produce. This means that rice, coconuts, vegetables, tea etc. will go up in price affecting the consumer. Banks will not be able to recover the loans extended to agriculture and plantation. In 2020 the agriculture sector contributed 6.7 % (Rs. 1,010,752 million) to the GDP, provided livelihoods to 2,170,000 people (25.6 % to the total workforce), and earned an export income of Rs. 433,070 million (USD 2341 million). The sector’s contribution to the national economy depends on the availability of fertilizer for crops, plantations and aquaculture.

Sri Lanka’s agriculture production for the last 60 years or so has been made using high yielding varieties (HYVs) of crop. Earlier it was the traditional varieties that were cultivated. HVYs were introduced with a view to increasing particularly the rice production to feed the increasing population without importing rice. HVYs have shorter crop cycles compared to traditional varieties. They cannot compete with weeds and are vulnerable to attacks by pests and disease. They need application of fast responding chemical fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides. On the other hand, traditional crop varieties, which had emerged after undergoing the process of natural selection, does not need application of fast responding chemical fertilizer for growth. Also, they could compete with weeds, were resistant to pests and diseases, and therefore does not need application of weedicides and pesticides. However, compared to HYVs, traditional varieties take longer periods to grow and produce a much lower yield. As reckoned correctly by the then Government and also by the subsequent governments, production solely from traditional varieties is not sufficient to meet the food requirements of Sri Lanka, a country where population is steadily increasing.

Plants need nutrients, i.e., nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in sufficient quantities for growing, flowering and producing fruits and seeds. They get these from the soils where they grow. Plants through their root systems absorb the nutrients available in soils and fix the absorbed nutrients in their roots, stems, leaves, fruits and seeds, etc. In addition to N, P and K plants require water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and sunlight, and other elements such as sulphur (S), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe) and boron (B), which are required in minute amounts, and therefore called micronutrients. When the nutrients are absorbed by the crops being cultivated, the soil on which they are cultivated becomes totally or partly depleted of such nutrients. Therefore, once a crop is harvested, before planting a new crop in the same field or plot, it is necessary to resupply nutrients by application of fertilizer. In the case of annual or shorter crops such as paddy, vegetables, and subsidiary crops, this has to be done at the beginning or at various stages of the crop cycle depending on the cultivar. In case of permanent crops such as tea, rubber and coconut, the soils have to be fertilized annually or intermittently as required.

Currently cultivators in Sri Lanka use about 300 kg of chemical fertilizer per hectare to fertilize rice, vegetables, and plantations. If chemical fertilizer is to be replaced by organic fertilizer, one has to use at least 100 tons of organic fertilizer per hectare to provide the same amount of nutrients. In 2020 Sri Lanka has imported 952,000 tons of chemical fertilizer. This is equivalent to 120,000,000 tons of organic fertilizer. Has Sri Lanka got the capacity in terms of technology, raw material and infrastructure to locally produce such a large quantity of organic fertilizer? Importing and handling of such large amounts of organic fertilizer for distribution and application will be costlier and more difficult since it requires larger carrier trucks for transport and larger space for storing and more labour for application to cultivations. This means, application of organic fertilizer in place of chemical fertilizer will definitely result in the increase of the production costs, thus affecting both the cultivator and the consumer. Further, unlike chemical fertilizer, organic fertilizer responds slowly. A national TV channel reported a few weeks back that the cultivators who have cultivated radish and carrot in the Nuwaraeliya area in plots fertilized only with organic fertilizer were showing that the harvest of radish and carrot they got were unmarketable; they had well grown leaves, but their edible parts, i.e., tubers and roots were lean.

As announced, the objective of the ban is to prevent production of foods containing heavy metals and pesticide residues that are detrimental to human health, protect the environment – soils and waterbodies – from being polluted with chemical fertilizer and pesticides, and save the foreign exchange spent for fertilizer imports. In 2020 Sri Lanka has spent USD 259 million for the import of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. The major drawback in chemical fertilizers is that in addition to nutrients, they contain harmful impurities, mostly heavy metals such as lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), chromium (Cr), etc., which are toxic or poisonous even in small concentrations. Those heavy metals may get into the bodies of those who consume the products produced from crops fertilized with chemical fertilizer containing such impurities and affect their health. They also contaminate the soils and water in the environment with repeated application and ultimately accumulate in the body tissues of cattle, fish, fowl, and other animals who get sustenance from such environment. Consumption of those animals as food will also be harmful to human health. Waterbodies like lagoons and lakes when highly contaminated with chemical fertilizer containing N and P will result in eutrophication resulting in heavy algal growth and subsequent oxygen depletion and fish kills.

Impurities like heavy metals could be removed from chemical fertilizer while in the production process. The government can enforce regulations limiting the maximum tolerance levels of each heavy metal in the imported or locally manufactured chemical fertilizer. Imports should be required to be accompanied by certificates issued by the competent authorities of the countries from which fertilizer consignments are imported certifying the content of heavy metals in each consignment in appropriate units. For locally produced chemical fertilizer, a quality control mechanism has to be established. All establishments producing chemical fertilizer should be required to conform to maximum tolerance levels of each heavy metal. However, fertilizer purified of the heavy metals will be expensive.

It may also be possible to significantly reduce the amount of chemical fertilizer used by cultivators by determining the amount of NPK required for each crop, testing the soils in different fields or cultivation slots for the amounts of NPK available in them and advising the cultivators on amounts of chemical fertilizer need to be added to meet the total NPK requirements of each crop. This will prevent overfertilization and thereby the wastage of fertilizer, and excess fertilizer from leaching and contaminating the environment. Government may set up testing laboratories at each agrarian service centre for this purpose. Cultivators need not use the same amount of fertilizer (kg/ha) for each successive cultivation of the same crop. After a crop is harvested some nutrients will still remain in soil, and what is necessary is to test the soil and determine the amount necessary to fill the shortfall of each nutrient required for the next crop. It may be noted that although Sri Lanka uses an average of 300 kg chemical fertilizer per hectare, India and Pakistan use only an average of 165.8 kg and 144.3 kg per hectare respectively.

As mentioned earlier, one of the objectives of banning the import of chemical fertilizer is saving foreign exchange. Organic fertilizer is costlier than chemical fertilizer. In order to save foreign exchange, the Government will have to stop the import of organic fertilizer too. Therefore, it is unlikely that crops will get adequate fertilizer after enforcement of the ban. On the other hand, imported organic fertilizer can also affect the environment since it can carry and introduce alien species of bacteria, fungi, and even higher plants through spores, seeds, etc. If such alien species get established in the country, it will be very difficult to get them eradicated.

The decision to ban the use of chemical fertilizer and other agrochemicals has been at a time when the economy of the country is showing a decline after showing a continuous growth for 20 years. Last year (2020) Sri Lanka’s GDP at 2010 constant prices has recorded a negative growth of 3.6 %. This negative growth was experienced for the first time since 2001. The main reason for this decline of the national economy was the lockdowns and other restrictions imposed by the Government to control the spread of the covid pandemic. All the economic sectors, agriculture, industry and services were affected by the measures imposed by the Government to control covid. This was a blow on the national economy. The covid situation keeps worsening demanding enforcement of more restrictions to contain it. More restrictions enforced will further affect the national economy, and result in unemployment, increased cost of living reduced availability of consumer items, reduced tax income to the Government, etc. However, since control of the covid spread is a priority, the Government has no option, but to impose lockdowns and other restrictions disregarding their adverse impacts on the national economy.

It is unlikely that the economy will recover this year or even next year from the blow it received from the covid pandemic. Banning of the import of chemical fertilizer will give another blow on the economy on top of the blow from the pandemic. Can the economy of the country withstand a double whammy?



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Flame throwers as deterrent to wild elephant incursions into cultivations?

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Much has been written in the news and social media about the sad and continuing Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) . I have read somewhere subject to correction, that most amount of elephant deaths caused by this conflict has been recorded in Sri Lanka, compared to other elephant habitats.

Independent wild life experts and officials of the Wild Life Department have discussed this matter on numerous occasions, but there seems to be no sustainable solution, effective in the long term. In my view the basic problem is that human being have encroached into Elephant Country, in which these mighty animals have lived for generations and taken over the territory, they rightfully occupied for ages. This is another result of the so-called development that every country talks about but that development at the risk of damaging the environment is not sustainable. Many developed countries protect the environment at any cost in preference to so-called development but not in our country.

I am not an expert in resolving the HEC but I have a little experience . When I was Chairman of Pelwatte Sugar Industries Ltd, the Pelwatte Sugar Plantation had been created by replacing forest land to grow sugar. The then government gave some very attractive incentives to bring a Multinational Company to commence sugar cultivation in Sri Lanka. Thousands of acres of forest land were cleared to plant sugar cane. It was a big investment with an extensive infrastructure including bungalows for the top management and also for staff officers.

There were regular incursions by elephants who loved the sugar cane. The Plantation attempted to prevent the elephants destroying the sugar cane by constructing electric fences which they had to maintain, large elephant ditches, which had to be desilted after every monsoon, and so-called elephant drives which were only temporarily effective. I have watched the poor elephants being driven by large number of vehicles, using crackers and other means.

Basically, the above mentioned are the only strategies used in Sri Lanka for human beings to drive away the elephants from their traditional forests after removing the forest and converting it to various types of cultivations. In Africa , it is reported that they rear bees in artificial hives, as surprisingly these huge animals fear the bees which sting them in their eyes . I am not aware of such a strategy being adopted in our country.

The poor elephants are also trapped or fed with “hakapattas” which are devices with an explosive hidden in some morsel of food that elephants love. They try to eat the food resulting the blast inside their mouth, totally dislocating their jaws and ultimately resulting in death.

The Wild Life Department is supposed to be giving the villagers some ” wedillas” . Only one to three are given to a single villager . The elephant is intelligent enough to realize that if they bide their time after the limited wedilla’s are used, they can easily romp in. This is the only protection afforded to the poor villagers.

We have seen TV pictures of many homes of villagers totally destroyed over and over again, as there is no protection against these huge animals. Their stocks of paddy is also devoured and all their crops destroyed repeatedly. These houses have been built by their hard earned money and totally destroyed over a single night. They have to protect their crops by night and also protect their homes and wives and children. They have absolutely no salvation.

The authorities who are experts on Wild Life Conservation, I believe have various plans, but there is no accepted, integrated plan of action, other than for the villagers to suffer without any relief and for elephants to suffer by their injuries and ultimate deaths.

I have been thinking about it for some time and came across of a possible strategy which of course has to be appoved by the department of Wild Life and for the large population of genuine elephant lovers , who have tried their best to solve this problem but failed up to date. I thought of a particular device called a flame thrower. According to Google, (picture attached ), this flame thrower can be purchased in the US without a license and it can be used over and over again, if it is is refueled. I believe it cost around US$500 , plus of course the fuel used for producing the flame. There is possibily one catch and that is I believe sometime after the 1st World War, it was decided to ban armies from using this very potent weapon which can totally destroy small buildings, army camps etc., against individuals.

I do not intend them to be used to kill or maim elephants, but as a very effective deterrent at long range. I would like to have the views of the wild life experts before anyone can consider using this weapon as a deterrent. Mine is only a suggestion, as we continue to have elephant and human deaths, without any action taken to prevent same.

 

Mahendra Amarasuriya

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A COSTLY ADVENTURE – Part 14

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

chandij@sympatico.ca

Inspired by a Cycling Legend

When I was a little kid, my hero was Morris Coomarawel, who was the first cyclist to represent Ceylon in the Olympics (Rome 1960, at the age of 19). Then at age six, I rode my tricycle every evening in our front yard, imagining that I was Morris. In the years 1960, 1962, and 1963 Morris won the Tour de Lanka Cycle Race against several hundred older contestants. I was amazed that a teenager could cycle around 460 kilometers within 15 hours. Once a year, I impatiently awaited among a large group of fans, by the Galle Road near Bambalapitiya Flats, to cheer and watch Morris getting closer to the finish. Usually, he did so about 30 minutes ahead of the second placed cyclist.

I was not a natural cyclist. When I was in my pre-teens, I took a long time to learn how to balance in order to avoid falling when cycling around the bends. Determined to master the basics, I used to cycle around Havelock Park for hours. When I joined the Ceylon Hotel School (CHS), having met many colleagues who liked to cycle motivated me to get involved in organizing a cycling adventure.

The Cycling Adventure of the Iron Horses

Finally in 1973, the organizers of the adventure were able to convince about 15 of my CHS buddies to join a five-day cycling trip covering four (Western, Southern, Uva and Sabaragamuwa) of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka. When they heard that the plan was to cut CHS classes for two days to do the trip, three of them dropped off in fear of being punished by the CHS Principal. The rest of us who agreed to go on the trip planned details, itinerary, overnight free accommodation in friends’ homes, the budget, logistics and supplies at the CHS hostel. We called ourselves, ‘Iron Horses’. We commenced our trip on Thursday, May 17, 1973, which was the Vesak full moon religious holiday. We cut school on Friday and Monday.

We knew that during our trip, we would see many Vesak lanterns, decorations and pandals (thoran) illustrating selected stories from the 550 past life stories of the Gautama Buddha, erected islandwide at public places. During the trip, we planned to get free meals from many dansalas that offered food and soft drinks free to any visitor. These added color to our adventure and less stress on our pockets.

 

1) Galle

On the first day, having started early in the morning, we took the whole day to cycle 120 kilometers from Colombo to Galle. Having had no practice runs, it was tough at the begining of the trip. After about 50 kilometers our legs gradually got used to the rhythm of pedaling. I frequently led the group while, Udda, the best cyclist and cycle repairman of the lot rode last. He kept an eye on mates who were a bit unfit. We were not in a great hurry. We spent a lot of time sight-seeing, toddy-drinking, sea-bathing, joking with village girls and resting under large trees in between. In Galle we spent the first night in the home of a CHS colleague from the junior batch who was not given much notice about our arrival.

While cycling, this student, Sumithra waved at us from a CTB bus going towards Galle. Knowing that his home was in Galle, we quickly shouted at him, “Machang, can we stay at your place tonight?” I think that he had doubts that we will ever make it to Galle on those old, rusted and badly maintained bicycles. He quicky shouted back at us from the moving bus, “OK, please come!” When 12 of us showed up at his doorstep that evening, he and his mother were most surprised. However, they were most hospitable and with the help of their servants they quicky prepared a good dinner for us. We roughed out and slept on mats in their large living room.

 

2) Weligama

The second day, we covered much less distance, only around 30 kilometers. The reason for this was that we had free accommodation pre-arranged in Weligama in a large house of a very generous CHS student one year senior to us, Chandralal. On the way, we had a sumptuous lunch in the home of the grandmother of an Iron Horse (Kotte). As this house was by the beach, a before lunch sea-bath whetted our appetite for a sumptuous home-cooked lunch with many Southern specialties.

 

3) Godakawela

On the third day, we covered the longest distance, over 160 kilometers passing the Nonagama Junction and going towards Udawalawe in the middle of a thick jungle. The villagers warned us about wild elephants in that remote road which we cycled hours after sunset. At that time Sri Lanka had no highways or street lights outside the main cities. Only Udda’s bicycle had lights and proper brakes. All others were fairly old. That added to the spirit of our adventure. Finally, we managed to arrive at our destination, a large ancestral home (walawwa) in Godakawela, owned by the famiy of Sunil, a memer of our group. This house was surrounded by a large estate and had a beautiful pond well covered with tall trees. Before dinner, 12 of us had a refreshing skinny dip in that pond in the moonlight. A few of us did not spend too much time in the water for fear of snakes. The rest were a little too drunk and stupid to think of such dangers.

 

4) Ratnapura

On the fourth day, we were drenched by heavy monsoon rains. This was an excuse for us to make several stops at dansalas for free vegetarian lunches. Riding in the rain was fun, but we were soaked without any dry clothes to change into. Finally, just after 40 kilometers of riding we arrived at our final night stop. It was the home of one of our CHS lecturers (Mr. Kumar Thambyah) and his younger brother (Lalith) who was one year senior to us at CHS. Their home was in the beautiful hilly suburbs of the City of Ratnapura. That evening, after dinner, we celebrated our adventure with a long baila singing session. With the help of some Gal and Pol arrack, our singing became louder and more out of tune towards midnight.

 

5) Colombo

The fifth and last day was a race to see who would return to Colombo first. It was a ride of around 110 kilometers From Ratnapura to our hostel. We were able to finish the race before sunset. At the CHS hostel we were given a rousing hero’s welcome by fellow hostellers. Returning first, I finally felt like Morris Coomarawel although we took five days to cover a distance of 460 kilometers, which Morris used to do in a single day. Nevertheless, we were pleased that we completed our adventure without any major problems.

 

 

Suspension

Soon we heard the bad news about a looming major problem. The Principal and the Vice Principal were very disappointed that nearly half the students in my batch, were absent from CHS for two days. The next morning, we realised how furious Herr Sterner, the Germa

n Principal of CHS, was about the ‘can’t care less’ attitude of the Iron Horses. We were not allowed to attend classes and a full inquiry set up. First it was a meeting with 12 of us together with the principal and vice principal. We were ready for that meeting and narrated the same lies. We told them that we planned to return on Sunday night, but unforeseen challenges like some urgent cycle repairs prevented us from doing that. As all the repair shops were closed during the long weekend we were compelled to extend the trip by a day. They did not buy this cock and bull story.

At that point they stopped questioning us as group and proceeded with a one student at a time face-to-face investigation. The cat was out of the bag very quickly. We told the principal and the vice principal 12 different stories during the individual cross examinations. All 12 us were suspended for a month. It was indeed, a costly adventure!

Hiding at the Barberyn Reef Hotel

Considering my father’s disappointment about the last warning I received at the end of my first year at CHS, I decided to keep this one-month suspension a secret from my family. As suspended students cannot stay at the CHS hostel, I had to quickly find a place to hide in for a month. Thanks to the tip money I earned at the Mount Lavinia Hyatt Hotel working as a trainee waiter, I had enough for board and lodging for a month. I was considering the possibility of renting a relatively cheap room at the Central YMCA where I practised judo but unfortunately, they were full.

A batchmate, Manik Rodrigo, offered to speak to his father who owned a small resort hotel in Beruwala. Over the telephone I negotiated a part-time job for a month at that hotel, the Barberyn Reef. Manik’s father, Sudana Rodrigo, told me, “Putha (son), as our occupancy is low in May/June period, I cannot pay you a salary, but I can provide you free board and lodging for a month. In return you will work 10 hours a day without pay.” As beggars can’t be choosers, I agreed but managed to negotiate to keep tips for myself.

That afternoon, soon after we were suspended, I took a CTB bus to Beruwala and commenced working at the hotel the same evening. I was grateful that Mr. Rodrigo helped me to keep news of my suspension away from my family. That was my fourth of 10 part-time jobs during my three years at the CHS. I realised then that every problem has a solution. I also learnt that every challenge can be turned to an opportunity by thinking out of the box.

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United Action Design or Alternative-Government Manifesto?

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by Kumar David

This column will argue today that the opposition to the current regime – political parties, trade unions, religious institutions and non-governmental organisations – should collaborate in a unified action plan to stall, pushback and defeat the authoritarian project, and it will dispute efforts to foster or formulate common-programmes for an alternative (future) government, yet. Let’s focus on the first and eschew the latter; that’s my refrain. Before getting my teeth into this I wish to suggest that the regime seems to have retreated a little. There has been some mobilisation; not formally but on the trade union side and on the streets. Protest movements are more numerous than the formal media cares to report. Be it farmers’ fertiliser anguish, protests against the Kotalawela Academy Bill, piloerection at elevation of prodigal Duminda into the stratosphere, nurses’ defiance, anger of the Catholic Church and petitions against the persecution of Muslims by the state, these manifestations of public ire have thrown the would-be Palace Junta on the back foot. Or so it seems to me. And the big ones are yet to come – widespread mass unrest about shortages and prices and the final showdown, a General Strike. The expression of outrage by all opposition entities (except pissu-Sira’s SLFP) against authoritarianism and abuse of power has been a big help to protesters. That’s the good news for now; I need to go on.

There are indeed powwows among the like minded – the Left, Sajith-Champika-Ranil-TNA like Liberals, NPP (including the JVP) arranged discussions, trade unions and reformist confessional bodies. These are either limited pandemic-restricted gatherings or by Zoom. There is however a disjuncture between the objectives of the different gatherings, or within them. If you strip to the core, the disjuncture is in three categories: Are we talking of (a) a programme/manifesto for the next or a future government, or (b) planning to pull together in common actions for defending democracy. And (c), in either case what are the terms on which we do (a) or (b), as the case may be. I will argue that (a) is counterproductive and will obstruct progress when the right opportunity arrives; (b) even on a limited scale has shown results and we must persist with it. So the more fruitful discussion is what are the does and don’ts, what are the (c)s, in respect of (b). Sectarian attacks against each other or within any of the aforementioned groupings at this time is stupid; let us focus on the common enemy.

Infeasible Alternative-Government Manifesto

Let me explain why doing (a) now will be a flop. Every one of us has been privy to one or other discussion or media report about some demand, suggestion, video or Zoom meeting. Consider what we have seen and also read between the lines. Some leaders, Champika and Sajith for example, are actually advancing the case why they should be the Next Great Leader. They are quite entitled to put forward their CVs, that’s their right; but let’s face it, nobody else is going to climb down and accept another’s CV right now. What is emerging in some forums about objective (a) is plain shadow boxing. Each one says this or that but the hidden agenda is “Anoint me! Anoint me!” This renders ostensible programmatic discussions numinous. People talk through each other but the real show is in the corridors where back-biting flourishes. A stark recent example is Champika’s demand in an interview with Kelum Bandara that “The JVP should give up its ideology and team up with us”. Meaning bugger your philosophy and identity, back me for the top-job. I take this opportunity to say: “Ranawaka why not you discard your hard-earned racist credentials and team up with the NPP to advocate devolution and power sharing with Muslims and Tamils?” Strategy (a) will make no progress at this time since Champika, Sajith, even emasculated Ranil and voiceless SF will not lie down and play dead. All of them daydream. This is opposite to the serendipitous conjuncture in the 1970 United Front where it was incontestable that in the event of victory Sirima would be PM. The same was true of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in India’s 2019 election.

The more serious obstacle to (a) is not the greed of putative starry-eyed leaders/presidents. It is that the systemic obstacles to a joint Manifesto are insuperable. Yesterday I tuned into a Zoom presentation on Tik Tok on HiruNews. Sumanthiran held forth: “I have the backing of all Tamil parties to say that while we stand with the opposition against contraventions of democracy, the opposition when it comes to office cheats us. We have been cheated repeatedly. Unless you make a clear articulation of your position on the Tamil question and you tell it openly to the Sinhala people, we cannot travel far with you. Our people are willing to come on the streets for democratic rights and face the consequences, but unless you tell the country ‘This is our solution to the National Question’, count us out as long-term partners”. Will Champika, Sajith, Ranil or SF ever come before the Sinhala Buddhist masses and say “Devolution”? The sun will rise in the West before that day dawns. A common opposition governmental manifesto-programme is a chimera. Forget it for now. Maybe later, after restructuring the institutions of state power it can happen.

The National Question is not the only insuperable obstacle to a Common Manifesto. Another big one is the Executive Presidency (EP) and with it the writing of a new or substantially amended constitution. Neither Champika nor Sajith can subdue their greed for securing an all-powerful EP. Notwithstanding proclamations of fealty to Buddhism they are slaves to thanha (craving). That’s OK, as someone who disregards religion I don’t really care. My point lies elsewhere, it is that abolishing EP is another point on which agreement will not be possible until someone is chosen as leader; then all the rejected sour-grapes cases will come on board!

I have so far not mentioned the most intractable stumbling block, the socio-economic content of a presumed common programme. There are those who desire socialism but will compromise at social-democracy, there are the champions of free-market capitalism, entrepreneurial export-oriented enterprises and labour-market reforms (that is putting the working classes in their place) and there are dreamers hankering after an idyllic society akin to the long-gone village. How do you persuade Karl, Adam and Friedrich Hayek to sit round the same table and decide on a menu? Come on get real! Let’s pull together to do what can feasibly be done together, and that too is just what urgently needs to be done.

 

 

The intelligence to focus on what can be done

 

Citizens have the right to resist attempts to nullify the

Constitution when other remedies to do so are infeasible

(Article 20 of the German Constitution – A rough translation)

 

The common minimal plan that I believe the whole opposition (and a goodly part of government supporters and parliamentarians when the government splits) can agree on, consists of a few basics. Let me have a go at enumerating them. The dimension that will weld every decent activist into a united force is the need to constrain the Powers of the State. That is to resist excesses that reach beyond the rule of law. Closely allied to this is the protection of Fundamental Rights from infringement by the (Raja) Paksa regime and by the police and armed forces. Maintenance of Order and Security are vital, but this is a two-edged sword. It is in the name of order and security that the state and the establishment carry out the most egregious violations of human and democratic rights. Hence vigilance and intelligence must be exercised in monitoring the state.

Action must ensure that the next election cycle is held on schedule. I am not in a hurry to advance it for the somewhat perverse reason that that the Paksas are so adept at hanging themselves that I would like to give them rope and time to finish the job. The worry of course is that the integrity of future elections may be corrupted. A comment that I frequently encounter is that the regime will fix future elections and that fraud, bureaucratic, physical or digital will be rampant. The Elections Commission is already embroiled in controversial transfers. The danger is most real but it can be overcome; best done by sharpening public vigilance right from now and paying closer attention to domestic and international monitoring mechanisms. I guess this falls between Regulatory Enforcement and Civil Justice. The other major item for an action plan to concern itself with is the judiciary; preserving judicial independence in respect of Criminal Justice and Civil Justice.

I will not ask for more, I am a realist. So long as the Rajapaksa-clan regime stays in office I am not asking for the moon. Eliminating Corruption, winning transparency and Openness in Government and creating traditions of Informal Justice, that is a fair society, is too much to hope for in these times. No one can guarantee that the next government will be a bunch of angels, but right now the urgency is to stop repression. We cannot wait till a perfect option arrives to take steps to avert looming disaster. This is the minimal, if nothing else that January 2015 achieved. When a house is on fire, pull the entrapped children out first!

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