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Midweek Review

How former CID Chief Shani ended up in Geneva agenda and clampdown on Ranjan’s tapes

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Many eyebrows were raised when the Geneva-based UK Mission to the WTO, UN and other International Organizations recently referred to one-time Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Gnendra Shani Abeysekara.

In a brief statement, dated June 22, 2021, that dealt with Sri Lanka, the UK, on behalf of the literally self-appointed Sri Lanka Core Group (whether we like it or not), comprising Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, Montenegro and the UK, demanded the safety of Abeysekara. The grouping told the world: “We call for former CID director Shani Abeysekara’s safety to be ensured.”

The Geneva statement was made ahead of Abeysekara’s retirement. At the time Abeysekara retired on June 30, 2021, he was on bail having been arrested, in July 2020, in connection with the alleged fabrication of evidence against former DIG Vass Gunawardena and several others. The latter group had been arrested over the alleged abduction and killing of Mohammed Shyam, on May 22, 2013. Along with Abeysekara, the Appeal Court bench consisting of Justices Nissanka Bandula Karunaratne and R. Gurusinghe on June 16, 2021 also granted bail to former Sub Inspector of CID Sugath Mendis. Both were subjected to strict bail conditions.

Attorney-at-Law K.W. Janaranjana, the editor of Annidda, has meticulously dealt with the killing of Mohammed Shyam, investigations conducted by Abeysekara, the 2019 change of government, the probe taking a new turn, Abeysekara’s arrest and, finally, the Court of Appeal granting the former CID Director and SI Sugath Mendis bail. The full page article authored by the civil society activist, formerly with Ravaya, carried on its June 27, 2021 edition, is a must read.

The UK-led Core Group addressed the Abeysekara’s arrest, pertaining to the alleged fabrication of evidence. Yahapalana Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale, too, called for an end to what she called persecution of Abeysekara. The Sri Lanka Core Group wouldn’t have taken up Abeysekara’s case in Geneva without being pushed by the Colombo-based civil society group. There had never been such a Western intervention on behalf of a law enforcement officer here, though there were intrusions by individual countries. Switzerland accommodating Abeysekara acolyte Chief Inspector Nishantha Silva and his family in its asylum programme is a case in point. CI Silva, accompanied by his family, left the country just over a week after the 2019 presidential election. Their departure to Switzerland paved the way for those who had been involved in the conspiracy to accuse newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government of abducting local Swiss Embassy employee, Francis Garnier, formerly Sriyalatha Perera.

The London headquartered Amnesty International, in late Nov 2020, expressed concerns over Abeysekara’s safety, in prison, after he was tested Covid-19 positive. According to the AI, the police officer who had been interdicted over alleged fabrication of evidence, in respect of Mohammed Shyam’s case, earned the wrath of the second Rajapaksa government for exposing human rights abuses implicating top politicians.

 

SC endorses HC ruling

One of the high profile cases, handled by Abeysekara, was the killing of four persons, including former lawmaker Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, who had been assigned to handle the UPFA trade union activity. The then Attorney General filed 17 indictments against 13 defendants for the murders of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra, Damitha Darshana Jayathilake, Jalaldeen Mohamed Azeem and Manuel Kumaraswamy, on October 8, 2011, the day of the Local Government Elections, at Himbutana, Angoda. Following an extensive trial, High Court judges Padmini M. Ranawaka and M.T.B.S. Moraes (believed to be in Fiji as a judge) sentenced the defendants to death on Dec 8, 2016. However, the President of the trial-at-bar, Judge Shiran Gooneratne (now in the Supreme Court) disagreed. He acquitted 13 defendants from all charges filed against them whereas Judge Padmini Ranawaka, with Judge M.T.B.S. Moraes, agreeing, acquitted 08 of the 13 defendants from all charges.

At the time of the Himbutana incident, Duminda Silva had been Colombo District lawmaker and Monitoring MP for the Defence Ministry. The other Monitoring MP in that Rajapaksa administration was Sajin Vass Gunawardena, assigned to the Foreign Ministry.

The Supreme Court, on Oct 11, 2018, dismissed an appeal filed by Duminda Silva and the three others. The SC bench comprised five judges. Duminda Silva and the three other accuseds, filed an appeal against the death penalty imposed by the High Court on Dec 8, 2016. At the SC proceedings, the 01st accused, Police Constable Anura Thushara de Mel was acquitted of all charges by the bench consisting of the then Chief Justice Priyasath Dep, Justices Buwaneka Aluvihare, Nalin Perera, Priyantha Jayawardena and Vijith Malalgoda. Thereby the SC reaffirmed the death penalty imposed on Duminda Silva, Srinayake Pathiranage, Chaminda Ravi Jayanath alias Dematagoda Chaminda and Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Sarath Bandara.

However, the releasing of audio tapes of conversations among Abeysekara (he hadn’t been appointed Director CID then), Deputy Minister of Social Empowerment Ranjan Ramanayake, the then High Court judge Mrs. Padmini Ranawaka and President Maithripala Sirisena, in the wake of the 2019 Presidential Election, sent shock waves through political parties, the judiciary, the police and the civil society. Controversy still surrounds the circumstances under which the police received the recordings, secretly made by Ramanayake. Selected tapes were released to both the print and electronic media. Social media prevented efforts to hush up the shocking revelations, pertaining to the Himbutana killings, and the subsequent judgment.

Those in authority conveniently refrained from conducting a proper investigation into the scandalous interventions made by Ramanayake, as well as the conduct of HC judge Mrs. Ranawaka, and Abeysekara, though the police recorded some statements, including that of Mrs. Ranawaka. Parliament, through a statement issued by its Director Department of Communication, Shan Wijetunga, explained its position. That statement dated Feb 7, 2021, based on the decisions taken by the Committee on Parliamentary Business, as regards Ramanayake’s tapes, is reproduced here: “The CDs containing the recorded telephone conversations which were handed over to the Hansard Department of Parliament by MP Ranjan Ramanayake was taken into a lengthy discussion during the Committee on Parliamentary Business held today (Feb. 07, 2021).

 Accordingly, the Committee Members directed Parliament officials to submit the alleged CDs to the Speaker of Parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, to examine matters concerning national prejudice, insults directed at elite persons and words which are inconsistent with Parliament.

The Committee then decided that the Speaker should examine it further and take appropriate action. The decision to table the CDs and give access to the MPs was deferred for later consideration.”

Parliament never released the CDs. Karu Jayasuriya’s recent call to grant presidential pardon to Ramanayake should be examined against the backdrop of how Parliament responded to the disturbing revelations and the suppression of CDs.

 

Meeting press outside Temple Trees

Ramanayake got into trouble for a statement he made outside Temple Trees, on August 21, 2017, following a parliamentary group meeting of the then ruling party. A simmering controversy erupted over the leaked tapes in the wake of the Supreme Court sentencing Ramanayake on January 12, 2021. A three-judge bench, comprising Justices Sisira de Abrew, Vijith Malalgoda and Preethi Padman Surasena, sentenced Ramanayake to four years rigorous imprisonment after convicting him of contempt of court. The Attorney General filed the case following a complaint filed in the Supreme Court by Ranawaka Sunil Perera of 43/11, Walawwatta Road, Gangodawila, Nugegoda. The case has been in terms of Article 105(3) of the Constitution.

Ranawaka Sunil Perera moved the Supreme Court on the day after Ramanayake accused lawyers and judges of being corrupt.

Rasika Dissanayake, with Sandun Senadhipathi, appeared for the petitioner, on the instructions of Sanath Wijewardena, whereas Tamil National Alliance lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran, PC, with Viran Corea and J.C. Thambiah, appeared for the respondent on the instructions of D. Vithanapathirana. Sarath Jayamanne PC ASG, with Suharshi Herath SSC, represented the Attorney-General.

But, interventions made by Ramanayake, throughout 2016, in respect of judgment in the Himbutana killings, had never been properly investigated, though Parliament, and the police, received the tapes well over a year ago. The bottom line is that the appalling disclosures in audio tapes had never been subjected to judicial proceedings.

Now Karu Jayasuriya, in his new capacity as the Chairperson of the NMSJ (National Movement for Social Justice), pioneered by the late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha wants President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pardon Ranjan Ramanayake, the way he freed Duminda Silva. Following the last parliamentary election, in August 2020, Prof Sarath Wijesuriya gave up the NMSJ leadership for Jayasuriya’s entry. Those who are genuinely interested in good governance and accountability should listen to those tapes and take tangible measures to conduct a thorough investigation into the whole affair. The conversations involving Abeysekara and Ramanayake, President Sirisena, Ramanayake and Judge Mrs. Ranawaka depict a pathetic situation.

Before the writer dealt with the leaked conversations, it would be pertinent to mention that Abeysekara received promotion to the rank of SSP on August 8, 2016, and appointed as Director, CID, in the first week of Sept 2017. Abeysekara served as CID Director till he received a transfer, on Nov 21, 2019, as Personal Assistant to DIG, Galle.

Did Ramanayake speak to High Court Judge Mrs. Ranawaka to influence the murder conviction against Duminda Silva, sans permission from the party leadership? Did the then top UNP leadership ask him to approach judges in respect of various cases? Ramanayaka is also on record phoning High Court judge Gihan Pilapitiya and Magistrate Dhammika Hemapala. Following the disclosure of a fraction of the tapes secretly recorded by Ramanayake, the police compiled statements from Mrs. Ranawaka (retired), Pilapitiya and Hemapala. Let me focus on the conversations involving Mrs. Ranawaka, Ramanayake, Abeysekara and President Sirisena (now SLPP Polonnaruwa district MP. Sirisena remains the SLFP leader).

 

How Prez’s intervention
sought for promotion

Mrs. Ranawaka had no qualms in declaring that she had no confidence in President Sirisena though she subsequently directly pleaded with him to promote her to the Court of Appeal. Mrs. Ranawaka expressed doubts about President Sirisena when Ramanayake phoned her on July 14, 2016, in the wake of Abeysekara expressing serious concerns over the way the Duminda Silva matter, and related issues, were being handled. Nearly two dozen conversations, involving Ramanayaka and Abeysekara, should be examined without taking them in isolation. According to conversations now in public domain, Mrs Ranawaka asked Ramanayaka to intervene on her behalf when the latter pressed her on the pending judgment on the Himbutana killings. The judge also made reference to the then lawmaker and Attorney-at-Law Ajith P. Perera during her conversation, initiated by Ramanayake. The way the conversation continued, clearly indicated that the call taken by Ramanayake, on July 14, 2016, couldn’t have been the first and they knew each other very well.  Mrs. Ranawaka, obviously exploited Ramanayake’s intervention to explore the possibility of moving up the ladder with unbridled political patronage.

Let me stress that Ramanayake didn’t mince his words when he repeatedly sought assurances from Mrs Ranawaka and Abeysekara, in separate conversations, whether they were sure of a guilty verdict in respect of the Himbutana killings. Abeysekara repeatedly assured Ramanayake he was convinced of a guilty verdict. At one point, Abeysekara declared all three judges would take a common stand. Abeysekara had been so confident of the impending ruling, at one point he assured Ramanayake that he was 10,000 percent sure of the verdict. Abeysekara warned Ramanayake of dire consequences if he made any further direct interventions, particularly with Mrs. Ranawaka.

 Abeysekara, however, pointed out to Ramanayake that calling Mrs Ranawaka was nothing but a mistake but he cut a sorry figure by pleading with the UNP Deputy Minister not to discuss the issue at hand with anyone, including President Sirisena. Ramanayake ignored Abeysekara’s advice.

After the three-member bench delivered judgment on the Himbutana killings, Ramanayake, on Sept 12, 2017, arranged for President Sirisena to talk with Mrs. Ranawaka. She unashamedly sought President Sirisena’s intervention to secure a promotion to the Court of Appeal. Having repeatedly assured good governance and accountability, the yahapalana grandees caused unprecedented turmoil. In the absence of a proper inquiry at any level, Ramanayake’s interventions in judicial matters were never dealt with.

In spite of Ramanayake’s deplorable conduct, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the breakaway faction of the UNP, had no misgivings in accommodating him on its Gampaha District list at the August 2020 General Election. The SJB cannot absolve itself of the UNP’s culpabilities, ranging from Treasury bond scams, perpetrated in Feb 2015 and March 2016, to failure to prevent the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, despite being forewarned with precise intelligence.

Former Speaker Karunaratne Jayasuriya, despite always being clad in immaculate lily white national attire, like most shrewd politicians, however failed to inquire into Ramanayake’s sordid vigilante type justice. What we should understand is that he is foremost a politician. Jayasuriya, one-time UNP Deputy Leader and a member of the 2015 UNP parliamentary group, was named the Speaker, therefore his actions/failures can be explained. However, the pathetic failure on the part of the SLPP to initiate an inquiry into the Ramanayake affair, nearly a year after the last general election, is an indication of the utterly irresponsible Parliament, where many a backroom deal is made.

All parties represented in Parliament, particularly the SLPP, and the SJB, with nearly 200 lawmakers in Parliament should take a clear stand on political interventions in judgments. Whatever the shortcomings, those drafting a new Constitution, at a great cost to the taxpayer, should do away with constitutional provisions in respect of presidential pardons and formulate a mechanism for judicial review of previous rulings in case of the emergence of fresh evidence. Presidential pardon shouldn’t be a ‘tool’ available for the executive, under any circumstances. Political parties should reach a consensus on the need to abolish the presidential pardon, as such powers make a mockery of democracy.  

But, in the so-called greatest democracy, the USA, even if we leave aside the erratic and unscrupulous behaviour of President Trump and take for example the actions of President Obama, one of the darlings of the liberal media there, he pardoned nearly 2000 felons before he left office At least in the local instance of Duminda Silva, the presidential pardon managed to undo a grave injustice to a man, who was shot first in the head. So the President overturning his murder conviction for the other killings that took place after he was incapacitated, amidst shenanigans involving Ranjan Ramanayake, Shani Abeysekara and Judge Padmini Ranawaka, was the right thing to do.

 The government should go for a thorough inquiry into Ramanayake’s tapes. Let us hope Parliament, without further delay, makes all tapes available to its members and takes tangible measures to facilitate no holds barred investigations. The way Abeysekara used Ramanayake to target Brigadier Suresh Salley of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) is evidence how all stakeholders exploited various situations to their advantage. Abeysekara wanted Ramanayake to set the stage for Salley’s removal. Whatever the circumstances, the then Premier Wickremesinghe unceremoniously removed Salley.

Perhaps, the Foreign Ministry should make available certified translations of all available telephone conversations among former High Court judge Padmini Ranawaka, retired SSP Shani Abeysekara, former lawmaker Ranjan Ramanayake and former President Maithripala Sirisena to members of Sri Lanka Core Group. The Foreign Ministry should seriously consider briefing the Core Group members, particularly the UK, Canada and Germany, to prevent them from further exploiting Abeysekara’s case.



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Midweek Review

Crossmatch: A moral mirror

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by Santhushya Fernando

Blossoming somewhere between a Chinaman and a Jam Fruit Tree is a Lotus. An unusual place to bloom, but there it is, anyway, Crossmatch. Crossmatch is Carmel Miranda’s debut novel that won the Gratiaen Prize 2020. Here’s what isn’t there in Crossmatch: steamy sex, profanity, harsh political commentary, preaching, flowery similes, structured ‘tools of literary writing’, boring descriptions. Probably uninfected by formal literary training, Miranda writes a provocative story with the acumen of a skillful doctor documenting on a patient’s bedhead ticket with some hardcore suspense thrown in. Crossmatch, for its entire 261 pages is captivating in its heart race potential.

Is she for real?

About 20 pages into Crossmatch, I phoned a senior friend who has spent the better part of his life at the Faculty of Medicine and the National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL). “Seriously, you had a colleague called Dr Carmel Miranda? She writes like a hawk observing it all- is this a real name?” He’s was entertained, and replied “Carmel Miranda is for real. She spoke very little, did very much. Never spoke an unnecessary word: serious, committed, all about the patient, precise, not attention seeking, you know, the kind of person you miss when they are not there”. Oh, so I figure. Like Lotus. In Crossmatch.

The plot

Lotus, the protagonist is a third year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo. She’s requested to pay a social visit to a hospitalised patient by her aunt, as all aunts of all medical students do. Like all medical students up to their eyes in real or imaginary stress, Lotus, grudgingly obliges visiting Anil Kumara only to find him dead. Events take Lotus to Lionel, the NHSL mortuary attendant with one glass eye, who convinces her to safe keep the dead boy’s mobile phone wrapped in a newspaper. Something about the numbers in the phone that includes the namesake Lotus Hospital, the NHSL ENT unit number and the contents of the newspaper drives Lotus to dig in deep. She uncovers, quite accidentally, the dangerous underbelly of organ trafficking mafia, poverty, inequality and the heart wrenching plight of the poor in our so called free healthcare system. Was it an accident that killed Anil? If not, who then is the killer? Finally Lotus finds answers and also confronts a devastating personal truth about her umbilical linkage to the Lotus Hospital. Even at the helm of her shatter, Lotus retains her characteristic objectivity and dignity. Throughout Crossmatch Miranda displays a true gift at maintaining the fidelity to her characterisation in personality, lingo, and mannerism.

The moral mirror

If you have read the captivating Gratiaen winner Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka, you would know that one need not be a cricket fan to fall in love with that book. Miranda shows similar skill and humility in telling a “medical story” without medical jargon interfering with storytelling. She has labored well to tell a story about the holes of a medical system in effortless lay language. Never does she matronizingly “explain” medical terms down to the reader, weaving it all in, silkily.

Miranda holds a moral mirror on to our conscience with Crossmatch. It’s a grand mirror with one in center in front of which the reader is stands. That mirror is hinged with two mirrors on the side: the moral mirror of medical education and the moral mirror of medical practice. Both the hinged mirrors reflect unto the main mirror creating an ‘n’ number of reflections.

The moral mirror of medical education in Crossmatch touch on teaching via humiliation, linguism, unjust hierarchies, lack of cohesion in medical education, doctors past their medical fitness ‘expiry date’ continuing to practice medicine. But the beauty of Miranda’s moral mirror is that it does not discuss this in a malicious spirit. All is written with astounding tenderness and sensitivity towards human fallibility. It’s a mirror that every teacher must consider standing before.

The more serious moral mirror in Crossmatch is the territory that few would dare to tread: the kidney mafia, organ trafficking, bending the law, exploitation of the poor in kidney transplantation, lack of a transparent registry for organ donation, the legal and moral dilemma of compensation for organ donation. Importantly, this moral mirror in Crossmatch shines blindingly in our eye asking us questions: do you know what it means to be poor? The desolation beneath the label of poor? How many times do the rich donate kidneys to the poor? Is there ever a free lunch at a private hospital?

Our collective crime: poverty

Miranda reflects the moral mirrors on us for the sole purpose of telling her story. Her tender observations about how people live, talk, move, rationalize, love and sacrifice are all for the purpose of storytelling. Her power of observation is consistent across the slums of Wanathamulla to the bungalows down Rosmead place. After reading Crossmatch you cannot afford to be Sri Lankan and be divorced from the collective social crime called poverty that we all contribute to, by commission or omission. For poverty is the one crime that has the direct or indirect consent of society. The crisp humorful language, sharp precise observation, humane narration without judgment- all these make it a good read. Noteworthy is Miranda’s security as a writer who doesn’t feel the need to climb on top of her story.

Perhaps the only anti-climax of Crossmatch is its epilogue. In an uncharacteristic bout of a need to tie up too many ends, Miranda writes an epilogue reminiscent of last minute commentary over movie credits in a Hollywood or Bollywood movie stating how each character ended up happily. The last line of the main novel (prior to epilogue) “But that doesn’t stop me from dreaming “is disappointing and reminiscent more of a line out of a Hallmark card. Miranda could have written a killer last line. The epilogue takes her matter of fact story telling a bit too far and negotiates a mediocre “happily ever after” to a thought provoking , disturbing story meant to induce a bit of reader- insomnia.

Yes, Crossmatch makes us stand in front of a difficult moral mirror.

To Carmel Miranda I say: “You. Go. Girl!!!!”

(Dr Santhushya Fernando is a senior lecturer in Medical Humanities at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo)

 

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Midweek Review

Proposed Plantation University and its economic benefits

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by Dr L M K Tillekeratne
Former Director of the RRI and UNIDO consultant in Rubber Processing

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s recent address to the nation made an emphatic reference to the establishment of a Plantation University by amalgamating all major crop research institutes, such as Tea Research Institute (TRI), the Rubber Research Institute (RRI), Coconut Research Institute (CRI), Sugarcane Research Institute (SRI). Of these four research institutes, two were established by British rulers over a century ago. The core mandate of the research institutes was to develop the respective agricultural crops, as the plantation crops generated the highest amount of foreign exchange for almost four decades.

With the advent of the free market economy in late 1970s, though the remittances from migrant workers and revenue from the garment industry surpassed the foreign exchange earnings of the plantation sector, the plantation industry continues to play a dominant role in terms of foreign exchange and employment.

Hence, the President’s thinking that the creation of a national university exclusive for the plantation sector is a far-reaching vision that could transform the plantation sector by increasing land productivity and by developing the value-added products manufacture particularly in the case of rubber that the country desperately needed at this juncture. In this context, that the article written by J. A. A. S. Ranasinghe, Productivity Specialist and Management Consultant in a leading English newspaper was a comprehensive analysis of the justification of the creation of a national university for the plantation sector. Such an incisive analysis should have come from a scientist initially.

Dearth of Scientists in the Research Institutes

I whole-heartedly agree with Mr. Ranasinghe on his assertion that research institutes are functioning today in isolation without trained staff to carry out research projects. As he has very correctly identified the dearth of scientists of all the research institutes has hampered the research programmes, and that in turn has led to the deterioration of the productivity of all the sectors during the last two decades. Thus, bringing all the scientists and resources under one umbrella is the need of the hour and that could be accomplished relatively at a short time by establishing an exclusive university for the plantation sector.

The President’s far-reaching vision will be a turning point in producing scientists to run the plantation industry. At a time when most of the other countries in Asia and Africa are increasing their productivity levels of the plantation crops, it is unfortunate that Sri Lanka is far behind in terms of research during last two decades, though its Tea and Rubber research institutes are internationally known.

Downfall of the Rubber Industry

It is sad that in Sri Lanka, the first country in the world to have a rubber plantation established outside Brazil and distributed planting material to other countries mainly in Asia to grow rubber, rubber production has plummeted significantly for the last 25 years. The countries that learnt rubber planting technology from the scientists of Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka, such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, have already been able to overtake us both in terms of production and land productivity over the past two decades pushing Sri Lanka down to the 12th place as a NR producer at present. I strongly believe that the situation regarding tea is either the same or even worse.

As Ranasinghe has correctly pointed out in his article, our productivity has fallen to 50% of what we produced a decade ago while countries like Myanmar and Cambodia have been able to double their annual production during this period.

Dearth of Plantation Technologists

It is true that we have agricultural universities producing agriculture graduates. But they do not specifically focus on crops like Tea and Rubber, and cannot undertake the task of increasing productivity by means of applying new technology introduced regularly to overcome issues related to agronomy and tapping. Fresh Agriculture and Science graduates who joined the plantation sector lack the skills and knowledge the plantation industry demands and this mismatch has resulted in a shortage of plantation technologists with required competency levels.

Distinctive Advantages of Plantation University

The agricultural graduates of Sri Lankan universities, however, would be in a very authoritative position in that they can cover a wide variety of other crops better than the graduates getting their agricultural degrees overseas. Agriculture and science graduates should necessarily possess the required field exposure and experience to find gainful employment in plantation sector. Hence, fresh graduates who join the plantation sector will have to work for at least 10 years to be an expert who can identify problems and sort them out on them individually. The industry can ill-afford to wait for such a long period to produce talented plantation expert or qualified scientists, given the dearth of scientists in the country. As Ranasinghe has correctly mentioned, there is a severe shortage of scientists virtually in all departments of research institutes to tackle problems in the industry, which will badly affect the research institutes, if the present system is allowed to continue. More than 50% of the raw rubber and latex end products industry is imported at competitive prices. The coconut production is sufficient for the local consumption and there is no surplus for export in the form of oil or DC.

Exodus of Research Scientists to join Universities

Most of the scientists trained for special mandates in the research institutes have already joined the national universities purely due to better salaries and perks. However, according to the situation existed in early 1960s, those who joined research institutes for developing the agriculture sector were paid higher salaries than those who joined universities, considering their contribution to the development of the economy and the difficult conditions under which they work in remote areas.

Hence, the science graduates’ first choice was research institutions. Today, it is the other way around, and only those who cannot find employment in universities and with low merits join research institutes to get post graduate training utilising the limited number of foreign training scholarships offered to research institutes and get qualified to join universities. Empirical studies have shown that trained researchers with special skills to tackle problems in the plantations have become misfits as academics.

Ad hoc recruitment criteria

The situation that existed prior to the late 1980s was totally different even with regard to recruitment criteria. It is due to the shortage of graduates produced by local universities due to closure of the university education for almost three years, due to the insurrection. There was a severe shortage of special degree holders and hence a decision was taken by the government to allow general degree holders in places where previously only special degree graduates with a class were recruited as research assistants in research institutes. Since then the quality of research produced by the research institutes has suffered.

The distinctive benefit in the President’s proposal is that in the future we might be able to produce graduates capable of tackling problems in the plantation sector with their adequate field exposure and hands on experience during their undergraduate studies.

In addition, there will be a good opportunity for institutions like TRI and RRI with international reputation to attract foreign students for training in Sri lanka thereby earning additional revenue to the country as the UK, India and Malaysia do even without having such recognition. If the proposed national plantation university is properly run, it will be quite possible for them to sustain adequate revenue from foreign students without depending purely on annual Treasury grant. Even now trainees from countries like Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Ethiopia and even from Malaysia have got their research assistants trained at these two crop institutes under international grants.

Contribution to the national economy by way of enhanced production

On a hypothetical basis, if the production of rubber in the country is increased to 135,000 Mt, which was the amount produced years ago, purely by increasing the land productivity, without even increasing the planted area, the country can reap maximum benefits from the fast-increasing rubber prices in the world market. Rubber was selling at around Rs 100 to 150 per kg during the last half a decade. Surprisingly, it has gone up to almost Rs 450 per kg now and the situation is expected to increase further with time to come owing to the demand for NR on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If the production is increased to 135,000 Mt, additional revenue the country can enjoy would be (Rs 450 x 50000 x1000) Rs 22.5 billion annually.

We should not lose sight of the fact that due to the shortfall in the supply of rubber, a considerable amount of NR and latex is imported by our rubber products manufacturers for value added products manufacture at a cost of over Rs 30 billion.

If this extra production is used to produce goods such as surgical/examination gloves for which the demand is fast increasing due to Covid-19 spread, the additional revenue country can gain is over 200%. It will be possible to create more employment opportunities as well.

Arduous task for the new Minister

The task before Economic Development Minister is to consider how best to improve the economy in bad state. This objective can be achieved in less than a year by getting the neglected rubber farms into tapping and by using techniques like lightly stimulated low frequency tapping and by utilising proven new techniques like rain guards to minimise crop losses due to rain. The additional cost involvement for these developments is insignificant and the time taken is less than a year.

New planting and replanting are two other ways of increasing the crop; they are costly and take nearly a decade to give a reasonable crop increase. Further, there is no guarantee that the improved rubber prices will remain high until then. However, replanting, and new planting should be continued according to the RDD targets.

Another factor that caused a drop in the rubber production was the removal of the extension services from the research wing and its attachment to the subsidiary function of the Rubber Development Department owing to an illogical decision taken by the then government almost 25 years ago. Today, the RDD is functioning in isolation ignoring the recommendations of the RRI. This has been the main cause for the drop in productivity of rubber farms in Sri Lanka. For example, the population of low yielding clones like PB 86 are still distributed and the clone population in the country is an utter mess.

Undoubtedly, everyone looks forward to the establishment of the plantation university.

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Midweek Review

“Madam” and her Wards

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By Lynn Ockersz

Six anxious, awkward teenage girls,

Are following their “Madam” close at heel,

To the rundown Spa hardly seen in the busy street,

But sought by restless men when darkness sets in,

But in the Isle fabled for its charity,

No one looks askance at this sight,

No one dare asks questions that matter;

Nor is accountability exacted from office holders;

But posers like the following may be asked,

By those who choose to care for the ‘nation’,

Now that Ishalini too has brought things into focus:

Isn’t this an induction into prostitution?

What lured the girls away from school,

And made them walk footloose on the streets?

Would the “Madam” be ever taken to task?

Or would she be allowed to go, with no questions asked,

When a swoop by the uniformed gentry,

Thrusts the girls into a police lockup,

And makes them wilt there sadly,

Though into primal youth they are about to bloom.

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