by Avantha Munasinghe
One of the contentious issues surrounding the 20th Amendment seems to be the issue of the removal of Auditor General’s capacity to audit companies where the Government, Public Corporation or a Local Authority has a majority shareholding. Many critics seem to have picked on this issue, and most of them are resisting the proposed change. Their fear seems to be that if the Auditor General is not permitted to audit a certain government company, it is prone to be riddled with corruption and malpractices.
The audit by definition is a systematic and an independent review and investigation on certain subject matter, which in this case is the financial statements, management accounts, management reports, accounting records etc. of a company. In the case of a company, there is a statutory requirement for such review and investigation to be reported to shareholders annually. The review, is produced as an “opinion” of the “Auditor”.
Other than the shareholders, it is also customarily used by the tax authorities, banks, creditors, analysts or public for their respective decision-making and also to form their own opinion about the status of the company and its future. In all the government companies, the law required them to be audited by independent auditors, qualified to do so as specified by the Companies Act, until 2015. The 19th Amendment changed their auditor to be the Auditor General.
Auditing, just like Accounting, depends on certain commonly adopted set of principles. The audit of financial statements is normally done in accordance with International Standards on Auditing sometimes modified by local auditing standards. In Sri Lanka’s case, the Sri Lanka Auditing Standards are based on the International Standards on Auditing (ISAs) published by the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), with slight modifications to meet local conditions and needs. Thus, to begin with, whether it is the Auditor General or a private auditor, the standards applicable to the task are the same. It is the approach that is different.
There are a large number of companies in Sri Lanka whose shareholding in some way is linked to Government or quasi government entities for whom Auditor General has now become the Statutory Auditor. Some of these companies are merely an extension of government entities serving a function of the government. For example, Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Limited is a government-owned company, providing security services to government installations. Another is Ceylon Petroleum Storage Terminal Ltd., whose only customers are its parent entities i.e. Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Lanka IOC PLC, only to whom it provides services. Such entities do not have to face competition to secure business.
However, there are also a large number of government-owned companies which do business in the marketplace competing with other local and international companies, which are publicly and privately owned. Lanka General Trading Company Ltd., Lanka Hospitals Ltd., Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Limited and Milco (Pvt.) Ltd., are a few examples. Each of them has to compete for business with large segment of local and foreign companies which are purely driven by profit motive and enhancement of shareholders’ value.
These companies have very flexible systems and procedures. Their boards of directors can take appropriate decisions in a timely manner to make an urgent procurement or select suppliers to be more competitive and manage all their affairs just in time. They can buy their raw materials without calling for quotations if they think it is a profitable opportunity. Even a junior level executive of such a company may be able to decide a price discount to secure a sale.
The situation of a state-owned company in the marketplace in such scenarios is quite the opposite. They cannot do procurement as the situation demands. They have to dutifully follow the procurement rules, which even the board of directors cannot overrule. The officials have very little flexibility to seize a business opportunity. It is so easy for a private company to grab business from state-owned enterprises as the latter cannot be proactive. There is little surprise most such companies are loss-making and is a burden to the government and taxpayers.
The government officials and Ministers however want these quasi state organizations to be profitable or run at least without being a burden to the Treasury. The basic business model of these organizations is at a severe disadvantage to begin with. What 19th Amendment brought to such companies by way of auditing by the Auditor General was to push them from pillar to post. This is quite evident by the powers granted to the Auditor General in the National Audit Act, which even a crime investigator would envy. Some of the powers are:
(1) The Auditor-General shall…
… access or call for any written or electronic records or other information relating to the activities of an auditee entity;
… call any person whom the Auditor-General has reasonable grounds to believe to be in possession of information and documents, as he may consider necessary to carry on the functions under this Act, to obtain written or oral statements and require the production of any document, from any person, who may be either in-service or otherwise;
… examine and make copies of or take extracts from any written or electronic records and search for information whether or not in the custody of the auditee entity;
… after obtaining permission from the relevant Magistrate’s Court, examine and audit any account, transaction or activity of a financial institution, of any person, where the Auditor-General has reason to believe that money belonging to an auditee entity has been fraudulently, irregularly or wrongfully paid into such person’s account;
…require any officer of financial institutions to produce any document or provide any information relating to an account, transaction, dealing or activity of person referred to in paragraph (d) and to take copies of any document so produced, if necessary… There is a fundamental difference in the audit approach of a professional auditor and a Supreme Audit Institution such the Auditor General. In a private sector audit, the primary objective is to ensure the report’s recipient gets a true and fair view of the financial status of the company. While the professional auditor is supposed to report on adequacy of the controls in place and report any lapses to shareholders, the focus is primarily on the status of the shareholder’s investment.
The approach of Auditor General is more on ensuring the Compliance to rules, regulations and procedures. This is natural since the Auditor General is supposed to audit the manner in which a government organization has handled its allocation from the consolidated fund to provide a service to the public. The approach is, therefore, not focused on whether the organization is making adequate return on the government’s funds.
What the 19th Amendment did was to replace the professional auditor, who focused on performance of government companies by the Auditor General who is focused on compliance. The officers running such government-owned companies got a signal quite contrary to what the government officials and ministers were pushing them before. Compliance became the key. There is no better way to achieve compliance than to do nothing. The truth is in the last few years; these organization put profit motive in the back burner and wanted to escape from various audit queries raised by the Auditor General. The best way to do that is not to go that extra mile their competitors would go to make the organization profitable. Doing nothing became the modus operandi.
Some of the supporters of Auditor General’s auditing argue that his mere presence stops corruption. Stamping out corruption was the all-pervasive theme of the 19th Amendment. So many new entities were instituted under it to check corruption. Where are we today? Do we see any positive results? In the Corruption Perception Index published by the Transparency International in the year 2015, when the 19th Amendment was enacted, Sri Lanka’s scored 37 out of hundred. In 2019, our score was only 38. We rank 93 out of 198 countries, four places down. It is no secret that the public perceives state sector organizations as corrupt as ever and certainly more corrupt than any private sector organization in this country. The Auditor General has been auditing these state sector organizations for more than 200 years. If the cure against corruption is audit being done by the Auditor General, why are we in this situation today?
The truth is the Auditor General’s presence is a necessary evil in any government ministry or department, which does not have a commercial objective. His presence does ensure at least some level of corruption is made more difficult to accomplish. However, we must not come into the false conclusion that the presence of the Auditor General is the way to root out corruption. In a State-Owned Enterprise (SoE) with commercial objectives, his presence certainly does more harm than benefit.
There is a wrong perception that most public companies are loss making and, therefore, they should be subjected to an Audit by the Auditor General so that the “control” of public funds will put things right. As explained above, it is the business model and restrictions placed that is the very cause for loss-making SoEs to proliferate. If this argument is correct, we should see, out of more than 120 or so government companies, at last one which became profitable due to the Auditor General’s presence during last five years. There is none to show. In fact, this remedy will only make the patient even more sick.
Another untruth floated on the matter is that the financial statements of the government companies are not required to be submitted to Parliament unless they are audited by the Auditor General and that would undermine parliamentary financial oversight. The truth is that the entity, which is the shareholder in these companies, have to consolidate the company’s financial statements with that of the parent entity and the latter is certainly subjected to parliamentary oversight with financial statements of the company audited by a private auditor.
Another misconception is that supervision by COPE will put everything right in the public institutions. COPE’s examination carried out by set of parliamentarians, who on most occasions have no knowledge of the particular business, is not what is required to put these organizations right. In most cases it is the bad business model rather than lack of COPE’s oversight that fail these businesses.
SriLankan Airlines is a case of point. Many people say the bad procurement deals, continued losses and increased dependence on the Treasury by the airline would continue to happen if the Auditor General is not auditing the airline. It was making losses ever since it was set up with or without Auditor General as the auditor. The Airline business is one of the most competitive businesses globally. Even the largest airlines sometimes find it difficult to be in the black. The industry needs split second decisions to be made by professional management. As said before, this is not possible at SriLankan Airlines. We have seen Chairmen and Directors coming and going with every change of the subject minister. Nobody is having a long-term commitment to make it a success. Its competitors have boards, which are removed only if the airline makes losses, not if their political masters change. Without changing the business model, even if we have hundred auditors to audit SriLankan Airlines, nothing will change.
We all know that our country is suffering from a severe debt crisis. We invested on massive infrastructure projects, which were all debt financed. To balance that off, we desperately need to bring foreign equity into our economy. Further debt, while giving us temporary solace, will only aggravate the problem. The government is devising Public Private Partnership (PPP) programs to bring Foreign Investment from large global corporations. The government also needs to be in control of them. The 19th Amendment requires such PPP companies to have the Auditor General as its Auditor. Which global business entity would drop their global audit arrangements by the likes of KPMG, Ernst & Young or PwC and accept this arrangement? We can talk till the cows come home on how professional our Auditor General is and how independent he is, but the reality is that we live in a dream if we seriously want to promote PPP structures with this kind of legislation on.
The effective functioning of Superior Audit Institutions such as the Auditor General is definitely an essential requirement of a functioning democracy. However, let’s not fool ourselves – it is not a panacea for all ills.
Even in India where the previous Companies Act required the appointment of Auditors to Government Companies by the Controller and Auditor General of India, the arrangement has been questioned in the Report of the Expert Committee On Company Law, which said “The Committee discussed the application of the corporate law framework to Government companies on many occasions and took the view that in general, there should not be any special dispensation for such companies. …Therefore, the extension of special exemptions and protections to various commercial ventures taken up by Government companies in the course of their commercial operations along with strategic partners or general public should be done away with so that such entities can operate in the market place on the same terms and conditions as other entities. In particular, reflection of financial information of such ventures by Government companies and their audit should be subject to the common legal regime applicable. The existing delays are enabling a large number of corporate entities to evade their responsibilities and liability for correct disclosure of true and fair financial information in a timely manner. In this context, the relevance of the present section 619B of the Act was considered appropriate for a review.”
If the government needs its companies to compete with private sector, the way forward is to make their management more flexible. Throwing those decision-makers to the Auditor General is the last thing required to be done if we want them to compete effectively with the private sector. While the world is moving to embrace the scarce private capital by making things easier for such investors, some of our so-called professionals seem to be, while paying lip service for bringing more and more FDI, doing exactly the opposite by criticizing the removal of this disastrous piece of legislature brought in by the 19th Amendment.
(The writer is an Accountant based in New South Wales, Australia)
Shared prosperity: A vision for South Asia
The Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023, delivered by Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, MP
Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Bangladesh
on 03 Feb., 2023.
The event was hosted by the Lakshman Kdirgamar Institute
Of International Relations and Strategic StudiesColombo, Sri Lanka
I am profoundly honoured to have the opportunity to deliver this prestigious Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture 2023. I thank the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ali Sabry, for this honour.
As an academician, it is my immense pleasure to share my thoughts with the esteemed audience of our close neighbour, Sri Lanka. I am also happy to return to this beautiful island, in less than a year, after the BIMSTEC Summit, held in Colombo.
At the outset, let me pay my homage to late Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, one of Sri Lanka’s finest sons. He was Foreign Minister during some of the most challenging times in your recent history. Still, he steadily moved towards achieving his dream to build a multi-religious and multi-ethnic united Sri Lanka where all communities could live in harmony. He was a legal scholar and a leader, par excellence. He served to raise the level of the political discourse of Sri Lanka, both at home and abroad. His assassination was one of the most tragic losses for the country. However, we are confident that Lakshman Kadirgamar will be remembered by future generations of Sri Lankans for the values and principles he lived and died for which are even more relevant in present-day Sri Lanka.
I am aware of the regard the late Lakshman Kadirgamar held for Bangladesh. I am also aware that my Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina knew him well. Let me share an anecdote. During one of his visits to Bangladesh, after meeting my Prime Minister, on the way out, she impromptu took him to the stage of her political, public meeting and introduced him to the audience. He even spoke there for a few minutes. Mrs. Kadirgamar who is present here today, was a witness to that episode. That was an indication of how highly the late Kadirgamar was regarded by my Prime Minister. Perhaps all these prompted Mrs Suganthie Kadirgamar to think of hearing from Bangladesh at this year’s Memorial Lecture. I am deeply touched by this gesture. Thank you, Madam.
We see this as an extension of collaboration between LKI and our think tank BIISS.
Today I would like to share my thoughts on the theme “Shared Prosperity: A Vision for South Asia” which we hold very dearly to our heart.
It cannot begin without recalling our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who provided our foreign policy dictum “Friendship to all, Malice to None” which he later focused more on promoting relations with neighbours first. His able daughter, Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, aptly picked up the philosophy and extended it and went for its implementation.
Before I delve into the theme, it would be pertinent to put Bangladesh-Sri Lanka bilateral relations in perspective. The relationship is based on multitude of commonalities and close people-to-people contacts. Last year, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of our diplomatic ties. We regularly exchange high level visits, are engaged in bilateral discussions on sectoral cooperation, including shipping, trade and commerce, education, agriculture, youth development, connectivity and so on. Our relationship is all about friendship, goodwill and good neighbourliness. Therefore, it is comfortable for me to speak before you in a broader perspective involving the entire region’s development aspect.
Now, why do we think of a holistic approach to prosperity? It is firstly due to the compulsion of the contemporary evolution of global order. We are now going through one of the most significant phases of human history, having already experienced an unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Just as we showed our capacity to tame the pandemic, another challenge came in our way – armed conflict in Europe. This has not only slowed down our recovery from the havoc done by the pandemic but also caused a global economic recession due to increase in energy and food prices and, more importantly, disruption of supply chain and financial transaction mechanism, owing to sanctions. Besides, we are also victims of rivalry between big and emerging economies and their strategic power play. All these necessitate the developing countries to get together.
The vision of shared prosperity becomes more relevant when we compare the development trajectory of South Asian countries. Indeed, we have made substantial progress. Some South Asian countries have already graduated to middle income status while others are making their way. Yet, poverty is still high in the region.
One predominant characteristic is that our economies display greater interest in integrating with the global economy than with each other. Regional cooperation, within the existing frameworks, has made only limited progress, being hostage to political and security considerations. The problems have their roots in the historical baggage, as well as the existing disparity in the regional structure. In addition, there are a number of outstanding issues and bilateral discords.
All these realities have left us a message that for survival, we need closer collaboration among neighbours, setting aside our differences; we must have concerted efforts through sharing of experiences and learning from each other.
In this backdrop, Bangladesh has been following a policy of shared prosperity, as a vision for the friendly neighbours of South Asia. Guided by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, we are advocating for inclusive development in the region. Our development trajectory and ideological stance dovetail our vision of shared prosperity for South Asia. Let me tell how we are doing it.
In Bangladesh, human development is the pillar of sustainable development. Our Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in his maiden speech, at the UNGA, in 1974, said, and I quote, “there is an international responsibility … to ensuring everyone the right to a standard living adequate for the health and the well-being of himself and his family”. Unquote.
This vision remains relevant even today. In that spirit, we are pursuing inclusive and people-centric development in association with regional and global efforts.
In the last decade, we have achieved rapid economic growth, ensuring social justice for all. Today, Bangladesh is acknowledged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. We have reduced poverty from 41.5% to 20% in the last 14 years. Our per capita income has tripled in just a decade. Bangladesh has fulfilled all criterions for graduating from LDC to a developing country. Bangladesh is ranked as world’s 5th best COVID resilient country, and South Asia’s best performer.
Last year, we inaugurated the self-funded ‘Padma Multi-purpose Bridge”. A few days ago, we started the first ever Metro Rail service in our capital. Soon, we shall complete the 3.2 kilometer Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Tunnel under the river Karnaphuli in Chattogram, the first in South Asia. Several other mega-projects are in the pipeline which will bring about significant economic upliftment.
Our aspiration is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh” by 2041 and a prosperous and climate-resilient delta by 2100. We hope to attain these goals by way of ensuring women empowerment, sustainable economic growth and creating opportunities for all.
The priorities of Sheikh Hasina Government are the following:
First, provide food, Second, provide cloths, Third, shelter and accommodation to all and no one should be left behind, Fourth, Education, and Fifth, Healthcare to all. To achieve these goals, she promoted vehicles like Digital Bangladesh, innovation, foreign entrepreneurs and private initiatives in an atmosphere of regional peace, stability and security, and through connectivity. Bangladesh has become a hub of connectivity and looking forward to become a ‘Smart Bangladesh’.
When it comes to foreign policy, we have been pursuing neighbourhood diplomacy for amiable political relations with the South Asian neighbours alongside conducting a balancing act on strategic issues based on the philosophy of “shared prosperity”. I can name a few initiatives which speak of our commitment to the fulfilment of the philosophy.
Bangladesh, within its limited resources, is always ready to stand by her neighbours in times of emergency – be it natural calamity, or pandemic or economic crisis. We despatched essential medicines, medical equipment and technical assistance to the Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and India during the peak period of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We had readily extended humanitarian assistance to Nepal when they faced the deadly earthquake, back in 2015. Last year, we helped the earthquake victims of Afghanistan. Prior to that, we contributed to the fund raised by the United Nations for the people of Afghanistan.
Further, our assistance for the people of Sri Lanka, with emergency medicines, during the moment of crisis, last year, or the currency SWAP arrangement, is the reflection of our commitment to our philosophy. These symbolic gestures were not about our capacity, pride or mere demonstration, rather it was purely about our sense of obligation to our neighbours. We strongly believe that shared prosperity comes with shared responsibility and development in a single country of a particular region may not sustain if others are not taken along.
In addition, we have resolved most of our critical issues with our neighbours, peacefully, through dialogue and discussion. For example, we have resolved our border demarcation problem with India, our maritime boundary with India and Myanmar, and also our water sharing with India, peacefully, through dialogue and discussion.
For an emerging region, like South Asia, we need to devise certain policies and implement those in a sustainable manner. I would like to share some of my thoughts which could be explored in quest for our shared prosperity and inclusive development:
First of all
, without regional peace and stability we would not be able to grow as aspired for. To that effect, our leaders in the region have to work closely on priority basis. We may have issues between neighbours but we have to transcend that to leave a legacy of harmony for our future generation so that a culture of peace and stability prevails in the region. We can vouch for it from our own experience. In Bangladesh, we are sheltering 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals. If remains unresolved, it has the potential to jeopardise the entire security architecture of South Asia. So, here the neighbourhood should support us for their own interests.
, we need to revitalize our regional platforms and properly implement our initiatives taken under BIMSTEC and IORA. We are happy that BIMSTEC is progressing better, but we should endeavour to make it move always like a rolling machine.
, we need to focus on regional trade and investment. Countries in South Asia had implemented trade liberalization within the framework of SAFTA but in a limited scale. Bangladesh is in the process of concluding Preferential Trade Agreement/Free Trade Agreement with several of its South Asian peers. We have already concluded PTA with Bhutan; are at an advanced stage of negotiations for PTA with Sri Lanka and discussions for PTA with Nepal are on. In the same spirit, Bangladesh is about to start negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India.
a well-connected region brings immense economic benefits and leads to greater regional integration. To maximize our intra- and extra-regional trade potentials and enhance people-to-people contacts, Bangladesh is committed to regional and sub regional connectivity initiatives. Bangladesh’s geostrategic location is a big leverage which was rightly picked up by our Hon’ble Prime Minister. She benevolently offered connectivity in the form of transit and trans-shipment to our friendly neighbours for sustainable growth and collective prosperity of the region. As for Sri Lanka, if we can establish better shipping connectivity which our two countries are working on, the overall regional connectivity would be more robust.
, We live in a globalized world, highly interconnected and interdependent. Our region has gone through similar experience and history. Bangladesh believes and promotes religious harmony. We have been promoting “Culture of Peace” across nations. The basic element of “Culture of Peace” is to inculcate a mindset of tolerance, a mind set of respect towards others, irrespective of religion, ethnicity, colour, background or race. If we can develop such mindset by stopping venom of hatred towards others, we can hope to have sustainable peace and stability across nations, leading to end of violence, wars, and terrorism in nations and regions. There won’t be millions of refugees or persecuted Rohingyas. Bangladesh takes special pride in it as even before Renaissance was started in Europe in the 17th century, even before America was discovered in 1492, in Bengal a campaign was started by Chandi Das as early as 1408 that says “সবার উপরে মানুষ সত্য; তাহার উপরে নাই”- humanity is above all and we still try to promote it.
, we have to look beyond a traditional approach of development and challenges and revisit the non-traditional global crises of the recent time. We are experiencing food, fuel, fertiliser and energy shortages due to global politics and disruption of supply chain; as littoral and island countries, we face similar challenges of natural disasters; we have vast maritime area which needs effective maritime governance; we need to curb marine pollution and ensure responsible use of marine resources. Our collective, sincere and bold efforts are required to minimize the impacts of climate change as well.
In this context, I would like to share Bangladesh’s understanding and position.
· Blue Economy:
Bangladesh is an avid proponent of Blue Economy and responsible use of marine resources for the benefit of the entire region. We are keen to utilize the full potential of our marine resources and have developed an integrated maritime policy, drawing on the inter-linkages between the different domains and functions of our seas, oceans and coastal areas. Bangladesh also values the importance of sound science, innovative management, effective enforcement, meaningful partnerships, and robust public participation as essential elements of Blue Economy. At this stage, we need support, technical expertise and investment for sustainable exploration and exploitation of marine resources. As the past and present chairs of IORA, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka should find out ways of bilateral collaboration particularly in Blue Economy in the Bay of Bengal.
· Controlling of Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing:
IUU fishing in the maritime territory of Bangladesh needs to be monitored and controlled. Our present capability of marine law enforcement in this regard is limited. Here regional collaboration would be very useful.
· Marine Pollution: Marine pollution is a major concern for all littoral countries. Micro-plastic contamination poses serious threat to marine eco system. Responsible tourism and appropriate legal framework, underpinned by regional collaboration, would greatly help.
Climate Change and Climate Security in the Bay of Bengal:
We have taken a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to make the country climate-resilient. Our Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan was formulated in 2009. Bangladesh has pioneered in establishing a climate fund, entirely from our own resources, in 2009. Nearly $443 million has been allocated to this fund since then.
Moreover, we are going to implement the ‘Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan’ to achieve low carbon economic growth for optimised prosperity and partnership. Green growth, resilient infrastructure and renewable energy are key pillars of this prosperity plan. This is a paradigm shift from vulnerability to resilience and now from resilience to prosperity.
As the immediate past Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, we had promoted the interests of the climate vulnerable countries, including Sri Lanka, in the international platforms. Bangladesh is globally acclaimed for its remarkable success in climate adaptation, in particular in locally-led adaptation efforts. The Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) South Asia regional office in Dhaka is disseminating local based innovative adaptation strategies to other climate vulnerable countries.
To rehabilitate the climate displaced people, we have undertaken one of the world’s largest housing projects which can shelter 4,500 climate displaced families. Under the “Ashrayan” project, a landmark initiative for the landless and homeless people, 450,000 families have been provided with houses. Keeping disaster resilience in mind, the project focuses on mitigation through afforestation, rainwater harvesting, solar home systems and improved cook stoves. In addition, the government has implemented river-bank protection, river excavation and dredging, building of embankment, excavation of irrigation canals and drainage canals in last 10 years at a massive scale. We feel, our national efforts need to be complemented by regional assistance.
As the chair of CVF and as a climate vulnerable country, our priority is to save this planet earth for our future generations. In order to save it, we need all countries, specially those that are major polluters, to come up with aggressive NDCs, so that global temperature remains below 1.5 degree Celsius, they should allocate more funds to climate change, they should share the burden of rehabilitation of ‘climate migrants’ that are uprooted from their sweet homes and traditional jobs due to erratic climatic changes, river erosion and additional salinity. We are happy that “loss and damage” has been introduced in COP-27.
, South Asia needs a collective voice in the international forum for optimizing their own interests.
and most importantly, South Asian leaders need similar political will for a better and prosperous region.
We hope that Bangladesh and its neighbours in South Asia would be able to tap the potentials of each other’s complementarities to further consolidate our relations to rise and shine as a region. May I conclude by reminding ourselves what a Bengali poet has said, and I quote,
Don’t be afraid of the cloud, sunshine is sure to follow.
With this, I conclude. I thank you all for your graceful presence and patience.
Joy Bangla, Joy Bangabandhu!
Tribute to our Welsh Pembrokeshire Corgis
by Sunil Dharmabandhu
Two years ago, the gap between the number of cats and dogs in the UK stood at 1.5 million, with 7.5 million cats and nine million dogs. The pandemic saw pet numbers soar in Britain, but now the gap has closed to just one million, with 12 million cats and 13 million dogs. Main reason is affordability due to obvious limitations in where one lives. Cats are independent, love to venture out on their own, exploring, hunting, etc., and even bringing home “captured trophies of rats,” etc! Dogs, on the other hand, belong to different categories of being guard dogs, like vicious German Shepherds, trained to do just that, hence the appeal to be with security companies, police, etc., over in more constructive spheres, like sniffer dogs at airports to detect drugs, cash, or in hospital settings, to detect cancers and other diseases!
Border Collies, excellent breeds on farms for protecting sheep, shepherding them in on the command of farmer’s whistles, which enter TV competitions, etc., commanding as much as £50,000 for the well trained! Then, we have an array of other domesticated breeds, from the big to St Bernard’s (absolute softies), Huskies, Great Danes, Newfoundland and Labrador Retrievers who would jump into waters to save our lives, smaller breeds, like Dashhounds, Poodles and Terriers to name a few. But, which breeds topped the list with our beloved Elizebeth the QUEEN? Your guess is spot on ! Pembrokeshire Corgis! Be it a quirk of coincidence or otherwise, my Welsh wife and I fell in love with our very first, Sox, bought as a present by her parents for just £15.00, way back in 1982! To say she lived up to her reputation, full of energy is an understatement! We were living in our first house, a two up, two down, end of terrace house in Croydon, now an extremely busy part of outer London.
She would wreck the little rose bushes in our small back garden, enjoyed walks to a nearby park to exercise before going to work ourselves. It was a freezing day in the winter months, she had her a free run around and lost no time discovering the delight of jumping into frozen puddles with just her neck sticking out, enough to make another dog walker remark “doesn’t she think she is clever!” It was summer when her antics got us into real trouble! In her free run, she spotted a mature man sunbathing, bare-chested in the park. What did Sox do? Jumped on his chest only to annoy him and embarrass us! Apologising, we quickly put her lead on and walked away long enough to think it was far away to release her to enjoy the freedom! We were wrong, she made a hasty retreat to get back into her antics and jump on the same man, sunbathing, to be told off ! Temptations of water, lakes, etc., would never stop her! Full of fun and life!
She lived to a ripe old age of 13-plus to give way to the next, Taffy, a bold, very daring Pembrokeshire Corgi, ready to take on much bigger German Shepherds on our walks, given half a chance ! He was followed by Madam Tara, who thought she was more Royal than the Royals! In her old age, showing difficulties walking, we had doggy walkers to take her round in Berkshire. Tara made us feel embarrassed when she kept barking at pedestrians to get out of the way to make way for her “Royal Walkabouts!” Some saw the funny side, others didn’t hesitate giving us funny looks! While Tara was still enjoying life with us, who joined us next? The “gentleman”’Corgi of all we ever had, Toby. He would allow ladies to go in first at the door, such was his refinement!
True enough, both Tara and Tudor had the good fortune of being spotted by Her Majesty the Queen! Here’s the proof:
The Queen pointed towards our Corgis in a dignified manner though we didn’t get a look in as “commoners’ in the scheme of events!
Both Tara and Toby, no more gave the way for Tudor, a tricoloured Pembrokeshire Corgi, now six years, and our first ever outside the Corgis, a tricoloured miniature Jack Russell, calked Gitto, four years old, both getting on like a house on fire! They are inseparable, thinking themselves of as father and son!
But, in return, they give us unconditional love!
Life has its own nature’s twists and turns!
For those in similar circumstances, or worse, please take comfort!
Impact of new technology on 13A conundrum, climate and biodiversity catastrophes
by Chandre Dharmawardana
Sri Lanka has celebrated its 75th independence anniversary. Its president Wickremesinghe has taken matters into his hands with unprecedented assertiveness. Perhaps, he senses his last chance, and wishes to solve as many problems as he can, before he leaves. A bankrupt economy, shortages of food, energy, and medical supplies, compounded by distrust among ethnic groups are on his plate. But Wickremasinghe has ignored economic problems and turned to constitutional initiatives like the 13th amendment of the Gandhi-JRJ era, while risking re-kindling of partly dormant ethnic fires. He has also ignored the climate and economic summits weakened by war.
Getting ready for extreme climate eventualities
Two Climate summits (COP27 and COP17) in 2022, and the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos raised red-banners regarding climate catastrophes, an uninhabitable earth, rapid declines in biodiversity and the free fall in the numbers of pollinating insects vital to the food supply. The poorest countries would suffer most although least guilty of the consumerism that has unleashed these catastrophes.
Even though Sri Lanka was short of forex, delegations went to all those summits and returned. President Wickremasinghe even suggested a Climate University for Sri Lanka! Will it teach environmental science to the 225 MPs, elucidating Sri Lanka’s vulnerability?
A tropical island like Sri Lanka is particularly vulnerable, facing global warming, sea level rise, loss of biodiversity, irregular monsoons, increasing freak floods and droughts, invasions of harmful locusts, insects, parasites and viruses responding to new warmer climate patterns?
A country must have a robust energy supply and a well-secured food supply to cope with such adversity. Lanka’s agricultural outputs have , more than 43% of children under five suffer from malnutrition  while government hospitals have run out of resources.
Potential submersion of the North and East.
The Tsunami of December 2004 reminds us how the North and Eastern coastal areas, as well as the Southern coast went under sea. Global warming and a warm sea will destroy the underground fresh water bubble sitting on sea water that nourishes the Northern peninsula. Changes in specific gravity, convection currents and release of trapped gases work inexorably. The limestone land and connecting causeways will fail and create a new submerged “Mahabalipuram” or “Kumari-kandam” within a few decades.
The Muslims and Sinhalese ejected during ethnic cleansing of the North by the Tigers, and denied of their lands should not show schadenfreude at the plight of northern Tamils facing rising seas, because those who will suffer are not the warring leaders, but innocents too poor to escape to the south or to other lands.
The one constitutional amendment that is sorely needed to save them and the North is NOT on the table!
COP27 had promised funding for mitigating expected climate damage. An over-arching authority covering areas threatened by sea level rise is needed. The Mahaweli authority provides an archetype that overrides parochial boundaries to cover the whole ecosystem. A climate authority needs to build dykes, mangrove shields, etc., while integrating sea-weed farming, fishery, elevated roadways, agriculture and energy generation. We discussed these in the The Island, Sept-30, 2017, while an extended version is at Researchgate .
Constitution makers incorporating a climate authority must also recognise that the elections model has failed even in the UK and USA, with corrupt politicians setting up corrupt oligarchic rule. A widely considered way out is the sortition model where a sizable fraction of the legislators is elected by lottery from politically non-affiliated citizens to serve just one term. We discussed this in the Sri Lankan context (The Island, January, 2, 2023), while the Harvard Political Review  has recently discussed its relevance to USA.
Aspirations of Minorities
Political and constitutional methods of resolving language-rights, and providing local government by local politicians while keeping the centre happy have always failed and a 30-year war was fought. However, eminently practical and inexpensive technological solutions have become available during the 36 years since the introduction of 13A in 1987.
According to Tiranagama (The Island 28-07-20), Sinhala and Tamil are the official national languages; Tamil, the language of the main minority is official in all 9 provinces. Sinhala, the language of the majority is official only in seven provinces! Sinhalese police officers and public servants fail to communicate in Tamil, and vice versa. Consequently, citizens are not served in their own language. Furthermore, smaller minorities, e.g., the Malays, and their language rights are completely ignored.
Technology can right these wrongs
Google translate, ChatGP, and new AI technologies provide seamless trans-speech to anyone across over 200 languages. Open-source modular AI speech transcription, e.g., “Whisper” beat humans in comprehending speech ambiguities and rendering into a target language. James Somers, writing in the New Yorker claims  that what sounds like “Can you crane a Ford?” is correctly understood as “Can Ukraine afford” by “Whisper”.
Cell phones are cheap, and computer-literate Lankans can utilise these technologies to create Apps to bring true parity to Sinhala, Tamil and other language. You speak your lingo to your phone and your listener hears it in his/her language and local accent! AI provides an end to the language strife of the past.
The costs of solar energy, batteries and electric locomotion are falling steeply. US-style highways cater to private transport powered mainly by polluting fossil fuels. Highways cost far more than public transport using fast electric trains.
If Jaffna and Colombo were veritable suburbs connected by fast trains, 13A becomes an irrelevant anachronism. Wigneswaran can have breakfast at 8 am in Colombo, and easily meet Jaffna citizens living 300 km away well before lunch!
High speed electric trains plying at 300 km/h are now quite common, while the Shanghai-Maglev train runs at 460 km/h!
Food and energy security
A small nation facing troubled times needs secure sources of energy and food produced using climate-friendly methods that conserve biodiversity. Agriculture contributes over 1/3 of the noxious greenhouse gases (GHG) that cause global warming, while fossil fuels, industry and warfare contribute the rest.
Unfortunately, climate summits and the WEF have become hostages of the oil-lobby and politically powerful Eco-extremists who dominate the EU. Consequently the resolutions of these summits, while recognising climate dangers, provide NO useful solutions. Thus the  – a prime example of  similar to those tried out and failed in Sri Lanka – were reiterated at COP27 and Davos by EU President Ursula von der Leyen.
The EU Green Deal embraces “organic agriculture (OA)” , redubbed “regenerative”, and promises 55% reduced GHG emissions by 2030 – an impossibility, having reneged the very tools for GHG reduction, namely, no-till farming, agrochemicals, modern seeds and gene technology. Organic agriculture strongly boosts GHG emissions through intense tillage, waterlogging of land for weed control, and composting for fertiliser, making a mockery of climate and biodiversity conservation efforts.
Sri Lanka has learnt its lesson, and planners must follow agricultural scientists and expel political monks and pseudo-ecologists who tout outdated technologies and ancient seeds in the name of tradition. The canard that ‘traditional rice varieties have immense nutritional benefits” must be rectified .
Self-sufficiency in clean energy is eminently achievable for Sri Lanka. It has one of the highest densities of aquatic bodies per hectare, a string of hydroelectric reservoirs and a national grid linking the land. US National Renewable Energy Lab in Colorado has studied Sri Lanka and Maldives and noted Lanka’s good potential for solar-energy.
In 2009 we proposed  that all reservoirs be equipped with floating solar panels, not only to generate electricity, but also to prevent water evaporation, automatically increasing hydro-electricity by some 30%. This boost is NOT subject to fluctuations due to changing cloud cover.
On the other hand, the electricity generated using wind or solar panels IS subject to such fluctuations, at ANY GIVEN LOCALITY. This “fickle” nature of solar- and wind- electricity has been used by the CEB engineers and some academics to discredit them as viable options for Sri Lanka. They have touted coal and LNG, utterly disregarding forex costs and environmental unsuitability.
In reality, when solar and wind energies are generated in MANY localities, and then saved in batteries or as head-water in reservoirs, then no fluctuation effects will be felt by the grid. The idling batteries of electric vehicles parked during the day can store Solar by V2G (vehicle-to-grid) plug-ins. The forex cost for such energy development is orders of magnitude cheaper and cleaner than for LNG and other touted solutions.
The potential from bio-energy, e.g., using castor seed for diesel oil , exploiting the ease of rapidly growing Castor could be exploited to provide a secure panoply of clean inexpensive energies for Sri Lanka.
Relevant basic ideas were laid out in 2009  and at least some pilot projects were appropriate. The nay-sayers won the day and Sri Lanka is starved of energy. Even today 100% conversion to renewable energy that does not need Forex is possible within a decade for Sri Lanka.
So, proposals to drill for oil in the Mannar basin, or unsolicited offers to set up nuclear power to solve Lanka’s energy problems should generally be rejected as undesirable and unnecessary
The three major problems facing Sri Lanka, namely (a) linguistic and local-government rights of minorities (b) energy and food security, (c) mitigating global warming effects, have all changed their character since the 1980s. These now have clear technological solutions.
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