Jab and flat-earthers
Tuesday 14th September, 2021
Social media, if properly used, can be a boon to a country, but in the hands of troublemakers bent on disseminating fake news, they could be as harmful, if not dangerous, as cut-throat razors wielded by mad monkeys. Unfortunately, some Sri Lankans tend to fall for baseless claims published on the Internet, hook, line, and sinker.
Reports that some Sri Lankan youth are wary of being inoculated against Covid-19 owing to false claims being circulated on social media about the vaccines have caused much concern to the health experts in charge of the national vaccination drive. The youth who fall for bogus claims that the Covid-19 jabs will adversely impact their libido and fertility, and therefore refuse to be vaccinated are making a huge mistake; they are exposing themselves to the danger of contracting Covid-19, which kills people of all ages indiscriminately. One’s libido and fertility do not survive one’s death, do they?
Anti-vaxxers are active on the Internet as never before. There is hardly anything these flat-earthers do not do to instill fear of vaccines into others. Their scaremongering is a threat to global health. What they believe in is the very antithesis of science, and nothing is stupider than to buy into their claims and remain unvaccinated.
What the Sri Lankan youth troubled by the jab scare, as it were, should bear in mind is that they have already taken several vaccines against viral diseases and benefited tremendously therefrom; they have been given the MMR vaccine, among others, to protect them against highly contagious diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella. No harm has befallen them; instead these jabs have helped them remain healthy. It is science and nothing else that has enabled Sri Lanka to eradicate the polio menace. So, why fear vaccines that save lives?
True, vaccines could have some side-effects, which are rare, but impotence and infertility/subfertility are certainly not among them, medical experts inform us. There is an element of risk in almost everything—even in the act of crossing a road; does this mean people should stop walking on roads? There are rare instances where infants choke to death on mother’s milk, but this does not mean children should not be breastfed.
‘There’s a sucker born every minute’, American showman, P. T. Barnum, is reported to have said. This is a truism if the sheer number of gullible people amongst us is any indication. There have been numerous instances of mass hysteria in this country. Some years ago, many people claimed to have seen colourful rays emanating from some religious statues. When a carpenter turned self-proclaimed native physician claimed to have found a cure for Covid-19 with the help of a goddess, thousands of people went running to his village to buy his herbal syrup. Among those he took for a ride were the then Health Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, a large number of MPs and even some doctors. A national university went so far as to grant the untested product ethical clearance. So, it is only natural that there are many Sri Lankans who believe in false claims disseminated on social media about the Covid-19 vaccines.
During the last several days, we have seen young men and women queue up near vaccination centres in an orderly manner. They have earned praise for their exemplary behaviour, and set an example to the elderly folk who shove and jostle to receive vaccines, making a nuisance of themselves to the police and health workers.
The youth who are said to be wary of being vaccinated against Covid-19 owing to misconceptions and unfounded fears ought to emulate the aforesaid intelligent men and women, stop believing in non-science, and go running to grab a jab. That is the way they can prove that they are as smart as the mobile phones they carry, and not a bunch of flat-earthers.
Wednesday 29th March, 2023
Former President Maithripala Sirisena has requested the public to help him pay compensation for his lapses to prevent the Easter Sunday terror attacks in 2019. The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered him to pay Rs. 100 million as compensation. He would have the public believe that there are only three months left for him to carry out the SC order, and he will have to go to jail if he fails to do so. Whether anyone will be so stupid as to part with his or her money in a bid to prevent a politician from going to jail remains to be seen. What made Sirisena think that the discerning public will spend their hard-earned money to deny themselves the pleasure of seeing a political leader behind bars?
Sirisena is trying to make himself out to be so poor that he cannot raise Rs. 100 million! It is doubtful whether he will succeed in his endeavour. His has been a rags-to-riches story, and the same goes for all other Sri Lankan politicians. The people who enabled them to achieve success in life are still in rags, struggling to keep the wolf from the door!
Sirisena is one of the politicians who have mastered the art of pulling the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting public. He took the masses for a right royal ride and achieved his presidential dream in 2015. He did so by shedding copious tears for the victims of the Rajapaksa misrule and promising to usher in good governance and throw the members of the Medamulana clan behind bars for their crimes, but a few years after securing the presidency, he unashamedly closed ranks with his betes noires and cocked a snook at the public. He famously used a cheap ballpoint pen to sign papers at his induction ceremony in January 2015 but did not scruple to allocate public funds with a generous hand for refurbishing a palatial state-owned house with a view to occupying it in retirement. Thankfully, his plan seems to have gone pear-shaped. He was more airborne than ‘chairborne’ as the President, and it will be interesting to know how much his numerous whirlybird rides and foreign travel cost the state coffers.
It is his abject failure to ensure public security, in his capacity as the President and Minister of Defence, that the SC has asked Sirisena to pay compensation for, and why on earth should the people help him? Sri Lankans, no doubt, deserve punishment for having elected failed politicians as their leaders over the years but, in our book, the suffering they are undergoing due to their country’s bankruptcy could be considered their comeuppance and no other punishment is required.
Gone are the days when the rich died poor in politics in this country after spending all their money for the good of the public. Today, the indigent and their families amass colossal amounts of wealth thanks to politics. None of the prodigal scions of the present-day political families have any discernible sources of income but are living the life of Riley, sporting expensive designer wear, moving about in flashy vehicles and having fairytale weddings while the children of the ordinary public are undergoing untold hardships and being tear-gassed and baton-charged for trying to win their rights.
A presidential election costs the candidates of the main political parties billions of rupees. How did Sirisena, who claims to be in penury, raise funds for his presidential election campaign? His younger brother, Dudley, is one of those who helped him financially.
Dudley is a member of the Rice Millers’ Mafia, which has earned notoriety for exploiting farmers and consumers alike with impunity. He would not have been able to achieve success without Sirisena’s backing. There are many others whom Sirisena helped in numerous ways; he even granted a presidential pardon to a convicted murderer on death row. It is up to them to provide him with necessary funds to pay compensation in keeping with the SC order, if he is really in need of money.
Crime of booing
Tuesday 28th March, 2023
The efficiency of the police is truly amazing, the only problem being that it is selective. Our brave cops sprang into action and arrested a person after giving chase in Homagama over the weekend. His crime? He booed Minister Bandula Gunawardena while driving past a ceremony where the latter was laying the foundation stone for the construction of a Buddhist shrine.
What is the world coming to when those who have plundered public wealth, committed many crimes including murder and bankrupted the country are given police protection and citizens who express their displeasure at the government by booing are arrested? The Buddha forgave those who even tried to kill him, didn’t he? So, it defies comprehension why anyone should be arrested for jeering at a politician at a Buddhist religious event.
There is reason to believe that the police went above and beyond the call of duty to please Minister Gunawardena. Opinion may be divided on the protester’s action and the reaction of the police, but that is not what we intend to discuss, today. Suffice it to say that booing is symptomatic of bubbling public anger, which the government cannot contain with the help of the police. When a youth was arrested in April 2021 for sounding the car horn in protest against the police closing a road in Borella for a motorcade transporting a group of foreign dignitaries to pass, the media rightly questioned the wisdom of the government and warned that the situation was likely to take a turn for the worse. Police action did not deter the public from protesting. Subsequently, the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa himself was booed while he was passing a long line of people near a milk food outlet. A few months later, the people took to the streets and ousted the President. That is how public anger wells up and fuels uprisings.
The police have reached peak performance during the past several months; their remarkable feats include using batons as magic wands to make unruly protesters in robes levitate over tall walls of the Education Ministry! While hunting down undergraduates, they have also arrested some underworld kingpins. When a restaurant owner was gunned down in Hanwella recently, not many expected his killer to be even identified, but the hired gun, known as Booru Moona was arrested in record time. The crime busters have also taken into custody some key figures in a drug cartel run by a criminal known as Harak Kata, who was arrested in Madagascar and extradited.
Curiously, the police lack this kind of high-octane performance where some crimes are concerned. The killers of a large number of persons including The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen are still at large, and their family members and friends have been seeking justice for more than a decade.
Worse, the police sometimes choose to turn a blind eye to serious offences committed under their nose. A few weeks ago, there was a public outcry over the presence of a large number of ‘unidentified’ armed men in uniform similar to that of the army near a university students’ protest in Colombo. Armed with assault rifles and clubs and iron rods, they were operating alongside the army and the police in full view of the media and the public. Both the army and the police have said those men are not their personnel. If so, who are they? It is a non-bailable criminal offence for anyone to carry firearms without permission and he or she must be arrested and produced in court. The police should have arrested those characters before cracking down on the protesting undergrads.
Will the police, who swing into action and arrest jeerers before one could say ‘boo’, so to speak, explain why they have not cared to identify the armed men who were seen with them near the Colombo University recently?
Tissue of lies and other issues
Monday 27th March, 2023
There is no bigger lie than the oft-repeated claim in some quarters that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution has helped strengthen democracy by ridding vital state institutions of dirty politics. Perhaps, the doormat at the entrance to the President’s Office receives better treatment than the supposedly independent Election Commission (EC), which suffers many indignities at the hands of some government politicians.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena was economical with the truth, which he also stretched and bent, in Parliament on Friday, when the Opposition questioned him on the postponement of the local government (LG) elections. The PM, who is also the Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government, said he would meet the members of the EC for a discussion on poll-related issues soon. There is nothing to be discussed about elections! The government should either allocate funds for the LG polls or officially inform the public that it is scared of facing an electoral contest and therefore cannot hold the mini polls. Its refusal to release funds for elections on some flimsy grounds has only eroded public confidence in the electoral process, and given a turbo boost to anti-politics, which is manifestly on the rise and rapidly eating into the vitals of the state.
It is a pity that PM Gunawardena, who gained national prominence by standing up to a dictatorial UNP government under President J. R. Jayewardene, taking up the cudgels for the people’s franchise and winning the Maharagama by-election, in 1983, against tremendous odds, is now backing those who are all out to put off elections. President Jayewardene scrapped the 1982 general election for fear of losing his five-sixths majority in Parliament, and held a heavily-rigged referendum instead, undertaking to hold by-elections in the electorates where the UNP would lose. He had to hold 18 such by-elections, four of which were won by the Opposition despite large-scale rigging and violence unleashed by the UNP. Anil Moonesinghe, Richard Pathirana and Amarasiri Dodangoda won the Matugama, Akmeemana and Baddegama electorates, respectively. Forty years on, Gunawardena and the late Pathirana’s son, Ramesh, are backing Jayewardene’s nephew, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is putting off elections!
Unfortunately, it is Finance Ministry Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena who has had to take all the flak for not making funds available to the EC. He has become a soft target that everybody who lacks the courage to take on President Wickremesinghe turns on. Government Printer, Gangani Liyanage, is also in a similar predicament. Siriwardena allocated funds for the EC, albeit in dribs and drabs, before being asked by the Cabinet and the President in no uncertain terms to stop doing so. The government has pinioned him to the wall, and the Opposition worthies are punching him, and not those who deserve their blows. Let those heroes be urged to pluck up the courage to attack the President instead of turning on the public officials whom the government has put in the straitjacket of zero-based budgeting. These mandarins find themselves in an unenviable position; the government is preventing them from carrying out their duties and functions according to their conscience, and the Opposition is bashing them.
The SLPP MPs keep saying that they want the LG elections held. It is they who postponed the mini polls first, in 2022. However, if these politicians who are as crooked as a barrel of fish hooks are being truthful for once, then it will be seen that all members of Parliament, save the single UNP member and perhaps several others who have pledged their allegiance to President Wickremesinghe, are against the postponement of elections, and, worse, the President is refusing to allocate funds for the LG polls against the will of the vast majority of MPs! Parliament controls public finance, and therefore it must be allowed to decide whether to allocate funds for elections. Let a resolution be presented to Parliament to that effect and a vote taken thereon urgently.
Minister Kanchana Wijesekera informed Parliament, on Thursday (23), that President Wickremesinghe had asked for a division by name on the government’s agreement with the IMF so that the public would know who was supportive of the IMF programme and who was not. The same modus operandi could be adopted, if a vote is taken anent the LG polls, so that the public will know who actually wants the elections put off. This is the most democratic way of deciding whether to hold the LG polls or postpone them.
North Korea is reported to have recently tested a secret weapon capable of causing tsunamis. The Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe regime, which often warns that Sri Lanka might end up being a country like the hermit kingdom unless its economic programme is followed, has resorted to an ill-advised course of action that is fraught with the danger of triggering a tsunami of public anger. Its members have apparently forgotten the firenado, as it were, which hit them in May 2022.
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