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Midweek Review

Lanka caught up in Superpowers’ battle

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Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi in video conference with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on July 6 (pics courtesy Japanese Defence Ministry)

 

 

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Where do the political parties, represented in Parliament, stand on foreign policy? Caught between a deadly battle for supremacy between the West (US), backed by Japan, Australia, and India, and emerging power China, Sri Lanka is struggling to maintain a balance in foreign relations.

It must, however, be noted that South Korea has apparently refused to be part of the US-led Quad, ranged against China, for obvious reasons; we believe primarily being Seoul needs China’s help if it genuinely wants to reunite with North Koreas and other being economic. But whether it likes it or not, Seoul is part and parcel of whatever Washington strategy as it is virtually bonded to now solitary superpower since the Korean war of the early 1950s in which China fought the US and its allies to a stalemate.

South Korea recently also adopted a strongly critical position over Japanese announcement of plans to release toxic waste water from the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster to the Pacific Ocean, very much similar to warnings from Beijing over the issue.

Cash-strapped Colombo faces an extremely difficult situation against the backdrop of challenging economic challenges and political instability, caused by often opportunistic squabbling.

Both groups are determined to make Sri Lanka part of their overall strategic planning, in spite of the Western camp accusing the current Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government of being too close to China (Chinese Community Party). Sri Lanka’s relations with the US-led grouping cannot be examined without taking into consideration the enactment of the Colombo Port City Commission Bill, in May 2021 in spite of strong objections. Among those who opposed the Bill were the main Opposition, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), the United National Party (UNP), and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL).

It is pertinent to mention that CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Limited had been the principal sponsor of the National Law Conference 2020 at Jet Wing Blue, Negombo, where the controversial project was endorsed. But that didn’t discourage the BASL from moving the Supreme Court against the Colombo Port City Commission Bill. The funding made available by the Chinese government project to the BASL should be discussed along with United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsorship of the same event. Similarly the BASL, obviously, in its haste to secure financial support for mega events had no qualms in securing sponsorship for the 2016 Law Asia Conference from tainted primary dealer, Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), over a year after the exposure of its direct involvement in the first Central Bank treasury bond scam, perpetrated on Feb. 27, 2015. By the time, BASL held the event, in five-star comforts; the PTL had already perpetrated the second Treasury bond scam, in March 2016.

Let me discuss Sri Lanka’s foreign policy dilemma leaving questionable BASL transactions for another day. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy challenges cannot be deliberated without taking into account India’s growing relationship with the US and its role in Quad, comprising the US, Japan, Australia and Delhi Vis-a-Vis China.

India will continue to pursue its two-pronged strategy here – (i) preserve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that was forced on us by her to appease the Tamil community and (ii) be party to overall US strategy meant to meet the Chinese challenge. Facing China’s rapid military buildup and modernization of its armed forces, Japan, India, Australia and South Korea are compelled to play a larger role in their security alliances with Washington.

China’s Sri Lanka strategy suffered a severe setback in 2015 when Mahinda Rajapaksa failed in his bid to secure a third term. In spite of that, China managed to secure the Hambantota port, on a 99-year-lease.

The UNP installed President Maithripala Sirisena cooperated with Wickremesinghe to finalize the deal to give away on a 99-year lease the Hambantota port in 2017. China managed to wrangle through the Colombo Port City project after yahapalana rule at the onset caused quite a crisis by suspending the high profile venture.

Eventually, the then government gave in to pave the way for the Colombo Port City project. Whatever the rhetoric in and outside Parliament, both the UNP/SJB contributed to the legal authorization of the Colombo Port City project received in May this year.

 

Post-2015 Lanka-Japan relations

The change of government here, in 2015, paved the way for Japan to take its relationship with Sri Lanka to the next level. The recent conversation, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had with Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, should be viewed against the backdrop of the 2015 Japan-Sri Lanka Comprehensive Partnership. House of Representative member Kishi, of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is a younger brother of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and a grandson of former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.

The then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe signed the Comprehensive Partnership agreement on Oct 6, 2015 in Tokyo. The 25-point declaration dealt with Japanese warships of its Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) visiting Sri Lankan ports.

In terms of political consultations and maritime cooperation therein “Both leaders recognized the importance of cooperation and exchanges between the two defence establishments on maritime security…”.

Itsunori Onodera, also of the LDP, who served as the Defence Minister (Aug 2017-Oct 2018) visited the Trincomalee and Hambantota ports, in 2018. Before Kishi received the defence portfolio, in September, 2020, Takeshi Iwaya (Oct 2018-Sept 2019) and Taro Kono (Sept 2019-Sept 2020), both members of the LDP, held the key portfolio.

According to a Japanese Defence Ministry statement, issued on July 6, Defence Minister Kishi held a 30-minute teleconference, commencing 2.10 pm, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The following is the text of the statement issued from Tokyo: “Both sides exchanged views on bilateral defence cooperation and exchanges and welcomed the steady progress being made in a broad range of areas, including naval cooperation and aerial cooperation. In this context, both sides welcomed the bilateral exercise “JA-LAN EX” which was successfully conducted in September 2020, Maritime Self-Defence Force vessel’s first participation in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise hosted by Sri Lanka and the U.S., which took place last week, as well as the successful delivery of the online Air Rescue seminar in May 2021.Both sides confirmed that they will share knowledge and lessons learned from infectious disease control measures taken by the defence authorities. Furthermore, both sides concurred that Japan and Sri Lanka will further promote bilateral defence cooperation and exchanges based on the Memorandum on Defence Cooperation and Exchanges signed in 2019. Both sides also exchanged views on the recent regional security issues, including the East China Sea and the South China Sea. In this context, Minister Kishi expressed strong opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion in the East and South China Seas. Both sides affirmed that they will send a clear message about the importance of free, open, and rules-based maritime order. Both sides also concurred in maintaining close communication between respective defence authorities and proactively promoting defence cooperation and exchanges to uphold and reinforce a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

 

Regional security issues

Japan is at loggerheads with China. Japanese Defence Ministry statement released by the Japanese Embassy in Colombo dealt with what the US ally called regional security issues, including the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The Japanese Embassy also issued statements in Sinhala and Tamil regarding the discussion which covered both bilateral issues and regional security issues. Why on earth does Tokyo wants Sri Lanka to underscore the importance of free, open Indo-Pacific and rules-based maritime order? China’s disputes with Japan other states over territorial sovereignty and resource claims in the East and South China Seas are matter of grave concern. Obviously, Japan raised complex security concerns with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa because Tokyo considered Sri Lanka-China relations inimical to the interests of those opposed to rapid Chinese strides. Simmering disputes centre on (i) overlapping maritime resource claims and sovereign control over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands northeast of Taiwan, and (ii) the complex web of disputes between China and several Southeast Asian countries (Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan) over many islands, atolls, reefs, and shoals in the South China Sea. In addition to those issues, there are a range of disputes over naval operations within China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and ‘activities’ at other theatres. Japan and those who are concerned about Chinese military presence in other parts of the world, including Chinese investments in Sri Lanka conveniently forget significant US military presence in Japan, South Korea, Australia, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, Guam, etc. (On the invitation of US State Department, the writer had an opportunity to visit US military facilities in South Korea, as well as Hawaii in the ‘90s) et al. One-time Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera, during a high profile visit to Hambantota, commented on the availability of the Hambantota port leased to China to all countries. Japanese NHK TV covering Onodera’s visit to Sri Lanka, the first by a Japanese Defence Minister, stated: “Top defence officials of Japan and Sri Lanka have confirmed that a Sri Lankan port leased to China should be open to all countries to ensure freedom of navigation. Minister Onodera said the Hambantota port, in southern Sri Lanka, is located on a crucial shipping route. State Minister for Defense Ruwan Wijewardene said his country will not permit China to use the port for military purposes.”

Obviously, Japan, India, South Korea and Australia pursue a common strategy Vis- a- Vis Sri Lanka regardless of political developments here. Can we forget how former President Maithripala Sirisena finalised Access and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with the US in early August 2017? President Sirisena acknowledged the signing of ACSA at a meeting with senior representatives of print and electronic media at the President’s House in response to a query raised by the writer. The writer sought clarification from President Sirisena after he claimed he wouldn’t give into US pressure over ACSA, SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement) and MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) Compact under any circumstances. During Maithripala Sirisena’s tenure as the President, Sri Lanka engaged in a dialogue with the US over ACSA, MCC and SOFA. It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka first entered into ACSA way back in March 2007 with the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa signing the agreement on behalf of Sri Lanka.

 

13 A

India is deeply concerned about Sri Lanka’s close relationship with China. India put pressure on the previous Rajapaksa government to halt major Chinese infrastructure projects. India also sought US intelligence on the Hambantota port, at the onset of the Hambantota port project during the early stages of the war. India’s concern over the growing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka is exploited by Western powers to their advantage. However, India, on a collision course with China needs the US backing, though Washington humiliated Modi before the world by a much publicized denial of a visa to him to visit US in 2005. The US found fault with Modi for violence directed at the Muslim community in 2002. The US alleged that Modi’s Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) carried out the massacre of over 1,000 Indian Muslims. As a member of Quad, the US now expects New Delhi to play a certain crucial role against Beijing. The US seems confident of India’s wherewithal to meet the Chinese challenge, alongside Western powers. The pressure being mounted on Sri Lanka is part of that strategy. However, India has a separate project going on in Sri Lanka. A project meant to preserve the gains New Delhi made here in 1980s by enactment of the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution. While battling the Chinese, India is busy, cleverly advancing its political project by working with lawmakers and other interested parties, including ex-members of the LTTE. Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Gopal Baglay and Deputy High Commissioner K. Vinod and Political Councillor Mrs Banu Prakash over the past several months reiterated India’s support for devolution on the basis of full implementation of the 13 A and the early conduct of Provincial Council polls.

One-time LTTE field commander and ex-lawmaker Karuna (Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan), ex-LTTE cadre lawmaker Pillayan (Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan) were among those invited by the Indian High Commission.

However, the recent meet Baglay, Vinod and Prakash had with lawmakers of Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) is far more interesting as the outfit is part of the main Opposition SJB. Four TPA members elected on the SJB ticket met the Indian delegation at India House on July 6. The discussion covered what the Indian High Commission declared as the significance of the Indian Housing and other community development projects implemented in the plantation region.

India cannot be faulted for adopting strategies meant to advance its clout here. Over the years, Sri Lankan political parties have paved the way for external interventions with some members of Parliament repeatedly seeking foreign interventions. Some Tamil political parties represented in Parliament, early this year, sought foreign intervention here in the run-up to the 46th Geneva session.

The TNA led grouping urged member states of Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights council and (1)other organs of the United Nations, including the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly take up Sri Lanka accountability issue and take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms to inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity (ii) The President of the UNHRC refers matters on accountability in Sri Lanka back to the UN Secretary General for action as stated above (iii) Member States to mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to continue to monitor Sri Lanka for ongoing violations and have an OHCHR field presence in country and (iv) Without detracting from that which has been stated in point 1 above, take steps to establish an evidence gathering mechanism similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) in relation to Syria established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly with a strict time frame of twelve months duration.

Those relentlessly pushing Sri Lanka on the human rights front on the basis of unsubstantiated war crimes accusations are opposed to Sri Lanka’s relationship with China. The UK, in its capacity as the leader of self-appointed Sri Lanka Core Group and Canada embroiled in controversy over the secret deaths of nearly 900 indigenous children, who were recently found buried in unmarked graves are spearheading the campaign against Sri Lanka. The UK and Canada never bothered to inquire into how they contributed to terrorism in Sri Lanka by giving a free hand to the LTTE to raise funds and operate in their countries.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka lacked backbone, at least to set the record straight. Sri Lanka’s failure to efficiently counter war crimes accusations has facilitated high profile external project to snare the country in Geneva. The TNA that served the LTTE’s macabre cause till it was militarily defeated on the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon in May 2009, received recognition as the saviour of the Tamil community at the end of the conflict. The incumbent government is obviously incapable of setting the record straight. British High Commissioner Sarah Hulton recently received a TNA parliamentary delegation to discuss Sri Lanka’s human rights record. Perhaps, HC Hulton should have inquired from TNA leader R. Sampanthan the circumstances (i) he recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil community at the expense of his party and all other Tamil lawmakers (ii) engineered UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the 2005 presidential election and lastly (iii) backed General Sarath Fonseka at the 2010 presidential election having accused his Army of massacring thousands of Tamil civilians.

As long as Sri Lanka fails to address domestic issues, including rapidly deteriorating national economy due to the pandemic, waste, corruption, irregularities and negligence, foreign powers will have an opportunity to intervene. Sri Lanka is a glaring example of system failure. A simple scrutiny of COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), COPA (Committee on Public Accounts) and COPF (Committee on Public Finance) will reveal the pathetic situation. A weak economy opens the country for foreign interventions in various forms. Sri Lanka is certainly a case in point.



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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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