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Lest they shoudl be forgotten: The pride of Mother Lanka

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It is said that the people of Brazil built a 60-foot statue of legendary Brazilian tennis player, Maria Bueno, in recognition of her achievements. She was the only Brazilian female tennis player to have ever won the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Title; in fact, not just once, but thrice.

By Dr B. J. C. Perera

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and a sportsman

A few weeks ago, it was a beautiful sight to behold, and such a humbling experience to see as well, one of our countrymen kneeling in front of our lovely National Flag spread on the surface of the athletic track and worshipping it in a sporting arena in Tokyo, Japan. Then we saw the magnificent spectacle of that very same man ever so proudly standing in the centre first position in the winner’s podium, with the very first gold medal any Sri Lankan sportsperson has ever won in any Olympiad, with our glorious National Anthem being played for the very first time ever in an Olympic event. It definitely did make all of us feel proud to the core, to be Sri Lankans. Those outstanding visual images would live on forever throughout the corridors of time.

The man who brought all this glory to our beloved Motherland is the Paralympic javelin thrower Dinesh Priyantha Herath. We salute this great son of Sri Lanka and are over the moon to declare our intense pride in his achievement. He is a man who was injured in battle in our 30-year long war and his never-say-die attitude and charisma is a wonderful lesson to all Sri Lankans.

In these dreary days of a COVID-19 pandemic, it was a soothing balm to take away the misery and chaos caused by a tiny virus, at least for a little while. Scores of people who saw the entire event on television would have had misty eyes of joy and pride in his achievement. I know that it was so for me too. The icing on the cake of that triumph is that he broke the World Record in the F46 category with a throw of 67.79 metres in a searing atmospheric temperature of 33 degrees Celsius in full and bright sunshine in Tokyo.

It really was a victory secured through blood, sweat and guts. In a telling gesture of love, he dedicated his gold medal to his wife, who looked after him, their children and the closely knit family. WHAT A MAN? WHAT AN ACHIEVER? WHAT A FABULOUS SOURCE OF INSPIRATION TO ALL OUR SPORTSPERSONS? Most definitely the Pride of the whole of Sri Lanka.

In his shadow, there is his dedicated veteran coach Pradeep Nishantha who made it all possible. Only a sportsperson will know the seminal role played by a coach in the success of a sportsperson who is in his or her charge. Pradeep Nishantha must surely have worked as hard as Dinesh Priyantha to make the latter a world-beater. We need to heartily congratulate Pradeep Nishantha too.

In the ecstasy of the ground-breaking feat of Dinesh Priyantha Herath, there is perhaps another achievement that has gone almost unnoticed. There is another sportsman; the southpaw Samitha Dulan Kodituwakku, who secured a Bronze Medal with a throw of 65.61 metres in Tokyo in a different F64 Javelin Throwing event. That is no mean accomplishment either. He may have come third but an Olympic Medal is just that; an OLYMPIC MEDAL. He deserves our accolades for such an accomplishment too. We are all so proud of him too.

Politicians of various hues of attachment nearly fell over each other to congratulate Dinesh Priyantha. When the euphoria calms down and the dust settles, many will forget about this great man. Unfortunately, it is the ever so lamentable Sri Lankan culture. But he is of such stature, literally and metaphorically, that we cannot allow him to be forgotten. In fact, we cannot allow Pradeep Nishantha and Samitha Dilan Kodituwakku to be forgotten either. We need to do much more for all three of them; we need to make absolutely sure that they are rewarded in a most proper way that they would remember forever.

It is said that the people of Brazil built a 60-foot statue of legendary Brazilian tennis player, Maria Bueno, in recognition of her achievements. She was the only Brazilian female tennis player to have ever won the Wimbledon Ladies Singles Title; in fact, not just once, but thrice.

We do not have to go as far as the Brazilians went, to honour our heroes mentioned in this article. It is essential that all of us recognise and felicitate them in a most fitting manner. They have to be rewarded in a manner which will make them to never ever have to look around for money, or anything else of concern to them, ever again. We do hope that our government, the sports bodies and many a philanthropist would ensure that this will be done.

Then, all of us would be able to sit back and perhaps bask in the glory of the thought that we have done our heroes proud by this gesture of appreciation and goodwill for their contribution towards the aggrandizement of sports. After all, they richly deserve it. They are the world-beating Sri Lankans. They are the pride and glory of our beloved Motherland. They should not be forgotten; NEVER EVER.



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Opinion

Cosmic Egg, Jealousy and Rhetoric

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Remarks I made (The Island, 12 Oct) on Upul Wijayawardhana’s article on Astronomy, Astrology, Cosmology, etc., in The Island  of 07 October, weren’t at all meant to be ‘snide’ or derogatory as he wrongly alleges in his 15 October The Island article! I just would have liked him to delve somewhat deeper into the subjects he referred to in his article’s title, without fanning out tongue-in-cheek (his phrase) in various directions anecdotally. He listed scientists doing excellent work both at home and abroad, throwing in vignettes too from their lives. This is inspiring, of course, and cause for much pride; but it would have been more useful if he had included, even briefly, some specific findings from their work that had a bearing on his article’s title.

I am sorry I did not ‘expand’ more on the ‘cosmic-egg’ as, he says, he had wished. Far finer heads are grappling with it with little or no success; its understanding could well be even outside the confines of science as we know it. My purpose was to point out that the Big-Bang couldn’t have been the start of it all, as casually accepted by some. Let’s be happy anyway that the ‘cosmic-egg’ did  ‘expand’ by itself to make the Universe – even without my help!

 In his  15 October article again in a familiar vein, he asks in his title,  ‘Jealousy: is it in our genes?’  As before, he then wavers away to give detailed accounts of some scientists doing excellent work abroad, and of Yohani, the successful young singer, and exhorts us, I assume, not to be jealous of them. Message taken; thanks!

To return to his rhetorical title, if jealousy is indeed in our genes no DNA sequence has been found for it as yet, but fingers are always crossed!

Let’s not scoff at it overmuch either; jealousy’s quite human; and harmless too – but only if indulged in extremely lightly and in passing; it could even prompt initiative and creativity!

 IVOR TITTAWELLA

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Opinion

President must match his words with deeds

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accompanied by Army Commander General Shavendra Silva for the Army Day celebrations at Saliyapura

We were pleased to read the recent speech delivered at the 72nd anniversary of the Gajaba Regiment by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in which he admitted about the voter disillusionment in his government. We are aware that the government had to contend with unprecedented issues on account of the Covid epidemic, and had to give priority in seeking solutions to the challenges by imposing restrictions to the economic and social activities; while channelling limited resources to medical supplies and social service facilities.

If the President is prepared to review and turn a new page for the improvement of the country, one should expect the President to rehash the decision-making procedure of the Government. The voters are of the view that some of the crucial steps adopted, were either introduced or implemented in some instances, without recognising the impact on the country’s sovereignty and security.

As an initial step, the President should consider appointing a National Planning Committee with nationalist-minded experts, to work on a programme to tackle key economic issues and management of nationally important strategic centres for the next four years. Without proceeding ahead haphazardly and creating crisis situations, once such decisions are adopted, if the government can adhere to a plan with a nationalist vision, it will be acceptable to the voters who elected the President. Such a plan should also investigate the country’s priorities, future stability, resources, and national security. The implementation should be transparent and accountable.

Let us examine some of the issues which were tackled without a proper plan, which resulted in causing frustration and disappointment among the voters and the public. The method of overseeing the pricing and supply of commodities, such as sugar, rice, garlic, gas cylinders, etc was atrocious, which brought untold hardships to the consumer and to the producers. The complete mismanagement must be admitted by the government, and a more rational formula will have to be adopted, if the plan is to take the country systematically forward. It is necessary to exercise detailed examination of the supply chain, the storage facilities, and the Government outlets, to get rid of the unconscionable profiteers awaiting to fleece the consumers and marginalise the public organisations, which are established to protect the consumers. Once a rational decision is taken, the government should pursue the implementation with determination; rather than surrender to the dictates of the unscrupulous middlemen who hold onto the stocks, causing loss of confidence of the public.

A crucial area which needs urgent review is how to regulate luxury and semi-luxury imports, which consumes a considerable amount of foreign exchange earned by export of goods and services, including the foreign remittances of Sri Lankan workers. At least as a short term measure, the free trade introduced by JRJ about 40 years ago, should be re-examined and suitable qualitative controls should be introduced, to curb the outflow of foreign exchange for non-essential goods.

The President’s holistic decision on the banning of chemical fertiliser is, indeed, a step in the right direction, which will bring expected results in the improvement in soil and water quality and the general health of the masses. However, such a crucial decision was not followed professionally to ascertain the availability of other nutrients, and enough supply of compost fertiliser to apply in the following growing season. The unscientific method of managing the subject gave opportunities to many to engage in public agitation against this holistic decision.

It was, indeed, ironic to hear the slogans mouthed by ‘farmers’ of 2021 demanding chemical fertiliser, whereas their fathers were demonstrating in 1970s decrying the government’s and the officials’ dictates to replace bio-fertilizers with chemical fertiliser to ‘usher in thegreen revolution ‘. It is the wish of the majority of the population to get rid of the vicious cycle of poisoning, resulting from the use of chemical fertiliser, and we would request the government to take the required steps in the right direction to implement the laudable decision effectively and efficiently.

We need a clear and dedicated policy in relation to our international relations. We must always be nonaligned in our dealings with the big powers who are engaged in a global power game.

We should know the friendly nations who stood by Sri Lanka when it waged war with Tamil Tiger terrorists and subsequently at UNHCR, and about the other countries which attempted to crucify Sri Lanka for defeating the world’s most brutal terrorist organisation. Their attempts to continue persecuting Sri Lanka will naturally weaken the Sri Lankan state, and at all times Sri Lanka should express her rejection of such vicious attempts, and should bring these facts at bi-lateral discussions and multilateral conferences.

India, our neighbour, is leaving no stone unturned until we have PCs and with all powers. Most of the Sri Lankans do not want PCs, an additional tier of administration at a cost of colossal expenditure and with practically no benefits. At a time when Sri Lankans are required to tighten their belts and manage expenditure, the Government must convey to India that all issues can be managed under the present unitary system of Government. Sri Lanka should be noticeably clear on this issue to enable Sri Lanka-India international relationship to prosper. Sri Lanka should also continue bi-lateral discussions with India regarding oil tanks in Trinco, as to how these can be used for the economic development of the country, assuring that Sri Lanka will not allow any other country to have any control over the strategically important Trincomalee harbour. Recently an Indian writer has stated that India does not bother to understand her neighbouring countries, and decides on inter-state policies without considering the expectations of her neighbours. Imposing PCs on Sri Lanka and insistence on the implementation of the failed proposal emanated from the Indian centralised foreign policy machinery, which in this instance primarily addressed the aspirations of the Tamil Nadu agitators, who were expressing their support for the separatists in Sri Lanka. India’s strategy was to kill two birds with one stone, and executed its policy of proposing PCs to weaken the central government of Sri Lanka, while appeasing the extremists in Tamil Nadu to divert their attention from their own struggle for a separatist racist state in India. Sri Lanka should be firm in rejecting the Indian formula to destabilize the country, and continue to address the common issues faced by ordinary people in Sri Lanka, including the minorities living in the periphery.

The mandate given by the public clearly stated that the proportional representation system should be changed, and all future elections should be held according to the number of electorates, and members should represent the electorates based on the percentage of votes gained by the candidates. All who investigated into the system introduced by JRJ were of the view that the system breeds corruption and bribery, while precluding the visible representation of an electorate.

The President recently invited the expatriate Tamil groups, presumably as an effort to improve reconciliation of Sinhala and Tamil views and expectations. Such discussions should be based on specific conditions that the participants do not support separatism in Sri Lanka, and they accept a unitary Sri Lanka. Otherwise, such discussions will only provide opportunities to reopen the subject of traditional homelands, pushing the country back to the unenviable 1990s.

RANJITH SOYSA

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Opinion

Gamble of Provincial Council elections at this time

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By Jehan Perera

There are indications that the government is planning to conduct Provincial Council elections in the early part of next year.  It is reported that the cash-strapped government will be providing parliamentarians, who are in charge of district development, with Rs 100 million each to engage in development activities in their electorates.  In addition, former members of Provincial Councils, and local government authority members will also be entitled to substantial monetary resources to do likewise.  If these large sums of money are made available to politicians to spend prior to the election, they could contribute to the thinking that the government is investing in development for better times, ahead despite the hardships of the present. But the cost of this gamble which will include printing money could be high, so there must be other motivations.

The present situation on the ground is hardly propitious to the conduct of elections.  The economy is in deep trouble with foreign exchange reserves threatening to be negative if scheduled foreign loans are repaid on time unless there is a fresh infusion of foreign loans.   Among the several reasons why foreign exchange is scarce is that the government is keeping the foreign exchange rate artificially low instead of letting market forces determine the price.  This is no different from the price controls that the government attempted to place on rice which led to hoarding and artificial scarcities notwithstanding the declaration of a state of emergency to deal with the hoarders.  If the government relaxes the exchange rate it is likely that the foreign exchange rate, will soar and prices of imports will soar likewise, adding to the inflation in the country.

Some of the present day economic problems are beyond the control of the government to resolve. These would include the loss of economic production due to the months of lockdown that followed the rise in Covid spread.  The contribution of the tourism industry to the economy has been much diminished due to the closure of the country’s airports to prevent infection spread from abroad.  However, some of the economic setbacks have been self-inflicted.  The biggest one is the implementation of the chemical-free agriculture policy on a scale that has no precedent in any other country in the world.  Even the most economically advanced countries, such as Germany, where there is a  high demand for organic food, has only devoted around 10 percent of its agricultural land to chemical-free agriculture. And Switzerland, known as one of the cleanest countries in the world, recently rejected the banning of pesticides at a referendum as voters felt it was impractical.

SINGLEMINDED COMMITMENT

The government has so far shown a singular commitment to going ahead with the decision to have chemical-free agriculture.  There has been some concession to big business interests such as in the case of the tea industry. Some of the necessary chemical inputs for fertiliser are being permitted. However, this is an exception and the general rule that agriculture should take place without chemical inputs continues to prevail.   So far there has not been flexibility shown with the farming community who are coming out publicly in protest as they are seeing their harvests being reduced.  These protests are taking place in all parts of the country and in some areas the small farmers have not been planting crops fearing that the yield will be too small. The government has offered compensation but, given the financial crisis it is in, this is unlikely to materialise in the short term.

 The government’s present policy on organic agriculture appears to be following a military logic that sees the objective clearly and goes for it at all costs. One of the key features of democratic governance is that consultations take place with those whose interests are bound up with issues prior to the implementation of change.  These consultations need to take place at multiple levels over a period of time if the decision being made is likely to have major consequences.  Further it is not sufficient to practice tokenism in consultations.  Often consultations take place but the views generated are not heeded.  Those who consult sometimes appear to be listening but do not really listen nor are they willing to change their preconceived attitudes and plans.  The essence of democratic government is to be responsive to public opinion, and to educate public opinion on new measures that need to be taken in the larger interests of society.

 On the positive side, and to the credit of the government, it is providing space for public protests against its policies.  Speaking in New York at the UN General Assembly, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said he had instructed the police not to use batons and violence to break up peaceful protests.  Restraint has been shown in the case of the three-month long strike by government school teachers who continue to be paid their salaries while doing no work.  There were initial signs of harsh restraint when Covid control laws were used to detain some of the teachers who were leading the protests.  At this time these strong arm methods of control have stopped.  Unfortunately, however, the problems that the organic farming problems and teachers’ strike pose show no signs of being resolved through compromise.

 MULTIPLE MOTIVATIONS

There may be multiple motivations in holding Provincial Council elections at the present time.  These elections are already three years overdue.  The previous government failed to conduct the elections fearing that a bad performance would send a negative message to people who were already moving away from it. They changed the election law to make it more difficult to hold elections again. However, unlike the previous government, the present government leadership is made of sterner stuff when it comes to holding elections and winning them. It appears to be planning new strategies to regain the upper hand.  The 2022 budget which is to be presented to Parliament later this month will offer the government an opportunity to address the immediate concerns of voters at least in the short term. They may also see elections at this juncture as being helpful to ensure political authority and benefits for its second tier of leaders who will be satisfied with them at the moment.

 There is also speculation that the government’s sudden decision to conduct Provincial Council elections is the result of pressure from the Indian government. It is notable that the government’s announcement was made shortly after the visit to Sri Lanka of India’s Foreign Secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla.  At his meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa he had reiterated India’s position regarding the need to fully implement the 13th Amendment and to hold the Provincial Council elections at the earliest. During his visit the Indian Foreign Secretary had also urged the Tamil political parties not to look to India for a solution to their problems but to discuss the issues that trouble them and resolve them in dialogue with the Sri Lankan government.

 In this context, the decision of the government to go ahead with Provincial Councial elections is the silver lining to the grey clouds that overhang the country.  It is an indication that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being consistent with the pledges he made in New York at the UN General Assembly.  The holding of Provincial Council elections, even in the present disadvantageous political situation that the government is in gives a positive message that the President is not neglecting his promises to the international community with regard to the reconciliation process. Addressing the root causes of the war and bringing reconciliation between the communities needs to be the number one priority of any government.  The provincial council system as presently constituted is in need of improvement, both in terms of the distribution of powers and resources, but it is the way forward if the ethnic and religious minorities are to feel they are a part of governance structures of the country, and hence co-architects of a shared future in which there is national reconciliation.

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