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Editorial

Macho Neanderthals

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Tuesday 19th January, 2021

Some female local government members have come together to form a front against discrimination and harassment they face in their councils. They have called upon all female representatives throughout the country to sink their political differences and join forces to safeguard their rights, according to a news item we published yesterday. This initiative deserves encouragement and assistance from everyone.

It is heartening that female councillors have decided to go public with their grievances instead of suffering in silence. Such action is bound to have a deterrent effect on the shameless councillors who apparently make themselves feel important at the expense of their female counterparts. These elements, we believe, need the assistance of men in white coats.

A member of the female councillors’ collective against discrimination and harassment has told the media that not even their freedom of expression is respected at council meetings, which are dominated by overbearing, ill-tempered men who turn aggressive and abusive at the drop of a hat. Whenever women took the floor, they were greeted by catcalls and boos from men in kapati suit, she complained. This sorry state of affairs has curiously gone unnoticed by the political party leaders, who are full of praise for women when they make public speeches. All political parties have women’s wings and their manifestos contain pledges to safeguard women’s rights, but female local council members continue to suffer. Perhaps, this should not surprise anyone, given the sheer number of political dregs in the garb of people’s representatives; they are no respecters of fellow humans, much less women. It is doubtful whether they respect even their own mothers and sisters.

Women account for more than one half of Sri Lanka’s population, but sadly this is not reflected in the number of elected representatives. Politics remains a male-dominated field, and this may explain why it is rotten to the core and stinks. Perhaps, it is only in the Maharagama UC that women have received their due share of representation; out of its 47 members 24 are women, as our news item said, quoting a female councillor, who alleged that even in that institution, women’s rights were suppressed. Gender-based discrimination is a punishable offence, and it is puzzling how the misogynistic elements among the local government members have gone scot-free.

Parliament legislated for increasing female representation in local government institutions and introduced a new electoral system. It was no doubt a very progressive step. But what is the use of increasing the number of female councillors if their rights are not safeguarded or they cannot even have themselves heard at council meetings?

Meanwhile, in January 2016, some female MPs revealed to the media, on condition of anonymity, that they underwent sexual harassment in Parliament. They accused some randy male counterparts who were old enough to be their fathers of making advances and cracking dirty jokes at their expense. They stopped short of naming names, though. The then Speaker Karu Jayasuriya promised a probe and requested the victims to make formal complaints. But nobody came forward for fear of either reprisal or stigma, or both.

The alliance being forged against gender-based discrimination should be expanded to include female MPs as well if it is to evolve as a formidable force. Then only will its voice be heard in Parliament.

All those who abhor harassment and discrimination that female representatives suffer, in political institutions, at the hands of the spineless creatures who call themselves men must stand up and be counted. These misogynists must be named and shamed before being hauled up before courts. Let their victims be urged to make official complaints of instances of assault on human dignity and reveal the names of culprits to the media. Female electors must stop voting for these politicians by way of punishment.

Shame on the self-righteous political leaders who have given misogynists within the ranks of their parties quite a long leash! It is high time these macho Neanderthals were reined in.

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Editorial

Estranged strange bedfellows

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Tuesday 2nd March, 2021

The JVP has torn the Easter Sunday Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) report to shreds. Its leaders have picked many holes in the document, and their arguments are tenable. Their position is that the PCoI has served no useful purpose as it has failed to identify the masterminds of the terror strikes. One cannot but agree with them on this score.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, MP, has gone a step further; he has demanded to know why Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was the Prime Minister at the time of the Easter Sunday attacks, has been let off the hook. We asked the JVP a similar quetion when the COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises), which probed the Treasury bond scams, went out of its way to ensure that Wickremesinghe’s name did not appear in its report. The COPE probe, under the chairmanship of the then JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti, was a farce. The JVP ran with the Opposition and hunted with the UNP, so to speak. Its notables stand accused of having had nocturnal meetings with Wickremesinghe and other UNP leaders (most of whom are currently in the SJB) to decide how to deal with the political enemies of the yahapalana government.

So, the defenders of the Easter Sunday PCoI report may ask the JVP what moral right it has to demand that the identities of the masterminds of the 2019 bomb attacks be revealed. Those who peddle this argument should realise that the present-day JVP is vastly different from its former self, as it were. It conducts itself very democratically, and its election campaigns are exemplary. It has parliamentary representation, and its leader is a member of the very Parliament, which it once bombed. Battles for manape, or preferential votes, are absent among JVP candidates. So, the JVP’s ugly past should not be held against it. But the outfit, which always takes moral high ground and looks down upon others, needs to be asked how it could reconcile its concern for human rights and democracy with the practice of commemorating its late leaders who destroyed thousands of lives and properties worth billions of rupees and brutally suppressed political dissent; among their victims were leaders of political parties and trade unions, students, teachers, Buddhist monks and civilians who dared exercise their franchise. Shouldn’t it publicly disown its leaders who were a bunch of bloodthirsty terrorists if it is to convince the public that its current democratic agenda is not a façade?

Why has the JVP taken to bashing Ranil? It is in the current predicament with only three seats in Parliament, where it had six members previously, because it got too close to the ‘capitalist’ UNP, which eliminated its key leaders in the late 1980s. It was also represented in the so-called National Executive Council, which determined the agenda of the UNP-led yahapalana government, initially. In 2018, it threw a lifeline to the UNP-led government, which the SLPP and the then President Maithripala Sirisena sought to oust in the most despicable manner. It declared that it had done so to save democracy, but nobody bought into that claim. It is now trying to have the public believe that it has had nothing to do with the UNP.

Interestingly, the JVP’s honeymoon with the SLFP in 2004, when it contested a general election as part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance, enabled it to have 39 of its candidates elected; it also donated two National List slots to the SLFP. Its leaders even beat their SLFP counterparts in Colombo, Gampaha and Kurunegala in manape battles. But its clandestine affair with the UNP proved both politically and electorally disastrous! So, it is now bashing Ranil as hard as it can in the hope that it will be able to be seen to be anti-UNP. Whether it will succeed in its endeavour remains to be seen. People are the best judges.

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Editorial

Politicisation of tragedies

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Monday 1st March, 2021

The Opposition has got hold of something to beat the government with. The final report issued by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday carnage has come in handy for it. The SLPP made a lot of political capital out of the security failures that led to the terror strikes under the yahapalana government, and came to power, promising to expose and punish all those who were responsible for the carnage. Now, the boot is on the other foot.

The SJB, which consists of former yahapalana politicians, says that when it forms a government, it will conduct a thorough probe into the Easter Sunday blasts, seek international assistance, if necessary, to identify the masterminds of the attacks, and have them hanged. Leader of the Opposition and the SJB, Sajith Premadasa, made this pledge in public over the weekend.

PCoIs hardly serve any useful purpose. They only serve the ruling politicians’ interests. They are mountains in labour; they make a lot of noise, keep the public in suspense for months on end, and finally deliver tiny mice in the form of reports. Most important questions invariably go unanswered. This, we have seen umpteen times during the last four decades or so.

One may recall that the PCoI that probed the Treasury bond scams became a form of public entertainment with some notables being grilled and vital information elicited from them. But in the end, its report came as a huge disappointment. The commission baulked at naming the mastermind/s of the scams and even sought to obfuscate the issue by going out of its way to drag in extraneous matters in a bid to cushion the political impact of its report on the then UNP-led government. Going by the high-profile witnesses the Easter Sunday PCoI summoned before it and their testimonies, the public expected to know the identities of the masterminds of the terror strikes only to be disappointed.

The SLPP was party to the process of politicising the Easter Sunday tragedy, which mainly contributed to the 2019 regime change. Partisan politics has spared hardly anything in this country. It has even torn families asunder. Therefore, one may argue that the SJB should not be faulted for trying to use the Easter Sunday PCoI report, which is full of holes, to gain political mileage it desperately needs. But one should not be so naïve as to expect the SJB to have the Easter Sunday attacks investigated thoroughly even if it succeeds in forming a government, for some politicians within its ranks stand accused of having aided and abetted the NTJ terrorists who carried out the carnage. It will, therefore, be wary of opening a can of worms.

No government can get to the bottom of the Easter Sunday carnage and identify its masterminds unless it has the courage to stand up to certain external powers suspected of having had a hand in the attacks. Intrepidity, which is a prerequisite for conducting a thorough probe to find out the foreign hand/s behind the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks, is not a trait most SJB leaders possess; they tug at their forelocks before the leaders of powerful nations. Besides, how can anyone be hanged judicially in this country? The resumption of judicial executions is not within the realm of possibility. A few years ago, the then President Maithripala Sirisena sought to have several drug lords on death row hanged to prevent them from carrying out their narcotic rackets via mobile phones with the help of some corrupt prison guards, but his plan went pear-shaped due to international pressure.

The SJB will use its promise to probe the Easter Sunday carnage as a slogan to garner votes as the SLPP did to win elections. The tragedy will get politicised further, and it is highly doubtful whether the real masterminds of the terror strikes will ever be known.

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Editorial

Covid vaccination reflections

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We are running several stories in today’s issue of this newspaper on a matter that is of great moment not only to this country but the whole wide world. Yes, you guessed right. These reports are about the vaccination roll-out against the Covid virus which which is now ongoing and is a matter of highest national priority. What clearly emerges is that there is no unity among particularly the various medical experts, both in the health bureaucracy and health professionals outside it, on whether we are setting about this war against the virus in the correct way. That is clearly evident in the differing statements issued one after another by various concerned parties.

Take the statement issued by Infectious Diseases Forum of Sri Lanka, comprising many eminent doctors, who have warned that if the elderly are not vaccinated, the entire purpose of the of the vaccination program would have been in vain. The Forum has accused those responsible of “maldistribution” of vaccine and described an alleged decision of the Health Ministry – whether correctly or not we do not know – not to vaccinate people between the ages of 30 and 59 years as “meaningless.” Nobody, as far as we know, has made an authoritative statement on the age cohort who will be or will not be vaccinated. What we do know that older people and those with non-infectious diseases like diabetes are considered more vulnerable and deserve priority.

On the other hand, there is what Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle, the State Minister of of Primary Health Care, Epidemics and Covid Disease Control, had told reporters last week. She alleged that top officials of the Health Ministry had taken snap decisions on the vaccination roll-out in complete disregard of Ministry-sanctioned recommendations made by a technical committee. Such rash decisions were the reason for what she calls the “sudden appearance of vaccination centers.” She has added that these officials even override directives of the President given via the task force appointed to oversee the vaccination drive. A report we publish today quotes the state minister saying “When decisions have already been made (regarding the roll-out timetable) these officials suddenly call at night and say start the program right away. We can’t do it this way.”

Are all these accusations and allegations correct? It is high time that somebody in authority cleared the air. This business of who rates priority age-wise is not clear although we believe that the vaccine will be administered to all age groups in high risk areas identified and mapped as ‘red spots.’ Most of these are in the densely populated areas of the Western Province and commonsense would tell us that as many of those possible, regardless of age, living in riskyh areas should be vaccinated. We all know that the already procured doses of vaccine falls far short of what is needed to cover our total population of 22 million plus. Thus the thrust of the current effort is to first cover the Western Province and this is what seems to be attempted at present.

Fortunately there have been no reports of vaccine stocks running out on a large scale. True, vaccine ran out in some centers with long lines of people awaiting their turns but this has not been widespread. Colombo’s Mayor Rosy Senanayake has denied a widely distributed social media post that she had submitted a list of names for preferential vaccination at a center at the Colombo Public Library. Her media secretary had said that the mayor had visited that center following these reports and instructed that those using her name be denied vaccination. We cannot comment on the rights and wrongs of these allegations for the simple reason that we do not know. But the professionally tabulated list doing the rounds had several well known names, many of them affluent.

We all know that influence peddling is a fine art that is widely indulged in this country. Nobody did or could complain about front-line health workers, armed forces and police personnel etc. being accorded priority. But senior health official have confirmed that there had been attempts to pressure officials. There have been people armed with numbers who had gone to various vaccination points expecting favours. But those of them we spoke to said that they had to wait hours on line though they were not forthcoming about the origin on the numbers they carried. All that suggests that not everything has been happening above board; but that’s something that we are well used to in this so-called independent, sovereign, democratic, socialist republic of ours.

However that be, there is one area that urgently requires clarification and that relates to age-priority. Different things have been said at different times. The College of Community Physicians had noted that the vaccine prioritization of of the Ministry of Health had deviated from the original plan. Targeting the 30 – 60 age group “had been implemented in a few selected communities and this is a clear deviation from the scientifically agreed prioritization statement in the National Vaccine Deployment Plan.” There has been an explanation that the decision to vaccinate those between 30 and 59 was due to high transmission rate within this age group.

What is necessary is to clear the air on this matter. Obviously communications on this drive is far from satisfactory. People must know what’s what and that part of the act must be urgently put right. General Shavendra Silva who heads the National Operations Center on Covid has said that over 175,000 frontline workers and over 100,000 in high risk areas in the Western Province have been already inoculated. There’s a lot more distance to cover in this province alone, but doing that would mean significantly reducing the national risk. A regular contributor has in an article in this newspaper made a very complimentary reference to his personal experience at Dehiwela. That’s a clear demonstration of the fact that regardless of our penchant of criticizing most things Lankan, there is much that we can do and we have the people to do it.

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