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Marambe in President’s delegation at UN Climate Change Conference despite ‘sacking’



Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

Senior Prof Buddhi Marambe of the Agriculture Faculty of the Peradeniya University, removed from all positions held under the Agriculture Ministry for his stance on the fertilizer issue, was in Glasgow this month as a member of a delegation headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa attending the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26).

Marambe was removed last week from advisory positions held under the Agriculture Ministry over his stance on the fertilizer imports, according to a media statement from the ministry. But this had not been officially communicated to him when he was interviewed here last week.

He was a member of the expert committee to formulate a National Agriculture Policy, the Sri Lanka Agriculture Sector Modernization Project and the Smallholder Agribusiness Partnership Program. An Agriculture Ministry statement accused Marambe of rallying the university community, civil society and the public against government’s policy banning the import of chemical fertilizers and of opposing the previous glyphosate ban.

Excerpts of an interview with Prof. Marambe in London:

Q: You have been accused of criticising the government. If that is the case, then how come you were in the government delegation headed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the the COP26 summit in Glasgow?

A: I did not criticise the government or its concept but only the path it has chosen and methods employed to achieve certain objectives in this effort to switch from chemical to organic fertilisers. As an academic, it’s not my job to be a ‘Yes-man’ when I’m convinced that something is wrong and impractical as in this case.

Food security is a main element of national security. The approach and methods of the government on the basis of wrong advice from vested interests will impact the country’s agriculture sector detrimentally. I wanted to ensure a course correction. Hundred percent organic fertilisers targeted without scientific data and a proper plan is not possible. Precedents of practical experience from Bhutan, Cuba and even the EU where this had been attempted is available.

I’ve been attending climate change summits in my scientific capacity for the past seven years. I am representing my country in negotiations with UN officials and other countries. President Rajapaksa leads this delegation as Head of State of Sri Lanka. There are about 134 countries from the developing world attending this summit. My job there is to present the SL point of view on climate change. If someone says that I am expressing anti-government sentiments, that’s his or her problem, not mine.

Q: There are reports quoting an Agriculture Ministry press release stating that you have been removed from all positions you held at the ministry. What actually happened?

A: I saw those reports and learned of such a move then only. So far I’ve not been officially informed. I am not an official of the Ministry of Agriculture for them to sack me. I am a professor a the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya. That is my permanent job. I still work there and am attending this conference officially. The University granted me paid leave to attend this summit. This year I’ve been invited to make a formal presentation which is a rare opportunity because only a very few countries are invited to do so.

With regard to sacking or removal, I will tell you what happened and how. Experts and university professors are invited to be in committees in both public and private sectors. In this case, the said expert must possess technical knowledge at a comparatively higher level and he or she is expected to share that knowledge with other committee members, focussing particularly on the terms of reference of that committee.

University academics are invited to such committees in an honorary capacity. They are not paid jobs. I was invited by the Minister of Agriculture to be on the committee that formulated the national agriculture policy, starting from December last year. We worked for about nine months as a team. We had large number of engagements with stakeholders, participated in consultation programmes and also prepared the final draft of the policy last month and submitted it to the Minister. Incumbent Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Prof Udith Jayasinghe, too was on that committee before he was appointed to his present position. After handing over the final report that committee’s functions are over. That was my association with the ministry. I cannot understand how anyone could remove a person from a non-existent committee. That may be why I was not told of any removal.

Q: There are press releases attributing the removal for being an advisor to CIC Holdings PLC. Your response?

A: Sri Lanka is a small country. We have people who specialised in different areas. Once a capability of a person is established, he/she is in demand. I have been appointed to several committees in different ministries as a resource person expecting my scientific contribution. The private sector does the same. In 2009, the chairman of the CIC requested my services from the Vice-Chancellor of my University to advice their board on agricultural development. You cannot expect a medical officer or a member of Maha Sangha to do that. It’s a job for an agricultural scientist. The Vice Chancellor approved my serving on that board. I attended a maximum of six meetings per year. I was a non-executive director on that board. I was the Assistant Secretary of the Lanka Organic Agriculture Movement from 2001 to 2003 and worked with Dr. Keerthi Mohotti and Dr. Sarath Ranaweera to make sure that the national agriculture development policy 2003 had an organic component.

Q: Would you like to comment on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to ban chemical fertilisers?

A: If you ask me whether we can grow organic, the answer is yes. If you really want to make Sri Lanka 100 percent organic, you can do that. But why? What are we trying to achieve? Going 100 percent organic is a kind of romantic idea very natural in modern times because a lot of people nowadays are trying to romanticise agriculture.

You cannot expect the head of the state or the minister of agriculture to know everything about agriculture. They are politicians and are here to run the country and make sure it prospers. There are people who advise them during these processes. Since independence our agriculture evolved positively. Anything that would hinder that positive process would be detrimental to our food security.

I don’t blame personally the President or the Minister for what has happened. There are some people who misled them. The president and the minister are at fault because they got advice from wrong people.

To give advice on agriculture you need to have agriculture specialists, not only theoreticians but also those who have worked in the field who know the theory and practice. They should be people who believe in science and do science. Now, please don’t ask me who the advisors I am referring to. State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera said in public that it was Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya of the GMOA and Prof. Priyantha Yapa from the Sabaragamuwa University who gave the advice. May be there are more. Whoever did, they took the country and its people for a ride.

Q: If we were to adopt to 100% organic agriculture overnight what would happen to the country?

A: Overnight or in years, if you want to change to organic agriculture, you can do it. There are people even now doing organic agriculture and making good money. There are companies engaged exclusively in organic agriculture. They produce organic food, sell their produce overseas and to bring foreign exchange home. That’s fine. We have to promote that segment.

But the present scenario is a different kettle of fish. This is about food security which could be achieved in two ways – one is that we produce food on our own, and the second is to import food to fill any shortfall. To import we need foreign exchange. That’s where our cash crops such as tea become important. Under the present scenario, many agriculture products including tea, rubber and coconut have been affected. In my view, even in the long run we cannot achieve 100 percent organic farming without placing our food security in jeopardy.

Q: What is your view on the fertilizer consignment from China allegedly contaminated with harmful bacteria?

A: We have well-set regulations covering fertiliser imports. Regulations under the Fertiliser Act No 68 of 1988 are very strong and protective. If the fertiliser imported is organic, it means that they contain plant and animal matter. Such imports are covered by provisions of the Plant Protection Act No 35 of 1999. These prescribe mandatory procedures to be followed that are designed to ensure that agencies under the Ministry of Agriculture prevent invasive plants and disease coming into the country. There is a National Fertiliser Secretariat and a Director of Fertiliser but when organic fertiliser is imported it is the Director General of Agriculture who holds the authority, not the Director of the Fertiliser Secretariat. Samples of any organic fertiliser imported must go through tests and analysis at the National Plant Quarantine Service (NPQS). The NPQS is not a stand alone body but is also governed by the provisions of the International Plant Protection Convention of the UN and linked to plant quarantine services of 184 countries.

According to these regulation, a sample of any organic fertiliser to be imported must be first analysed at the NPQS. In this particular instance NPQS found very clearly that there are microorganisms present which are harmful to crops.

When organic fertilisers are imported there is another set of standards set by the Sri Lanka Standard Institute that apply. This stipulates that any such organic import must be sterilised. Whenever a sample fails to pass muster, the supplier has a right to appeal and send another sample for analysis. That’s a well-accepted procedure. So in this particular instance, another sample was brought on Sept 23 and that too failed.

According to testing by the German lab, Schutter Global Inspection & Survey Co Ltd, the sample contains Coliform bacteria. E Coli and Erwinia are Coliform bacteria both of which are harmful to humans and plants. Erwinia was detected by the NPQS in an earlier test done here. The Director General of Agriculture has not issued a permit for this ship to come to Sri Lanka. The ship came in without an import permit covering this cargo. Fertilisers imported to the country cannot contain pathogenic microorganisms that are harmful to animals, plants, and humans. If allowed this consignment would cause irreversible damages to our ecosystem.

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MPs urged to defeat move to conduct Law College exams only in English medium



Ali Sabry responds to accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Opposition MP Gevindu Cumaratunga yesterday (19) alleged that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was going ahead with a project launched by former Justice Minister Ali Sabry with the backing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to conduct Law College examinations only in the English medium, much to the disadvantage of Sinhala and Tamil students.

Addressing the media at Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya at Thunmulla, the leader of civil society group Yuthukama urged all political parties, regardless of whatever differences, to vote against extraordinary gazette notification of 2020 Dec 30 No 22018/13 to be submitted to Parliament by Sabry’s successor, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, tomorrow (21).

The SLPP National List MP said that those who represented the interests of the South, the North as well as the Upcountry could reach a consensus on the issue at hand quite easily.

Responding to The Island query, lawmaker Cumaratunga said that Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya, consisting of a section of rebel SLPP MPs, backed the campaign to protect the language rights of Sinhala and Tamil communities. The first-time entrant to Parliament said that MPs with a conscience couldn’t back this move, under any circumstances, whichever the party they represented.

At the onset of the media briefing, MP Cumaratunga said that the denial of language rights of current and future students was a grave violation of the Constitution-Article 12 and Article 18. In terms of Article 12, no one should be discriminated against on the basis of language whereas Article 18 recognized Sinhala and Tamil as National Languages with English being the linking language.

Alleging that the previous Gotabaya Rajapaksa goverenment planned to implement the controversial law even without securing parliamentary approval, lawmaker Cumaratunga appreciated Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse’s decision to place it before parliament.

The civil society activist said that this despicable move should be examined against the backdrop of growing external interventions as the country struggled to cope up with the developing political-economic-social crisis. The passage of the new law could cause further deterioration of parliament, MP Cumaratunga said, adding that the House faced a serious credibility issue.

“How could elected MPs whichever party they represented back a move that directly affected the concerned communities,”? Lawmaker Cumaratunga asked.

Referring to a recent call by the Justice Minister to discuss the issue at hand, MP Cumaratunga said that among those present on the occasion were Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, and Dr. Athula Pathinayake, Principal of Law College. “Those who opposed this move asked Dr. Athula Pathinayake what he really intended to achieve by conducting Law College examinations in English, only. However, the Law College Principal failed to provide a plausible response,” the MP said.

Responding to strong criticism of their stand, MP Cumaratunga stressed that the importance of English as a language couldn’t be underestimated. But, ongoing efforts to promote English shouldn’t be at the expense of Sinhala and Tamil, MP Cumaratunga said, questioning lawmakers’ right to deprive Sinhala and Tamil communities of basic rights.

Ratnapura District SLPP MP Gamini Waleboda said that an influential section of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) was behind this move. In a note dated March 17, addressed to all members of parliament urged them to defeat the contemptible move.

Lawmaker Waleboda said that there was no prohibition for those who wanted to sit law examinations in English. There was absolutely no issue over that but the bid to deny the language rights of those who wanted to sit examinations in Sinhala and Tamil was not acceptable under any circumstances. According to him, the BASL hadn’t consulted its membership regarding this move.

MP Cumaratunga also questioned the failure on the part of the apex court to make available to Parliament its interpretations in Sinhala. The Supreme Court continues to provide such clarifications in English only.

Responding to MP Cumaratunga’s allegation that he with the backing of the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resorted to action to make English compulsory for those studying at the Law College, incumbent Foreign Minister Sabry said: “That’s not correct. It is the council of legal education which formulates regulations.  The council consists of CJ, two senior SC judges, AG, SG, Secretary Justice and six senior lawyers of vast knowledge and experience.

 In terms of the constitution all higher education institutions can decide the language of studies and education. That’s how medical faculty, engineering faculty, IT faculty and management faculty conduct studies in English. Already Peradeniya and Jaffna universities do legal studies in English. It is good to do it, that’s how they become competitive. Even in India all legal faculties are in English. “

The President’s Counsel alleged that the kith and kin of certain people articulating this position received their education in English. The minister questioned why politicians get involved in this issue if the council of legal education made the relevant suggestion.

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No power cuts due to N’cholai unit failure – Minister



By Ifham Nizam

The breakdown of the Unit Three of the First Coal Fired Power Plant Complex in Norochcholai 270 MW intake of the 300MW will cost an additional Rs. 20 a unit due to thermal power generation, says the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB).  “It will cost the CEB Rs. 96 million extra a day while the Norochcholai machine is out of order,” a senior Electrical Engineer told The Island.

Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera yesterday said Unit 3 of the Norochcholai Coal Power Plant had failed. He said the CEB had informed him of the breakdown, but he said there would be no power cuts.

“The Unit 3 was due to undergo major overhaul maintenance in April. To ensure an uninterrupted power supply, the CEB-owned Diesel and Fuel Oil Power plants will be used,” the minister said.

The Norochcholai Power Plant has experienced breakdowns several times on previous occasions as well.The first generator at the power plant was shut down on December 23, last year to manage the coal stocks and for maintenance purposes.

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CBSL chief expresses optimism



Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe told the media, on Sunday, that the country’s dollar crisis could be managed as the IMF was set to approve a 2.9 billion-dollar bailout package on Monday. He said that Sri Lanka now had adequate foreign reserves for imports for essential sectors.

Dr. Weerasinghe added that the IMF package would boost investor confidence and enhance the country’s access to more foreign funds and investments.

The IMF package would include budgetary support, which was a new element in IMF lending, he said. Sri Lanka started negotiations with the IMF, in 2022, following the onset of the current economic crisis.

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