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Minister M.D. Banda an exemplary leader; 1965 Food Drive in a class of its own

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by Eric. J. de Silva

Judging from the brief period of tw to three months I was attached to the Department of Agrarian Services as a CCS cadet, I knew I could not have asked for a better place to move into at the conclusion of the work of the Broadcasting and Information Commission. It was one job which enabled one to work at the grass-roots while being based in Colombo. I can do no better here than quote a chunk from an article I wrote to the The Island some years back:

“I had been attached to the Department of Agrarian Services for a few months in 1960-61 during my cadetship in the Ceylon Civil Service, and had every reason to be happy on being posted as Deputy Commissioner of Agrarian Services a few years later, in 1966. This department, which had been established by Mr.Phillip Gunewardene, Minister of Agriculture in the MEP government of 1956 to carry through his land reform program set in motion by the Paddy Lands Act of 1958, had acquired a new importance by this time, in the context of the Agricultural Development Program launched by the UNP government of 1965-70,.

It was the flagship project of the Dudley Senanayake government more popularly known as the Food Drive, and was personally directed by the Prime Minister himself As his close comrade-in-arms and trusted lieutenant it was Mr. M.D.Banda, Minister of Agriculture and Food who had to provide the operational leadership to the program, which gripped the attention of the whole country and even attracted attention from overseas during this period. I was, naturally, happy to be associated with a program which had as its objective the need to make this country self-sufficient in regard to its basic needs of food.

It must be said that I had never met the Minister or for that matter the Permanent Secretary, Mr. B.Mahadeva, earlier, and my first meeting with them was after assuming duties in my post. I had as my Commissioner Mr. J.V. Fonseka, a very senior officer of the Ceylon Civil Service to whom I was previously attached as CCS cadet. Both the Minister and the Permanent Secretary would have gone on his recommendation that I was a suitable person to hold the post of Deputy Commissioner (Paddy Lands) which had fallen vacant in his Department.

Mr. M.D. Banda, incidentally, had already acquired a reputation as a Minister who did not carry prejudices against public officers on the basis of where they had worked earlier, and had in his team many officers who had worked very closely with the previous administration. He proved to be the consummate politician who could judge an officer on the quality of his or her work rather than be carried away by symbolic gestures or outward manifestations of loyalty.

Among the main responsibilities of the Department of Agrarian Services were the administration of the Paddy Lands Act which covered both the tenancy provisions and the development of farmer organizations (known as cultivation committees) set up under the Act, the supply of subsidized fertilizer, coordination of agricultural credit, administration of the guaranteed price scheme, repair and maintenance of minor irrigation works and the implementation of the crop insurance scheme.

As one of the two Deputy Commissioners in the Department, I was responsible for the first three items mentioned above. The Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) brought all the senior officials not only in the Ministry but also in the Departments coming under it into very close contact with the Minister. There was a quick turnover of Commissioners during my period of service in the Department (Mr. Fonseka was succeeded by Mr. M.S. Perera and he, in turn, by Mr. S.B. Senanayake) while, in the meantime, I gathered considerable expertise regarding the work that came under my purview, and the Minister knew this too well.

The Ministry itself had a strong team of officers under Mr. Mahadeva’s overall supervision with a separate division called the Agricultural Development Division ably led by Neil Bandaranaike assisted by an equally able and devoted team of officers, which included Gamini Iriyagolle and Gamini Seneviratne. This division was responsible for forward planning, direction, monitoring and progress control of the ADP, with responsibility for actual implementation falling on the shoulders of the different departmental arms of the Ministry which reached out from the centre not only to the districts but also to the field level. Government Agents, hand-picked by the government, provided the necessary co-ordination and leadership at district level.

In my entire 30 years of service as a public officer (1959-90) combined with the brief spells I have worked for different governments on specific engagements after retiring from the public service, I never came across a government program so well planned, so well directed and so well executed as the ADP of the Dudley Senanayake government, and a large part of the credit for this should go to Mr. M.D. Banda.

Mr. Banda did not pose as a know-all who resented different opinions being expressed on any issue. In fact, he promoted such discussion. He was always a patient listener, but once he took a decision there was no looking back. He was a true leader who had the unflinching support of those whom he had to work with, and this was one major contributory factor for the success that the ADP achieved.

The bi-annual Government Agents’ Conference which he used to preside over with commendable skill, where implementation problems were clinically examined and solutions found, was an event which we all looked forward to. He traveled virtually to every nook and corner in the country meeting with farmers and their organizations, and knew the ground situation at first hand. Not only the Minister, but the Prime Minster himself toured the country widely to see for himself, what was or was not being achieved.

The relevant Ministry officials as well as Departmental representatives from Colombo, in addition to the local and district-level officers, had to be present on these inspection tours which were often followed by progress review meetings. My thoughts go back to the numerous occasions that I had myself taken part in such visits representing my Department.

My work made it necessary for me to travel widely throughout the country addressing field level officers and even groups of Cultivation Committees in a manner that a Government Agent who was always looked upon as a disapathi hamuduruvo (a relic from the past!) was not in the habit of doing. In short, this was well beyond the provincial level experience I had been interested in obtaining before I reach the higher echelons of my service.

(Excerpted from A peep into the past, memoirs of

Eric. J. de Silva)



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Features

Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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