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Need to prioritise national needs

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May the Gods give us timely rain,
May the harvests be bountiful,
May the people be happy.
And may the King be righteous.

I believe that there are many (here and abroad) who are ready to help our country to flourish and our people to enjoy the maximum benefits, out of the blessings that Nature has plentifully bestowed on us “Where every prospect pleases, and Man alone is vile”, or as that wonderfully expressive Stanza above, inspires us.

We have it all, but have (mis)managed comprehensively, to destroy our endowments, and reduced ourselves to disgraceful beggary. We have been blessed by our location in the Tropics. Had it not been so, we would have needed to invest all of our earnings, to merely keep ourselves warm in the biting cold of Winter and if we could not, possibly perishing.

One of the alarmingly helpless laments heard is this: “What is the point of writing or talking, when we are sure that nothing will happen?” The youth in the ‘Aragalaya’ have proven otherwise. The authorities seem to be deaf and blind, and ready to sacrifice all, in their greed for money or worldly comforts, for themselves and theirs – to hell with the “sovereign people”. Venality, like heroin, is addictive and is transmissible. We see this – crooked parents beget crooked children. Retribution, in this or future lives is bound to come.

Against the pessimism of several friends, and others, I am cautiously hopeful. This is what emboldens me to keep on writing. After all, it is the incessant beatings of little drops of rain that convert even the hardest of rocks into fertile soil. Persistence and patience in doggedly and relentlessly pursuing a worthy goal, are the operative words. The youth in the Aragalaya, display the courage of their conviction against corruption that we, the Seniors had not the guts to do.

Three imperative goals for us (among many others) are:

(i) Population,

(ii) Environment

(iii) Law and order.

Some Cosmetic changes first…

Drop the “Sri” from our title. “Great Britain”, became “Britain”. Likewise, “Lanka” would be more modest, and less pompous than “Sri Lanka”. So also “Deshapalanaya” which carries with it the flavour of subjugation and control. A word more suggestive of humility and compassionate scholarship might be better, and a lot more accurate.

For this, the well-endowed Parliament library may be worthy of more presence by members.

Of the three supporting columns of democracy, the “Judiciary” could remain as it is. It must however be admitted that certain rulings, particularly those concerning politicians, are disturbing. “The Executive” (President as of now), should move to, and Head “The “Legislative,” whose function is to formulate Laws and supervise their intended implementation. “The Executive”, should logically be what we now loosely call “the Administration”. To “execute” is to implement, to act, to perform and to deliver. It also has the closest contact with the public, and most in need of radical change. This brings us to a concept of “Governance,” having as its credo and primary responsibility, “to ensure convenient and orderly life to all citizens” and thereby not to be seen as an avoidable nuisance, but as a friendly helping hand.

(1) We, as a nation have a very poor work ethic. Responsibility, integrity, courtesy and courage against interference from any quarter, are necessary and inviolate. Every effort should be made to ensure that efficiency, honesty and economy should be key. In the words of John F. Kennedy, the US President, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for yours,” That is, to maximize the “Give” and minimize the “Take”.

(2) Cabinets -should be established solely in the interests of serving the needs of the public. They have instead become an instrument, not for the common good but for electoral convenience. The first Cabinet at Independence, numbered only 11. Today, there could be near 50, (counting the Deputy, State, Subject and “over-seeing” Ministers), This is more to assure votes for the governing party, than to provide useful service. This is naked betrayal of trust.

Any subject that seeks to divide the citizenry should not be entertained. This is particularly so, when it ignores likely unrest. We have seen it happen. What need is there for portfolios such as for ‘Buddha Sasana, Christian Affairs, Hindu and Muslim Affairs”. It is sheer arrogance to think that these great religions need Cabinet support. How can we talk of Religious Amity, when these seek to divide rather than to unite?

Monks in Parliament have been a disaster. Likewise, Culture and Sports are entirely personal matters and need no Governmental interference.

Acts of supreme stupidity, even by our less than stellar Parliament, were the attempts to prevent conventional attire of Muslim women, the “Halal” issue, and burial of their dead. The worst was the opposition to singing of the national anthem in Tamil. No wonder that our country is near bankruptcy, when our Legislators were busily engaged in pettiness, trivialities and robbery.

(2) We do need radical reforms, if we are to have the three arms (or legs) of Government, to serve the Public, who are their ultimate paymasters. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” No system driven without this doctrine, can survive. Punctuality (the courtesy of Kings), application and pride in one’s job, are also crucial. Even in domestic employment, the first and dominant question is “How much will I get?” Seldom is it asked, “How can I help?” The ‘Public Service’ amounts to some 80 percent of the employed, while consuming about 70 percent of the Budget, makes it predominantly ‘an employment sink’ and a wide-open door for tempting or enticing marauding politicos. The diabolical dissolution of the former CCS, mostly comprising an elite and fearlessly independent set of Administrators, was a tiresome barrier to the corrupt. It had to be destroyed, and Felix Dias was the man to willingly and wilfully do it. Today, we have for the crooked politician, a comfortably compliant service in place of what should be one of such formidable propriety, that none will dare corrupt. A Public Servant who seems willing to double as Toilet Paper for a corrupt boss, is an unforgiveable scoundrel. One can identify several such. We were shocked to hear, from one of them, that half his colleagues in Cabinet were heroin addicts. So, then what?

(3) No politician can rob alone. There have to be compliant officials. It may take many courses of fierce purgatives to totally cleanse our corrupt Governance system. Corruption is so entrenched in every nook and cranny of the system, that unbelievably drastic action has to be taken. The complicit quickly learn the ways of the game and gleefully violate all principles of honesty, integrity, decency and culture. The whole structure cries out for urgent reform, and to be made leaner by trimming the superfluous. Some will need a new spine and, some others would warrant castration. In view of the fact that the Politician is often the source of the evil pollutant and source, I began to write about this in some detail. The text got to be so long, that I decided to leave it for the present, and resolved to honor it with an article on its own.

Population Issues

Every livestock farmer is familiar with the concept of “Carrying capacity” – which determines the number of chickens that can be sustained in a cage, or cows in a field.

What applies to animals surely should apply to the species, Homo Sapiens. Natural Laws are universally valid. A farmer culls his stock when it exceeds his capacity, by “culling”. This cannot be applied to human populations. Has Nature taken over, by inflicting periodic natural or self- inflicted disasters (conflicts or diseases), to restore some stability?

In 1798, Reverend Thomas Malthus, FRS, postulated that populations would increase beyond the capacity to provide adequate food. Population increases exponentially, while productivity of (food), does only increase linearly. Thus, sooner or later the latter outgrows the latter. At that time, this was condemned as a diabolical plot to deny the Benefits of the Industrial Revolution to the poorer countries or the poorer segments of society. It seems that the dire warning is proving its validity. Even at the risk of rejection as being unprofessional or superficial, the situation that confronts Sri Lanka is serious. Making some assumptions, our population of 21 million and increases (growth- rate) of 2 %, the annual population increase, (excluding deaths), would be 420,000, and birth rate would be roughly 1,000 per day.

The requirements of a few crucial sectors would be as follows, Rice (additional acreage), Schools (4 x 250), houses (assuming that all marry) 500, Universities (assuming 10%) 10, Transport (50- seater buses) 20, Hospital beds (assuming 1% sick) 10, Jobs (at 50 %) 500 and so on. One has to note that these are estimated daily requirements. Even If today’s requirements are met, tomorrow’s will loom menacingly. This assumes that the present standards of living remain as they are. This seems an impossible task. The only option is some sort of population planning, which of course be resisted.

The environment,

Global warming might seem a distant prospect that may not bother us at the moment. This is so, although recent observations suggest that the earlier projections were in error, and the worry is more severe than at first feared.

Several of our major rivers flow brown from eroded soil. This points to serious flaws in our land and water use. The Soil Conservation Act, prohibited forest clearance above high elevations but that continued nevertheless, mainly for tea planting. If such tea is left unplucked, (i) they would soon grow up to about 10-15 feet and also allow the establishment of secondary forests of tree types n natural to the area.

(ii) Sand for construction requirements are normally met by river sand. Remembering that most soils, have only a small percentage of sand, every ton of sand removed, would mean that several tons of soil has been eroded. It would take centuries to build back an inch of topsoil thus washed away.

(iii) Our forest cover, which is estimated to have been about 50% of the land area at the beginning of the last century, is now below 20% due to resettlement, urbanization and wanton destruction. It has to be noted that in even the much-decried Chena system, vegetation is only thinned. The land cultivated changes from time to time rotationally and thus the natural forest regenerates. Large scale clearance is manifest in mechanized logging operations and unsupervised encroachments. The same applies to illegal timber extraction and sand mining. Experience shows that co-operating with regular entrants to forested areas, is far better than the total exclusion of entry into forests. Firewood collection, from naturally shedding tree branches, and collection of medicinal herbs, are a centuries-old tradition.

Attention has been increasingly drawn to the question of pollution, particularly by long-life plastic wastes. Some regulation is sorely needed as the menace grows.

Law and order issues

There is an increase in the civilian protests – related mostly to shortages of fuel and cooking LPG. Adding to this are civilian protests as is manifested in the ongoing “Gota go home’ rallies and the unleashing violence and destruction of Private properties, consequent to the raid of Gotagama protesters, and lately in gas and fuel shortages. The peace keeping apparatus is showing signs of fatigue and the crowds more and more hostile, ending often in unseemly confrontations. The situation is menacingly volatile. Open revolt the last thing we need now.

Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda



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Opinion

Sunil, your slip is showing!

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It is rarely that veteran JVPer Sunil Handunetti leaves room for criticism. Perhaps, the JVP’S refusal to join the proposed all-party government had to be explained by a senior respected member – Handunetti being the obvious choice.

To an independent observer, he did not fare in a recent interview. Quite innocently, he trotted out a very puerile explanation, which could, perhaps, be applauded by school-going children in the lower grades. The tendency to be jealous, inability to appreciate the good, even in a bad situation, and the unwillingness to give credit where credit is due, coupled with age-old theoretical bug-bears and prejudices , perhaps, provoked him to quote trivialities; such as President Ranil W is on a journey to consolidate his Party and to gain kudos as the saviour of the Nation.

This exposes himself and his JVP as anti-national and narrow-minded in a situation where the country is now at its lowest depths, where everyone is expected to put his or her shoulder to the wheel. It comes ill from a JVPer who has proved himself as a useful and capable politician, and a member of a party that actively and gleefully participated in the notorious FCID outfit, organized by the then PM, Ranil W.

What a world!

I.P.C. MENDIS

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Opinion

LYDIA THAMPOE

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Appreciation

Lydia Rasamani , one among four girls, was the daughter of Sabapathipillai and Rathinamma, of Alaveddy. She was educated in Jaffna, entered into the teaching profession, and qualified as a trained teacher at the Teachers’ Training College, at Palaly. She taught in schools wherever she was appointed, later followed suit at stations where her husband was ministering with the churches.

Samuel Thampoe,

one among seven siblings, was the son of Maruthappu Thampoe and Rose Nagamma of Sanguvely, in Uduvil, born on 30th August, 1925. Sam was educated at St John’s College, Jaffna, took to teaching as a career at his alma mater. In response to God’s call to ministry, he pursued his theological studies at Serampore College, in Calcutta, and joined the ministry of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India, in the year 1955, and was ordained Deacon in 1957.

Lydia Rasamani Sabapathipillai

and Rev Sam Thampoe were joined in Holy Matrimony at Alaveddy Church, in the year, 1957, solemnised by the late Rt Rev Dr Sabapathy Kulandran, bishop in Jaffna. They were blessed with three children- Joyce Suganthy, Daniel Rohan and Noel Suresh, all of whom were born at the Green Memorial Hospital, Manipay, while the parents were serving in Alaveddy, Pungudutivu and Earlalai respectively.

· Alaveddy (1955-1959)

· Pungudutivu (1959-1963)

· Earlalai North and South (1963-1967)

· Delft (1967-1971)

· Navaly (1971-1975)

· Atchuvely (1975-1979)

· Manipay (1979-1983)

· Pandateruppu (and Vaddukoddai) / (1983-1987)

· Chavakachcheri (1987- 1988)

Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe

faithfully served in the above-mentioned parishes of the JDCSI. Lydia played a great role in the ministry of Rev Thampoe in the areas of Pastoral Care, Singing and playing eastern instruments during worship services, Pastoral Visitation to homes of members of the church and communities, leading Church women’s groups in evangelism, ministry and mission, and been a tower of strength as a Pastor’s wife. Lydia, even after the passing of her beloved husband on the 12th September, 1988, while serving the parish of Chavakachcheri, continued to discharge her duties as a mother (and father) towards her children’s progress in life. She migrated to Canada to be with her daughter and family. A few years later, she moved to an Aged Care facility for a long term high care due to her health condition, where she received her ‘Home Call.’

Joyce,

eldest child of Lydia studied at Uduvil Girls College and later joined the academic staff of Uduvil Girls College, proceeded to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at Bharathiyar University in Trichirapalli, India, continued in teaching at UGC while completed her Diploma in Education. She was the Vice-Principal at Uduvil Girls College and upheld the high standard of the school in various aspects. Joyce attended a Summer School at the Institute of Bossey in Switzerland in 1988. She migrated to Canada and married Pastor Ravi Kandiah, and were blessed with four children Priscilla, Jessica, Johnathan and David. Both Ravi and Joyce are actively engaged in Church ministry with a congregation and the four children active in the Church with their parents.

Rohan

, son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and later worked for a while in the Maldives and later emigrated to Germany. After a few years of waiting, he married Bhamini, the love of his life, in Melbourne, Australia. They are blessed with two sons in Jayden and Shayan. They, in addition to their regular work, are actively supporting the local and Tamil churches in ministry.

Suresh,

the youngest son of Lydia, studied at Jaffna College, and graduated with a first degree at Madras Christian College, obtained his Master’s degree in public administration in the same University. He joined the Jaffna Diocese of the CSI as the Director of Projects, in which he cheerfully served the Church’s Social ministry, managing number of Day Care Centres, Children Homes and Vocational Training Programmes with the paid Staff of these projects, coordinating with Pastors-in Residence. He married Padmini, the love of his life, and is blessed with a daughter Shobi and a son Joshua. In the meantime, he was sent on a scholarship to the University of Birmingham to pursue on Mission and Development studies over a year. His contribution to JDCSI was very much appreciated by everyone in Sri Lanka.

The Pastoral Ministry of the Rev Sam and Mrs Lydia Thampoe has been well received by the communities wherever they served in their own vocations, well supported by each other. Her children and their spouses have also devoted their lives in God’s vineyard. In the new settings, they continue to witness to Christ in variety of ways.

As the Psalmist prayed:

Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!”

Another version says:

You have been our refuge in every generation.”

Yes! It is true in every sense of the word for the “Thampoe Family”. We thank God for them, in particular, for Lydia Rasamani Thampoe, whom God in His time received at the eternal Home.

Contact:

Joyce: 00111 647 213 1257 (Canada)

Rohan: 61-400 547 120 (Australia)

Suresh: 61-400 131 982 (Australia)

Rev T S Premarajah

Former colleague in ministry in the JDCSI, now in Melbourne, Australia

Trinity Close

Unit- 1

22 Camira Street

Malvern East

VIC 3145

AUSTRALIA

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Opinion

The National Airline: A financial catastrophe in the making!

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Delusion appears to be a national affliction in Sri Lanka.  When confronted with stark realities, the state consistently refuses to take proactive measures to avert dire consequences.  It refers to national liabilities, like the national airline, as national assets.  Despite regular doses of life-saving intravenous injections in the form of hard cash by the Treasury, bleeding of the state-owned enterprises continues.  The senior management of the national Airline, which has been in deep red for nearly a decade and a half, its employees and trade unions collectively fail to appreciate that the general public cannot continue to pay for its existence.

Recently, a local daily revealed that the national Airline made Rs. 71.8 billion profit for the first four months of 2022 and suffered a loss of Rs. 320.3 billion, including a one-time exchange loss of Rs. 145 billion, during the same period.  It added, “as at the end of April 2022, UL had Rs.618.7 bn worth liabilities, including a sovereign guaranteed US$ 175mn international bond.” The irony is that according to the former Minister of Aviation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, SriLankan Airlines had posted Rs. 171 billion (USD 476 million loss in the financial year ending March 2021, while the accumulated losses had reached Rs. 542 billion (USD 1.5 billion).  The total liabilities of the Airline were estimated at Rs. 618 billion (USD1.7 billion).

Amid the country’s economic woes, Sri Lanka defaulted on its loan obligations to international lenders in May.  With that, SriLankan Airlines too followed suit, which might result in legal action against SriLankan Airlines by aircraft leasing companies, as was Sri Lanka’s recent experience with Aeroflot, the Russian Airline.  However, on July 26, the airline reported that it had serviced the interest relating to USD175 million Treasury guaranteed bond due in 2024.

The predicament of SriLankan Airlines is not entirely new.  The national Airline has been gasping for breath since its takeover from the Emirates in 2008 and all attempts made to divest the Airline five years ago ended without a positive result.  Considering the loss-making behemoth was an asset, the government attempted to identify an investor who would take over the Airline while reserving its right to retain 51 per cent shares of the venture.  Several international firms sniffed around but understandably failed to take a bite.

SriLankan Airlines can continue its wayward behaviour as long as the Treasury coughs up millions in foreign currency as it used to do over the years.  However, this time around, Treasury itself is in deep trouble and will not be able to come to the rescue of the national airline yet again.  That means operations of SriLankan Airlines will grind to a halt soon, which might happen within a few months, not in years.

The national airline will soon be gone as the dodo unless the Finance Ministry, the senior management and the trade unions recognise the dire situation and decide to take proactive action to avoid a financial catastrophe, which Sri Lanka cannot afford.

The danger is that not only SriLankan Airlines would fail but also all operations at the BIA, as ground handling facilities provided to all other airlines are part and parcel of SriLankan Airlines’ operations.  With ground handling services coming to a standstill and the computer systems leased by the national Airline ceasing to operate, the airport will not be able to service even other airlines that still fly to Sri Lanka.

Since SriLankan Catering is an independent entity, it may survive the crash.  Still, it will not be able to function due to foreign airlines deciding against flying into the country due to a lack of airport facilities and aviation fuel.  That will put the last nail on the coffin of the already ailing tourism industry, which brought as much as 4.3 billion US dollars as recent as 2018.

SriLankan Airlines is not the only Airline that has faced similar financial predicaments.   Air India, which operated a fleet of over 153 owned and leased aircraft, was also in the red for many years.  The Indian government tried various stratagems to sell off the Airline.  All those attempts failed, and eventually, it settled all debts amounting to INR 61,000 crore and sold the Airline to the Tata Group for nearly US$ 2.4 billion.  It was sweet revenge for Tatas, as it was their Airline, which the government took over in 1953 and eventually returned to them in early 2022, unable to shoulder the mounting burden of losses.  In that sense, SriLankan Airlines is an orphan with no home to return to!

Clearly, the Sri Lankan government cannot follow the Indian example, as it does not have the resources to settle Srilankan Airline’s debts before trying to divest the Airline.  All it could try to do in the current circumstances is to avoid an uncontrolled nosedive, which would isolate Sri Lanka with a non-functioning international airport, even for a short period.

However, all is not lost, and the government could still take decisive steps to address the situation.  However, it has limited time to succeed.

First, it should arrange an urgent study to assess how many weeks or months the national Airline could operate with current finances.  By doing so, the government will not repeat its mistake of delaying an intervention by the IMF to save the national economy.

The second measure is, while that study is being carried out, it should put a team consisting of representatives of the national Airline, the Finance Ministry and the AG’s Department to unbundle ground-handling operations from SriLankan Airlines and make it an independent entity like SriLankan Catering Services.

The third measure is to decide how to dissect the national airline so that interested parties could take over operations of its revenue-generating routes.

It is abundantly clear that Sri Lanka will not be able to repeat the performance of India by settling its national airlines’ debt, which is said to be in the region of USD1.7 billion.  The newly elected President is fully aware of the ground situation.  The question is, will he be allowed to take crucial but unpopular hard decisions in the interest of the national economy?

An economic tsunami affecting the island’s tourism potential is at close range.  Already foreign airlines are curtailing their flights to Sri Lanka due to the non-availability of fuel, and SriLankan Airlines is forced to seek the precious commodity outside the country.  Should the government wait until the inevitable calamity occurs or prepare in advance to manage the looming disaster?  It is time to take hard decisions.

This is a PATHFINDER ALERT of the Pathfinder Foundation. Readers’ comments are welcome at www.pathfinderfoundation.org

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