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No monks in parliament, please!

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By Rohana R. Wasala

A few Buddhist monks who have long been vocal protestors against the activities of a large number of foreign-funded fundamentalist religious groups and a hitherto unheard of, relatively obscure monk by the name of Wedinigama Wimalatissa are embroiled in a violent controversy over the single national list seat won by the Ape Jana Bala Pakshaya (AJBP) at the recent parliamentary election. (AJBP did not belong to the monks until a few days before nominations for the election closed. They arranged, apparently, on an ad hoc basis, through some commercial transaction, to contest under this previously registered party.) Wimalatissa Thera is a resident of the Asgiri Vihara monastery in Kandy, involved, as can be guessed from  information available in the social media, in some proprietary dispute with the hierarchy there; he is not known to have had any relationship in the past with the aforementioned agitating monks. The visage of the monk that first came out in the media was that of a bearded bounder. 

At the time of writing, Wimalatissa is reported to have disappeared amidst the controversy, either gone into hiding, or held hostage by a rival group in some unknown place. But a YouTube journalist tracked him down and interviewed him a couple of days ago. Wimalatissa Thera was/is said to be the Secretary of the AJBP. It is also claimed that he has been replaced by the party’s working committee. He told the journalist that he nominated himself for the seat in order to prevent a clash between two senior monks of the party over it; he claimed he wanted to go to parliament and after a short time relinquish his MP post and handed it over to one of the two senior monks who he thought was more suitable to occupy the seat. Earlier on in the interview, he mentioned the name of the particular monk he had in mind; but he forgot about it towards the end of the interview, where he said he would make way for the other monk who, he said, was more  knowledgeable and experienced as he had already been an MP previously. 

The two senior monks alluded to here are respectively the well known Gnanasara and Ratana Theras. There appears to be something more than meets the eye here. It is claimed by a prominent lay activist who apparently was among the founders of the AJBP that a Sri Lankan he named who is based in France is directing Wimalatissa to throw the allocation of AJBP’s national seat  into crisis as an attack on the monks’ legitimate nationalist cause (of countering the threat posed by certain religious fundamentalist sects, protecting the historical Buddhist archaeological and cultural heritage of the country, and ensuring the survival of the majority Sinhalese  in their hallowed homeland of many millennia). Another version is that this is all Ratana Thera’s doing. He is even alleged to have abducted Wimalatissa Thera. Ratana has been in parliament for 15 years (through the previous UPFA and Yahapalana administrations of 2005-19), but he has little to show for it, except his substantial contribution to the ouster of the war winning MR government and thus helped in inflicting the Yahapalana misrule on the just liberated country). In any case the monkeyish buffoonery is a wheels within wheels affair that is bound to reflect very negatively on the whole Maha Sangha, who have historically been required to always face the brunt of enemy attacks on the Buddhist nation. But these squabbling monks (a mixture of good and bad ones) are only a handful out of the total 36,000 who, unfortunately, do not have the united leadership and guidance they can’t do without in these trying times.  

The unseemly struggle of a few monks over a parliamentary seat has already left a bad taste in many a mouth among the voting public who have delivered a two-thirds majority victory to the nationalist SLPP alliance led Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa under the overall leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the purpose of implementing their ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ program of economic development as spelt out in the SLPP election manifesto. No better guarantor of the protection of the Buddhist archaeological and cultural heritage of the country and of equitably distributed economic development  without any discrimination towards the minorities, than this duo can be imagined at present. But these monks could prove an impediment to the realization of the nation’s dreams.

The fact that only one monk has been elected to the parliament in a country where over 70% of the population are Buddhists shows that they don’t approve of monks doing parliamentary politics. The new government must introduce legislation to ban MP monks. It is respectfully submitted here that the Venerable Maha Nayakes ensure that this is included in the new Constitution.

It is the conviction of the monks and the people led by them that only a strong Sinhala Buddhist leader is capable of providing good governance for all Sri Lankans of diverse ethnicities and religious persuasions without discrimination, something explained by Arun Janardhanan of The Indian Express newspaper/August 16, 2020 in these words: 

‘A top leader close to the ruling dispensation said poll results means nothing but the fact that Sri Lankan people wanted a strong Sinhala Buddhist leader. “MR (Mahinda) is the most popular, Gota (Gotabaya) is the most powerful (now). They are not racists. Gota knows that development-focused policies alone will save our country, not a racist-ethnic politics. He was working towards that, to improve the economy, he will continue to do that,” the leader said’.

That legitimate hope has just begun to be realised with the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President in November last year and the swearing in of the new parliament overwhelmingly supportive of his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.  It is time the monks left them alone to do the needful.

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Opinion

Road accident killer:

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One every three hours

There is a spike of serious traffic accidents and the number of fatalities reported from all parts of the country during the last few weeks. They have snatched many precious and valuable human lives. Media reports, quoting Traffic Police sources indicate, despite the country being in lockdown for three months due to COVID–19, that this year from January to the end of August, 1,418 persons have been killed in traffic accidents

A person is killed every three hours on our roads due to road accidents, and annually 3000 persons die in road accidents. Nearly 8000 serious accidents take place annually, and in many instances the victims end up never to lead a normal life again. In the last four years – in 2016 there were 3017 fatal accidents, while in 2017 it was 3147. In 2018 according to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Road Traffic Accident Deaths in Sri Lanka was 3590, and has been identified as the 10thcause of death in Sri Lanka’s top 50 causes of death, beating other serious diseases causing death in the country. In 2019 there were 2851 fatal accidents.

On September 2nd, a serious accident occurred in the Colombo city at Mattakkuliya. As reported in the media, in that accident three people died instantly when two three-wheelers were hit by a speeding lorry. Apparently, speeding, and driving the lorry without a valid license to drive, is sheer negligence and lack of responsibility of the lorry driver. Lack of care and responsibility for the life of others who share the road is a serious problem. Instilling road discipline in our drivers is paramount for the safety of all road users.

 

Drivers of motor vehicles need to be responsible and realise, the moment he/she sits at the driver’s seat and holds the steering wheel you are in control of a piece of heavy equipment, at high speed is mere seconds from a potential innocent victim. Furthermore, speed, while greatly increasing the risk of serious crash, increases the odds of an accident and increases its severity.

 

A driver under the influence of alcohol is as deadly, and similarly at risk of serious accidents. The harmful influence alcohol has on the crucial decision to drive is great. Drinker’s self assessment about whether he/she can drive safely is critical. The deadly influence alcohol has on the driver is great. Alcohol impairs the drinker’s ability of self-assessment. Reduces the driver’s ability to react to things that happen suddenly. The alcohol also blurs vision, impairs attention and reflexes are slowed.

The road accidents having reached such a horrendous proportion, random measures to instil road discipline in errant drivers are not effective. Speeding, reckless driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol are the major causes of serious traffic accidents. The Police launching limited enforcement and special operations during festive seasons, and operations targeting certain Police areas or specific Traffic Rule violations, are not enough to address this tragedy. Police must implement comprehensive long term programmes, employing technology and modern devices to detect traffic rule violations and make roads safe for all road users.

According to Colombo Traffic Police, there are 106 CCTV cameras operating in Colombo and use 3 Mobile CCTV Surveillance Vans to monitor traffic. Surveillance of Colombo using the Road Safety Camera system alone is not sufficient. Road Safety Cameras; Red Light violation detecting cameras, and combined Red Light and Speed cameras can detect a host of Traffic Rule violations. Sri Lanka Police should seriously consider expanding this method of surveillance using the Road Safety Camera system countrywide.

Road Safety Cameras installed at intersections in all cities and major towns, at strategic locations and high risk roads along the country’s entire road network, would be a deterrent to speed maniacs, and other road rule violators who know they are being watched all day and night. These cameras can be used as both detective and preventive measures. It’s a 24/7 surveillance.

The camera captures a host of data including the vehicle number plate, date, time and location of the offence etc., sufficient to prove the offence committed by the driver. In addition, mobile cameras mounted on Police vehicles positioned at strategic locations, and hand held cameras, could be used to book speeding drivers and other road rule violations.

As for alcohol-impaired driving, the government can do more to reduce the number of drunk-driving instances. Couple of years ago the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) proposed to reduce the maximum Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level of drivers; at present it is 0.08 grams per 100 mm, to 0.03 grams per 100 mm. There is no indication thus far of any initiative of the government taken in this regard. Australia and most European countries have the BAC level of drivers at 0.05. Norway and Sweden in Europe, and China has this level at 0.02, while in Russia it is 0.03. Canada, USA and some countries have it at 0.08.

The government could look into lowering the legal BAC level to 0.03 as proposed by the NATA. This approach would better respond to discouraging drunk-drivers. The government could also consider making instances of driving while exceeding the legally permitted BAC limit, a criminal offence; initially applying it to drivers exceeding the legally permitted BAC level and meeting with accidents, and finally extending to exceeding the permitted BAC level under any circumstances, a criminal offence.

Clearly, the law can’t work on its own. The key factor in the reduction of Traffic Rule violations is enforcement and stiff penalties. Police should be provided with technology and modern devices used in other Police Forces around the world. Police should be given authority to stop and demand to undergo testing from any driver at the roadside more often, rather than testing after accidents occurred.

 

RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

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Opinion

Cross-disciplinary learning to meet graduates’ skills shortages

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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has emphasized the importance of matching the skills acquired by University students with the demands of employers. Over the years, criticism has been directed at Humanities and Social Sciences programmes in local Universities, questioning their relevance to the needs of a developing economy. Besides, some of these graduates had problems finding jobs in the private sector. They have historically relied on public sector jobs, an expectation almost all recent governments have had to grapple with.

The employability of Humanities and Social Sciences graduates is not a puzzle unique to Sri Lanka. In Singapore, I encountered several contemporary students who feared their degrees were not well sought after by the industry. I have seen such students putting a lot of effort into studying a minor in fields of study that could give them an edge over their peers. A minor comprises a set of courses which helps a student to develop secondary expertise in addition to the degree requirements of one’s major field of study. Completing a minor is not compulsory in most cases, but it sends a positive signal to employers on the quality of their potential hire. Some of the most popular minors among my batch mates were Business, Computing, Economics, and Entrepreneurship. 

Promoting such cross-disciplinary learning could be an immediate solution to the expectation set by the President. Local Universities already possess resources to implement such programmes. It eliminates the need for a hurried overhaul of the curricula in universities. Most importantly, a rapid increase in the output of graduates with qualifications demanded by the industry, could just be the solution to the critical skills shortage faced by sectors such as Information Technology.

 

ARAVINDA KARUNARATNE
aravinda.uga@gmail.com

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Opinion

Depositors and Stock Exchange

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State Minister Nivard Cabraal recently requested Sri Lankans who have deposited money in banks and finance companies to use that money in shares on the Colombo Stock Exchange. Our ministers and officials who control state finances do not know that most of those depositors maintain those deposits not as investments. They live on the interest they receive monthly from those deposits.

Before 2015 too, Cabraal as Governor of CBSL and many others, encouraged those depositors to invest in shares, and many learnt the lesson as they were caught in the game of “pumping & dumping” by groups of some big fish. Cabraals are in a way hitting those depositors by ad-hoc reducing of interest rates, and now they ask them to follow the more easier path to think of committing suicide.

 Have the higher-ups in the government ever investigated why people maintain those deposits and how many use the interest they receive to meet their daily needs, before playing around with interest rates in order to please the borrowers and lessees?   

 

B PERERA

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