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Of that political syrup



Thursday 24th December 2020

The Ayurveda Department has, in what may be described as a surprising move, approved the untested Dhammika peniya or syrup, which is being flaunted as a cure for COVID-19. Cabinet Minister Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has revealed this, according to the lead news item in yesterday’s edition of this newspaper.

Opinion on any issue is divided along political lines, in this country. The Dhammika peniya has become so politicised that it can now be called a political syrup as it were. A section of the government is promoting it aggressively, and its rivals are ridiculing it as ‘engine oil’.

The ruling party grandees known for wrapping themselves in the flag have, true to form, mixed their brand of patriotism with the untested syrup. They seem to believe that they have beaten the West to it, as the western medical system has so far failed to find a cure for COVID-19. They are living in cloud cuckoo land, using as they do the controversial decoction to power their anti-Western campaign, and anyone who refuses to subscribe to their view becomes a traitor in their eyes. Similarly, rational thinking is alien to their rivals, who think the West is the best and have nothing but contempt for anything Sri Lankan. They are using the Dhammika peniya to fuel their smear campaign against the government, which is their bête noire because it is backed by nationalistic forces.

One should not look down upon native medicine, and similarly one should not make the mistake of ingesting decoctions prepared by native physicians sans any credentials. One has to keep an open mind and act rationally. Time was when the native medical system flourished, but it suffered irreversible setbacks during the colonial era, and precious little has been done by way of scientific research to develop it since Independence. This has helped quacks masquerade as native physicians.

One may argue that the real issue as regards the coronavirus-cure controversy is that the Dhammika peniya has more to do with a divine revelation than with native medicine because the person who produced it is a kapuwa (custodian of a shrine) who claims to have been communicating with a goddess. The question that should be posed to the ‘patriots’ promoting the syrup is why the truly Sri Lankan Gods believed to be watching over this land have not revealed the ‘cure’ for COVID-19.

Is it that the Ayurveda Department has had to approve the Dhammika peniya because the Health Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, Ministers, a host of ordinary MPs and other such worthies have already endorsed it by ingesting it? If the syrup had not been granted approval by the Ayurveda Department, the aforesaid grandees would have found themselves in an embarrassing position.

A drug, allopathic or homeopathic or otherwise, has to be tested scientifically before being approved. To approve a drug and then conduct tests thereon is to put the cart before the horse. Perhaps, Dr. Pathirana should explain the rationale behind the reverse order which the Ayruveda Department is reported to have adopted if what one gathers from his statement at issue is anything to go by.


Wet city, dry cops


We received a large number of calls from our readers, yesterday evening, complaining that it had taken them as long as three hours to travel across the Colombo city as traffic was grinding nose to tail, on most roads, especially the ones that lead to the airport expressway from the city centre. We independently verified those claims and found them to be true.

The number of vehicles entering the city has drastically decreased due to the pandemic and the police must be able to ensure a smooth flow of traffic without difficulty. But they seem determined to keep roads congested. Yesterday’s traffic snarl is a case in point. True, there was a cloudburst and some roads went under water, but the actual cause of unusual traffic congestion was something else. Gridlocks that crippled most parts of the city were due to the absence of the traffic policemen at the main intersections, where private buses and trucks ignored signal lights and caused mayhem.

Some of our readers informed us that several traffic policemen stood knee deep in water to prevent congestion at the Thunmulla Junction. Such police personnel deserve not only praise but also rewards. If they can do so, why can’t others? Those who chose to stay indoors while traffic was snarled up must be taken to task. A group of office workers travelling in a van complained that they had been stuck in a traffic jam at Armour Street, Kotahena, for nearly one hour. After we made inquiries from the Armour Street police station, the road was cleared in less than five minutes! Why could not they do so earlier?

It is the duty of the traffic police and the transport authorities to ensure that people spend the least possible time inside public vehicles, where they run the risk of being exposed to coronavirus. Yesterday, they had to spend several hours inside buses and vans unnecessarily because the traffic police personnel, save a few, did not want to get wet.

New Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekera, a former battle-scarred veteran who intrepidly engaged the Tigers in fierce sea battles and prevailed while in active service, and straightened up the Civil Defence Force after his retirement, ought to ensure that the traffic policemen are out when roads get congested, rain or shine. We suggest that a hotline be set up for road users to make complaints against the traffic police and action taken against errant officers.

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Admit them young



Wednesday 27th January, 2021

The Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) has woken up to the chronic delay in the process of producing medical graduates. By the time a doctor completes his or her internship he or she is about 30 years old, it has said, calling for action to ensure that students gain admission to medical faculties at the age of 18 and pass out when they turn 23. The GMOA’s call must have struck a responsive chord with all students who are dreaming of becoming doctors, and their parents. This problem affects undergraduates in other faculties as well, and action must be taken to enable all students who pass the GCE A/L examination in the first attempt to enrol for university education when they turn 17 or 18.

This is something eminent educationists have been calling for, through the pages of this newspaper, for the last so many years. We have editorially supported their campaign. But successive governments have ignored the issue. In fact, what is being urged is tantamount to reinventing the wheel. Dr. B. J. C. Perera, a senior paediatrician, who contributes valuable articles to this newspaper, informs us, in a letter published on the opposite page today, that he entered the Colombo Medical Faculty when he was about 18 years and graduated at the age of 23 in 1965. Something has gone radically wrong in the education sector over the years.

It looks as though the Sri Lankan universities had become adult education centres of sorts, given the average age of graduation. By the time Sri Lankan students complete their first degrees, those in the same age cohort, in other countries, have obtained postgraduate qualifications and secured employment. Failure on the part of successive governments to take remedial action has not only placed the Sri Lankan youth at a disadvantage but also contributed to youth unrest, which finds expression in brutal ragging and bloody clashes in universities.

It is jokingly said that Sri Lankans are over the hill by the time they tie the knot after completing university education and gain employment, and when they go the way of all flesh, their children still too young to understand death, much less cognitively process the implications of bereavement, play marbles near their coffins! This, one may argue, is not too cynical a view, given the average age of graduation in this country.

The GMOA deserves praise for having taken up the plight of medical students albeit belatedly. Other trade unions and professional associations also should come forward to campaign for having the factors that delay the process of producing graduates eliminated once and for all. This is something easily attainable if schooling is limited to 12 years as in the past and the GCE A/L examination advanced to April, experts have pointed out.

If the GCE A/L examination is held in April, and results are released within a couple of months, students who qualify for university education can enrol in August during the same year without wasting one whole year. Latest technology and enough evaluators are now available and the task of evaluating answer scripts and releasing results should not take more than a few weeks. If the Examination Department needs more resources, let them be made available.

There are other reasons for delays in the university system. The national universities are in the clutches of ultra-radical groups that further their political interests at the expense of undergraduates. Students must not be denied their right to engage in politics and protest against injustices, etc., but disruptive elements must not be allowed to have universities closed at will to advance their anarchical agendas. Everything possible must be done to keep seats of higher learning open and conduct examinations on schedule so that students can graduate and compete in the job market without wasting the best years of their lives.

There are two eminent scholars at the helm of the education sector––Education Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris and Secretary to the Education Ministry Prof. Kapila Perera; they are also former Vice Chancellors. It is hoped that they will prevail on the government to give serious thought to introducing education reforms to enable students to gain university admission at the age of 17 or 18.

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Contempt, freedom and responsibility



The imprisonment of MP Ranjan Ramanayake for contempt of court has perturbed the SJB beyond measure. Some Opposition legislators were at their oratorical best recently in Parliament, waxing eloquent as they did on the virtues of freedom of expression and other such democratic rights of citizens and lawmakers. They would have the public believe that Ramanayake’s jail term is too harsh a punishment. True, many were those who expected him to receive a lenient penalty. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Ramanayake should have known better than to run around repeating the statement that had landed him in trouble. Somebody should have warned him.

Those who are currently in the Opposition, shedding copious tears for Ramanayake, derived immense perverse pleasure from the plight of their political rivals who were sent to jail during the yahapalana government. The SLPP politicians are apparently elated at what has befallen Ramanayake, who is their bugbear. However, the general consensus being that the contempt of court laws need revision, the Opposition and the government ought to prevent partisan politics from colouring their standpoints on this important issue and work together.

Ramanayake’s jail term has given rise to a debate on the laws pertaining to contempt of court, and flaws therein. This issue should have been addressed a long time ago. It is unfortunate that an MP had to go to jail for Parliament to take it up. Better late than never, though. Parliament should set about examining the contempt of court laws and take action to rid them of flaws and specify penalties. This issue has to be sorted out once and for all.

Meanwhile, the need to revise the laws anent contempt of Parliament cannot be overemphasised. Parliamentary privileges also deprive people of freedom of expression. Some MPs shamelessly take cover behind their privileges and defame others with impunity. But the MPs raise privilege issues at the drop of a hat. It is being argued in some quarters that the regular courts should not hear contempt of court cases, for one should not hear one’s own case. If so, the same principle must apply to Parliament as well where contempt issues are concerned. Thankfully, some of the draconian powers the legislature was vested with as regards contempt and breaches of privilege have been whittled down, but Parliament still has the power and jurisdiction to punish summarily certain offences.

Judicial officers who hear cases of contempt of court have necessary educational and professional qualifications to carry out their duties and functions. But the same cannot be said of the lawmakers who range from the sublime to the ridiculous. If the very serious charges they level against one another in the House during debates are anything to go by, then there are murderers, fraudsters, chain snatchers, drug dealers and swindlers among them. Some of them have admitted that they benefited from the largesse of the owner of the company involved in the biggest-ever financial crime in this country—the Treasury bond scams; they also went out of their way to defend the bond racketeers. Therefore, how advisable it is to allow the lawmakers with such bad eggs among them to sit in judgment is the question.

There is no gainsaying the fact that lawmakers cannot perform their legislative duties and functions without a certain amount of legal immunity. But restrictions are called for to prevent them from abusing their privileges and legal immunity to defame others, who are left without any legal remedy. Legislators must not have the freedom of the wild ass.

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Syrup promoters in the soup



Monday 25th January, 2021

So, it should now be clear that the Dhammika peniya or syrup, which the Department of Ayurveda has undertaken to test, is no cure for COVID-19. All intelligent people knew it was fake, but others including some government politicians were convinced otherwise. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, who swigged the syrup to protect herself against coronavirus, has contracted COVID-19. Several other MPs who ingested it have also tested positive for the virus. The Health Minister is currently at a treatment centre, we are told. We wish her as well as all other patients a speedy recovery, but cannot help wondering why she did not opt for treatment at shaman Dhammika Bandara’s shrine, where a goddess is said to have revealed the COVID-19 cure to him while he was in a trance state.

A previous Rajapaksa government (2010-2015) collapsed as it took the advice of shamans and astrologers seriously and even advanced a presidential election at their behest. Everything it did was astrologically determined. It, however, was not alone in falling for astrological advice, etc., hook, line, and sinker. Its predecessors had even launched military operations according to schedules prepared by astrologers. Most of those offensives ended in disaster. It is said that the launching of operations in Eelam War IV was based on sound military advice; that may be the reason why they succeeded.

The incumbent government is the old Dhammika peniya in a new bottle, as it were, in that it consists of the superstitious elements who were in the aforesaid ill-fated Rajapaksa regime. It has sought to banish coronavirus with the help of some rituals such as dropping pots into rivers. Thankfully, it has stopped short of appointing a minister for superstitious affairs.

Health Minister Wanniarachchi committed something unpardonable by promoting the shaman’s concoction. Wanniarachchi was responsible for triggering mass hysteria by ingesting the peniya at an official event together with some of her SLPP parliamentary colleagues. Thereafter, tens of thousands of people from different parts of the country converged on a village where the shaman distributed the syrup free of charge. They blatantly violated the quarantine laws, but the police looked on. Perhaps, the government let that happen as it wanted public attention distracted from its failure to contain the pandemic and other burning issues such as the soaring cost of living. There may have been many coronavirus infections in that seething mass of humans near the shaman’s syrup distribution centre, and that may be one of the reasons why the pandemic has spread throughout the country.

Nothing could be more disgraceful to a country than to be ruled by a bunch of superstitious politicians who fall for false claims of quacks and deify shamans. The question is whether the Health Minister who promoted a quack’s concoction without any scientific evidence to prove its efficacy and misled the public should be allowed to continue to be in that position.

Some government ministers took on the critics of the Dhammika peniya, calling them traitors. They mixed their brand of patriotism with the untested syrup. They have cut pathetic figures. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena ought to act cautiously hereafter without letting intellectually challenged ministers and MPs use Parliament to promote concoctions touted as remedies for diseases. We are afraid that he, too, has blotted his copybook.

Another fake indigenous physician has claimed to have found a cure for COVID-19. His potion is said to contain hawks’ eggs. If so, the quack must be arrested forthwith, for hawks are a protected species and it is an offence to destroy their eggs. Will the Department of Wildlife get cracking?

Given the sheer number of superstitious politicians in the present government, one can only hope that the new Constitution being drafted will not have a provision for giving superstition the foremost place.

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