An open letter to UNP Deputy Leader
Dear Mr. Ruwan Wijewardena,
I thought I must write to you because the UNP finally managed to fill its solitary National List seat in Parliament, unsurprisingly with your cousin and leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Unsurprising, because the moment I heard, after the general election wiped out the UNP, that Mr. Wickremesinghe intended to resign as the leader at some future date, I knew that day will never come. When you were appointed as UNP Deputy Leader, I hoped that Mr. Wickremesinghe may at least make way for you, his close kinsman, even if he would never do so for anyone else and, thereby, finally see a welcome, though now largely irrelevant switch of the UNP leadership, from an old Royalist to a fellow old Prepite.
However, I thought I would address a few issues of relevance in the opposition political space, which may be food for thought, for you. Though I am uncertain how much clout you carry with your cousin.
Firstly, though the UNP, post the formation of the SJB, garnered 2% of the national vote, this really is your highwater mark, since voters, in August 2020, were never really sure how the UNP’s voter base would divide up between the SJB and the UNP. The contrived media hype was all entirely on your side. Now it is very clear, that it was hardly a contest. Nine out of every 10 UNP voters, voted for the SJB and only one remained with the rump UNP. There is something known as electoral credibility. That is the ability of a political party to actually secure representation and the corresponding desire of an active voter, to not waste his or her vote. Given that the UNP failed to elect a single Member of Parliament from any district, including from Mr. Wickremasinghe’s supposed pocket borough of the Colombo city, or even your own electorate of Gamapha, expect the UNP’s vote at future elections, be that local or provincial polls, to garner even fewer votes, if you persist in the foolishness of contesting future elections under the UNP’s own banner.
Secondly, there is serious confusion as to whether the UNP occupies the non-Rajapaksa anti-government political space or whether it is actually a pro-government political ploy, masquerading as an opposition political party. It is never really quite clear, exactly what kind of political creature the UNP is; you seem to be neither flesh, fish nor fowl. In fact, the general observation, both earlier and even now, is that the UNP seemingly sees the political opposition, led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the SJB, as the real political competitors to be opposed, rather than the government and the ruling party. This is extremely detrimental to the Opposition’s political cause as they seek to ensure that the current Rajapaksa administration is a one term exercise and ends without an encore. The obsession of your rump UNP, in snipping at the Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa and the SJB, creates a dissonance in the Opposition political space that is only beneficial to the government. Frankly it is not even beneficial to you. You only come across as sour grapes and poor losers, who cannot accept the verdict of the electorate. You were not just beaten fair and square but comprehensively and completely. In simple mathematical terms 54 :1. You weren’t just routed; you were wiped out and the verdict of the electorate must be respected. Take the JVP as an example. They chart an independent political course, without sniping at the other opposition parties. They train their guns on the government. An Opposition party is called to be a check and balance on government. Not be a cannibal on your own side of the isle.
Let me explain to you, why I believe that if Ranil insists on Parliament being his retirement home, he should at least occupy his solitary seat in golden silence. History will probably judge Mr. Wickremesinghe kindlier than the electorate does right now, because we all make mistakes over the course of a long career and as Alexander Pope famously wrote in his subliminal Essay on Criticism, “to err is human and to forgive is divine”. No political party or personality has a monopoly on either virtue or vice, but, right now, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP has been ruled out by the voter/umpire and should retire back to the pavilion. The nature of the innings he played and how he fared out in the middle, during his various tenures, is a different story. But the fact is that the curtain has come down and the lights have gone out and the actor needs to leave the stage or at a minimum not disturb the next show.
Frankly, take a page out of former President Jayewardene, who in term limit induced retirement, referred to his successor President Ranasinghe Premadasa as his greatest political friend. This was at the height of the impeachment drama and the Athulathmudali/Dissanayake breakaway saga. Some grace and wisdom, along those lines, may be in order at this time. Sajith Premadasa should be your greatest political friend of all time. You may also advise your leader that there are other more gainful ways of spending an elder statesman retirement rather than hogging a parliamentary seat and constantly sniping at your own side of the political divide. Seek some guidance from former President Kumaratunga, who, upon retirement, became involved in the Clinton Global Initiative and the Club de Madrid among other international organisations and roles, though she did play an active behind the scenes role in ending the former Rajapaksa Administration in 2015, when it became clear that they were not interested in a course correction.
Anyway, for you and the UNP, there is but a single course of action. Retire the leader to an international role and join the SJB unconditionally, as a minor ally, mindful that you bring little to the table, except ceasing the “friendly fire” constantly being rained down on the SJB, by your party and its allied media houses.
Support move to generate electricity from garbage
There had been several letters in the press where the Minister for Power, Dallas Alahapperuma, has enthusiastically declared to achieve 70% of power from Renewable Sources by the year 2030, without knowing the capability and the resources available with the CEB, and the time taken to provide transmission lines to connect the national grid, if international tender procedure is adopted or even otherwise.
I recall a letter sent to the press earlier, wherein I have stated, the garbage problem in Colombo is talked of as an urgent matter, but no action taken for over four decades, and the situation is getting worse day-by-day. The Colombo Municipal Council had once initiated action to set up an incinerator and there had been proposals from interested parties willing to undertake it, but for some unknown reason, these have been shelved by CMC or any other authority concerned.
A report submitted by an internationally famous foreign firm of consultants, Lahmeyer International of Germany, which produced a Master Plan for the Ministry for Power and Energy, touched on the possibility of setting up of an incinerator plant to serve a dual purpose – to eradicate the garbage problem and generate electricity.
What action the Ministry for Power or the CEB has taken is not known. It may be that the CEB has taken action to implement other recommendations and but did not pursue this matter with the CMC. The plant could also produce compost manure and reduce the foreign exchange spent on importing fertilisers. In this well compiled, meaningful and workable report, it is stated: “The incinerator plants use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder, grate, firing and air quality control system. Also, the required land area is greater.
“Some two million people live in the Greater Colombo area, and the amount of garbage collected annually could be about 600 tons. About 65% is made up of organic substances. The garbage is at present dumped on marshy lands in the vicinity of Colombo for the purpose of land reclamation, that practice caused environmental problems [i.e., smells and ground and surface water pollution.]
“The average heat content of the garbage is not exactly known, but based on the few tests done, it may be in the region of 8 Joule per ton, compared with 40 to 45 Joule per ton of oil. Hence, the fuel saving potentially achievable with an incinerator plant could be 100,000 tons of oil per year [under 1988 conditions] . This would be sufficient for generation of some 400Mw of power, and at the same time would contribute to the solution of Greater Colombo’s waste disposal problem. “
The aforesaid estimates were prepared in 1988 almost 33 years back, and the present amounts will be very much more, perhaps thrice, due to increase of population. The report also states that without exact analysis of the moisture content and composition of the collected garbage, it is difficult to make an exact estimate but the investment may be around USD160 to 240 million at 1988 estimates.
If at today’s estimation at thrice the increase, then the production every day may be around 1200 Mw, which is far more than the 300×3 = 900 Mw. produced by the Norochcholai coal-fired project.
It is therefore suggested that either the Minister for Energy or the Minister for Agriculture, as Fertiliser Corporation comes under him, take up this matter with the Urban Development Authority or the Colombo Municipal Council to expedite it.
It should also be said that undertaking this project will also satisfy those who object to filling marshy land.
The government should give top priority to this project of producing electricity and fertilizer from garbage.
G.A.D. SIRIMAL [SLAS]
Retd. Former Asst. Secretary
Ministry for Power & Energy
A ‘painless shot’ from Army
When I was told that the Army was administering Sinopharm Covid vaccinations at Viharamaha Devi Park with special provisions for individuals with disabilities, I decided to take my wife, herself a Rehabilitation Medicine Physician, but now afflicted with Alzheimers disease, for her Covid shot, not knowing quite what to expect.
At the driveway into the park an Officer in smart uniform stopped me and inquired politely if there was anyone with a disability. When I answered in the affirmative, indicating my wife, I was asked to drive in and given instructions where to park my vehicle. In the parking area, another army officer kindly directed me to park under the shade of a “Nuga” tree for my wife’s comfort and asked me to proceed to the Registration desk and obtain my vaccination card.
Walking the short distance to the registration desk I observed those awaiting the vaccination seated comfortably in shaded and green surroundings. There was even a vending machine which was, I presume to provide refreshments for those waiting.
The several registration desks were manned by smart young male and female army personnel. The gentleman who attended to me took down my details and when my contact number was given information that the owner of this phone number had already had the vaccination appeared on the computer correctly, as I had been already vaccinated. Now, I expected a typical “public servant’ response that the “rule” is that a contact number could be registered only once. However, the officer used his brain, and after listening to my wife’s situation proceeded to complete the form. Then came the consent form that had to be signed. When I explained that my wife was unable to do so again I expected him to say, “Then get a letter from a doctor saying she cannot sign.” But this officer who did not behave like a robot used his judgement and allowed me to sign the form.
The paper work having been duly completed, I was asked to bring my wife to get her shot. When I explained that it would be very difficult, but not impossible, I was directed to the doctor at the site. I walked up to the young yet professional looking doctor attired in scrubs. When I explained my position, he promptly directed a staff member to go along with me to the vehicle and administer the injection while my wife was still seated there.
I then inquired if the young man who was helping my wife could also get his vaccination, and “no problem” was the answer. And before I could say “Sinopharm” the whole procedure was done and dusted!
What first class service!
To be at the receiving end of empathy and kindness was indeed a satisfying experience.
My thanks and appreciation to the organisers of the vaccination programme at Viharmahdevi Park on Wednesday (21 July)
Those who are critical of the army playing a lead role in Covid pandemic control, please take note.
On ‘misinformation’ against Minister of Health
Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana (UW) is a regular contributor to this newspaper. His articles are almost always interesting and sometimes they provide valuable perspectives.
I find his criticism/castigation of the Minister of Health (MOH) in an ‘epidemic of misinformation’ (Island 19.07.2021) unfair and baseless. UW singles the MOH out as ‘the leader of the pack, undoubtedly is the Minister of Health who conveys wrong health messages’. This is erroneous and unwarranted
The main issues that UW quotes in support of his argument is that ‘she recently went to a shrine to thank a goddess for protecting her’ and ‘that she dropped pots in rivers to prevent the spread of the pandemic’.
From the onset of this pandemic a multitude of rituals have been conducted and they are still in force; all night Pirith, Bodhi Pooja, continuous chanting of the Ratana Suthraya, etc. The MOH releasing pots to the rivers that would wash down the ‘pandemic’ to the sea was one such ritual. A salient point to be appreciated is that while there is the possibility that the MOH herself believed in the effects of releasing these pots; this ritual was done primarily for the country/public rather than herself- hence the coverage on TV and news.
In contrast to this, her fulfilling a vow that she and/or her family made on her behalf when she was at death’s door, is based on a personal belief, and unlike the previous public action was done as an extremely private affair. If not for the fact that she is the MOH and her actions got reported in the press, none of us would have been even aware of this act. One would be hard pressed to find anyone in this country who has not fulfilled a vow; be it for himself or herself / siblings/ parents /children with regard to examinations, illnesses, promotions, etc…
None of these actions has any bearing on how the MOH has advised the public based on the counsel that she has received from her health officials and as such she is certainly not guilty of conveying any ‘wrong health messages’.
The MOH contracted Covid -19 because she was at the forefront of this epidemic and was constantly in touch with frontline workers. Not because she abandoned good health practices in favour of a cultural ritual! She had to be admitted to the IDH, was in the intensive care unit and according to medical sources was quite sick. We now see her on TV, the effects of the Covid-19 are apparent, a person who has had a near brush with death, fully cognizant of the danger of her current position. Certainly this would not have been something she signed up for when she took on the job as the MOH! This being the case, for UW, a doctor of medicine, to refer to ‘There are other idiotic politicians around the world who paid with their lives for the folly of not accepting the reality of a viral pandemic’ is not worthy of a healer.
Having recovered from her illness the MOH at a press conference publicly thanked her medical team for the effort they put into saving her life. I am sure that she would have thanked them personally as well. UW concludes his diatribe against her saying ‘Her life was saved not by goddesses, but by the excellent doctors, nurses and other health professionals Sri Lanka is blessed with. A person who is unable to even grasp that reality surely does not deserve to be the Minister of Health’. Is UW seriously suggesting to this readership that the MOH is unaware of the difference between science and culture? Is it his contention that anyone who engages in a religious /cultural ritual has no grasp of reality?
As a side note I am amused by the use of the term ‘Sri Lanka is blessed with ’. Based on UW’s logic ‘who are highly trained in Sri Lanka’ ought to have been a more appropriate term as blessings have nothing to do with a scientific reality!
Dr. Sumedha S. Amarasekara
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