By CHANDRE DHARMAWARDANA
Not so long ago, Champika Ranavaka championed a hair-brained project known as “Polipto”, to make petrol from waste polythene. Ranawaka also pushed the “Toxin-Free Nation” programme, and one of his university mates ran a project with the acronym SEMA. It championed the “new vision” from the presidential secretariat itself. The then president Maithripala Sirisena had banned glyphosate as a part of the “Toxin-Free” project popularised by Ven. Ratana, Ranawaka and others.
Today’s 100% organic policy is the absurd conclusion of the Toxin-free project. It has the support of many senior politicians, such as Chamal Rajapaksa, and juniors like Channa Jayasumana. Influential monks, Ven. Bengamuwe Nalaka, Ven. Bellanvila Dharmaratana and others have backed it with their “chinthanaya” and not with science.
At a more sophisticated level, supporters of organic agriculture come up with seemingly “scientific” proposals that confuse the uninitiated. An innuendo of conspiracy is added to this narrative, with the question, “Why hasn’t the Dept. of Agriculture (DOA) implemented all this”? Are agricultural scientists part of the “fertiliser mafia”?
Farming in Sri Lanka is a private business, and if the farmers and plantations have not adopted the methods pushed hard by SEMA, MONLAR, and the “chinthanaya” ideologues, as well as Buddhist monks owning much temple land, then something besides conspiracy theories are needed.
The seemingly scientific but false proposals confuse even the professionals. So, we hear of various scientists uttering on TV that organic agriculture is indeed the Holy Grail, but the hasty approach used by this government is at fault. This belief is patently false, as 100% organic agriculture, even at its best, CANNOT feed even a half of the current population of Sri Lanka. It will lead to enormous environmental degradation and dire famine.
However, let us examine some of these seemingly scientific but inadequate or unworkable proposals.
1. Plant a legume crop like Mung beans (Vigna radiata L) that takes 45 days to harvest. The Mung bean fixes nitrogen and will provide the needed N for the rice that should be planted after the Mung harvest. Some have even claimed that the Mung will produce 200-300% more N than what is needed by the paddy.
What is blithely claimed above is factually incorrect. Even short-term Mung varieties need 60-70 days, harvested in 90-100 days. Although Mung bean fixes nitrogen, it is NOT ENOUGH even for itself to produce a good crop. Read the research:
So it is usual to add N:P:K in the ratio 5:12:5 PLUS 4-5 TONNES of farmyard manure (compost) to avoid needing more fertiliser. Pendimethalin and Nitrophen are used as pesticides.
Cost of Mung bean farming is some Rs 95,000 to 100,000 per hectare. The Mung bean can be sold profitably. Instead of harvesting the mung growth, it can be ploughed to provide soil nitrogen. Unfortunately, even with N fixation, the most amount of N that one obtains is 4% of the DRY weight of the mung growth, and woefully inadequate for the rice.
However, as Rahaman et al (2014) have shown, crop rotation together with urea can improve agronomic efficiency. A basic amount of urea, as well as standard P, K are needed. The environmental problems from urea can be largely mitigated using slow-release urea, but NOT nano-urea which poses a serious health danger (see The Island 29-10-2021 https://island.lk/human-health-and-nano-fertilizers-where-is-the-safety-clothing/ )
In growing mung, instead of adding N via the 5:12:5 NPK fertilisser, benefit from biological nitrogen fixation with native rhizobia inhabiting nodule micro-organisms can be attempted, but at the risk of increased microbial CO2 generation. The possibility is still being researched, as may be seen from very recent work on the topic:
Hence it is plain nonsense to ask farmers to adopt a technology which is still on the drawing boards.
2. Another proposal that has been bandied about since the 1960s is that cyanobacterial algal N-fixation can be used to provide a large part of the N-fertilizer needed.
Long-term urea application degrades the soil, water, and air quality, producing global warming. So there is a biotechnological interest in using nitrogen-fixing microorganisms to enhance crop growth, without using urea, since current poor practices lead to much waste. The wasteful practice of using water to control weeds in paddy fields, where even 60% of the urea applied may get washed away, should be stopped, as it also leads to soil erosion. Growing rice without any more water than for any pasture grasses will be the norm when global warming reduces water availability.
If water logging is to be used even in the short term, then N-fixing algae can be considered, but this is NOT an optimal solution. Kulasooriya and others have reported preliminary studies. However, even a 2021 research publication merely mentions that there is potential but no standardized farm protocol available. See:
3. It has been claimed that fast growing N-fixing aquatic ferns like Azolla Pinnata with 20-25% protein content can be used to make N-fertiliser. It is known to double in size every two days if adequate nutrients are provided. So, it is proposed to grow it in lakes and tanks, and harvested to produce organic N fertiliser.
This is a complete myth. Azolla Pinnata grows exponentially but exponential amounts of P, K must be supplied, e.g., as phosphate fertiliser. If it acquires 25% protein, its nitrogen content would be 4% and no better than from Salvinia Molesta, which is already widely present. I have discussed both Salvinia Molesta and Azolla Pinnata in my plant website:
More details, including the fact that both A. Pinnata and Salvinia also accumulate heavy-metal toxins during their rapid growth are given there.
4. It has been claimed that when scientifically fertilised paddy fields were grown with zero fertiliser, it was only in the 4th year that the yield dropped to 45%, and that from then on two tonnes per hectare were assured!
One has to only look at the annual reports of the DOA in the 1940s, 1950s to get decades of data to show that such magical claims may require the intervention of God Natha. Even the ancients knew that after every three or four years it was necessary to burn a forest and make a new “chena”, even to get one or one and a half tonnes of rice per hectare. There is no way to cut through the gullibility of those who are faithful to an ideology.
5. The work of Dr. Premakumar of the ITI, and Dr. Roshan Perera of Kotelawala Defence Academy, has been cited for isolating many soil microorganisms that can enhance nutrient delivery to plants. So, has the “fertilizer mafia” prevented its use in farming!
The microorganisms that enhance nutrient delivery by various mechanisms, also enhance the uptake of heavy metal toxins like cadmium, lead, etc., by plants, making any water insoluble (i.e.non-bio-available) forms soluble. Such methods may upset the microbial balance of the soil, and spawn new toxic forms as happens in eutrophic systems. Enhanced microbial action leads to enhanced green-house gas emission of CO2 and reactive Nitrogen forms. Long term research is needed before such methods can be adopted in the farm.
Those who ask this kind of question know that we can use bovine DNA in a nutrient vat and create beef, without cattle and slaughter houses. Why is that DNA technology not being widely adopted? There can be decades between a laboratory result and farm applications. It is this lack of understanding and judgment that propelled the ban on glyphosate, or the100% organic policy, in the belief that there ARE practical alternatives suppressed by big agri-business.
6. Another typical question is why biochar and other carbon remediation methods had not been used as a soil conditioner in the plantations, where soil quality has grossly deteriorated, especially in tea.
Soil deterioration became increasingly acute after the nationalisation of the estates, when many of the standard maintenance practices were short-circuited by new managers. Many of the experienced managers left for South Africa and other countries that began to grow tea. The TRI is currently investigating biochar usage and soil remediation.
Those who ask these questions should note that this is not the only thing neglected since the 1970s. Neglect of most maintenance protocols, be they for tanks and rivers and their desilting, or due collection of garbage, or control of noxious fumes from vehicle traffic and increase in submicron particles etc., can be mentioned.
While submicron particles are probably the biggest environmental danger to health, the unproven danger of there being a few parts per billion of glyphosate in the environment, and the unsubstantiated claim that local glyphosate contains more toxic additives than used in Europe, led two medical doctors to demand the ban of glyphosate on the basis of “the precautionary principle”! Why didn’t they demand a ban on sugar which causes more diabetes and chronic kidney disease than any other toxin?
University of Peradeniya conferring Honorary Doctor of Literature degree on Dr. Amarasekera
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera spent his university life at the Peradeniya campus, which, no doubt, had contributed to the development of his career in literature and profession. Therefore, it is only right that the University of Peradeniya confer an honorary Doctor of Literature upon Dr. Amarasekera in recognition of his very substantial contribution to Sinhala literature and his many achievements in other fields. He had been awarded a similar degree previously by the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.
Early life and education
Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera was born in 1929 at Yatalamatta, a village in the interior of Galle District. He had his primary education in the village school and later at Nalanda College, Colombo. He had shown his literary ability before he entered the university, winning a prize in an international contest, for a short story titled ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’. A collection of short stories of the same name was published by M.D. Gunasena. He entered a dental school in 1954 and qualified as a dental surgeon in 1958. He excelled in the field of dentistry and literature.
Contribution to Sinhala Literature
Dr. Amarasekera’s literary career started very early; his first collection of short stories under the title ‘Rathu Rosa Mala’ was published before he entered the university, and while studying dentistry as an undergraduate in the Peradeniya Campus, he published several collections of free verse, ‘Bhava Geetha’, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Guruluwatha’, ‘Avarjana’ and also a short story collection, ‘Jeevana Suvanda’.
‘Karumakkarayo’ was his first novel, which created a stir in the literary arena as he ventured into new grounds, probably influenced by the writings of D.H. Lawrence. He wrote ‘Yali Upannemi’ and ‘Depa Noladdo’, continuing in the same genre. Later he realised that his style was imitative. He agreed with Martin Wickramasinghe’s views that the Peradeniya School of writers looked at our society through foreign lenses which took man out of his cultural context. He came to believe that there are no universal values that literature could make its eternal subject. His response was to write ‘Gandhabba Apadanaya’ which was published before he left for England to follow post graduate education and this work attempted to place the characters of the novel in their cultural milieu.
In England, he realised how radically different their culture was from ours. He wrote some of his excellent short stories following the ‘culture shock’; ‘Ektamin Polowata’, ‘Katha Pahak’ and also novels, ‘Asathya Kathavak’ and ‘Premaye Sathya Kathava’.
Dr. Amarasekera has always believed that literature has a social function and he discusses this idea in his book on literary criticism ‘Nosevuna Kedapatha’. He wrote several books on literary criticism in an attempt to develop a system relevant to our society; ‘Vinodaya saha Vicharaya’, ‘Abuddassa Yugayak’, ‘Aliya saha Andayo’ and ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’.
If literature has a social function it has to take into account the socio-political underpinnings of the times and this Dr. Amarasekera does in some of his novels like ‘Gal Pilimaya Saha Bol Pilimaya’, ‘Pilima Loven Piyavi Lovata’ and ‘Vil Thera Maranaya’.
He undertook the ambitious task of writing about the development of the middle class in Sri Lanka with the semi-autobiographical series of novels starting with ‘Gamanaka Mula’. It consists of seven beautifully written novels that analyse the predicament of the village intelligentsia who struggled to climb the social ladder oblivious of the value of their own culture.
He has published several collections of poetry and four long poems, ‘Amal Biso’, ‘Gurulu Vatha’, ‘Asakda Kava’ and ‘Mathaka Vatha’. In poetry he had developed a new poetic form called ‘Pasmath Viritha’ derived from folk poetry. He attempted to trace the link that modern poetry must have with folk poetry in his work ‘Sinhala Kavya Sampradaya’, which was critically acclaimed as an ‘insightful analysis’.
Professor Wimal Dissanayake in his book ‘Enabling Tradition’ considers Dr. Amarasekera as ‘the leading cultural intellectual of present times’. Several of his novels, short story collections and poetry have won national awards. His short stories are considered as comparable to the best in the world.
Dr. Amarasekera is 90 years old but he has not stopped writing. He published three books recently; ‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’, a socio-political analysis which proposes an alternative to Neo-liberalism and Marxism based on civilization, ‘Dathusena’, a historical novel based on King Dathusena’s life story, which attempts to exonerate Kashyapa from the grave crime of patricide and ‘Sankranti Samayaka’ a novel that explores communal relations in Sri Lanka.
These three publications display the versatility of Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera. As a writer of novels, short stories, poetry, socio-political essays and philosophical theories, he is the foremost “cultural intellectual of the present times”.
During the last three decades, Dr. Amarasekera has assumed the role of the public intellectual. This may have been prompted by the realisation that addressing socio-political and cultural issues directly may have a greater impact than through fiction.
His first work in this genre was ‘Anagarika Dharmapala Marxwadeeda?’. In this work Dr. Amarasekera attempts to rehabilitate Anagarika as an intellectual with a vision, taking away that dubious label of ‘a Sinhala Buddhist Chauvinist’ that had been pinned on him. This work has prompted others to rethink Anagarika as a man with a vision, deeply concerned for the country.
The outcome of this controversy regarding the Marxist interpretation was the publication of ‘Ganaduru Mediyama’ at the height of the JVP insurrection of 1987. It was in this work that he presented the concept of Jathika Chinthanaya. What Dr. Amarasekera seems to mean by the term Jathika Chintahnaya was the existence of a civilisational consciousness instilled into the psyche of a people by its civilisation. This notion doesn’t imply racial bias. It is considered to be an emotion that is ingrained in a people who had built, nurtured and protected a civilization on their land and it is protective and defensive and not racist, oppressive or chauvinist. Social scientists like Erich Fromm seem to share this viewpoint regarding civilisational consciousness.
‘Sabyathva Rajya Kara’ published in 2016 is considered the natural outcome of the line of thinking followed by Dr. Amarasekera. It is presented by the author as an alternative to the Marxist and Neo-liberal ideologies. Professor G.L. Pieris, reviewing this book says, “The central aim of this book is an assiduous search for the roots of a culture which needs to be rediscovered and revived as the only meaningful way forward.”
His next publication, ‘Danawadayata Wikalpayak’ (An alternative to Capitalism), is an extension of the same concept, a corollary. The central idea contained in this work has been summed up by Dr. Kamal Wickramasinghe in his review of the book: “He points to the need for awakening ‘social consciousness’ of a broader society that is common to all religion-based civilisations that share humane values.”
Contribution to dental profession
It may not be out of place to mention the services Dr. Gunadasa Amarasekera has rendered, as a professional, to the dental services and dental education in the country. He was the first government scholar to be sent to UK to obtain the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgery (FDS, RCS). On his return he was appointed a Consultant Dental Surgeon and the Head of the Dental institute and served that institution for over 15 years. He was the first Chairman of the Board of Study in Dental Surgery at the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine. He has also served as the external examiner for the Final BDS and the Post Graduate MS in Dental Surgery examinations.
Prof. N.A. de S. Amaratunga DSc
Omicron could hinder economic revival of SL
In the immediate term, all political parties in Parliament should bury their respective hatchets, and agree on a political truce for the next two years. They could take the next step and agree to form a national government, or a national governance council, for two years. The theme of such a government or entity, should be responsible governance as the most important political activity now is responsible governance.
By Raj Gonsalkorale
Sri Lanka’s dependency on export earnings, foreign remittances and tourist earnings for its survival has made it very seriously vulnerable to the effects of the latest COVID mutant, Omnicron. If it spreads and international travel restrictions become widespread, foreign remittances and tourism earnings will take a hit, and it could be a mortal hit for Sri Lanka which is already on the brink of bankruptcy.
The government appears to continue with its show of confidence that the economic situation of the country will be resolved. Increasingly, governance ineptness, infighting within the government, a seeming lack of leadership, is dashing the hopes of many people who bestowed their hopes on the President and the government. Government’s media strategists appear to be in a stupor as they have failed to pro-actively capitalise on the positive activities of the government. They have become a reactive, ineffective force.
The Opposition, like a set of Vultures, is sniffing a political opportunity thinking and hoping they will have a carcass to feed on soon. Some other politicians continue to wax their eloquence on everything that is wrong but never offering solutions as to how the wrongs can be made right. The TNA and some other North Eastern Tamil political parties act symbolically like the three Monkeys (the deaf, blind and mute) when it comes to national issues as they seem to be giving the impression they are interested only in the welfare of the Tamils in the North and East and not Tamils elsewhere, let alone the Sinhala and Muslim people.
The situation in the country reminds one of Sybil Wettasinghe’s children’s story “Labugediye Thoilaya”. Sri Lankan politicians of all hues appear to be inside the labu gediya, participating in a political ritual to ward off evil forces that have afflicted Mother Lanka, while the labu gediya has been swallowed by a large fish as described in Wettasinghe’s story.
In contemporary Sri Lanka, the labu gediya could be equivalent to the Parliament, and the fish, to the country’s foreign debt which could very likely and very soon, swallow the entire country along with the politicians and unfortunately, the people of the country as well. Some may say not so cynically that the Parliamentarians won’t be missed if so swallowed!
The naivety of the Opposition is only superseded by the reported reliance on personnel similar to devil dancers in the Labugediye Thoilaya by the powers that be, trying to ward off evil that have afflicted them and the country.
For the sake of the country, and the future generations, one can only hope that this collective tomfoolery ceases, and immediate remedial measures taken to keep the country afloat until the global economic situation shows positive signs of a sustainable recovery.
Dire need for a political truce
In the immediate term, all political parties in Parliament should bury their respective hatchets, and agree on a political truce for the next two years. They could take the next step and agree to form a national government, or a national governance council, for two years. The theme of such a government or entity should be responsible governance as the most important political activity now is responsible governance.
What should be the key tasks for a national political consensus when it comes to responsible governance? There are many. However, three key areas are mentioned here.
A stable economic
In the current and foreseeable future, it is unlikely that Sri Lanka will be able to earn enough foreign exchange to sustain itself, unless the entire foreign debt repayments are delayed at least for two years by mutual agreement with the lending entities. Considering that 45% of the foreign debt is in the form of international sovereign bonds falling due in the short term, this is going to be a hard task. However, mechanisms will have to be found to do this.
One avenue would be to seek IMF assistance to take over the short-term foreign debt component with a longer term, low interest long term repayment arrangement. This alone may not be sufficient and IMF assistance may also be needed to augment foreign exchange needs for import of petroleum, food items and medicines.
IMF conditions for such support will be stringent, but Sri Lanka is slowly but surely heading towards a disaster and may not have any other choice left to take but to agree to such measures.
This is where a political truce becomes critical. All governments of Sri Lanka have contributed to the perilous situation the country is in, and today, the Opposition cannot afford to blow their trumpets saying they can do better, considering they contributed hugely to the perilous state of the country with their ineptness for four and a half years, prior to the advent of the current government.
So, the problem is a creation of all previous governments, and therefore, the solution, too, has to be worked out by all political parties who have been a part of a previous government.
A political consensus achieved through a two-year truce should engage in some high-level priority policy settings on economic management, foreign policy, defence, food security, energy, environment and education. These key areas should not be treated like political footballs as they have been for the last 73 years endangering the hopes of future generations.
Measures to curb corruption
Secondly, there should be a consensus on measures to curb corruption, the bane of the country’s society and which has a direct impact on the much sought-after foreign investments. The instability of the Sri Lankan rupee with official rate for a US dollar being Rs 203 while the black-market converting it at around Rs 240, and the real value of the US dollar suspected to be more than Rs 300, show the volatility and the instability of the Sri Lankan rupee and why many would-be investors are not investing in Sri Lanka. Besides this, it is widely known that bribery adds another impost to any would-be investor, and the suspected range of this impost is reportedly anything from 10% to 50% of the value of a project.
Corruption has become endemic in the country and curbing it is in the hands of politicians as they are the ones responsible for introducing it and propagating it to the heights it has come to now. They need to enact new laws if what is there is not sufficient, but very importantly, they need to leave the justice system and the law enforcement system to carry out their tasks and responsibilities WITHOUT interference. A strong anti-corruption body with strong teeth, including judicial powers, is needed to instil some fear in potential bribe takers that they and their families could be called upon to pay for the crimes committed and languish in jail even for the rest of their lives depending on the severity of the crime. Everyone, from the President downwards, must be subject to anti-corruption laws and punishable irrespective of whether they are in office or not.
Legal framework for media operations
Thirdly, some measures should be taken through such a political consensus to determine how the politicians and the public should act to facilitate responsible governance via the media. A consensus on a legal framework for media operation including, very importantly, the social media is needed.
Social media, in particular, has become the repository and the facilitator of genuine news as well as fake news. Some information that is circulated via social media platforms is highly irresponsible and harmful to the very society in which such platforms provide the avenues to proliferate information.
While the intent should never be any curtailment of media freedom, responsible governance essentially has to be considered as a two-way process where those governing and those being governed should take equal responsibility about what they say and do. There may be many measures that could be taken to introduce a framework for all media operations without impinging on media freedom.
In this regard, Danushka Medawatte in an article titled Freedom of the Wild Ass (https://danumedawatte.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/freedom-of-the-wild-ass/)
states quote “Law is an ass” says Charles Dickens. This certainly seems to hold true in the light of the freedom that is enjoyed by media through the protections granted by both domestic legal systems and international law. While I am reaping the benefits of freedom of expression in making these claims, it needs to be highlighted that certain freedoms require to be curtailed and/or reviewed in order for the other rights to exist. At present, it is possible to note that some journalists exercise their freedom of expression in a manner harmful to the society. It is questionable whether such practices should be upheld in light of several recent circumstances. While freedom of expression is, without a doubt, one of the most important rights that perhaps functions as a premise for other rights, it is important to establish the framework within which one may swing one’s fist without striking another’s nose”
Medawatte encapsulates the view of all fair-minded citizens about democracy and media freedom.
Essentially, media freedom must be accompanied with responsibility as irresponsible circulation of unchecked, unverified, inaccurate and harmful information is not a characteristic of being responsible. Since politicians are tasked with the responsibility of reviewing and enacting laws, a political consensus becomes critical in ensuring that any media operation law including social media, has across the board support and does not become a political football to be kicked around by political parties.
Major social media platforms are under scrutiny throughout the world, and bona fides of some companies are in question as they have created an impression that revenue and revenue growth is what matters to them and not the means they provide to the good, the bad and the ugly, to propagate information and misinformation, with noble intentions as well as ignoble intentions. The proliferators of irresponsible information, using social media, need to consider whether they are doing a service or a disservice to the society and the country they live in.
Do they know what Parliament is there for?
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
The behaviour of our elected representatives, at times, is so reprehensible that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate them from village thugs. In a way, it is not surprising because thugs are elected to positions of power. In fact, many others are waiting to be elected to the Provincial Councils, but I am sure many voters are hoping that these elections would never be held as they do not want more thugs to harass them. It is hoped that the second rung of government would be scrapped whatever our ‘big brother’ may say. However, we cannot do without the Parliament, and the behaviour of the members of the hallowed chamber has left us aghast. They simply do not seem to understand what the Parliament is there for. Maybe, the younger generations are not that concerned but we, ‘oldies’, are worried as this was not the way the ‘honourable members’ behaved in the past.
It is a great shame that the MP do not seem to understand that the Parliament is a place for discussion and debate, not cheap protests. If they have to be held, they should be within the confines of parliamentary norms. Though the Opposition uses this tactic more often, the governing party, too, indulges in this kind of gesture politics. Perhaps, it is the telecast of parliamentary proceedings that has resulted in these theatricals aimed at impressing the public.
What we are witnessing today, in addition to an inept government, is an Opposition engaged in gesture politics which, it seems to think, would propel them to power. Instead of contributing to nation building, in a constructive manner, with debate and discussion based on facts, members of the Opposition seem keen to hold protests inside the Parliament and spreading misinformation. Worse still, they engage in street protests, in spite of the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic that is far from being controlled, as well alluded to in The Island editorial “Enemies of people” (The Island, 17 November).
Even if all this can be excused, the despicable behaviour of some ‘honourable members’ can never be condoned. They seem to relish using unparliamentary language, even raw filth! Quite often, exchanges between the government and the Opposition descends into a slang match, not infrequently leading to fisticuffs. too. Instead of being punished, they are rewarded for their misdeeds. One ‘honourable member’ who tampered with the private parts of a man-in-robes was rewarded with a ministry during the previous Rajapaksa administration! By the way, I have stopped referring to those who act against the teachings and the Vinaya rules of the Buddha as Bhikkhus, as they are nothing but men-in-robes seeking personal glory and power. They are more selfish than laymen and fight for seats in the Parliament. I am waiting for a government bold enough to stop Bhikkhus being elected to Parliament!
Obviously, disgraceful behaviour does not seem to be limited to uneducated MPs. Whilst there is a justifiable clamour for the introducing of minimal educational qualifications for MPs, lack of educational qualifications does not seem to be the only problem. What we need is an attitudinal change. I was shocked to watch a recent news item, where only a part of a speech made by MP Sarath Fonseka, former Army Commander, was broadcast. More than half of his speech was ‘bleeped-out’, making me wonder whether he was using unparliamentary language. What would have happened if schoolchildren had been present in the public gallery to watch democracy in action!
The Speaker of the House is supposed to be the guardian of the dignity of the chamber and it is his bounden duty to stop MPs from using unparliamentary language and behaving like thugs, but our modern-day speakers seem to be behaving like puppets! In the British House of Commons, the word that often rings loud is “Order”, sometimes repeated in a terse manner. Recently, the British Speaker reprimanded the PM when he was out-of-order! When will that happen in Sri Lanka? By electing a former Army man as President, voters expected discipline at all levels of government and public administration but, unfortunately, we seem to be having indiscipline from Parliament downwards.
MP Tissa Kuttiarachci opened a new low in the Parliament by making a speech full of double meanings in referring to some female MPs. It was so offensive that even a female minister raised objections. When the Speaker reprimanded him, he had the audacity to demand to know what wrong words he had used! Any decent individual would not hesitate to apologise to anyone upon being told that their feelings were hurt, but he refused to do so! Do these MPs lack even common decency? Or, are they deluded by grandiosity?
Parliament need not be a dry place. Debates can be, and should be, interesting. Good natured humour would be tolerated, enjoyed even though remarks may carry hidden meanings. After all, it was the great democrat and parliamentary debater Dudley Senanayake, on an interruption by Maithripala Senanayake, turned to the Speaker and said “Sir, he has reasonable use of Tamil at night”, alluding to the ethnicity of his wife Ranjini. The house roared with laughter, Maithripala Senanayake was amused! That is the finesse the politicians of the modern day lack. Crudeness seem to be their forte!
We had amazing speakers in the Parliament, one of them being the late Anura Bandaranaike. Though I did not have the fortune to listen to him, my good friend Nihal Seneviratne, former Secretary General of Parliament, confided in me that Anura was one of those rare MPs who frequented the library in the Parliament to gather fact for his speeches.
When the new Parliament was constructed, there was widespread criticism which was silenced by Minister Ananda Tissa de Alwis with a wonderful speech at the opening session of the Parliament. What has happened to Sri Lanka?
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