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PM Modi’s speech at US Congress a lesson for Sri Lanka

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PM Modi with President Biden

By Prof. Amarasiri de Silva

When US President Joe Biden rolled out the red carpet on the South Lawn of the White House for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday morning, their meeting held a significant purpose. At the forefront of their agenda was the aim to forge a formidable alliance between the two nations, centered around promoting the freedom of business and naval activities in the Asia Pacific oceans. Recognising the strategic importance of the region, both leaders were committed to harnessing an accord that would enhance economic opportunities and strengthen security cooperation, ushering in a new era of collaboration between the United States and India.

Prime Minister Modi’s speech at the joint session of the US Congress served as an enlightening moment for Sri Lanka and a valuable lesson for politicians in Sri Lanka and around the world. It was a powerful antidote to promoting aversion, hatred, and war-mongering. It showcased a visionary approach toward international relations and set the stage for a new era of cooperation and understanding. His speech this time is far superior to his speech at the US Congress on June 8, 2016, at which time India was the 10th leading economy in the world. But in 2023, in his speech, he disclosed that India is the 5th leading economy in the world, showing the progress achieved under his leadership. Among other Asian political leaders who spoke at the US Congress, Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (April 29, 2015), Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (September 19, 2012), and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (August 5, 2005) were prominent. They all discussed the strong alliance between their countries and the United States and highlighted the importance of bilateral cooperation and democracy. Mr. Modi’s speech is unique in that he was speaking for global development and global democracy at a time when India has reached its local development to a reasonable maximum level by addressing the local inequalities. Mr. Modi’s address emphasised the importance of fostering unity, peace, and harmony among nations. His words resonated beyond borders, challenging divisive ideologies, and highlighting the need for a more inclusive and compassionate world. By denouncing policies and actions that fuel conflict and animosity, he encouraged leaders everywhere to embrace a more constructive approach in dealing with complex global issues.

The speech by Prime Minister Modi not only captivated the attention of the US Congress but also had a profound impact on Sri Lanka. It served as a wake-up call, urging politicians in Sri Lanka to reevaluate their rhetoric and policies. It demonstrated that leadership could transcend narrow agendas and instead focus on promoting dialogue, cooperation, and mutual respect among nations. Moreover, Prime Minister Modi’s statement about heralding a new beginning in the world order carries immense significance. It signifies a departure from traditional power dynamics and a shift towards a more collaborative and inclusive global framework. The speech serves as a clarion call for leaders worldwide to work together towards a future characterized by peace, progress, and shared prosperity.

The transformation of India’s economic landscape under Mr. Modi’s guidance is a testament to his strategic vision and commitment to development. During his speech, Mr. Modi eloquently highlighted the remarkable progress that India has achieved under his leadership. With a sense of grace and pride, he acknowledged the significant milestones India has crossed on its path to development. Thanks to his visionary leadership and concerted efforts, India has climbed the ranks and now proudly stands as the fifth largest economy in the world. His policies and initiatives have propelled India forward, unlocking its immense potential and igniting rapid growth across various sectors. The nation’s rise in economic stature reflects the hard work and perseverance of its people, as well as the enabling environment created through policy reforms and pro-business measures. These are lessons for Sri Lanka.

Furthermore, Prime Minister Modi’s aspirations extend even further. As he mentioned in his speech, India is determined to strive for the pinnacle of economic development, aiming to become the top-ranked developed country worldwide despite representing one-sixth of the global population. This ambitious goal demonstrates the unwavering determination of India and its people to achieve excellence on the world stage.

PM Modi’s vision of India’s future as a top developed nation is not only rooted in economic progress but also encompasses various other dimensions of development. It encompasses improvements in education, healthcare, infrastructure, innovation, and social welfare, all of which are vital components of a comprehensive and sustainable development agenda. The mention of India’s pursuit to become the world’s foremost developed country with its vast population is a testament to the potential of its human capital and the collective efforts of its citizens. It signifies the belief that every individual’s contribution matters, and that inclusive development is crucial for the nation’s overall progress.

In his impactful speech, Mr. Modi effectively conveyed that India has made significant strides in addressing local issues, economic challenges, and fostering overall development. He highlighted the remarkable progress achieved in improving the lives of millions of Indians. One crucial aspect he emphasised was the widespread accessibility of AI technology, smartphones, and the internet. He proudly stated that even individuals on the streets, while engaging in everyday activities like purchasing vegetables or availing services at barbershops, rely on their smartphones for convenient transactions.

Moreover, PM Modi underscored the substantial advancements made in ensuring the well-being of India’s vast population. He highlighted that millions of people now have access to free healthcare, housing, and various other essential facilities. This focus on inclusive development reflects India’s commitment to uplifting its citizens and providing them with a better quality of life.

The Prime Minister also touched upon the significant progress achieved in transportation infrastructure. He highlighted that India’s transportation development has reached an apex, indicating the nation’s commitment to improving connectivity and facilitating smooth movement of goods and people across the country. This development not only enhances economic opportunities but also enhances social cohesion by bringing people closer together.

Furthermore, Mr. Modi acknowledged the efforts made in minimising social inequalities. He emphasised that steps have been taken to address the issue of inequality, and as a symbol of progress, he mentioned that a tribal leader now represents the presidency. This representation signifies the nation’s commitment to inclusivity and demonstrates the strides taken to ensure equal opportunities for all.

PM Modi’s speech resonates with the remarkable achievements India has made on various fronts, addressing local issues, driving economic growth, and advancing overall development. The accessibility of technology, exemplified by widespread smartphone usage and access to the internet, signifies India’s progress in bridging the digital divide and ensuring connectivity for millions of people. The provision of essential facilities, such as free healthcare and housing, showcases the government’s commitment to improving the quality of life for its citizens.

Prime Minister Modi’s speech not only resonates within India but also offers valuable lessons to politicians worldwide. His emphasis on shunning divisive ideologies and promoting unity underscores the importance of collaboration and understanding in a rapidly changing global landscape. The call to embrace a new world order built on cooperation and harmony inspires leaders to work towards a brighter and more harmonious future for all.

PM Modi’s speech showcases his unwavering dedication to India’s progress and belief in its potential. It exemplifies the transformative impact that effective leadership, strategic policies, and collective effort can have on a nation. His address serves as an inspiration to not only Indians but also the global community, highlighting the possibilities of overcoming challenges and achieving extraordinary development outcomes through determination, vision and inclusive governance.



Opinion

Transformation of agro-food system:

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A culture-based local solution for Sri Lanka

BY Prof Nimal Gunatilleke

The Thirty-seventh Session of the UN-FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) is being held as a high-level Ministerial in-person event in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 19 – 22 February 2024. This was preceded by the Senior Officers Meeting (SOM) held virtually from 31 January to 2 February 2024.

This year’s conference, themed “Transformation of the Agro-Food System,” will delve into key areas such as promoting nutritious food production, ensuring food security, enhancing food production, safeguarding the environment, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating climate change risks.

This regionally significant meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is being held in Colombo at a time when Sri Lanka is struggling to keep its head above water in the post-COVID era knocked down for the second time in quick succession by her economic crisis.

A government report and data from the health ministry quoted by Reuters indicates that the people in Sri Lanka are currently burdened with soaring prices, including food, largely caused by its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948.

According to the Central Bank Report ‘rising malnutrition among children has become a forefront policy concern in Sri Lanka amidst heightened food insecurity of households caused by the host of economic and social issues that exacerbated during the economic crisis in 2022’.

The following human health statistics extracted almost verbatim from the Reuters report on Jan 18, 2023, are equally disturbing, to say the least.

The number of children grappling with various forms of undernutrition in Sri Lanka has increased for the first time in at least six years in 2022.

More than 43.4% of the country’s children under 5 years of age are suffering from nutrition problems, according to the report released in October, with 42.9% suffering from some form of undernutrition.

Data available on the website of the health ministry’s Family Health Bureau indicate that the percentage of children under five who are underweight, stunted (low height for age), or wasting (low-height for age) increased in 2022 after dropping steadily since at least 2016.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient utilis ation.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC REGIONAL OVERVIEW OF FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION STATISTICS AND TRENDS

According to the World Bank statistics, Sri Lanka ranked the second worst affected country in the South Asian region in terms of wasting among children under five years. Further, underweight among the same group of children remained around 20.0 percent since 2000, while no significant advancement was reported in terms of children with stunted growth.

Meanwhile, the persistent disparities in malnutrition prevalence across regions and economic sectors in the country suggest that nutrition anomalies remain unresolved for a prolonged period. Across residential sectors, the estate sector has become the most vulnerable sector with the highest prevalence of stunting and underweight children under five years. According to the DHS-2016, around 31.7 percent of children in the estate sector are stunted, compared to 14.7 percent in urban areas and 17.0 percent in the rural sector. Particularly child malnutrition represents a deep concern that carries a generational burden.

UNDERNOURISHMENT AND FOOD INSECURITY: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 2.1

A yet another alarming set of nutrition statistics has been published in the Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, in December 2023 in addressing the Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: UNDERNOURISHMENT AND FOOD INSECURITY.

The percentage of people unable to afford a healthy diet in Sri Lanka was 54% in 2020 and the figure has been increasing ever since.

Prevalence of undernourishment in Sri Lanka is 5.3% (cf. India 16.6%)

The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity during the period 2020–2022 in Sri Lanka has been 10.9% (cf. Bangladesh 31.1%)

Undernourishment is defined as the condition of an individual whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide, on average, the amount of dietary energy required to maintain a normal, active, and healthy life. The indicator is reported as a prevalence and is denominated as “prevalence of undernourishment”, which is an estimate of the percentage of individuals in the total population who are in a condition of undernourishment.

People affected by moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food and have been forced to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to a lack of money or other resources.

MALNUTRITION: SUSTAINABLE

DEVELOPMENT GOAL 2.2:

This section reports on four global nutrition indicators: stunting , wasting in children under 5 years of age, and anaemia in women aged 15 to 49 years.

The prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka in 2022 has been 15.9% (cf. India 31.7%).

The Prevalence of wasting among children under 5 years of age from 2015 to 2022 in Sri Lanka has been 15.1% (cf. India 18.7%)

The Prevalence of overweight among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka is 1.3% in 2022 (cf. 2.8% in India).

ANAEMIA AMONG WOMEN AGED 15 TO

49 YEARS

Prevalence of anaemia among women aged 15 to 49 years in Sri Lanka in 2019 has been 34.6 % (cf. India 53%).

HEALTHY DIET AT NATIONAL SCALE

In this regard, notable transformations in the country’s food system are essential to deliver a healthy diet for people at an affordable price. These include improving productivity in the agriculture sector along with more innovations and research and development, reducing post-harvest losses, more value addition in the agriculture sector, reducing import dependency on food systems, introducing climate-resilient food crops, promoting a wide range of nutrient-rich foods, particularly through the popularising integrated farming, rebalancing agriculture sector subsidies, and tax policies and improving agronomic practices as well as maintaining adequate food buffers to face food emergencies.

Among the solutions provided at the national level include the provisioning of school meals, provisioning of food/cash allowances for pregnant and lactating mothers, the Thriposha program, school water sanitation, and hygiene programs, and the salt iodization programme, among others. Reflecting the impact of these efforts and commitments spanning over several decades, malnutrition among children declined remarkably during the period from 1975 to 1995, with stunting among children below five years of age almost halved to 26.1 percent in 1995, compared to 49.9 percent in 1975, while the underweight child population declined to 29.3 percent in 1995 from 57.3 percent in 1975. However, these trends have reversed since the double whammy started in 2021 with COVID-19.

In addition, some of the small-scale community-level initiatives established under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture such as Hela Bojun Hal (Native Food Courts) are gaining popularity in several provinces in Sri Lanka. These food courts serve a variety of nutrient-rich native food preparations using rice flour, finger millet, local vegetables (leafy porridge), and many other sweetmeats prepared by local womenfolk and sold at an affordable price. Also, there are many beverages and local fruit drinks that are equally popular among the customers.

These food courts providing healthy and nutritious meals are making steady inroads into the food and beverage trade among the health-conscious public from all walks of life including schoolchildren, university students, and blue- and white-collar workers, alike which is indeed an encouraging trend.

If these types of Hela Bojun food courts could be promoted in rural as well as urban schools with the participation of the parents of the schoolchildren under the direction of the school administration and local health and agricultural authorities, it may help to address some of the issues under discussion at the on-going UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference such as undernourishment, food insecurity, and malnutrition. At the same time, it may give a shot in the arm for promoting nutritious food production while ensuring food security befitting the theme of this year’s UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference, which is “Transformation of the Agro-Food System”.

Sri Lanka as the host country’s special ministerial event for this conference has put forward her theme as ‘Agro-tourism in Asia and Pacific – accelerating rural development and enhancing livelihoods’ showcasing agrotourism most likely in the world-renown Kandyan Spice/Home Gardens and as a spin-off of this, the local food courts utilizing these home garden produce too, can be highlighted at the same time.

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Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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