By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
“Pipi gena aa malak paravee, suwanda loketa nodee nesuna”: This line from a song my wife sang in the ’60s over Radio Ceylon, which translates as “A flower about to bloom withered, dying without releasing its fragrance to the world”, keeps going round and round in my head these days. I wrote it, grieved by the sudden death of my best friend from school, Susantha de Silva, who was on his way on a scooter, to a temple in the Eastern Province, to get a talisman from a Bhikkhu, to ensure his selection for training as a sub-inspector of police, to be mowed down by a speeding motorist. Maybe, it is the speculations around the fate of the political Pohottuwa, the reason for this earworm!
Afterall, I was among the millions jubilant, nay ecstatic, with the election of a president with a difference; not a career politician, from the tainted lot we have, but a public servant with a proven track record. Anyone not associated with the disastrous Yahapalanaya could have won the presidential election, in December 2019, but there was an added bonus. Gota was one of the architects of the victory against terrorism, deemed impossible by international military experts, and demonstrated strength of character by resisting all attempts by the West to thwart the efforts of our patriotic forces who were on the cusp of victory. Whilst preaching against and claiming to fight terrorism, they did their damnedest to save one of the worst terrorist leaders the world has ever known. Perhaps, they would have succeeded if not for the unshakable resolve of Mahinda and Gota.
Gota started very well; in fact, far better than expected, and Pohottuwa was richly rewarded with another deemed impossibility; winning the general election with a two-thirds majority, in spite of the constraints of the proportional representation system. Less than a year after that remarkable victory, jubilation has turned to despondency. What went wrong? Is it the unprecedent stress placed on the government by a devastating pandemic? No surprise that the country is begging for foreign currency as two main sources, remittances from the Middle-East and tourism, have dried up. Of course, the ever-dwindling numbers of arch-supporters would argue that things would be much worse had Yahapalanaya, or a successor, continued. Whilst there is hardly a doubt about that, it is no excuse. Further, there is a sneaking suspicion that dollars are flowing freely to fund well-organised attempts to discredit the government. However, the Opposition seems lame and the Leader of the Opposition is failing to capitalize on the situation by being more interested in verbosity than delivering a clear message, in simple words. His former boss, sensing these failures, though rejected by the voters, has decided to sneak into Parliament, breaking his own rules!
True, the government can boast of many successes. There had been a relentless attack on the underworld and many drug lords have been captured, though the demise of some occurred under suspicious circumstances. However, I doubt many will shed tears for them considering the damage they had done to our youth. Interestingly, the dissatisfaction created is entirely due to own goals by the government and the pity is that these were mostly avoidable. Though there are a good many, let us focus on a few of the fairly obvious ones.
Having won plaudits, internationally, too, for efficiently controlling the pandemic, initially, things went horribly wrong as some quasi-pundits around the government decided to put superstition before science. Some were more interested in protecting Ayurveda, though it predates the concept of infectious diseases, as it is a vote-catcher! The Minister of Health displayed gross ignorance by, first, dropping pots for prevention, devised by a faith-healer, who claimed to have been specially flown to India to help the Indian Government, and then partaking of an untested peniya, which made the inventor rich but those who drank sick, including the Minister herself. Unashamedly, she still continues to be the Minister of Health!
Then the idiots parading as the wise (Viyath) prevailed on the government not to relax the rules on the cremation of Covid victims, in spite of the excellent recommendations made by a committee of experts. This, totally unwarranted and unscientific stand, antagonised many a Muslim country that may have voted for us at the UNHRC. Coupled with this, the total lack of efficiency on the part of our Foreign Ministry, made us lose a battle that could have been easily won. At a time when the Tiger-rump is on the overdrive, discrediting Sri Lanka, with the connivance of some western politicians who would, just like our lot, stoop low for a few votes, we needed a strong Foreign Minister. Because we do not have one, we are losing our reputation, internationally, and the Ambassadors in Colombo are behaving as viceroys! If the Foreign Minister is not allowed to do what he wants, as some close to him claim, surely, he should be honourable enough to resign. But, then, am I not expecting too much from politicians who are more interested in the perks than honour or duty?
Whilst lauding the President for his vision of organic products, it is very unfortunate he attempted to do the right thing at the wrong time and in too much of a hurry. Much richer countries, with the desire to go organic, have found it difficult and have decided it should be done very gradually. The attempted ‘fertiliser ban’ added another mafia to the rice mafia, which seems to have defied every government. Perhaps, the only solution is to make Maithri the Minister of Food and see whether brotherly love would solve the rice problem! Fertiliser fiasco has sent prices soaring, the already depressed tea production to an almighty low level infuriating farmers and small tea growers alike. Though done with the best of intentions, this was a totally unnecessary own goal!
The fertiliser-fiasco pales into insignificance with the next own goal of unimaginable proportions. It was pretty obvious that fuel prices had to go up, due to the increasing world price of crude oil, as well as the decreasing value of the Rupee. Had the President addressed the nation, perhaps with a shorter speech, and explained the difficulties, I am sure the public would have had sympathies, even if they did not support wholeheartedly. Instead, the Minister of Energy announced the increase of fuel prices and in a totally unprecedent move, fraught with extreme idiocy, the Secretary General of the governing party issued a letter of condemnation of the Minister. In a smart move, the Minister retorted that as the fuel price increase was done with the concurrence of the President and the Prime Minister, the condemnation should extend to them as well. What an unholy mess! Perhaps, the world needs to learn from us how to govern like idiots!!
They are now planning to play, what some think is, the trump card: Bring Basil back! Basil valued his American citizenship over a ministry and it seems obvious, now, that removing the bar for dual citizenship holders from being in political office, with 20A, was to accommodate him. He has just returned from a month’s stay in the USA and what is up his sleeve no one knows! But I am sure Americans, naturally, expect him to honour the oath of citizenship he took. Those who clamour for Basil are hoping that once he is appointed the Minister of Economic Development, with or without Finance, would reduce the price of fuel winning the public support. They are living in cloud cuckoo land, taking masses for asses, failing to realise that it would only further erode the credibility of the government!
We talk so much about Singapore and it is noteworthy that dual citizenship is not allowed at all! Perhaps, that may be one of the reasons for their continuing development. Total commitment to the country is needed from all, especially politicians.
It looks as if the withering of Pohottuwa has already started. Unfortunately, this would have disastrous consequences for the country as there does not seem to be an alternative. SJB seems full of puppets and disgraced politicians. Ranil does not seem to allow anyone else to develop in the UNP, as long as he is alive. The JVP has turned out to be a bunch of spent revolutionaries who lost credibility by propping up Yahapalanaya.
They say a vacuum would not be left and would always be filled. But with what? A revolution? As an appendage of the USA, India or China? I fear the worst unless the Rajapaksas see sense and make an immediate course correction!
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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