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Pohottuwa: Will it blossom or wither?

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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!



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Opinion

When Susanthika did Lanka proud

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As in certain offices, in banks too there are restricted areas for outsiders and staff members who are not attached to the relevant divisions. The Treasury Department of any bank consists of three different sections; the front office, middle office and back office. The front office is commonly known as the Dealing (Trading) Room, with strict limitations to those present. It can also be used as a television viewing place, with the availability of all channels, both local and foreign.

The day, September 28, 2000, was an exceptional day as a few breathtaking moments were witnessed within our dealing room at HNB, as history was made by a courageous and determined, petite Lankan damsel in a faraway country. That was the day our Athletic Heroin, Susanthika Jayasinghe, competed in the Sydney Olympics in the 200 meters finals. Knowing the enthusiasm and fervour, that other staff members too share, to witness the event live, with the consent of my boss, Senior DGM Treasury, Gamini Karunaratne, I kept the doors of the Dealing Room wide open for others too to watch the event. As the ‘auspicious’ time approached the dealing room started getting packed. Finally, it was not only ‘house full’ but ‘overflowing’.

Maintaining the tradition, the ‘visitors’ were silent except for a slight murmur. Gradually, the murmuring diminished as the time approached. The track was quite visible to all of us. For the women’s 200 meters sprint event, there were eight competitors with Marion Jones of the USA as the hot favourite, and Cathy Freeman of Australia, the two athletes many of us knew.

As the much-anticipated event commenced, there was dead silence for about 20+ seconds and then the uproar of ecstasy erupted, along with tears of joy in all gathered, as our Golden Girl became the bronze medal winner, just a mere 0.01 seconds behind the second-placed Pauline Davis of Bahamas.

That was a monumental day for all sports loving Sri Lankans, after Duncan White’s 400 meters silver medal in the 1948 London Olympics, M. J. M. Lafir becoming the World Amateur Billiards Champion in 1973, and Arjuna’s golden boys bringing home the Cricket World Cup in 1996, beating the much-fancied Aussies.

As treasury dealers, while at work, we have witnessed all-important local and world events as and when they happened, thanks to the advanced media paraphernalia in dealing rooms of the banks.

Coming back to Olympics, for seven years everything was rosy for Marian Jones (MJ), but when she pleaded guilty to using steroids, she received international opprobrium and was stripped of all five Olympic medals she won in Sydney, Australia. After the belated disqualification of MJ, our heroine Susanthika was adjudged the Olympic silver medallist of the 200 meters event in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, with Pauline Davis as the gold medallist.

So it is after 52 years that Sri Lanka was lucky enough to have won another Olympic medal. Thanks to the sheer determination of our golden girl Susanthika and her numerous supporters, she was able to achieve this spectacular honour, amidst many obstacles. She was the first Asian to have won an Olympic or a world championship medal in a sprint event. The 21st anniversary of her tremendous feat falls on September 28.

Thank you, Madam Susie, for bringing honour to the country, and being an inspiration to the younger generations of budding athletes.

LALITH FERNANDO

Panadura

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Opinion

Give teachers and principals their due

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Why didn’t the Education Minister and the Secretary pay due attention to the fair voices of the most vulnerable and largest service sector of this country, at the initial stage, making the alliance of teacher-principal trade unions proceed to street protests, which started in the absence of any positive gesture from the Ministry of Education? That is how the present state of chaos originated.

The prolonged online teaching strike has kept the younger generation of all school-going children in darkness, and their right to learn has been deprived of. Blaming the teachers is not the solution. What is required is the right solution at the time of need. The unions are demanding the implementation of the Subodhini Committee report, plus the Cabinet subcommittee proposals, in a gazette notification. It is more sensible for the government to respond to this final flexible stance of the unions, rather than prolonging the issue with temporary solutions.

The strikers of the teacher-principal unions are not ready to give in to the temporary sugar candy sachet which is a pretty ridiculous joke, a consolation allowance to dodge the crux of the problem. Plastering or patching up the situation by offering an allowance of Rs. 5000 for three months is a shame to the teacher community. Such an allowance should be allocated for COVID-19 affected people of low-income or refugees in flood-affected regions.

What could have been broken with the nail was allowed to grow to the extent that it couldn’t be crushed even with an axe. Successive governments disregarded the demands of teachers and principals, treating them as nonentities; although the ungrateful present-day politicians rose to their present high positions because their bright lives were designed, brain powers sharpened and heads enlightened by teachers.

Although all teachers are not saints, the majority of our teachers are worthy of veneration. They are the architects of nation-building. They must have sufficient pay for a decent living, commensurate with the commitments and their toil. With an ungratified mentality, they may be unenthusiastic to discharge duties. Under such circumstances, the process of nation-building will collapse. So far, they have been doing yeoman’s service but they can’t continue to do so amidst the rising cost of living and unfavourable living conditions. When the salaries of all other employee categories have been brought to a satisfactory level, why does the government not heed to their demand?

In response to the mounting pressure from the teacher-principal trade union strike, the government appointed a cabinet subcommittee to produce another report to solve the problem; but it turned out to be a futile attempt, akin to changing the pillow as a treatment to the headache, wasting the valuable time of both parties. Such a committee should comprise experts from the education field, not from the lobby with the loquacious MPs who are in the habit of suspending and postponing everything until the next budget. On the other hand, what is the need for piling up further committee reports, when there is already a much-quoted and assumed fairly balanced Subodhini Committee report, which has been formulated by a panel of members comprising a former minister, four additional secretaries, and the accountant of the Ministry of Education.

True that the government is in dire straits with financial difficulties, but that is not a sound reason to postpone this issue. If so, why should the government introduce new megaprojects, such as 200 city beautification programmes, import of luxury vehicles for MPs and walking tracks, which are not critical requirements. The problem of teacher salary anomalies could be solved by holding such long term, not so urgent schemes.

The proposed four-phased payment of the salary increments is a nice way of circumventing serious demands of trade unions and yet another fairy tale. It is a way of escaping the main responsibility.

To illustrate this point, let us take the case of the state employees who retired between January 2016 and December 2020. All government employees including judges, ministry secretaries, directors, doctors, nurses, police and armed forces personnel, and mind you, a former director-general of the Pensions Department, was entitled to a revised salary increment system in five stages starting in 2016, and final amalgamation of all increments, due to be paid with effect from January 2020. The salary increment rates are clearly stated in the pension award letter issued by the Director-General of the Department of Pensions, which is a legal document to confirm the claim.

The present government unreasonably cancelled the (2016-2019) pensioners amalgamated salary increment of five stages, by the circular 35/2019(1) dated 20.01.2020 following a cabinet decision. More than 100,000 pensioners have been victimised and deprived of their fundamental right of the salary and sad to say, nearly 1819 pensioners have already died without getting their increments. But the government so adamantly refused to pay up and adopted a slippery policy with various cock and bull stories.

The basis for the development of a country is the education system, spearheaded by the formidable workforce of teachers hailing from Aristotle and Disapamok. All of the so-called thriving politicians; garrulous speakers who look down upon teacher communities; professionals, academics, philosophers, entrepreneurs, scholars, scientists, inventors, artists, all of these are the intellectual outputs of the dedicated energies of humble teachers who never gave priority to building highrise palaces for their self-indulgence and luxurious lives. Not to let it happen again and again, they deserve to be freed from this muddle of salary anomalies at this critical moment.

Finally, a word about the mediation of the Prelates of Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, who are urging the alliance of the teacher-principal trade unions to give the strike up , and restart online teaching. May I appeal to the venerable prelates to be fair to all. Could you, in your respected designations, kindly convey the same message to the government, asking why it is not taking an initiative to resolve this burning issue, by issuing a circular or gazette notification, without postponing it off further, for the sake of the innocent school children?

M.B. NAVARATHNE

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Opinion

Ivermectin for COVID-19 management

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Prof Saroj Jayasinghe’s candid view, published in The Island of September 17, 2021, on Ivermectin use, both in treatment and prevention of COVID-19, has been based on scientific analysis of multiple meta-analyses on the subject. Therefore, his educated opinion must be viewed with great positivity.

Quite correctly, a doctor has to make decisions in good faith in an emergency situation, where any delay in the commencement of treatment could be disastrous. In a life-threatening condition, the treating doctor has no time to wait and waste until the evidence is available scientifically. Instead, the doctor has to make a decision using his clinical acumen and experience in order to save the life of the patient under his or her care.

Another example is: In an instance where an unconscious patient is brought to the accident and emergency department with life-threatening bleeding after an accident, the treating surgeon has no time to obtain the patient’s informed consent (usually a requirement before any surgical procedure), but to attend to (perform surgery on) the patient in all-good faith, in order to save the life. It may require even the amputation of a leg or hand.

Hence, treating a critically ill patient with Ivermectin is more than justified, particularly in the backdrop of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring COVID-19 as a public health emergency. Further, under this context, the usage of Ivermectin in the prevention of COVID-19 is quite justified. Since no antiviral drug is available hitherto, its usage is further warranted.

As mentioned, Ivermectin is a time-tested and safe drug with no known serious side effects. The call for its usage in the management of and prevention of COVID-19 is time appropriate.

A veterinary surgeon, Prof Asoka Dangolle of the University of Peradeniya, has also expressed his opinion based on his experience with Ivermectin in mammals. In the current context, the world’s attitude is much in favour of the ‘One Health’ concept.

Therefore, in a helpless situation or pandemic of this nature, the consideration of the use of Ivermectin in all good faith is justifiable.

Prof ANANDA JAYASINGHE

Professor in Community Medicine

University of Peradeniya.

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