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Political apathy amongst Sri Lankans’ is significant contributory factor to the current state of affairs

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by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Political apathy is best described when a citizen is indifferent in their attitude to political activities, such as electing politicians, having opinions, and their civic responsibility. A more simplified term for political apathy would be that someone ‘cannot be bothered’ to participate in their country’s political system.

There is no doubt that the country is amid an economic meltdown. It is in free fall, and where it will end depends on how quickly those entrusted with the country’s governance take decisive action. A few independent economists and financial analysts have been calling on the government over the last 18 months to make challenging and unpopular decisions as otherwise, the country might end up like Lebanon. Unfortunately, the country and the people are in this precarious situation because those calls went unheeded.

It is possible that most people have not read about the severe economic downfall of Lebanon, where currently, only two hours of electricity a day is supplied from the national grid. The currency has devalued significantly, and the black-market rate for the dollar is about 400 per cent higher than the official rate. There is a great scarcity of food and medicines. Politicians are fighting among themselves. Sounds familiar?

Despite many upheavals that our country has gone through due to the civil war that continued for a quarter of a century, two violent uprisings by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Easter Sunday bomb attack, the Tsunami in 2004 and race riots, the people have not experienced such hardships as they do now. Most are shell shocked, angry and unable to fathom how things we took for granted, such as uninterrupted power, diesel, petrol and cooking gas being readily available despite soaring word prices are no longer easily available.

The poorer segment of the society is out on the streets, standing in queues to purchase essentials like milk powder, cooking gas and kerosene. In addition, many who earn their living by providing transport services are in diesel queues, unable to earn their daily sustenance. In addition, skyrocketing prices make many essentials unaffordable. This population segment openly criticizes the government for its inaction and inability to resolve the problems. Some have resorted to blocking roads, hindering road traffic.

A small segment of the middle class has begun to express their concern and criticism of the government by participating in a silent protest holding placards and candles along the roadside without disturbing traffic. The placards are pretty explicit in their disapproval of the government. These gatherings are no doubt “apolitical.”

In most societies, the middle class consisting of professionals and academics, are vocal against political mismanagement and generally acts as a powerful voice to hold governments to account. However, in Sri Lanka, we, the middle class until now, have abdicated such responsibilities as our lives have centered around building wealth and performing parental duties. Many might say, “what is wrong with that?” But unfortunately, the sad reality is the current state of affairs. In addition, many have remained silent, indifferent and tolerant of the rampant corruption that pervades our country. This is despite many coming from families where corruption was considered a crime by their parents. Only recently, several economic academics have come on television and openly disagreed with the government’s economic policies. A case of too little too late?

The private sector must be silently seething with anger. They have been struggling against the odds since 1985 due to various factors that I have mentioned in a previous paragraph. In addition, inconsistent and poorly thought out economic policies, corruption, inefficiency and lethargy among the public service, and, more often than not, a poorly trained workforce has challenged their resolve. Nevertheless, it is to the private sector’s credit that the country has ticked over despite the constraints.

But, as in the case of the middle class, the private sector stands accused of being subservient to successive governments and being tolerant and even complicit in corruption. There is no doubt that the private sector needs the goodwill of the government in power to further their business activities and furtherance of business-friendly policies.

Their reluctance to come forward with constructive comments was well illustrated during the Yahapalana government when the head of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, a much respected and proven business leader, was publicly rebuked and his political loyalties questioned by the then Prime Minister. This is after the chamber requested the government to provide additional information to the public about the proposed MCC agreement with the US government. No one came to his defence except for an article I wrote supporting the gentleman concerned.

There is no doubt that the politicians we have elected since independence in 1948 have failed us. They have been devoid of vision, leadership, intelligence, and integrity, the primary reason for our predicament.

However, we, the people, are equally culpable for the current state of affairs. We have been, for several decades, politically apathetic. We have exercised our franchise irresponsibly for decades. We continue to elect those who have failed repeatedly and are responsible for crimes and corruption.

Those who have the competence and integrity to govern have abdicated their civic responsibility. Many of our skilled and competent professionals and academics have migrated in search of greener pastures. Those who remained decided to lead a “quiet” life and avoid any active participation in expressing disapproval of wrongdoings by politicians. The quotation “All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good men to remain silent” is applicable in this instance.

The few who had the courage of their conviction to express constructive criticism were either penalized or ignored. For example, my late brother Rajeewa who worked at Sri Lankan Airlines for nearly two decades wrote 40 articles in seven years about how unprofessionally the airline was managed and operated by successive governments. He gave numerous examples of serious mistakes made by people appointed to the board and senior management positions who lacked experience in the aviation industry and even business and managerial competence. The only qualifications they had were that they were either related to or were good friends of the higher-ups in government.

The net result is that the country’s taxpayers are burdened with a liability they can not afford. But unfortunately, no one, either retired or working at the airline, ever wrote in support of his disclosures and supported the request to privatize the airline. All remained silent despite agreeing privately but with the advice, “machan, just keep silent; nothing will change.” Even his personal life was negatively impacted due to his critical articles as he was consistently rebuked and reminded, “my sales will come down if you antagonize those in the airline.”

Many other state-owned enterprises, including the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the Ceylon Petroleum (CPC), have been for decades run inefficiently. No effort has been made to eliminate the losses and restructure them to be operated as sustainable businesses. In that regard, the militant trade unions need to be held responsible for their continued opposition to such proposals. Only a few months back, I wrote an article recommending that the government should ban all industrial action by trade unions for the next five years. I highlighted that to come out of the economic quagmire we are in, many unpopular and difficult decisions will need to be made, which trade unions will oppose.

How many will publicly agree with my recommendation despite these two organizations being responsible for the immense suffering we are enduring? The wild cat strikes by the health and railway workers have also caused great inconvenience to the public. The question is whether we accept such unreasonable behaviour or demand decisive action such as dismissal from service for engaging in an activity to inconvenience the public. After all, we are the taxpayers who pay their salaries.

How many of us read the reports published by the Auditor General disclosing colossal waste, corruption and inefficiency in state enterprises or critically analyze the annual budget? To be only interested in whether the personal income tax rate has been reduced and the single person allowance has been enhanced will not suffice.

I, for one, hope that the people of this country, in the future, will be actively involved in publicly voicing their opinion and disapproving of actions against the public interest, whether committed by politicians or trade unions. Of course, it will be too little too late to state the obvious, but then we need to start from somewhere.



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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