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Protests have woken up politicians, but further economic harm must be avoided



by Gnana Moonesinghe

People have demonstrated their opposition to the way the affairs of the country have been conducted bringing the economy to near collapse. To curb the growing tide of protest, curfews were declared but disregarded. What next? Not a state of anarchy surely.

Chaos and total disarray is bound to follow if no remedial action is taken. The people themselves will not want a state of chaos. The protests are intended to pressure the authorities to pull the country out of one chaotic situation and not to get into another. It is therefore now time to stop these protests too. The point has been made; it does not matter if the desired results are not altogether obtained if the rulers are pushed in the right direction.

The President and the Prime Minister are determined to carry on despite protests demanding their exit; the SLFP has moved out of the ruling coalition and some government MP’s have moved out of the government.It is obvious that the people’s elected representatives let their supporters down carrying on as if they had no responsibility to the voters who elected them. Apart from their lavish lifestyles and inept governance, they have also resorted to the tampering with people’s legitimate right to information, especially in the social media, which gave space for people’s grievances to be aired.

It is obvious nothing can be achieved at this juncture by referring to the deprivations suffered by the people. What is vital is a solution to get out of this prison of shortages of essential goods and services, the basic needs of the average Lankan.

Appointment of credible officials

It is time to retrieve whatever is possible at this juncture. A step in the right direction would be to appoint independent and capable officials to man the existing institutions. Appointing authorities should not limit their choices to friends, political contacts, kith and kin, and the ‘yes’ men around them. The fact that we did not have informed and capable men and women at the helm of affairs to guide the country away from the pitfalls we have fallen into is the tragedy we face today.

Covid pandemic

How did we as a nation get to this point of impoverishment? Many are the imputations about Covid’s impact on the economy. Perhaps tourism was affected but the downward trend of the economy has been gradually occurring over the years and it had remained more or less stagnant over too log a period. Development efforts have been minimal except in the construction sector with suspicion that this is due to kickbacks being common. Parlor gossip has it that concentration on this segment is inbuilt corruption.

Communal divisions in society

Yet another obvious reason for our predicament is the communal division existing in society. We divided on the basis of race and religion for political advantage of various parties. The ethnic and cultural infighting took a large toll on the manpower and the finances of the government from 1956 onward. So did the three decade war between the government and the LTTE.

By the time the war ended the government was exhausted and had no inclination to plan for the development of the nation or revival of the war ravaged areas. Development planning was not on the political agenda. All were busy with triumphalism and preoccupation was compulsorily diverted to human rights concerns of liberals at home and challenges before the UNHRC. None of these concerns have been yet resolved.

Provincial councils and power politics

The Indian prescription for communal peace was the 19th Amendment. Colombo accepted it and establishing provincial councils was an olive branch proffered to the Tamil community. Instead of a separate state, regional autonomy via provincial councils was granted. To date the government and the Tamils have not been able to achieve a satisfactory methodology for effectively managing the provinces as legislated.

This situation has prevented both government and the PCs from using the councils as a means of meeting the needs of the people and focusing on development activities of the provinces. Power politics subordinated development activity and the creation of PCs islandwide, including in areas with no demand for devolution created additional problems. This was due to thinking that you ‘you can’t give Jaffna what you won’t give Hambantota.’ PCs became a training ground for aspirants to Parliament. Individual ambitions took precedence over development needs of the provinces and the people it would benefit. Administration costs were far too high diverting funds from development projects.

Authoritarianism in governance

Alongside such developments, the tendency towards authoritarianism grew especially with the installation of the presidential system. Appointments and dismissals were in the hands of an all powerful president. This system also created the feeling that the executive was above the law and could dispense justice at his own discretion. The rule of law was no longer applied equitably.

The government gave its members too many privileges and it became commonly understood that entering Parliament was a passport to privilege with duty free limousines, subsidized meals, taxpayer paid overseas travel and many other perks. National development became secondary to personal privilege which had priority over the public weal. Politicians became separated from their electors and uncaring of the travails of the ordinary man. The ensuing poverty level was shocking. The politician stood aloof, estranged from the voter and unaware of the suffering of ordinary people.

Exporting for development

The reality was that we were not exporting enough to pay for our essential imports. Then the ill-thought ban on chemical fertilizer imports was slammed with little notice deeply hurting domestic agricultural production including that of rice and imposing untold hardship on the rural farmer.This is a good time for course correction and placing experts in charge of vital economic segments to ensure optimum results. Benefit from the country’s limited expert resources must be maximized with inter-disciplinary knowledge and experience sharing. It is time we thought beyond the boundaries of party politics and kith and kin.

There have been complaints that vital information supplied to government for remedial action has been ignored. For example the President of the College of Medical Labratory Technicians had told a newspaper that they had warned almost a year ago that hospitals would run out of medicine by March and April of 2022. Even letters sent to the President in this regard remained unacknowledged. As a result of this omission the whole country is paying for an act of negligence.

Tariffs and remittances

Realistic tariffs must be worked out to attract investment for export and domestic market production. This is an important strategy to attract capital for development.The remittances of our workers in the Middle East in particular and elsewhere has to be harnessed for investment purposes. This source has dried up recently as a result of an unrealistic exchange rate that had incentivized transactions outside the banking system. Informal markets gave far better returns to overseas workers sending money home and these opportunities were obviously seized. This is a problem that must be urgently addressed for the country’s benefit.

Tamil expatriates have expressed a wish to invest in their home districts and this is an opportunity that must not be ignored. Although the whole country needs to be developed, it must be appreciated that an affinity to one’s birthplace is natural. We cannot be choosers at this time and must take best advantage of investments on offer and be satisfied that funds are flowing into our country, wherever it is invested.

The absolute necessity at this time is to identify the development needs of the country, our export production potential, import substitution possibilities and many more and set about addressing national needs outside the confines of party politics. The protests have been a good wakeup call but continuing them sine die may have economic repurcussions. Extending them too long will blunt their effectiveness. The political class has been shaken up. We have to ensure that it rises to meet the country’s most urgent needs giving up its sloppy ways including personal aggrandisement at tax-payer cost.

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Responding to our energy addiction



by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under



The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…



Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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