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Ranil: High voter turnout advantageous to UNP

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  •  Repo facility with US Fed amidst diminishing exports big risk

  • Militarisation of public administration system will not be permitted

     

by Zacki Jabbar

 

Former Prime Minister and leader of the UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe is hoping there will be a high voter turnout at the forthcoming general election, which, he believes, will prove advantageous to the UNP.

“The higher the number of votes cast, the better for the UNP,” Wickremesinghe said in an interview with The Island, while travelling across the country to address a series of public meetings.

Asked how the UNP would perform with the Samagi Jana Balawegaya vying for a share of its vote base he said, “We are the largest party. It all depends on how many come to vote. No party is sure of that. If there is no fear of the Coronavirus, more people will go to the polling booths. We hope a large number of persons would cast their votes. The higher the percentage, the better for the UNP.”

Wickremesinghe said the people, in a short period of eight months, had got fed up with the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration, due to the problems they were facing on many fronts including the home economy, as a direct result of leaders in what he called the Family Party––Podujana Peramuna, pulling in different directions.

The government had since last November been unable to secure any tangible international assistance, having isolated itself on the world stage due to the lack of an economic vision and plan, the UNP leader said. It is only the UNP that has a track record of raising the required finances through developing international relations. Economic mismanagement by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was the main cause for the suffering people were undergoing and not the Coronavirus pandemic, the UNP leader stressed.

The politicisation or militarisation of the public administration system would not be permitted under a UNP government, Wickremesinghe said when asked about the appointment of Special Task Forces packed with former military officers to run the government. The recent practice of delegating functions of the Police to the military would also be stopped and the military given its rightful role.

Q: How do you see the governments decision to pledge USD 1 billion worth of US Treasury Bonds held by the Central Bank and enter into a repo facility with the US Federal Reserve ?

A: It is illegal without parliamentary approval. Parliament is vested with the control of public finances. The monetary law does not make specific arrangements for this repurchase agreement. The government should explain the need for such an arrangement, how it would be repurchased and what would happen if Sri Lanka defaulted. How does a country with a shortage of USD 7 billion in export earnings repay over USD 1 billion to recover the pledged U.S securities. In this scenario the possibility of default is extremely high, with the country facing the likelihood of losing ownership of the assets pledged. Meanwhile, the MCC agreement has been finalised. The government has a duty to reveal the truth prior to the General Election.

Wickremesinghe said that new laws would be introduced to help protect businesses from bankruptcy due to lockdown caused by COVID-19 and steps taken to ensure that every citizen was able to own a piece of land and a home. It is estimated that the population of the Indian Ocean region would increase by 500 million by 2050. Our long-term goal for Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector is to see the county being positioned to produce the food requirement of the region. Local agriculture will be strengthened to ensure we are modernized and competitive on the global stage.

The UNP has always worked with the intention of developing the country as an operational hub in the Indian Ocean region. It will be with this plan in our sights that Colombo will be transformed into a financial centre, for which, legislation on financial cities will be enacted, he explained.

Highlighting the importance of ethics, Wickremesinghe said that a Parliamentary Standards Act would be enacted to ensure that Members of Parliament and Ministers were governed by a Parliamentary code of ethics. An independent commissioner to ensure the high standards of the legislature would be appointed to inquire into complaints made against parliamentarians.

“In order to minimise the level of corruption – a by-product of the existing Parliamentary electoral system, we will abolish the preferential voting system and replace it with a mechanism that will be a mixture of the proportional representation system and the first past-the-post system to elect members to the 225 seats in Parliament. Laws will also be introduced to control and limit the expenditure of politicians and political parties during election time. Similar laws that exist in the United Kingdom and other countries will be taken into account when formulating the relevant legislation.”

Explaining measures that would be taken to overcome the Corona virus challenge, the UNP leader said steps would be taken to prevent an economic downfall by implementing measures to revitalise the economy. The government’s attention would also be focused on minimising the adverse economic impact a second or third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic could have on the country.

“5,000 PCR tests will be carried out daily. At least 10 million facemasks will be provided to schools, higher education institutions and other such facilities.2,000 ventilators will be purchased for hospitals.”

Wickremesinghe says that under a new programme a special compensation payment would be made to any worker who died while engaged in battling COVID-19. Such individuals will be offered the same facilities offered to military personnel killed during the war. Personal Protection Emergency kits will be made freely available. The number of ICU beds will be increased. A special laboratory to conduct tests on diseases will be established and the Public Health (Emergency) Act will be enacted to legalize lockdown mechanisms and provide the required powers for disease control.

Asked what his government which served four and a half years had achieved, the UNP leader said that period had been marked by economic prosperity and strengthening of democracy by introducing independent judicial, police, elections, anti corruption, human rights and media commissions amongst others.

Wickremesinghe pledged to build on the economic achievements of his government such as improved relations with global superpowers, regained GSP+ resulting in concessionary duty for 6600 export items, increased import earnings by 35 percent by negotiating to lift the ban on fish imports to the European Union, enabling the country to pay off debts by working with Development Banks, enabling better fiscal management, ensuring the timely repayment of debt to avoid rollover risk, regained Sri Lanka’s sovereignty over the Colombo Port City by converting freehold rights given to China by the Rajapaksa government into a leasehold agreement, transformed the Hambantota Port from a failure to a sustainable venture, free trade agreements to strengthen access to export markets, increased tourist arrivals to over two million by establishing the country as a safe destination, powered the boom of the tourist industry by increasing rooms by 30 percent, oversaw Sri Lanka being named best destination” by Lonely Planet. Steered Sri Lanka to be graded as an upper middle-income country, achieved a Primary Surplus for the first time since 1954, powered the highest ever direct investment in 2018 and ensured good governance and transparency.

He also promised to build on the last UNP-led government’s contribution to strengthening democracy such as curtailing the powers of the Executive President by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which included reducing the maximum term limit of the incumbent to two terms, ensuring that suitable persons were appointed to high posts by establishing the Constitutional Council and establishment of the various Independent Commissions that ensured the independence of the judiciary, free and fair elections, restoring the independence of the State sector, ending political interference in the Police service, withstanding the Constitutional coup and restoring the supremacy of Parliament, challenging the President’s right to dismiss a Prime Minister elected by Parliament, successfully challenging the Presidents right to unlawfully dissolve Parliament, introducing the Right to Information Act improving transparency, establishing the rule of law, whereby politicians and their families were subject to investigation, granting citizens the right to protest and voice their opinions, ensure media freedom with no journalist being killed or made to disappear as happened under the previous Rajapaksa government. A future UNP administration would rectify this tragedy as well, he stressed.

The UNP leader said that Sri Lanka was faced with the gravest economic crisis since independence and it was only the UNP that had the vision, a plan and the capability to address the present crisis, protect the people and the country, safeguard the nation and ensure a prosperous future. “We have a proven track record time and again undoing economic mismanagement by others and reviving our economy. In 1977, 2001, 2015 and again in 2019 after the Easter Sunday attacks, it was the UNP that led the country’s economies recover.

“It is estimated that Sri Lanka will lose USD 7 billion in foreign revenue this year having to pay USD 3 billion for debt servicing. We have revealed the need for USD 6 billion for the next two years of which USD 3 billion is required immediately. Many countries have already received international assistance to fund their immediate financial requirements. Countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Maldives, Egypt and Kenya have begun the process of securing financial support from the International Monetary Fund. We will raise US$ 6 billion utilising the assistance of the IMF and other financial sources including friendly governments.

(Continued on page 6)

 

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Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy

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Dr Channa Ratnatunga

Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.

In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.

We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.

‘The Reptilian Brain ’

A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.

Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.

All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.

Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.

Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!

As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.

With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.

The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.

Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.

Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!

Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.

Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.

If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.

To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.

As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.

It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.

Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.

The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.

This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.

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What’s the Plan?

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We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.

So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.

Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!

What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.

The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!

The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have

been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.

Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.

Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!

How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.

Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.

My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!

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Executive presidency or premiership?

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Better option:

by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.

On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.

JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.

JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.

All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.

In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.

If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected

The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.

What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.

I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.

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