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Ranil on what needs to be done

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Former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, spoke to Pasindu Gunaratne, about the current economic crisis facing the country and the measures that should be taken to help move the country forward.

As many in the country have concerns and questions over the current economic crisis confronting the public, the United National Party invited questions from young people on this subject for the former prime minister to answer.

Responding, Wickremesinghe highlighted the need of going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance. But he said the IMF alone would not be able to solve the problems of the country.

Stressing that the IMF would provide a foundation that would allow the country to seek the assistance of other foreign nations, he drew from his personal experience as a member of the 1977 Cabinet when discussing measures taken to revive a failing economy. He urged that new thinking on Sri Lanka’s economy was needed if the country was to develop.

The former prime minister also explained that it was essential that a national consensus was reached on the basic principles that would be followed by the country saying that without a common agreement by all political groups, the country would continue to stagnate.

Text of the interview:

Question – One of the issues discussed last week was the government’s decision to devalue the rupee. Accordingly, the Governor of the Central Bank stated that the value of the rupee against the dollar will be determined by the market. Is this a bad decision?

Answer – In fact, the IMF has given some advice in the Directors’ Guide. There are a number of tips that have been given and one alone is not going to work. We have to come to an agreement with the IMF first. All of these other points are relevant only when it comes to implementation. This is only one aspect They want the program implemented in its entirety. We did the same thing before. We always met with the IMF and discussed the amount that would be provided to the country. Only then did we float the currency.

Twice before we have done this, but on this occasion the Central Bank decided to act ahead of time. The problem that has arisen from floating the currency is that there are not enough dollars to match the demand.

When we go to the IMF we know we have relief coming. So the dollar supply increases. That is what creates stability. However, here the demand for dollars has increased substantially. At that point there were no dollars to meet this increased demand and there was no one to guarantee the supply.

The demand for dollars has really increased here. in this case. At that time there was no supply to meet the demand and besides there was nobody to guarantee it. So now we are reacting to the movement of the market. The banks have to find the money now.

Previously we (the Government) provided assurances for the payments, while the banks were charged with finding the rest of the required money. Now the entire responsibility for this has been handed over to the banks alone. That is what is happening now. I hope that the Government is now aware of this and will implement a short-term program that will provide relief to the public who have been affected by this. At least 50% of the burden can be addressed by such a program.

Question – We have seen that the government has recently announced that the number of foreign tourist arrivals has increased. Accordingly, more foreign currency has started flowing into the country. Do you think the country’s foreign earnings will improve through this?

Answer – In fact, most of our country’s foreign exchange earnings come from the Middle East, from our apparel industry, and then from our tourism industry. About two to three million tourists visited Sri Lanka on a yearly basis, but this has not happened since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Fr fewer tourists come here now. If we look at the numbers, I do not think even 10% of that number have visited Sri Lanka.

Our tourism sector would not be successful if we do not get at least 50% of the previous arrivals. We also have to recognise that many of the tourists visiting us are from Ukraine and Russia. They pay between US $70 – US $80 per room. From previously charging a US $100 we have now reduced it to US $70. So now those arriving from Europe will no longer pay US $100. The will pay only US $70.

So with this reduced income there are many problems which have arisen. Trained staff such as chefs will now go overseas. When you earn US $1000 here, you can earn US $2,500 – US $3,000 overseas. That is in the Maldives, in the Middle East you will be able to earn more. So there really is no big improvement from this despite a bit of money coming into the country. Another problem that we have is that countries like the Maldives did not reduce their room rates like we did. Our tourism industry is also facing many problems. The Government has not acted to settle the debt faced by the industry. Every year interest is incurred by the industry. At present the interest owed by the industry been provided with a moratorium. The interest has not been abolished. No relief was given, this was just an illusion. We cannot just get out of this.

In fact as the tourism industry grows, the price of our hotel rooms are reducing. We also face a problem of the hotels not having enough chefs and other trained staff.

Question – Last week the Government took another decision, do you think this decision to halt the import of 367 non-essential items will help revive the economy?

Answer – No, if it is a market economy, it could be in Sri Lanka, it could be in England or it could be in China, the Government has the responsibility to provide goods and services according to the demands of the market and ensure their supply if there is a shortage.

All the items that we controlled prior to ’77 are now available on the market. What are they now doing with a market economy? We have now removed 300 items from the free market. With these 300 items being removed from the market, many of our services have halted. Our problem is to earn more money. These people are focussed on limiting the boundaries of our free market.

Prior to ’77 they tried to limit such items; so much so that tyres were not imported at the time. I was only able to find two tyres for my vehicle. A friend was able to find only one out of the two necessary for his motorcycle and had to borrow a tyre from someone else. Can we work like that?

We need to find foreign currency for the economy. This is not something we can split and share. We have to take into account our needs. This can be done if we go to the IMF. It is because we did not go that these problems have arisen. The problem that the IMF will have is that we have limited the import of 300 such items.

Question – In fact, before the power crisis, before the oil crisis, you stated the reason for all this. The Government has said that the dollar reserves in the country are declining. They are saying that due to the pandemic our dollar reserves have dwindled and our economy is facing a major crisis. But we have seen online, especially among the youth in countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, that their dollar reserves are rising. We are the only country that has seen our dollar reserves reduced. You said from the outset that oil and electricity crises were coming. How was this mistake made by us when other countries in the region have seen record foreign currency reserves?

Answer – First of all we must remember that our markets and Bangladesh’s markets both had problems in 2020. But Bangladesh had foreign reserves while we had lost ours. We had to ask for help, especially from the IMF. If we had gone in 2021 we could have got US $2 – US $3 billion. But we did not go and get the money. Bangladesh had money. Many other countries like us went and got money when the problems arose. But Sri Lanka did not do so, so we were marginalised. Other countries had money for 2020 and 2021, while those that did not went to the IMF for assistance.

We have no money and no aid, that is why we are in this situation. We cannot blame COVID alone because everyone was affected by COVID. We did not stop importing fertiliser because of COVID. Who is responsible for that?

Question – Finally, I would like to ask you, at a time when our economy is in deep crisis, what do you see as the key obstacles we have to overcome this economic crisis?

Answer – We should not think short-term, we must think long-term. A country is not built in a day. In ’77 we built the country, and now we need to build the country for the youth, especially those in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We have to build a new foundation. This old system will not always have the money from the Middle East. Selling our services for US $70 will not help the situation. We cannot go ahead with the garment industry alone. We need to look to the future. We have to look to the future and build the economy to join the future. That work needs to be done.

If you don’t think about that there will be many more problems. If we are to address this then there must be a national consensus on the basic principles needed for this. There is no national consensus in our country. One government changes what the other government did. If what we had started had been taken forward by this government we would not have been in this mess. If we do not look to the future and move forward there will be no future.

Question: So young people, we have learned a lot about this economic crisis and how to overcome it. Finally, I would like to tell you that there is a large group of young people who have high hopes that this is our country. I would like to ask you to give them a message.

Answer: Take the lead and move forward.



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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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