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Rationalise free school textbook programme

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In yesterday’s (12) edition of The Island was a front-page news report that the government intended to seek a loan from India to print school-text books for 2023.The distribution of school textbooks to all students free of charge is a short-sighted programme initiated by a government decades ago to obtain votes at the polls. (In fact, in the not too distant past, the books which were printed with public funds carried the photographs of Education Ministers.) All these years the country has managed to print them with voted funds as it was not facing crises of the same magnitude as the present one.

The question is whether textbooks should be given free or whether they should be given free to ALL students irrespective of the income levels of their parents. Just imagine students attending prestigious schools, and travelling in luxury vehicles being given textbooks for free just like the children of poor people. Doesn’t it sound idiotic to continue with a costly exercise of this nature, especially in the face of the unprecedented economic crisis, which has caused graver issues such as the acute shortages of drugs in government hospitals.

If this programme is to continue ,why can’t the Grama Niladharis be entrusted with the task of recommending the children who should be issued with school text books free, based on the income levels of their parents? Such a course of action will help drastically reduce the cost of this programme if the government intends continuing with it. At the same time, the Heads of schools could be entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the textbooks are reused. When books are issued at the commencement of the school-year, the children could be strictly told that they should return the books to the school, having used them carefully.

P. Weerasekera



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Opinion

25-point common framework for a re-founding of the center-left

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BY DR. DAYAN JAYATILLEKA

1. The last time the Sri Lankan citizenry suffered materially in a manner remotely similar to the current suffering was in 1970-1977. The leader of the day never led the nation again. It took 17 years and her rebellious daughter, who was not associated with the suffering of the past and who professed drastically different economic policies, to get the party re-elected.

2. Today’s Pohottuwa will never be re-elected while under Rajapaksa dominance and any Rajapaksa will take decades – while the memories of generations fade, together with the narrative–to be elected to the country’s top spot (as in the case of ‘Bongbong’ Marcos).

3. This leaves a simple choice for SLPP members: (a) dump the Rajapaksas and free the SLPP (b) denounce the Rajapaksas and flee the Rajapaksa camp immediately, or (c) go down with the ship at the next election and every election after that for decades.

4. SWRD Bandaranaike and his Silent Revolution of 1956-1959 were dualistic, but was primarily progressive and secondarily reactionary. It was progressive in its social, economic and foreign policy aspects and reactionary in its linguistic aspect. SWRD strove to reverse that reactionary aspect with the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact but he was blocked from doing so. (Had he been an elected President he could have seen it through).

5. What remains valid in SWRD policies are the progressive aspect of 1956, fused with the B-C Pact of 1957, but with an honest and total rejection of Sinhala Only and the majoritarian, exclusivist or hegemonistic ethno-nationalism that gave rise to it.

6. There cannot be a return to the Sirimavo Bandaranaike economic model or its celebration. That model caused semi-malnutrition. People were rooting in garbage cans for papaw skins. The SLFP and its Left partners were swept away for 1 ½ years (and the Left partners, for far longer) because of the suffering associated with the statist-closed economy model. The UNP coasted for years by rekindling that mass memory of suffering.

7. Vijaya Kumaratunga’s SLMP project, breaking away from the SLFP, was the kind of Left the country needed and still needs—free, open, tolerant, democratic, pluralist, anti-racist, anti-imperialist—and Vijaya himself was a precursor of the Aragalaya consciousness.

8. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was correct to break with the Sirimavo-NM Perera economic model but was wrong to go well beyond the progressive thinking of her economic advisor Dr Lal Jayawardena and turn to the right, exemplified by, but not restricted to, privatising and foreignising the ownership of the plantations (in contradistinction to President Ranasinghe Premadasa who chose to award renewable five-year management contracts, not ownership, to Sri Lankan, but not foreign private companies).

9. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was horribly wrong not to prosecute the war to a finish and resort instead to a Norwegian peace-keeping exercise, the failure of which was underscored by the LTTE attack on the Katunayake airbase and crowned with the assassination in Colombo of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. In the matter of negotiations and the PTOMS, Chandrika went against the advice of Kadirgamar just as she went beyond the policy parameters of Lal Jayawardena in economics.

10. That the war could have been won with the same army and the same General Staff was proceed by the victory under the political leadership of her successor Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka whom CBK had transferred from Jaffna to the Volunteer Corps in Colombo, despite his sterling performance in saving Jaffna from the LTTE advance in 2000 after the fall of Elephant Pass, by blocking the Tigers at Kilaly.

11. Had Chandrika fought Prabhakaran with the resoluteness her mother would indubitably have brought to bear, she would have won it, and been well-positioned to successfully reintroduce her August 2000 draft Constitution, thereby resolving the Tamil National Question. It is her irresponsible failure in not doing so that opened the road for the rule of the Rajapaksa Clan and the prolonged spike in Sinhala Buddhist militarist-chauvinism.

12. Given Ranil Wickremesinghe’s track record of appeasement and capitulation vis-à-vis the LTTE, it was by far the correct decision to opt for Mahinda Rajapaksa over him as President in 2005, though CBK clearly preferred a different outcome.

13. The first term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was historically a triumph, winning a decisive victory over the LTTE in a war that many previous leaders had fought and dismally failed to win.

14. The beginning of the decline of the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidency and that of the collective Rajapaksa project, and the transition from the positive as the major aspect to the negative as the major aspect, began with the dismissal, dismantling and dispersal of the teams that won the ground war and the diplomatic war (in Geneva)—most dramatically and disastrously manifested in the unjust jailing of war-winning General Sarath Fonseka.

15. The second term of Mahinda Rajapaksa was comparatively progressive, chiefly because the alternative remained Ranil Wickremesinghe. There was considerable economic growth and buoyancy, partly due to the legitimate recourse to Chinese loans but partly to the little noticed yet massive and imprudent recourse to private international borrowings. Beneath the comparatively progressive achievement the putrefaction had set in. Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa had carved out their respective spheres of influence.

16. The shooting of Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra caused the first fissure in the SLFP, just as the incarceration of General Fonseka had fissured the support bloc early in 2010. The Chilaw, Katunayaka, Rathupaswela and Welikada shootings, which as in the case of Bharatha Lakshman, were traceable to one camp—the securocrat camp–within the Government, ensured electoral defeat in 2015.

17. The Central Bank bond scam, neoliberal economic program, “foreign judges” sellout Geneva resolution of 2015, and attempt to introduce a non-unitary Constitution by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warranted and justified a fightback by the Joint Opposition (JO) in favour of a Mahinda Rajapaksa comeback.

18. It also justified the detachment of the bulk of the SLFP from the then SLFP leadership which was in coalition with Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the founding of a new party, the SLPP.

19. The limiting of its membership to the SLFP, rather than structuring the SLPP as a party that would invite and absorb the Joint Opposition (JO) as a whole, facilitated the entrenched dominance of the Rajapaksa Clan within the SLPP.

20. The prevention by the 19th amendment of Mahinda Rajapaksa running for even a non-consecutive third term, opened the road for the Gotabaya Rajapaksa succession project which dated back at least to the hyping -up of his wartime role in the book Gota’s War published within the second Mahinda Rajapaksa term (2012).

21. The Gotabaya Rajapaksa project reflected and reinforced the acknowledged dualism of Gotabaya’s personality. The largely rational-managerial side predominated in 2016-2017, perhaps up to mid-2018. The Sinhala supremacist, militarist and irrational side kicked-in from mid-2018, dramatically expressed in Gotabaya’s needless defence of the senior cleric who called on him to “be a Hitler” during the sermon delivered on his birthday that year.

22. The most prudent and progressive decision for Mahinda Rajapaksa and the SLPP at the time would have been to opt for Dinesh Gunawardena or Chamal Rajapaksa as candidate. Instead, the need to tilt the longer-term succession in favour of Namal Rajapaksa, probably tilted the candidacy in Gotabaya’s favour.

23. The Easter Sunday massacre which was possible due to the mysterious behaviour of high-ranking intelligence personnel who did not pass the Indian intelligence warnings to their institutional and political superiors, and the resultant wave of Islamophobic militancy—which had commenced as far back as 2012 with the BBS, itself commended by Secretary/Defence Rajapaksa—sealed the Gotabaya Rajapaksa candidacy, and did so as a Sinhala religio-racist, militarist, proto-fascist project, rather than the earlier rational-technocratic one (2016-to-mid-2018). The overnight ban on synthetic fertiliser-pesticide-weedicide was the most emblematic manifestation of this irrational mindset. It was possible because of the hyper-centralisation of power in Gotabaya and the Presidency through the autocratic 20th amendment.

24. After a massive popular uprising deposed Gotabaya rule, the SLPP had the options of voting for Dullas Alahapperuma, or nominating Prof GL Peiris or Dinesh Gunawardena for the Presidency, in the parliamentary ‘electoral college’ process. Instead, it chose to enthrone its traditional adversary Ranil Wickremesinghe in a presidency he had always been kept away from by the citizenry. This represented the ultimate degeneration, the Ground Zero, of the SLPP and the Rajapaksa Clan’s political trajectory. From a progressive phenomenon on balance, the Rajapaksas and the party they run, has turned into a reactionary rightwing bloc, which props up a leader who has no popular mandate even as a parliamentarian.

25. The only hope for the traditional center-left is without and against the Rajapaksas. It is the path of the de-Rajapaksafication and indeed the de-familisation or de-cartelisation of the center-left political space. If the center-left owes allegiance to an oligarchy, it cannot be described as center-left or progressive.

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Opinion

Sports in blood; more gambling dens; crime of ruining economy

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I heard that Ex-Minister of Sports, Namal Rajapaksa had proclaimed when the victorious teams – Cricket and Netball – went to pay their respects to him that sports were in his blood. So true! He was a rugger player and so was his younger brother and they were, I believe, in a team with Wasim Thajudeen too – all excellent

players. We celebrate the sporty brothers but sadly still mourn Thajudeen, though we knew him not. We cannot forget his tragic death at the age of 28; not a mere death though the calculated and executed accident was meant to point to such. Later, it was discovered to be a foul and cruel murder. His murderers are still at large; living happy, we presume, though of guilty conscience. His parents and siblings we know still suffer immensely; they have been denied closure to losing him in a tragic death.

But let’s get back to the living. Sure, Namal is a sports aficionado who wanted even villagers to be such. Of course, there are sportsmen and women in rural schools and areas, but the construction of work-out centres with expensive equipment was targeted in remote areas. Apart from sports boys and girls who are already supplied with equipment, Cass does not believe ordinary folk would have the time or the stamina to work out. They work out to the limit in their paddy fields and trades. Similarly, persons in the North Central Province were thought to be in need of jogging so ancient Wewa bunds were damaged to construct jogging tracks on them. Mercifully, that too was aborted by protests. These were in the sporty times of Namal R being Minister of Sports. Hearing Namal’s recent proclamation over TV news, a friend muttered an inversion of words to get the damning phrase ‘blood sports’ and so the former heir to The Great Leader of our Land becomes a blood sportsman!

Mannar – the local Macau

To tell the truth and shame the devil. Cassandra, though travelled the length and breadth of this beloved island, had not heard of Mannar Island that Diana of Gamage fame has identified as a dollar earner for bankrupt Siri Lanka. I have been to Mannar several times and so wondered, when reading about her proposal reported in the Sunday Island of September 18 quoting ECONOMYNEXT whether I had missed out on an island in this north western seaboard. Referring Wikipedia, I find it’s the Bridge which carries the A 14 highway and a railway bridge. This is the link between the ferry service of the Ceylon Railway that linked to Danushkody. The ‘island’ has an open area of about 130 sq km. Stubborn Cass refuses to consider it an island but prefers to maintain it as a finger of land firmly attached to the main island, jutting out to sea.

So, unlike Macau and even our Port City, it is not far nor separated from the main land and its population. Readers will know which way my talk is drifting. Heavy or mass or govt. promoted gambling must be kept separate from local populations. Ideally foreigners or even filthy rich Sri Lankans of whom plenty are heard about, who come for gambling must be segregated from local people to stop the vicious disease of gambling from catching the poor; also curbing such vices as pimping, prostitution and drug peddling. China sure must be strictly segregating Macau visitors and Chinese from the mainland; the Maldives is very successful in keeping Maldivians out of contact with tourists, even employment in the holiday resorts being taboo to their people and recruitment being from India, Sri Lanka or from say the Philippines. Holiday makers scantily clothed, maybe even unclothed, influencing the locals after first shocking them, is eliminated! In fact, you cannot enjoy a swim or paddle in the sea dressed in a swim suit in Male, and other locals inhabited islands; it has to be wade in fully clothed.

Aren’t there less corruptive and more Dharmishta ways of earning forex? It is oft repeated by even foreign experts that our island is full of potential. So, the term ‘potential’ could be inclusive of industries, handcrafts, horticulture et al. Gambling dens set up to earn dollars seems so cheap, easy and evil a way of pulling a country out of dollarlessness, which really was caused by politician-gamblers overspending and stealing govt money.

Crime against the economy

In the UNHRC report the government of Sri Lanka was accused of many commissions and omissions and among them were the phrases ‘economic crime’ which means criminal acts against the economy. A definition reads thus: “Economic crime, also known as financial crime, refers to illegal acts committed by an individual or a group of individuals to obtain a financial or professional advantage. The principal motive in such crimes is economic gain.”

Protests have been voiced by govt. politicians and MPs against the UNHRC report; Ali Sabry at Geneva refused to accept the accusation. However, the majority of Sri Lankans agree this accusation and its wording are dead right, spot on, justified. Consider for instance, the overnight banning of chemical fertilisers, weedicides and pesticides. Was not that a crime, a criminal act against farmers, tea growers, vegetable growers? The victims of the crime were principally farmers and those in agriculture, but the crime was far reaching and netted in many more victims, mostly children who suffer malnutrition which will worsen with food shortages and high prices. The definition mentions “… to obtain a financial or professional advantage.” Unfortunately, Prez Gotabaya R listened to and accepted ill advice. He acted with the notion he would be lauded for leading the country into total organic farming – the first in the world, while also saving forex spent on importing chemical stuff. Did we not have to spend much in importing organic fertilier with the hugely expensive fault of importing organic shit from China?

The definition I quoted earlier ends with “The principal motive in such crimes is economic gain.” That fits the bill on the innumerable acts of corruption and bribe taking indulged in by Leaders, Ministers, MPs and top administrative officers. The bribe takers, commission rakers commit crimes against the entire country and its citizens, and needless to say it is for their economic benefit – they steal and enrich themselves.

For or against marking the death of Queen Elizabeth II

A mild controversy was evident in the print media and during recent conversations on whether Sri Lanka should have declared the day of her funeral a holiday and flown flags at half mast. The main cons were we are a republic (proclaimed loud and clear) and why commemorate colonialism suffered by our country from 1815 to 1948. The pros were much greater in volume and to Cass much more valid. Stated simply Queen Elizabeth II was a world figure for near 75 years; exhibited outstanding qualities right through her life; was duty bound to her country and the Commonwealth; truly regal in stature and nature and was undoubtedly THE outstanding woman from 1950 till her death. Furthermore, she was our Head of State until 1972. So why ever not mark her passing, celebrate her life and show due respect at her death? We are not an island unto ourselves, demonstrated clearly by recent capers of our leaders and are now beholden to all other countries for help. So, it’s best we keep good relations with Britain and join them in their time of mourning and celebration of a new king. We should do more – emulate the good Brits and not forever hark back to colonial days. Thus we echo the proclamation rung by bells over there, intoned in churches and voiced by people: “The Queen is dead. Long live the King.” We saw pictures of our President conveying our good wishes to King Charles III, both seemingly at ease and friendly.

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Opinion

Quit smoking: Save lives

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Dr. DHANUSHKA DISSANAYAKA
Author of the book ‘Nikotin Lolithwaya
Suwa Kirime Pahasu Maga’

Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Among the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer. Among those, Nicotine is the poisonous chemical that addicts smokers to tobacco use throughout their lifetime.

Still, more than 6000 children (10-14 years old) and 1685000 adults (15+ years old) continue to use tobacco each day. WHO estimates deaths caused annually in Sri Lanka due to smoking as 12,351 or 10% of all deaths; the cost to the Sri Lankan economy due to premature deaths and disabilities by tobacco smoking is much higher than the tax revenue from tobacco. Most people start at the age of 20 years, increasing the risk of heart disease in younger people. Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) contribute to 70% of deaths in Sri Lanka, and Tobacco Smoking is recognized as one of the leading causes.

Design changes and chemical additives introduced by tobacco companies in recent decades, have made cigarettes more addictive, more attractive to kids, and even more deadly, according to a report issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The report, titled “Designed for Addiction”, details how tobacco companies purposely design cigarettes to make tobacco smoke smoother, less harsh, and more appealing to new users, especially kids, and to create and sustain addiction to nicotine. Tobacco companies have made these changes without regard for the health impact, and have increased smokers’ risk of developing lung cancer.

Most current smokers are smoking as a habit and due to pleasure. The most reported experience across youth groups was an “Unpleasant experience”. Unpleasant experiences reported were cough, headache, burning sensation, bad smell, etc. The next most reported experience in all was “Nothing”, which means they have not felt anything special during first use. A pleasant experience was reported by less than 10% of the respondents.

Despite strong evidence that quitting both smoked and smokeless tobacco helps to immediately reduce the risk of Cardiovascular Diseases, few tobacco users are quitting, requiring more programmatic effort. Quit attempts by current smokers is 51.8%

Quitting immediately reduces the risk of heart attack and/or stroke. It helps even if a person has already had a heart attack and/or stroke, irrespective of his/her age. With the wide range of counselling services, self-help materials and medicines available today, smokers have more tools than ever to help them quit successfully. Tobacco addiction has both a psychological and a physical component. For most people, the best way to quit will be some combination of medicine, a method to change personal habits, and emotional support. Some people can quit on their own, without the help of others or the use of medicines. But for many smokers, it can be hard to break the social and emotional ties to smoking, while getting over nicotine withdrawal symptoms at the same time. People who use counselling to stop smoking at twice the rate of those who don’t get this type of help. With guidance from a counsellor, quitters can avoid common mistakes that may self-destruct a quit attempt. Many former smokers say a support network of family and friends was also very important during their quitting attempt. Other people who may offer support and encouragement are co-workers, family doctors, and members of support groups for quitters.

Stop smoking programs are designed to help smokers recognise and cope with problems that come up during quitting and to provide support and encouragement in staying quit. Studies have shown that the best programs will include either individual or group counselling. In general, the more intense the programme, the greater the likelihood of success. For example, the intensity may be increased by having more or longer sessions or by increasing the number of weeks over which the sessions are given.

The topmost reasons for abstaining were stated in surveys as ‘unpleasantness’ (36.6%), ‘negative consequences’ (29.6%), and ‘not having the need’ (18.1%). This highlights the necessity of preventive education on tobacco control, to focus on demand reduction as much as (probably even more) over educating on negative consequences.

Among those who have quit smoking during the youth period (15-24 years) have done it due to ‘dislike’ or considering it as a ‘useless’ act more than other reasons. However, among those who quit smoking beyond age 40 years, most have done it due to ‘health concerns’.

The Easy Method of quitting is this: initially to forget the reasons we’d like to stop, to face the cigarette problem, and to ask ourselves the following questions:

1 What is it doing for me?

2 Do I actually enjoy it?

3 Do I really need to go through life paying through the nose just to keep this cancer stick in my mouth and suffocate myself?

The beautiful truth is that it does absolutely nothing for you at all. There are not any advantages from smoking. The only advantage it ever had was the social ‘plus’; nowadays even smokers themselves regard it as an antisocial habit. Most smokers find it necessary to rationalise why they smoke, but the reasons are all fallacies and illusions. When these fallacies and illusions are removed from your mind, you will realise that there is nothing to give up. Not only is there nothing to give up, but there are marvellous, positive gains from being a non-smoker; and health and money are only two of these gains. Once the illusion that life will never be quite as enjoyable without the cigarette is removed, once you realise that not only is life just as enjoyable without it but infinitely more so, once the feeling of being deprived or of missing out is eradicated, then we can go back to reconsider the health and money – and the dozens of other reasons for stopping smoking. These realizations will become positive additional aids, to help you achieve what you really desire to enjoy the whole of your life – free from the slavery of the weed.

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