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Ravi: What I did as Finance Minister was like running a tavern without arrack

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By Saman Indrajith

UNP Assistant Leader and former minister Ravi Karunanayake, in an interview with The Island conducted on July 30, says there is no significant threat from his party’s offshoot, the SJB, which he describes as only ‘a mere irritant factor.’ Excerpts of the interview:

Q: The country is going through very turbulent times. The economy is in the doldrums. Many developing countries, including Pakistan, have opted for requesting loan waivers from their lenders such as China, considering the impact realities of COVID-19. As a former Finance Minister do you think Sri Lanka should do likewise?

A: In the current situation we see the country’s revenue dwindling. There is a yawning gap between revenues and cost of living, and this gap has led to the widening of the budget deficit, which cannot be bridged with taxes. In the process of cushioning this impact you have to reduce either the recurrent expenditure or the country’s loan commitments. One of the two has to be reduced to make the fiscal space possible for the country’s economy to move forward. I do not see that happening. The revenue is dropping and expenditure increasing and this has caused the alarming fiscal imbalance. Economic disparities seem to be becoming more complicated by the day. In this situation, seeking loan waivers is not the answer. If you ask for waivers, you’ll lose the opportunity of getting loans in the future. The impact of loan waivers would vary on bilateral and multi-lateral loans which are a few and far between but not so on international sovereign bonds. It would lead to a negative economic outlook. When I took over the Finance Ministry, we had a negative outlook. We had to convert it into a positive outlook and we went forward. Under this government, such good work is being undone and the country is moving backwards. The World Bank has moved Sri Lanka from a medium-income earning country to a low-income earning country.

Q: What is the solution?

A: We have to navigate through these turbulent times. For that we need a strong national economic agenda, which should be able to address the issue of decreasing revenue and keep the economy afloat.

Q: The government has received encomia for handling the COVID-19 threat professionally. It is popularly thought that a UNP government would have made a mess of the battle against coronavirus and economic recovery. What would you say to this?

A: If we are elected, our immediate intention should be to restore confidence in the people, in the investors, in the local and foreign markets. We need to create a situation where people would get economic activities restarted. It is a matter of how you would be able to rekindle that confidence. For that you need consistent and coherent policies. At the moment we have policies that change by the day. When we were elected to office on Jan 8, 2015 the country’s economy was not better than this. In a way it is same with the post-COVID-19 situation.

The other factor is that the country’s economy had been in the doldrums well before the COVID-19. The impact of pandemic started on March 21, but economy had started experiencing trouble well before that. The main reason for that was because the government tried to reduce VAT from 15 to 8. And with many other things, the resultant loss was about 600 billion rupees. That amount is almost one third of the government revenue for the year 2019. When you don’t have revenue, there is no economic kick start. You lose 600 billion and the economy is going to tailspin. On the other hand, none in society would feel any relief from VAT reduction because of that increases that have taken place are so much more. With the 600 billion just thrown down the drain there has been no resultant economic gain.

Q: On the political front, the split within the UNP resulted in a confusion among UNP voters. The SJB has emerged a formidable political force. What do you think the impact of the split on the UNP’s electoral performance?

A: Our fight is with the SLPP and not any other party. This government has been in power for eight months. It’s almost one fifth of its full term. During this period, the cost of living has gone up dramatically and now it is almost 40 per cent. There have been job losses though the government promised to create many more. The SJB is a by-the-way party. Our main focus is to ensure that we are engaged with the main opponent rather than by-the-way parties. Every time when there is an election such by-the-way parties are formed by breakaway groups. It is like old leaves falling from a tree. New leaves will appear and fill the gaps. The UNP is such a strong party that it will not be affected by splits.

The people who have left the party have something in common. They are people who lost badly in their electorates at the last presidential election. Their leader lost that election. The SJB is only an irritant factor.

The UNP is a reservoir of talent. Whenever there is a slip-off we have lot of new talent to remedy it. The UNP is the oldest party in the country and it is getting stronger.

Q: Speculation is rife that the SJB members will join the UNP after the election. Some UNPers have said they will never allow them to return to the party’s fold. In your case, you were with Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake when they left the UNP to form the DUNF and contest under the Eagle symbol. The DUNF was a splinter of the UNP like the SJB. Years later, DUNF members returned to the UNP’s fold. So, what’s wrong with the SJB members coming back to the UNP?

A: You cannot compare the two events. The bravest in the UNP at that time such as Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake challenged what they saw as wrongs within the party. So, they were virtually thrown out of the party as a result of their struggle for democracy. In the present instance, some disgruntled party members have left the UNP as they could not achieve their ambitions.

I beg you not to compare the two events for it’s unfair by Lalith, Gamini and others of their calibre, who formed the DUNF.

The final outcome of an event is determined by the performance of a team. If you are a member of a cricket team, you have to be led. You cannot be led by the spectators outside the field. You can’t win the match by singing hosannas for his father or grandfather. Your success hinges on your performance.

The SJB lied to the people and they lied to the judiciary. That is why it lost the case. When it appealed to Court of Appeal and they had to pay Rs 25,000 fine as well. So, now the people can understand that their version of what happened at the Working Committee meeting of the party was not true.

With regard to the rumours of their return after the election, I must say the UNP is not a rest house where you come and go as you please.

Q: Some opposition parties have criticized the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Do you subscribe to this criticism?

A: COVID situation is something unprecedented. We would give our support to the government to face any such crisis for the sake of the people. I believe the government is doing its best, given the situation. But I cannot say the same about its handling of the economy.

Winning the COVID-19 war and winning the economic war are two different things. You cannot justify losing the economic war in post-COVID situation even if you fare well in your fight against COVID.

Q: The yahapalana government failed to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage. Don’t you think those terror attacks will have an impact on the outcome of the upcoming election as well?

A: If you say the Easter bombing had an impact on the then government’s electoral performance, then the COVID-19 pandemic will have a similar impact on this government. If people are guided by their emotions in casting their votes, then they will vote against this government. The economy is in tatters, companies are closing, cash flows are threatened and it is these major problems that will have an impact on the outcome of the upcoming election.

Q: The Easter Sunday carnage took place under a UNP government and the presidential election results show that people are concerned about national security and their safety. What would you say?

A: Well, it is unfair to say it happened on our watch because basically all security matters were in the hands of a single person, who is not in the government when this disaster occurred. It happened during the time of our government but everybody knows that the Prime Minister was not even invited to the national Security Council meetings. Everything was handled by the Presidential Secretariat. It was virtually one man show going on. We see the same now as investigations are on for eight months, but nothing new has been found out.

Q: What do you have to say about the disastrous MCC agreements with the US? Some opposition parties have already accused the government of duplicity?

A: They promised to dump the MCC agreement if they were elected. Have they thrown the MCC agreement? What a fuss they made prior to the presidential election. They said that the country would be under the dictates of America; the country would be divided and we would have to get visas to enter parts of our own country beyond Anuradhapura. We call upon the government to state its standpoint. If they reject the MCC agreement then they could tear it off and, if not, they have to admit that we did the right going ahead with it. It first started under the Mahinda Rajapaksa government; we went forward ahead because it was a grant in appreciation of good governance. What’s wrong with that?

Q: The SLPP is seeking a two-thirds majority to do away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. How do you propose to counter this campaign?

A: The 19th amendment was brought to do away with the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. The 18th amendment allowed the President to act according to his whims and fancies. So, the 19th Amendment had to be brought in. It was the will of the people.

At the time the 19th Amendment was introduced there were two opinions — either to do away with the presidential system or reduce its executive powers. I believed that we should do away with the executive presidency and give more powers to parliament. The 19th Amendment was introduced to pave the way for scrapping the executive presidency. People since 1988, have voted for its abolition but none of the governments care to respect their will.

Q: Treasury bond controversy had a huge impact on the UNP. Allegations have been levelled against you as well. What kind of impact this issue will have on the upcoming election?

A: This is a miscarriage of justice. I happened to be the Finance Minister, but the Central Bank was under the Prime Minister and other commercial banks were under Kabir Hashim. It was not the Prime Minister but his deputy Minister Harsha de Silva who did all the work at the Central bank. Both of them have been kept out of this issue while people who are not relevant were dragged into it.

There were five committees on the matter. First there was the Pitipana committee. There is nothing against me. Then there was DEW Gunsekera Committee. He was in the opposition then. His report does not say I was involved. Then there was Sunil Hadunnetti-led COPE investigation. They found nothing against me or the party. Then there was a presidential commission. There is nothing mentioned in their report about me with the issue at hand. They also found that Central Bank officials are responsible for this. Have any of them been questioned? Then there is another report of which 108 pages are missing. Why are they missing? Why hasn’t it been published? These were the things in the hands of the then President. It was a political witch-hunt. It was aimed at character assassination. Then there was a forensic audit report. It shows very clearly what happened during the period of 2005 to 2015. Why is that report not brought out and why action has not been taken on its findings? They have clearly stated that losses have occurred since 2005 onwards and that Central Bank had not got relevant approval for the implementation of private placements. When this question arose, I, as the finance minister, asked the Auditor General to compare what had been happening since 2005 to 2015. All are silent. They are trying to kill the messenger and distract public attention. That is an absolute national crime. At the moment those investigations have got nowhere, found nothing at all, and why are 108 pages missing? Why is that, not a single Central Bank official has been even basically mentioned? Because these are the guys- the central bank officials, not all of them but seven or eight people. They live luxurious lives. They are earning 2.5 or 3 million salary and dictate terms to people who get by on 25,000 to 30,000 a month. It is said that the monetary policy is being pursued by the Central Bank. The government’s or the financial minister’s role is to handle the fiscal policy. But the central bank was always at loggerheads with the government. We believe that the innocent people should have low interest rates on their borrowings, so that you could bring about an economic upturn, but the Central Bank officials pursue a high interest rate where they basically think that would ward off inflation. This is the problem that exists. And this menace must come to an end. These are the people who created it. Once again, I say I was not in charge of the Central Bank; I was not in charge of the commercial banks. Then why am I being accused of something I did not do? This is simple case of character assassination. That has to be corrected. When I was the Finance Minister, what I did was like running a tavern without arrack.

I was the Finance Minister but I did not have the banks under me. Even then we were able to bring economic stability. We were able to bring in financial discipline. We established the focus on right financial directions. That was during the three years I was in charge of the finance ministry. Some of them who are engaged in character assassination have left the party. They were responsible for the footnotes of the Sunil Handunnetti COPE report. Why do they hold me accountable for this? It was they who involved in it. People within the country did not recognize us, but outside world recognized us and that was how the Bankers’ Institution in the UK, which is highly respected one, voted me the best finance minister Asia Pacific for 2017.

Q: What plans does the UNP have for the future of the younger generation of the country?

A: Not that you cannot develop this country. It’s a matter of whether you want to develop this country or not. The talent is there, the opportunity is there and we do not apply ourselves in order to get to that. My best comparison is Sri Lanka in the time we got Independence 72 years ago, we had a per capita income of $ 49 and Japan had $ 48. Japan got battered in the Second World War and without any natural resources, they are basically today enjoying a per capita of 55,000 dollars while in Sri Lanka its 4,000 dollars.

Q: The UNP is doomed in the opinion of its critics. How do you counter this view?

A: Before talking of the party’s future, I should say we should talk of the present. We should handle it very dexterously. The UNP is very hierarchy-oriented, very seniority-oriented and competency-oriented party. In election times you hear various things from people who cannot even stand on their own feet. In the UNP, we have a leader in the party and our emphasis is on discipline. As for the party hierarchy Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe is the senior most and next to him is John Amaratunga and I come next to him in order of seniority. I guess competency, discipline, loyalty, comradeship all would be put together and at the right time we will come as the right team.

 

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Opinion

SOFA: The reality in Iran under the Shah?

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In 1964, Iran under Shah Reza Pahlavi, signed SOFA with the USA. Earlier his father Reza Shah had in 1928 abolished capitulations and judicial immunities to Westerners in Iran.

The amount Iran got then was US $ 200 million. SOFA was opposed by many as it reminded them of the time when Westerners in Iran could not be punished by the ‘terrible’ native courts. Leading the opposition was Ayatollah Khomeini, who called it an agreement for enslavement, and called for the overthrow of the Government. As the Shah would brook no opposition, Khomeini was expelled. He was to come back in 1979 and take over the leadership of Iran. The Shah had fled.

At one time the USA considered Iran as an invaluable ally. The US preferred Iran to Saudi Arabia for the security of the Persian Gulf. Iran was bigger, had a far bigger population and more military clout. It had used its vast wealth to buy US planes and weapons, especially after the 1973 oil spike. The US knew how the Shah used his dreaded secret police, SAVAK, to crush opposition, but chose to overlook it. They appeared not to have lecturers in Human Rights then, especially for their close friends. The war in Vietnam was coming to its bloody end.

When the protests by the Islamist clerics, bazarees, village tribals, students and leftists became more violent, the US, hedging its bets, did little to protect the Shah, despite its close relationship with him. He backed the US on Vietnam. To the credit of the Shah, whatever advice he was given by the US/UK, he refused to sanction the use of the Army to quell the protests.

SOFA is in force in NATO, South Korea and Japan. The latter two countries have very many objections to many clauses in SOFA, as US troops have been accused of many grave crimes and got away with them.

This is how Iran, ’the brightest spot in the Middle East’ (Lyndon Johnson) viewed SOFA which granted diplomatic privileges and immunities to members of the US administration and technical staff, guided by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic relations (1961). However the USA selectively rejects Article 98 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

‘By it (SOFA) an American non-commissioned officer (Sergeant) could slap the face of an Iranian Colonel with impunity’.

Khomeini said ‘the dignity and of the Iranian Army will be trampled underfoot by some American servant. An American cook can assassinate a girl in the middle of the bazaar or crush her underfoot but the Iranian police may not interfere’.

‘Even if the Shah himself were to run over a dog belonging to an American, he could be prosecuted. But if an American cook runs over the Shah, the Head of State, no one will have the right to interfere’.

However for honour’s sake will that prevent someone from punching an occupier in the mouth? Will a curfew be declared?

It is said that SOFA differs from military occupation. What comfort does that give?

 

A. PATABENDIGE

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Burial or cremation? Muslims remain in a Covid quandary

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By Dr M. HARIS DEEN

The second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic and the extent of its spread worldwide, has left the Muslims of Sri Lanka in a serious quandary. To bury or cremate? That is the question. As far as the Muslims are concerned, the Sri Lankan government does not seem to give in. At first, what appeared to be a genuine cause, now clearly appears to be motivated by discrimination. Despite the advice of the WHO, several local organisations, representation by eminent professors of medicine, several distinguished ulemas, who diminished the argument that the water table issue as a fallacy, the Sri Lankan government stays unmoved on the issue of cremation against burial.

Article 3 of the Sri Lankan constitution states that “In the Republic of Sri Lanka sovereignty is in the People and is inalienable. Sovereignty includes the powers of government, fundamental rights and the franchise.”

Relevant to my arguments are what is stated in Article 4 of the constitution, to wit:

Article 4 – The Sovereignty of the People shall be exercised and enjoyed in the following manner:

(c) the judicial power of the People shall be exercised by Parliament through courts, tribunals and institutions created and established by law, except in regards to matters relating to privileges, immunities and powers of Parliament and of its Members, wherein the judicial Power of the People may be exercised by Parliament according to law.

(d) the fundamental rights which are by the Constitution declared and recognised shall be respected, secured and advanced by all the organs of government and shall not be abridged, restricted or denied save, in the manner and to the extent provided,

Article 10 – Every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to adopt a religion or belief of his choice,

Article 11 – No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel or degrading treatment or punishment.

One will see from the above cited Articles of the Sri Lankan constitution that the sovereignty is in the hands of the people, unlike in Britain and most other civil law countries, where the sovereignty is vested in the parliament and legislation passed by parliament cannot be challenged, although there is judicial review as to execution of the law but not the law itself.

Therefore, I submit that the Sri Lankan Parliament did not have the People’s mandate to present the “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) on 11th April 2020. The contents of the Bill had not been presented as a “White” paper for discussion by all communities. Hence, it is a “bolt from the blues” for those who seek a dignified end to them or their loved ones. It is further submitted that the fundamental rights of not only the Muslims, but also of every citizen of Sri Lanka who wish to be given dignity to their last rights, has been denied. Furthermore, the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 10 have been infringed against the guarantees contained in Article 4 paragraph (d) of the constitution. In my opinion, this Bill could have been challenged in courts by invoking Article 4 (c) of the constitution, in which I believe there is adequate ground for a judicial review.

That is as far as the law is concerned. What about the position of the Muslims vis-a-vis what the Qur’an and the Ahadith say about the dignified treatment of dead persons.

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last Day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination”. (4:59)

I have researched and discussed with Islamic scholars on the issue. Allah in His absolute wisdom says in the Qur’an that death is inevitable and no matter how people try to escape death it will reach everyone (50:19), also “every soul shall taste death and only on the day of judgement you will be paid your full recompense on the day of your rising. Anyone who is distanced from the fire and admitted to the garden has triumphed . The life of this world is only enjoyment of delusion” (3:185). This is the only place where “death” and “fire” have been related as a punishment to be distanced from.

Allah’s book is for every situation rather than any situation, hence Allah in His absolute mercy refrained from committing His faithful from committing to any particular obligations as death can happen anywhere under any circumstance “No self knows what it will earn tomorrow and no self knows in what land it will die.” (31:33; 31:34). However, Allah showed the son of Adam, Cain what he should do when he killed his brother Abel, during a dispute between them. Allah sent a raven which dug the ground with its beak and feet and buried another dead raven and closed the “grave” “so that he might show him how he should cover his brother’s dead body,” (05: 31). Therefore, it is evident that Allah promoted burial as a dignified manner to respect the dead under all circumstances.

The Prophet (Peace and Salutations upon him) encouraged haste in burial of the deceased. This includes the entire process from ghusl to burial, but in particular it refers to carrying the body of the deceased from the Janaaza to the burial. Abu Hurayrah narrates that the Prophet (Peace and Salutations be upon him) said: “Hasten with the Janaza. If it was a righteous person, then you are forwarding it to its bliss, and if it was other than that (not righteous), then you will remove this burden from your necks.” [Reported by al-Bukhari (volume 2, hadith 401) and Muslim (volume 2, hadith 2059)].

Death and human dignity – Humanitarian Forensics under Islamic Law

In many civilizations, traditions and religions—both ancient and modern—death is a mere transitional phase between one stage of life and another. Burying the dead is one way to ensure that the dead are accorded dignity and respect, and that the feelings of their living loved ones are considered. Throughout history, religions, traditions and cultural practices have influenced the ways in which the dead are managed, both in times of peace and conflict. Today, they continue to do so.

In Islam, human dignity is a right given by God to all humans—who are referred to in the Qur’ān as God’s vicegerents on earth. Islam grants certain rights to humans before they are even born, and others after their death. Whether dead or alive, the human body—created by God in the perfect shape—must be given dignity and respect. This importance of the human body is illustrated, for instance, in the Qur’ān 5:31. There, it is narrated that when Cain was unsure of how to deal with the body of his brother Abel—whom he had murdered—God sent a message in the form of a raven. God used the raven to dig into the ground to bury another raven, thus indirectly showing Cain how to bury his brother’s body.

Faced with the difficulties of ensuring the dignified burial of the dead in the context of armed conflicts and other situations of violence and natural disasters, classical Muslim jurists developed Islamic laws to deal with the challenge. These laws aim to respect the dignity of the dead and respect the feelings of their loved ones to the degree possible. The dignity of the dead surfaced in the discussions of the classical Muslim jurists on a number of issues. Some of the most significant of which, for our purposes here, are: searching for and collecting the dead, disposal of Muslim and non-Muslim mortal remains, quick burial, exhumation of human remains and burial at sea.

Before delving into these issues, it is worth noting that Islamic law at times combines purely legal rules with religious and/or ethical matters. This is the case as well with the management of the dead. For instance, burial and grave regulations are deliberated in the Islamic legal literature, along with the etiquette of visiting graves. Combining legal and ethical elements is an important characteristic of Islamic law that helps keep it alive. It helps ensure that Muslims voluntarily impose such rules upon themselves, and that they keep practicing even with regard to aspects that are not codified in Muslim States’ legal systems, and over which courts have no jurisdiction. This nature of Islamic law points to the impact Islamic law can have in influencing societal behaviour. Understanding these Islamic rules can help guide humanitarian forensic specialists to overcome challenges they face by respecting the religious needs of Muslim societies, when they work in Muslim contexts. It is a way to show that respecting the dead is the common overriding concern of both their forensic work and Islamic law. (Dawoodi, A. A – 2018 – Humanitarian Law and Policy).

In my capacity as a lay person, I have put my knowledge before Islamic lawyers and parliamentarians and the Ulema to take up the case of the illegality of imposing “The Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance” (Chapter 222) not only on Muslims but those of any faith, who do not want themselves cremated and request a dignified burial. It is not as yet too late, I am sure the government will listen to reason, when approached in the proper way. There is evidence that the reason given by the authorities of groundwater contamination is not proven.

In a web article posted on 19.05.2020 The Fast Company newsletter (accessed 27/10/2020) states inter alia as follows:

“Microbial and chemical contamination can also occur in cemeteries as a result of unmanaged, untreated and incorrectly sited sanitation services, solid waste, and wastewater, which allows for the flow of microorganisms and contaminants into cemeteries.

In general, bodies that are treated and buried in correctly sited and constructed cemeteries do not pose a threat to public health and are not a source of pollution. The WHO guidelines clearly stipulate that to date, there has been no evidence to suggest that individuals have become infected from exposure to the bodies of persons who have died from Covid-19.

If conducted according to the usual recommended health and safety practices, choosing to bury or cremate a person who has passed away from Covid-19 should pose no additional risk to the environment or the people. However, in South Africa, based on the nation’s known religious and cultural practices around death as well as the lack of sufficient crematoriums, Covid-19 victims are highly likely to be buried in cemeteries. South Africa also has serious issues with access to land in metropolitan and rural areas. As a result, conservation and residential developments take precedence over cemeteries because they are not considered sustainable.

However, when sited properly and according to sound scientific judgement, cemeteries should protect surface water and groundwater from contamination regardless of the cause of death. Provided that the capacity of the cemetery is not breached, the placement and design of the cemetery should have a built-in resilience to supply enough time for the attenuation of contaminants on-site. In some instances, poorly sited cemeteries may be at higher risk.

To date there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (officially known as SARS-CoV-2 ) being detected in drinking water in either private boreholes or public drinking water systems coming from cemeteries. This can be related to the travel time that SARS-Cov-2 will need in order to remain infective.

So far, SARS-CoV-2 does not have a high level of persistence in the environment, due to it being an enveloped virus and can be eliminated effectively by water treatment, especially chlorination, and would pose a minimal risk to drinking water. As the outbreak continues, and in the unlikely event that more people succumb to Covid-19; particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, more water-quality and hydrogeological (laboratory and pilot scale) experiments are needed before major conclusions can be drawn on their fate and the way they are transported in cemetery environments.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Opinion

Dangers of Pompeo and pandemic

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On May 3rd 2020, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told ABC News that there was “enormous evidence” to prove that the Covid-19 virus had come from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, but did not reveal the enormous evidence or even a little of it. He comes to Sri Lanka perhaps bearing gifts like the MCC and SOFA. This is a clear case of “Greeks who come bearing gifts” and we have to be careful. Will he tell our leaders that the Covid which is raging in our country at present was introduced to Sri Lanka by China. and point to the fact that the first person detected with the infection was a Chinese, which is enormous evidence. The USA has no scruples regarding ethics or common decency when it comes to pushing its global agenda. They would want to stop Chinese developing their wheel of influence in the world, and Sri Lanka is an irreplaceable cog in that wheel.

The Covid conspiracy theory was first mooted by The Washington Times, which on January 26th 2020 claimed, “Corona virus may have originated in a laboratory linked to China’s bio warfare programme”. President Trump and Pompeo latched on to this idea, and started to issue statements in a desperate attempt to place the blame on China and escape the wrath of the people for the rampaging viral infection in the US and its total mismanagement. On April 18th 2020, Trump during a White House briefing said that the US was looking into the claim that the virus spread from a laboratory in China, which made “sense”. He did not produce any evidence to support his assertion that the idea made sense.

On February 18th, 27 prominent scientists outside China issued a statement in The Lancet which “condemned the conspiracy theories suggesting that Covid-19 does not have a natural origin”, and pointed out that research “overwhelmingly concludes that Coronavirus originate in wildlife”. Further, five prominent scientists said in the Nature Medicine on March 17th that “we do not believe any type of laboratory-based scenario is possible” . Dr. Fauci, participating in the White House briefing where Trump accused China of conspiracy, said that mutations detected in the Covid virus were totally consistent with the theory that the virus jumped from an animal to human. These opinions made Washington Times to retract its earlier preposterous claim and say that there is no evidence to support a theory that the virus was man-made.

However, all this evidence did not dissuade Trump and Pompeo from making wild allegations against China, and the president called the Covid the “Chinese Virus”. The New York Times reported on April 30th that the Secretary of State Pompeo has pushed US spy agencies to dig up evidence to link a laboratory in China to the origin of the virus. This was in spite of the Inspector General of Intelligence Community reporting on 30th April that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made. And on the same day Trump states that there is “a high degree of confidence” in the theory that the origin of the Covid-19 was linked to a lab in Wuhan, China. And on May 3rd Pompeo told ABC News that there was “enormous evidence” to prove that Covid came from a lab in Wuhan, without producing any of that evidence. However on May 6th he hedges and says “we don’t have certainty” but “there is significant evidence”.

Could a small country like Sri Lanka have any confidence in people like Pompeo, who promises to look after our country and protect it from big powers, which are intent on getting us into debt traps? He is the chairman of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the controversial global aid agency. This agency has two areas of interest, land and transport, irrespective of the country or its needs. Several countries in Africa and Asia have terminated their agreements with Pompeo’s agency, after finding out the adverse effects it had on the sovereignty and independence of their country.

 

N.A.de S. AMARATUNGA

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