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Reboot of govt., its policies and institutions must start now

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by Jehan Perera

Faced with the challenge of showing a stable government, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed a new Cabinet, together with a large ministerial contingent. The government is presently building a superstructure that the base of popular sentiment does not want or support. Leaders of government in other democratic countries would have resigned for less. Sri Lanka has effectively declared itself to be bankrupt, under this government, by reneging on the repayment of international debt. This has happened at a time when mass protests against the government are gathering strength. The continuation of mass protests at Galle Face, during the traditional New Year, which is always reserved for family reunions, is a sign that the protests will not gradually go away. Instead of travelling back to their homes, in the villages, entire families, young and old alike, left their homes to come to Galle Face. It seems they come on pilgrimage to the site of democracy and many do not go back but pitch tent.

 With tents dotting the large expanse of grounds at Galle Face, overlooking the Presidential Secretariat, the main protests in Colombo appear to be reaching their second stage. The numbers at the protest site reached their zenith over the hoiidays only to drop as the work week commenced. But the political parties are formally entering into the campaign which began as spontaneous protests led by farmer groups in the agricultural districts. The farmers started their protests when they realised that their plea for fertilisers for their crops were falling on deaf ears and the government was indeed serious in banning all chemical fertiliser overnight. They could see their crops yellowing in the field due to nutrient shortage and they could foresee the calamity that would strike them when their crops would fail. So they came out on to the roads to protest. The farmer protests set the stage for others to follow.

 The middle classes in the cities who came out for candle lit silent protests, the carpenters of Moratuwa, the fishers of Negombo, the bus drivers and conductors and finally the population at large have come out spontaneously, led by their peers. If at all the political parties were there in the form of individual representatives due to their organisational ability. Those from political parties who tried to join to gain some publicity were not welcomed and had to beat a hasty retreat. In fact, the political parties warned against their members joining protest movements that had no clearly defined leaders as they could become anarchic. But so far the protest movement, and the self-led groups within it, have been disciplined and careful in their approach.

POLITICAL PARTIES

 The formal entry of the JVP, one of the best organised of the political parties, is taking place independently of the mass movement that is currently situated at “Gota-go-gama” at Galle Face. They have begun their protest march from Beruwela to reach Colombo on the main road with a formidable number already gathered. In the next few days the campaign is bound to widen as other political parties see the scope for their expansion, too. Unlike the non-political mass movement that has eschewed party politics, and which calls for all 225 parliamentarians to go, the movement of political activists is unlikely to be non-confrontational. They will wish to expand and be ready to fight any opposition to them.

 In the meantime, the causes for the original mobilisation of people to protest against the government continue to exist. Any belief by the government that things will settle with time is bound to be misplaced. Vehicles continue to form long lines outside gas stations, waiting to fill their tanks. Those who are trapped in those long lines get furious. The power cuts also continue despite the short respite during the New Year period. This too makes people furious as they cannot do their work and earn their livelihoods. Shortages of food items continue and prices continue to escalate. This feeds into the people’s perception that the country’s foreign exchange earnings are being continuously siphoned out of the country by corrupt government leaders.

 By its actions the government is further aggravating the people’s grievances. The Bourbon dynasty in France who fell with the French Revolution but staged a brief comeback when the revolutionaries could not govern successfully. The Bourbon kings were known for their stubbornness; the political thinker, politician and diplomat Talleyrand said of them, “They have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing.” But that was two centuries ago. It is difficult to believe that in the midst of economic crisis, when the country is reneging on its international debt, and has no foreign exchange to pay for fuel, medicines and food, that it plans to lease out as many as 21 aircraft when it has been consistently making massive financial losses and is USD 1.7 billion in debt. At the same time, it still appears that a high cost highway project is going through in which a Chinese company had submitted a bid of Rs. 210 billion but the contract was awarded to a Sri Lankan company that had submitted a bid of Rs. 375 billion.

 ORDERLY TRANSITION

 The protestors are giving a very clear message, evident in their slogans, that corrupt government leaders must go. Incredibly, the activities that have incurred public consternation and anger seem to be continuing even at this very time. It is tragic that by their actions, even at this time, that government leaders are providing justification for their demands. If they were to truly listen to, and heed, the slogans that are being shouted, by the old as well as the young at the mass protests, they would realise that they cannot stay on. The present stalemate in which the masses of people want the government leaders to go, but they refuse to go, must be brought to a quick resolution. This transition can take place through an orderly process as provided for by the constitution.

 The orderly transition can begin by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announcing that he would take the lead in this process by repealing the 20th Amendment that was specially brought in to confer super powers on him. Such a reduction in his powers would give substance to his admission of serious mistakes during the short course of his presidency. The mistakes of one man must not doom an entire country ever again. The repeal of the 20th Amendment needs to be coupled with a new 21st Amendment which transfers most of the presidency to Parliament, and guarantees the independence of the judiciary, the public service, and special commissions such as the bribery and corruption commission, the human rights commission and the police commission, among others. In tandem with this the President needs to appoint a new prime minister and interim Cabinet consisting of the more competent and less tainted members of Parliament. This needs to be done with the consent of the Opposition to the extent possible.

In a seemingly desperate measure to show a new face to the government, the President has appointed a large contingent of ministers who are not well known either for their learning or experience. Whether the appointment of the new ministers will meet the expectations of the international community, let alone the protestors, is unlikely. The goal needs to be the reboot of the government, its policies and institutions, starting now. The other course of action is that of confrontation which would be most harmful to the country. In the absence of statesmanlike behaviour on the part of the President, the opposition political parties will feel compelled to continue with the no-confidence motion and impeachment motions against the government and the President, respectively. Concurrently, as the mass movement grows, it will seek to expand beyond Galle Face and the common spaces. The entry of trade unions into the confrontation will lead to strikes and general strikes and to the stepping back of the international community and potential investors even as the country goes into the vicious cycle of conflict. The President and his advisers need to rethink their options.



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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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