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Opinion

Release of Riyaj Bathiudeen and fake news

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This is in response to the October 06, 2020 The Island editorial titled “Lajja!”. This particular editorial had most unfortunately deviated from its usual high standard of professionalism. Instead, this is quite presumptuous and in fact caters to fake news. It is true that the release of MP Rishad Bathiudeen’s brother has raised eyebrows. However, equally of concern is the manner in which this is being reported.

It is with grave concern we note that a certain media channel seemed to be reporting this news with a deliberate twist. It appears that they are hoping to cause an embarrassment to the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Administration. It is most unfortunate that you too have added to this false narrative.

To clarify, it is been assumed by this editorial that Mr Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release is somehow linked with the garnering of support for the proposed 20th Amendment. It is thus been erroneously stated that “Bathiudeen has promised to support the 20th Amendment to the Constitution” after the “police have suddenly found that there is no evidence to press charges against Bathiudeen’s sibling.”

In actuality, MP Bathiudeen has not expressed his support to the 20A. Instead, his rather ambiguous reply to a media query was that while certain clauses of the 20A are acceptable to his party, others are not. He further stated that his party will take a final decision on this matter on the day of the voting.

One may infer that this answer indicates support for the 20A and that MP Bathiudeen is in the process of building bridges with the Gotabaya Administration. Conversely, one may argue that he was sending a message to his political partner, the SJB. It is not a secret that the Muslim political parties are disappointed that they have not been accommodated in the SJB National List despite the support given. Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has vowed to defeat 20A and this might be MP Bathiudeen’s way to rattle the Opposition Leader’s confidence. Either way, at this moment these are all only assumptions and it is quite possible that even MP Bathiudeen has not yet decided which way he would vote.

It must be pointed out that the incumbent Administration did not seek MP Bathiudeen’s support at either the Presidential or Parliamentary elections. Both these were decisive elections. The common misconception was that it would be impossible to win these two elections without the block votes from the minority communities. Yet, this support was not sought simply because these small political parties have an unhealthy tendency to hold the main party hostage to their parochial demands at the cost of national interest. Thus their partnership would have been a severe impediment to the vision that President Gotabaya is determined to deliver.

In this background, to assume that MP Bathiudeen’s support would be sought to pass a constitutional amendment is illogical. The decision MP Bathiudeen takes with regard to the 20A is really not a concern of this Administration. If he chooses to vote for the Amendment, then it is of course good. However, if he chooses not to, it is still not an issue for the Gotabaya Administration. It would be far better to fall short on the required two-third majority needed to pass the 20A than to have it passed but be forever beholden to a political entity that is not in line with the President’s manifesto.

President’s Facebook statement clearly spells out this stance. However, due to two reasons this statement has not yet soothed the suspicion that arose with the release of Riyaj Bathiudeen from the CID custody. The first was the sudden exoneration of Bathiudeen from the Easter Attack investigations. The second, been the manner in which the news was linked to create a certain narrative as to the reason for his release.Releasing Riyaj Bathiudeen from CID Custody.

When Mr Bathiudeen was arrested in April, the Police issued a press statement to the effect that the evidence against him indicates a close connection with the Cinnamon Grand bomber Inshaf Ahamed. However, less than five months later he was released sans judicial proceedings. The Police explained that evidence is insufficient for the investigation to proceed. However, this explanation is a contradiction of the statement made earlier by the Police. This unexpected development had clearly taken the Administration also by surprise.

In response to the immediate assumption that a political hand might be behind this release, the President categorically stated that he will not allow Police matters to be decided by politicians. As such, neither he nor his political arm will instruct the Police as to who to be detained or released.

In the meantime, DIG Nuwan Wedasinghe, who was in charge of the CID, had been transferred as the Acting DIG Western Province (North) with immediate effect. DIG SP Ranasinghe is now in charge of the CID. The Cabinet Spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella stated that this change of CID head is a decision solely taken by the Administration of the Police.

This is a positive response from the Police to the genuine concern expressed by Archbishop of Colombo His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith on this matter. Detaining a person who was truly innocent for any length of time or releasing a suspect due to lapses or undue influences should not be taken lightly.

In the past, we have seen excellent Police work as in the Swiss Embassy Garnier case. Even the ongoing war on narcotics attests to the professionalism and commitment of our Police Force. However, there had also been instances of failure due to prejudice and haste to fit the evidence to meet a preconceived conclusion. The manner the investigations were conducted on the case of the five-year-old, who was abducted while she was sleeping beside her mother and raped to death, is a case in point. Had DNA not come to the rescue, an innocent man would have been coerced into admitting guilt to a crime he never committed. The President, hence, in his statement assured that he will not hesitate to rectify if the investigators had faulted in any manner.Creating News to Fit into a Preconceived Narrative.

Perhaps, drawing from past experience, an assumption was made by many that Riyaj Bathiudeen was released in lieu of a “political deal” with his sibling. However, most contentiously a certain media structured its news sequence in a manner that actively catered to this assumption. They only highlighted the images of Minister Chamal Rajapaksa greeting MP Bathiudeen at a State function in Vavuniya. The other politicians, including the Opposition who were present, were excluded from this news coverage. Then, extremely mischievously this news edited the Defense Secretary’s speech and completely distorted it so as to support this assumption.

This is exactly what happens in failed Police investigations as well. Instead of allowing facts to build the story, facts are distorted to fit into a preconceived notion. Needless to say, this is neither fair nor correct. It is noted with regret that some other news agencies and channels also blindly followed this insinuation. In this instance, by failing to draw independent conclusions from the facts at hand and by allowing to be persuaded by another’s narrative, the independence of the media had been compromised by none other than these media institutions itself.

The Police have taken steps to address the concerns raised with regard to the Easter Attack investigations. Minister Chamal Rajapaksa informed the Parliament that not only the reasons for Riyaj Bathiudeen’s release would be investigated but also the contradicting statements made by the Police.

In the same manner, all those who advocate media freedom should call for a similar exercise by the media channels that pandered to an assumption still to be supported by facts. After all, media freedom is not the freedom to create news. It is the freedom to report without bias so that the public may form their own opinion based on ground realities.

Shivanthi Ranasinghe

President’s Media Division

Editor’s note:

Pl. read today’s editorial.



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Opinion

Territorial mindset, a recipe for disaster!

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By Chani Imbulgoda

I recall a documentary on animal life on a TV channel. Describing the behaviour of lions, a caretaker said, “These lions are from the Dehiwala zoo. They are vigilant of other lions entering their territory, if one crosses the boundary they fight to death. They won’t like other lions entering their territory.” The announcer remarked, “Just like humans!”

Exactly, just like us. In the animal kingdom the survival of the fittest is the norm and not crossing others’ territory is a rule of thumb. Since the beginning of human civilisation there have been tales of battles. The Trojan war, Alexander’s, Caesar’s, Napoleon’s wars degraded human values. Saddled with cynicism, hostility and jealousy, we humans, like beasts, are at war with ‘others’ who do not fit into our ideologies or our comfort zones. History is a storehouse of tales of human battles over territories in the guise of civilisation. So-called civilisation itself was won over battles. In the local context, the native ‘Yakkhas’ were massacred by Prince Vijaya to develop ‘Sinhale’. America, Canada, Australia inherit a dark history of looting territories of indigenous people in the name of civilisation. Portugal, Spain, Britain tasted the blood of their ‘colonial slaves’. Centuries later, we have not yet shed our primary animal instincts. We battle tooth and nail to protect our territories, our autonomy, values and interests all in the guise of civilised behaviour.

We rarely welcome outsiders into our territories. In the 40s and 50s, women were kept out of men’s territory. Late British Prime Minister aka Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, had to struggle many years to break through another of man’s territories, the Parliament. In the movie ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley’, she sobs to her husband that contrary to what she previously believed, despite hard work she cannot win on merit and that dedication and passion are irrelevant. One-time Prime Minister, Edward Heath condemns Thatcher’s outspoken nature to force her out of politics. Heath says that the Parliament is akin to an orchestra made up of many musicians and Thatcher is a French horn more loud than appropriate, that threatens the orchestra’s harmony.

This is how men and also women of the same flock air their resentment towards outsiders, in their own words ‘intruders’ who are colourful and loud in action. Insult, indifference, suspicion, suppression, oppression are not uncommon experiences of pioneers in anything in history or at present. I once heard a senior Professor advising a young colleague attempting to change the system for the better, “Lady, look, do not swim upstream, people would not like it.” Yes, despite good intentions any novel act breaks the harmony…That is why the Buddha had many foes. That is why the notorious thief Barabbas was chosen by the crowd over Jesus.

I tried to uproot a tiny cinnamon sapling that grew through my interlock pavement blocks, failing which I crushed it. It made me realise that this is what happens, no matter how valuable you are. If you crop up in a place where you would not be accepted, every effort is made to root out, failing which, crush you, to ensure that you would not resurface. I suppose many of us had faced similar circumstances at work places, in politics or within social circles. Why does this happen, because of ego, envy, distrust or insecurity? Or because someone deemed a threat by another individual, a leader or a group enters their territory?

A pack of wolves has a leader; the protection of lions’ territory is the responsibility of the leader; the leader is the first to announce danger. No outsider can cross the boundary. We see certain lions, wolves and foxes as alphas. The mentality ‘I am the boss, I know everything’ blinds them. They live on ego, with a superiority complex, under the assumption that no one can challenge their power. If the newcomer is meek and sucks up to the leader, he or she survives and can slowly squirm their way into the pack.

I have heard parents complain about how difficult it is to enrol their kids into various sports clubs in schools. I have worked in private as well as public sector organisations, local and overseas. I have experienced antagonistic behaviour in these organisations. Driven by their insecurity, superior or inferior complexes, they would go to any lengths to harass the outsider and go to any extreme to protect his or her territory. They are myopic to the point of rejecting ideas foreign to them no matter how good they are, as they see ‘danger’ in ideas alien to them. Some group ideologies are thicker than blood. Certain professional groups rarely welcome females. They believe that women cannot meet challenges as men do and can be fiercely territorial. Many qualified and capable individuals are ostracised from organisations or industries or expelled from positions because of this territorial mindset.

A person with a territorial mindset is often overcome by thoughts of safeguarding or enhancing his or her power, control, influence and self-proclaimed status. These are primitive emotions. Taking ownership and defending what people believe belongs to them is a positive trait. But it is this mentality that subjects newcomers to agony when they grow too smart for their own good. They are stifled when the power of those with a territorial mindset is threatened. Many novel ideas and skills go to waste while some newcomers or ‘misfits’ are forced to leave their workplaces, others would continue the fight or be forced to conform.

We talk of harmony, reconciliation, tolerance and unity in diversity. Why cannot we synergize each other’s differences? A French horn would add glamour and at least amuse the audience. A garden consisting of a variety of flowers is more awe-inspiring than a garden of roses alone. Poet Khalil Gibran said that when a river enters the sea, the river is no more, it is diluted in salt water and one cannot trace the river in the sea, but the river grows larger and so does the sea. When we come out of our confining shells we are exposed to greater opportunities as well as benefits for both the newcomer and those already in that society.

(The writer holds a senior position in a state university and has an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management [PIM], Sri Lanka and is currently reading for her PhD in Quality Assurance in the Higher Education Sector at PIM. She can be reached at cv5imbulgoda@gmail.com)

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Opinion

Faulty decisions

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Farmers protesting against the prevailing fertiliser shortage. (file photo)

The importation of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides was banned by a Cabinet Memorandum, dated April 27, 2021, to promote the use of organic fertilizers and natural pesticides. As a result, inorganic fertilisers such as urea, Triple superphosphate, Muriate of Potash and other agrochemicals (insecticides, fungicides etc.) became scarce. Agriculture Ministry in the meantime promoted manufacture of organic fertilisers (OF) but they were unable to get sufficient amounts of organic fertilisers manufactured. Most of what was available were of low quality with high C/N ratios. Agric. The Ministry is yet to produce natural insecticides, fungicides, etc. Thousands of farmers, all over the country, started to protest demanding that inorganic fertilisers and appropriate pesticides are made available, because they knew that these agrochemicals are necessary to get better yields from the crops they cultivate. The Soil Science Society of Sri Lanka, representing mostly the Soil Scientists and Agronomists of Sri Lanka, and the Sri Lanka Agricultural Economics Association, the professional body representing the agricultural economists of Sri Lanka predicted massive economic losses due to potential yield losses, with the implementation of the import ban on fertilisers and pesticides

In spite of all these protests, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) continued to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides, This caused immense economic and social problems to the people in general and to the farmers in particular. Farmers who cultivated Paddy in the current Maha complain of a reduction in the yields, and those who cultivated vegetables and other crops had to bear up a substantial decrease in quantity and quality of their produce. Production of maize decreased, resulting in a drop in poultry feed.

Reduction in local rice production made the government importing large quantities of rice from China and Burma. Food prices have increased causing thousands of people mainly the poor, going hungry resulting, health and social problems. Incomes of nearly two million farmers got reduced which affected their buying capacity resulting in numerous undesirable effects such as increasing unemployment, poverty and related issues. Tea small holders complained of reduction in quantity and quality of tea affecting their income, and also a decline on foreign exchange earnings which those in the Finance Ministry, Central Bank and other relevant institutions are frantically searching. All these are the result of the ban of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, a faulty decision.

In August, the Cabinet removed the ban probably realising the utter foolishness of the decision to ban import of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides. However, it is too late as it takes time to import fertilisers and other agrochemical which were in short supply due to the ban.

The main reason given for banning importation of inorganic fertilisers was that it caused chronic kidney disease with unknown aetiology (CKDU). Several research studies have been conducted since the year 2000, when it was reported to occur in some parts of the country. The findings of these studies do not indicate that there is any relationship between CKDU and fertilisers. CKDU has not been reported in many countries such as China (393 kg/ha) India (175 kg/ha) and United Kingdom (245 kg/ha) where the amount of fertilisers used per hectare is much larger than that of Sri Lanka (138 kg/ha). Note- the fertiliser consumption data given are for 2018 and are based on values given by Food and Agriculture Organization.

The growth rate of Sri Lanka has declined after 2015 . It dwindled to 4.5% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2017 and in 2020 it was -3.6 %. The Trade Deficit ( the difference between exports and imports- TD) shows a decrease but at present it stands at 6.1 US$ billion. Exchange rate continued to increase from Rs. 111 to a US $ in 2010 to Rs, 186 in 2020. Currently it is around Rs. 200. According to Central Bank, External Debt in Sri Lanka increased to 51117.43 USD Million in the third quarter of 2021. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards an unprecedented economic crisis. Hence, the government need to implement appropriate strategies to increase exports and reduce imports.

Sri Lanka annually imports food worth Rs. 300 billion. Most of the food imported such as sugar, milk food, lentils, onion, maize, etc., involving around Rs. 200 billion can be locally produced, thereby reducing expenditure on food imports. In view of the current shortage of foreign exchange, it has become extremely important to promote the production of food locally which hitherto have been imported. The plantation sector, which includes tea, rubber, coconut, cashew, sugarcane and minor exports crops such as cinnamon, cardamom, cocoa ,plays a very important role in the economy of the country earning a substantial amount of foreign exchange, Hence, it is important to implement strategies to increase the productivity of the food crop and plantation crops sectors. Inorganic fertilisers, synthetic pesticides and herbicides play a very important role in this regard.

However, the Government is emphasizing that organic fertilisers (OF) are used in the coming yala season as well . Those in the government who made this faulty decision need to realise that OF can never replace inorganic fertilisers and that it can only be supplementary. They need to give serious consideration to the bitter experience of the farmers who applied OF to their crops during the current Maha. The Government needs to understand this fact and reconsider this faulty decision if they want to increase local food and export crop production.

In the year 2022, there will be a severe shortage of food negatively affecting food security, unless the government implements a realistic and effective programme from the beginning of 2022 to solve this issue. Implementation of foolish decisions such as to replace inorganic fertilisers with organic fertilisers, as done in 2021 is not going to solve this problem. Among the 17, he Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015, several are related to increase crop production. The Sustainable Development Council of Sri Lanka has a responsibility for coordination, facilitation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the implementation of strategies related to development of the agriculture sector in Sri Lanka.

As indicated by Edgar Perera, a former Director of the Dept. of Agricultural Development (Ref. The Island of 17 Jan, 2022) the most appropriate thing to be done is to use OF as a soil re-conditioner along with chemical fertilisers, which will give the much-needed plant nutrients in adequate quantities, to achieve the required yield levels which will be sufficient to meet the national targets.

Dr. C. S. Weeraratna

csweera@sltnet.lk

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Opinion

Have pity on Afghans

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A camp sheltering displaced Afghans.

Is there no end to the torment inflicted on the ordinary people of Afghanistan, by the United States?

Having being defeated militarily, and decamping ingloriously within 24 hours, like thieves in the night, the USA now inflicts starvation and destruction on Afghanistan from a “safe distance”.! Money that rightly belonging to the Afghan State is being withheld by the American dominant Financial system. Let this be a lesson to us.

A report in The Island of 17 January revealed that Afghan families were selling children and their organs in order to survive.

After all, what crime did the Afghans commit in resisting an invading foreign power? Sri Lanka should seek ways of offering direct Aid at least in small ways, to Afghanistan, whether the Americans approve or not.

JAYMAN

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