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Renewable energy share in power generation – President misled by advisers

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Continued from yesterday

by Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri
PROPOSALS FOR DEVELOPING
RE PROJECTS

In 2017, an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) has made a set of recommendations to the Cabinet to install in the short term several utility scale solar PV systems, wind energy systems and biomass energy systems, and these were approved by the Cabinet of Ministers. These projects included solar power projects comprising three large utility scale projects at Pooneryne (800 MW) and two sets at Syambalanduwa (2×100 MW) along with 300,000 roof top systems providing 300 MW and several small-scale systems each below 10 MW adding to 500 MW in places of high solar insolation. The building of a 100 MW floating solar PV system was previously approved by the Cabinet. These projects will add up to a total capacity of 1,900 MW which could generate about 3,329 GWh annually assuming 20 % plant factor. Cabinet approvals were granted on 16.12.2016 for building a Solar Power Park of capacity 100 MW in Siyambalaanduwa.

The CEB has already initiated development of a wind energy farm at Mannar and plans to develop more in the Jaffna district. A total capacity of 650 MW is to be developed generating nearly 1,708 GWh of electricity. In addition, a SLSEA Report dated 27.03.2019, says that several proposals for developing RE projects submitted since 2016 by investors received the approval of the SLSEA, but these have been held up as the CEB has not agreed to sign the necessary power purchase agreements with them, on grounds that that they were not selected after calling tenders as required in the Electricity Act. These projects held back by the CEB were expected to add 3,052 MW of RE capacity generating 6,923 GWh of energy annually, comprising 925 GWh from mini-hydro plants, 3553 GWh from solar plants, 2063 GWh from wind plants, 237 GWh from biomass plants and 145 GWh from waste-to-energy plants.

Section 13 of the Electricity Act says “requirement to submit a tender on the publication of a notice under this subsection shall not be applicable in respect of any new generation plant or to the expansion of any existing generation plant that is being developed on a permit issued by the Sri Lanka Sustainable Energy Authority, established by the Sustainable Energy Authority Act, No. 35 of 2007 under section 18 of that Act for the generation of electricity through renewable energy sources and required to be operated at the standardized tariff and is governed by a Standardized Power Purchase Agreement approved by the Cabinet of Ministers or on an offer received from a foreign sovereign Government to the Government of Sri Lanka, for which the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers has been obtained”. Hence, denial of approval by the CEB for RE projects for which permits have been issued by SLSEA is a misinterpretation of the Act. The President has given clear instructions that such barriers against the private sector involving in developing RE projects be removed.

A summary of the above RE projects that could be developed by 2030 long with the commissioned and permitted RE projects are shown in Table 5.

It is seen that the total generation potential from RE sources including those already installed, projects for which permits have been issued, utility scale projects approved by the Cabinet and projects permitted by the SLSEA and awaiting acceptance by the CEB add up to 15,026 GWh annually. This is 4,670 GWh short of the generation required from RE sources to reach the target of 80%, which is 20,500 GWh as shown in Table 4. This can be achieved by installing additional solar PV plants, wind power plants and biomass plants, with generation shared among them each share depending on the availability of resources and economies.

POTENTIAL FOR DEVELOPING
RE PROJECTS

Sri Lanka has a large number of reservoirs both ancient and recently built covering an area about 43,000 ha in the North Central and Eastern Provinces where the solar insolation is high (Arjuna Atlas). Since solar PV panels require about 1 ha for every 1 MW of installed capacity, installation of solar panels covering at least 10% of the area of the reservoirs has the potential to generate about 7,000 GWh of electricity annually from 4,000 MW of installed capacity. This could be achieved with the concurrence of the Irrigation Department (ID).

An all island Wind Energy Resource Atlas of Sri Lanka was developed by National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) of USA in 2003, indicates nearly 5,000 km2 of windy areas with good-to-excellent wind resource potential in Sri Lanka. About 4,100 km2 of the total windy area is on land and about 700 km2 is in lagoons. The windy land represents about 6% of the total land area (65,600 km2) of Sri Lanka. Using a conservative assumption of 5 MW per km2, this windy land could support almost 20,000 MW of potential installed capacity (SLSEA Website). 

Last year, the Cabinet declared 2022 as the year of Biomass Energy with the objective of promoting energy generation from biomass. Already, SLSEA is pursuing a project funded partly by UNDP and FAO for “Promoting Sustainable Biomass Energy Production and Modern Bio-Energy Technologies” with the specific objective of removing obstacles to the realization of sustainable biomass plantation, increase of market share of biomass energy generation. Currently, a survey is being undertaken to identify land available and suitable for energy plantations. It is expected that by 2030, biomass technologies could add about 500 GWh of energy to the system.

It is clear therefore that Sri Lanka has the resources to develop RE projects exceeding the amount required to meet the 80% share in total electricity generation by 2030. Coordination and cooperation among stakeholder institutes such as CEB, SLSEA and ID are prerequisites for realizing this target.

FINANCIAL BARRIERS AGAINST
ACHIEVING THE TARGETS

It may be recalled that in 2015, nations adopted the Paris Agreement at the Climate Change Summit Conference held in Paris, undertaking voluntary reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to global warming and in turn causing climate change. Concurrently, the Conference announced that “developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries in meeting their obligations under the Paris Agreement”. Though the Cabinet has taken a decision to build 650 MW of wind power plants and 1,900 MW of solar power plants in 2017, there has been no progress possibly due to lack of finances or investors for implementing the projects.

The easiest way of reducing GHG emissions is to shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources for the generation of energy. Hence, it is possible to get financial assistance from various financial mechanisms set up under the Climate Change Convention (CCC) to defray costs incurred in shifting to renewable energy sources, for which proposals need to be submitted to the CCC Secretariat through the Ministry of Environment who is the focal point for CCC in Sri Lanka. It is the writer’s understanding that Sri Lanka has not sought any financial assistance from these sources.

As a side event at the CCC held in Paris in 2015, a programme called the International Solar Alliance (ISA), was launched by the Prime Minister of India and the President of France on November 30, 2015, with the objective of scaling up solar energy applications, reducing the cost of solar power generation through aggregation of demand for solar finance, technologies, innovation, research and development, and capacity building. The ISA aims to pave the way for future solar generation, storage and technologies for member countries’ needs by mobilizing over USD 1000 billion by 2030, according to the India’s Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) website (https://mnre.gov.in/isa/). Sri Lanka is also a signatory to the agreement signed at the launching ceremony.

It was reported in the Sunday Island of 26.07.2020 that India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Ltd has offered to set up a solar energy park in Sri Lanka under the aegis of ISA. Being a member of ISA, Sri Lanka should welcome India’s offer to build a solar park in Sri Lanka under ISA. Under the terms of ISA, India only facilitates sourcing of funding and services and the host country has the ownership for the project, who is required to do the preliminary ground work to seek funding. According to a reliable source, the CEB is not keen in pursuing this offer as it is not a tendered project. However, there is provision in the Act as shown above to accept this offer if it is deemed to be a project offered by the Government of India which it is. This again is a misinterpretation of the Act.

PROBLEMS FACING IN EXPANSION
OF RE SYSTEMS

When more and more RE systems are built, their integration into the national grid may pose some problems. One is the rapid variation of the output of solar and wind systems. With the development of software that could forecast these variations on-line, it is possible to increase the penetration of RE systems into the grid. If necessary, CEB may acquire this technology from any foreign country who has already implemented high penetration of RE into their system. It is also important that all solar and wind plants strictly conform to specifications, particularly in respect of voltage and harmonics control.

Another is the need for storage for saving the electricity generated during the daytime by solar systems for use at night time. There are several options for this too, among which are using high capacity batteries, build pump-storage reservoirs and generate hydrogen from day-time power.

A report by JICA on Electricity Sector Master Plan Study in Sri Lanka released in March, 2018 considered the option of generation with 100% renewable energy sources by 2040, recommending that to meet the deficit of power arising out of continuing high cloud cover for several days, storage batteries need to be installed at an estimated cost of USD 1,000 million which may have life-time of only 5 years.

Another JICA report on Development Planning on Optimal Power Generation for Peak Demand in Sri Lanka released in February 2015 considered building a pump-storage system with capacity 600 MW on Maha Oya near Aranayaka with a head of about 500 m at a cost of USD 700 million. This is also included in the CEB Plan.

However, another option that could be implemented without incurring any additional costs is to utilize the existing hydropower reservoirs where energy generated by solar systems could be stored. This is by avoiding generation of hydro power by an amount equivalent to that generated by solar systems during daytime. This saved hydro power is then available for using during night time (see article by Chandre Dharmawardana in The Island of 15.07.2020). The saved energy will get enhanced due to prevention of evaporation when the reservoirs are covered with solar panels.

There is much interest among developed countries to use hydrogen as an energy carrier and for storage. In a report published by CSIRO in Australia on National Hydrogen Roadmap in 2018, the possibility of generating hydrogen utilizing Australia’s vast potential for RE for both local application and for export was considered. Hydrogen systems can provide both electricity grid stability (i.e. seconds to hourly storage) and grid reliability (i.e. seasonal storage) services. Hydrogen generated from stand-alone solar and wind plants along with fuel cells can be used to generate electricity as and when necessary.

A third problem often cited by CEB is the lack of capacity of the transmission system to accommodate energy generated by RE systems as planned. According to the CEB, installing more than 20 MW of wind capacity in any given region may adversely impact local grid stability and power quality (NREL Study, 2003). This problem could be solved by improving the substations in outstations and increasing the capacity of transmission lines connected to them.

It was shown in Table 4 that in order to achieve 80% of generation from RE sources, it is necessary to deviate from the CEB’s LTGE Plan as shown in Table 4. However, the 2013 Electricity Act requires that any addition of capacity should be done while meeting the requirements of the CEB LTGE Plan. Hence, either the CEB Plan needs to be revised or the Act needs to be amended. Otherwise, the CEB may not consider implementing the adjusted scenario even though it meets the President’s policy.

CONCLUSION

With the existing and permitted RE projects along with those approved by the Cabinet and SLSEA, it will be possible to generate electricity 4,600 GWh short of the amount required to meet the target of 80% of generation from RE sources. This amount could easily be generated from a combination of solar, wind and biomass systems. Hence, there is absolutely no need to revise the President’s target of 80% to 70% as decided at the meeting held on 14.09.2020.

It is also essential to explore the possibilities of sourcing funds for adopting RE sources in place of fossil fuels which are available internationally because of the saving of GHG emissions. This will reduce the country’s burden on financing the RE projects. Perhaps it is time the President gets advisers with commitment to green energy who will give him the correct advice. It is a pity that when there is political will it is absent among the professionals concerned.

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ROYAL COLLEGE CADET PLATOON 1980

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An extract from the book

“G R A T I T U D E”

By Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

(Retired from Sri Lanka Navy) Former Chief of Defence Staff

The School Cadet Organization of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) was established in 1881 by Mr. John B Cull, the Principal of Royal College, Colombo 7. The idea of introducing Cadetting to Royal was to train the students on drill to make them disciplined and responsible. Mr. Cull believed that well trained and disciplined youth at school will later become more responsible citizens with leadership skills and eventually will be better prepared for success in life.

History says that about 320 Ceylon school cadets at the ages of 16 to 20 years had volunteered to fight alongside the Allied Forces in the Great War from 1914 to 1918. Royal, St Thomes, Trinity and Kingswood sent their cadets to war. The contingent was consist of Royalists – 88, Thomians – 86, Trinitians – 74 and Kingswoodians – 72.

Even though very limited records on Royal College Cadets available on participation in Great War, first Ceylonese Cadet to paid supreme sacrifice was young Royalist W E Speldewinde who was drowned when troop ship “Villa Dela Ciotat” was torpedoed by Germans and sank in Mediterranean Sea.

First Ceylonese cadet to win a military decoration for bravery and valour was Captain O J Robertson, who was awarded with Military Cross. Other Royalist recipients of Military Cross in World War I were Second Lt H E Speldewinde de Boer, Lt C W Nicholas and Second Lt J Robertson.

Almost 30 per cent of them had paid the supreme sacrifice for the British Crown and many had been severely wounded in action. In 1917, a District Judge in Badulla, Mr. Herman Loos had presented a Challenge trophy to be awarded to the best school cadet platoon in the Island. This was the beginning of the Herman Loos trophy competition for Cadetting in Sri Lanka, and it was first won by the Kingswood College, Kandy.

When we joined the Royal College Cadetting in the late 1970s, the Cadetting legacy of Royal College was reaching its 100th anniversary. I was a member of the 1980 Royal College Cadet platoon. Our Sergeant was Naeem Mahamoor. Lance Sergeant of our Platoon was Arosha Jayawickrama who was an outstanding cadet and the best Commander of junior Cadetting. Supun Hennayaka, C K Rajapaksa and I were the three senior Corporals. Later in our lives, Naeem went on to Airline Management and held high positions in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Arosha migrated to the USA soon after leaving the College. Supun became a well-known specialist medical Doctor in the country. CK and I joined the Armed Forces.

We were very fortunate that Lieutenant (NCC) H M Dharmaratne, came to Royal College in 1979 on a transfer from the Ananda Shastralaya, Kotte. He was a young and energetic Cadet Master who had brought several cadetting achievements to Ananda Shastralaya. Royal College finally had a very good Cadet Master. We began planning for our “Operation Herman Loos” at our Cadet room known as the ‘Armoury.’ Our ultimate goal was to win the prestigious Herman Loos trophy for the Best Cadet Platoon in Sri Lanka. We had our plan carefully reviewed and crafted by our Sergeant and Master in Charge. We knew that both the Commandant’s Test (which tested the First Aid knowledge and the Field craft & Map-reading test) offered 300 marks. All the other competitions namely ‘Hut Inspections’, ‘Squad Drill’, ‘Physical Training (PT)’, ‘Athletics’, and ‘Drama’ offered either 100 or 50 marks each. We also knew with past experiences that most of the other schools concentrate and spend much time in practicing and training of the Squad Drill and PT.

Instead of focusing a lot on training for the squad drill and PT, we spent more time in learning first aid, fieldcraft theories, and map reading. I, being a President’s Scout at the time was tasked with teaching first aid to the platoon.

Captain (then) Parakrama Pannipitiya, a distinguished old Royalist (who later rose to the rank of Major General) from Sri Lanka Army’s Sinha Regiment agreed to teach us field craft and map-reading during evenings and weekends. He was working at the Army Headquarters at the time. With these arrangements, we knew our knowledge on first aid, and field craft & map reading subjects would be much superior to other cadet platoons.

We boarded the train from Colombo Fort Railway station to travel to the Army camp at Boosa for our annual cadet camp and Herman Loos competition. Under the able leadership of our Sergeant Naeem Mahamoor, we were determined and confident that we could change cadetting at Royal that year. In the 99-year history of Herman Loos trophy, Royal College had won it just twice. That was in 1963 under Sergeant Weerakumar, and later in 1970 under Sergeant MR Moosa.

As expected, we won the Commandant’s test with a very high margin. Sri Lanka Army examiners were surprised by our performance and were very happy with our excellent knowledge. We also won the Hut Inspection and became second in place in the PT test. Those accomplishments helped us win the coveted Herman Loos trophy for the best Cadet Platoon in the country. Royal College won it after ten years and for the third time in 99 years.

The rest was history. Royal won the Herman Loos trophy again in 1981 under Sergeant Pradeep Edirisinghe (that was the centenary year of Cadetting at Royal), and again in 1982 under Sergeant H D Jayasinghe. Present Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenna was Member of College 1981 and 1982 Herman Loos Trophy winning platoons. Later he rose to the rank of regimental quartermaster Sergeant – (RQMS) of 3rd Battalion of NCC.

Mr. Dharmaratne was the Royal College Cadet Platoon Master in charge for all three years. Later he was promoted to the rank of Captain in the National Cadet Corps (NCC). Thank you, Sir, for your guidance and advice as the Master in Charge of Royal College Cadetting for a very long time.

When we look back and see what we achieved 40 years ago with a clear plan and well-executed strategy, and have a sense of pride and accomplishment. What Mr. Cull, the Principal of Royal College wanted to achieve by introducing Cadetting to Royal in 1881 has materialized.

“Long live Cadetting at Royal College!”

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Budget 2021 likely to worsen macroeconomic instability amidst COVID-19 pandemic

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By Prof. Sirimevan Colombage

The Budget Speech 2021 was presented at a time when the country is being severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. GDP growth is projected to be down to negative 2 percent this year. Despite this economic setback, the government envisages to maintain an inclusive GDP growth rate of 6 percent per annum over the medium-term while containing inflation to around 5 percent, according to its macroeconomic programme, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’.

 

Less emphasis on COVID-19

Given such optimistic targets, it is somewhat puzzling that the Budget Speech does not pay much attention to Covid-19 pandemic which has paralyzed virtually all economic activities by now. Reflecting mixed-up priorities, the Budget has given undue resource allocations at this difficult juncture to some arbitrarily selected projects such as urban townships, sports, road construction and walking paths, which have no direct relevance to revive the pandemic-hit economy, though they may have their own merits during normal times.

A coherent economic recovery strategy, apart from the fiscal and monetary stimulus already granted, is the need of the hour to revive the economy from the fallout. The pandemic has severe consequences on the Sri Lankan economy, which had already encountered multiple economic setbacks including low economic growth, fiscal disarrays, balance of payments deficits and foreign debt burden even prior to the health crisis. The pandemic has adversely affected the export sector, domestic production, inward remittances and distribution network. Poor households who are mostly working in the informal sector with irregular income sources have become extremely vulnerable in the present crisis situation.

 

Escalating fiscal imbalance

The budget deficit is projected to rise by 24 percent from Rs. 1,266 bn. (7.9 percent of GDP) in 2020 to Rs. 1,565 bn. (8.9 percent of GDP) in 2021, reflecting a severe deterioration of the fiscal position (Figure 1). It is expected that the total revenue would rise by 28 percent in 2021 as against 26 percent increase in total expenditure. Such exorbitant revenue growth cannot be expected for a single year even during normal times. The projected increase in revenue is said to be based on the assumption of 5 percent growth in GDP in 2021. This assumption seems to be over-optimistic considering the negative impact of COVID-19 in years to come, and the country’s limited growth potential experienced even before the outbreak of the pandemic. Slower GDP growth in 2021 means low level of government revenue, and consequent expansion of the budget deficit much higher than what is expected. Thus, the budget deficit is likely to be 10 percent of GDP or more in 2021.

 

Monetary implications of fiscal imbalance

With the rise in the budget deficit, the government is compelled to rely increasingly on the banking system to finance the deficit. Net bank credit to the government rose by 46 percent from Rs. 2,732 bn. in September 2019 to Rs.3.980 bn. in September 2020. The Central Bank has accommodated government finance requirements by directly purchasing Treasury Bills at primary auctions. The Central Bank’s net credit to the government rose by 50.8 percent from Rs. 383.2 bn. in September 2019 to Rs. 577.7 bn. in September 2020.

The monetary easing policy adopted by the Central Bank to relieve the households and businesses adversely affected by Covid-19 too accelerated the annual money growth from 7.4 percent in September 2019 to 19.2 percent in September 2020 (Figure 2). The monetary easing measures included sequential reductions of the policy interest rates and Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR), which led to inject substantial liquidity into the market, and to reduce borrowing costs significantly. Concessional credit schemes were also introduced to facilitate the activities of Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (SMEs), alongside debt moratoria granted for businesses and individuals distressed by the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the annual growth of commercial bank credit to the private sector has remained stagnant around 5 percent reflecting the slow pick up of economic activities. In contrast, net commercial bank credit to the government rose by 44.9 percent in the 12-month period ending September 2020. In this background, the excessive money supply growth is bound to create demand pressures augmenting inflation and imports in the coming months.

 

Inflation-targeting monetary policy missing

Surprisingly, the Budget Speech does not make any reference to monetary policy which is vital in achieving macroeconomic stability, and sustaining economic growth. The Central Bank made concerted efforts about two years ago to launch the inflation-targeting monetary policy framework with the expectation of close coordination with fiscal authorities while regaining its independence. I categorically warned in these columns that such efforts would be suicidal for the Central Bank, unless the fiscal sector is aligned with such process committing to low budget deficits.

It is evident by now that inflation-targeting monetary policy is a remote possibility, as such policy is completely neglected not only by the fiscal authorities in the latest Budget Speech, but also by its architect, the Central Bank. Inflation-targeting monetary policy framework is not focused in the Central Bank’s publication, ‘Recent Economic Developments – Highlights of 2020 and Prospects for 2021’.

Understandably, it is not feasible to implement such rule-based policy amidst the current economic crisis, but the Central Bank should have displayed its long-term commitment to run the inflation-targeting monetary policy framework, which was declared with much grandeur not so long ago. That would strengthen the Central Bank’s independence, which is vital to operate monetary policy without undue political interference.

Demand pressures mounting

The easy monetary policy implemented by the Central Bank under the Presidential directive following the pandemic is unlikely to boost production activities significantly as expected, given the inherent weaknesses of enterprises, uncertain macroeconomic environment and imperative health-related precautionary measures imposed by the government including curfews, lockdowns and travel restrictions.

The global economic downturn resulting from the pandemic has dampening effects on the export sector. Further, business decisions in the private sector are mostly based on comparisons of the expected rate of return on investment vis-à-vis opportunity cost of investment. Interest rates represent the opportunity cost while expectations are influenced by many factors including macroeconomic economic environment, technological changes, exchange rate volatility, capacity utilization, export competitiveness, aggregate demand, fiscal stability, inflation, political stability, business confidence, and cost of production.

The present low interest rate environment encourages consumption, as savings yield low returns. Thus, low interest rates have negative effects on domestic savings. This is reflected in the downfall of domestic savings rate from 24.8 percent of GDP in the first half of 2019 to 20.8 percent in the corresponding period of 2020. Meanwhile, private consumption rose from 66.7 percent of GDP in the first half on 2019 to 70.5 percent in the same period of 2020. Given the low returns on savings, the surplus-fund holders tend to move to alternative assets such as commodities, real estate and risky financial instruments. Such fund diversions lead to distort investment decisions, and to create asset bubbles harming financial stability.

The rising consumption demand has spill-over effects on domestic production and imports exerting pressures on inflation and balance of payments deficits. Inflation, in addition to cheap credit, makes imports attractive and exports unprofitable, causing further deterioration of the trade balance. Unless the exchange rate is allowed to depreciate freely to achieve external equilibrium, import restrictions become imperative to avoid deterioration of the trade deficit. This type of inward-looking foreign trade policy seems to be the government’s policy choice at present, as can be evident from several import controls imposed in recent times. Although such measures are inevitable amidst the pandemic, it must be noted that they have adverse consequences on competitiveness, productivity and export-led growth in the long run. Hence, it is important to phase out import restrictions and to allow free trade.

Policy concerns

Given Sri Lanka’s long track record of low economic growth and macroeconomic imbalances, it is a major policy challenge to mitigate the economic fallout from COVID-19. Budget 2021 does not contain any coherent policy strategy to overcome the crisis. The budget deficit in 2021 is likely to be much higher than what is given in the official projections due to inevitable revenue shortfalls and expenditure overruns amidst the pandemic. In financing the widening budget deficit, increased reliance on bank borrowings results in liquidity injections, and consequent pressures on the money supply, inflation and balance of payments. The import restrictions imposed recently to arrest the balance of payments deficit might give wrong signals to the market depressing outward-oriented growth. Meanwhile, recourse to foreign borrowings escalates the already heavy external debt burden.

The response of the private sector to monetary easing seems rather weak due to structural factors while cheap credit has tended to encourage extravagant consumption, speculative asset holdings and risky financial dealings. The neglect of inflation-targeting monetary policy launched by the Central Bank about two years ago is a matter of concern from the viewpoint of optimal monetary-fiscal policy mix. A systematic growth strategy, backed by a realistic macroeconomic framework, is essential to recover the economy.

(The author is Emeritus Professor in Economics at the Open University of Sri Lanka)

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Good news about vaccine

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Cassandra, like so many others of her ilk, has locked herself down and voluntarily shut herself in the confines of her home. Being of mature age, she does not fret at self-imposed stay-at-home-ness and actually finds plenty to do to occupy the alone-hours. Such persons also know they are abiding faithfully by medical guidelines. Most sally forth on walks, masked and all, and keep in contact with friends and relatives via electronic wonders and that old faithful – the telephone. It needs effort to stave off fears and bouts of sinking spirits, and at night a further boost is needed. But being essentially optimistic, such persons give praise to the Task Force that is battling COVID-19 night and day. Also greatly appreciated are many helpers who are available to shop and run errands for them. Those who had no time to chant pirit or be prayerful do so now, with benefit, for it sure ensures a nightmare free night’s sleep.

We refrain from political talk as we have heard it is dangerous. Hence too Cass’s disinfected Friday articles. We spoke free and criticized where criticism was due during the yahapalanaya regime. The then Prime Minister, Ranil W, took criticism, even barbs and insults in his stride so we felt free to write about government and matters thereof. But no longer.

Return of the respected and trusted voice, though no longer heard

One radiant shaft of sunlight however, shone through recently. Newspapers announced Dr Anil Jasinha was back in the COVID-19 Presidential Task Force, at meetings at least, though sadly not visible on TV. We do miss him as when he spoke to the public we listened with full confidence in him, and were inspired. This is not meant to insult or demean others who took his place, and advise us on TV, all dedicated medical men, but personality and that earnest sincerity that came through when Dr J spoke was missing. It is not only what is said, but how it is said and received that make for effective communication. We were very suspicious of the ‘kick up’ he was given to move from the Health Ministry to Environment. Welcome back, respected Dr Jasinha and we hope we will see you again making announcements over TV. You called a spade a spade and that we appreciate. We are sick of being fed euphemistic news; good tidings all round and reams about the good our government is doing for the ordinary men and women of this fair isle. Spoons of salt are inbibed! Enough of treating us like fools! That really is how many politicians treat us, while in most cases, the boot is on the other foot.

We who have family overseas have resigned ourselves to leaving this life without seeing them. Terribly tragic but true and realistic. We are thus doubly interested in the manufacture of vaccines – for their sakes more than ours; those vaccines that have been tested and proved effective. Not those released before full testing is completed. Skyping a person in the US, I commented the Pfizer vaccine would cost much. He said the government over there has promised free distribution. Sure that’s a promise of Biden and not the barnacle clinging onto his residence in the White House and swinging more and more his golf club. He should swing himself out; that way of exit of orangutans seems suitable.

 

The Oxford vaccine

I had intended writing about half Sri Lankan, half Indian Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy who, having started her education in Sri Lanka, completed her medical degrees in the United Kingdom, and is now world-renowned as a member of the pioneering team of the most widely accepted vaccine against the global outbreak of Covid-19: the Oxford University vaccine. However, we have read about her great contribution in local newspapers this last Sunday, so I mean to quote from an article in the UK Guardian sent me, about the leaders of that team.

“At the heart of Oxford’s effort to produce a Covid vaccine are half a dozen scientists who between them brought decades of experience to the challenge of designing, developing, manufacturing and trialling a safe vaccine at breakneck speed.

“Prof Sarah Gilbert, the Kettering-born (in Northamptonshire, England) project leader, arrived at Oxford in 1994 to work with Prof Adrian Hill, a senior member of the team, on the malaria parasite, plasmodium. She soon fell into work on experimental vaccines, starting with one that roused white blood cells to fight malaria, followed by a ‘universal’ flu vaccine. As a researcher at Oxford, she gained a no-nonsense reputation, which some attribute in part to her raising triplets, though her husband gave up work to parent them.

“Hill, an Irish vaccinologist described by the Lancet as having ‘silent steeliness’, was first into clinical trials with an Ebola vaccine based on the chimp virus during the 2014 outbreak in West Africa. He and Gilbert patented the technology and in 2016 co-founded Vaccitech, an Oxford spin-off, to capitalise on the research.

“Oxford’s coronavirus work is built on research pioneered by Hill and Gilbert on vaccines based on a virus that causes common colds in chimpanzees. The adenovirus could be rendered harmless and then modified to smuggle genetic material into human cells. The trick was to make that material the gene for a protein on the surface of a nasty virus, one the immune system could lock on to.” The operative word here is ‘raced’ since these admirable pioneers have produced a vaccine and tested it to 70% effectiveness, to undergo one other test ensuring 90%, within a year, while the development of vaccines and full testing usually takes over at least two years. Work on the Oxford vaccine started as early as February this year. So even we oldies of Free Sri Lanka have hopes of being vaccinated as the Oxford vaccine is so much cheaper and can be transported easily. Praise be and grateful thanks to pioneers who sure would have worked against the clock.

Interesting to know about these pioneers. Adrian Vivian Sinton Hill, Irish vaccinologist, aged 62, studied in Trinity College Dublin and then at Oxford, He is director of the Jenner Institute, Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, Consultant Physician and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. More interestingly: married to Dr Sunetra Gupta.

And thus, thanks to these selfless pioneers, even we Third Worlders may have a vaccine against Covid 19 fairly soon. WHO will assist of course, as Bill Gates is doing in African States.

 

Slowly giving way but as yet mulish

Yes, that is the defeated Prez of the US, still ensconced in the White House while whiling his time on golf links and sacking VIPs of his government and insulting his successor. Trump has directed that the hand-over of the presidency be facilitated but keeps reiterating that he has not been defeated and will not concede defeat. Absolutely unbelievably, masses are still behind him, flag waving and vociferous with a few Republicans on his side, while many have agreed it is time he goes. I suppose he depended on the ‘Bad Boys’ or whoever who banded themselves just prior to the 2016 presidential election. They seem to have had their fangs shortened,

We are far removed from the US but it was heartening to watch as Biden named his team, most having served under President Obama, with a number of women included. Quite a few are second generation immigrants with one having a step father killed during the Hotocuast. One contrast between his team and Trumps, the latter disintegrating, is that all Biden’s team are slim and trim while Trump had many fat cats behind him. Appearances are also very important.

Mum’s the word with sealed lips on matters Sri Lankan, if they are political! One comment, however, has to be made. We saw on TV Arjuna Ranatunge and some other UNPers wanting Ranil W as the sole nominated UNP member in Parliament. Well and good, since Ranil W is an experienced, highly knowledgeable, cleverly debating, able Parliamentarian. What Cass wishes to comment on is how ole John Amaratunge presented himself to the TV camera on Monday 23, claiming he should be the nominated MP. He is an octogenarian – just made it being born in 1940 – but seems advanced in his three score and ten plus plus. He must be having a vitamin he takes for eternal springy (imagined/induced) vitality and verve! Never say die seems to be his motto after being once accused of sitting on the fence – UNPer given gift trip to the Vatican by the then SLFP government, accompanying Prez Mahinda R, no less!

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