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Scrap APC and thrash out matters in Parliament

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I have a feeling I shall go mad. I cannot go on longer in these terrible times. I shan’t recover this time. I hear voices and cannot concentrate on my work. I have fought against it but cannot fight any longer.

That was a moan from the heart of Virginia Stephen Woolf, greatly admired by Cassandra, also her husband, Leonard Woolf, who left serving the British Civil Service in Ceylon because he did not agree with colonial policies for its dominions. True, Virginia was prone to mental imbalance but her brain and creative writing were exceptional. What she said is echoed by thousands of Sri Lankan women today, yours truly included, railing against most terrible times brought upon the land by the hand of rulers, from many decades ago but compounded by this government.

Cass does not need to elaborate on this. TV reportage makes the desperation of the people clear, visible plus audible. Two deaths from standing in queues have already been reported. The prevailing humid weather compounds matters but the wrath, desperation and being at the end of one’s tether is all justified. And what are our leaders who govern us doing to alleviate people’s problems?

This way and that

They, our highest government leaders, to Cass’ jaundiced eye and maddened mind, are running around like headless roosters. We are in the worst financial crisis ever, and we find the Minister of Finance rushing to India to beg. It has been announced that the IMF is being consulted and asked to assist, but The Island of Tuesday March 22 announces in bold black letters “Discussions with China underway to resolve economic crisis” with USD 2.5 bn funding. Cass is a rather brainless chick but her head is firmly attached to her neck. She wonders why this Chinese hand of help while the IMF has been consulted. Also, if China is so in sympathy with SL, why did it not step in to prevent a Chinese fertiliser company from demanding payment for a shipment of contaminated organic manure. That company should have paid Sri Lanka compensation.

The Leader of the Opposition too has been acting like a a headless rooster. Maybe his head along with his brains were blown by the huge crowds his Party were rewarded with in their recent protest march and gathering opposite the old Parliament. He boldly told the Prez to resign and hand over the government to him and his Party. Good gimmick for the gallery but fell short of thinking people’s approval. Does he not know the Constitution? Has he a shadow Cabinet in place to take over if there is an upheaval? He should court other parties; intelligent, wise, honest, incorruptible persons and then declare he is ready, willing and competent to take over running the country and salvaging it from utter ruin. Such a wonderful country of solid resources, mainly manpower of brains and brawn, pulverized to begging. The pulverisation was because of no planning, incorrect decisions, cronyism and corruption where the greatest consideration was given to how much a VIP could earn illegally.

There are some wonderful women in the wings who will most definitely help to haul the country out of the pit it has been sunk in. Cass makes bold to mention just three of the many women who have proved themselves to be outspoken, unafraid and concerned about the country and its Ordinaries: Dr Harini Amarasuriya (JVP), Lihini Fernando of the Moratuwa Urban Council and Hirunika Premachandra (SJB). They are up front, but there are hundreds of capable women who will and can dedicate themselves to lifting the country out of its present mess.

Inexplicable

Cass could not understand and explain what MP Namal Rajapaksa recently said. He must surely have had words of wisdom dropping from him being an Attorney–at-Law and Son and Heir, but Cass could not fathom what brand he meant exactly. She is not feather brained nor mentally affected by the troubles we are battered by, and the prevailing heat, though of course emotionally scarred.

In a boxed news item by Sanath Nanayakkare on the front page of The Island of March 22, he reports that “Minister Namal Rajapaksa said yesterday that as countries in the world were going through an unprecedented global crisis, their political brands might face its impact but each nation would ensure that its own national brand remained strong….We should strive to keep the brand of Sri Lanka untainted no matter what.”

Thus, she resorted to Internet and got this definition for country branding: “There are many benefits from branding of nations. Country branding refers to a process in which a country claims a distinct brand position in the minds of its citizens, international stakeholders and the global customer.” Nation branding “aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries.”

Commenting on this Cass feels she is on quicksand, not only because the VIP involved is given a treble V in front of his name and is no ordinary ‘young of the country.’ However, though the quick research she did gave her the correct definitions, in the case of our country – Resplendent Isle, Paradise, Serendipitous Land et al – the brand names, more so its political brand that come to mind are corruption for which we are known worldwide. It is also the brand of family bandyism. Additionally, it bears the brand of laziness and love of lotus eating of the majority race. Incidentally, a much-flouted brand boast is its more than 2500 years of cultural heritage? And now a succinct branding: queue up for anything and everything.

Can and should Cass ramble on Fridays?

This question pops itself up very often when Cass sits to word processing her Cry. Certainly not through modesty but because she wonders how she dares comment on the state of the nation or on politics. She justifies herself as the voice of an Ordinary for the country’s Ordinaries and also expressing opinions and views held by women. She also justifies herself as echoing what Knowing People have pronounced, especially on TV talk shows or panel discussions like Face the Nation.

She listened to the Monday night programme of March 21 with Shameer Rasooldeen anchoring. Excellent opinions and suggestions as usual, this time on the economic situation of the country. Cass will not mention names nor ascribe what was said by whom but merely summarise spot on conclusions:

Do not change the leadership as of now; political instability or upheaval will only exacerbate the dire situation we are in. However, the President must take responsibility for what went wrong and also responsibility to harness the IMF, brains both in-house and foreign and lead in making changes, imposing restrictions etc.

Remedial action must be taken NOW, urgently and within a short space of time. Delay will send matters beyond redemption.

Youth who wish to migrate to be encouraged to stay back and help lead the country back to stability, if not prosperity. The old have led long enough; new blood is needed.

The smaller businesses which seem to be wiped out now can come back since they are agile and can transform themselves and accommodate consumer needs more easily than large commercial companies.

Less urgent issues must not be placed on the back burner, such as information which calls for IT. People must be made aware of exactly where the country is economically and what is planned and what is being done to remedy matters.

Cass adds an idea of hers. Why call for an all-party parley and get rebuffs with political parties refusing their participation? All parties are represented in Parliament (with the mighty UNP reduced to one single MP). Thus, no need for magul bera and processions; the decoration of a venue, and speeches at a podium. The Prez can come to Parliament and an All-Party Conference held within with no fanfare but only serious business attended to. The suggestion to hold a conf seems to be another delaying tactic. Get down to business where business is discussed – the Parliament of Sri Lanka.



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Features

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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