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Sri Lanka: Rudderless and clueless?

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Ask not what you can do for the country, but what the country can do for you – Pandora revelations

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The Pandora Papers revelations have shown how much some political leaders love themselves and the extent of their greed. Perhaps, they have found a way to take this wealth to their next life as well. In the context of the revelations, John Kennedy has probably turned in his grave with the Pandora revelations paraphrasing of his famous quote “Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

From Royalty to Prime Ministers and ministers and businessmen and women, it appears that a few have robbed the wealth of many to fatten individual coffers. A programme on ABC TV in Australia stated that the Pandora revelations showed that this shadowy off shore economy accounted for 10% of the world’s GDP and deprived countries across the world billions of dollars in tax income, and money that could have helped to reduce the gap between the haves and have nots and improve basic services to millions of people at the lower end of the scale in societies throughout the world.

Sri Lanka, too, is in the headlines but for the wrong reasons. Nirupama Rajapaksa, a close relative of the ruling Rajapaksa family, and her husband, Thiru Nadesan, are among those named in the Pandora Papers. This is unfortunate for Sri Lanka and it is a serious hit on its credibility when it is trying hard to attract much needed foreign investments.

Unless there is a full, independent investigation and any wrongdoings exposed and wrong doers taken to task, Sri Lanka will suffer the ignominy that this revelation is only the tip of the iceberg.

This revelation could not have come at a worse time for Sri Lanka which appears to be in a situation that may be described as one of being “up the creek without a paddle”, meaning, the country is in an unfortunate economic situation, lost in mid-stream, unprepared and without much resources to remedy the matter.

The COVID pandemic has without doubt exacerbated the situation, with two major sources of foreign currency revenue, tourism and remittances gravely affected as a result.

Short of a major long term infusion of funds via the IMF, the country looks set to enter into numerous short term credit agreements with several countries to secure supplies of food, medicines, petroleum and other essentials. Whatever way one looks at it, belt tightening may have to exceed the levels advocated by Dr N M Perera in the early seventies when the country experienced a serious financial situation on account of what was then referred to as the “oil shock” when OPEC countries decided to raise the price of oil.

The prospect of an avalanche of tourists and tourist dollars, and a mighty rush to resume activity in the Middle East that employed so many Sri Lankans, is very unlikely. This will leave a yawning gap in foreign exchange earnings for a considerable period of time. With agriculture product exports of tea, rubber, coconut, spices, etc., IT related service exports, garment exports being the main stay for foreign income, the country will have to seek borrowings, to fund its imports and to pay existing loans and interest on such loans. The governments ambitious Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) targets are yet to come to fruition. The Pandora revelations has made it much worse. The pandemic itself shows signs of abatement with vaccination rates progressing at a fast pace.

However, the attendant toll, in income disruptions for a vast number of person’s dependent on a daily wage, or those in the tourist industry, has been severe and still is. Besides this, basic food shortages, steep prices of some essentials have hit the lower, lower middle and middle income households very badly and their struggles with the pandemic have been compounded.

In this tumultuous and unstable situation, many are concerned, very concerned, about what appears to be a government that is showing signs of being rudderless and leaderless, and signs of internal dissention.

Differences of opinion within is obviously different to dissention from within, and it is a healthy sign of democracy. The LNG deal, supposedly approved by the Cabinet, but the subject minister seeming to take a different view outside the Cabinet points to dissention rather than a difference of opinion. The minister concerned is spearheading an effort to explore gas and petroleum reserves in the Mannar basin and one cannot but wonder whether this is not in the interest of some who hold a different view about how the petroleum and gas needs of the country should be met and the potential that exists for a vast infusion of foreign direct investments to exploit possible under sea wealth.

It is not long ago that the major constituent of the government itself called for the resignation of this particular minister thus helping to define what it is to be rudderless.

In a well-researched article, titled The LNG Saga – Some unanswered questions! Urgent responses needed by Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe published in The Island newspaper (https://island.lk/the-lng-saga-some-unanswered-questions-urgent-responses-needed/), the benefits and pit falls of the agreement has been well articulated. The “LNG Saga” as Eng Jayasinghe has called it is not good news to potential investors and FDIs. This saga appears to portend dangers that arise from being clueless deliberately or otherwise on matters of such importance.

What is confusing is the subject minister voicing an opinion contrary to what is understood as a cabinet decision of which the minister concerned is a member. This leaves onlookers with an impression that there are two cabinets in the country. A cabinet and an inner cabinet and that transparency is selective depending on which cabinet makes critical economic decisions. In the context of the Pandora revelations, the concerns that the general public will have on the process of governance, decision making on projects involving huge amounts of money, will increase and provide fodder to social media usurpers to misinform the public on matters of strategic importance to the country.

In this somewhat seemingly disjointed governance climate, the statement made by the Foreign Minister in Parliament, which could be interpreted to be a re set of foreign policy of the country, should be welcomed. One hopes that the minister has articulated the view of the entire government and not sections of it. It is also hoped that the Opposition political parties too are in agreement with the views expressed as bi partisanship of foreign policy is an important element of governance.

This statement appears more than a foreign policy re set and more like an economic policy re set revolving around internationalisation of the country’s economic policy. It recognises the importance of global economic alignment and the superfluous nature of modern political non alignment. Virtually every country is economically aligned to other countries, friend or foe, although political and security alignment via numerous kinds of groupings, separates them. This dichotomy appears absurd and it does give rise to the scepticism that security concerns are creations of the world’s biggest industry, the so called “defence industry”. Where diplomacy is practiced on the one hand for economic alignments, sabre rattling is used on the other hand for security “threats” with the very same countries. Sri Lanka of course cannot do any sabre rattling even if it wanted to, and the Minister has rightly stated that diplomacy will be sharpened and fine-tuned to serve the country’s interests.

In this context, the ministers statement on the need for a multinational, multi-lateral investment climate is implicit. He has rightly implied that the age of Parakramabahu was a golden era while the world is a different one today.

Inter connectivity via technology and technology in general has transformed vistas of prosperity and it is making existing and past notions of nationhood with physical borders and conventional security means increasingly obsolete. In the context of internationalisation, opportunities that arise to meet the needs and challenges associated with it can be grasped only if countries look outside the wells they are in. The need to address human rights issues, avenues for peacebuilding amongst communities, reaching out to Tamil Diaspora organisations and the need to engage them in economic and social development activity in the country, not just in the North and East, is very explicit. What is needed now is specific action to address these issues from all sides.



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Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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