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SRI LANKA’S ECONOMIC QUAGMIRE AND HOW MARGRET THATCHER SMASHED THE KEYNESIAN CONSENSUS

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

For quite some time, experts in economics and finance not associated with any political party have been raising the red flag about the severe economic challenges that our country was facing. Unfortunately, the politicians have consistently ignored these challenges. Many in the
private sector believed that commonsense would prevail and necessary course correction will occur, and the ship will sail smoothly.

I recently reminded a few of my former colleagues about how some of them rebuked me (in a friendly manner) five years ago when I asked the regional team of a large multinational bank, “Will Sri Lanka default on foreign debt like Greece?” My colleagues felt that I was unnecessarily pessimistic, although I thought I was a realist. Fortunately for me, one of the regional team members came to my defence and said that the scenario was not so outrageous as “Sri
Lanka was not out of the woods.” That was five years ago.

Since then, a debilitating pandemic, along with a decision to reduce government revenue by around Rs. 600 billion due to various tax cuts has severely depleted government coffers. Moreover, the loss of foreign exchange earnings due to the country being closed for tourism
has been a body blow. I, however, contend that our inability, or should I say struggle to meet the repayment of foreign debt, was always ever-present. The pandemic has just fast-forwarded it. The challenge for a country with an annual deficit of around USD 8 billion in merchandise trade having to repay USD 23 billion between 2021-2025 was always tricky. Moreover, our ability to raise additional foreign currency debt has been severely constrained as international rating agencies have continuously downgraded our ability to repay the debt.

Many have spoken and written articles recommending that the Government (GOSL) seek assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). To many, other than rabid socialists, it is the most sensible of options, not that there are too many available. The GOSL, on the other hand, has articulated to neither the public, the private sector or the international creditors how they intend to avoid a possible sovereign default immediately as well as going up to 2025 whilst also ensuring that there is sufficient foreign exchange to facilitate imports.

 

Keynesian economics

One can only assume that those reposed with economic strategy and management under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa are disciples of Keynesian economic theory. Keynesian economic theory was developed by the British economist John Maynard Keynes during the
1930s. Keynes advocated increased government expenditures and lower taxes to stimulate demand and pull the global economy out of the depression.

Keynes argued that during periods of economic woe, the government should undertake deficit spending to make up for the decline in investment and boost consumer spending to stabilize aggregate demand. He rejected the idea that the economy would return to a natural state of equilibrium if left to market forces. Instead, he proposed that the government spend more money and cut taxes to turn a budget deficit, which would increase consumer demand, viz overall economic activity, and reduce unemployment. Thus, he believed the government was better positioned than market forces when creating a robust economy.

The critics of deficit spending say that if left unchecked, it could threaten economic growth. Too much debt could cause a government to raise taxes and even default on its debt. What’s more, the sale of government bonds could crowd out corporate and other private issuers, which might distort prices and interest rates in capital markets. Many who oppose Keynesian theories will now use Sri Lanka to illustrate how continuous deficit spending and funding with mountains
of debt will ultimately lead to economic disaster.

Modern Monetary Theory

A new school of economic thought called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has taken up the fight on behalf of Keynesian deficit spending. It is gaining influence, particularly on the left of the political spectrum. Proponents of MMT argue that as long as inflation is contained, a country with its own currency doesn’t need to worry about accumulating too much debt through deficit spending because it can always print more money to pay for it. This is precisely what our
Central Bank has been doing, one presumes at the behest of the GOSL.

How Margeret Thatcher smashed the Keynesian consensus

To understand what Margeret Thacher (MT) achieved in upending the Keynesian theory, one needs to understand the decade and a half before that. The 1960s and 70s was a time of unrivalled sociopolitical activism. In the USA, which had established itself as the leading superpower both from an economic and a military perspective, there were protests against the war in Vietnam whilst the civil rights movement gained significant traction after the death of Martin Luther King. Elsewhere particularly in western Europe, pop music, recreational drugs, a liberal view towards sex and the gay community gained wide acceptance. As a result, the 1960s is fondly referred to by many as the “swinging sixties!’

In the political arena, across the world, many socialist governments were voted into power. For example, in both the UK and West Germany, socialist governments held power for most of the 1960s and 1970s. These governments underpinned their political philosophy with the concept of the social welfare state and that capitalism was not desirable. However, the aftermath of the 1973 war between Israel and several middle eastern countries caused significant economic upheaval in many countries. The oil price increased by 400 per cent, and supply was constrained due to an embargo impacting the USA and Western European countries.

In the UK, a full-scale energy crisis loomed due to a combination of a limited supply of oil and an overtime ban by the coal miners to support a significant pay increase. As a result, the government declared a state of emergency. To conserve energy, industries were told to work only three days a week, and all national television stations were switched off at 10.30 p.m. In addition, students had to do their homework in the evenings by candlelight. The following year the conservative government paid the ultimate price by being rejected by the voters.

Emboldened trade unions resorting to industrial action caused many headaches to the government and a great deal of inconvenience to the public. In addition, due to rising inflation which peaked at 26 per cent, the unions demanded higher wages, resulting in higher unemployment as many companies were unable to afford such increases. It was indeed a vicious circle.

The despondency amongst the British public due to the poor economy and the actions of the militant trade unions is aptly summed up by the comments made by the then minister James
Callaghan. He warned his fellow Cabinet members in 1974 of the possibility of “a breakdown of democracy”, telling them: “If I were a young man, I would emigrate.” Ironically. he subsequently succeeded Harold Wilson as the Labour prime minister after the latter’s surprise resignation in April 1976.

The Labour government faced continuing economic difficulties with rising inflation, a balance of payments deficit arising from significant oil price increases, and a series of industrial disputes. Events came to a head in 1976 when markets began to lose confidence in the sterling. In September 1976, the government approached the IMF for a loan of US$3.9 billion, the largest ever requested from the fund. The IMF demanded significant cuts in public expenditure as a condition for the loan, which the government accepted.

But life in the UK got worse a few years later when, in 1978, a wage dispute between Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan and the trade unions culminated in the Winter of discontent. Streets were lined with litter, some dead went unburied, and parents rushed to
feed their ill children in hospital as everyone from rubbish collectors to gravediggers and nurses went out on strike.

In May 1979, the public, fed up with the inability of the Labour government to curb the militant trade unions and bring down inflation, voted in the conservative party led by Margaret Thatcher (MT), with a parliamentary majority of 43 seats.

MT brought about many radical changes to British economic policy. The pillars on which she built her economic policies were:

* Reduce inflation through reduced money supply growth

*Reduce the budget deficit by initially increasing taxes and reducing public expenditure

*Privatize state-owned enterprises

*Deregulate the financial industry

*Bust the trade unions.

 

There is no doubt that she did achieve her objectives. She remained the PM for 12 years, and the conservative party was the ruling party for 17 long years. However, the initial years under MT were extremely tough for the British people. There was significant unemployment as her policy of increasing interest rates meant that many companies went into liquidation. I recall watching the one-minute segment on national TV every evening where the number of closed companies and how many were made redundant along with cumulative figures were announced.
In March 1981, as many as 364 eminent British economists published a letter condemning her plans to hike taxes even as her monetarist attack on inflation plunged the economy ever deeper into recession. However, MT stood firm. She famously said, “The lady’s not for turning ” in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference on 10 October 1980. It is considered a defining speech in Thatcher’s political development. As a result, she gained the nickname “Iron Lady”,
and it was widely believed that she had more “balls” than any of her male colleagues in the cabinet!

There is no doubt that her economic policies upended the Keynesian theory of governments spending money and lowering taxes to increase aggregate demand. Along with Ronald Regan, the President of the USA, she led a renaissance of conservative politics that relegated socialist parties for nearly two decades.

Space constraints prevent me from going into details of the main initiatives that underpinned her economic policies. However, I wish to share two of them as I believe these are imperatives for Sri Lanka in the current context.

Privatization of State-Owned

Enterprises

Under MT, the government aggressively sold off key industries that the British government had owned. Early in her term, she sold off British Aerospace and Cable & Wireless, followed later on by British Telecom, Britoil, British Gas, and Jaguar. In her third term, British Airways, British Petroleum (or BP), British Steel, Rolls Royce, and electric and water companies were privatized as well.

Many of those companies have gone on to be successful private firms. In addition, fans of the effort note that it freed up a great deal of money in the 1980s, preventing further spending cuts or tax increases and creating competitive telecommunications and fuel sectors.

 

Union busting

One of MT’s most heated political battles came in 1984 when the miner’s union struck work. Earlier in Thatcher’s term, in 1981, the miners almost struck, but the government immediately gave in and offered concessions. Thatcher spent the ensuing years plotting to make sure
that this never happened again by changing trade union laws, stockpiling coal to blunt the impact of a strike on consumers and even having MI5 agents infiltrate the miner’s unions.

So when the miners struck in 1984, she was ready. After nearly a year, the miners returned to work without any concessions from the government. As a result, the National Union of Miners, which just 10 years earlier had toppled the Conservative government of Edward Heath, was permanently weakened. Smashing the unions meant more when they dominated every facet of economic and political life.

Will Sri Lanka adopt Margret Thatcher’s prescription?

I lived in the UK from 1975 onwards and experienced first-hand most of what I described in the preceding paragraphs. In 1979 when MT was elected to power, I was 20-years old and very much a committed socialist. I was, in fact, the General Secretary of the Student Union
for two years. However, I took to heart the famous quote, “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof that you have no head.”

In my opinion, there is no doubt that if we genuinely want to come out of the economic quagmire that we are in, we all will need to undergo significant hardships and sacrifices. Unfortunately, that is the price we will have to pay for the extravagant lifestyle the country has enjoyed for several decades.

The pain would have been far less had corrective decisions been taken several years ago. However, we have elected successive governments who have failed to take tough decisions as
appeasing the public, trade unions, and other vested parties have taken precedence.

An example that I wish to cite in support of my above comment is that we have hardly been subjected to any power cuts in the last two decades. Whenever there was insufficient hydropower or the coal power plant broke down, the government got the CEB to generate
expensive thermal power. This was done to prevent any inconvenience to the public but at a significant cost. The CEB did not even levy a special surcharge to recover part of the additional cost. I am pretty confident that electricity prices have not been increased for the last five years.

About a decade ago, I regularly travelled to India as the company I worked for established a subsidiary company in New Delhi. It was difficult for the accountant of that company and me to go through the financial records on the system as every few minutes; there was a power outage
or a power cut. There were long power cuts during the summer months in India and Pakistan, lasting more than six hours a day. However, in Sri Lanka, despite the perilous state of the economy, we enjoyed uninterrupted power.

About 80 per cent of government revenue is spent on paying public sector salaries. In 2015 the Yahapalana government granted salary increments of Rs. 10,000 per month to public servants. The present government gave 100,000 jobs to unemployed graduates, and the state also employed a further 35,000 who had not passed ordinary level exams. Just imagine the cost being borne by taxpayers to fund a bloated and highly inefficient public sector.

I wish to share a couple of examples with the readers so that they can understand my frustration with the public sector.

In 2002 or 2003, when as the Chief Financial Officer, I offered permanent employment at the largest conglomerate in the country to a trainee graduate working under the “Tharuna Aruna” scheme, he told me “, Sir, I prefer to work as a government teacher in Mahiyangana as there is no work pressure and also, I am guaranteed a pension!” Unfortunately, that was the limit of his ambitions which successive governments have inculcated in our people.

In 1984, I went to the Inland Revenue to represent the company I was working for an enquiry. When I approached the officer concerned, I realized that she had forgotten that an enquiry had been scheduled. I was asked to sit while she desperately rang the bell for the peon to bring the file. The guy was seated only 50 feet away but pretended not to hear! The lady was embarrassed and asked me whether I could go and find the file. I lost my temper and
told her that she’d better find the file herself. Finally, she said she would re-fix the hearing, but we had still not heard from her one year later when I went back to the UK.

That we need to restructure and privatize most state enterprises that are losing significant amounts of money as was done by MT in the UK is a given. To do that, the government needs to “bust” the trade unions. The public will need to undergo certain hardships as industrial action will disrupt our life. But, in my opinion, the sacrifice will be well worth it. At least we will leave a better place for our children.

The industrial action resorted to by health workers as well as the principals and teachers is absolutely deplorable. Furthermore, the cancellation of the East Container Terminal to be awarded to India and Japan and the reported grant of salary increments amounting to Rs. 9 billion for a year to CEB staff reflect how the GOSL is caving in to unreasonable demands made by trade unions.

Margaret Thatcher, from 1979 onwards, showcased to the British people and the world at large what can be achieved by strong, determined and courageous leadership. A quote of hers that our political leaders will do well to remember “If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.”



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Covid-19 vaccination: Is it the proverbial ‘Silver Bullet’?

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Dr B. J. C. Perera

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Paediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

In this emerald isle, people take to any form of vaccination, like the legendary ducks take to water. Offer them a vaccine against anything and they will take it; at least most of them would do so. The vaccine antagonists and anti-vaxxers are extremely few and far between, so as to be almost a virtual non-entity. With a very high literacy rate, and a population that is prepared to take heed to the hilt, the axiom that dictates ‘prevention is better than cure’, it is the absolute dream of the experts in the public health scenario that there is unmitigated abiding interest on the part of our populace to get vaccinated against COVID-19. It has been said that vaccines do not save lives but vaccination most definitely does. Vaccines have to be given to people for them to produce the optimal effects. A receptive population to such a notion is indeed, a much-fancied reverie of all health service providers.

In such a background, it is most laudable that Sri Lanka is going pell-mell, even in an impetuous rush, to vaccinate her population against COVID-19, at what could best be described as at break-neck speed. Even given the spectacle of an insufficiency of adequate stocks of the coronavirus vaccines to freely vaccinate the population, the authorities are making the very best of the situation. We must, of course clearly appreciate the steps taken by the Government and the Ministry of Health in this initiative. The tri-forces, the Army in particular, have to be congratulated, in playing the lead role in organising a scheme of things to administer the vaccines in an orderly fashion. TAKE A BOW; ALL OF YOU, you are indeed giving the very best of yourselves in this endeavour.

Well, the goal is to somehow secure a high enough herd-immunity to defeat the virus; most definitely a commendable final goal. The currently prevalent mantra is to vaccinate, vaccinate, and vaccinate even more. Yet for all that there is much misinformation and an infodemic doing the rounds, especially on social media, about widespread speculations on loss of sexual prowess, impotence, subfertility and infertility, as undesirable effects of the COVID-19 vaccines. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR ANY OF THESE IMPLICATIONS. NONE OF THE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE COVID-19 VACCINES DO ANY OF THIS. It is just stupid covidiocy on the part of a few anti-vaxxers. It has induced a lot of young people to refuse the vaccine. This is a crime against humanity to spread such falsehoods. It is absolutely crucial to realise that the current vaccination drive is just a very important one of quite a few things we can do to try and keep the coronavirus at bay.

We have seen the fantastic results of immunisations against ‘child-killer diseases’ in paediatric healthcare. This author, as a young junior doctor, was witness to the ravages of the much-feared childhood diseases that killed or maimed scores of young children even in the second half of the last century. Those diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, Japanese encephalitis; just to mention a few that took scores of young lives of yore, are a thing of the past now. Adequate vaccination has completely wiped them out. The last case of childhood polio in Sri Lanka was seen just around a quarter of a century ago. The young junior doctors of today and the current lot of medical students have not seen any of these dreaded diseases.

In the child healthcare scenario, vaccination has become the panacea for all ills in the above-mentioned diseases. In the same vein, it is quite reasonable to expect the coronavirus vaccines to provide a similar end-result. However, is it really so? It is a most lamentable fact that it is perhaps not quite so.

There is a well-recognised fundamental difference between all the vaccines that are used to prevent the much-feared childhood diseases of the past and the currently available vaccines against the coronavirus that is causing the current pandemic. The vaccines against all those childhood diseases COMPLETELY PREVENT children getting the disease!!!, period. Well, if the recipients are protected against getting the infection, it is the end of the story; a definitive conclusion of the matter in hand.

However, right up to just a few days ago, none of the currently available vaccines against COVID-19, were thought to be able to COMPLETELY PREVENT anyone getting the disease to any appreciable degree. How they work is by reducing the severity of the disease and by preventing the deaths. So…, the basic end-result characteristics of all the currently available COVID-19 vaccines were thought to be quite different to the standard vaccines against all other infective diseases. One could still get the disease in spite of being vaccinated against COVID-19 and would still be able to spread the illness to others.

Yet for all this, there seems to be a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. In a most recent scientific publication in the New England Journal of Medicine, released as recently as 22nd September 2021, an interim analysis of a large study conducted in 99 centres of the USA has shown significant protection against CONTRACTING THE DISEASE as well as AGAINST MORE SEVERE DISEASE AND DEATH by the mRNA-1273 (Moderna/Spikevax) vaccine, administered as two doses 28 days apart. Vaccine efficacy in preventing Covid-19 illness was 93.2%, the effectiveness in preventing severe disease was 98.2% and the efficacy in preventing asymptomatic infection, starting 14 days after the second injection, was 63.0%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across ethnic and racial groups, age groups, and participants with coexisting conditions. No safety concerns were identified.

Be that as it may, added to all our problems, now there is the daunting spectacle of the various types of variants and mutants, ranging from Alpha through delta, even to Epsilon and most recently to a particularly nasty strain called ‘Mu’, of the coronavirus which could cause problems even in the fully vaccinated. We still do not understand completely the potential impact of these more virulent strains in vaccinated people.

However, a case in point in relationship to these facts is the presently dominant situation in Israel. That country, one of the fastest in vaccination and most-vaccinated nations in the world, in spite of almost the entire population being vaccinated, is having some problems at the present time. By mid-March 2021, Israelis were partying as lockdowns ended and by April, masks had more or less vanished, turning the tiny country into a tantalising glimpse of a post-pandemic future. However, the crafty blight of a coronavirus seems to have come back with a vengeance. From a few dozen daily cases in early June 2021, even zero on June 9, new daily COVID infections twice hovered near 6,000 very recently, the highest daily rate in six months. Having won early access to supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab in exchange for sharing nationwide data on how mass vaccination drives affect the pandemic, Israel is a closely watched indicator of a country where well-inoculated developed economies are heading.

As new infections soared, so did the long tail of hospitalisations in Israel. Even though the unvaccinated were five to six times as likely to end up seriously ill, the vaccine’s protection was waning fastest for the oldest; the most vulnerable, who got their first jabs as early as December 2020. At this rate, health officials predicted at least 5,000 people would need hospital beds by early September, half of them with serious medical needs, twice as many as Israel is equipped to handle. The current Prime Minister of Israel was honest with Israelis when he announced a new measure just a couple of weeks ago, whereby the government was trying to cushion the blow. On August 1, it had started offering people, over 60, a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, embarking on its own public health experiment as it tumbled into an unpredictable fourth wave. So far, 775,000 people have taken their third shot and doctors say they can see antibody counts rising measurably within days of the third jab.

For Israelis, the booster shots are a reminder that they are still on the frontier of Covid-19 vaccinations. They celebrated when they were the first to get jabbed, cheering Pfizer as lockdowns ended in March 2021. Now, they are the first to experience the limits of the vaccine and the first to accept a long-whispered inevitability: the need to give regular booster shots to stay protected.

All these facts tend to bring into sharp focus, again and AGAIN, the undoubted importance of time-tested manoeuvres of avoiding crowds, maintaining a social distance of at least one to two metres, wearing suitable and effective masks; even double-masking, and repeated washing of hands, as our own personal weapons against this dastardly blight. Vaccination against COVID-19 will probably not be the panacea for all ills in combating this pandemic, although it would be a very powerful tool in the hands of the authorities in their quest towards victory over this disease. It will certainly not be the ultimate ‘SILVER BULLET’ against the disease.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from Israel today, it is this: corona, in fact, is not over; perhaps not for quite a while. This summer was just an intermission. Next may come winter., sadly perhaps, a winter of discontent. We do hope to high heaven that it may not be so for this beautiful and much-treasured Motherland of ours.

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Proposed Parakrama Samudraya walking path devalues ancient heritage

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By Eng. Thushara Dissanayake

The construction work of the proposed walking path on the Parakrama Samudra tank bund was suspended after the protest of a group of Buddhist monks. Whether it is appropriate for monks to intervene in this matter is a different issue and the objection is admirable because many remained silent over this issue of national significance.

Since then many views, both pros and cons, on the proposed walking path, have been expressed by various parties. Experts in the engineering field express views on the safety of the dam after the proposed construction, which meddles with its existing riprap, the structural arrangement that prevents bund erosion by wind-generated water waves. Some others, including local administrative level officers and politicians see this as essential development for the area. However, technical issues can be resolved at any cost, and I am more concerned about the facts whether this track is a genuine necessity and the possible subsequent damage it can inflict on the historical value of the tank and the image of the great King Pararamabahu.

The objective of a walking path is to help people maintain their health, not only by engaging in physical activities like walking and jogging but also by allowing them to be with nature. While walking and jogging, can improve physical health, a serene, natural environment can improve mental health. If we take an area like Polonnaruwa, which is not as urbanized as many of the major cities in the country, there are ample places that offer the above-mentioned benefits. Further, neither visitors of the area nor residents will use it as a walking track, and an observation platform would be sufficient, if people need to stay safe from traffic that moves along the bund. Therefore, this type of project would no doubt be a white elephant that ruins millions of public money.

There was a time when the leader of the country went about erecting clock towers at every junction. Soon after they were built many of them showed the wrong time due to inferior construction work, resulting from corruption, putting the public in difficulty. Unlike those days, today there is no need for clock towers as everybody has the exact time since everyone has a mobile phone, more accurate than a wristwatch. We have to come to terms with the reality that what we value today would become obsolete tomorrow in the fast-changing world. Who is to say that these walking paths would not become obsolete in the future given the fact that lives of people are becoming complex and busy, and people may turn to indoor gymnasiums and exercise machines?

Moreover, a closer look at some of the already constructed walking paths would reveal that the selection of locations for such facilities was ill-informed, without proper evaluation as they remain under-utilised. One such example is the track that has been constructed in Badulla urban park which is popularly known as the Wawul Park. This park is located on the edge of three main playgrounds of the city; Vincent Dias ground, cricket ground and football ground. The track is blanketed in thousands of droppings of bats that inhabit the trees of the park, the odour of it so foul that it is very difficult to reach the track. Every day hundreds of people walk in the aforementioned playgrounds while the walking path remains abandoned.

Coming back to the topic, after the walking path is constructed, as per the usual practice of the country, a huge plaque will be erected on the bund mentioning the names of politicians who suggested, advised, supervised, participated and declared open the track. There will probably come a day in future when our children, who visit the Parakrama Samudraya, would say that the tank was constructed by this and that politician. Alas! The statue of the Great King Parakramabahu, who had a great vision to manage the water resources of the country, will be disregarded.

Way forward

Before making any structural changes to heritage sites, opinion should be sought from experts and other stakeholders as well. According to personal experience, when I last visited the place a few years ago, people who visited the tank needed no walking path, but being travellers from remote areas, there was a crying need for other basic facilities. They required shelter, water, facilities to have their meals, dispose of waste safely, and a proper waste collection system, among other things.

In addition, a mini auditorium can be constructed at a suitable place in the vicinity, that has audio-visual facilities to educate children about the history of the tank. A model of the reservoir can be used to explain its components and operation. Then our children will not take this amazing Parakrama Samudraya, that they are endowed with today, for granted but learn to appreciate the great vision and dedication of their ancestors in making this marvel a reality.

Let me conclude with a poem I posted on my FB page sometime ago, with its translation.

There is a huge plaque at the end of the tank bund. It reads that the politician is akin to King Parakramabahu. The river downstream overtops with the sweat of the people who built the tank. Still, the people who built the tank are of no value)

(The writer is a Chartered Engineer. This article is based on his personal views and does not reflect those of the organisations where he holds positions)

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Antics of State Minister and Pohottu Mayor; mum on chemical fertiliser mistake; The Ganga – a link

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Reams have been written in all local newspapers; much comment has traversed social media and persons have been bold to call for justice on two absolutely unrestrained and yes, evil, SLPP VIPs who have recently been dancing the devil as the saying goes. These evil doers seem to be pathologically unable to control themselves and behave as human beings: heads outsised with hubris and apparently bodies often pickled with liquor.

Very succinct comments have been made on Lohan Ratwatte, one being: “a leopard never changes his spots” referring to the many crimes supposed to have been committed by him, and the other that he is a gem of a man who may make a jewellery heist soon enough. He has the audacity to say he did nothing wrong in barging into two prisons; in one to show off to pals the gallows and in the other, to brandish a gun and place it against the heads of two shivering Tamil prisoners. All done within the week when world attention was focused on Sri Lankan human rights violations directed by the UNHRC

Cass’ comment is that Lohan Rat was committing hara-kiri (minus even a trace of the Japanese spirit of self sacrifice) and taking the entire country on a suicidal mission through his inability to hold his drinks and destructive hubris and murderous inclination. Cass particularly favoured Don Mano’s summation in his comment on the unlawful prison intrusions in the Sunday Times of September 19. “Any semblance of a shabby cover-up to enable Lohan Ratwatte to retain his position as State Minister of Gems and Jewellery will not only endanger the economy by depriving the nation’s dollar bare coffers of a GSP benefit of nearly 2.7 billion dollars, but will risk putting 21 million Lankans from the frying pan into the fire and test their tolerance to the core.”

The visit to the Welikada prison by the State Minister of Prison Reform and … was said to be with some men and one woman. Identities were kept under wraps and confusion raised by making the dame a beauty queen or cosmetician. But who she was, was soon known along the vine of gossip. One report said the person in charge of the prison or its section with the gallows, cautioned Lohan Rat and tried to dissuade his advance with friends in tow since the lady companion was in shorts and them walking through where prisoners were, would cause a commotion. But no, the State Minister advanced to show off the gallows with his short-shorts wearing woman companion and imbibing mates.

Cass is actually more censorious of this woman than even of the State Minister himself. Is she a Sri Lankan, so vagrant in her woman-ness? Doesn’t she have even an iota of the traditional lajja baya that decent women exhibit, even to minor level nowadays? Is associating with a State Minister and his drinking pals such a prized social event? Shame on her! She, if people’s assumption of identity is correct, has boasted political clout and been elevated by it too. Such our young girls! Do hope they are very few in number, though this seems to be a baseless hope as social events unroll.

Pistol packing – correction please – toy pistol packing Eraj Fernando is aiding the ex State Minister of Prison Reform to deface, debase and deteriorate Sri Lanka in the eyes of the world. He is interested in land and not in gallows or scantily clad gals. With thugs in tow he trespassed a property in Bamba and assaulted two security guards. Repetition of an incident he was embroiled in – a land dispute in Nugegoda a couple of weeks ago. He was taken in by the police and before you could say Raj, he was granted bail. What quick work of police and courts.

As the editor of The Island opined in the lead article of September 20: “The Rajapaksas have created quite a few monsters who enjoy unbridled freedom to violate the law of the land.” A convicted murderer known for his thug ways was presidentially pardoned a short while ago.

The good thing is that people talk, write, lampoon, and draw attention to these heinous crimes and do not seem scared for their necks and families. White vans have not started their rounds. And very importantly the memories of Ordinaries are not as fickle as they were. Wait and see is their immediate response.

New fad – jogging lanes on wewa bunds!

Some monks and men gathered recently on the partly torn up bund of Parakrama Samudraya and had the foolish audacity to say the bund needed a jogging lane. Tosh and balderdash! Then news revealed that other wewas too were being ‘attacked and desecrated’ to construct jogging lanes. In such remote rural areas which even tourists do not visit? Is there illicit money-making in this activity? Otherwise, no explanation is available for this sudden interest in farmers’ and toilers’ physical well being. They get enough exercise just engaging in their agriculture, so for whom are these jogging lanes?

Sharply contrasting persons

As apposite to the former two, are superb Sri Lankans up front and active and giving of their expertise, albeit unobtrusively. Consider the medical men and women and their service to contain the pandemic; farmers who protest to ensure harvests are not damaged too severely by false prophets who won the day for the banning of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and weedicides. The latest blow and justification of what so very many agriculturists, agrochemists, have been saying all along – organic is good but to be introduced very slowly; without importing compost from overseas, is the Chinese import containing evil microorganisms. Experts have categorically stated that chemical fertilisers are sorely needed for all agriculture; more so paddy and tea; and if used prudently cause no illness to humans or injurious side effects.

The four experts who comprised the panel at the MTV I Face the Nation discussion monitored by Shameer Rasooldeen on Monday September 20, agreed totally on these two facts and went on to say that it must be admitted a hasty decision was taken to stop import of chemical fertilizers. We listened to the considered wise opinions backed by true expertise of vibrantly attractive and articulate Dr Warshi Dandeniya – soil scientist, of Prof Saman Seneweera from the University of Melbourne, Prof Buddhi Marambe – crop scientist, and Dr Roshan Rajadurai – media person of the Planters Association. Listening to them, Cass swelled with pride and told herself see what sincerely-interested-in-the-country’s welfare eminent scientists we have in this land of rowdy politicians and uneducated MPs. They labeled the sudden banning of chemical fertilisers and insecticides and pesticides as “very dangerous and causing irreversible harm. It is not too late to reverse the decision, even if admitting fault is not possible.”

Garlic

Oh dear! The stench! Never ending series of scams; executed or approved by politicians and all for illicit gains. Even the tragedy of the pandemic and suffering of much of the population does not seem to have curbed selfish lust for money.

Focus on the Mahaweli Ganga

Interesting and deserving of thanks. Chanaka Wickramasuriya wrote two excellent articles in the Sunday Islands of September 12 and 19 on the Mahaweli Ganga, imparting invaluable facts of the present river and its history, as for example which king built which wewa or anicut. He ended his second article by hoping the waters of the great river will feed the north of the island too: “Maybe then this island will be finally uplifted. Not just from north to south, but across class and caste, language and philosophy, and political partisanship. Hopefully driven by a newfound sanity among its denizens, yet symbolically attested to by the waters of the Mahaweli.”

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