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The 20th Amendment:

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Building a future and forgetting the past

Continued from Sunday Island (20)

by Professor Savitri Goonesekere

The Judiciary

The judiciary is an important organ of government in a system of Parliamentary democracy, often expressed in the concept that institutions engaged in the administration of justice must be “independent” or free of political interference. Certain measures are incorporated in Constitutions, in a Parliamentary democracy, to ensure that there is no political interference in the matter of appointment and dismissals of judges.

The long history of political interference and the experience with the impeachment of Chief Justices after 1978 led to pressures for a system of appointment that would prevent such interference. The 19th Amendment failed to incorporate changes in regard to dismissal of judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. However it went back to the norms of the 17th Amendment and created a Constitutional Council that was responsible for oversight on appointments to the Appeal Courts, and also in regard to the two judges (apart from the ex officio Chairman, the Chief Justice), who serve on the Judicial Services Commission. This is the body entrusted with the appointment dismissal and disciplinary control of other judicial officers.

The 20th Amendment has repealed the provisions on the Constitutional Council. The President is required to obtain the “observations” of the Parliamentary Council that has replaced the Constitutional Council,  but he is not required to consider their views  in making  appointments to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. Appointments are at his complete discretion. He can also (as in the 1978 Constitution) dismiss the two judges who serve on the Judicial Services Commission at his discretion. Both the 19th and 20th Amendment have retained the procedures of impeachment in the 1978 Constitution for  dismissals of  judges of the highest Appeal Courts.

The Attorney General is the chief prosecutor and plays an important role in the administration of justice. The 20th Amendment provides for this appointment to be made  at the complete discretion of the President. The oversight of the Constitutional Council that functioned under the 19th Amendment has been removed.  The views obtained by the Parliamentary Council that replaced this body are only “observations” and can be ignored by the President. This Council  has no oversight responsibility .

However the Attorney General’s  removal  from office will be, as under the 1978 Constitution and the 19th Amendment, according to a specific law that covers this matter- the Removal of Officers Act 2002. This Act provides for a Parliamentary system of investigation and decision making for removal of the Attorney General.                            

High Posts and Public Office

The 20th Amendment has repealed the provisions on appointments to designated high posts with the oversight of the Constitutional Council. Appointments to the posts of Commanders of the Armed Forces have been a Presidential prerogative under  the 1978 Constitution and the 19th Amendment, and this position has been retained in the 20th Amendment. However the post of Inspector General of Police has been omitted from the high posts coming within the purview of the new Parliamentary Council that has replaced the Constitutional Council. It is not clear how the Inspector General of Police will be appointed, though the Removal of Office Act 2002 determines the procedure for removal and, as in the  case of the Attorney General, involves  a Parliamentary procedure.

The Auditor General’s post is retained as a high post in the Constitution by the 20th Amendment.  But he is appointed by the President, and can be removed by him at his discretion, holding office during “good behaviour.” The oversight of the Constitutional Council on his appointment and removal, mandated  by  the 19th Amendment, has now been removed. This in a context where both the Audit Services Commission and the Procurements Commission established by the 19th Amendment have been abolished by the 20th Amendment. The serious negative implications of these changes for auditing key public institutions have been placed in the public domain by professional associations of auditors.     

“Independent ” Public Commissions and the 20th Amendment

When the 19th Amendment was passed by consensus, it was agreed within and outside Parliament that important public Commissions recognised in the Constitution should be independent of Presidential control. This principle, clearly recognised  in the 17th Amendment   had been repealed by the 18th Amendment, but  was  incorporated once again  in the 19th Amendment.

Consequently the system of appointment and removal was by the President, but subject to the oversight of the Constitutional Council. The 19th Amendment also had detailed provisions aimed at strengthening the work of the Commissions.  It  established an Auditing  Services and Procurement Commission to facilitate oversight, in use of public funds,  and  financial and management accountability, of important public institutions and offices.

It is now stated by those who demonise the 19th Amendment that the Commissions were packed with “NGO Karayas”, because the Constitutional Council was dominated by the same people. This point of view has also been expressed by Prof GL Pieris in public fora and the media (see The Island 13. 9. 2020), and by the Minister of Justice. They should know that this assessment is based on fiction rather than  facts.

The Constitutional Council had a very strong majority of Parliamentarians, and was chaired by the Speaker. There were only three persons representing “civil society.” At no time were all of them from NGOs. Several had an established national and international reputation, as required by the 19th Amendment, and none of these appointments were objected to in Parliament. The previous Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was delisted from regional and international bodies of National Human Rights Commissions, for non-conformity with the Paris Principles that set standards on the method of appointment. Professor GL Pieris and the Minister of Justice must be aware that the Human Rights Commission appointed under the 19th Amendment has received national, regional and international recognition for its work.

The 20th Amendment has abolished the Auditing Services Commission and the Procurement Commission. It has also repealed the detailed provisions in the 19th Amendment relating to other Commissions. There are new provisions relating to the Public Service Commission and the National Police Commission. The provisions on the Elections Commission limit their powers to monitor and set guidelines for the conduct of elections. A new provision provides for public complaints   against the Police and for redress “according to law”. It is not clear how this procedure will be implemented.

The 19th Amendment provided for Presidential appointments and removal of members of the Commissions, but subject to oversight by the Constitutional Council. This procedure has been abolished. The President has full powers in regard to appointments and removal of members of the Commissions referred to in the 20th Amendment.

The transitional provisions on the continuity of Commissions and High Post appointments under the 19th Amendment, give the power of removal to the President. This would include removal of   members of the current Human Rights Commission referred to above, at the discretion of the President. The drafters of the 20th Amendment have disregarded the standards set by the Paris Principles on National Human Rights Commissions, once again.

A Post 20th Amendment Future  on   Governance

The 19th Amendment was to be a temporary initiative for reducing the powers of the Executive Presidency and re-establishing governance with an elected Prime Minister, Cabinet and Parliament, pending the adoption of a new Constitution. The 19th Amendment therefore changed what can be described as “the grund norm” or the foundational principles of the 1978 Constitution. This significant modification to the system of governance was not challenged from within  or outside  Parliament, or by litigation in the  Supreme Court, because there was consensus that the change was good for the governance of the country.

 The 20th Amendment is a dramatic turn around and has changed the “grund norm” again. The 20th Amendment  that was  in the public domain in  2019 as a strategy to eliminate the Presidential system of governance, has now emerged as a Constitutional change that will create an even stronger executive Presidency. This time there is no consensus within or outside Parliament. We do not know whether in this context, a 2/3 majority in Parliament and a referendum will be required for the 20th Amendment to become the Constitutional bench mark for the governance of the country in the years to come.

We speak of the possibility of drafting a new Constitution to replace the 1978 Constitution, and it is said that the 20th Amendment is an interim measure. But what has been our experience on Constitution making? When the Constitution of South Africa was adopted after a fully participatory drafting process, Nelson Mandela said that “a Constitution is a law that embodies a nation’s aspirations.” Our nation’s aspirations for a new Constitution have never been realised because of adversarial politics, and a failure by politicians to recognise  that a Constitution is for the People and not for them.

 The 19th Amendment could have contributed to good and accountable governance, pending  a new Constitution to achieve the   agreed  objective of  dismantling  the Presidential system of governance. The two centres “of power” in the executive, created as an interim measure, could have functioned effectively in the nation’s interest, if the President and the Prime Minister had not torn each other apart by their narrow and partisan political agenda. Excellent position papers on key areas of governance were prepared in 2015- 2017, in a consultative manner, and another report was prepared on the basis of public consultations. The Parliamentary drafting process collapsed because our political leadership  became enmeshed in adversarial politics.

Political interests have once again dominated the drafting of the 20th Amendment. The lack of consensus even within the government is manifested in the fact that no one is taking ownership for drafting the document. The drafting of the 20th Amendment reminds us of the words of a great justice who suggested   that it is in the public interest that  “laws are not conceived in secrecy and brought forth in obscurity”.

Why is there such lack of transparency in regard to the drafting of the 20th Amendment? The public was informed that a Cabinet Sub Committee chaired by Prof GL Pieris, and consisting of the Minister of Justice and others were authorised by the President to draft the 20th Amendment. We are now informed through media that the Justice Minister does not know who prepared the 20 Amendment Bill that has been gazetted to go before Parliament. Another Committee appointed by the Prime Minister also chaired by Professor GL Pieris with the participation of the Minister of Justice and others, will now  “report ” on the 20 A. This hardly inspires public confidence in Professor Pieris public statement that Constitutions are not authored by any one, but represents the thinking of the whole government.

The adversarial approach by politicians to Constitution drafting is because of the failure to appreciate that democratic governance which is accountable to the People  demands  accommodation of both majority and minority points of view in the country, on governance. Giving priority to “sweeping election mandates” and confusing that kind of populism with democracy, denies the responsibility to respect the views of all citizens, on their aspirations for peace and progress. Election majorities are at best temporary phenomenon. The long term interests of the People in accountable governance go beyond electoral politics.

We are at a point in history where a large majority of citizens are tired of democracy and want governance to be the sole responsibility of a single popular leader, who commands confidence. They sincerely believe that handing over the country on a “bulath hurulla” to a strong and popular leader will lead Sri Lanka into a glorious  future of “kiri and pani”. They are not aware of or have forgotten the lessons of history, and the manner in which a government elected by the people through  the Franchise, (the “heart and soul of democracy” as eloquently described by Professor  GL Pieris) transforms itself into a totalitarian dictatorship.

This is a point of view that is understandable, even if one may disagree with it. What is more difficult to understand is  how professionals and academics who should lead the nation towards good governance  can   describe authoritarian dictatorial exercise of executive power by a single individual,  without any checks and balances by other institutions as  the quintessential  form of “democratic ” governance. 

This country has experienced and witnessed abuse of political power, in the last few decades. They have seen how governance and the administration of justice has been impacted by abuse of power. Need they be reminded that we have an international record of installing three different Chief Justices in three days- one was “disappeared” from office because of politics,  another impeached because of politics, and brought back to office by the successor government for one day, and a third appointed to hold the  vacant post. The People have witnessed serious violence and intimidation at elections because of confrontational politics, prosecution or non prosecution of offenders in emblematic cases because of political imperatives , and a person in remand for murder nominated as a candidate for Parliament. Can they be convinced again  by  Constitutional lawyers speaking eloquently on electronic media, that we have a perfect system of governance and administration of justice, which will be strengthened by going back to a more  powerful executive Presidency.?

At this critical time it is wise to reflect on what his Lordship HNJ Perera, the last Chief Justice of this country said in the unanimous decision of all the judges of  Supreme Court (a Full Bench) in the Dissolution of Parliament case 2018. Citing earlier precedents, and the changes in governance in the 19th Amendment, His Lordship said that ” since 1972 ( when we broke the link to a British sovereign)this country has known no monarch, and the President has not inherited that mantle”. The 20th Amendment is seeking to clothe the President with that mantle. The President and the People must reflect on our national experience on governance, and ask whether a ” monarchy” created by a 20th Amendment to our Constitution, is in the long term interest of the People and the President.

Perhaps the then Mahinda Rajapaksea and Professor GL Pieris can reflect on the wise words of their former leader, in 1948 and bring back into governance the values of the 2000 draft Constitution’s system of governance based on parliamentary democracy. They should, with their long experience in governance, give leadership, and save this nation from the crisis and risks inherent in a “single powerful leader” form of governance.   

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Features

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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