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The battle to claim Covid-19!

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Leave the battle to those that are genuinely fighting it!

By Romesh Fernando

Covid 19 is here. We’ve known that for a while! The fact remains that each of us are vulnerable. Never mind the origin of the virus; whether it came from China, India or the US or if it was man-made or a natural occurrence.

The crux of the matter is that it is here to stay.

The Military apparatus under General Shavendra and the medical armory are wielding their might, fighting a battle day and night to keep us safe.

While all this is going on, the blame game has begun.

The pundits, Covid gurus and self-anointed investigative journalists putting pen to paper; some making sense but most others exposing their cheap brand of journalism, lacking in value and relevance.

We also have the electronic media exploiting the freedom of expression that has allowed a myriad opportunities for those seeking to spread fake news. Yes, there are a lot of these opinionated characters out there who spew out their far-fetched theories based on nothing but unjustified assumptions & factually incorrect information, which are doing the rounds. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is for sure – they’re only making the communication service providers rich!

In this day and age, people don’t need education or intelligence to know where this wanton brand of reporting originates from. A little bit of common sense will tell us it originates from the gutter. The language is poor, the information is false and the so-called freedom of expression is that of an ill-informed individual, fit only for the waste paper basket.

While the country is struggling, the misinformed population is judging and the politicians are playing the only game they know! – politics!! All while the economy is in the balance, teetering on the verge of a crash!

My humble request to all those involved in publicizing their thoughts and sharing their opinions is to take a good look in the mirror and ask, ‘What have I done to help the cause of those suffering after contracting this deadly virus?’

If nothing much comes to mind, then that says it all. It would be prudent to stay home safe and let those that are battling this war work unhindered.

Let us be realistic in terms of our responsibilities as the public.

People never took the numerous warnings seriously. That’s the hard and brutal truth.

Politicians wanted elections held to get into parliament, so they could have access to state machinery and resources to run the country!. The industry had to run in order to turn the wheels of production and give life to an already ailing economy. Thousands of employees needed to feed their families. Everyone did what they thought was needed. We heard the words “Covid is no more”. With such a mentality, It was no surprise that the health warnings and preventative efforts slipped through the public’s fingers. The result is a recurrence on the scale we now see.

Let us honestly answer these questions: How many of us attended political meetings and rallies without masks? Disregarded washing hands and sanitizing? How many of us went out shopping freely and to exhibitions, book fairs and what not, caring nought for the virus or the repercussions? How many more still attended funerals, alms-givings, weddings and mass gatherings? The list of events of exposure is endless!

Then, who do we blame? AND IS IT FAIR?

The woman from Minuwangoda was not patient zero. That’s for sure!

The government had to bring in our stranded workers from all over the world: Europe, Middle East, US and across Asia, from wherever they toiled and contributed to our economy. In that process, couldn’t we have imported virtually all strains of the virus?

This is something we couldn’t avoid. We can’t ignore the cries of our people when they are suffering and stranded in a foreign land. Our culture, our humility our nature is not one that shuns our fellow beings when in distress. Many are the stories of drowning of the hero that dived in to save another. Many are those that died in the war fighting for you and for me.

So, is it fair we blame Brandix or the Military or the Health Services or the Government or anyone else for that matter? Instead, don’t you think we need to unite, stand firm and fight this battle for one and all?

Human error and neglect are paramount in this dilemma. Let us refrain from conveniently palming off the blame to others.

Brandix, which has now hit the news for all the wrong reasons, did what they ought to.

They’re a corporate and socially responsible organisation responding to a global problem. They took it upon themselves to charter aircraft to repatriate their own staff from the Brandix industrial park in Visakapatnam. Sadly, this has been twisted and distorted to no end.

The many stories alleging bribing the government, bringing in Indians to teach us how to sew underwear, charter flights that have brought in cheap Indian labour, circumventing quarantine procedures – the list goes on and seems to be pure nonsense.

The demand for answers to questions on passenger manifests bringing in Brandix employees and their families, proof of quarantining them in designated centres, PHI union demands for proof of PHI participation in the quarantine process of monitoring, etc. are the main highlights in this theatrical enactment of twisting and distorting facts, trying to blame a corporate for the mishap of a possible community spread – a ridiculous thought to say the least.

If only each one of them spent some quality time silently checking on the facts via available media and information services- would actually help all concerned to focus more on the need of the hour – looking after our people, our country and doing what is right.

Brandix, with their unparalleled efforts in CSR, ensured their entire might was put into motion to assist in this issue of unimaginable sadness. They continue to do their part day and night and have vouched to continue to ensure they see their staff out of danger.

Their contributions to the cause are immeasurable. From giving over their plants from the word go when the pandemic hit our shores, and certainly long before the Minuwangoda case, to the many funded programmes managing our sick and affected, to continued support to the cause is exemplary to say the least. Let us hold our fire and take a step back and reflect – If you and I manage to contract the virus, we too may end up in one of the quarantine centres facilitated and supported by Brandix.

They have continued to do all this, while trying to keep their focus amidst the often baseless media slandering.

In no civilized world do we blame a pandemic on a corporate entity. This is certainly a first! Yes! corporates can have slip ups, negligence, mishaps, accidents – especially when they are of the magnitude of Brandix. But what matters is how they manage the crisis. Every corporate in today’s world has mitigation plans in place and I’m sure theirs is next to none.

While the battle rages through, with efforts to combat the pandemic from getting out of hand, there still seems to be the critiques, the politics, the raging arguments, the blame games, stories, debates, YouTube journalists and unions all with vested interests! – they will all be there! All judgmental, with conclusions to pin the blame on the culprit or scapegoat, whoever is more convenient to get a hold of! Sadly, to say the least – that’s what our culture has become in recent times.

So let’s stop the blame games, finger pointing and making this a playground for various gains. Let the authorities and the specialists do their job.

It is sheer neglect on our part as citizens. It is our foolishness. It is our failure to adhere to the repeated calls for safety. The culprit is you and me!

Many the sinks in place for washing. And many a tap without water and many an empty bottle of detergent or soap. Stylish foot pedals no longer work. Many a mask, only for the protection of our chins! Why? Because we cared less.

Let us pause for a moment to ponder on the agony that would run through the mind of the individual that has been exposed. Let us pause to ponder on the agony of those who see their loved ones being driven away in an ambulance with beacons of red or blue into centres for quarantine. Have you had the chance to ask a mother, father, brother, or sister, whose loved one got taken away, what runs through their minds living this nightmare?

Do you have the slightest feel of what runs through a parent’s mind, whose child is taken in for treatment to a centre with no visitation? Or, know what traumatic thoughts run through the mind of a child being taken away for treatment?

While we’re at it reading our Sunday paper, we know that there’s a massive effort in operation to care for the sick and their families.

As business associates of Brandix for many years, we’re certain our fellow associates are not alone. Much is being done to ensure those affected are cared for. The organisation is working round the clock. Let us rally around the corporate in support and solidarity to cope with this situation at hand. After all, we’re all a part of the family that work and live contributing to our economy which continue to be fueled by the likes of corporates like Brandix.

Currently, the global pandemic figures are worrying, yet recoveries are many and deaths sadly still high;

Globally:

38,806,674 cases, 1,097,966 deaths, 29,158,331 recoveries.

In Sri Lanka to date:

5,170 cases, 13 deaths, 3,380 recoveries.

So, let us be thankful for small mercies and those that have recovered.

Let’s continue to pray that those affected will recover fast and return home soon. For our part, let’s be compassionate and humane and refrain from dabbling in words and expressions that are at the expense of others or detrimental to the cause. Instead let’s support the fight in every way possible for the safety and well-being of society.



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Opinion

Buddhism and all beings’ right to life

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A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”

Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”

The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”

 

The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”

When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.

According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.

I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.

 

NEIL PERERA

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Opinion

A Cabinet reshuffle needed

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.

The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?

Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.

The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.

The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.

The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.

For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.

There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!

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Opinion

Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way

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China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.

“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.

A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.

:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}

The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.

Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.

China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.

While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.

Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.

President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.

RANJITH SOYSA

 

 

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