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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

Need for best relations with China

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(This letter was sent in before the announcement of the government decision to allow the Chinese survey vessel to dock at Hambantota – Ed.)

I once met Pieter Keuneman sometime after he had lost the Colombo Central at the general election of 1977. We met at the SSC swimming pool, where he had retreated since his favourite haunt at the Otters was under repair. Without the cares of ministerial office and constituency worries he was in a jovial mood, and in the course of a chat in reference to a derogatory remark by one of our leaders about the prime minister of a neighbouring country, he said, “You know, Ananda, we can talk loosely about people in our country, but in international relations care is needed in commenting on other leaders”.

Pieter, the scion of an illustrious Dutch burgher family, the son of Supreme Court judge A. E Keuneman, after winning several prizes at Royal College, went to Cambridge in 1935. There he became a part of the Communist circle, which included the famous spies Anthony Blunt, later keeper of the Queen’s paintings Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess. Eric Hobsbawm, the renowned historian commenting on this circle, wrote of the very handsome Pieter Keuneman from Ceylon who was greatly envied, since he won the affections of the prettiest girl in the university, the Austrian Hedi Stadlen, whom he later married. Representing the Communist Party in parliament from 1947 to 1977, soft-spoken in the manner of an English academic, Pieter belonged to a galaxy of leaders, whose likes we sorely need now.

I was thinking of Pieter’s comments considering the current imbroglio that we have created with China. Our relations with China in the modern era began in 1953, when in the world recession we were unable to sell rubber, and short of foreign exchange to purchase rice for the nation. The Durdley Senanayake government turned to China, with which we had no diplomatic ties. He sent R G Senanayake, the trade minister, to Peking, where he signed the Rice for Rubber Pact, much to the chagrin of the United States, which withdrew economic aid from Ceylon for trading with a Communist nation at the height of the Cold War.

Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1956 by S W R D Bandaranaike, and relations have prospered under different Sri Lankan leaders and governments, without a hint of discord. In fact, in addition to the vast amount of aid given, China has been a source of strength to Sri Lanka during many crises. In 1974, when the rice ration was on the verge of breaking due to lack of supplies, it was China, to which we turned, and who assisted us when they themselves were short of stocks. In the battle against the LTTE, when armaments from other countries dried up, it was China that supported us with arms, armoured vehicles, trucks, ships and aircraft.

It was China and Pakistan that stood by our armed services in this dire crisis. More recently, amidst the furore, created by Western nations about human rights violations, China was at the forefront of nations that defended us. A few weeks ago, it was reported that the UK was ready with documents to present to the UN Security Council to press for war crimes trials against the Sri Lankan military, but the presence of China and Russia with veto powers prevented it from going ahead with its plan.

It is in this context that we have to view the present troubles that have engulfed us.President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the short period he has been in office, has won the sympathy of people by the speed with which he has brought some degree of normalcy, to what was a fast-disintegrating political environment. On the economic front, his quiet negotiations and decisions are arousing hopes.

A shadow has been cast over these achievements by the refusal to let in the Chinese ship to Hambantota, a decision made on the spur of the moment after first agreeing to allow it entry. The manner in which it was done is a humiliation for China, one administered by a friend. We must remember that these things matter greatly in Asia.

These are matters that can be rectified among friends, if action is taken immediately, recognising that a mistake has been made. The President should send a high-level representative to assure the Chinese leadership that these are aberrations that a small country suffers due to the threats of big powers, to smoothen ruffled feelings, and normalize relations between two old friends. The American-Indian effort to disrupt a 70-year old friendship, will only lead to its further strengthening in the immediate future

ANANDA MEEGAMA

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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Opinion

Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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