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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

Lalith: A true leader who opened many a window for others

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84th birth anniversary:

by Shyamila Perera

former coordination Secretary

Always remembered by what he has done- LALITH ATHULATHMUDALI

Lalith Athulathmudali was indefatigable in his quest for knowledge and was continuously opening windows for our youth to the modern world of knowledge and technology. With the Mahapola concept, he demonstrated the fact that school was not merely an institution concerned with distributing prescribed learning but rather that it was motivated towards creating an awareness of ever-expanding human horizon in the world of today and tomorrow. Communication and information were central to Lalith’s vision of realizing his goals. His steadfast ambition was that our youth be equipped to take their place in the global village of advancing technology.

Lalith’s enduring mission was to provide facilities for our young men and women with high ideals and higher hopes emerging each year on the threshold of life with no hope of assistance, falling back in frustration because they were being defeated by the system. The creation of the Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund was a major step towards defeating the cynicism of the system. But even that was insufficient for Lalith. He wanted more for these young men and women particularly because he truly believed that the eventual alleviation of poverty could only be achieved through enhanced education and narrowing the gap in educational facilities. Through the provision of a dynamic educational system complete with English as its cementing language and developing technical and vocational skills to meet the mismatch in employment market.

Lalith did not overlook the business community but created lucrative openings for them. The business community benefitted by his pragmatic vision and innovative ideas. Modernization of commercial laws, Export incentives, introduction of the Export production villages, Exporter’s forum and the Presidential Export awards, lying emphasis on exports, Development of the Port as a modern container port and equipping it for transhipment are some of the few initiatives he took to develop the economy.

In his short span, as the Minister of Agriculture he introduced many novel ideas such as Agricultural Export villages, the soil and climate cropping system and the concept of growing for the market. His stint as the Education portfolio he introduced many reforms with the student being the priority.

His political ideology for the country was of national, secularism, democracy and market economy with a safety net for the less privileged. He insisted that the voice of the people, their needs, their aspirations and their priorities must become the corner stone of the edifice of planning. Scholarships for post-graduate studies, grants and other special awards will be included in to the Foundation’s educational programmes.

It’s appropriate to lookback at his life’s work and vision, pragmatism and the vigour he displayed he displayed during his relatively short span of life.

Always Remembered by what he has done

A short summery of his work and achievements is appropriate to be remembered: As Minister of Trade from 1977 (August)-1983 March) he Implemented the open market economy, introduced the concept of bonded warehousing for essential foods to ensure food security, ensured continuous supply of food and essentials to the people amidst of riots and crisis (1983) through Trade Ministry supply chain, introduced new laws for consumer protection, Consumer Credit , Code of Intellectual Property , New Companies Act, Insurance (Special Provisions) Act, Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Act, Export Development Board Law, Young Inventors Commission among others. He restructured the CWE to become a profitable Organization and a self-service retail network, re built the Lanka Milk foods factory with modern facilities (after the Welisara fire). Effected positive changes in the export sector and established a with Export information Centre, Exporter’s Forum, Presidential Export Awards, Export Production Village Concept,etc. As Minister of PORTS and SHIPPING (1978- 1988) he spearheaded the unification of Port activities by creating the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, introduced transhipment, modernized the marine laws, Infrastructure modernization and development of the Port, pioneered the Containerization, the development of the QEQ, Construction of the JAYA Terminal as the first modern fully computerized terminal. Ports became a revenue earning institutions for the first time during his tenure & achieved 26th position among world ports (139th in 1980) He established the Mahapola- SLPA Technical Training Institute and completed construction of the Sambudha Jayanthi Stupa during his term. MAHAPOLA (1980) The Mahapola concept that he introduced was the closest to his heart. he created a fund with a personal contribution. In order to collect funds for this programme he introduced the Mahapola Lottery. Later with his foresight The MTF became a co-partner of the Development Lottery initiated by the Ministry of Plan Implementation by investing 50% of the capital which guaranteed continuity of the scholarships. Mahapola Trade Fairs and Educational Exhibitions were introduced to create a link between education and trade. Mahapola Trust Fund was initially created by a private deed and thereafter enacted as the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund by an Act of Parliament to provide scholarships to the needy undergraduates. The “Gnana Pradeepa” fund provided infrastructure facilities to rural Schools. The “Gnana Dharshana” Seminar programme Which he personally participated, benefitted of students of economics & commerce. He acquired a 25-acre block of land to the Trust in order to establish the Mahapola University Complex (currently occupied by SLIIT)

With the onset of the Eelam war NATIONAL SECURITY and DEFENCE (1983-1988) was a diverse subject for this intellectual. However, he accepted the challenge. Restructuring of the Armed forces from Ceremonial to a fully-fledged combat forces, recruitment, training, equipping and establishing new units was his priority. He was Instrumental in the establishment of the Special Task Force, Rapid Deployment Force, National Auxiliary Force, expanding Commando Units, equipping the Navy with new, modern fast craft to strengthen the protection of the sea routes. The increasing the number of camps in the war zone, teaching of Tamil language to soldiers, welfare schemes for soldiers, boosting the morale of the soldiers by visiting camps regularly were some others he was involved in. He also gave political leadership to the Wadamarachchi operation.

He was the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and cooperatives for a short stint (1989-1990) The framework for “farming for the Market”, concept of “YALA- for cash- MAHA for rice” evolving cropping systems for different climatic zones and soil conditions, Introduction of Agricultural Export Production Village Scheme Introducing the export oriented agriculture to the farming community, organizing livestock farmers in to co-operative societies, introducing the concept of co-operative banking and insurance business were some of the concepts he introduced to the agriculture sector.

EDUCATION and HIGHER EDUCATION (1990-1991-August). To Lalith Athulathmudali, education as a whole was sine-qua-non of his existence. He believed that an educated society can only be created by a leadership that values education and educated people. Introduction of the concept of equal opportunity for equal ability was his vision. He broad-based opportunities to teach core subjects; science, maths and English with the use of electronic media for education (particularly to benefit rural students) He Introduced a scheme to increase opportunities for technical and vocational education with a graded system in technical education with formal exit points from main stream of education. The teaching of second and third languages in schools and introduction of competency tests, introducing the Tri-lingual alphabet with free school books, introducing Sports as a vocational subject for O/L and A/L, Introducing the Teacher Service and Principals Service, Year-9 Technical Certificate, National Education Commission are some other ideas he introduced during the 15 months of his tenure.

 

RISE AGAINST AUTOCRACY & THE CRUSADE TO RE ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY (1991 August-1993 April) Lalith Athulathmudali was a democrat in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in a liberal environment where free thinking, the rule of law, democracy was paramount. However, his liberal thinking did not blind him of the limitations it could have on a developing country like Sri Lanka. He believed that every citizen is equal in dignity and should enjoy the freedom, privileges and basic facilities in equal share. The rule of law should be equal to all from the highest and the lowest in society. Independence of the judiciary has to be protected at any cost. And strived to create a society where “freedom without fear” shall prevail

In pursuance of these goals he sacrificed his precious life on a political platfor April 23 rd, 1993

“Look for WHAT IS RIGHT- not WHO IS RIGHT”

 

EPITAPH

“He was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the winds of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger; He died of exposure. But in a way that he would have settled for, in the line of duty, with his friends and enemies all around supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in like position, that he did not fear the weather and did not trim the sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the nation and its people.”

Courtesy- JFK memorial

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Opinion

Hector Francis Campbell Fernando

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A tribute to a father on his 110th birth anniversary

When my youngest brother, Gihan (GAF), as a boy of six years, was interviewed by Canon R. S. De Saram, the Warden, S. Thomas’ College Mount. Lavinia, prior to his admission to the College, and when he was asked what his father’s profession was, he had replied, ‘ He is a glass maker’. The Warden like many other members of the community had got his ’glasses’ from his one-time student, HFC, and knew what the boy was talking about. My father found this most amusing and related this to many friends and relatives. He knew that to many people he was indeed, simply a ‘glass maker’!

He was the first Ceylonese to qualify as an optician in the United Kingdom. He returned to Sri Lanka just before the second World War broke out. Until then this was a profession which was dominated by British nationals. Many young men who wished to be trained in the field of optometry, were apprenticed under him and went on to become big names in their chosen field. He never considered himself a businessman and refused to set up his own optical business. He considered himself a professional and was very proud of his profession. Kindness and skill, care and attention marked his service to his clients.

He established the Ceylon Optometrists Association, and became its founder president. The main purpose of this Association was to further the professionalism and standards of those in this field of work. The Association, I understand continues its good work even today.

My father and his four brothers attended S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. His love for Physics and optics in particular, he attributed to his beloved teacher Dr. R.L.Haymen, who went on to become the founder headmaster of S. Thomas’ Gurutalawa.

Born on 26th November 1910, he returned to his Maker on the 17th June 1962. It was too soon. I was just 15 and I had two brothers who were younger, and this was a time in our life when we would have really liked a father to be around. Both my sisters had left school, and one had just got into university, and all five of us found ourselves making huge adjustments to meet a situation that we had not imagined in our wildest dreams. But it was our mother who was devastated by the loss of a devoted husband. A teacher who never took any leave, she could not get back to work for over four weeks, such was the effect of this loss.

He was a wonderful father, who set high standards for us. Not once had he ever raised his hand against any of his children. Even when it came to simple things like how you dress, he insisted on standards, I had once slackened my tie knot and unbuttoned the collar button, (I was only 14), he saw me and he told us the story of how he had done this at school (those were days when senior boys wore tie to school), and his teacher, who also taught me English, Mr. V.P. Cooke, had made him stand in front of the class and told the other students, “Look at this chap, he is neither a loafer nor a gentleman’. The lesson was learnt.

Next to his profession his other love was the YMCA. He was a loyal member of the Colombo Association, and many were the occasions when we as a family trooped into the YMCA building for functions involving the family. He took a special interest in the Y’s Men’s Club of the Colombo YMCA. This was the service arm of the ‘Y’. At the time of his death he was serving his fourth term as President. He was held in very high esteem by all those with whom he associated, and I can do no better than to quote from an appreciation written by the then General Secretary of the Colombo YMCA, Mr. Lennie Wijesinghe, soon after his death.

“Hector is dead and with his death we of the Association have lost a loyal Active Member and a sincere friend. Our Y’s Men’s Club has suffered even a greater loss for he was its President. It was under his leadership that the Club achieved its present status in Y’ sdom. He carried himself with dignity wherever he went. It was not a cold dignity but one which was surrounded by the inimitable charm of a friendly personality. Indeed, this was one remarkable characteristic of the man. Nobody meeting him for the first time could think of him as a stranger. It would be correct to say that in such circumstances one was more inclined to look upon him as a dear friend. Such was the impelling force of the love that throbbed in him. Hector never gave himself airs. Simplicity was the very essence of his nature. And yet it was not of the ordinary variety, rather was it one springing from the depths of a kindly disposition. Nor was his spirit of service limited. It reached out to others wherever the need arose.”

May his soul rest in peace!

 

Eksith Fernando

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Opinion

Budget 2021: Need for ‘National Reading’

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Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, presented the nation’s 75th Budget, for the Year 2021, to Parliament, last week. Now we can witness different interpretations of the budget from economists, the business community, academics and representatives of civil society. Some argue, with their expertise in economics, and some can be seen with their understanding of society. Moreover, it can be seen that certain elements read this budget with their political ideology. Anyway, this is the time that Sri Lanka needs “National Reading” of the Budget.

This Budget is unique for a few reasons. First we need to “read” this by focusing on the current pandemic situation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Sri Lanka’s economy to shrink 4.6% this Year. This can be seen as the same as other countries. In May 2020, the Asian Development Bank announced that COVID‐19 could cost the global economy between $5.8 and $8.8 trillion.

And also, we should not forget the “Easter Sunday attack” which severely affected the economy of the country last year. Refer below for ‘’Reuters reports” on 18 September 2019.

“Sri Lanka’s economy grew at its slowest pace, in more than five years from April to June, government data showed on Wednesday, as the Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed over 250 people hit the island nation’s fastest-growing tourism sector. Accommodation, food and beverage service activities, which have been rapidly growing due to high tourist influx, fell 9.9% in the June quarter, compared to the same period a year ago.”

So, it is clear that the Sri Lankan economy is experiencing a “double blow” unlike other countries. There is a need for people to understand this situation. This is the time when people need to have a “National Reading” for the budget. Interestingly Dr. W.A Wijewardena, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of SriLanka, has vividly elaborated this context in his article titled “Budget 2021: Gota’s Third War, but forgive me, it is our war, too”. Accordingly, Wijewardena argued that ‘’Sri Lanka is at war today and it is Gota’s Third War. But it is not his war alone; it is our war too. We all should fight it with vigour, rigor, perseverance, and determination. The whole nation should help Gota by working harder, two or three times harder than before, to take the country out of the present economic malaise. That is the only source of progress. Without that, the Budget 2021 will only be another document with no practical relevance.” Hence there is a need for everyone to understand the real situation of the country.

People in this country need to understand this crisis. We did not expect either the Easter Sunday attack or Covid-19, which have done much damage to people and to the country as a whole. Now the time has come to get together as one nation and work towards the betterment of the country. Hence there is a need for everyone to “read” this Budget 2021, with the interest of the nation.

 

Professor NALIN ABEYSEKERA

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