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Opinion

The ongoing loan saga

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Yes, our politicians’ love for foreign loans is well known and needs no explanation. Yet, isn’t the same love pushing the nation slowly but surely towards a vicious cycle of gigantic foreign debt, too, though it is already massive enough? And is it not a matter of great concern, obviously not for those who are the borrowers, and quite often hidden beneficiaries too of the same, but for the rest of us, the ordinary folk like you and I and our children and theirs, on and on.

And for all I know loans are loans, whether they are soft, hard or even with little interest and long periods of settlement: mindless borrowings (just because there are ever-ready lenders around) at the expense of a country’s economic growth, is a dangerous exercise.

Perhaps there are such loans that can be termed as free with no strings attached to them (though as the cliched adage goes there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’), except the mandatory condition of supervision as imposed by the donor, when it comes to its usage by the borrower. Needless to say that in our part of the world, in particular, this type of loans is probably the least attractive for the intended borrowers, for they cannot use the money on building towers and going on tours, for example. And they are not given free rein to do whatever they wish and dream, that has nothing to do with the country’s economic well being.

Then there are lenders quite similar to our ubiquitous ‘village poli mudali’ in the way they conduct their lending business. They usually do not interfere with how the money is spent or where it is going, as long as they have something to hold on to as security, which in fact could be worth many times more than the loan. And, we all know the ways of our poli mudalali, don’t we? So how the borrowers are planning to service their debt is something that may not be of much concern to them.

Lastly my ‘two cents’ worth thoughts tell me this whole process of ‘borrowings’ by the governments needs transparency, be made public and audited by whoever is authorised to do so. How, when and where the money is spent should be made known to the public. After all it is our money, which is yours and mine, and those politicians are only acting on our behalf as borrowers, and they are accountable down to the last penny they spend. The taxpayer has a right to know how the money is spent, and he should also be given assurance by the government that it won’t be wasted on colossally unproductive projects such as building ‘new-world wonders or the first-in-Asia’ type of things or other grandiose projects that become ‘white mammoths’ in time to come.

Let’s all sincerely hope that our borrowers borrow with their eyes wide open. Otherwise when they open their half-shut eyes, the money will be there for them to spend or play around, only for sometime though ; but the country will have lost a lot more to the lender, some perhaps even never to be recovered or regained!

 

LAKSIRI WARNAKULA

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Opinion

Proper procedures to fight Covid pandemic

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by SUMINDA S S DHARMASENA

With Covid-19 on the rise again, the people, businesses and government should take necessary steps to curtail it. Everyone involved should assess the risks of contagion and put measures to mitigate the risk. In addition, steps should be taken to traceability of an infected person to an establishment. Also, the public should be empowered to take additional preventative steps, based on the risk. 

The government has put in place a legal policy framework to manage the pandemic situation. This merits some improvements. Here are policies and procedures to follow given the threat level. The epidemic threat level advisory for infectious diseases could have the following levels:

Severe (red) – severe risk – full curfew – spread to multiple areas, 5+ level separation from patient zero

High (orange) – high risk – travel is permitted only for essential services, partial curfew hours – on detecting multiple clusters or significant spread, with 3 to 4 level separation from patient zero

Elevated (yellow) – significant risk – in addition, travel is restricted using passes to go to work, restricted travel by ID number for shopping – on detecting 1st cluster with 1 to 2 levels of separation from patient zero

Guarded (blue) – general risk – advise public to curtail travel, disinfection at all establishments, visitor tracking, checking for symptoms of visitors – initially a person is detected in the country

Low (green) – low risk – areas with no threat of infectious disease, hence normal life can continue – no disease in the country or internationally

Each area, district, province should get a threat assessment and the public should be made aware of it through media.

The threat levels and government, organizational and civil procedures should be later codified systematically into pandemic and epidemic preventions laws, taking into account how diseases spread. This should include procedures for airborne, waterborne, contact-based, social and other methods for further disease prevention. 

 

Procedures to Follow

All private and publishing establishments should follow preventive and traceability best practices based on the regional threat assessment.

The best practices that each establishment can follow:

 

Disinfection

Floors should be moped regularly

All establishments should have a sanitizing footbath mat

All large establishments where people frequent like shopping malls, supermarkets, offices, ministries should have sanitization chamber fitted at the entrance

The door handles should be sanitised after each touch

Pens in supermarkets, banks should be sanitised after each touch

If the establishment has A/Cs or other ventilation systems, disinfectants should be continuously added to the ventilation system so this does not become the means of spreading disease

In shops and stores, customers should be advised to touch only what they intended to buy, and any products which are touched needs to be disinfected. In the case of food products, these should only be handled by staff. For packaged items in shelves, they should be regularly sprayed with non-toxic sanitisers like pure alcohol.

Shopping carts and baskets should be disinfected after each use

Countertops should be disinfected after each customer

Seats should be disinfected after each use in public places and transport

All public vehicles should be fitted with disinfectant misters/foggers at the doors. Supermarkets should ideally be fitted in the aisles with motion sensors or periodic spraying. Similarly for public building and enclosed areas 

All taps and disinfectant dispensers at entrances should be by foot or motion or proximity detection

 

Social Distancing

1m markers should be placed for each queue. The separation between queues should be 1 metre also

For sitting arrangements, there should be an empty with an unmovable dummy box placed on it to promote social distancing. Extra chairs should not be removed. This prevents people from moving the chairs closer to each other, in social gatherings like weddings

Seating areas should be fully partitioned to avoid respiratory droplets spreading and accidental contact. This should extend under the tables as well so there is no accidental contact when once stretchers one’s legs

Retail shops should be encouraged to move to contactless payments and banks replace current cards with contactless cards

Though there is no strong evidence, cash can be a source of infections spreading, hence before recirculation, they should be disinfected using UV lamps

Validations and Calibration – in order to prevent a false sense of safety and the following procedure

All disinfectants should be quality checked to see if they are not adulterated and effective

All equipment should be calibrated to see if they are functioning properly

 

Tracking

The recording of visitors should be done by a designated person, otherwise, the logbook and pen could be a source of spreading infections

Supermarkets and shops with loyalty programmes can easily use this to track visitors. Therefore, no need to record this in books. But each time one enters and exists one should swipe the card. Shops can work to upgrade the cards or issue new replacement cards to do the tracking

 

Testing

The testing should be made systematic balancing cost and coverage. Employees and building owners should compile a list of people per floor in the building. At least one person on each floor should be tested per day. Similarly for shops, where each individual gets tested at least once every other month

People taking the same route using public transport should be similarly tested every other month in a systematic way

 

Information

In order to be extra vigilant and take additional precautions, the public should be given information on which street and area patient lives and

what areas each patient has frequented

The government and media should publicise the best practices followed by various establishments to curtail the current pandemic

Any violation of safety precautions and actions taken should be publicised also

 

Government action

The government should be swift to take action against any violations of public safety standards

Lack of proper disinfection

Lack of enforcement of social distancing

Lack of contact-free washing facilities

Lack of proper responsible record keeping

Lack of proper calibration checking

The government should expand field offices in the Public Health Inspectors services with latest technologies body cams and ensure most establishments are frequently checked

Checks and raids by Public Health Inspectors should become and common occurrence in schools, government departments, offices and shops

This should continue even after the pandemic situation ends as public safety has no compromise

Lack of public safety should be made a criminal offence

In cases of infectious people visiting a certain place, cellular data can be used to find who else was there at the same time to curtain spreading

 

Organisational responsibilities

Organisations should be at the forefront of trying to curtail the situation and make aware of the innovative procedures they are follow as a reassurance to workers and the public. Any organisation not following the procedures they purported to follow should be made liable.

All institution should have checkers to visit branch offices and premises to see that the whole organisation adheres to public health standards

 

Civil liabilities

Make it a civil fundamental right to be in a safe environment at work or as a customer. The public should be given the right to take action if any establishment does not provide a safe environment. Implementation of this right should be well publicised. This would keep more businesses and establishments in check.

Also if anybody gets sick by visiting any establishment which does not provide a safe environment, it should be made liable for damages

These cases should be swiftly dealt with and settles through an appropriate establishment and tribunals bypassing the court system

Having the proper procedures implemented along with the legal framework would to a certain extent help combat the current Covid situation. The government policy at this crucial juncture will decide the fate of the country and its people. 

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Opinion

Coconut – the Tree of Life

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The article by “Nan” in the Sunday Island makes mention of this remarkable tree whose extent in our country covers an area of roughly the combined extents under tea and rubber. Poverty has been defined as an inability to utilize the resources available. In this narrow sense, coconut certainly fits. But in terms of potential and inherent value (not merely nutritional), but constructional, decorative, cultural and traditional, it far outstrips the other two main crops. I once encountered the fascinating W. Dahanayake (MP) at a “Coffee Bar”, and he made an interesting remark that Sri Lanka should focus attention and effort on just five crops – Paddy, Sugarcane, Pasture, Jak and Coconut. I select a few fascinating points in support of such a view.

It is a pity that coconut is regarded merely as an Oil Crop. So, it finds itself compared with Oil Palm, Soya, Sunflower, Groundnut, Flax, etc. In this sense it is not at the top of the league. (Witness the ongoing discourse on a decision to limit Oil Palm acreage), Among its documented 300 – odd uses, coconut out-performs any competitor, if one accounts its total contribution to economic, traditional and cultural uses. Of a (fluctuating) annual near 3,000 million nuts, over 60% is consumed locally.

The balance is exported as Desiccated coconut, oil, fibre, charcoal, fresh nuts, a limited export of young nuts (Kurumba), brushes and ornaments. There remains considerable scope for value-added products as well. Quality improvement, product diversification and innovation offer enormous scope. It will take volumes to deal anywhere near completely, with the many uses. I will, therefore, confine myself to identifying some areas where the pay-offs would be high.

(i) At a recommended spacing of 9-10 metres, there is considerable scope for intercropping with pasture for cattle, supplemented with poonac from oil mills and for fuel wood (e,g Glyricidia ) for dendro-thermal energy generation.

(ii) The trunks of old trees are used in construction (rafters, structural members), furniture and handicrafts. It excels as material for chipboard. The fronds (unfurl at about one per month) are traditionally used for roof thatch and fencing.

(iii) Sap tapped from emerging inflorescence provides a sweet sap (about 10-14% sugar) of superlative taste (now canned) treacle and jaggery. When fermented – as toddy and vinegar, and when distilled, as arrack. Normal toddy has around 4-6% alcohol. Preliminary studies on selecting yeasts showed isolates yielding up to 10% alcohol.

(iv) “Virgin Coconut oil” achieves high quality and commands premium value.

(v) Traditional manual squeezing of grated coconut leaves behind about 30%waste) of the fat, all of the protein and fibre. Coconut paste (whole kernel gratings) would theoretically enhance fat yield by 30% (or effectively increasing nut yield by a third). Interestingly, coconut milk is sufficiently close to the composition of cows’ milk to permit substitution in beverages such as tea, coffee and cocoa. This would interest Vegans.

(vi) Just as the inflorescences unfurl, there is exuded a drop or two of a sweet nectar, and the flowers provide an abundance of pollen. This suggests that bee-keeping under coconut should be expanded.

(vii) Young coconut water (and waste water from D.C mills) is canned and exported by a few enterprises.

(viii) Coconut ropes have exceptional resistance to sun and sea-water. I understand that coconut cordage is well suited for marine moorings. There is considerable scope for ropeways, as used by our tappers. Proper cultivation of dates, requires up to 10 climbs for a season. The residual leaf bases are a huge inconvenience and therefore expensive. Male and female palms are separate, and need to be hand-pollinated. Selected male palms are interspersed with females, as the quality of the fruit depends much upon the pollen parent.

(ix) During the fruiting season (February to August) desert winds bring massive amount of dust. Assiduous housewives need to sweep their homes several times per day. This they do with a bundle of discarded fruit bunch inflorescences (comparable to the “Ilapotha” of our rural homes), and as expected, this is highly inefficient. A huge and lucrative market exists for our entrepreneurs to provide good brooms (the humble ‘Kossa’ and “Ilapotha”).

(x) Fibre dust from factories has great potential (if not already met) for “Coco-Peat” as a horticultural growth medium – as a potting compost and to aid in soil improvement and amelioration.

 

Dr UPATISSA PETHIYAGODA

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Opinion

The Right is DEAD!

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BY RAJITHA RATWATTE

Fromoutsidethepearl.co.nz

The long awaited once postponed General Election is finally over in NZ. Jacinda Ardern (pronounced aarrdoon) and her labour party have won the biggest victory in 50 years! Now we all knew she would win, but she postponed the election once to give it more fairness and credibility due to Covid outbreaks. This we thought would give the opposition a chance. It didn’t, in fact the opposite may have happened when the educated voter realised that this was playing fair and voted even more overwhelmingly in her favour.

Labour now has 64 seats and can govern on their own, impossible they said under the prevailing MMP system of Aotearoa. The main opposition party has 35 seats and have lost some of their strongholds, especially among the farmer communities which hitherto were strong conservative (read as white dominated) seats.

The showmen and those who act on TV always get a following in these days of media dominance and ACT party who has a leader who jumps out of airplanes and takes part in public dancing contests has got in with 10 MP’s. This worthy named David Seymour and with a countenance that reminds one of the rarer types of Apes in this world, didn’t even know the names of the 10 people who would go into parliament with him, when first asked!

The tree huggers have a strong following in Aotearoa and they now hold 10 seats in parliament. This includes the highly populated Auckland Central seat that has been won by an extremely young, brash, woman whose pure aggression and confidence seems to have appealed to the denizens of the inner city. Labour and the Green party have been traditional allies and it is expected that, though Labour does not need partners and have a big enough parliamentary majority, they will form a coalition with the Green party and govern. This will give them 74 seats in parliament and an unassailable majority. However, pandering to the often-ridiculous demands of a party with more penchant for theory than the actual practice of same, may prove more trouble than it is worth. It may also slow down the rapid progress in certain areas of the economy already hampered by the massive debt brought about by Covid-9.

That decision is up to our fearless leader and her caucus and may sanity prevail! The parliamentary right is decimated, the left now dominates in Aotearoa.

The Maori party who were annihilated in the last election, with no parliamentary representation, are struggling (at this point with final counting incomplete) to win one seat. If they do get in, they may be offered a portfolio in the Government coalition as token acknowledgement of the minorities is essential.

The old fox of NZ politics, Winston Peters, a man of Maori Origin but heading his own party, dubbed New Zealand First, looks like he is finally out of parliament. After 35 years, unable to secure enough party votes to breach the MMP threshold, last times QUEENMAKER; it was the NZ first MPs’ who after they joined Labour gave the labour, green, first coalition a majority to rule at the last election, seems to be out in the wilderness. The last Government’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister has not been classed in the same category as his boss and totally discarded by the vote base. A couple of neatly timed insinuations of financial wrong doings, combined with his uncompromising stance on reducing immigrants, may have been the deciding factor in the minds of, dare I say it, what looks like a “brownwash”, when one looks at the mindset demographic of this elections voter. Personally, sad to see “Winnie” go, his knowledge and realistic uncompromising outlook towards the shenanigans, theatrics and Bull Shit that forms most of what goes on in Parliament will give the exponents and perpetrators of same, a free licence!

As far as the conduct of the election goes; it was possible to vote for up to 2 weeks before the final election date. There were polling booth in every neighbourhood and a person could vote when out for his constitutional or if he arrived early at a child’s school at pick up time. As a result, almost 2 million voters had already cast their vote by election day. Convenience, combined with the voters having already decided which way to vote, may have been reasons but this meant that counting of these early votes started on the morning of the 17th. Polling closed at 7pm on Saturday the 17th of October and the Jacinda landslide was already a fact within the hour!

We don’t know even if we have an election commissioner in Aotearoa and no press coverage was even given to where the votes were counted! Thugs and violence, before after and during the electio totally unheard of!

Will we ever reach such standards in the Pearl? Hesitate, before you lose heart O citizens. When I last drove down the Southern Highway and was able to travel from Kadawatha to Galle without even changing a gear let alone breaking, horning and screaming at private bus drivers, I never thought that would be possible either!

We have BIG expectations of Jacinda Ardern and her new government. There are pressing problems. Unemployment, lack of housing in the main cities, child poverty, a moribund bureaucracy unable to react and make decisions in keeping with the first world standards that are claimed as Aotearoa’s’ right, just a few. Expectations such as these in an economy crippled by Covid-19 are not possible for anyone but a magician. A Magician who is dealt a HUGE slice of luck. The slice of luck may be the huge parliamentary majority, but magic has to be harnessed in the form of recruiting from the huge base of retired immigrants with the type of experience in dealing with problems and numbers of people that this tiny country of five million people can never relate to!

Use your idle assets Jacinda, after all your best asset is your people!

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