The tusker from 5th lane
by Maheen Senanayake
‘St. Peter denied Jesus no less than three times before he went on to start the Catholic church –’JOHN 18:25-27 Luke 22:58-62, The Holy Bible
It is no secret that it is fairly lonely at the top. Leadership comes with sacrifice and burden. And this be the case even in the animal world. I saw the national list as too demeaning an avenue to return to the legislature for someone of Ranil Wickremasinghe’s reputation and stature. I had met too many people who are today angry bystanders only wishing that he did something to ‘wake up the sleeping elephant’. This and this alone prompted me to come out of retirement to do a piece on the one man whose enigmatic political presence I felt deserved no less than to use a pun – a ‘soldier’s death’… though I must admit the man himself is unlikely to appreciate an end to a career spanning in excess of three generations.
Through the intercession of my editor, I had a meeting with the former four-time prime minister within 48 hours of the request. While I appreciated the speed with which with this happened, I was sorry there was so little time for preparation. I pored over election results of the previous decades, a host of annual reports from the central bank, reports from the ADB, IMF and other pieces written on the gentleman by local and foreign scribes for want of an approach. It was in the early morning hours that I decided on a different strategy.
I decided to ask three people who would not mind being named in print to raise one question each. Thereafter I planned to fill in the blanks and come about with a structure for the interview.
We arrived at Siri Kotha (coined as I had come to understand from the caretaker on location from Sir John Kotelawela’s with Sir becoming Siri followed by Kotha for Ketelawela) three minutes past the appointed hour a few days ago, with more security in attendance than green men we were personally ushered into the leader;s room at his party headquarters and affably greeted.
Some excerpts of an over hour-long discussion:
Do you mind making a few comments on the current political scenario and where the UNP as a one MP party stands?
The current political scenario is that we are in a big transition. At the last presidential elections, a large number of people, specially among the Sinhalese, Voted for Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa expecting a change, thinking that he will be different. Promises made included inquiry into the Easter Sunday bombings etc. Public confidence is therefore broken and (this) has not been captured by any of the other parties either.
Though the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) as a party received the largest number of non-SLPP votes i.e. 2.7 million at the parliamentary elections, this was much less than the 5.56 million votes Sajith Preamadasa polled at the presidential election, (explainable by the minority votes that Premadasa polled at the presidential election going to minority parties who ran at the parliamentary election – Maheen Senanayake) People who were against the former government had come together.
Sajith Premadasa polled 5,564,239 amounting to 41.99% of the votes at the presidential Election 2019.
At the Parliament Election 2020 the SJB polled 2,77 million votes accounting for 23% of the total polled votes. In Colombo where I believe Mr. Premadasa contested the SJB polled 0.39 million or 32.79% of the total Colombo votes.
People have demonstrated that they have no faith in political parties whether in government or opposition. So we have all got to start from the beginning. There has to be a new political party, new thinking in political parties, about political parties, about elected representatives, about the economy and policy. That is where we stand.
In this context it matters very little whether you are a one MP or 25 MP party. If the people don’t accept you, you are not political ‘tender’ any more. This however, doesn’t affect the UNP. Naturally this means a lesser presence in parliament. People don’t always look at parliament anymore. The other disadvantage is that the media doesn’t give you publicity unless you are a sitting MP.
Meanwhile, traditional media is losing readership/viewership which is shifting to social media. In this transition, whether you are one or 40 doesn’t make a difference. One has to look at the future, and its an open field for anyone in parliament or outside. It can also be a movement outside parliament that can win the confidence of the people. Today people expect more than just ‘negative slogans’.
Long time ago Dr. Colvin R de Silva told me that all of us make the mistake of looking for successors among incumbents. He said ‘look at the political history of this country. In 1960, March, nobody knew who Felix Dias was, except that he was the son of a Supreme Court Judge briefed by Julius and Creasy. But then came July 1960 and Mrs. Bandaranaike, as a tenderfoot prime minister first let Felix be the de facto leader of government (until she gained experience and found her feet). Rohana Wijeweera also showed up just before the JVP’s 1971 insurrection. So Colvin contended that it was a cardinal error to look for successors from among incumbents.
Since this is open, I say that he or she can come from within parliament or from a political movement outside’. It is more open now than at any other time in Sri Lanka.
You were criticized when the UNP was reduced to zero and you had said that you would resign in a few months time. But that did not happen. What would you say now?
I said ‘let the party decide who they want’ and then to go ahead and that I will move out. But then a lot of pressure came up that I should go to parliament and not anyone else, specially because we were all in a crisis. I said ‘alright’, but then it is up to you to organize the party. So as party leader other than going to parliament I leave it to them to organize and implement party affairs.
In fact I don’t come here (to Siri Kotha) much now. I don’t give many media interviews or go around the country making statements. Whatever I say I say in parliament now. They feel that they want to discuss future plans specially government policy with me because of my experience. So its basically becoming a school. In fact some of the next generation of leaders – those in their early twenties and going up to thirty will be presented to the public very soon. In fact more are coming in.
We meet once or twice a week, but I must emphasize that it is a drastic recast that is happening now. The challenge is convincing the conventional thinker, because they have to understand that the whole thing is changing.
How many years have you been in parliament?
How would you rate your performance as an MP?
That’s for the country to do, not for me.
How would you rate your performance as a UNPer ( if I may use the term)?
I have always stood by the UNP. Long before I joined. My first vote was for the UNP in 1970. I have upheld the values, the main values that D S Senanayake had put down in the constitution. The opening of the economy, the 13th amendment to the constitution, and as time goes by, we ensure that whatever policies we make are in accordance with these basic principles.
How would you rate yourself as a party leader?
I don’t rate myself. The whole question is ‘is there anything called self’. If you are a Buddhist that is a very philosophical matter. I don’t rate myself, others can decide whether I am good, bad or ugly.
As a member of parliament you are responsible for an electorate. How do you course correct yourself? Specially being so experienced in these affairs. How do you see the subject of accountability as a member of parliament to an electorate?
Two things. Any member of parliament is accountable to the whole country. If he or she does not follow the principles of his or her party then there is a violation and he or she can be removed. So I continue to look at Sri Lanka as a full electorate. And I take up issues of the people within the confines of the party policy.
I brought with me a question from a Mrs Sitha Wickremanayake from Yatiyantota. She hails from a family which has actively supported Hon. D S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, and even president Premadasa with her father actively supporting the UNP at one time while providing accommodation to a young and active NM Perera in Yatiyantota. Her question to you is ‘Why could you not keep the UNP together’?
All parties change and sometimes people misjudge you. The UNP is the only party that has remained in Parliament since 1947. We have done that. At the last election we had people who thought Mahinda is the king after 2009. Then there are people who thought they can forge ahead with the SJB. They took those decisions. Whether those decisions were correct or not, I cannot tell you. You have to change with the people.
With respect to UNP membership, where do the SJB members stand? Are they UNPers today?
Some of the members of the SJB are members of the UNP who have now been suspended until disciplinary enquiries are over. One member has gone to court also.
Are you seeking their expulsion?
We cannot expel them from parliament. As far as we are concerned they did not contest (the last election) under the UNP. We have left the doors open for discussions to take place which in fact have taken place at different times on how we can work together. We have only pursued minimum disciplinary action because we have to be flexible in this endeavor. Anyone else however, who has worked against us we are taking full disciplinary action against.
You maintain that people change. However, we find that at each election the people are easily persuaded by the same old scheme or promise – as it were? In this light, how do you see the people of this country?
Look! You have to accept the electorate that is there. You can’t import another electorate. After 1970 there was a complete break in the system and something completely newhappened. It was something positive. Similarly you are coming to that stage now. The economy is breaking down, your political structures are breaking down, Social systems are breaking down and this is the case with every country in the world while Covid-19 is also having its impact around the world. Something new has to come up. We are also proposing that the new ideas that we put forth are positive. There will be others who will put up negative ones. That clash has to take place and people are thinking now.
In light of the fact that many voted for repealing the 19th amendment. What would your comments be on this subject?
I contend that the people did not vote to repeal the 19th amendment. Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected while the 19th amendment was in force. Elections were held on the basis of the 19th amendment. No one brought up the matter. The government did not campaign to repeal the 19th amendment. They did not say that. As far as the ‘pohottuwa’ was concerned they did not say that either.
On the subject of people, what is your position on Sinhala Only?
My position is reflected in the present circumstances. Sinhala and Tamil are official languages. Sinhala and Tamil are national languages. And English is a co-ordinating language. This co-ordinating language is nonsense. No country has a co-ordinating language so you might as well make English a national language. Then more and more people can learn English. Why are we so frightened of English? In China they are teaching English, In India they are teaching English. Also English now has a Asian version. The Chinese and Indians will dominate the English market and not the Americans or the English.
All those who are saying they don’t want English are educating their children in English here and abroad. So I say, let us not be shy. We have two official languages. I must point out that India does not have Tamil as an official language. It is we, Singapore and I think Mauritius who have Tamil as a official language. Let there be three national languages – Sinhala, Tamil and English. English affects all our lives, all our cultures. Today when you are using a hand phone you are using it in English. So all I am saying is make English a national language’.
You have been in parliament for more than 40 years. What has the UNP done to bring that about?
We are the ones who brought in the 13th Amendment ( to the constitution ) which defines the language policy. I as education minister pushed for teaching of English but there were challenges like training English teachers. For instance the last government pushed for English and IT. All I am saying is make English a national language.
Do we call English a co-ordinating language?
We call it a co-ordinating or link language. All I am saying is let’s make It a national language. More than 20% of this country speak English. In fact the number of Tamil speakers equals the number of English speakers.
(I did the math in my mind. Do 4.6 mln people actually speak English? Not even some English teachers that I know can speak it. I had my reservations. I wondered)
I feel that the people of Lanka, the people within our territory have an identity crisis. What is your view on the matter of the national identity?
We have a Sri Lankan identity.
Do we actually have a Sri Lankan Identity (not a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim identity)?
We have. We have it in our national anthem.. ‘Eka mawakage daru kela bavina’..’ [children of one mother]. But within it some people are trying to say ‘Tamil must be a separate state’, some others are saying it must be a ‘Sinhala Buddhist state’. Therefore there are different views on the subject. A majority may avoid the Sri Lankan identity saying they are being discriminated. It is not only ethnicity, people of different religion and even women who say they are discriminated as against men. So within our identity this debate will continue and it will never stop. We have to accept that we are all Sri Lankan and that all have to be treated equally subject to Article 9 of the constitution.
Furthermore we must impose it. We had the national anthem being sung in Sinhala and Tamil. Now you change that it and you have unnecessary problems.
Within that construct how would you describe the identity of a UNPer today? And are you as a party relevant today and how do you plan to make the party relevant or more relevant to the young ( 18+) voter?
A UNPer is someone who believes in the policies that we maintain including democracy, a Sri Lankan identity, a social market economy, social democracy which are our accepted views. On the question of whether ‘we are relevant?’ I don’t think that any political party today is relevant. So we have to make ourselves relevant to all those voters.
Right now there are discussions that are going on and in fact very soon we will be presenting our new leaders to the public – about ten who are all within their early thirties to forties. And more are joining. The UNP has been working in the background and the reason you don’t see us making too many public appearances is because we are working in the background and want to be prepared before we bring them out.
For instance I was interviewed by a group of young people from Royal College and I can tell you that the questions that they asked me are quite different to what you are asking me. And we did have a very useful discussion.
Do you think that the provincial councils are relevant?
We are a country of 20 million people. Between the division of the local authority and the top there has to be a intermediate player. Originally we came with the District Development Councils (DDC). After that you have the provincial councils. The issue is this – if you go to dismantle the provincial structure and put in place 22 district structures there will be utter chaos in the country. I accept the fact that there are three layers of government. They are duplicating expenditure unnecessarily. Let us look at a structure, which will ensure that this doesn’t take place.
The council is a body that is needed to pass legislation. There also we can use the American tradition where assemblies at the state level only meet two or three times a year. Once to pass the budget and they meet again once in four months. Then we must look at how the administration can cut off any expenditure. Right now we have a problem because the local authority digs drains, The provincial council also wants money for drains and the MP also wants money for drains. So finally what is the result? ‘All the money is going down the drain’ (laughter)
That is why I say that we have to radically transform it. You take that proposition to the national level, secondly you retain the powers of the thirteenth amendment. In the last parliament we appointed a committee by our constitutional committee. I think it was Susil Premjayanth who chaired it. The seven Chief ministers of the Southern provinces, That is excluding the North and East, and their leaders of the opposition gave a common report on what they want. So after obtaining the views at the provincial level, Susil Premjayanth put everything together and there is an exhaustive report on this. We can discuss this and see how we can go along. I believe that up to about 80% of the report can be agreed with. The rest, the parties with different views may have to come to consensus on and decide.
(To be continued next week)
Singarasa Case should guide GoSL’s Geneva policy
BY Dharshan Weerasekera
In 2005, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court ruled in the seminal case Singarasa v. Attorney General (SC/SPLA/182/99) that the U.N. Human Rights Commission (the predecessor of today’s U.N. Human Rights Council) did not have jurisdiction, within Sri Lanka, to make recommendations on behalf of the petitioner. In doing so, the court decided that Sri Lanka’s accession to the optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1997 had been done in a manner contrary to the Constitution, and hence illegal.
This case has invaluable lessons to teach in regard to the present government’s ‘Geneva Policy.’ By ‘Geneva Policy,’ I mean the government’s stance to the UNHRC’s follow-up resolutions to Sri Lanka’s unilateral withdrawal, in March 2020, from the co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1 of October 2015. In response, the Council adopted Resolution Resolution than 30/1. Among other things, it establishes an evidence-gathering mechanism to collect evidence of war crimes and other crimes against Sri Lankans.
Meanwhile, in September 2022, the High Commissioner released a report on Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing the recommendations of Resolution 46/1. The government has officially rejected both, Resolution 46/1 and the High Commissioner’s report, on grounds that they were done without Sri Lanka’s consent and, therefore, contrary to the founding principles of the Council. (See A/HRC/51/G/1, paras 1.1, 1.2). However, the Foreign Ministry, in its response, lists various things that the government is doing to comply with Resolution 46/1.
I argue that the government, continuing to comply with the Resolution while, at the same time, rejecting it in principle, without first obtaining a definitive interpretation of the relevant legal position, from an international forum, or even the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, creates a dangerous precedent. Given the fact that state practice is one of the sources of customary international law, the government’s conduct has the potential to do irreparable harm to the long-term interests of the country.
Unfortunately, there is little, or no, discussion of these issues in local newspapers, and academic journals, and it is in the public interest to start one. In this article, I shall discuss: i) the facts and reasoning of the Singarasa judgment, ii) the High Commissioner’s report and the government’s reply, iii) assess of the government’s position, and draw the relevant conclusions.
The Singarasa case
In 1991, the High Court of Colombo convicted Singarasa of five charges, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The charges dealt with alleged attempts by Singarasa, and others, to attack the Army camps,in Jaffna and its suburbs. Singarasa appealed against the conviction to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court. He also complained to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The HRC could entertain petitions under the Optional Protocol to ICCPR. Sri Lanka had ratified the ICCPR, in 1980, and acceded to the protocol, in 1997. The HRC said that, Sri Lanka was under obligation to release Singarasa.
The main issue, in this case, is whether Sri Lanka’s accession to the ICCPR, and the related protocol, gives a right to an international body to intervene in the domestic sphere to determine Singarasa’s fate. The court answers ‘no,’ because of the following reasons. The court starts with the premise that the authority for the President to enter into international agreements comes from Article 33(f) of the Constitution. Article 33(f) states: “To do all such acts as, not being inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution…he is required or authorized to do.” It follows that the President cannot agree to anything inconsistent with the Constitution.
The court then assesses the signing of the ICCPR, in 1980, and the subsequent accession to the optional protocol, in 1997, separately. The court points out that the ICCPR requires that the respective signatories adopt domestic legislation to implement the provisions of the covenant. This does not conflict with our Constitution and hence is lawful.
However, when acceding to the optional protocol, the government had issued a declaration that envisioned that the rights of Sri Lankan citizens could be adjudicated in tribunals, and forums, outside this country. The court points out that the institutions, through which Sri Lankans can vindicate their rights, within this country, are exhaustively set out in Article 105 of the Constitution, and the HRC is not one of them. Therefore, the court deems the accession to the optional protocol illegal. The court states:
“Where the President enters into a treaty or accedes to a covenant the content of which is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution or written law it would be a transgression of the limitation in Article 33 (f) and ultra vires—such acts of the President would not bind the Republic qua State.” (p. 11)
The High Commissioner’s report and the Government’s reply
The most disturbing aspect of the High Commissioner’s report is its description of the progress made by the impugned evidence-gathering mechanism. It states: “OHCHR continues to develop the information and evidence repository using an e-discovery platform….OHCHR commenced identifying material held by other actors and engaging with information providers. To date, the databases of two organisations have been migrated into the repository, and negotiations with other information providers are ongoing.” ((A/HRC/51/5, 4th October 2022, para 54.)
The report also details what the OHCHR plans to do with this information. It says: “To develop possible strategies for future accountability processes, the project team started mapping potential accountability process at international level, including through consultations with relevant stakeholders, in particular national authorities, victims and civil society organisations.” (para 56.)
In sum, it is clear that a vast operation is underway, not just to collect evidence against Sri Lanka but to set the groundwork to help prosecute Sri Lankans before various national and international forums. To the best of my knowledge, the founding statutes of the UNHRC, as well as the OHCHR, do not give enforcement capabilities to these institutions to prosecute or assist in the prosecution of people for violations of human rights and other offences.
Their respective mandates to protect and promote human rights are to be carried out with the consent of all nations concerned and in a spirit of “cooperation and constructive international dialogue.” Therefore, through the impugned mechanism the OHCHR has now arguably expanded its mandate to include an enforcement component, seemingly without any debate or discussion of the matter before the Council.
To turn to the government’s response, in the introductory paragraphs of the said document, the government rejects both resolution 46/1 as well as the High Commissioner’s report on grounds that they violate the UN’s founding principles. However, for much of the remainder of the report (which runs to 16 pages) the government enumerates the various things it has been doing to implement various provisions of the resolutions. For instance, the government discusses the work being done under the Office on Missing Persons, Office for Reparations, and so on.
On the OMP, the report states inter alia: “The OMP conducted panels of inquiries as part of the verification process. More than 89% of persons (1207 of 1370 applicants invited for inquiries) met with members of the panel and their testimonials were recorded.” (A/HRC/51/G/1, 9th September 2022, para 46)
Meanwhile, on the Office for Reparations, the report says, “The office processed 5964 claims for payment, by the end of 2021, and paid a sum of Rs. 399.8 million in settlement, out of the allocated sum of Rs. 800 million….Upto the end of 2022, the OR received Rs. 226 million to pay compensation and 2097 claims were settled utilizing Rs. 153 million.” (para 56)
In sum, even though the government has nominally rejected resolution 46/1 and by extension resolution 30/1 as well, the government is expending great energy, including enormous sums of money, to comply with various provisions of those resolutions.
Assessment of the policy
The Singarasa case establishes that the President, when conducting foreign policy, is exercising the power conferred under Article 33 (f) of the Constitution. One cannot suppose that it is consistent with the Constitution to comply with the provisions of a resolution that the Government itself considers to be in violation of the founding principles of the UNHRC.
Admittedly, a resolution of the UNHRC does not rise to the level of a treaty or covenant. However, there should now be a serious debate in this country about whether the reasoning above should apply to such resolutions which continue to target Sri Lanka on the world stage.
Furthermore, if, as I have suggested, the OHCHR has expanded its mandate by exploiting the provisions of Resolution 46/1 to acquire capabilities that were never envisioned in the relevant founding statutes, permitting such conduct to continue has the potential to set precedents in customary international law, with grave consequences for Sri Lanka, as well as other nations.
Therefore, Sri Lankan citizens are entitled to know the legal basis for the government’s continued compliance with provisions of Resolution 46/1, while nominally rejecting the Resolution. The only institution that can provide a legal opinion binding on the government is the Supreme Court. The President has the capacity, under Article 129 of the Constitution, to request an advisory opinion of the Supreme Court on any matter of public importance.
In these circumstances, it is incumbent on the government to seek an advisory opinion as to whether it is lawful for the government to continue complying with provisions of Resolution 46/1 unless and until the UNHRC clarifies its position in regard to the impugned mechanism.
It is in the interest of all Sri Lankans to keep a close eye on what the government is presently doing in Geneva. There is a famous legal maxim that says, “The laws assist the vigilant, not the sleepy.” Ultimately, it is the Sri Lankan people who will pay the price for any mistakes or missteps that successive governments make in regard to their “Geneva Policy.’
(The writer is an Attorney-at-Law)
Human Papillomavirus vaccine: one that can prevent a cancer
This article has been written as a fervent plea to the parents of little girls of the eligible age group. Please make sure that your precious daughters get this vaccine. It will be an investment for their happiness in the future.
By Dr B. J. C. Perera
All vaccines by definition are substances that are used to stimulate immunity against a particular infectious disease or a specific causative organism. Such vaccines are used to prevent the occurrence of the said diseases in humans and animals. Several vaccines have been introduced to combat such infectious diseases over the last few decades. In some countries, the use of some of these vaccines has led to the elimination of dreaded diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough or Pertussis, Polio, Measles, German Measles or Rubella, just to name a few.
Sri Lanka has a very efficient and inherently equitable system that looks after the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) for children and young people. In general, we have been extremely successful in this programme and can boast of over 90 per cent coverage for the vaccination of all children. We have successfully eliminated polio, the last case being confirmed as far back as 1993, and we are free of diphtheria, tetanus, measles and German measles or rubella. The success of the EPI is due to many factors that include government commitment, the unstinted dedication of parents, the promotion of the programme through all media channels and the dedicated work of all grades of healthcare personnel. The very high literacy rate of the populace of our country enables all information regarding vaccination to be most conveniently conveyed to the population. Sri Lanka has been hailed as a country that has achieved so much in this field, but with so few resources. It has been cited as a model to the entire Asian region as well as even the world.
In addition to their undoubted effectiveness in protecting against infective microorganisms, some of these vaccines have other bonus effects. At least two of the vaccines in use today have telling effects in preventing certain cancers. One is the Hepatitis B vaccine. It provides protection against liver cancer. The other is the more recent Human Papillomavirus vaccine (HPV vaccine) which protects females against cancer of the neck of the womb, which is also referred to as the cervix of the womb. That disease is generally referred to as Cervical Cancer.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is sexually transmitted and most people become infected sometime during their lifetime. In the majority, it is soon after becoming sexually active. Most infections are asymptomatic and usually clear up spontaneously, accounting for remission in 90% within two years. Only 10% of persistent HPV infections with certain genotypes of HPV can persist and progress to changes in the cervix. If infection from cancer-causing HPV types persists over 10-15 years, women can go on to develop precancerous lesions that, if left untreated, develop into cervical cancer. This process takes an average of 20-30 years from infection to the development of cervical cancer.
In 1995, Dr Anne Szarewski, a renowned researcher from the United Kingdom, led a team who outlined the role of human papillomavirus in uterine cervical cancer detection and screening. Then the researchers began work on an HPV vaccine. Szarewski was also a chief investigator, principal investigator and author of key HPV vaccine trials and publications, who helped to develop the bivalent HPV vaccine. The word bivalent is used to indicate that it contains two strains of HPV. HPV infections are very common, often with minimal symptoms, but high-risk HPV strains can go on to cause other medical conditions, particularly cervical cancer.
In 2006, the first vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) to be used globally was approved. HPV vaccination has now gone on to become a key part of the effort to eliminate cervical cancer. According to the available research results, HPV vaccination could reduce the lifetime risk of cervical cancer by 35–80%; the rather wide range being due to several studies with different methods. The vaccine was initially promptly snapped up in the West, especially in the Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, the coverage of the vaccine is over 80 per cent. However, according to the data put out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in November 2022, the human papillomavirus vaccine against cervical cancer has been introduced in just 41 per cent of low-income countries, even though they represent much of the disease burden, compared to 83% of high-income countries. We have a set of 10-year data on the benefits of the vaccine and in certain Western countries, a significant drop in the morbidity and mortality rates of cervical cancer is already evident.
In Sri Lanka, the National Vaccine Summit in January 2015 recommended the usage of the HPV vaccine and the government introduced it in 2017 for girls within the age range of 10 to 13 years. That age group was decided on the premise that to get the best results, we need to introduce the vaccine before sexual activity starts. The vaccine was to be administered to the selected age groups in the schools free of charge and in the fee-levying private sector. To date, the vaccine is not available through the Immunisation Clinics of the Provinces and the MOH Clinics.
NOW HERE IS THE REAL CRUX OF THE MATTER. For a variety of reasons, the coverage of the HPV vaccine in the entire cohort of eligible girls in Sri Lanka is somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent. This is woefully inadequate coverage to get the best possible results, especially when looked upon in the light of over 90 per cent coverage of the other vaccines in the National Expanded Programme of Immunisation. Cervical cancer ranks among the five commonest cancers in women in Sri Lanka. HPV vaccine is just one of two vaccines that can prevent cancers. All children have had the Hepatitis B vaccine which protects against liver cancer, as it is given through the National Programme of Immunisation. But, and this is a BIG BUT, the only other vaccine, the HPV vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer, shows a rather low uptake.
We do need to escalate the uptake rate of the HPV vaccine to at least around 80 per cent to get reasonable benefits in the reduction of the morbidity and mortality that is currently seen in cervical cancer. I think we have to admit that due to very many reasons, the message has not gone through to the general population in the country. When inquiries are made from the mothers of eligible girls, the vast majority of them are not even aware of the existence of this vaccine and more importantly, the future beneficial potential of this endeavour. The age group selected is a rather tricky cohort. They get upset at the drop of a hat. The last thing they want is an injection. They will run away, as fast as possible, to avoid it. Some are so frightened that it is not uncommon to see them faint even at the sight of the syringe and the needle. One way of getting the cooperation of these little girls is to allow either the mother or the father to be present to hold her hand most reassuringly when the vaccine is administered. An additional initiative would be to make it widely available through the Immunisation Clinics for it to be administered to all those who have missed it when it was given in the school. This is particularly important as the vaccine is quite expensive when administered in the private sector.
Latest position on debt restructuring process
By Jayampathy Molligoda
According to the announcement made by the Managing Director of the IMF Kristalina Georgieva, the IMF Executive board meeting will be held on 20 March to consider and hopefully approve the EFF arrangement for Sri Lanka. In the meantime, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank in consultation with IMF have finalised the latest position of Sri Lanka’s Public Debt as at end 2022 just prior to commencement of debt restructuring negotiations with creditors. Having perused the document uploaded to the Ministry of Finance (MOF website) recently, which is a comprehensive summary of debt stock as at end 2022, I have tabulated the summary of the main facts and figures (See Table). As can be seen, the total public debt stock has skyrocketed to US $ 83.6 billion, which includes total foreign debt of US$ 45.6 billion and the local debt of 38 billion in US $ equivalent. The total debt as a % of GDP as stated in the above MOF doc is 128%. The public debt is expected be reduced to 100% of GDP in order to ensure debt sustainability in line with IMF supported program parameters coupled with ‘comparability of treatment principle’ whilst ensuring equitable burden sharing for all restructured debt.
However, I have my doubts about GDP computation here. As per the MOF doc page 1, the Nominal GDP was stated as Rs. 23.7 trillion for the year 2022. The $ exchange rate used for conversion as Rs.363.10 clearly indicating that it is the year end figure, they have taken the year end Exchange rate of Rs 363.10 per US$. It is pertinent to ask the question as to why ‘year- end exchange rate’ figure to convert our annual GDP in rupee to US dollars? It should have been the ‘average exchange rate’ as in the past so many years computed by CBSL. As a result, the GDP (in US$ terms) works out to US$ 65.2 billion only. That’s why the total public debt stock of US$ 83.6 billion works out to 128% of GDP – my initial query is; why did they take year-end figure of Rs363.10 instead of taking the average exchange rate?
Besides, the real critical issue is how to reduce the debt stock to a level of 100% of GDP in the context of declining GDP (- 7.8% in 2022) and on the other hand, our debt stock is on the rise. More importantly, if we take the total ‘multilateral debt’ out, then the foreign debt is US $ 34 billion only, which includes ISBs and bilateral loans. Assuming a higher ‘haircut’ of 33% for foreign debt is agreed upon, it works out to 11 billion thus reducing the total public debt to 73 billion only.
In this regard, The President in his latest open letter dated 14 March ‘23 to Sri Lanka’s official Bilateral creditors has clearly indicated that there will be equitable treatment of burden sharing in respect of all creditors (except IMF/WB/ADB) Quote; ” ..we reiterate our commitment to a comparable treatment of all our external creditors with a view to ensuring all round equitable burden sharing for all restructured debt. To that end, we will not conclude debt treatment agreements with any official bilateral creditor or any commercial creditors or any group of such creditors on terms more favourable than those agreed. …To this end we also confirm that we have not and we will not make any side agreements with any creditor aimed at reducing the debt treatment impact on that creditor.”
In the circumstances, my own view is we are reluctantly compelled to restructure local debt i.e.; TBs and, it is inevitable that the local debt of USD equivalent of 38 billion would also need to be taken into consideration for debt restructuring – otherwise there is no way of reducing the total public debt stock to the level that is required as per IMF conditions. This would create a serious issue for our ‘finance system stability’ and all our commercial banks will be in trouble. Further the deposit holders including pension funds are badly affected. The temperature of social unrest is brought closer to the boiling point.
As stated in the global research article by Jonathan Manz recently, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice President of the World Bank, and Nobel Prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, has slammed the IMF for unleashing riots on nations the IMF is dealing with; he has pointed out that the riots are written into the IMF plan to force nations to agree with the average 111 conditions laid down by the IMF and they destroy a country’s democracy and independence. He has been a critique of IMF causing great damage to countries through the economic policies it has prescribed countries to follow in order to qualify for IMF loans. However, neither Stiglitz nor any other eminent economist has yet to come out with a practical and alternative policy framework to overcome the most serious economic and financial crisis faced in the 75 years of Sri Lanka’s independence.
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