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Two-thirds majority and responsibility

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It was widely believed that under a proportional representation system, it was difficult, if not impossible, to get a simple majority. A 2/3rd majority under the circumstances would be an extraordinary victory. Therefore, this phenomenon has to be carefully discussed because it reflects a total loss of confidence and trust in a party that had been a major political force since Independence.

People have watched its decline in the last five years, particularly the UNP’s servility to foreign powers at the expense of the country’s sovereignty and the treachery of cosponsoring a UNHRC Resolution against the country, and twice cleaning up the Central Bank. People were determined to teach it a good lesson and, if possible, relegate it to the political dustbin. The author of the above betrayal had capitulated and withdrawn from the contest knowing well the fate that would befall him. This is a good lesson for all politicians who think the masses are asses and take their political party loyalty for granted. It is also a lesson for small communal parties who hold the major parties to ransom and ask for the impossible.

The main reason for this victory, however, was confidence and trust that the new President has earned, first as Defence Secretary and then, in these few months, as the President of the country, with his no-nonsense approach to governance and the efficiency he demands, as shown in the way the Corona pandemic has been controlled. The Prime Minister’s personal charisma and proven ability and leadership has also contributed quite significantly. Their team consisting of several talented Rajapaksas, each with different expertise, had helped to create history in the political arena, and in this sense it is unparalleled anywhere in the world. They must, however, remember they cannot afford to fail; people have placed so much faith and trust in them. Serving the people would be their holy vow and they must remember the mistakes they did in the 2010 – 2014 period that brought about their downfall and avoid repeating them. They could fall again, however big their victory may be.

What is of importance now is to consider what the voters want from a government with a 2/3rd majority. First, what they don’t want to happen, yet which has always happened, has to be remembered. This aspect of the problem assumes greater importance as most of the old faces known for various evil deeds, misdemeanor, ill decorum, and even serious crime are back. They have to be kept on a short leash, if the new President is to steer the country away from the precipice that has opened up in its path, due to the ills of the previous government and the coronavirus pandemic.

Corruption and waste

It is well known that poverty in this country could not be alleviated mainly due to the rampant corruption and waste. The country is blessed with a clement climate, fertile soil, rain in good time, ample sunshine, good literacy and an intelligent workforce. What we lack for development is honest, capable, decent politicians, who are not in politics to make money, but for the satisfaction of developing the country. If corruption and waste in government institutions, beginning from the Parliament could be controlled, the present leadership would have won half the battle. It is the top that must show the way. If there is corruption and waste at the top there is no one who could stop it at the bottom. Cannot they spend less on Parliament sessions to begin with. Cannot they do away with the commission racket at the top before they pick on lesser rogues. Cannot they punish the Central Bank robbers to begin with. Cannot bribery, drug dealing, and crime be stopped at the top so that the police can look after the bottom.

People have hope in the new President, the present political leadership and the government that the miscreants who may have been swept in with the political tsunami would be kept in check. Some new faces also have come in and the voters expect them to contribute meaningfully in the Parliament to keep things under order and control. They owe it to the people and the youth to save this country from the corrupt, the criminal, the drug dealer and the commission crook. They must form themselves into a group who would stand up for fairness and justice, integrity and honesty, decorum and behaviour. Decency in dress, beard and hair style. They must not allow the thick-skinned seniors to have their way and bungle and bumble for five years and go down yet again. These young new faces have their entire political career in front of them. They must not squander this opportunity by living it up, having a good time, nightclubbing and running around in fast cars, while their brothers and sisters, who voted for them, suffer without education and employment. They must make an effort to educate themselves on good governance, parliamentary procedure, basic economics and also develop patriotism and a love for the country so that they will develop into good leaders and statesmen.

The responsibility of the 2/3rd majority would be to change the political culture in this country, which has become so dirty that there are people, including the former Prime Minister who would like to throw politicians into the Diyawanna Oya. Fortunately, he would be spared of the watery inconvenience, courtesy the Colombo voters. Another responsibility is to see that politicians, rejected by the people, are not brought into the Parliament, via the national list.

Constitution

The two-third majority provides an opportunity to reform the constitution which has been badly mutilated by the 19th A, and which was introduced mainly to clip the wings of the then President and strengthen the hands of the then Prime Minister. It was not meant to improve the rights of the people, strengthen democracy, and attain balance between the three arms of the government. Further it has brought in confusion into the constitution when what is needed is clarity.

While the 19th A has to be gotten rid of, the presidential powers, which perhaps may be excessive, as the former President, the late JRJ famously claimed, may have to be appropriately changed taking care not to render the executive presidency meaningless, which the 19 A does. The electoral system, which has been muddled up by the previous government, also has to be revamped, to enable the voters to elect a stable government while reflecting the will of the people. Due to this muddling, the last local government elections produced almost double the number of members it was meant to elect. The independent commissions, which the 19th A introduced, may have to be retained, but a mechanism to restrict political appointments into these commissions may have to be worked out, as experience shows these units are full of LTTE sympathisers, which may have been one of the reasons for the defeat of political leaders responsible for it.

The 2/3rd majority is a clear endorsement of the need to preserve the unitary state and single sovereignty of the country. Communal politics, which unfortunately form the basis of existence for ethnic based political parties, have held the mainstream parties to ransom and taken the country to the threshold of ethnic federalism and secession. Those mainstream political leaders who colluded with these minority parties, hopefully have been relegated to history. Hence it is time the minority parties realized their mistake of overestimating themselves and believing that no major party could win without their support. They have found that if they push too hard the majority community will close rank. It is this myth that had all along prevented them from participating more actively in the governance, and also denied their people the opportunity to contribute more towards the country’s development.

The 13th A, with the threat of its full implementation in relation to land and police powers, is the Sword of Damocles that great India hung over the tiny head of Sri Lanka. This sword could cut the neck of Sri Lanka given the right conditions. The conditions were right, during the last four years, and they almost succeeded. The 13A is an incongruity in a unitary constitution. If fully implemented – there is no reason why it should not – it would give more powers to the periphery than the states of federal India have. It was forced on Sri Lanka as a solution to the ethnic problem of the Tamils, but their leaders did not make use of it to develop the North. The Tamils seem to be in a state of transition, if the results of the 2020 election is an indication. The North, East and the Central hills are showing signs of change and a disillusion with the parochialism of their leaders. Moreover, the Tamils seem to be getting on fine without any devolution, the Provincial Councils were non-existent for the last two years, yet the Tamils were not complaining.

The Provincial Councils do not serve any useful purpose other than being another obstacle that people have to overcome to solve their problems. All the communities are called upon to carry this burden for the sake of devolution of power, which in a poor tiny country is unnecessary and ill-affordable. Sri Lanka has four tiers of political administration; president, parliament, provincial councils and local government councils with thousands of members whose emoluments, perks, and corruption would be a huge burden on the poor people. Such a huge system of political administration, and representation is superfluous and unnecessary for a country of Sri Lanka’s size and population, leaving alone the cost. The aspirations of the Tamils, for political power sharing, should be addressed by more realistic means, and with opportunity for greater integration and participation both at grass-root level and the centre. The failure of Tamil leaders to realize this need has been the bane of the Tamil community and the country too.

Reconciliation

Reconciliation cannot be forced on people. It must come naturally. It had existed in early times and had been destroyed by politicians in the pursuit for power. It cannot be achieved by foreign intervention or UNHRC Resolutions that seek to investigate and punish one community. It cannot be achieved by the establishment of the Office for Missing Persons, Commission for Truth and Justice, and Commission for Reparation, etc., which are packed with supporters of terrorists and separatists. It can only be achieved by allowing people to forget the past and come together in a natural process. Tamil politicians, western powers, and their local stooges do not want people to forget the past for which one side only could not be blamed. The new President did the right thing in withdrawing from the co-sponsorship of the treacherous UNHRC Resolution 30/1. He has also said he will not hesitate to withdraw from any other world body that engages in activity detrimental to Sri Lankan interests.

The 2/3rd majority gives all communities the opportunity to work together to overcome the problems caused by Covid-19 and develop their country. Such an attitude would help them to forget the past.

In Lord Naseby’s words: “This is a new dawn for Sri Lanka, a fresh era creating the opportunity for the country to come together and finally put to bed the idea of any Tamil Eelam independence movement.

“Now is the time for the West to understand the new mood in Sri Lanka; the desire on all sides for reconciliation to become realistic without any interference from the West or the UN Rights Council”.

N.A.de S.AMARATUNGA

 



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Opinion

CORRUPTION IS CORROSIVE AND CONTAGIOUS

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Corruption is the ultimate criminality. It is also a contagion that spreads both vertically and horizontally. It is clearly eating the heart and vitals of our Nation.Corruption is indisputably a dominant reason for our plight. A lot of sanctimonious scoundrels have promised, with monotonous frequency, to “eradicate” this rampant evil. Each event that unfolds in the all-pervasive political arena, serves to increase the public’s revulsion towards politics and its practitioners.

For instance, everything that emanates from the Diyawanna sewer increases the penetration of this diabolical menace. In our early life, parents and schools drilled in developing minds, a compulsion to adhere to the total rejection of lying and falsehood. No more.

The indelible example of this, we learnt, that in developed countries, the newsagent leaves a pile of newspapers in a stack on the front of the shop, with a little label indicating the price of each. A customer would pick his choice and leave the relevant price. Seldom, we were told was there a risk of a cheat betraying this trust. This kind of simple event, makes me an unashamed and unrepentant “Anglophile”!

It appalls me to witness how casually people who should know better, are chronically dishonest and do not deserve the genteel “economical with the truth” label. They should, in our lexicon be simply referred to as liars.

A distressing fact is that the closer one gets to top, the higher the intensity and scale. How then can one address such persons as “Honourable”? I am personally inclined to restrict this “honour” to those who genuinely deserve it. A colleague goes even better – when one such undesirable stands up to speak, he simply walks out. This may seem trivial, but it is symbolically powerful.

Financial impropriety is not all, but an important factor under the general rubric of “corruption”. Why does our Government fight shy of using the readily available listings of the “wealthy” on the Internet? Panama Papers, Pandora’s Box.

The information is shocking. Several are possibly not cheats, but many of their likes clearly are. When somebody with no substantial means of becoming rich, having neither talent nor worth, turns up with stashes of millions of dollars, cannot such be called to account? Is it a question of “He who has no guilt, may hurl the first stone?’ No stones, no guilt”. More likely, Is it a case of “You scratch my back, and I will scratch yours”. Lots of back-scratching is evident.

The most distressing feature is the lateral and vertical spread of financial corruption. Some seem to display remarkable ingenuity of changing crises to bonanzas. Nothing is beyond their reach. If that “talent” is employed towards the public good, Sri Lanka can become a brightly shining country, like our often mentioned Singapore.

“Horizontal spread” is where the dishonest in one Institution (say Assembly or Department”), spawns the practice in another. The vertical spread is within such a body, where subordinates are inspired to feel “If it is good for my boss, how can it be bad for me”?

To take a simple scenario. Say, someone is flicking his petrol coupons or fudging his traveling claim, a whole chain of persons participate in continuing the chain, down to the officer who writes the cheque.

This spreads of the contagion of corruption, corrodes and fouls all. When stashes of currency notes are unearthed, it strongly indicates that this is highly suggestive of dishonest acquisition. With such evidence being readily available, it is no mystery why is there no effective follow up action? Is it not strange why these products of crime cannot be confiscated and used to meet our nation’s needs. How so? It seems as though we are displaying the caution of one who is walking on eggs.

Everyone would know about the (James) Bond scam. There are strong suspicions, but again an inexplicable delicacy and neglect of follow-up. In relation to inexplicable and undeclared hoards in banks and safe havens abroad, why have these clearly corrupt treasure troves not been captured and restored to their rightful owners, in this case, the Sri Lankan State. Such action is morally and ethically proper. The usual excuse of “the Law does not provide” is a feeble and unacceptable stance.

I believe that even the famous “Numbers only” accounts held in Swiss Banks etc. have been made more transparent. This is action (endorsed by the UN?), that permitted the gold snatched from the Jews, and national wealth that has been robbed by persons of the likes of Marcos (Phillipines) and the Suhartos (Indonesia). There would be ample space for more.

One understands that such remedial measures, require the aggrieved nations to institute legal action within their jurisdictions. In our case, there are several cases of astronomical amounts held by persons who have engaged solely in “politics” with no inherited wealth or talent, to generate such astronomical wealth. If a dozen or so of such delinquents are showed into jail, there could be little need for future “Aragalayas”.

Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda.

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Opinion

Transformation of agro-food system:

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A culture-based local solution for Sri Lanka

BY Prof Nimal Gunatilleke

The Thirty-seventh Session of the UN-FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) is being held as a high-level Ministerial in-person event in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 19 – 22 February 2024. This was preceded by the Senior Officers Meeting (SOM) held virtually from 31 January to 2 February 2024.

This year’s conference, themed “Transformation of the Agro-Food System,” will delve into key areas such as promoting nutritious food production, ensuring food security, enhancing food production, safeguarding the environment, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating climate change risks.

This regionally significant meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is being held in Colombo at a time when Sri Lanka is struggling to keep its head above water in the post-COVID era knocked down for the second time in quick succession by her economic crisis.

A government report and data from the health ministry quoted by Reuters indicates that the people in Sri Lanka are currently burdened with soaring prices, including food, largely caused by its worst economic crisis since it gained independence in 1948.

According to the Central Bank Report ‘rising malnutrition among children has become a forefront policy concern in Sri Lanka amidst heightened food insecurity of households caused by the host of economic and social issues that exacerbated during the economic crisis in 2022’.

The following human health statistics extracted almost verbatim from the Reuters report on Jan 18, 2023, are equally disturbing, to say the least.

The number of children grappling with various forms of undernutrition in Sri Lanka has increased for the first time in at least six years in 2022.

More than 43.4% of the country’s children under 5 years of age are suffering from nutrition problems, according to the report released in October, with 42.9% suffering from some form of undernutrition.

Data available on the website of the health ministry’s Family Health Bureau indicate that the percentage of children under five who are underweight, stunted (low height for age), or wasting (low-height for age) increased in 2022 after dropping steadily since at least 2016.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), malnutrition refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient utilis ation.

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC REGIONAL OVERVIEW OF FOOD SECURITY AND NUTRITION STATISTICS AND TRENDS

According to the World Bank statistics, Sri Lanka ranked the second worst affected country in the South Asian region in terms of wasting among children under five years. Further, underweight among the same group of children remained around 20.0 percent since 2000, while no significant advancement was reported in terms of children with stunted growth.

Meanwhile, the persistent disparities in malnutrition prevalence across regions and economic sectors in the country suggest that nutrition anomalies remain unresolved for a prolonged period. Across residential sectors, the estate sector has become the most vulnerable sector with the highest prevalence of stunting and underweight children under five years. According to the DHS-2016, around 31.7 percent of children in the estate sector are stunted, compared to 14.7 percent in urban areas and 17.0 percent in the rural sector. Particularly child malnutrition represents a deep concern that carries a generational burden.

UNDERNOURISHMENT AND FOOD INSECURITY: SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 2.1

A yet another alarming set of nutrition statistics has been published in the Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition, in December 2023 in addressing the Sustainable Development Goal 2.1: UNDERNOURISHMENT AND FOOD INSECURITY.

The percentage of people unable to afford a healthy diet in Sri Lanka was 54% in 2020 and the figure has been increasing ever since.

Prevalence of undernourishment in Sri Lanka is 5.3% (cf. India 16.6%)

The prevalence of moderate or severe food insecurity during the period 2020–2022 in Sri Lanka has been 10.9% (cf. Bangladesh 31.1%)

Undernourishment is defined as the condition of an individual whose habitual food consumption is insufficient to provide, on average, the amount of dietary energy required to maintain a normal, active, and healthy life. The indicator is reported as a prevalence and is denominated as “prevalence of undernourishment”, which is an estimate of the percentage of individuals in the total population who are in a condition of undernourishment.

People affected by moderate food insecurity face uncertainties about their ability to obtain food and have been forced to reduce, at times during the year, the quality and/or quantity of food they consume due to a lack of money or other resources.

MALNUTRITION: SUSTAINABLE

DEVELOPMENT GOAL 2.2:

This section reports on four global nutrition indicators: stunting , wasting in children under 5 years of age, and anaemia in women aged 15 to 49 years.

The prevalence of stunting among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka in 2022 has been 15.9% (cf. India 31.7%).

The Prevalence of wasting among children under 5 years of age from 2015 to 2022 in Sri Lanka has been 15.1% (cf. India 18.7%)

The Prevalence of overweight among children under 5 years of age in Sri Lanka is 1.3% in 2022 (cf. 2.8% in India).

ANAEMIA AMONG WOMEN AGED 15 TO

49 YEARS

Prevalence of anaemia among women aged 15 to 49 years in Sri Lanka in 2019 has been 34.6 % (cf. India 53%).

HEALTHY DIET AT NATIONAL SCALE

In this regard, notable transformations in the country’s food system are essential to deliver a healthy diet for people at an affordable price. These include improving productivity in the agriculture sector along with more innovations and research and development, reducing post-harvest losses, more value addition in the agriculture sector, reducing import dependency on food systems, introducing climate-resilient food crops, promoting a wide range of nutrient-rich foods, particularly through the popularising integrated farming, rebalancing agriculture sector subsidies, and tax policies and improving agronomic practices as well as maintaining adequate food buffers to face food emergencies.

Among the solutions provided at the national level include the provisioning of school meals, provisioning of food/cash allowances for pregnant and lactating mothers, the Thriposha program, school water sanitation, and hygiene programs, and the salt iodization programme, among others. Reflecting the impact of these efforts and commitments spanning over several decades, malnutrition among children declined remarkably during the period from 1975 to 1995, with stunting among children below five years of age almost halved to 26.1 percent in 1995, compared to 49.9 percent in 1975, while the underweight child population declined to 29.3 percent in 1995 from 57.3 percent in 1975. However, these trends have reversed since the double whammy started in 2021 with COVID-19.

In addition, some of the small-scale community-level initiatives established under the supervision of the Department of Agriculture such as Hela Bojun Hal (Native Food Courts) are gaining popularity in several provinces in Sri Lanka. These food courts serve a variety of nutrient-rich native food preparations using rice flour, finger millet, local vegetables (leafy porridge), and many other sweetmeats prepared by local womenfolk and sold at an affordable price. Also, there are many beverages and local fruit drinks that are equally popular among the customers.

These food courts providing healthy and nutritious meals are making steady inroads into the food and beverage trade among the health-conscious public from all walks of life including schoolchildren, university students, and blue- and white-collar workers, alike which is indeed an encouraging trend.

If these types of Hela Bojun food courts could be promoted in rural as well as urban schools with the participation of the parents of the schoolchildren under the direction of the school administration and local health and agricultural authorities, it may help to address some of the issues under discussion at the on-going UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference such as undernourishment, food insecurity, and malnutrition. At the same time, it may give a shot in the arm for promoting nutritious food production while ensuring food security befitting the theme of this year’s UNFAO-Asia Pacific Regional Conference, which is “Transformation of the Agro-Food System”.

Sri Lanka as the host country’s special ministerial event for this conference has put forward her theme as ‘Agro-tourism in Asia and Pacific – accelerating rural development and enhancing livelihoods’ showcasing agrotourism most likely in the world-renown Kandyan Spice/Home Gardens and as a spin-off of this, the local food courts utilizing these home garden produce too, can be highlighted at the same time.

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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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