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US vs China as aid givers

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Aid is a necessary evil for Sri Lanka at this juncture, as it grapples with a declining economy, while in the grip of the Covid pandemic. Our economy was good in 2014, and we could have survived without much aid if not for the pandemic and the five years of ‘yahapalana’. The latter ruined the economy and brought down the GDP from a healthy 5-6%, in 2014, to 1-2%, in 2019. It robbed its own bank, opened the doors to the West to interfere in our internal affairs, antagonised China, and adopted a pro-West policy — without receiving anything in return from the West. The pandemic has further destroyed the economy and now it is tottering with a minus GDP. If a man is dying of respiratory failure, due to Covid, he has to be given oxygen, via a ventilator, nothing else would work. Similarly, Sri Lanka needs substantial financial aid if it is to survive. We are fortunate in that now there is a choice of aid givers, there was a time when we had no choice but get into the aid trap of the Western powers, via Bretton Woods twins.

The ‘yahapalana’ government, in order to come out of its economic woes, almost signed the MCC, SOFA and ACSA agreements with the US, and the then Prime Minister wanted to sign them before the elections in 2019. The present government refused to sign the MCC but is being helped by China in a big way. Do we have a choice? Only alternative is to align with the US and sign the MCC. If ‘yahapalana’ had signed the ACSA, SOFA, and MCC Sri Lanka would have been in a situation where it could be converted into a military base at the whim of the US. ACSA and SOFA are designed to give the US military visa-less entry into Sri Lanka, and do as they please without coming under the jurisdiction of the country. MCC would have given them access to land and opened the doors for economic exploitation.

There seems to be a well-orchestrated opposition to the Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka. It is being said that the proposed Colombo Port City Commission would make the tiny piece of land, that has been reclaimed from the sea, a colony of the Chinese. If one compares the ACSA, SOFA, MCC combination with the Colombo Port City project, it would be like comparing a multi-barrel rocket launcher with a hand pistol. That is if what the detractors say about it is true. What is envisaged in the Bill to establish the Colombo Port City Commission is mainly facilitation of foreign direct investment into the project. For this purpose, most of the red tape involved in the approval of investment has been done away with, in order to expedite the process and avoid delay. The Commission would exercise the powers and functions of relevant regulatory authorities, such as the UDA, Municipal Council, etc. The Commission would also be granted exemption from the Inland Revenue Act, Betting and Gambling Act, Foreign Exchange Act and Customs Ordinance.

Constitutional experts, who made a mess of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, have said the Colombo Port City Commission Bill is unconstitutional. Well that would be decided by the Supreme Court. However, from a layman’s point of view, the UDA and Municipality rules, for instance, are an impediment to rapid development and would discourage FDI. Similarly, tax concessions are a necessary evil to attract foreign investment. Whether a relaxation of these rules and regulations, within the confines of the Colombo Port City, would be a violation of the Constitution and the fundamental rights of the citizens, will have to be decided by the courts. Perhaps the courts may suggest necessary modifications to the Bill so that it conforms to the requirements of the Constitution. Of course, the people of Sri Lanka would want the CPC to come under the writ of the government and the law of the country. It is the responsibility of the Supreme Court to ensure that the Colombo Port City does not breach the sovereignty and independence of the people and the territorial integrity of the country.

If, on the other hand, investment does not flow into the CPC, all that effort and expense would be wasted, and what is worse Sri Lanka may not be able to recover from the economic abyss it has fallen into. The CPC is the only viable major project that we have at present, which has the potential to give a much-needed boost to the economy. We cannot do without foreign funds at this juncture, as our foreign debts are huge and we have to earn foreign exchange to service them. We cannot keep on taking loans to pay the existing loans, as successive governments have been doing. China has already given us a huge loan.

As Sri Lanka badly needs foreign aid, it has to make the correct choice in picking its aid givers. It must know that aid does not come without strings – there is nothing called a free lunch. It must look at the strings, how bad are they, how would it affect the people, the independence of the country and its resources. We must look at the aid giving profile of the major donors. Researchers, like Emma Mawdsley (2007), Mark Engler (2006), Susanne Soederberg (2004), have commented on the real intentions of the US in pushing countries to accept MCC on their terms. For instance Mawdsley says that the first five MCC compacts in Cape Verde, Honduras, Madagascar, and Georgia is using a new security development paradigm to legitimate more spending on “development” programmes, which are primarily intended to serve the interests of US consumers, manufacturers and investors, and that poverty reduction at best is a secondary objective. These researchers say that security improvement projects in recipient countries are really intended to serve US defence and military goals. Further, they reveal how the World Bank contrives to show bad business of these projects as good business.

Dreher A. et al (2017) in a study has found that Chinese aid was effective at producing economic growth in recipient countries. China’s aid during the period from 2000 to 2014 amounts to USD 350 billion (AidData 2017). One fifth of this had been outright grants. 45% of their aid goes to African countries which have benefited enormously from Chinese aid in recent times. For instance, Rwanda which was a country torn apart by a civil war, is now recording a GDP of 12 % and there is peace as well. Several African countries are recording similar growth rates with Chinese aid at present. Let me quote from the White Paper, China Foreign Aid (2014) “China adheres to the principle of not imposing any political conditions, not interfering in the internal affairs of the recipient countries and fully respecting their right to independently choosing their own paths and models of development. The basic principles China upholds in providing foreign assistance are mutual respect, equality, keeping promise, mutual benefits and win-win”

Could we say the same thing about the Western aid givers? They helped to bring ‘yahapalana’ into power but did not give a cent, though they grossly interfered in our internal affairs, going to the extent of meddling in constitution making. They wanted to punish the leaders and armed forces responsible for the victory in the war against the LTTE, based on unsubstantiated evidence. At present they are busy in the UNHRC gathering fabricated evidence in support of non-existent human right violations in Sri Lanka. Could we take the grave risk of accepting financial assistance from such donors? Do we have a choice in this matter, but turn to our good friend China in this hour of need?

N. A. de S. AMARATUNGA



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Opinion

Today’s call for ‘Health Promotion’

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As a nation, we have reached a really critical stage with the corona pandemic. This is what The Hindustan Times reported on the 2nd of May, 2021: “Sri Lanka’s health authorities have issued new tough guidelines, including banning wedding receptions and gatherings at religious sites, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as the Island nation continued to record a spike in daily infections”. The time has come for all citizens of the country to understand the gravity of the disaster. Anyway, we have witnessed a section of Sri Lankans enjoying, despite many restrictions. It can be seen that people travel here and there without face masks, and organising events and parties amidst this situation. There is a problem with discipline. Also, I have observed that there is a segment of people who violate health guidelines and post messages on social media criticising the authorities. This “duplicity” must be interesting social research for investigators to read people in a different microscope.

Ownership and Empowerment:

At the moment we could not see any “ownership” of this disaster among Sri Lankans. Still, we can see only “health education” in the country, and we need to change this to “health promotion”. The country needs to consider this as top urgent, under these circumstances. The government should carefully use some stakeholders in this mission of “Health Promotion”. Refer to the following diagram for some selected sectors to take the initiative.

The role of the Health Promotion Bureau should be redefined. And the role of the Ministry of Education should not be underestimated in this context, to communicate messages to relevant parties — including schoolchildren and parents. In this task force, there can be community leaders, experts in the industry, representatives of the media, and some researchers as well. All members should have a Clear Plan (short-term strategy and long-term objectives) to address this pandemic situation. We have seen many times the media reporting how people violate health guidelines. But rather than concentrating on the ‘negative’ side, there can be ‘positive’, reporting as well. (As an example, a worker in the Colombo Municipal Council adhering to all guidelines by showcasing an example for the community). This is the time we need to have positive news. ((http://www.ft.lk/columns/Negative-and-positive-news-Rare-corpse-flower-set-to-bloom-at-Royal-Botanical-Gardens-Peradeniya/4-658936) for better immunity of people!

Also, there are many success stories that need to be followed by a task force of “health promotion”. In this context, we can discuss the success story of Vietnam. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports, on 10th March 2021, “Swift introduction of containment measures, combined with aggressive contact tracing, targeted testing, and isolation of suspected COVID-19 cases helped keep recorded infections and death rates notably low on a per capita basis (IMF,2021). “Also, as per fitchratings.com “Vietnam’s economy has been more resilient than most other markets in the Asia-Pacific, as the local authorities have had greater success in containing Covid-19. It was one of the few economies in the region to report GDP growth in 2020 (fitchratings.com, Thu 22 Apr, 2021). More importantly, like in Vietnam, we also should have a successful communication strategy. Refer below:

“Vietnam’s successful communication strategy catalyzes the active participation of both governmental and private sectors as well as communities. The government centers its people in an active role with the slogan translated as “every citizen is a soldier”. In addition, non government-led initiatives, including the donation of funds and personal protection equipment by entrepreneurs and individuals, have contributed positively to social stability. For example, “the rice ATM” – a free rice dispenser reserved for the most vulnerable people, including those who lost income due to the pandemic, the elderly, students and disabled people. Students have been mobilized to assist in epidemic control by engaging them in various roles, such as data entry, sample collection or provision of phone counselling for COVID-19 suspected people. However, the number of students who joined the COVID-19 taskforce was very small (124 volunteer medical students) compared to its capacity. At the central level, a relief bill of approximately 80,600 VND billion was signed by the government to address the financial burden resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 62,000 VND billion of these funds were allocated to individuals who were poor, near poor, with meritorious services or under social protection schemes. The remaining funds were allocated to support small to medium production and business establishments.” The COVID-19 global pandemic: a review of the Vietnamese Government response – https://www.joghr.org/article/21951-the-covid-19-global-pandemic-a-review-of-the-vietnamese-government-response)

 

The time has come for Sri Lanka to think differently, learn, and work with responsibility. This is a disaster in which we need to stop the “blame game” and understand the situation with more responsibility. If we can use “health promotion” in an effective way, it would be one of the success stories for the world, always helping for long term sustainable development of the nation.

Prof. NALIN ABEYSEKERA

(Professor of Management Studies, Faculty of Management, Management Studies, The Open University of Sri Lanka

– nalinabeysekera@gmail.com )

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Opinion

Political interference aggravating Deadly Pandemic

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Humankind is in the middle of the deadly COVID pandemic, the worst ever seen in our lifetime. The virus, with all its ongoing mutations, is causing havoc all over the world, leading to untold misery and death. In the absence of any effective curative medication, and inadequate vaccine cover, prevention, with strict public health measures, based on sound scientific evidence, remains the fundamental way out of this impending catastrophe.

Larger countries, where politicians ignored professional advice, based on science, and took politically popular decisions, saw the inexorable spread of the disease causing much preventable deaths. Brazil, the USA (during the Trump presidency), and India, at present, are classic examples of this unfortunate situation. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, Israel and South Korea, taking decisions based purely on scientific advice, despite causing temporary hardship and restrictions on the people, have managed to return to near normal pre-COVID status.

Sri Lanka has a literate population.It also has a well-established public health service responsible for prevention and even eradication of many diseases, which are still ravaging many South Asian countries. The country is held out as an example of a success story in this regard by even the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, we should have succeeded in controlling the epidemic by now.

What went wrong in Sri Lanka, still causing the epidemic to escalate on a daily basis with ever increasing morbidity and mortality? The associations of doctors, other healthcare professionals, and even the laboratory technologists have been giving well considered advice and issuing guidelines to curtail the epidemic. But mostly, such advice appears to have been ignored by the political authorities, taking their own decisions instead. The COVID Control Task Force, being headed by the Army Commander, and the Vaccine Task Force, being under an elderly non-medical administrator, are classic examples of this ignorance. It is obvious that both these positions, as well as a majority of the membership of the task forces, should be held by medical professionals. The initial apparent success was hailed by politicians taking full credit, leading to them doing well at the elections. Most such decisions were directed at increasing the popularity of those in power or financial gain for people close to them. This has led to much bungling in decision-making, summarily listed below.

1. Health regulations were not strictly enforced . There was an escalation of the number of cases soon afterwards.

Health regulations were not strictly enforced during the general election last year.

2. The controversy on disposal of dead bodies; the scientifically correct decision to allow burial was taken by the politicians only after much heartburn of the community and even humiliation in the international scene.

3. Allowing and openly promoting unproven native medication, making the people ignore public health guidelines.

4. Conducting the Lanka Premier League (LPL) cricket tournament in Hambantota, bringing in players from countries with a roaring epidemic. One of the players found to be PCR positive then is alleged, though without proof, to have brought in the UK variant of the virus.

5. Entertaining tourists from Ukraine, where authorities had no control over the fast spreading disease. It is an open question whether the quarantine procedures were properly implemented. Same mistake is being made now, with Indians being allowed to come in for so called quarantining purposes. It is well known that the financial interests of acolytes took precedence over the health of the people.

6. Messing up the vaccination process. Notwithstanding the somewhat unforeseen situation in India, timely action should have been taken to obtain adequate supplies of approved vaccines. The authorities appeared to depend on the donation of an unapproved vaccine from a friendly country. The priority list for vaccination was disrupted, thus exhausting the supplies of the vaccine. As a result, only an insignificant proportion of the people have received the first dose, with no guarantee of the second.

7. Allowing free movement of people during the festivals, largely ignoring recommended preventive guidelines. These were openly patronised by the kith and kin of the political leaders.

8. In many meetings and other gatherings organised and attended by the politicians at the highest level, scant regard is given for public health precautions.

9. Claiming success until a few weeks ago, and reducing the PCR testing and other measures until caught unawares with a rapidly rising case load.

10. Restriction of movement and isolation of areas is hampered by political interference. This was well illustrated by what happened recently in Piliyandala, where the isolation of the area, on medical advice, was reversed within a few hours at the behest of a political bigwig.

11. All social gatherings were banned a few days ago. However, it was comical how largely attended weddings were allowed for a few days more, obviously to accommodate someone close to the centers of power. Though rumours abound, the beneficiary of this anomaly is still not known for certain.

To what extent the hierarchy in the medical administrators of the Health Ministry contributed to this dismal situation is open to question. The general impression is that they are succumbing to political pressure, without standing their ground. It is widely suspected that even the correct statistics are not divulged to avoid embarrassing the politicians. However, knowing how overpowering the politicians could be, it may be unreasonable to blame the hapless officials doing a thankless job under trying circumstances.

 

SENIOR MEDICAL CONSULTANT

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Opinion

Making O/L English literature more accessible

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In his feature article, titled “Reduce O/Level STRESS”, appearing in The Island of 03 May, Anton Peiris makes a timely intervention to introduce an alternative mathematics course for O/L students, which will be tailored to suit the capacity of a considerable number of students who find the customary mathematics paper too challenging. This is surely a more pragmatic and student-friendly approach, because for the past few years we have been trapped in the split between two extremes: either in support of a pass in math to be made compulsory for all A/L students or the exemption of Arts students from this requirement. “Maths Studies” would be a happy compromise between the two extremes, which would stand in good stead for many O/L students. with a gift for Arts subjects to pursue their goals without math being an undue hindrance or, conversely, its total exemption turning out to be a free license for laxity.

O/L English literature seems to be another subject not available to many students due to at least two reasons: first, the want of qualified teachers and, second, the standards being set too high for the average student, as in the case of math. This deters many students who are not competent enough to meet the high-end demand for “appreciating literary texts” from gaining many other benefits literature would otherwise offer them, if provided as a more watered down package, as in “Maths Studies.” In short, the introduction of a less daunting variant such as “Literature Studies” for the average student, for whom the regular “English Literature” is virtually a taboo, can ensure the same gains “Maths Studies” intends to bring to those less proficient in math.

Such leniency would not be wholly out of tune with the learning outcomes of O/L English Literature, enunciated in the relevant syllabus issued by the NIE, which states:

The national goal of making an informed reader means a critical thinker as well. The learner must be able to appreciate any “well written” book and recognize a “good book” when he sees one. It is a training for life. But the whole enterprise of studying literature has been coloured by non-educational, even non-humanistic objectives. For most students and more for their parents, English literature has become a symbol of prestige, culminating in a fantasy of a distinction pass at the GC.E. (O/L) examination. (http://www.nie.lk/pdffiles/tg/e10tim130.pdf)

This goes to provide at least two good reasons for introducing a less demanding option like “Literature Studies” for the average student. As the latter part of the above paragraph admits, for many students, as well as their parents, studying English literature has become a “symbol of prestige.” This is sad because promoting such snobbery flies in the face of all the lofty ideals contained in the first three sentences, such as making the student well informed, critical and sensitized enough to appreciate good literature, etc. As such, it would not be undesirable, in the least, to aim at moulding a reasonably broadminded and sensitive person, by adjusting the syllabus to focus more on increasing their general awareness of the richness of world literature, without making the study of O/L literature a strenuous exercise of gaining a set of “skills,” which may be more suitable for the purpose of grooming critics rather than making students read for pleasure. Arguably, the emphasis on critical appreciation of the texts might be one reason why the students end up becoming stuck-up, as described in the above passage.

There is no doubt that the regular O/L literature course prepares the student to study literature at the A/Ls – hence the need for its continuation. However, a more student-friendly variant intended for encouraging the average student to read literature, without the unnerving prospect of having to write a critical essay on each of the prescribed texts she has to read, is sure to cultivate the reading habit among students. The performance evaluation defined in the NIE syllabus cited below proves the rigid test-oriented and technical nature of the process:

Appreciation of English literary texts is tested as a component of the G.C.E. (O/L) examination formatively as well as summatively at the end of a two-year course of study. At school level, it is assessed formally at term tests. It is also assessed informally in the classroom using a variety of techniques, both oral and written. Conventionally literature is tested by written examinations. The test items most frequently used are the context question and the critical essay. The context question is more effective since it directly tests the candidate’s familiarity with the texts.

Undoubtedly, a more student-friendly and less formulaic syllabus intended for coaxing the average student to read for pleasure, may ideally minimize the focus on critical writing aspect and the emphasis on a knowledge of the textual mechanics. Instead, such a syllabus may include a prudent selection of interesting biographical details of writers and their famous works, their dominant themes and the relevant social contexts, short samples of texts not intended for critical evaluation but for familiarizing them with various writing forms, etc. – anything that will stimulate the reading habit of the student who may even be encouraged to read the translations in their mother tongue, if time permits.

The most important outcome would be to make them keen readers. The essential fine-tuning with regard to the selection of teaching materials and testing can be done by the syllabus designers and teachers who know the terrain well. Thus, as in the case of math, the modified syllabus of literature would help students who are not adequately proficient to follow the standard literature course, to find a more manageable way of developing a liking for literature.

 

SUSANTHA HEWA

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