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What Ails the Sri Lankan Voter?

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by Kumar David

It has been said often but I need to repeat it. Although beneficiaries of 78 years of universal free education and although literacy is said to exceed 90% the citizens of Sri Lanka, if measured by their use of the ballot, are irrational. Even SLPP friends who were beneficiaries of this aberration agree. People have for over half a century been decrying our politicians as corrupt and criminal, but instead I believe that it is the masses who are asses, politicians are clever knaves. This time this has turned out to be grotesquely true.

Consider the sentinels guiding us on the path to a “virtuous and disciplined society”. A convicted murder on death-row polled hundreds of thousands of preference votes in Ratnapura to come second in the District. A criminal on murder charge in Batticaloa polled the highest in that District. The progeny of a VVIP arrested and held for the Thajudeen murder was later released but you know how things happen in Mother Lanka; he now adorns the Cabinet. More than a third of SLPP MPs are alleged miscreants – so are some SJB ones. The point is this, the public knew full well who they were voting for. A chain snatcher was publicly known as rattaran (gold) since people didn’t know his name but they were well tutored in his preference number. The three who topped the SLPP Colombo-list did so for only one reason, they are racists. The only qualification that counts besides a criminal record is hate speech against Muslims and Tamils; a sought-after qualification across the Island!

People knew all this when they marked their ballots and they voted for insects, not despite but because they were so. What ails the people of this soon to be prosperous and resplendent isle? Is it unfathomable? I have an answer but is it adequate? Sri Lanka, mainly but not only for the Sinhalese, is Rajapaksa country, the mass psyche resonates with ‘Rajapaksaism’ as the life of Medieval Europe was inured with the Church. Habituation with Rajapaksasim was explicit in January 2015; it was to defeated Mahinda’s Tangalle home that thousands flocked in pilgrimage, it was to him that they vowed fealty. They have kept their word. This bond will not be easily severed or diluted.

What is its genesis? Spiritually, it is resonance in ways of thinking; passions of the same genre. Politically it is populism; for the mass corruption is OK if it is populist corruption. While the bond will be strained by looming economic adversity it remains to be seen whether hardship will drive the mass away from the Rajapaksa ethos. The oath has person-to-masses overtone as with Mussolini and Peron; forget the SLPP, it is burlesque. The third element is Sinhala nationalism not just exultation in war victory alone. It is also abhorrence of demands to bring the military to justice in domestic or international courts. The Rajapaksas will do neither and this is the fourth factor. No people want their military, even if war crimes against “the other” are true, to be brought to account (vide Japan, Serbia, Bosnia, Burma, the US in Middle Eastern theatres and Turkey’s Armenian genocide of 1914-1923). These four factors gel together. (I do not have data to investigate the political consequences of the massive wealth of the Rajapaksa clan).

Next an article by Lasantha Ruhanage on page five of the Sinhala weekly Anithdha of 23 Aug 2020; this and the next two paras are a summary. It is a scathing rebuke of GR-MR appointments. Of 338 Departments and State Institutions in the country 133, a full 40% are under the Rajapaksa clan. Mahinda as Finance Minister has control of 59 and as overlord of Buddhism another 39. Chamal aiya has five transport related enterprises as a Minister and as State Minister of Defence twelve more. Baby Namal runs the show in five sports related institutions. It gets worse. Mahindananda Aluthgamage is supposed Minister of Agriculture but Chamal’s son Sashindra gets Paddy Marketing, a slush source of funds. Two curious side shows are: The selection of Gota favourite Seetha Arambepola as State Minister rewarded with seven institutions previously in the Science & Technology Ministry, including Research & Innovation, Vocational Education and Skills Development, while Rajapaksa afficionado Cabraal as State Minister with oversight of three key institutions grabs the State Mortgage Bank too.

In order to make way for this concentration of power other ministers have been castrated. Wimalaweera Dissanayake will be State Minister of Electric Fences to keep out elephants, Nimal Lanza is State Minister of Village Roads, Kanchana Wijesekara assumes colourful responsibility as State Minister of Ornamental Fish, Anuradha Jayaratne of Paddy Fields, Lohan Ratwatte supremo of the Gem Trade, Dayasiri Jayasekera will be a glorious model for batiks, and Mohan de Silva is called the kukul (poultry) State Minister. But the prize goes to matta (mud-head). The State Minister of Clay (and Brass and Bamboo) who hurled chilli powder at the Speaker “to preserve democracy” is Prasanna Ranaweera. The MR-GR game is to give jokers a car, a pompous backseat to ride in, a petrol allowance and about ten cronies (secretaries, coordinators, drivers, security staff) to fawn over them – maybe less for State Ministers. Keep the pantaloons at the circus while the Rajapaksas distil power into their own hands! It all fits in; the electorate supplies the administration with coots and the government feeds them loot from the public purse. These locusts will settle for anything if it includes the aforesaid perks at public expense. The ‘perks-cost’ of Cabinet and State Minsters, including carefully concealed costs, I estimate is about Rs 10 billion per annum. Add the other locusts called Deputy Ministers, and miserable MPs left high and dry with a mere million or two, and we are looking at vaporisation of public funds to the tune of Rs 20 billion. For the n-th time I remind you, our 90% literate citizenry elected comedians in full knowledge that this was the farce.

In order to accommodate this mishmash some ministers had to be reduced to glorified corporate chairmen. That is to say there is a solo-corporation with its management, board of directors and chairman and now a ministry has been created with a solo-portfolio to oversee the corporation. A grotesque example is the power ministry (Dulles Alahaperuma) which might as well be retitled Ministry of the CEB, but it’s not the only one. CB Ratnayake is Minister of the Timber Corporation, Mahinda Amaraweera’s environmental ministry is minuscule, his portfolio pruned to nearly nothing, Vasudeva Nanayakkara sits alone atop a water tower, banished from rural water supply, Douglas Devananda fishes in solicitude. Pavithra has had her wings clipped; pharmaceutical production-regulation and indigenous medicine are vested in new State Ministries. This is enough to show you the pandemonium and chaotic assignment of Ministries and State Ministries. Conflicts among them, and much more serious, conflict between jobless-ministers and the solo-corporations they (mis)manage is inevitable. Why did MR and GR do this? Beats me!

Now for a honk. Vigy everyone knows is an eccentric, he knowingly provokes Sinhala bigots by saying that Tamil is the oldest living language in the Sub-Continent if not the whole blooming world. I reckon he did it for fun and frolic! Some coot of an MP fell for it, naïvely took the bait and demanded that Vigy’s remarks be expunged from Hansard. You never know, the Speaker may oblige. Then the whole jingbang of liberals at home and abroad will have a field day ridiculing free speech in our parliament. Why doesn’t the coot just say that Sinhala is older than Tamil, scores will be settled and we will be back to square-one? Or what about the first duel on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya? Weapons chilli powder. OK, so you think I am getting frivolous, but after 1,300 words regaling you about our Parliamentarians and Cabinet, I too need relief.



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Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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