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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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Traffic in Colombo and suburbs: Is it unsolvable?

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By Praying Mantis

People curse this phenomenon called traffic congestion in Colombo and the suburbs. However, it has to be unequivocally conceded that the populace has to get about on their daily chores and obligations. The result is traffic, with or without congestion, and we have to come to terms with the fact that it will be there, whether we like it or not. Many deem traffic congestion to be a spectacle that is an eyesore. But it can be solved and the current apparently impenetrable problem can be mitigated to a large extent. What is required is a little bit of intelligence, some meticulous planning, and strict implementation of the rule of law, irrespective of all other mundane considerations.

One important aspect of trying to sort out the problem is judicious timing and usage of traffic lights. These can be set to a computer-assisted or time-controlled operational mode. It needs careful study of the movement of traffic across these junctions where traffic lights are already installed. Steps also need to be taken to install these lights in areas where they are really required but are not installed as yet. All traffic lights should have digital clocks so that the drivers behind the wheels can get ready to move decisively once the colours change to green. All vehicles should move promptly when the traffic lights change from amber to green. At present there is a considerable delay in their starting off from the blocks. In the Western countries, you will be charged for unduly delaying your take off from the stationary position. At the same time, speed limits should be very strictly enforced. Road hogs, who block traffic on the outside fast lanes, should also be prosecuted.

We are quite sure that our excellent engineers, especially those in the Moratuwa University, can set up a system or some devices that would allow the green to come on at consecutive colour lights, suitably timed to enable the traffic to move steadily and reasonably fast right across all traffic lights on a main highway. We are quite sure that this would not be such a problem for our excellent engineers. We do not need to get down foreign experts for this.

A directive from the political hierarchy should go out immediately to the police that they SHOULD NOT switch off traffic lights under any circumstance. This will solve a lot of problems. ALL TRAFFIC LIGHT INTERSECTIONS should have yellow criss-crossed ‘no waiting’ areas. Those who wait on these lines, blocking the smooth flow of traffic, should be instantly fined or charged. The traffic policemen could intervene appropriately, even with the traffic lights functioning, to prevent grid blocks and unnecessary lawless blockages. The police are so trigger happy to switch on constantly blinking amber lights at the drop of a hat and take over directing traffic. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The policemen love to take ‘absolute power’ over the motorists into their own hands by switching off the traffic lights, and make a complete mess of it all by themselves. The computerised traffic lights would do a much better job than the brains of stupid traffic policemen with IQs about 10 below plant life. They seem to have one-track minds and most of the time they think that in the mornings, only the traffic going towards the centre of Colombo should be allowed and, in the evening, only the traffic going away from Colombo need to be given preference. The police patrol (four- and two-wheelers) should be used to apprehend road traffic rule violators. At present they are parked on our roads, sometimes blocking traffic, all by themselves, with all the officers engaged in chats, in person, or through mobile phones. Our traffic police should take examples from the Highway Patrol Vehicles of the Western countries, particularly the California Highway Patrol fleet. Catch the offenders and punish them, irrespective of their political connections. Our traffic policemen are “PAVEMENT POLICEMEN.” They should catch and deal with all the traffic rule violators, notwithstanding any of their powerful connections. These include motor bicycles that weave in and out of traffic, those on two-wheelers who go on the pavements, those that overtake on the left, three-wheelers and buses which are a law unto themselves, lane jumpers of all types who could not care less for the other road users, the speedsters that weave in and out of lines of traffic, those who wilfully cross centre double and single lines just to get a micro-second advantage in time, just to mention only a few.

All two-wheeler motor bicycles, three-wheeler tuk-tuks, and buses of all types, should be strictly reined in. The maniacs that ride and drive these contraptions need to be disciplined remorselessly. They cause more traffic jams and accidents than all other vehicles put together. When confronted for their mistakes by other road users they even turn aggressive or make lewd gestures, especially to female drivers of other vehicles. The currently prevalent lane allocation operative during the rush hours in Colombo is doing a little bit to ease the problem. Yet for all that, at all other times it becomes an even deadlier free-for-all, totally ignoring lane-discipline. It is also laughable that a certain controlling big-wig of the Private Bus Mafia has threatened to strike if the three-wheelers and two-wheelers are not taken out of the inside lane. The government should call his bluff and see how they will all come back with their tails between the two rear legs when their income drops down to zero. It has been said that the private buses are generally allowed the freedom of the ass by the police because most of such buses are owned by either policemen or politicians. We have of course not checked the veracity of this contention.

All container carriers, large lorries and other bulky vehicles, except passenger transport buses, should be allowed to get onto the roads only from 9.00 pm to 6.00 am. They should be banned from all our roads from 6.00 in the morning to 9.00 at night. They cause more traffic jams than all other vehicles on our roads.

The DIGs, SSPs, SPs, ASPs, CIs and IPs of traffic police should come out of their air-conditioned cocoons, called offices, and get on to the roads to supervise the way traffic is controlled by the lesser ranked policemen. At present these worthies generally come out only when the so-called top politicians move around in Colombo. Then they crawl back into their own holes, so to speak. Some years ago, a Senior DIG of Traffic with the initials of RML, used to get on to the roads to see how things were. He did a fantastic job and was responsible for creating some of the one-way streets in Colombo. Definitely an officer to be emulated.

NO PREFERENCE WHATSOEVER SHOULD BE GIVEN AT ANY COST TO VVIPs, VIPs AND OTHER ASSORTED POLITICAL ELEMENTS ON OUR ROADS. The violation of all traffic rules by large platoons of support vehicles just to enable one political nincompoop to travel a distance of a couple of kilometres at break-neck speed is a real crime and a crying shame. This is a particular menace down Parliament Road. After all, they are supposed to be servants of the people. If they need to get somewhere in time, they should start off early enough. In other countries, even Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Ministers, do not enjoy preferential treatment on their roads. Their vehicles obey their own rules and laws.

The flashing red and blue lights on the windscreens of vehicles should be completely banned. The donkeys behind the steering wheels of vehicles with these rapidly flashing lights seem to think that they have carte blanche to do as they wish. They will have those blinking lights on and come at you even on the wrong side of the road. The ONLY vehicles allowed to use these flashing red and blue lights should be ambulances and police patrol vehicles. Incidentally, ALL police officers should be instructed to intervene and provide right of way and a clean fast run to all ambulances with lights flashing and sirens blaring. The really valid reason for this is the fact that it may mean life or death for a patient. As is done in the United Kingdom, that should be the only overriding concession made to vehicles on our roads.

You might say that all this is wishful thinking!!! The powers that be have turned a Nelsonian blind eye to this problem so far. They have certainly acted as if they could not care less. The politicians would not want to give up their exalted positions on our roads. Why should they worry? Their steamrolling juggernauts would get them there in time. Even if they get a bit late, the stupid organisers will wait for them to start the proceedings. The unimportant masses can spend all their time on our roads for all they care.

We hope these suggestions catch the attention of the powers that be in government, the police, people in positions of forward planning and traffic control. More than anything, we hope that the Executive President of our country would read this and act on at least some of these suggestions. He is perhaps the only one who can control this menace on our roads. If he so decides, like many other things he has done so far, this problem could be solved virtually overnight. It can only be done by reading the riot act to the police which would then percolate down to all the miscreants on our roads.

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How to transform conflict into co-existence

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Humans and elephants killing one another

Eng. Mahinda Panapitiya

M Sc, (Department of Irrigation Engineering) Utah State University, Utah, USA – 1982 , B Sc (Civil Engineering), University of Peradeniya, Sri lanka – 1974

Introduction

I thought of writing the following note after reading a recent news item about the interest of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to solve the human-elephant conflict. By the way I am an Irrigation engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Projects since the 1970s while developing the dry zone forests areas for irrigated agriculture. The main purpose of this note is to put forth a proposal to solve this conflict, from a different perspective based on my field experience.

Background

Sri Lanka has been truly blessed with the presence of the largest mammal on earth; it has contributed tremendously to our culture, economy, environment, leisure industry and natural beauty. Elephants are quite closer to humans than to other mammals. According to the article (referred to in the end note) for most of the mammals, brain mass is already developed at more than 90% when they are born. But elephants and humans are different, because brain mass development at birth is 35% for elephants and 28% for humansi. Therefore, unlike other animals they can’t survive during their infant age without the support of their parents. For an example if a human baby grew up in a jungle among the animals from child stage, he or she could not learn the normal human behaviour. This holds true for elephants.

Elephants are also intelligent like humans and have the ability to make rational choices and judgements. They don’t attack people without a good reason. When people increase their aggression towards them, they also increase their aggression. They also remember well, and therefore they can be increasingly aggressive and violent with the passage of time. As a result the ‘human-elephant conflict’ would transform to a never ending battle until elephants are driven to extinction in this country.

 

Human-Elephant conflict based on

my living experience

As an engineer who closely watched behavioural patterns of elephants while working on the Mahaweli Project since the 1970s, (before the forests were cleared for “development”), I still remember how they were freely roaming in harmony with the farming communities dependent on village irrigation tanks. For an example, elephants used to drink from a domestic tank built behind our Mahaweli quarters to meet our daily water needs before we chased them away to lay the modern canal network. Villagers also never considered elephants as threat to their lives unlike leopards because there were no elephant attacks. Grass growing in the village tank beds in valleys and secondary growths in chenas in the highland areas after their harvesting periods were their favourite food items. Even for birds, an area was allocated under village tanks known as kurulu panguwa. In addition, the villagers had also built forest tanks (kulu wewa) exclusively for wildlife and also to replenish ground water aquifer with rains. However, according to modern commercial-oriented western-based farming methods, we have destroyed thousands of those storage tanks and pitted ourselves against nature. We have been fighting a losing battle. An article published in the Economic Review magazine in 2010 explained in detail how this happened under irrigation projects developed during the last 2 centuryii.

 

Confrontation Vs Negotiation

Since the introduction of the so-called modern development strategies increase food production, we have been chasing out elephants and putting up electrified fences to ward them off. However, according to my first-hand experience, we could transform this conflict and co-exist with elephants if we handle the eco system for food production in an environment friendly manner. According to the recent observations on brain development behaviour of elephants, if we adopt what is dubbed the negotiation mode, I am sure, elephants will treat humans not as enemies to attack but as another species they have to coexist with. Instead of electrified fencing, live fence using plants such as lemon, palmyra and bamboo could be introduced.

Also, in some countries, bee keepingiv is also used to prevent elephants from roaming in residential areas.

 

New Proposal

Against this background, it is possible to test out the ancient development model at least at pilot scale in a selected area which has not yet been “developed” under the Mahaweli Master Plan. In the proposed approach, there are no artificial fences separating eco systems according to conventional EIAs recommended by various international funding sources. This is a very low cost method which could be implemented with local private sector involved in Organic Agriculture and Eco Tourism. The best pilot area I can recommend to test that negotiation approach is the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya. I also recommend that the Project be managed by a multidisciplinary team comprising wildlife and agriculture experts, irrigation engineers and archaeologists.

 

Confrontation verses Negotiation

Conclusion

According to my past experience no innovative ideas could be implemented on ground without political involvement. The main purpose of this note is to interest the political authority in this project. I hope my effort is a success. It should be implemented immediately because the Mahaweli Authority has already planned to follow the conventional confrontation approach for developing the Right Bank area of Maduru Oya.

 

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http://www.sundaytimes.lk/200906/business-times/human-elephant-clash-over-land-415060.html

http://dl.nsf.ac.lk/bitstream/handle/1/14114/ER-36-%281-2%29_16.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in Sri Lanka

Beehive fences can help mitigate human-elephant conflict

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Lane discipline then and now

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By Eng. Anton Nanayakkara

Chartered Civil Engineer

At a time a valiant top heavy effort ( police plus army ++) is being made to enforce lane discipline , it is relevant to recall how a similar attempt was made by a small group of professionals, with foreign driving experience, to introduce the concept of lane discipline as practised in the countries like Singapore, the UK, the US, etc.. It was during 2000 and 2003 that two exhibitions were organised at the OPA for the first time, under the theme, ‘Introduction to the Basics of Lane Discipline’.

It took the form of a seminar- cum- exhibition with a 16’x 8″ physical model to explain all details of correct lane markings, their meanings, etc., to help a person drive any type of vehicle in a disciplined manner without any external assistance or excessive police presence.

At the first exhibition (2000), the Chief Guest was the Minister of Health and the Guest of Honour the Resident Representative WHO, at that time one Dr Peter Hybsier. Dr Hybsier said it was ‘exactly the way to set about solving the existing traffic problem’. In the second case, too, the same model was used with improvements, such as operating traffic lights using led bulbs. The Chief Guests were the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport. Yet another special feature of the second exhibition was the inclusion of a pilot project on Parliament Road from the parliament roundabout to the Devi Balika roundabout with minimum police presence and no traffic fines so as to secure motorists’ fullest cooperation; only advice and warnings were given.

The most important feature of the pilot project was the prior training of all categories of road users. Specially prepared leaflets were to be distributed to all drivers two weeks ahead of the implementation of the pilot project. For this purpose five different categories of drivers were identified and the leaflets contained material applicable to each type of vehicle he/she will be driving at the time. (See below)

At the second exhibition immediate orders were given by the Minister of Transport to the only RDA engineer present at that time to take action to implement the pilot project without delay. So as usual everything ended there! The following pictures give some idea of the model.

 

 

While all the efforts being made under the present conditions are to be appreciated, it must be said that the use of public roads for training instead of a scaled down model dilutes all the good efforts, not to mention the need for a massive manpower input (police and army). It is difficult to believe that all drivers from one end of the road to the other end of the road and drivers in different lanes get the same message. It is also not fair to delegate any lane to one particular type of vehicle. All vehicle owners pay ‘road taxes’ that are used to build and maintain roads. So, the roads belong to all road users.

In Singapore, many more vehicles move much faster and much safer than in Sri Lanka. Where driver training is imparted is called the Singapore Safe Driving Centre, which is run by the private sector in Singapore and Honda Company of Japan.

The method proposed in the years 2000 and 2003 here applied to all roads, at all times, irrespective of weather conditions. Fines were the last resort. It is a pity that the present effort is being made 13 years after year 2003, and during that period thousands of lives have been lost on our roads not to mention many thousands of new vehicles getting smashed up, causing millions of damage to public and private property.

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